Many years ago there lived in Eng-land a
wise and good king whose name was Al-fred. No other man ever did so much for
his country as he; and people now, allover the world, speak of him as Alfred the Great.
In those days a king did not have a very easy life. There was war almost all the time, and no one else could lead his army into battle so well as he. And so, between ruling and fighting, he had a busy time of
it indeed. A fierce, rude people, called the Danes, had come from over the sea, and were
fighting the Eng-lish. There were so many of them, and they were so bold and
strong, that for a long time they gained every battle. If they kept on, they would soon be the masters of the whole country.
At last, after a great battle, the English army was broken up and scat-tered. Every man had to save himself in the best way
he could. King Alfred fled alone, in great haste, through the woods and swamps.
Late in the day the king came to the hut of a wood-cut-ter. He was very tired and hungry, and he begged the wood-cut-ter’s
wife to give him something to eat and a place to sleep in her hut. The woman was baking some cakes upon
the hearth, and she looked with pity upon the poor, ragged fellow who seemed so
hungry. She had no thought that he was the king.
“Yes,” she said, “I will give you some sup- per if you will watch hese cakes. I want to go out and milk the cow; and you must
see that they do not burn while I am gone.” King Alfred was very willing to watch the
cakes, but he had far greater things to think about. How was he going to get his
army to-geth-er again? And how was he going to drive the fierce Danes out of the
land? He forgot his hunger; he forgot the
cakes; he forgot that he was in the wood- cutter’s hut. His mind was busy making
plans for to-mor-row.
In a little while the wom-an came back. The cakes were smoking on the hearth. They were burned to a crisp. Ah, how
angry she was!
“You lazy fellow!” she cried. “See what you have done! You want some-thing to eat,
but you do not want to work!”
I have been told that she even struck the king with a stick; but I can hardly be-lieve
that she was so ill-na-tured.
The king must have laughed to himself at the thought of being scolded in this way;
and he was so hungry that he did not mind the woman’s angry words half so
much as the loss of the cakes.
I do not know whether he had any-thing to eat that night, or whether he had to go
to bed without his supper. But it was not many days until he had gathered his men
to-geth-er again, and had beaten the Danes in a great battle.