Once upon a time there was a mother goat who had seven little kids. They lived in a comfortable house in an area that was popular with folk who wished to advance themselves and who enjoyed tending their gardens at weekends. The neighbourhood could be described as cheerful but restrained. Houses were clean and tidy, but casual visitors were not encouraged. There may have been a father goat, but if there were, his comings and goings were a secret. There was no finding out anything about him by questioning, for his wife, if that is who she was, would look at you with those strange unreadable eyes possessed by goats everywhere.
Whilst men feel sympathy with the large blue-
As often happened, one evening after the kids had had their tea, the mother goat put on her hat and coat, took up her bag and said to the eldest, “I have to go out to do some shopping and I may be away for some time. Look after the young kids. Do not let them eat the carpets or the washing and, above all take care not to answer the door, or let anyone in. I do not want the neighbours to see the house in such a state, and besides, I have heard that there are wolves about!”. Of course this did not frighten the kids; in fact it made them excited because they had seen stories of wolves on television and had watched a number of videos about them and knew that the wolves, being stupid, always came off very badly. When the mother goat reached the end of the road, the youngest kid, standing on a chair to look out of the bedroom window, called out in his thin excited voice. “We can play now, She’s gone!” For the next half hour or so, many of the neighbours had occasion to draw aside their curtains to see what all the noise was about.
Now as it happened, the mother goat was not far wrong, because there was a wolf in the area. He was thin and bony, although his stomach tended to bulge. His hair was bedraggled, and his coat was shabby, but respectable. He knew the effect wolves had on others, especially when they spoke with their fierce voices, so he had worked on his speech and taken great pains to remove any trace of harshness. How he did it is not known; certainly not by eating chalk, as is sometimes recorded, because since his school days he had acquired a great aversion to chalk and all its ways. Nevertheless he had been successful, and to hear his voice from behind a wall or in another room was almost like listening to the sound that some of our more brightly coloured flowers would make if they could speak. It is indeed known that for all their beauty, flowers are engaged in the most desperate battles that the world knows. Each one is trying to conquer space either near or far, and because the world is already full, this requires aggression deceit and treachery, so that the trumpeting of daffodils in spring is nothing more than the battle cry of soldiers massed on the hillside.
Such thoughts did not, however, trouble the heads of the wolf or of the kids. When he knocked on the front door and called out in his rising melodious way “Is there anyone at home?” The kids became quiet immediately and almost without thinking rushed to the door, before one of them remembered their mother’s caution. Then he knocked again and said, “I have come to see your mother, but if you would like it, I could show you what I have brought for her.” The kids, who had never taken their mother’s remarks seriously in the first place, looked at each other. Then one of them grinned and another walked slowly towards the door expecting to hear the others tell him to stop. As it happened none did and before anyone else moved, the door was opened.
What they saw then did not cause any alarm. Standing in front of them was a tall dishevelled stranger, with a curious but comforting fruity smell, holding a large black travelling bag. He smiled at them each in turn and then took a bag of sweets out of his pocket and told them to pass it round and that he did not expect to see any left when the bag returned. Unbeknown to the kids he was, in fact, an encyclopaedia salesman and his bag was packed with heavy volumes. Curiously enough, he himself had little time for reading and so little ability at it that he moved his lips even when attempting a quite simple passage. Being aware of this, and of the effect it might have on his sales, he was very careful to rehearse everything he might need to say in advance and where possible to quote piecemeal from the salesman’s handbook.
This time he knew that he would have no such difficulty and he said to the kids, “You look like clever children who will one day go a long way in the world. I am sure that your mother is proud of you. He took care not to make mention of any father, so perhaps he knew something that we do not. Then he said, “I wonder if you can guess what is in my bag”. So one said “Toys” and another said “Sweets” whilst yet another said “Videos”. But he said, “Wrong, all of you, it is something much better, Books!”. Then they started to fidget uneasily because even the oldest was not very sure what books actually were. So he opened the bag and took one out and showed them bright pictures of animals and rockets and stars. He said, “If your mother bought you this book, you could learn all about these things and then you could go on television to take part in quiz shows and when you are older you could even go to quiz nights in pubs. Some people have won thousands of pounds only a few weeks after one of my visits.”
Now the kids were really excited and they said, “If you will just wait until our mother comes back, I am sure that she will buy it for us.” Then he said, “ Well there is not just one, but ten complete volumes and they cost £9.99 each, but I am sorry, I cannot wait because I have to get to another appointment before dark.” He paused for a minute or two, or so it seemed, and then said, “Look, I have an idea; you are very intelligent children and because I like you I want to help you get on. You can have them all for £90, and a great bargain it is. Your mother will never regret it.” Again he must have known something that perhaps he should not, because no ordinary salesman would have expected children to be able to find so much money.
Now although the kids were strictly forbidden to go into the mother goat’s bedroom, some of the older girl kids used to sneak in to look for makeup whenever their mother was out and they happened to know that she kept money in a silk stocking under the bed. Almost before they knew what they had done, the contents of the stocking were being emptied out on the table and together they counted out the money, correctly or not we don’t know, as even the cleverest of them was not very good at arithmetic.
Perhaps an hour later the mother goat returned and it was not long before she knew the whole sorry story. She became what is often described as ‘incandescent with rage’, not so much at the children, as at the wolf. Between suppressed tears of anger she said, “I’ll get that low-
She soon emerged, having learned what she needed to know and setting out again, but this time more slowly, they eventually came to an old barn where the farmer kept dry straw for bedding for his animals. There, sure enough, was the wolf, sleeping off the consequences of his days work and its aftermath. She did not bother to look through his pockets for the money, because she knew that he had spent it all. She also knew, although how she did, we cannot ask, what he had spent most of it on. Instead, gathering the kids around, she pulled back his coat and made an incision in the folds of his ample stomach and snipped along until she had made an opening as large as a letter box. Then she posted all the encyclopaedias inside and started to stitch him up. As she did this she had such a look in her eye that anyone watching might be forgiven for thinking that she had done something like it before.
Later that night the wolf woke up. He had a sore head and a very sore stomach and, of course, a raging thirst. Nearby was a broad river with steep and slippery banks. The wolf was so anxious to quench his thirst that he missed his foothold, slipped and fell into the deep water where he sank like a stone.
However, in the short, but everlasting moment of falling he suddenly became aware of the terrible truth and also understood for the first time that if you don’t learn to enjoy books when you are young, then when you get older you may find them to be quite indigestible.
The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids