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Age Rating 8 Plus.

Hans and his dog.

From The Book of Stories for the Storyteller by Fanny E. Coe.

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Far away across the sea, in a country called Switzerland, there once lived a little boy whose name was Hans. Switzerland is a wonderful country, full of beautiful snowy mountains, where gleaming ice-fields shine, and dark pine forests grow. Hans lived with his aunt and his uncle in a village up among these mountains. He could not remember any other home, for his father and his mother had died when he was a little baby, and his aunt and his uncle, who had not a child of their own, had taken care of him ever since. Han's uncle was a guide. He showed the safest ways and best paths to travellers, who came from all over the world to see the mountains. Every summer the little town where Hans lived was full of strangers. Some of them came in carriages, some on foot; some were rich, some were poor; but all of them wanted to climb to the mountain-tops, where the snows are always white and dazzling against the blue sky. The paths over the mountains are slippery and dangerous, leading across the ice-fields by cracks and chasms most fearful to see. The travellers dared not climb them without someone to show the way, and nobody in the village knew the way so well as Hans's uncle. The uncle was so brave and trusty that he was known throughout the whole country, and everybody who came to the mountains wanted him as guide. One day a Prince came, and no sooner had he rested from his journey than he sent for Hans's uncle. That very day Hans was five years old, and so his uncle told him that because it was his birthday, he, too, might go to see the Prince. This was a great treat for Hans, and his aunt made haste to dress him in his best clothes.

"You must be good," she told him a dozen times before he set out with his uncle to the hotel where the Prince was staying. When they got there they found everything in a bustle, for the place was full of fine ladies and gentlemen who had come with the Prince, and the servants were hurrying here and there to wait on them. Nobody even saw the little boy, in holiday clothes, who tiptoed so quietly over the beautiful carpets. Nobody, I should say, but the Prince; for after the Prince had finished his business with Hans's uncle, he smiled at Hans and asked his name and how old he was. Hans was very proud to say that he was five years old that very day; and when the Prince heard this he took a gold-piece from his purse and gave it to Hans. "This is for a birthday present," he said, "and you must buy what you want most." Hans could scarcely believe his own eyes. He ran every step of the way home, to show the gold-piece to his aunt; and, when she saw it, she was almost as pleased as he was. "You must buy something that you can keep always," she said. "What shall it be?--a silver chain!" she cried, clasping her hands at the thought of it. "A silver chain to wear upon your coat when you are a man, and have, perhaps, a watch to hang upon it! 'Twill be a fine thing to show--a silver chain that a Prince gave you!" Hans was not certain that he wanted a chain more than anything else, but his aunt was very sure about it; so she gave the gold-piece to a soldier cousin, who bought the chain in a city where he went to drill before the very Prince who had given Hans the money.

When the chain came, the aunt called all the neighbours to see it. "The Prince himself gave the child the money that bought it," she said again and again. Hans thought the chain very fine; but after he had looked at it a while he was quite willing that his aunt should put it away in the great chest where she kept the holiday clothes and the best tablecloths. The chain lay there so long that Hans felt sorry for it, and wondered if it did not get lonely. He got lonely often himself, for there was nobody to play with him at his own home, and his aunt did not encourage him to play with other children. She liked a quiet house, she said, and she supposed that everybody else did. Hans made no more noise than a mouse. He stayed a great deal in the stable with the cows. The cows and he were good friends. One of them, the oldest of all, had given milk for him when he was a baby, and he never forgot to carry her a handful of salt at milking-time. He often thought that he would rather have bought a cow with the gold-piece than a silver chain; but he did not tell anybody, for fear of being laughed at. Once he asked his aunt to let him play with the silver chain; but she held up her hands in amazement at the thought of such a thing. So the chain lay in the dark chest, as I have said, for a long time--nearly a year. Then there was a great festival in the town, and the aunt took the chain from its wrappings and fastened it about Hans's neck with a ribbon. She and Hans had on their best clothes, and all the village was prepared for a holiday.

Flags were flying, fiddlers were playing gay tunes on their fiddles, and the drummer boy kept time on his drum and made a great noise. In the middle of the village square was a merry-go-round, which Hans and the other children liked best of all. "If you are good, you shall ride," said Hans's aunt, as she hurried him on to the place where the strong men of the village were lifting great stones to show their strength. Then the swift runners ran races, and the skilful marksmen shot at targets. Oh! Hans was tired before he saw half the sights; and he wished that his aunt would remember about the merry-go-round. He did not like to worry her, though, so he sat down on a doorstep to rest, while she talked to her friends in the crowd. By-and-by a man with a covered basket came and sat down beside him. He put the basket down on the step, and Hans heard a queer little grumbling sound inside. "Oh yes," said the man, "you want to get out." "Row, row!" said the thing in the basket. When the man saw how surprised Hans looked, he lifted the lid of the basket and let him peep in. What do you think was in the basket? The dearest baby puppy that Hans had ever seen. "There," said the man, shutting down the lid, "there is the finest Saint Bernard dog in Switzerland. Do you know anybody who might want to buy him?" "Are you going to sell him?" asked Hans. "Yes, indeed," said the man. "How would you like to buy him yourself?" "I!" said Hans. "Oh! I would rather have him than anything else in the world; but I haven't any money. I haven't anything of my own but this silver chain."

"Is that yours?" asked the man. "It is a very fine chain." "Oh yes," cried Hans. "But I would a thousand times rather have a dog." "Well, then," said the man, "if you are sure that the chain is yours, and if you want the dog so much, I'll let you have him for it, although he's worth a fortune." And so, in less time than I take to tell it, the chain was off Hans's neck and the dog was in his arms. Then he ran to find his aunt. "Oh, aunt!" he called, even before he reached her, "look at this beautiful dog. He is my very own. The man let me have him for my silver chain." "Your silver chain!" cried his aunt angrily, coming to meet him in haste. "Your silver chain! What do you mean, you stupid child? Not the silver chain that was bought for your birthday? Not the silver chain that the Prince gave you? A nice bargain, indeed! Where is the man?" And, catching the child by the hand, she hurried back through the crowd so fast that he almost had to run to keep up with her. The great tears ran down Hans's cheeks and on to the dog's back, but his aunt did not notice them. She scolded and scolded as she made her way back to the doorstep. When they got there the man was nowhere to be seen, and nobody could tell them which way he had gone. So, although they looked for him until almost dark, they had to go home without finding him. Hans still carried the dog in his arms, and all the neighbours they met stopped to ask if silly Hans had really given his silver chain for a dog, as they had heard.


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