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One evening, in times long ago, old Philemon and his wife Baucis sat at their cottage door, enjoying the calm and beautiful sunset. They had already eaten their frugal supper, and intended now to spend a quiet hour or two before bedtime. So they talked together about their garden, and their cow, and their bees, and their grapevine, which clambered over the cottage wall, and on which the grapes were beginning to turn purple.
The rude shouts of the children, and the fierce barking of dogs in the village near at hand, grew louder and louder, until, at last, it was hardly possible for Baucis and Philemon to hear each other speak.
“Ah, wife,” cried Philemon, “I fear some poor traveller is seeking hospitality among our neighbors yonder, and, instead of giving him food and lodging, they have set their dogs at him, as their custom is.”
1 See note on page 261. 2 Find the definition and pronunciation of these words in the vocabulary.
Well-a-day!” answered Baucis,“ I do wish our neighbors felt a little more kindness for their fellow-creatures. And only think of bringing up their children in this naughty way, and patting them on the head when they fling stones at strangers !”
“ Those children will never come to any good end,” said Philemon, shaking his white head. “To tell
the truth, wife, I should not wonder if some terrible thing were to happen to all the people in the village, unless they mend their manners. But, as for you and me, as long as Providence affords us a crust of bread, let us be ready to give half to any poor, homeless stranger that may come along and need it.”
“That's right, husband,” said Baucis. will !”
These old folks, you must know, were quite poor, and had to work hard for a living. Old Philemon toiled diligently in his garden, while Baucis was always busy with her distaff, or making a little butter and cheese with their cow's milk, or doing one thing and another about the cottage. Their food was seldom anything but bread, milk, and vegetables, with sometimes a portion of honey from their beehive, and now and then a bunch of grapes that had ripened against the cottage wall.
They were two of the kindest old people in the world, and would cheerfully have gone without their dinners, any day, rather than refuse a slice of their brown loaf,
66 So we
a cup of new milk, and a spoonful of honey to the weary traveller who might pause before their door.
Their cottage stood on a low hill, at some short distance from a village, which lay in a hollow valley that was about half a mile in breadth. This valley, in past ages, when the world was new, had probably been the bed of a lake. There fishes had glided to and fro in the depths, water-weeds had grown along the margin, and trees and hills had seen their reflected images in the broad and peaceful mirror. But, as the waters subsided, men had cultivated the soil, and built houses on it, so that it was now a fertile spot, and bore no traces of the ancient lake, except a very small brook, which meandered through the midst of the village, and supplied the inhabitants with water.
The valley had been dry land so long that oaks had sprung up, and grown great and high, and perished with old age, and been succeeded by others, as tall and stately as the first. Never was there a-prettier or more fruitful valley. The very sight of the plenty around them should have made the inhabitants kind and gentle, and ready to show their gratitude to Providence by doing good to their fellow-creatures.
But, we are sorry to say, the people of this lovely village were not worthy to dwell in a spot on which Heaven had smiled so beneficently. They were a very selfish and hard-hearted people, and had no pity for the poor, nor sympathy with the homeless. They would only have laughed, had anybody told them that human beings owe a debt of love to one another, because there is no other method of paying the debt of love and care which all of us owe to Providence.
You will hardly believe what I am going to tell you. These wicked people taught their children to be no better than themselves, and used to clap their hands by way of encouragement when they saw the little boys and girls run after some poor stranger, shouting at his heels, and pelting him with stones. They kept large and fierce dogs, and whenever a traveller ventured to show himself in the village street, this pack of disagreeable curs scampered to meet him, barking, snarling, and showing their teeth. Then they would seize him by his leg, or by his clothes, just as it happened ; and if he were ragged when he came, he was generally a pitiable object before he had time to run away. This was a very terrible thing to poor travellers, as you may suppose, especially when they chanced to be sick, or feeble, or lame, or old. Such persons (if they once knew how badly these unkind people, and the unkind children and dogs, were in the habit of behaving) would go miles and miles out of their way, rather than try to pass through the village again.
So now you can understand why Philemon spoke so sorrowfully, when he heard the shouts of the children and the barking of the dogs at the farther extremity of
the village street. There was a confused din, which lasted a good while, and seemed to pass quite through the breadth of the valley.
“I never heard the dogs bark so loudly!” observed the good old man.
“ Nor the children shout so rudely!” answered his good old wife.
They sat shaking their heads, one to another, while the noise came nearer and nearer, until, at the foot of the little eminence on which their cottage stood, they saw two travellers approaching on foot. Close behind them came the fierce dogs, snarling at their very heels.
A little farther off ran a group of children, who sent up shrill cries, and flung stones at the two strangers with all their might. Once or twice the younger of the two men (he was a slender and very active figure) turned about and drove back the dogs with a staff, which he carried in his hand. His companion, who was a very tall person, walked calmly along, as if disdaining to notice either the naughty children, or the pack of dogs, whose manner the children seemed to imitate.
Both of the travellers were very humbly clad, and looked as if they might not have money enough in their pockets to pay for a night's lodging. And this, I am afraid, was the reason why the villagers had allowed their children and dogs to treat them so rudely.
“Come, wife,” said Philemon to Baucis, “ let us go