| Fifty Famous Stories Retold|
|by James Baldwin|
|Includes fifty legendary tales depicting certain romantic episodes in the lives of well-known heroes and famous men, or in the history of a people. Children naturally take a deep interest in such stories. The reading of them will not only give pleasure but will lay the foundation for broader literary studies, as nearly all are the subjects of frequent allusions in poetry and prose. Ages 6-9 |
KING JOHN AND THE ABBOT
I. THE THREE QUESTIONS
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
Now, there was in the town of
Canterbury 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
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.
Secondly, 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 mine."
The abbot went away very sad and in great fear. He first
rode to Oxford. Here was a great school, called a
university, and he wanted to see if any of the wise
professors could help him. But they shook their heads,
and said that there was nothing about King John in any of
Then the abbot rode down to
Cambridge, where there was
another university. But not one of the teachers in that
great school could help him.
At last, sad and sorrowful, he rode toward home to bid
his friends and his brave knights good-by. For now he
had not a week to live.
II. THE THREE ANSWERS
 As the abbot was riding up the lane which led to his grand
house, he met his shepherd 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
sometimes been mistaken 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
"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 great care. Over his shepherd's coat
he threw the abbot's long gown, and he
borrowed the abbot's cap and golden staff. When all was ready, no one in
the world would have thought that he was not the great man
himself. Then he mounted his horse, and with a great train
of servants set out for London.
Of course the king did not know him.
"Welcome, Sir Abbot!" he said. "It is a good thing that
you have come back. But, prompt as you are, if you fail to
answer my three questions, you shall lose your head."
"I am ready to answer them, O king!" said the shepherd.
"Indeed, indeed!" said the king, and he laughed to
himself. "Well, then, answer my first question: How long
shall I live? Come, you must tell me to the very day."
"You shall live," said the shepherd, "until the day that
you die, and not one day longer. And you shall die when
you take your last breath, and not one moment before."
The king laughed.
"You are witty, I see," he said. "But we will let that
pass, and say that your answer is right. And now tell me
how soon I may ride round the world."
"You shall live until the day that you die."
 "You must rise with the sun," said the shepherd, "and you
must ride with the sun until it rises again the next
morning. As soon as you do that, you will find that you
have ridden round the world in twenty-four hours."
The king laughed again. "Indeed," he said, "I
did not think that it could be done so soon. You are not
only witty, but you are wise, and we will let this answer
pass. And now comes my third and last question: What do I
"That is an easy question," said the shepherd.
"You think that I am the Abbot of
Canterbury. But, to tell you the truth, I am only his poor shepherd, and I
have come to beg your pardon for him and for me." And
with that, he threw off his long gown.
The king laughed loud and long.
"A merry fellow you are," said he, "and you shall be the
Abbot of Canterbury in your master's place."
"O king! that cannot be," said the shepherd;
"for I can neither read nor write."
"Very well, then," said the king, "I will give you
something else to pay you for this merry joke.
I will give you four pieces of silver every week as long as
you live. And when you get home, you may tell the old
abbot that you have brought him a free pardon from King
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