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Legendary tales of the lives of famous people and historic episodes.Of these fifty stories, some have historical value, some are useful as giving point to certain great moral truths, and others are intended only to amuse. A few of these stories are from very ancient sources and are current in the literature of many lands, while many of more recent origin have come to us through the ballads and folk tales of the English people.
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Fifty Famous Stories Retold
King Alfred and the Cakes
King Alfred and the Beggar
King Canute on the Seashore
The Sons of William the Conqueror
The White Ship
King John and the Abbot
A Story of Robin Hood
Bruce and the Spider
The Black Douglas
Three Men of Gotham
Other Wise Men of Gotham
The Miller of the Dee
Sir Philip Sidney
The Ungrateful Soldier
Sir Humphrey Gilbert
Sir Walter Raleigh
George Washington and his Hatchet
The Story of William Tell
The Bell of Atri
How Napoleon crossed the Alps
The Story of Cincinnatus
The Story of Regulus
Androclus and the Lion
Horatius at the Bridge
The Sword of Damocles
Damon and Pythias
A Laconic Answer
The Ungrateful Guest
Alexander and Bucephalus
Diogenes the Wise Man
The Brave Three Hundred
Socrates and his House
The King and his Hawk
The Barmecide Feast
The Endless Tale
The Blind Men and the Elephant
Maximilian and the Goose Boy
The Inchcape Rock
Whittington and his Cat
CONCERNING THESE STORIES.
There are numerous time-honored stories which have become so incorporated into the literature and thought of our race that a knowledge of them is an indispensable part of one's education. These stories are of several different classes. To one class belong the popular fairy tales which have delighted untold generations of children, and will continue to delight them to the end of time. To another class belong the limited number of fables that have come down to us through many channels from hoar antiquity. To a third belong the charming stories of olden times that are derived from the literatures of ancient peoples, such as the Greeks and the Hebrews. A fourth class includes the half-legendary tales of a distinctly later origin, which have for their subjects certain romantic episodes in the lives of well-known heroes and famous men, or in the history of a people.
It is to this last class that most of the fifty stories contained in the present volume belong. As a matter of course, some of these stories are better known, and therefore more famous, than others. Some have a slight historical value; some are useful as giving point to certain great moral truths; others are products solely of the fancy, and are intended only to amuse. Some are derived from very ancient sources, and are current in the literature of many lands; some have come to us through the ballads and folk tales of the English people; a few are of quite recent origin; nearly all are the subjects of frequent allusions in poetry and prose and in the conversation of educated people. Care has been taken to exclude everything that is not strictly within the limits of probability; hence there is here no trespassing upon the domain of the fairy tale, the fable, or the myth.
That children naturally take a deep interest in such stories, no person can deny; that the reading of them will not only give pleasure, but will help to lay the foundation for broader literary studies, can scarcely be doubted. It is believed, therefore, that the present collection will be found to possess an educative value which will commend it as a supplementary reader in the middle primary grades at school. It is also hoped that the book will prove so attractive that it will be in demand out of school as well as in.
Acknowledgments are due to Mrs. Charles A. Lane, by whom eight or ten of the stories were suggested.
FIFTY FAMOUS STORIES RETOLD.
KING ALFRED AND THE CAKES.
Many years ago there lived in Eng-land a wise and good king whose name was Al-fred. No other man ever did so much for his country as he; and people now, all over the world, speak of him as Alfred the Great.
In those days a king did not have a very easy life. There was war almost all the time, and no one else could lead his army into battle so well as he. And so, between ruling and fighting, he had a busy time of it indeed.
A fierce, rude people, called the Danes, had come from over the sea, and were fighting the Eng-lish. There were so many of them, and they were so bold and strong, that for a long time they gained every battle. If they kept on, they would soon be the masters of the whole country.
At last, after a great battle, the English army was broken up and scat-tered. Every man had to save himself in the best way he could. King Alfred fled alone, in great haste, through the woods and swamps.
Late in the day the king came to the hut of a wood-cut-ter. He was very tired and hungry, and he begged the wood-cut-ter's wife to give him something to eat and a place to sleep in her hut.
The wom-an was baking some cakes upon the hearth, and she looked with pity upon the poor, ragged fellow who seemed so hungry. She had no thought that he was the king.
"Yes," she said, "I will give you some supper if you will watch these cakes. I want to go out and milk the cow; and you must see that they do not burn while I am gone."
King Alfred was very willing to watch the cakes, but he had far greater things to think about. How was he going to get his army to-geth-er again? And how was he going to drive the fierce Danes out of the land? He forgot his hunger; he forgot the cakes; he forgot that he was in the woodcutter's hut. His mind was busy making plans for to-mor-row.
In a little while the wom-an came back. The cakes were smoking on the hearth. They were burned to a crisp. Ah, how angry she was!
"You lazy fellow!" she cried. "See what you have done! You want some-thing to eat, but you do not want to work!"
I have been told that she even struck the king with a stick; but I can hardly be-lieve that she was so ill-na-tured.
The king must have laughed to himself at the thought of being scolded in this way; and he was so hungry that he did not mind the woman's angry words half so much as the loss of the cakes.
I do not know whether he had any-thing to eat that night, or whether he had to go to bed without his supper. But it was not many days until he had gath-ered his men to-geth-er again, and had beaten the Danes in a great battle.
KING ALFRED AND THE BEGGAR.
At one time the Danes drove King Alfred from his kingdom, and he had to lie hidden for a long time on a little is-land in a river.
One day, all who were on the is-land, except the king and queen and one servant, went out to fish. It was a very lonely place, and no one could get to it except by a boat. About noon a ragged beggar came to the king's door, and asked for food.
The king called the servant, and asked, "How much food have we in the house?"
"My lord," said the servant, "we have only one loaf and a little wine."
Then the king gave thanks to God, and said, "Give half of the loaf and half of the wine to this poor man."
The servant did as he was bidden. The beggar thanked the king for his kindness, and went on his way.
In the after-noon the men who had gone out to fish came back. They had three boats full of fish, and they said, "We have caught more fish to-day than in all the other days that we have been on this island."
The king was glad, and he and his people were more hopeful than they had ever been before.
When night came, the king lay awake for a long time, and thought about the things that had happened that day. At last he fancied that he saw a great light like the sun; and in the midst of the light there stood an old man with black hair, holding an open book in his hand.
It may all have been a dream, and yet to the king it seemed very real indeed. He looked and wondered, but was not afraid.
"Who are you?" he asked of the old man.
"Alfred, my son, be brave," said the man; "for I am the one to whom you gave this day the half of all the food that you had. Be strong and joyful of heart, and listen to what I say. Rise up early in the morning and blow your horn three times, so loudly that the Danes may hear it. By nine o'clock, five hundred men will be around you ready to be led into battle. Go forth bravely, and within seven days your en-e-mies shall be beaten, and you shall go back to your kingdom to reign in peace."
Then the light went out, and the man was seen no more.
In the morning the king arose early, and crossed over to the mainland. Then he blew his horn three times very loudly; and when his friends heard it they were glad, but the Danes were filled with fear.
At nine o'clock, five hundred of his bravest soldiers stood around him ready for battle. He spoke, and told them what he had seen and heard in his dream; and when he had fin-ished, they all cheered loudly, and said that they would follow him and fight for him so long as they had strength.
So they went out bravely to battle; and they beat the Danes, and drove them back into their own place. And King Alfred ruled wisely and well over all his people for the rest of his days.
KING CANUTE ON THE SEASHORE.
A hundred years or more after the time of Alfred the Great there was a king of England named Ca-nuté. King Canute was a Dane; but the Danes were not so fierce and cruel then as they had been when they were at war with King Alfred.
The great men and of-fi-cers who were around King Canute were always praising him.
"You are the greatest man that ever lived," one would say.
Then an-oth-er would say, "O king! there can never be an-oth-er man so mighty as you."
And another would say, "Great Canute, there is nothing in the world that dares to dis-o-bey you."
The king was a man of sense, and he grew very tired of hearing such foolish speeches.
One day he was by the sea-shore, and his of-fi-cers were with him. They were praising him, as they were in the habit of doing. He thought that now he would teach them a lesson, and so he bade them set his chair on the beach close by the edge of the water.
"Am I the greatest man in the world?" he asked.
"O king!" they cried, "there is no one so mighty as you."
"Do all things obey me?" he asked.
"There is nothing that dares to dis-o-bey you, O king!" they said. "The world bows before you, and gives you honor."
"Will the sea obey me?" he asked; and he looked down at the little waves which were lapping the sand at his feet.
The foolish officers were puzzled, but they did not dare to say "No."
"Command it, O king! and it will obey," said one.
"Sea," cried Canute, "I command you to come no farther! Waves, stop your rolling, and do not dare to touch my feet!"
But the tide came in, just as it always did. The water rose higher and higher. It came up around the king's chair, and wet not only his feet, but also his robe. His officers stood about him, alarmed, and won-der-ing whether he was not mad.
Then Canute took off his crown, and threw it down upon the sand.
"I shall never wear it again," he said. "And do you, my men, learn a lesson from what you have seen. There is only one King who is all-powerful; and it is he who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand. It is he whom you ought to praise and serve above all others."
THE SONS OF WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR.
There was once a great king of England who was called Wil-liam the Con-quer-or, and he had three sons.
[Illustration: "Sea, I command you to come no farther!"]
One day King Wil-liam seemed to be thinking of something that made him feel very sad; and the wise men who were about him asked him what was the matter.
"I am thinking," he said, "of what my sons may do after I am dead. For, unless they are wise and strong, they cannot keep the kingdom which I have won for them. Indeed, I am at a loss to know which one of the three ought to be the king when I am gone."
"O king!" said the wise men, "if we only knew what things your sons admire the most, we might then be able to tell what kind of men they will be. Perhaps, by asking each one of them a few ques-tions, we can find out which one of them will be best fitted to rule in your place."
"The plan is well worth trying, at least," said the king. "Have the boys come before you, and then ask them what you please."
The wise men talked with one another for a little while, and then agreed that the young princes should be brought in, one at a time, and that the same ques-tions should be put to each.
The first who came into the room was Robert. He was a tall, willful lad, and was nick-named Short Stocking.
"Fair sir," said one of the men, "answer me this question: If, instead of being a boy, it had pleased God that you should be a bird, what kind of a bird would you rather be?"
"A hawk," answered Robert. "I would rather be a hawk, for no other bird reminds one so much of a bold and gallant knight."
The next who came was young William, his father's name-sake and pet. His face was jolly and round, and because he had red hair he was nicknamed Rufus, or the Red.
"Fair sir," said the wise man, "answer me this question: If, instead of being a boy, it had pleased God that you should be a bird, what kind of a bird would you rather be?"
"An eagle," answered William. "I would rather be an eagle, because it is strong and brave. It is feared by all other birds, and is there-fore the king of them all."
Lastly came the youngest brother, Henry, with quiet steps and a sober, thought-ful look. He had been taught to read and write, and for that reason he was nick-named Beau-clerc, or the Hand-some Schol-ar.
"Fair sir," said the wise man, "answer me this question: If, instead of being a boy, it had pleased God that you should be a bird, what kind of a bird would you rather be?"
"A star-ling," said Henry. "I would rather be a star-ling, because it is good-mannered and kind and a joy to every one who sees it, and it never tries to rob or abuse its neigh-bor."
Then the wise men talked with one another for a little while, and when they had agreed among themselves, they spoke to the king.
"We find," said they, "that your eldest son, Robert, will be bold and gallant. He will do some great deeds, and make a name for himself; but in the end he will be over-come by his foes, and will die in prison.
"The second son, William, will be as brave and strong as the eagle; but he will be feared and hated for his cruel deeds. He will lead a wicked life, and will die a shameful death.
"The youngest son, Henry, will be wise and prudent and peaceful. He will go to war only when he is forced to do so by his enemies. He will be loved at home, and re-spect-ed abroad; and he will die in peace after having gained great pos-ses-sions."
Years passed by, and the three boys had grown up to be men. King William lay upon his death-bed, and again he thought of what would become of his sons when he was gone. Then he re-mem-bered what the wise men had told him; and so he de-clared that Robert should have the lands which he held in France, that William should be the King of England, and that Henry should have no land at all, but only a chest of gold.
So it hap-pened in the end very much as the wise men had fore-told. Robert, the Short Stocking, was bold and reckless, like the hawk which he so much admired. He lost all the lands that his father had left him, and was at last shut up in prison, where he was kept until he died.
William Rufus was so over-bear-ing and cruel that he was feared and hated by all his people. He led a wicked life, and was killed by one of his own men while hunting in the forest.
And Henry, the Handsome Scholar, had not only the chest of gold for his own, but he became by and by the King of England and the ruler of all the lands that his father had had in France.
THE WHITE SHIP.
King Henry, the Handsome Scholar, had one son, named William, whom he dearly loved. The young man was noble and brave, and every-body hoped that he would some day be the King of England.
One summer Prince William went with his father across the sea to look after their lands in France. They were wel-comed with joy by all their people there, and the young prince was so gallant and kind, that he won the love of all who saw him.
But at last the time came for them to go back to England. The king, with his wise men and brave knights, set sail early in the day; but Prince William with his younger friends waited a little while. They had had so joyous a time in France that they were in no great haste to tear them-selves away.
Then they went on board of the ship which was waiting to carry them home. It was a beau-ti-ful ship with white sails and white masts, and it had been fitted up on purpose for this voyage.
The sea was smooth, the winds were fair, and no one thought of danger. On the ship, every-thing had been ar-ranged to make the trip a pleasant one. There was music and dancing, and everybody was merry and glad.
The sun had gone down before the white-winged vessel was fairly out of the bay. But what of that? The moon was at its full, and it would give light enough; and before the dawn of the morrow, the narrow sea would be crossed. And so the prince, and the young people who were with him, gave themselves up to mer-ri-ment and feasting and joy.
The ear-li-er hours of the night passed by; and then there was a cry of alarm on deck. A moment after-ward there was a great crash. The ship had struck upon a rock. The water rushed in. She was sinking. Ah, where now were those who had lately been so heart-free and glad?
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