Sunday, December 16, 2012

"The Christmas Cuckoo" by Frances Browne (adapted)


A long time ago, there was village in the North Country. There, people were poor, because their fields were barren, and they didn't have much to sell; but the poorest of them all were two brothers: Scrub and Spare, both shoemakers. Their shack, was very small. They had a fireplace, but never enough wood. They were good friends even though their business wasn't very successful.

Then, a new shoemaker arrived in the village. He had lived in the big city and had been successful there. He set up his new shop in a house with two windows. The villagers soon found out that the new shoemaker was better and cheaper than Scrub and Spare, so now the brothers had no customers at all.

The season had been wet and cold, neither their barely nor their cabbages grew very well. So the brothers were poor that winter, and when Christmas came, they had nothing to eat but one barley loaf and a piece of old bacon. Also because the snow was deep, they could find no firewood.

Their little hovel stood next to a bleak landscape, now all white and silent. But that empty landscape had once been a forest. It contained great roots of old trees. One of these roots lay near their door, poking above snow, and Spare said to his brother: --

"Let's chop up that root for firewood; the work will make us warm."

"No," said Scrub, "it's not right to chop wood on Christmas; besides, that root is too hard to be broken with any axe."

"Hard or not, we must have a fire," replied Spare. "Come on, help me in with it. Even though we're poor, nobody in the village will have a log as big as ours."

So both brothers worked very hard, and between pulling and pushing, the great old root was finally dragged into the fireplace, and was beginning to crackle and blaze with red flames.

Happily, the shoemakers sat down to their bread and bacon. The door was shut, because there was nothing but cold moonlight and snow outside; but the house, decorated with fir branches and holly, looked cheerful as the fire flared up and warmed them.
Then suddenly from out the hot root they heard: "Cuckoo! cuckoo!" just as if the bird was announcing the arrival of spring. Out of the deep hole at the side of the root, which the fire had not reached, flew a large, gray cuckoo. It flew to the dinner table and stood there facing them. The two shoemakers were surprised to see the cuckoo and even more surprised to hear it speak.

"Good gentlemen, what season is this?"

"It's Christmas," said Spare.

"Then a Merry Christmas to you!" said the cuckoo. "I went to sleep in the hollow of that old root one evening last summer, and never woke until the heat of your fire made me think it was summer again. But now since you have burned my home, let me stay in your house until the spring comes around, I only want a hole to sleep in, and when I go on my travels next summer. I will bring you some present for your trouble."

"Stay and welcome," said Spare, while Scrub sat wondering if it were something bad or not.

"I'll make you a good warm hole in the straw of the ceiling" said Spare. "But you must be hungry after that long sleep, -- here is a slice of barley bread. Come, enjoy Christmas with us.!"
The cuckoo ate up the slice, drank water from a brown jug, and then flew into a snug hole which Spare scooped for it in the straw ceiling of the little house.

Scrub said he was afraid it wouldn't be lucky; but because it just always slept and the days passed, he forgot his fears.
So the snow melted, the heavy rains came, the cold grew less, the days lengthened, and one sunny morning the brothers were awakened by the cuckoo shouting its own cry to let them know the spring had come.

"Now I'm going on my travels," said the bird, "over the world to tell people of the spring. Give me another slice of barley bread to help me on my journey, and tell me what present I shall bring you at the year's end."

Scrub would have been angry with his brother for cutting so large a slice, their store of barley being low, but his mind was occupied with what present it would be best to ask for.
"There are two trees next to the well that lies at the world's end," said the cuckoo; "one of them is called the golden tree.Its leaves are all of beaten gold. Every winter they fall into the well with a sound like coin, and I don't know what becomes of them. As for the other, it is always green like a laurel. Some call it the wise, and some the happy tree. Its leaves never fall, but those that get one of them keep a happy heart in spite of all misfortunes, and can make themselves as merry in a hovel as in a palace."

"Good master cuckoo, bring me a leaf off that tree!" cried Spare.

"Now, brother, don't be a fool!" said Scrub; "think of the leaves of beaten gold! Dear master cuckoo, bring me one of them!"
Before another word could be spoken, the cuckoo had flown out of the open door, and was shouting its spring cry over the meadow.
So the seasons came and passed; spring, summer, harvest, and winter. Scrub and Spare grew so poor and ragged that their old neighbors forgot to invite them to wedding feasts or parties, and the brothers thought the cuckoo had forgotten them, too. Then, on the morning of April 1st, they heard a hard beak knocking at their door, and a voice crying: --

"Cuckoo! cuckoo! Let me in with my presents!"

Spare ran to open the door, and in came the cuckoo, carrying on one side of its bill a golden leaf larger than that of any tree in the North Country; and in the other side of its bill, one like that of the common laurel, only it had a fresher green.
"Here," it said, giving the gold to Scrub and the green to Spare, "it is a long journey from the world's end. Give me a slice of barley bread, for I must tell the North Country that the spring has come."

Scrub gladly gave the cuckoo a thick slice, though it was cut from their last loaf. So much gold had never been in the shoemaker's hands before, and he could not help teasing his brother.

"See the wisdom of my choice," he said, holding up the large leaf of gold. "As for yours, that laurel leaf is no better than something you can pick off a hedge. I wonder why that sensible bird carried it so far."

"Good shoemaker," cried the cuckoo, finishing its slice, "you should express your opinions more cautiously. If your brother is disappointed this time, I go on the same journey every year, and because you let me stay in your house, I'm glad to bring each of you whichever leaf you desire."

"Darling cuckoo," cried Scrub, "bring me a golden one."
And Spare, looking up from the green leaf on which he gazed as though it were a crown-jewel, said: --

"Be sure to bring me one from the merry tree."
And away flew the cuckoo.

"Who does this?" said Scrub. "Who throws away such an opportunity for getting rich?" Your happy leaves won't do a thing for you in the middle of these rags and poverty!"
But Spare just laughed. "All that glitters isn't gold," he said. So Scrub, got angry, and taking his shoemaker tools and his golden leaf, he left the little house and went to tell the villagers about Spare's silly choice.

The new shoemaker immediately took him into partnership; the greatest people sent him their shoes to mend. Fairfeather, a beautiful single lady, caught his eye, and that summer they were married, with a grand wedding feast, at which the whole village danced except Spare, who was not invited, because the bride could not bear his low-mindedness, and his brother thought he was a disgrace to the family.

Scrub and his new wife bought a fine house near the new shoemaker's. There Scrub mended shoes to everybody's satisfaction, and he and Fairfeather had everything they wanted, but they were still discontent, because in order to pay for their new lifestyle, the golden leaf had to be broken and sold off for cash, so the last bit was gone before the cuckoo came with another.

Spare lived on in the old house, and worked in the cabbage garden. Every day Spare's coat grew more ragged, and the shack more worn down, but people noticed that Spare never looked sad or sour. And the amazing thing was that, from the time anyone began to keep his company, he or she grew kinder, happier, and more content.

Every first of April the cuckoo came tapping at their doors with the golden leaf for Scrub, and the green for Spare. Fairfeather wanted to entertain the cuckoo with a real feast, because she thought she could persuade the bird to bring two golden leaves instead of one; but the cuckoo flew away to eat barley bread with Spare, because it liked the old shack where it slept very comfortably from Christmas until spring.

Scrub spent the golden leaves, and remained always dissatisfied; and Spare kept the happy ones.

But one day in the harvest time an official of the King, who was very depressed, chanced to meet Spare by a meadow stream, and had a conversation with him. How it was nobody could tell, but from that hour the official's sadness seem to lift off his shoulders. He forgot all his troubles, and began to laugh at jokes for the first time. He also started hunting, fishing, and giving money to the poor.

This strange story spread through the North Country, and more people began to visit Spare's modest shack; rich men who had lost their money, poor men who had lost their friends, beauties who had grown old, writers and poets who had gone out of fashion, all came to talk with Spare, and, whatever their troubles had been, all went home happy and smiling.
The rich gave him presents, the poor gave him thanks. Spare's coat was no longer ragged, he had bacon with his cabbage, and the villagers began to think he was all right after all.
The official told the court about Spare. There were a great many discontented people there; and the king was upset because a neighboring wealthy princess would not marry his oldest son.
So a royal messenger was sent to Spare, commanding him to report to the court immediately.

His coming caused great surprise there. Everybody wondered what the king could see in such a common-looking man; but after they talked for half an hour, the wealthy princess was forgotten and orders were given that a feast for everybody should be spread in the banquet hall.

The princes, the great lords and ladies, and the ministers of state, always consulted with Spare, and the more they talked the lighter their hearts grew, so that such changes had never been seen at court.

The lords forgot their arguments and the ladies their jealousies, the princes and ministers made friends among themselves, and the judges began to make decisions that were fair to both rich and poor.

As for Spare, he had an apartment assigned him in the palace, and a seat at the king's table. One sent him rich robes, and another costly jewels; but in the middle of all his new wealth he still wore an old shabby jacket, and continued to live at the king's court, happy and honored, and making all others happy and content.


COMPREHENSION CHECK

1. Scrub and Spare were very close to each other until _____________________ .
a: a new shoemaker took away their business
b: Scrub married Ms. Fairfeather
c: Spare showed little interest in the gold leaf
d: the cuckoo was found in the root they dragged into the house

2. The cuckoo gave the brothers presents because ________________ .
a: it wanted show its gratitude to them for giving it a home
b: it hoped that they would make more holes in their roof for other cuckoos
c: it saw that they were poor and it wanted them to be wealthy
d: it had a lot of objects it needed to get rid of

3. "All that glitters is not gold" means "___________________."
a: "Besides gold, there are other precious metals"
b: "Gold glitters, but so does water when it reflects sunlight"
c: "There is more to life than making money"
d: "You and I can be rich if we work very hard and believe in Capitalism"

4. The cuckoo flew to a well at the end of the world. There were two trees, and two types of leaves: ________________________ .
a: one gold and one oak
b: one oak and one laurel
c: one gold and one laurel
d: one laurel and one maple

5. Fairfeather didn't invite Spare to the wedding because she thought _____________________ .
a: he was "low-minded"
b: he was too wealthy
c: he was envious of his brother
d: he competed unfairly with his brother

6. No matter how much gold Fairfeather and Scrub had, ____________________ .
a: they continued to lose money
b: they still couldn't pay their mortgage
c: they were still dissatisfied
d: they envied Spare's simple lifestyle

7. After talking to Spare by the meadow stream, the count became much happier. The reason why he became happier is __________________________ .
a: because Spare told him an amusing story
b: because Spare told him to forget his troubles
c: because Spare said that there was no reason to be sad
d: unknown

8. The cuckoo preferred to stay in Spare's house because __________________________
a: it liked Spare better
b: it was accustomed to its cozy hole in the ceiling
c: it was allergic to Fairfeather's perfume
d: it didn't like the fancy food Scrub and Fairfeather ate

9. The cuckoo came out of his hole in the root because _________________ .
a: it wanted to meet the brothers
b: it wanted to change the brothers' lives
c: it wanted to find a gold leaf
d: the heat from the fire made it think summer had arrived

10. Many wealthy and famous people sent Spare rich robes but he still wore his old shabby jacket because ___________________________ .
a: appearing wealthy didn't mean very much to him
b: the rich clothing didn't fit him
c: the jewelry gave him a skin rash
d: he could only make people happy if he wore his shabby jacket