| Thirty More Famous Stories Retold|
|by James Baldwin|
|This volume was written by the author in answer to the requests of hundreds of children for more stories like the ones they had enjoyed in Fifty Famous Stories Retold. This volume includes stories of historical events, scientific discoveries, and legendary heroes. The richer vocabulary and more complicated plot elements in these stories gradually accustom children to following a longer narrative. Ages 7-10 |
WEBSTER AND THE WOODCHUCK
 ON a farm among the hills of New Hampshire there once
lived a little boy whose name was Daniel Webster. He
was a tiny fellow for one of his age. His hair was jet
black, and his eyes were so dark and wonderful that
nobody who once saw them could ever forget them.
He was not strong enough to help much on the farm; and
so he spent much of his time in playing in the woods
and fields. Unlike many farmers' boys, he had a very
gentle heart. He loved the
 trees and flowers and the harmless wild creatures that
made their homes among them.
But he did not play all the time. Long before he was
old enough to go to school, he learned to read; and he
read so well that everybody liked to hear him and never
grew tired of listening. The neighbors, when driving
past his father's house, would stop their horses and
call for Dannie Webster to come out and read to them.
At that time there were no children's books such as you
have now. Indeed, there were but very few books of any
kind in the homes of the New Hampshire farmers. But
Daniel read such books as he could get; and he read
them over and over again till he knew all that was in
them. In this way he learned a great deal of the Bible
so well that he could repeat verse after verse without
making a mistake; and these verses he remembered as
long as he lived.
Daniel's father was not only a farmer, but he was a
judge in the county court. He had a great love for the
law, and he hoped that Daniel when he became a man
would be a lawyer.
It happened one summer that a woodchuck made its burrow
in the side of a hill near Mr. Webster's house. On
warm, dark nights it would come down into the garden
and eat the tender leaves of the
 cabbages and other plants that were growing there.
Nobody knew how much harm it might do in the end.
Daniel and his elder brother Ezekiel made up their
minds to catch the little thief. They tried this thing
and that, but for a long time he was too cunning for
them. Then they built a strong trap where the woodchuck
would be sure to walk into it; and the next morning,
there he was.
"We have him at last!" cried Ezekiel. "Now, Mr.
Woodchuck, you've done mischief enough, and I'm going
to kill you."
But Daniel pitied the little animal. "No, don't hurt
him," he said. "Let us carry him over the hills, far
into the woods, and let him go."
Ezekiel, however, would not agree to this. His heart
was not so tender as his little brother's. He was bent
on killing the woodchuck, and laughed at the thought of
letting it go.
"Let us ask father about it," said Daniel.
"All right," said Ezekiel; "I know what the judge will
They carried the trap, with the woodchuck in it, to
their father, and asked what they should do.
"Well, boys," said Mr. Webster, "we will settle the
question in this way. We will hold a court right here.
I will be the judge, and you shall be the
 lawyers: You shall each plead your case, for or
against the prisoner, and I will decide what his
punishment shall be."
Ezekiel, as the prosecutor, made the first speech. He
told about the mischief that had been done. He showed
that all woodchucks are bad and cannot be trusted. He
spoke of the time and labor that had been spent in
trying to catch the thief, and declared that if they
should now set him free he would be a worse thief than
"A woodchuck's skin," he said, "may perhaps be sold for
ten cents. Small as that sum is, it will go a little
way toward paying for the cabbage he has eaten. But, if
we set him free, how shall we ever recover even a penny
of what we have lost? Clearly, he is of more value dead
than alive, and therefore he ought to be put out of the
way at once."
Ezekiel's speech was a good one, and it pleased the
judge very much. What he said was true and to the
point, and it would be hard for Daniel to make any
answer to it.
Daniel began by pleading for the poor animal's life. He
looked up into the judge's face, and said:—
"God made the woodchuck. He made him to live in the
bright sunlight and the pure air. He made him to enjoy
the free fields and the green
 woods. The woodchuck has a right to his life, for God
gave it to him.
"God gives us our food. He gives us all that we have.
And shall we refuse to share a little of it with this
poor dumb creature who has as much right to God's gifts
as we have?
"The woodchuck is not a fierce animal like the wolf or
the fox. He lives in quiet and peace. A hole in the
side of a hill, and a little food, is all he wants. He
has harmed nothing but a few plants, which he ate to
keep himself alive. He has a right to life, to food, to
liberty; and we have no right to say he shall not have
"Look at his soft, pleading eyes. See him tremble with
fear. He cannot speak for himself, and this is the only
way in which he can plead for the life that is so sweet
to him. Shall we be so cruel as to kill him? Shall we
be so selfish as to take from him the life that God
The judge's eyes were filled with tears as he listened.
His heart was stirred. He felt that God had given him a
son whose name would some day be known to the world.
He did not wait for Daniel to finish his speech. He
sprang to his feet, and as he wiped the tear from his
eyes, he cried out, "Ezekiel, let the woodchuck go!"
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