Newtown is a sleepy little town on the Solent shore in the Isle of Wight in England. Once it was a very noisy town and what made the noise was – rats. The town was full of them. The rats got into the houses, the cupboards and the cellars. They ate sugar, cheese, even beer was not safe from them. At night they squeaked and shrieked, so that people could not sleep. It also happened that they woke people in the middle of them night as they ran across their faces.
People of Newtown tried everything to get rid of the rats. They had cats, but there were too many rats and they scared the cats away. The people also tried to poison them, there were hundreds of rats dead in streets but still new rats were born. The people also tried to hire ratcatchers, but in vain. There were even more rats than before.
One day, the Mayor and the town council were in the town hall and suddenly a strange man came in and wanted to speak to them.
“Show him in,” said the Mayor.
The man was strange indeed. He had a very colourful coat, he was tall and thin, and had keen piercing eyes.
“People call me the Pied Piper,” he began. “If I get rid of every rat in Newtown, what will you pay me?”
Well, more than the rats, they feared paying any money, and they liked to higgle and haggle. But the Piper was not a stupid man, and finally they promised him fifty pounds (and it meant a lot of money in those old days) as soon as all the rats were chased away from Newtown.
The Piper went out of the town hall, and he put his pipe to his lips and a shrill tune sounded through street the streets and houses. And now the rats started to come out of every hole. There were the old and young, big and small. all crowded at the Piper’s heels and they followed him as he walked down the streets. On the was the Piper stopped a few times to wait for the slow rats to join the others.
He went up Silver Street, and down Gold Street, and at the end of Gold Street there is the harbour and the sea. And now when he was at the water’s edge he stepped into a boat and all the rats followed him into water where they drowned.
The people of Newtown cheered and laughed. But the Mayor and the Council were not as happy as the other people. They had to pay fifty pounds and they didn’t have it. And so much money for such an easy job! He jus got into a boat playing a pipe! Why did not the Mayor himself think of it?
“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? It will be a good price.”
“Fifty pounds was what I bargained for,” said the Piper shortly; “and if I were you I’d pay it quickly. I can pipe many kinds of tunes.”
“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. “What are you going to do, my good man, ha?!” and with that he turned around.
“Very well,” said the Piper, and he smiled. Then he put his pipe to his lips, but now he played a joyous and resonant tune, full of happy laughter and merry play. And as he walked down the streets all the children of the town ran out of the houses and joined the Piper on his way. Dancing and laughing they moved along up Gold Street and down Silver Street to a cool green forest full of old oaks and wide-spreading beeches. The laughter of the children broke and faded and died away as deeper and deeper into the green woods the stranger went and the children followed.
The elders did not laugh anymore. They watched and waited, but they never saw the Piper in his colourful coat again. They never saw their children come back from the ancient forest.