Now that the citizens had been freed of their plague, they regretted having promised so much money, and, using all kinds of excuses, they refused to pay him. Finally he went away, bitter and angry. He returned on June 26, Saint John's and Saint Paul's Day, early in the morning at seven o'clock (others say it was at noon), now dressed in a hunter's costume, with a dreadful look on his face and wearing a strange red hat. He sounded his fife in the streets, but this time it wasn't rats and mice that came to him, but rather children: a great number of boys and girls from their fourth year on. Among them was the mayor's grown daughter. The swarm followed him, and he led them into a mountain, where he disappeared with them.
All this was seen by a babysitter who, carrying a child in her arms, had followed them from a distance, but had then turned around and carried the news back to the town. The anxious parents ran in droves to the town gates seeking their children. The mothers cried out and sobbed pitifully. Within the hour messengers were sent everywhere by water and by land inquiring if the children -- or any of them -- had been seen, but it was all for naught.
In total, one hundred thirty were lost. Two, as some say, had lagged behind and came back. One of them was blind and the other mute. The blind one was not able to point out the place, but was able to tell how they had followed the piper. The mute one was able to point out the place, although he [or she] had heard nothing. One little boy in shirtsleeves had gone along with the others, but had turned back to fetch his jacket and thus escaped the tragedy, for when he returned, the others had already disappeared into a cave within a hill. This cave is still shown.
Until the middle of the eighteenth century, and probably still today, the street through which the children were led out to the town gate was called the bunge-lose (drumless, soundless, quiet) street, because no dancing or music was allowed there. Indeed, when a bridal procession on its way to church crossed this street, the musicians would have to stop playing. The mountain near Hameln where the children disappeared is called Poppenberg. Two stone monuments in the form of crosses have been erected there, one on the left side and one on the right. Some say that the children were led into a cave, and that they came out again in Transylvania.
The citizens of Hameln recorded this event in their town register, and they came to date all their proclamations according to the years and days since the loss of their children.
According to Seyfried the 22nd rather than the 26th of June was entered into the town register.
The following lines were inscribed on the town hall:
In the year 1284 after the birth of Christ
From Hameln were led away
One hundred thirty children, born at this place
Led away by a piper into a mountain.
And on the new gate was inscribed: Centum ter denos cum magus ab urbe puellos
duxerat ante annos CCLXXII condita porta fuit.
[This gate was built 272 years after the magician led the 130 children from the city.]
In the year 1572 the mayor had the story portrayed in the church windows. The accompanying inscription has become largely illegible. In addition, a coin was minted in memory of the event.
Hamelin town's in Brunswick,
By famous Hanover city;
The River Weser, deep and wide,
Washes its wall on the southern side;
A pleasanter spot you never spied;
But, when begins my ditty,
Almost five hundred years ago,
To see townsfolk suffer so
From vermin, was a pity.
They fought the dogs, and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cook's own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men's Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women's chats,
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.
At last the people in a body
To the Town Hall came flocking:
"'Tis clear," cried they, "our Mayor's a noddy;
And as for our Corporation -- shocking
To think we buy gowns lined with ermine
For dolts that can't or won't determine
What's best to rid us of our vermin!
You hope, because you're old and obese,
To find in the furry civic robe ease?
Rouse up, sirs! Give your brains a racking
To find the remedy we're lacking,
Or, sure as fate, we'll send you packing!"
At this the Mayor and Corporation
Quaked with a mighty consternation.
An hour they sate in council,
At length the Mayor broke silence:
"For a guilder I'd my ermine gown sell,
I wish I were a mile hence!
It's easy to bid one rack one's brain --
I'm sure my poor head aches again
I've scratched it so, and all in vain.
Oh for a trap, a trap, a trap!"
Just as he said this, what should hap
At the chamber-door but a gentle tap?
"Bless us," cried the Mayor, "What's that?"
(With the Corporation as he sat,
Looking little though wondrous fat;
Nor brighter was his eye, nor moister
Than a too-long-opened oyster,
Save when at noon his paunch grew mutinous
For a plate of turtle, green and glutinous.)
"Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?
Anything like the sound of a rat
Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!"
"Come in!" -- the Mayor cried, looking bigger:
And in did come the strangest figure!
His queer long coat from heel to head
Was half of yellow and half of red;
And he himself was tall and thin,
With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin,
And light loose hair, yet swarthy skin,
No tuft on cheek nor beard on chin,
But lips where smiles went out and in --
There was no guessing his kith and kin!
And nobody could enough admire
The tall man and his quaint attire.
Quoth one: "It's as my great-grandsire,
Starting up at the Trump of Doom's tone,
Had walked this way from his painted tombstone!"
He advanced to the council-table:
And, "Please your honors," said he, "I'm able,
By means of a secret charm, to draw
All creatures living beneath the sun,
That creep, or swim, or fly, or run,
After me so as you never saw!
And I chiefly use my charm
On creatures that do people harm,
The mole, and toad, and newt, and viper;
And people call me the Pied Piper."
(And here they noticed round his neck
A scarf of red and yellow stripe,
To match with his coat of selfsame cheque;
And at the scarf's end hung a pipe;
And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying
As if impatient to be playing
Upon this pipe, as low it dangled
Over his vesture, so old-fangled.)
"Yet," said he "poor piper as I am,
In Tartary I freed the Cham,
Last June, from his huge swarms of gnats;
I eased in Asia the Nizam
Of a monstrous brood of vampire-bats:
And, as for what your brain bewilders,
If I can rid your town of rats
Will you give me a thousand guilders?"
"One? fifty thousand!" -- was the exclamation
Of the astonished Mayor and Corporation.
Into the street the Piper stept,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept
In his quiet pipe the while;
Then, like a musical adept,
To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled,
And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled
Like a candle flame where salt is sprinkled;
And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,
You heard as if an army muttered;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling:
Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats,
Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives --
Followed the Piper for their lives.
From street to street he piped, advancing,
And step for step, they followed, dancing,
Until they came to the river Weser
Wherein all plunged and perished
-- Save one who, stout as Julius Caesar,
Swam across and lived to carry
(As he the manuscript he cherished)
To Rat-land home his commentary:
Which was, "At the first shrill notes of the pipe,
I heard a sound as of scraping tripe,
And putting apples, wondrous ripe,
Into a cider press's gripe:
And a moving away of pickle-tub-boards,
And a leaving ajar of conserve-cupboards,
And the drawing the corks of train-oil-flasks,
And a breaking the hoops of butter-casks;
And it seemed as if a voice
(Sweeter far than by harp or by psaltery
Is breathed) called out, Oh rats, rejoice!
The world is grown to one vast drysaltery!
So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon,
Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!
And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon,
All ready staved, like a great sun shone
Glorious scarce an inch before me,
Just as methought it said, 'Come, bore me!'
-- I found the Weser rolling o'er me."
You should have heard the Hamelin people
Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple.
"Go," cried the Mayor, "and get long poles!
Poke out the nests and block up the holes!
Consult with carpenters and builders,
And leave in our town not even a trace
Of the rats!" -- when suddenly up the face
Of the Piper perked in the market-place,
With a, "First, if you please, my thousand guilders!"
A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue;
So did the Corporation, too.
For council dinners made rare havoc
With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock;
And half the money would replenish
Their cellar's biggest butt with Rhenish.
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gypsy coat of red and yellow!
"Beside," quoth the Mayor, with a knowing wink,
"Our business was done at the river's brink;
We saw with our eyes the vermin sink,
And what's dead can't come to life, I think.
So, friend, we're not the folks to shrink
From the duty of giving you something for drink,
And a matter of money to put in your poke;
But, as for the guilders, what we spoke
Of them, as you very well know, was in joke.
Beside, our losses have made us thrifty:
A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!"
The Piper's face fell, and he cried,
"No trifling! I can't wait, beside!
I've promised to visit, by dinner-time
Bagdat, and accept the prime
Of the Head Cook's pottage, all he's rich in,
For having left, in the Caliph's kitchen,
Of a nest of scorpions no survivor:
With him I proved no bargain-driver,
With you, don't think I'll bait a stiver!
And folks who put me in a passion
May find me pipe to another fashion."
"How?" cried the Mayor, "d'ye think I brook
Being worse treated than a cook?
Insulted by a lazy ribald
With idle pipe and vesture piebald?
You threaten us, fellow? Do your worst,
Blow your pipe there till you burst!"
Once more he stept into the street;
And to his lips again
Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane;
And ere he blew three notes (such sweet
Soft notes as yet musician's cunning
Never gave the enraptured air)
There was a rustling, that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping, and little tongues chattering,
And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering,
Out came the children running.
All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.
The Mayor was dumb, and the Council stood
As if they were changed into blocks of wood,
Unable to move a step, or cry
To the children merrily skipping by,
-- Could only follow with the eye
That joyous crowd at the Piper's back.
But how the Mayor was on the rack,
And the wretched Council's bosoms beat,
As the Piper turned from the High Street
To where the Weser rolled its waters
Right in the way of their sons and daughters!
However he turned from South to West,
And to Koppelberg Hill his steps addressed,
And after him the children pressed;
Great was the joy in every breast.
"He never can cross that mighty top!
He's forced to let the piping drop,
And we shall see our children stop!"
When, lo! as they reached the mountain-side,
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain-side shut fast.
Did I say, all? No! One was lame,
And could not dance the whole of the way;
And in after years, if you would blame
His sadness, he was used to say, --
"It's dull in our town since my playmates left!
I can't forget that I'm bereft
Of all the pleasant sights they see,
Which the Piper also promised me;
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
Joining the town and just at hand,
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new;
The sparrows were brighter than the peacocks here,
And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
And honey-bees had lost their stings,
And horses were born with eagles' wings;
And just as I became assured
My lame foot would be speedily cured,
The music stopped and I stood still,
And found myself outside the hill,
Left alone against my will,
To go now limping as before,
And never hear of that country more!"
Alas, alas for Hamelin!
There came into many a burgher's pate
A text which says, that heaven's Gate
Opes to the rich at as easy rate
As the needle's eye takes a camel in!
The Mayor sent East, West, North, and South
To offer the Piper by word of mouth,
Wherever it was men's lot to find him,
Silver and gold to his heart's content,
If he'd only return the way he went,
And bring the children behind him.
But when they saw 'twas a lost endeavor,
And Piper and dancers were gone forever,
They made a decree that lawyers never
Should think their records dated duly
If, after the day of the month and year,
These words did not as well appear,
"And so long after what happened here
On the Twenty-second of July,
Thirteen hundred and Seventy-six;"
And the better in memory to fix
The place of the children's last retreat,
They called it, the Pied Piper's Street --
Where any one playing on pipe or tabor
Was sure for the future to lose his labor.
Nor suffered they hostelry or tavern
To shock with mirth a street so solemn;
But opposite the place of the cavern
They wrote the story on a column,
And on the great church-window painted
The same, to make the world acquainted
How their children were stolen away,
And there it stands to this very day.
And I must not omit to say
That in Transylvania there's a tribe
Of alien people that ascribe
The outlandish ways and dress
On which their neighbors lay such stress,
To their fathers and mothers having risen
Out of some subterraneous prison
Into which they were trepanned
Long time ago in a mighty band
Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land,
But how or why, they don't understand.
So, Willy, let you and me be wipers
Of scores out with all men -- especially pipers;
And, whether they pipe us free from rats or from mice,
If we've promised them aught, let us keep our promise.
There came into the towne of Hamel in the countrie of Brunswicke an old kind of companion, who for the fantasticall coate which he wore being wrought with sundrie colours, was called the pide Piper; for a Piper he was, besides his other qualities.
This fellow forsooth offered the townse-men for a certaine somme of money to rid the towne of all the rats that were in it (for at that time the Burgers were with that vermine greatly annoyed).
The accord in fine being made; the pide Piper with a shrill pipe went piping through the streets, and forthwith the rats came all running out of the houses in great numbers after him; all which hee led into the river of Weaser and therein drowned them.
This done, and no one rat more perceived to bee left in the towne; he afterward came to demand his reward according to his bargaine, but being told that the bargain was not made with him in good earnest, to wit, with an opinion that ever he could bee able to doe such a feat they cared not what they accorded unto, when they imagined it could never bee deserved, and so never to be demanded: but neverthelesse seeing he had done such an unlikely thing indeed, they were content to give him a good reward; and so offered him farre lesse then he lookt for; but hee therewith discontented, said he would have his full recompence according to his bargain, but they utterly denying to give it him, he threatened them with revenge; they bade him doe his worst, whereupon he betakes him againe to his pipe, and going through the streets as before, was followed of a number of boyes out at one of the gates of the Citie, and comming to a little hill, there opened in the side thereof a wid hole, into the which himselfe & all the children being in number one hundreth and thirtie, did enter; and being entred, the hill closed up againe, and became as before.
A boy that being lame and came somewhat lagging behind the rest, seeing this that hapned, returned presently backe and told what he had seene, foorthwith began great lamentation among the Parents for their children, and men were sent out with all diligence, both by land and by water to inquire if ought could be heard of them, but with all the enquirie they could possibly use, nothing more then is aforesaid could of them be understood.
In memorie whereof it was then ordained, that from thence-foorth no Drumme, Pipe or other instrument, should be sounded in the street leading to the gate through which they passed; nor no Osterie to be there holden. And it was also established, that from that time forward in all publike writings that should bee made in that towne, after the date therein set downe of the yeare of our Lord, the date of the yeare of the going foorth of their children should bee added, the which they have accordingly ever since continued. And this great wonder hapned on the 22. day of July in the yeare of our Lord, 1376.
The occasion now why this matter came unto my remembrance in speaking of Translvania, was, for that some do report that there are divers found among the Saxons in Translvania that have like surnames unto divers of the Burgers of Hamel, and will therby seeme to inferre, that this Jugler or pide Piper, might by negromancy have transported them thither, but this carrieth litle appearence of truth; because it would have beene almost as great a wonder unto the Saxon of Transilvania to have had so many strange children brought among them, they knew not how, as it was to those of Hamel to lose them: and they could not but have kept memorie of so strange a thing, if indeed any such thing had there hapned.
In their need the inhabitants turned to the Bishop of Worms, hoping that through his prayers and blessings the plague might be overcome. The bishop advised them to form a procession through the fields while beseeching God to overcome the plague. This they did.
When the procession paused at a field altar near the lake a hermit joined their ranks, saying, "The Lord has sent me to you, and if you promise to do what I say then all the ants will immediately die. Every village struck by the plague must give me one hundred guilders with which I shall build a chapel to the Lord."
They all happily promised to do this, upon which the hermit took a little pipe from his robe and blew on it. The ants all flew toward him, darkening the sky. They soon formed a black tower before the hermit, who with a final sound from his pipe sunk them all into the lake.
When the hermit came to the local authorities asking for God's payment they shouted that he was a sorcerer and deserved to be burned. This happened in all ten villages, but that did not frighten him. He told them sharply that they soon would receive their punishment.
Approaching the last house in the last village he took his pipe from his robe and began blowing on it. And behold, the hogs from the entire region broke loose from their pens and followed the hermit, who proceeded back through the ten villages. No one dared to say a word against him. Thus he led the herd of hogs to the lake where he disappeared with them.
The next year a rain of crickets devastated the entire region. The peasants now recognized how great their sin had been, and again they turned to the Bishop of Worms for advice, but he wanted nothing more to do with them. Once again they formed a procession through the fields trying through prayer to redeem themselves from heaven's anger. When they arrived at the lake a charcoal burner approached them from the mountains.
Bowing, he said to them all, "The punishment that has befallen you shall be removed if you will promise that every village shall pay to me five hundred guilders for the construction of a monastery."
The villagers happily agreed and promised faithfully. With that the charcoal burner took a small pipe from his bag and blew into it. The crickets immediately rose up and followed him to Tannenberg Mountain, where a gigantic fire consumed them all.
When the charcoal burner came for God's payment he was not treated any better in the ten villages than had been the hermit. He did not receive a single red penny.
"If that's what you want," he said quietly, then raised his pipe, and all the sheep and goats from the entire region stood as though entranced. No one dared say anything. Then he advanced to the lake, where he disappeared with the herd.
The following year came with a horde of mice, as though they had rained down from heaven. Plagued anew, the peasants penitently prayed once again and sorrowfully passed through their fields. When the procession reached the lake a little dwarf suddenly appeared in their midst.
He said, "I will take away this plague immediately, but in return each village must pay me one thousand guilders. If you won't give your money for the love of God, then at least do so for your own benefit. With this money I shall build for you a dike from the mountain road of Hendesheim (Handschuhsheim near Heidelberg) to Ramstadt so that the mountain floods will no longer damage your fields."
How quickly the peasants agreed to this!
Equally fast the yellow dwarf raised his pipe, and mice by the millions followed its sound. They all advanced to Tannenberg Mountain, which opened up, and when it closed again, there was no trace of either the dwarf or the mice.
But thanklessness is the world's reward, and the dwarf did not fare any better than had the charcoal burner or the hermit. He too responded with punishment, and what a punishment it was!
When he once again played on his pipe all the children followed him; even infants pulled themselves from their mothers' breasts and toddled along after him. When the procession reached Tannenberg Mountain a great opening appeared. The dwarf and the children went inside, and the cliff closed up again, leaving no trace of the children.
The bereaved peasants, not wanting to invite a new curse on themselves the following year, quickly raised the money and sent it to the Bishop of Worms. From that time onward they have experienced no more such plagues.
[The city of Korneuburg adjacent to Vienna was conquered by the Swedes during the Thirty Years' War in 1646.] Following an occupation of six months Korneuburg was taken back by the imperial forces. The city had by that time expanded substantially, but many of its buildings lay buried in rubble. Vermin, especially rats, multiplied beneath the ruins of the destroyed buildings until no cellar and no food storage room was safe from their devastation. Neither cats, nor traps, nor poison could bring them under control, and the city's inhabitants felt forced to flee.
A public meeting of the town council was held to decide once and for all whether to attempt continued but futile resistance against the animals or to simply abandon one's belongings, which in truth were no longer belongings at all.
There were spirited arguments back and forth when suddenly and unexpectedly a man stepped before the judge's bench and stated that he possessed the means to put an end to the city's plague. No one knew him, but his offer was accepted with loud acclaim. Everyone looked forward with fond anticipation to the next morning, when the promised rescue was to take place. In return for his deed the rescuer was to be paid a large sum of money.
As the cock crowed the man did indeed enter at the gate. He was wearing an unusual hunting outfit and carrying a very large hunter's bag. He pulled from the bag a small black transverse flute, upon which he played mournful melodies. Hoards of rats and mice followed the pipe's sound, emerging in great masses from their holes in every corner of every house in the city. They followed the flute player, who walked directly toward the Danube. There he stepped into a boat and -- continuing to play the flute -- rode to the middle of the stream. Irresistibly attracted to the music, the rats attempted to swim after him, but they all drowned in the river's raging current. Thus Korneuburg was saved.
The piper now returned and asked for the agreed payment.
Someone asked him who he was.
"I came here from Vienna," he said, "because I heard of your need. My name is Hans Mousehole, and I am the official rat killer of Magdalenengrund [a former suburb of Vienna, now part of the Mariahilf district]."
"Any fool can say that," answered a most wise councilman. "We know full well that your help is not of this world. Are you in league with the Evil One? Now see here, there is no obligation to keep one's word with black magicians or kobolds, so just take your leave, or we will turn you over to a witches' court."
"My dear people," replied the ratcatcher, "your sense of honor is remarkable, for it seems to be directed at saving you money. But hear me out. You have no right to question the means by which I saved your city from the plague. It is sufficient that it is free. I have no intention of allowing myself to be chased out of your city, and I am even less inclined to reveal to you the inner workings of my deeds, which seemed so miraculous to you. Take note that there are not merely evil, but also good higher powers. I used the latter to do good for you, for good things can come only from that which is good. But if you ungrateful people cheat me out of my well earned pay then you will come to know the evil powers as well. Thus take heed of my final word. In your city there is a recess in the wall of the house not far from the church and at its right side. Place the payment we agreed upon there before the next dawn. If you fail to do so, I will find my own reward."
He departed, followed by the loud and derisive laughter of the councilmen.
It should come as no surprise that the next morning there was no money lying in the niche.
With the sun's first rays Korneuburg experienced its own drama. Hans Mousehole, dressed in a purple-red robe and playing a golden flute, stood at the marketplace in front of the town hall. The melodious tunes that he evoked from his instrument must have sounded like music from heaven to the children, for they gathered about the mysterious musician with joyful haste. Still playing, he walked toward the Danube, where a large and handsome ship awaited him.
Led by the flute player, the procession boarded the ship. Its sails billowed, and it floated out to the middle of the stream.
This time the ratcatcher did not return. To the contrary, the ship sailed further and further from the city, and neither it nor any who were aboard were ever seen there again.
Many years later the horrified citizens of Korneuburg received news that in that same year a large number of children had been placed up for sale in the slave markets of Constantinople. They had no doubt that the children were theirs, and they rued their lack of honor, but too late.
History has recorded that Korneuburg was freed of rats at the time stated above and by a ratcatcher from Vienna in the manner described. Until not long ago there was a small rectangular marble plaque on a house in Pfarrgäßchen Street. On it could be seen an upright rat, a weathered gothic inscription, and the designation of a year, of which only the number IV could be made out. Also -- in remembrance of the event -- herdsmen from the area called their cattle and sheep together by cracking a whip instead of blowing on a cow horn.
Rats returned to the area with the great flood of 1801. Since then herdsmen have given their signals with a horn, as they had done ages ago.
The story of the abducted children, which bears a close resemblance to the legend of the Ratcatcher of Hameln, is undoubtedly based on a factual event. It may well be that during the sad times of the Thirty Years' War a flashy army piper enticed the city's youth into military service and led them away with him, and that none of the recruits returned, for they met death on the battlefield.
Newtown, or Franchville, as 'twas called of old, is a sleepy little town, upon the Solent shore. Sleepy as it is now, it was once noisy enough, and what made the noise was -- rats. The place was so infested with them as to be scarce worth living in. There wasn't a barn or a corn-rick, a storeroom or a cupboard, but they ate their way into it. Not a cheese but they gnawed it hollow, not a sugar puncheon but they cleared out. Why the very mead and beer in the barrels was not safe from them. They'd gnaw a hole in the top of the tun, and down would go one master rat's rail, and when he brought it up round would crowd all the friends and cousins, and each would have a suck at the tail.
Had they stopped here it might have been borne. But the squeaking and shrieking, the hurrying and scurrying, so that you could neither hear yourself speak nor get a wink of good honest sleep the live-long night! Not to mention that mamma must needs sit up and keep watch and ward over baby's cradle, or there'd have been a big ugly rat running across the poor little fellow's face, and doing who knows what mischief.
Why didn't the good people of the town have cats? Well they did, and there was a fair stand-up fight, but in the end the rats were too many, and the pussies were regularly driven from the field.
Poison, I hear you say? Why, they poisoned so many that it fairly bred a plague.
Ratcatchers! Why there wasn't a ratcatcher from John o' Groat's house to the Land's End that hadn't tried his luck. But do what they might, cats or poison, terrier or traps, there seemed to be more rats than ever, and every day a fresh rat was socking his tail or pricking his whiskers.
The mayor and the town council were at their wits' end. As they were sitting one day in the town hall racking their poor brains and bewailing their hard fate, who should run in but the town beadle. "Please, your honor," says he, "here is a very queer fellow come to town. I don't rightly know what to make of him."
"Show him in," said the mayor, and in he stepped.
A queer fellow, truly, For there wasn't a color of the rainbow but you might find it in some corner of his dress, and he was tall and thin, and had keen piercing eyes. "I'm called the Pied Piper," he began. "And pray what might you be willing to pay me, if I rid you of every single rat in Franchville?"
Well, much as they feared the rats, they feared parting with their money more, and fain would they have higgled and haggled. But the piper was not a man to stand nonsense, and the upshot was that fifty pounds were promised him (and it meant a lot of money in those old days) as soon as not a rat was left to squeak or scurry in Franchville.
Out of the hall stepped the piper, and as he stepped he laid his pipe to his lips and a shrill keen tune sounded through street and house. And as each note pierced the air you might have seen a strange sight. For out of every hole the rats came tumbling. There were none too old and none too young, none too big and none too little to crowd at the piper's heels and with eager feet and upturned noses to patter after him as he paced the streets. Nor was the piper unmindful of the little toddling ones, for every fifty yards he'd stop and give an extra flourish on his pipe just to give them time to keep up with the older and stronger of the band.
Up Silver Street he went, and down Gold Street, and at the end of Gold Street is the harbor and the broad Solent beyond. And as he paced along, slowly and gravely, the townsfolk flocked to door and window, and many a blessing they called down upon his head.
As for getting near him there were too many rats. And now that he was at the water's edge he stepped into a boat, and not a rat, as he shoved off into deep water, piping shrilly all the while, but followed him, plashing, paddling, and wagging their tails with delight. On and on he played and played until the tide went down, and each master rat sank deeper and deeper in the slimy ooze of the harbor, until every mother's son of them was dead and smothered.
The tide rose again, and the piper stepped on shore, but never a rat followed. You may fancy the townsfolk had been throwing up their caps and hurrahing and stopping up rat holes and setting the church bells a-ringing. But when the piper stepped ashore, and not so much as a single squeak was to be heard, the mayor and the council, and the townsfolk generally, began to hum and to haw and to shake their heads.
For the town money chest had been sadly emptied of late, and where was the fifty pounds to come from? Such an easy job, too! Just getting into a boat and playing a pipe! Why the mayor himself could have done that if only he had thought of it.
So he hummed and hawed and at last, "Come, my good man," said he. "You see what poor folk we are. How can we manage to pay you fifty pounds? Will you not take twenty? When all is said and done, 'twill be good pay for the trouble you've taken."
"Fifty pounds was what I bargained for," said the piper shortly, "and if I were you I'd pay it quickly, for I can pipe many kinds of tunes, as folk sometimes find to their cost."
"Would you threaten us, you strolling vagabond?" shrieked the mayor, and at the same time he winked to the council. "The rats are all dead and drowned," muttered he; and so, "You may do your worst, my good man," and with that he turned short upon his heel.
"Very well," said the piper, and he smiled a quiet smile. With that he laid his pipe to his lips afresh, but now there came forth no shrill notes, as it were, of scraping and gnawing, and squeaking and scurrying, but the tune was joyous and resonant, full of happy laughter and merry play. And as he paced down the streets the elders mocked, but from schoolroom and playroom, from nursery and workshop, not a child but ran out with eager glee and shout following gaily at the piper's call. Dancing, laughing, joining hands and tripping feet, the bright throng moved along up Gold Street and down Silver Street, and beyond Silver Street lay the cool green forest full of old oaks and wide-spreading beeches. In and out among the oak trees you might catch glimpses of the pipers many-colored coat. You might hear the laughter of the children break and fade and die away as deeper and deeper into the lone green wood the stranger went, and the children followed.
All the while, the elder watched and waited. They mocked no longer now. And watch and wait as they might, never did they set their eyes again upon the piper in his parti-colored coat. Never were their hearts gladdened by the song and dance of the children issuing forth from amongst the ancient oaks of the forest.
The ratcatcher knows a particular tone, which he sounds nine times on his pipe, and then all rats follow after him, wherever he wants them to go, into a pond or a pool.
Once a village could not be rid of its rats, and finally they sent for the ratcatcher. He prepared a hazel stick in such a manner that all rats were drawn toward it. They would then have to follow anyone who took hold of the stick. Waiting until a Sunday, he laid it in front of the church door. As the people were going home after the worship service, a miller came by, saw the good-looking stick lying there and said, "That will make a fine walking stick for me." He picked it up and left the village, walking toward his mill.
Meanwhile a number of rats began to leave their cracks and corners and came running and jumping across the fields toward him. The miller, still carrying the stick, had no idea what was happening. When he came to a meadow, they ran from their holes and ran across the fields and pastures after him. Running ahead, they were inside his house before he himself was, and they stayed there as a plague that could not be overcome.
It is very noteworthy that there are no rats at all in the city of Neustadt-Eberswalde. The explanation is as follows:
In earlier times there were a great many rats there, especially in the town's grain mill, where they caused much damage. In about the year 1607 or 1608 a certain man presented himself to the council and offered to get rid of these vermin, claiming that no rats would return to the mill as long as it should stand. He did not ask for even the slightest payment until one year after he had done away with the rats. At that time his charge would be ten thalers, which was promised to him. The magistrate had him paid two thalers in advance.
The man then placed something in the mill and something else in a secret place. The following day the people saw with amazement how the rats left the mill in a great swarm and swam out into the Finow River, that flows by there. Not a single rat was left behind.
A year later the man returned to collect the eight thalers that were still owed him, and he was paid. From that time forth no trace of a rat has been seen there, neither in the mill, nor in the city.
They say that the soil from this area formerly could be used as protection against rats. People who were plagued with rats would go to Ummanz and get a sack of soil from the Rott. A small handful of this soil shook into the rat holes would be sufficient to drive the rats away within a few hours. All this was credited to the foreign sorcerer.
More recently, however, following the death of the earlier population and after many outsiders had come to Ummanz, rats found their way back to the island, and since then not even soil from the Rott will help to drive them away.
The mice stood at attention and then marched in orderly columns, as in the military, out of the Vinschgau district. They rested for a few days and then disappeared altogether.
Unfortunately the sorcerer disappeared with them, so the thankful inhabitants could not pay him the expected reward. No one knows the incantation, and in any event the entire legend is confused and mysterious. This may well result from the fact that it is told and retold in the village taverns, of which there are many in the countryside.
While the fire was burning he took forth a book, out of which he read much, and while he read, rats and mice, serpents and various reptiles were seen to go into the fire. But at last there came a dragon, at the sight of which the man complained that he was betrayed and must now perish himself. The serpent then wound his tail round both the man and his chair, and thus entered the fire, where they both perished together.
In the city of Aleppo there was a king. As mice abounded in that city, the people complained of them every day. One day, while the king was conversing with Avicenna, they touched upon the mice. The king said, "O Avicenna, everyone complains of these mice. Would that we could find some remedy for them that everyone might be at ease."
Avicenna answered, "I will make it happen that not a single one of them remain in this city. But with this condition, that you stand at the city gate, and beware, whatever wonder you see, that you not laugh."
The king consented and was glad. Straightway he ordered that they prepare his horse, and he mounted and went to the gate.
Avicenna, on his part, stood in a street and repeated a charm and called the mice. One of the mice came, and he caught it and killed it and put it in a coffin and made four mice bear that coffin. Then he repeated the charm and began to strike his hands one against the other; and these four mice began to march slowly along. And all the mice that were in the city attended that funeral, so that the streets were filled full of them. They came to the gate where the king was standing, some of them before the coffin and some of them behind. And while the king was looking on, he saw these mice with the coffin on their shoulders, and, unable to resist, he laughed. As soon as he laughed, the mice that were outside the gate all died, but those that were within the gate dispersed and ran off inside.
Avicenna said, "O king, if you had kept my counsel and not laughed, not a single mouse would have remained in this city, but all of them would have gone out and died. And everyone would have been at ease."
And the king repented of his having laughed. But what could he do? Repentance too late profits not.
Thus did a girl who had followed them afar report to her parents, and thereupon diligent search and inquiry was soon made over land and water to find out whether the children had possibly been stolen and led away. But nobody could tell what had become of the children. This grieved the parents terribly, and is a fearful example of divine anger against sin.
This is all written in the town-book of Hammel, where many persons of high standing have read and heard it.
A man with a hurdy-gurdy once came to Brandenburg. He played and played, and such wonderful tones came out of his music box that all the city's children followed after him in a great swarm. He went out the gate to Marienberg (Mary's Mountain). It opened up and the man went inside with all the children. They were never seen again.
The parents sought their children and raised a great clamor of despair until they discovered that the children had arrived at Arnstadt. Then they arranged for carts and wagons (for many of the children were very small) and had the children brought back home.