Gateway to the Classics: A Child's Book of Stories by Penrhyn W. Coussens
A Child's Book of Stories by  Penrhyn W. Coussens

The Ragamuffins

T HE cock said to the little hen: "The nuts are getting ripe, wifie, so let us make a little picnic to the hill where they grow, and have a nice feast before the squirrels have eaten them all."

The little hen was delighted. "We will have fine fun together," she said, and away they went, arm in arm, to the place where the nuts grew. The day was fine, and they enjoyed themselves so much that they stayed there until night began to fall, and then they were so tired that they felt they really could not walk home. So the cock began to build a carriage of nutshells.

When it was finished, the little hen seated herself in it and told the cock to harness himself to the carriage and take her home.

"Indeed, no!" answered the cock, "I am as tired as you, and I have no mind to draw you, madam. Your coachman I will be and sit upon a box, but more I will not do."

So they squabbled with each other, until a duck came waddling by.

"Hello! You thieves!" cried she, "what are you doing on my nut-hill? Wait a minute, and I'll teach you to keep away in the future!"

She flew at the cock with wings outspread, but the plucky little fellow met her with equal fury, and after a time the duck found she was getting the worst of it, and had to beg for mercy. So, as a punishment, she was made to harness herself to the carriage. The cock seated himself upon the box, cracked the whip, and away they went like the wind.

Before they had gone far, they met a couple of foot passengers—a pin and a needle. They called to the cock to stop, and asked if he and his wife would give them a lift as they were too tired to go another step, and the roads were too muddy to make a comfortable resting-place. They said that they had stayed at the Tailor's Inn for refreshment, and had not noticed how quickly the time was passing, and how late it was.

When the cock saw what thin little folks they were, he bade them get inside the carriage, but made them promise on no account to crush his wife or tread on her toes.

Late that night they came to an inn, at which they alighted, for they felt sure they would get no farther before morning. The duck was an unsteady steed, and besides shaking the carriage violently from side to side, complained terribly of pains in her feet, for she was not a good walker.

But the host did not like the appearance of the travelers, and made all sorts of excuses to get rid of them.

However, the cock spoke so persuasively,—promising him the egg which his wife had laid coming along, as well as that of the duck, which, he said, laid one every day,—that at last he consented to let the company of ragamuffins stay one night.

So they set to work to enjoy themselves, ordered the best of food and drink and passed the night in comfortable beds.

As soon as the morning began to dawn, the cock awakened the hen, pecked a hole in the egg, and together they ate it up, and threw the shell upon the hearth.

Then they went to the needle, which was still asleep, picked it up by the eye and stuck it in the host's chair; the pin they stuck in the poor man's towel, and after that they flew away, over hedge, ditch, and field as fast as ever they could.

The duck, who had slept in the courtyard all night, heard the cock and the hen fluttering overhead and waddled away well pleased to the stream, splashed in, and swam away far more quickly than ever she had drawn the carriage.

Two hours later, the host got up, washed himself and took the towel to dry himself with, when the pin scratched him in the face and made a red scar from ear to ear.

He went down to the kitchen, and stooped over the hearth to light his pipe. At once the egg-shells flew up into his face.

"Everything seems to fly at my head this morning," he said, quite crossly, and sat down in the old grandfather chair.

With a cry of pain he sprang up as though he had been shot.

He was now thoroughly angry, but happening to remember the guests who had arrived the night before, he went to see how they had slept. But they had disappeared!

So the host made a vow that never again would he harbour a troop of ragamuffins, who ate folk out of house and home, paid nothing and played one such shabby tricks into the bargain.

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