The Red Fairy Book
A VERY long time ago the town of Hamel in Germany was invaded by bands of rats, the
like of which had never been seen before nor will ever be again.
They were great black creatures that ran boldly in broad daylight through the streets, and
swarmed so, all over the houses, that people at last could not put their hand or foot down
anywhere without touching one. When dressing in the morning they found them in their
breeches and petticoats, in their pockets and in their boots; and when they wanted a
morsel to eat, the voracious horde had swept away everything from cellar to garret. The
night was even worse. As soon as the lights were out, these untiring nibblers set to work.
And everywhere, in the ceilings, in the floors, in the cupboards, at the doors, there was a
chase and a rummage, and so furious a noise of gimlets, pincers, and saws, that a deaf
man could not have rested for one hour together.
Neither cats nor dogs, nor poison nor traps, nor prayers nor candles burnt to all the saints-
-nothing would do anything. The more they killed the more came. And the inhabitants of
Hamel began to go to the dogs (not that THEY were of much use), when one Friday there
arrived in the town a man with a queer face, who played the bagpipes and sang this
`Qui vivra verra:
Le preneur des rats.'
He was a great gawky fellow, dry and bronzed, with a crooked nose, a long rat-tail
moustache, two great yellow piercing and mocking eyes, under a large felt hat set off by a
scarlet cock's feather. He was dressed in a green jacket with a leather belt and red
breeches, and on his feet were sandals fastened by thongs passed round his legs in the
That is how he may be seen to this day, painted on a window of the cathedral of Hamel.
He stopped on the great market-place before the town hall, turned his back on the church
and went on with his music, singing:
`Who lives shall see:
This is he,
The town council had just assembled to consider once more this plague of Egypt, from
which no one could save the town.
The stranger sent word to the counsellors that, if they would make it worth his while, he
would rid them of all their rats before night, down to the very last.
`Then he is a sorcerer!' cried the citizens with one voice; `we must beware of him.'
The Town Counsellor, who was considered clever, reassured them.