Pied Piper of Hamelin
Once upon a time . . . on the banks of a great river in the north of
Germany lay a town called Hamelin. The citizens of Hamelin were honest folk
who lived contentedly in their gray stone houses. The years went by, and the
town grew very rich. Then one day, an extraordinary thing happened to disturb
the peace. Hamelin had always had rats, and a lot too. But they had never been
a danger, for the cats had always solved the rat problem in the usual way - by
killing them. All at once, however, the rats began to multiply.
In the end, a black sea of rats swarmed over the whole town. First, they
attacked the barns and storehouses, then, for lack of anything better, they
gnawed the wood, cloth or anything at all. The one thing they didn't eat was
metal. The terrified citizens flocked to plead with the town councilors to
free them from the plague of rats. But the council had, for a long time, been
sitting in the Mayor's room, trying to think of a plan.
"What we need is an army of cats!"
But all the cats were dead.
"We'll put down poisoned food then . . ."
But most of the food was already gone and even poison did not stop the rats.
"It just can't be done without help!" said the Mayor sadly.
Just then, while the citizens milled around outside, there was a loud knock
at the door. "Who can that be?" the city fathers wondered uneasily, mindful of
the angry crowds. They gingerly opened the door. And to their surprise, there
stood a tall thin man dressed in brightly colored clothes, with a long
feather in his hat, and waving a gold pipe at them.
"I've freed other towns of beetles and bats," the stranger announced, "and
for a thousand florins, I'll rid you of your rats!"
"A thousand florins!" exclaimed the Mayor. "We'll give you fifty thousand
if you succeed!" At once the stranger hurried away, saying: "It's late now,
but at dawn tomorrow, there won't be a rat left in Hamelin!"
The sun was still below the horizon, when the sound of a pipe wafted
through the streets of Hamelin. The pied piper slowly made his way through the
houses and behind him flocked the rats. Out they scampered from doors, windows
and gutters, rats of every size, all after the piper. And as he played, the
stranger marched down to the river and straight into the water, up to his
middle. Behind him swarmed the rats and every one was drowned and swept away
by the current.
By the time the sun was high in the sky, there was not a single rat in the
town. There was even greater delight at the town hall, until the piper tried
to claim his payment.
"Fifty thousand florins?" exclaimed the councilors, "Never..."
" A thousand florins at least!" cried the pied piper angrily. But the Mayor
broke in. "The rats are all dead now and they can never come back. So be
grateful for fifty florins, or you'll not get even that . . ."
His eyes flashing with rage, the pied piper pointed a threatening finger at
the Mayor.
"You'll bitterly regret ever breaking your promise," he said, and vanished.
A shiver of fear ran through the councilors, but the Mayor shrugged and
said excitedly: "We've saved fifty thousand florins!"
That night, freed from the nightmare of the rats, the citizens of Hamelin
slept more soundly than ever. And when the strange sound of piping wafted
through the streets at dawn, only the children heard it. Drawn as by magic,
they hurried out of their homes. Again, the pied piper paced through the town,
this time, it was children of all sizes that flocked at his heels to the sound
of his strange piping. The long procession soon left the town and made its way
through the wood and across the forest till it reached the foot of a huge
mountain. When the piper came to the dark rock, he played his pipe even louder
still and a great door creaked open. Beyond lay a cave. In trooped the
children behind the pied piper, and when the last child had gone into the
darkness, the door creaked shut. A great landslide came down the mountain
blocking the entrance to the cave forever. Only one little lame boy escaped
this fate. It was he who told the anxious citizens, searching for their
children, what had happened. And no matter what people did, the mountain never
gave up its victims. Many years were to pass before the merry voices of other
children would ring through the streets of Hamelin but the memory of the harsh
lesson lingered in everyone's heart and was passed down from father to son
through the centuries.