Gateway to the Classics: The Choosing Book by Maud Lindsay
 
The Choosing Book by  Maud Lindsay

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T INTIL and Dicomill were the best story-tellers in the Border Land; everybody agreed to that. But if anybody asked which was the better of the two—well, that was  a hard question.

All Tintil's tales were about a Wood that was called Enchanted, but where this Wood was, he never told. Even when the children begged him to show whether it were this way or that way, he would only say:

"Nobody knows,

Yet it is a place where every one goes."

Or perhaps he would answer, "You must find it yourself," and that was what every child longed to do.

Whenever Tintil came up or down the road, with his little flute in his hand, and his cap, with a gay feather in it, on the side of his head, and a red leaf or yellow cowslip pinned on his coat, there was always a crowd to meet him, and it was, "Tintil, tell us a tale," from the time he came till the time he went.

Nobody knew where he lived. He was here to-day and gone to-morrow. And nobody knew whether Tintil were his real name or not, but it made no difference. It was a pleasant name to say, and suited him exactly.

He was a rover, but Dicomill was a stay-at-home. Dicomill lived in the house where he was born, which was the mill, and though he liked well to hear of other people's travels, and learned more of them than you would think, he had never been farther than the next market town.

He worked in the mill, and was often covered from his head to his toes with the dust of corn and the dust of wheat. It was easy to tell where he got his name. At first, it is true, he had been called "Dick of the Mill," but this had soon been shortened to Dicomill, which suited him exactly and was just as pleasant to say as Tintil.

On fine evenings when the wheat and the corn had been ground and the mill was quiet, Dicomill would sit in the doorway of his home and tell stories to any one who cared to listen. There was always a crowd of children, and grown people, too, around him.

Dicomill's stories had nothing magic in them. They might have happened anywhere in the Border Land, and sometimes his listeners thought that he was telling of people whom they knew. But if they said this to him, he would only shake his head and laugh. He was no great talker, anyway, outside his tale-telling.

Now, one evening just as Dicomill had finished a story and the children were begging for another, Tintil came down the road playing a gay little tune on his flute and stepping along as if he were leading a May dance. Dicomill was the first to see him.

"Now you shall hear a tale worth two of mine," he said to the children, and he called to Tintil, asking him to stop and give them the news from the Wood that was called Enchanted.

Tintil was willing enough to stop in such good company, but before he could begin a story some one in the crowd at the mill door had a great thought and spoke it out. "Why should not Tintil and Dicomill have a contest of tales?" he said. "Then we can decide once for all which is the better story-teller, a question that nobody can answer now."

Everybody was well pleased with this plan, especially the children, and the mayor of the town, who had come to smoke a pipe with Dicomill's father, the old miller, put his head out of the door to say that he would give six shillings to the one who was judged the winner of the contest.

"And every listener shall have a vote," said he.

But though Tintil and Dicomill told story for story till their tongues were tired, the question could not be decided. If one listener voted for Tintil, another was sure to choose Dicomill, and so it went till the mayor gave three shillings to each of the story-tellers and won himself the name of being a very wise mayor indeed. There were only two who were not satisfied with the settlement, and these two were no other than Tintil and Dicomill themselves.

"I know good tales when I hear them," said Tintil, "and I vote for Dicomill."

"My tales are as plain as a mill-sack," said Dicomill, "but Tintil's tales are woven of rainbow stuff, and the prize should be his."

It is even said that they bought gifts for each other with the mayor's shillings.

That is as it may be, and was long ago, but when you have read their stories from beginning to end you may still vote for Tintil or Dicomill. All that you need do is to make your choice between them, and tell it to everybody you can find who has read the book, too. That is a merry ball to set a-rolling!

Or, if you like, you may cast your vote in this way:

Draw a circle for Tintil or a square for Dicomill on a bit of paper and give it to the wind. Yes, the wind is the only postman you can trust in such an important matter. He will take your vote somewhere, you may be sure of that.

But whether you choose Tintil or Dicomill, here is a rhyme that is your very own, for it was made for you:

The child who loves a story-book

A happy child is he,

Who sits at home, yet roams abroad

A wonder-world to see.


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