Gateway to the Classics: For the Children's Hour by Carolyn S. Bailey
For the Children's Hour by  Carolyn S. Bailey

The Legend of the Woodpecker

T HERE was once a little old woman who lived all alone at the top of a hill. She was the tiniest, neatest little old woman you ever saw, and she always wore a shiny black dress, and a gay little red bonnet on her head, and a big white apron with a floppy white bow tied behind.

But because she lived alone, and thought of no one but herself, this little old woman had grown very selfish. She never invited any one to drink a cup of tea with her, and she never gave presents to anybody.

One day, when the little old woman was baking round cakes with plums in them, a tired, hungry man came up the hill and rapped at her door.

"May I have a cake?" he asked. "I am hungry, and I have no money to pay you, but whatever you wish for, that shall you have."

The little old woman looked at her cakes, and she decided that they were too large and plump to give away. So she broke off a wee little bit of dough, and put it in the oven to bake. It puffed and swelled; and when it was done she decided that this cake, also, was too nice and brown for the hungry man. She broke off a tinier bit of dough, and then one smaller still, but each came out of the oven as fat and brown a cake as the first, and she set them all on a high cupboard shelf, because she thought they were too good to be given away. Then, at last, she took a bit of dough as wee as the head of a pin, and put it in the oven to bake, but this, too, came out a fine, large, crisp cake; so the old woman hid it in the cupboard with the others, and brought out a dry crust of bread for the hungry man.

The poor man just looked at the crust, and then he was gone, before you could wink your eye. But the little old woman began to feel sorry to think how unkind and selfish she had been.

"I wish I were a bird!" she said. "Then I could fly to that hungry man with the largest cake on the shelf."

And, all at once, the little old woman began to grow smaller and smaller. Her nose changed to a beak, her arms stretched out until they were wings, and her feet became claws. She was really the bird she had wished to be, and the wind whisked her up the chimney and over the hill to the woods.

If you look, you may see her to-day. She still wears her shiny black dress, her white apron, and the gay little red bonnet upon her head; but all day long she must run up and down the trunks of the trees, pecking her food from the hard bark. Listen, and you will hear her tap, tap, tapping away; the selfish little old woman who was changed to the red-headed woodpecker.

— Adapted from Phœbe Cary's poem
by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Tongue-Cut Sparrow  |  Next: How the Robin's Breast Became Red
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.