The Way the Children Went
HE Piper made the rock turn as if it were on a hinge by playing a special tune before it. When he was far inside with the children crowding behind him he played another tune that made the rock close like a door. Past the rock they were in a great cave, and cave after cave opened before them. The Piper played, and a light came out of the pipes he held.
And what did he play to them? Well, the children thought that his music was telling them about a story that they knew. It was a story about Reynard the Fox. Oh, more delightfully than ever they had heard it before the music told them this part of the story—how the Ram and the Hare went to Malpardus, Reynard's castle. They were to bring Reynard to the court of His Majesty the Lion. Ah, it would be bad for Reynard when he came before the Lion! He would be made to suffer for all his villainies. But the Fox played tricks upon the Ram and the Hare, and he kept away from the Lion's court. Oh, wasn't he clever! As the Pied Piper played, it seemed to the children that a little red fox ran beside him, playing and dancing and jumping.
When he had finished that tune he played it for them all over again. And then he played it again and again. Each time he played it, it seemed to the children to be more delightful than when he had played it before. On and on they went, following the music of the pipes and the light that shone out of them. Through cave after cave they went. Passages went up and passages went down, and passages wound around and about. But through all the passages they went, and they were so entranced with the Piper's playing that they did not know that they had left the light of the sun.
And by that time the Mayor and the Council knew that they had made a great mistake in treating the Pied Piper the way they had done. Perhaps if they had known who he was they would not have treated him in such a fashion. I do not know. They might not have believed him if he had told them.
For he was the one who, born at dawn, made himself a musical instrument at noon—the first earthly musical instrument that was ever made—and in the evening went out of his mother's house and stole Apollo's cattle. He was the one who was called the Bringer of Dreams, the Watcher by Night, the Thief at the Gate. He was the one who had once possessed the Shoes of Swiftness and the Winged Hat. He was Hermes, who was also called Mercury.
But the Mayor and the Town Council might not have believed him if he had told them this.
These were the children who followed the Piper: Robin and Richard and Nancy; Jack and Jill and Wee Willie Winkie; Jack Sprat, Jack Snipe, and Jack Horner, and Jumping Joan, the showman's daughter; Perrie, Merrie, and Dixie; Margery Daw and Little Jack Straw; Elizabeth, Betsy, Betty, and Bess; Tom Tucker, Tom-Tom, the piper's son, Jack Nicker, Dorothy, and Ursula.
Mary-Mary, quite contrary, left her garden to go; Simple Simon just turned round and followed the music although the pieman was there to talk to; Johnny-Jump-Up, the son of the man who ate fire in the market place on Thursdays, went with Philomena, who was so proud because she was the countess's daughter, and Meg, the little ragpicker, and the baker's thirteen children, boys and girls, and Angelus, who rang the church bells, and Angelica, his sister.
And besides these there went three children who were just as nice as any of the others. Golden Hood I'll name first. She was the milk-woman's child. Then there was John Ball, the Miller's son, and Valentine, the son of the Emperor. These three children went together.
Valentine, the Emperor's son, did not belong to the town; he was from a very great city indeed. But he happened to be there, and he was standing with his hand upon the neck of his white, caparisoned steed, and all dressed in his velvets, when he heard the music. He followed, going beside John Ball and little Golden Hood.
They went on together, hearing about the Ram and the Hare and the castle of Malpardus.
Then John Ball heard something that nobody else seemed to hear. He heard something behind them coming clump, clump, clump. He stopped and he looked back through the dark passage. Could that be old Baldwin, the mill horse, coming behind?
He heard the clumping, clumping, clumping, coming up to him. Indeed it was a horse that was coming. And John Ball remembered that as they had come near the great stone on the mountainside he had seen the old mill horse standing near.
The horse came up beside him and stood there in the dark. It was old Baldwin who drew sacks to and from the mill. John Ball put his hand upon the horse, and he found the hide all covered with flour and grain that he used to carry.
He was glad that Baldwin had come, and he did not know how it had happened. But Baldwin had just followed the children. He was in the first cave when the rock closed behind them. He stayed for a while in the dark, and then he went clumping, clumping, after the children.
The music was going farther and farther away from them now. John Ball hurried on, with Baldwin keeping beside him. Then he saw a light like a star before them. It grew wider and wider. There was sunlight and a wind blowing. There were trees. He heard the pipes playing in the open air as he came to the opening. Trees were growing outside, a whole forest of trees.
John Ball stood with Baldwin at the mouth of a cave on a mountainside. He heard the sound of pipes going amongst the trees; he saw the dresses of some of the children who followed the Piper. He stood by the side of the horse as he had often stood by him. And Baldwin, with his hide gray with the flour and the wheat that he used to carry to and from the mill, looked at him in the same friendly way. Then John Ball, the Miller's son, put his hand upon the horse's mane, and they went down the side of the hill and into the forest where the Piper and the children had gone.