The Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Once upon a time on the banks of a great river in northern Germany there was a town called Hamelin. The citizens of Hamelin were honest and content. Many peaceful, prosperous years passed until one day, an extraordinary thing happened to disturb the peace.

Hamelin had always had many rats, but they had never been a danger, because the cats had always kept their numbers down. Suddenly, however, the rats began to multiply. Soon a black sea of rats swarmed over the whole town. First, they attacked the barns and warehouses; then, they gnawed the wood, cloth, and everything else within their reach. The only thing they didn't eat was metal.

The terrified citizens begged the town councilors to free them from the plague of rats. But the council had, for a long time, been trying to think of a plan. “What we need is an army of cats!” But all of the cats were dead. They had all died from a strange illness the year before. “We'll put down poisoned food then.” But most of the food was already gone, and even poison did not stop the rats. The meeting was interrupted by a loud knock at the door.

They opened the door and there stood a tall thin man dressed in brightly colored clothes, with a long plume in his hat. He was waving a golden pipe at them.

“I've freed other towns of beetles, bats, and rats,” the stranger proclaimed, “and for a thousand florins, I'll get rid of your rats!”

“A thousand florins!” exclaimed the mayor. “We'll give you one hundred thousand if you succeed!”

At once the stranger hurried away, saying, “It's late now, but at dawn tomorrow, there won't be a rat left in Hamelin!” The sun was still below the horizon when the melodic sound of a pipe wafted through the streets of Hamelin. The pied piper slowly made his way through the houses, and behind him flocked the rats. Out they scampered from doors, windows, and gutters, rats of every size, all after the piper. As he played, he marched down to the river and straight into the water, up to his waist. Behind him swarmed the rats, and every one was drowned and swept away by the current. By the time the sun was high in the sky, there was not a single rat in the town.

There was great delight at the town hall, until the piper tried to claim his payment.

“One hundred thousand florins?” exclaimed the councilors, “Never!”

“A thousand florins at least!” cried the pied piper angrily.

But the mayor broke in. “The rats are all dead now and they can never come back. So be grateful for fifty florins, or you'll not get even that.”

His eyes flashing with rage, the pied piper waved a threatening finger at the mayor. “You'll bitterly regret ever breaking your promise,” he said, and vanished.

A shiver of fear ran through the councilors, but the mayor shrugged and said excitedly, “We've saved nine hundred and fifty florins!”

That night, freed from the nightmare of the rats, the citizens of Hamelin slept more soundly than ever. And when the strange sound of piping wafted through the streets at dawn, only the children heard it. Drawn as if by magic, they hurried out of their homes. Again, the pied piper paced through the town, and this time, it was children of all shapes and sizes who flocked at his heels to the sound of his strange piping. The long procession soon left the town and made its way through the wood and across the forest, until it reached the foot of a huge mountain. When the piper came to the dark rock, he played his pipe louder still, and a giant door opened. Beyond it was a cave. In went the children behind the pied piper, and when the last child had gone into the darkness, the door slowly shut.

A great landslide came down the mountain blocking the entrance to the cave forever. Only one little lame boy escaped this fate, and he told the anxious citizens of Hamelin who were searching for their children what had happened.

No matter what the people did, the mountain never gave up its victims. Many years were to pass before the merry voices of other children would ring through the streets of Hamelin, but the memory of the harsh lesson remained etched in everyone's heart and was passed down through the generations.

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