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Fifty Famous Stories Retold online

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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

Grace Darling

The Story of William Tell

Arnold Winkelried

The Bell of Atri

How Napoleon crossed the Alps

The Story of Cincinnatus

The Story of Regulus

Cornelia's Jewels

Androclus and the Lion

Horatius at the Bridge

Julius Cæsar

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

Doctor Goldsmith

The Kingdoms

The Barmecide Feast

The Endless Tale

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Maximilian and the Goose Boy

The Inchcape Rock

Whittington and his Cat


Antonio Canova




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.




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

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

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.


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

"My lord," said the servant, "we have only one loaf and a little

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

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.


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."


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

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.


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

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?

Every heart was full of fear. No one knew what to do. A small boat was
quickly launched, and the prince with a few of his bravest friends
leaped into it. They pushed off just as the ship was be-gin-ning to
settle beneath the waves. Would they be saved?

They had rowed hardly ten yards from the ship, when there was a cry
from among those that were left behind.

"Row back!" cried the prince. "It is my little sister. She must be

The men did not dare to disobey. The boat was again brought along-side
of the sinking vessel. The prince stood up, and held out his arms for
his sister. At that moment the ship gave a great lurch forward into
the waves. One shriek of terror was heard, and then all was still save
the sound of the moaning waters.

Ship and boat, prince and prin-cess, and all the gay com-pa-ny that
had set sail from France, went down to the bottom together. One man
clung to a floating plank, and was saved the next day. He was the only
person left alive to tell the sad story.

When King Henry heard of the death of his son his grief was more than
he could bear. His heart was broken. He had no more joy in life; and
men say that no one ever saw him smile again.

Here is a poem about him that your teacher may read to you, and
perhaps, after a while, you may learn it by heart.


The bark that held the prince went down,
The sweeping waves rolled on;
And what was England's glorious crown
To him that wept a son?
He lived, for life may long be borne
Ere sorrow breaks its chain:
Why comes not death to those who mourn?
He never smiled again.

There stood proud forms before his throne,
The stately and the brave;
But who could fill the place of one, -
That one beneath the wave?
Before him passed the young and fair,
In pleasure's reckless train;
But seas dashed o'er his son's bright hair -
He never smiled again.

He sat where festal bowls went round;
He heard the minstrel sing;
He saw the tour-ney's victor crowned
Amid the knightly ring.
A murmur of the restless deep
Was blent with every strain,
A voice of winds that would not sleep -
He never smiled again.

Hearts, in that time, closed o'er the trace
Of vows once fondly poured,
And strangers took the kins-man's place
At many a joyous board;
Graves which true love had bathed with tears
Were left to heaven's bright rain;
Fresh hopes were born for other years -
_He_ never smiled again!




There was once a king of England whose name was John. He was a bad
king; for he was harsh and cruel to his people, and so long as he
could have his own way, he did not care what became of other folks. He
was the worst king that England ever had.

Now, there was in the town of Can´ter-bur-y a rich old abbot who lived
in grand style in a great house called the Abbey. Every day a hundred
noble men sat down with him to dine; and fifty brave knights, in fine
velvet coats and gold chains, waited upon him at his table.

When King John heard of the way in which the abbot lived, he made up
his mind to put a stop to it. So he sent for the old man to come and
see him.

"How now, my good abbot?" he said. "I hear that you keep a far better
house than I. How dare you do such a thing? Don't you know that no man
in the land ought to live better than the king? And I tell you that no
man shall."

"O king!" said the abbot, "I beg to say that I am spending nothing but
what is my own. I hope that you will not think ill of me for making
things pleasant for my friends and the brave knights who are with me."

"Think ill of you?" said the king. "How can I help but think ill of
you? All that there is in this broad land is mine by right; and how do
you dare to put me to shame by living in grander style than I? One
would think that you were trying to be king in my place."

"Oh, do not say so!" said the abbot "For I" -

"Not another word!" cried the king. "Your fault is plain, and unless
you can answer me three questions, your head shall be cut off, and all
your riches shall be mine."

"I will try to answer them, O king!" said the abbot.

"Well, then," said King John, "as I sit here with my crown of gold on
my head, you must tell me to within a day just how long I shall live.
Sec-ond-ly, you must tell me how soon I shall ride round the whole
world; and lastly, you shall tell me what I think."

"O king!" said the abbot, "these are deep, hard questions, and I
cannot answer them just now. But if you will give me two weeks to
think about them, I will do the best that I can."

"Two weeks you shall have," said the king; "but if then you fail to
answer me, you shall lose your head, and all your lands shall be

The abbot went away very sad and in great fear. He first rode to
Oxford. Here was a great school, called a u-ni-ver´si-ty, and he
wanted to see if any of the wise pro-fess-ors could help him. But they
shook their heads, and said that there was nothing about King John in
any of their books.

Then the abbot rode down to Cam-bridge, where there was another
u-ni-ver-si-ty. But not one of the teachers in that great school could
help him.

At last, sad and sor-row-ful, he rode toward home to bid his friends
and his brave knights good-by. For now he had not a week to live.


As the abbot was riding up the lane which led to his grand house, he
met his shep-herd going to the fields.

"Welcome home, good master!" cried the shepherd. "What news do you
bring us from great King John?"

"Sad news, sad news," said the abbot; and then he told him all that
had happened.

"Cheer up, cheer up, good master," said the shepherd. "Have you never
yet heard that a fool may teach a wise man wit? I think I can help you
out of your trouble."

"You help me!" cried the abbot "How? how?"

"Well," answered the shepherd, "you know that everybody says that I
look just like you, and that I have some-times been mis-tak-en for
you. So, lend me your servants and your horse and your gown, and I
will go up to London and see the king. If nothing else can be done, I
can at least die in your place."

"My good shepherd," said the abbot, "you are very, very kind; and I
have a mind to let you try your plan. But if the worst comes to the
worst, you shall not die for me. I will die for myself."

So the shepherd got ready to go at once. He dressed himself with

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Online LibraryJames BaldwinFifty Famous Stories Retold → online text (page 1 of 7)