Gateway to the Classics: The Children Who Followed the Piper by Padraic Colum
The Children Who Followed the Piper by  Padraic Colum


How the Pied Piper Came

dropcap image IRST there were the rats: they came into the town in families, and each family went to live in a stable. From the stables they went into the cellars, and from the cellars they went into the kitchens; and from the kitchens they went into the parlors, and from the parlors they went into the bedrooms. Then they went into the town hall. Then they went into the churches. The cats they chased and the dogs they jeered at. They ate the bacon and the beans, the cheese and the custards. They squeaked under the beds and they climbed the ropes in the belfries; then they went to live in the ovens where the bread was being baked. And one day, in his own home, a rat jumped out of the Mayor's pie dish.

That day, as he sat in the council room with the Aldermen beside him, the Mayor was told that there was a fellow outside who said he was come to help the Town Council.

"I hope he has something to do with banishing the rats," said the Mayor. "I must say that it is not worth while being Mayor while the rats are in this good town. I have had to keep my scarlet robe locked up in an iron chest for fear the rats would eat it."

"And we," said the Aldermen all, "have had to keep our embroidered waistcoats locked up in the same sort of iron chests."

"And we hope the fellow has something to do with banishing the rats," said all of them.

"The fellow is here," said the Sergeant.

He was there, sure enough, standing behind the Sergeant. "What an odd-looking fellow he is, to be sure," said the Town Council.

And an odd-looking fellow he certainly was! He was dressed in reds and yellows, his right side and his left leg being in yellow, and his right leg and his left side being in red. He had on a round hat that had something like a goose's wing at each side of it. His face was soft and round, but his eyes were dark, and they had, if one looked close enough, a sort of command in them. He carried bagpipes.

"Did you ever see him before, Sergeant?" asked the Mayor.

"Never," said the Sergeant. "He seems to be only a sojourner here."

"And yet I have been a long time in the world," said the fellow.

"What name are you called by?" said the Mayor.

"One name and another," said the fellow, "but I doubt if you ever heard any of my names. You may call me the Pied Piper."

It was a good name to call him; he was a piper by the bagpipes he carried, and he was pied by the different colors he wore in his dress.

"To get to business," said the Mayor. "What can you do for us?"

"Banish the rats from your town," said the Piper.

"I have the mind of a prophet," said the Mayor to the Aldermen, "I knew he was going to say that."

"What will be your fee for the service?" said the Mayor.

"Will you give me fifty gulders?" said the Pied Piper.

It was then that the Treasury-Remembrancer came into the story. He was a thin-lipped man, and he wrote the sum down.

"Fifty gulders!" cried the Mayor. "Man, we'll give you a hundred and fifty!"

But the thin-lipped man who was the Treasury-Remembrancer did not write that sum down.

"Then," said the Pied Piper, "stand at the windows of the council room to-morrow when the clocks are striking noon and you shall see me banish the rats from your good town."

Out he went then. Well, the next day, as the clocks of the town were striking noon, the Mayor and the Aldermen stood at the windows of the council room. The Piper came into the market place, right side and left leg yellow, left side and right leg red. He put the pipe to his mouth, and his elbow to the bag, and he played away. Rats were biting each other in the gutters. Up they sat and cocked an ear to the music. Rats were hurrying home with cheese in their mouths or an egg between their paws. They stopped to listen. Then rats came pouring down steps of houses; rats came swarming up steps of cellars; rats came scrambling over walls. Rats by the thousand showed themselves, and they all went hurrying toward where the Pied Piper played.

With his elbow to the bag and the pipe to his mouth the Pied Piper moved off. He went down the street, and as he went the rats followed him, tumbling over each other, squealing and squeaking. Down to the river the Piper went, and squealing and squeaking the rats followed after. Across the stepping-stones in the river the Piper went. The rats followed. He reached the other bank, but they did not. Those behind crowded on those before, and tumbling and turning, squealing and squeaking, they were all swept down the river; some were drowned here, some were drowned there, but all were drowned somewhere.

So much for the rats. The people of the town hardly knew their houses for a while after. No rat ran across the floor and no rat squeaked in the passageway. The food came from the larders untouched, and was eaten off the tables without the rats putting nose or paw on it. The cats showed themselves again. And the good people walked their streets again without the rats brushing against them. They met the dogs, and the dogs wagged their tails as if to say, "We have got rid of those fellows, haven't we, masters?"

The Mayor and the Aldermen sat in their council room; the Mayor had on his scarlet robe and his chain of gold, and the Aldermen had on their embroidered waistcoats. Being in such grandeur themselves they looked with disdain upon the fellow who stood before them, dressed in reds and yellows, with a bagpipe slung across his back and a staff in his hands.

"You needn't have come," said the Mayor. "We would have sent for you, you know."

"And we're very deep in the town's business," said the first of the Aldermen.

When that was said they all expected that the Piper would make his bow and take his leave. Instead of doing that he came right up to the council table.

"I've come for my reward," said he.

The Mayor looked at him as if he expected that the Piper would hold his hat out for such silver as they might be pleased to bestow on him, but the fellow kept the round hat with the goose wings still upon his head.

"I've come for my hundred and fifty gulders," said he.

"He asked for fifty," said the Treasury-Remembrancer, with his mouth pursed up.

"But you offered me a hundred and fifty," said the Piper.

"Fifty is all that's written down," said the Treasury-Remembrancer.

"And you'll have to be reasonable," said the Mayor. "I'll admit that you've done your work pretty well, but piping's all in your day's work, you know, and you can't make us believe that you strike a hundred and fifty good golden gulders every day. No, you can't make us believe that. And what would you do with it? Buy a new breeches for yourself? No, no, the town can't afford to keep you as fine as all that, my good man. Hold out your hat now and I'll give you fifty out of my own private cash box."

"Give me my hundred and fifty gulders and let me go on my way," said the Piper, "for, believe me, there's something in your town I don't relish."

"I beg to make it known to the honorable Town Council that this man's an alien, and that he cannot maintain a claim against Your Worships," said the thin-lipped Treasury-Remembrancer at the other side of the table.

"Here's the fifty gulders in a bag," said the Mayor, "and the Sergeant has my orders to show you the way to an eating house where you can have a meal at our expense," said the Mayor. "And we're very busy at this time o' the day."

But the Piper had gone past the Sergeant. He went out and he did not come back for the fifty gulders that lay on the table.

And what did he do after that? All in his reds and yellows he stood in the market place on that spring day. He put the pipe to his mouth and he put his elbow to the bag and he began to play. At the first sound of his pipes the children ran out of the houses—children capped and bare-headed, children barefooted and shod. Boys and girls they came, rich men's, poor men's, tinker's, tailor's, soldier's, sailor's children. "A nice thing, to be sure," said the Aldermen who watched from the window in the council room. "A nice thing that our children should be gathered around that fellow. Send for the Beadle, and let him take the children away."

But it wasn't the Beadle who took them away. The Piper turned and went down the street and the children went dancing after him. More and more children ran out of the houses and came crowding up the side streets as he went by. Ragged and well-dressed they followed the Piper, and the elders stood by to watch the procession. Over the bridge they went and up toward the mountain that looked over the town. The Beadle had been summoned; he went after the children. Men and women joined him and they went hallooing to them to stop. But the Piper went on and the children went on. Surely they would stop and turn back when they came to the great rock that stood in their path on the mountain. But they did not turn back. The Beadle and the men and women saw the rock move and saw the Piper and the children pass behind the rock. But when they went up to the place the rock was where it had been, and the children were not to be seen high up or low down.

The rock had moved to let the Piper and the children through—that was plain to be seen—but there was no way of making the rock move again. The people tried and tried, and for days and nights they stayed beside the rock. No sound or sign of the children came to them. The Pied Piper had gone, and the town's children had gone with him.

All this is known to all of you, but it is right for me to say that this is only the beginning of my story.


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