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Bishop Hatto - Harper's

 

The story goes that there once lived in Germany, in a handsome, spacious palace, a selfish, fat old Bishop. His table was always spread with the choicest dainties, and he drank in abundance wine of the very best; he slept long and soundly, and looked so comfortable and happy and fat that the people whispered to each other, "How grand it must be to be a Bishop!"

One summer, in the neighborhood where the Bishop lived, the rain came down in such torrents, and continued so long, that the grain was utterly ruined, and when autumn arrived, there was none to be gathered. "What shall we do," said the poor fathers and mothers, "when the long winter comes, and we have no food to give our children?"

Winter arrived, bringing the cold winds and the snow and the frost. The little ones begged for bread, and the poor mothers were compelled to say the bread was all gone.

"Let us go to the Bishop," at last said the poor pining creatures. "Surely he will help us. He has far more food than he needs, and it is useless our starving here when he has plenty."

Very soon from his palace window the Bishop saw numbers of the poor people flocking to his gates, and he thought to himself: "So they want my corn; but they shall not have it; and the sooner they find out their mistake, the better." So he sent them all away. The next day others came. Still the Bishop refused, but still the people persevered in calling out for food at his gates.

At last, wearied with their cries, but still unmoved by their pitiable condition, the Bishop announced that on a certain day his large barn should be open for any one to enter who chose, and that when the place was full, as much food should be given them as would last all the winter.

At last the day came, and for a time forgetting their hunger, the women and children, as well as the men, both old and young, crowded up to the barn door.

The Bishop watched them, with a smile on his deceitful old face, until the place was quite full; then he fastened the door securely, and actually set fire to the barn, and burned it to the ground. As he listened to the cries of agony, he said to himself, "How much better it will be for the country when all these rats," as he called the poor sufferers, "are killed, because while they were living they only consumed the corn!"

Having done this, he went to his palace, and sat down to his dainty supper, chuckling to himself to think how cleverly he had disposed of the "rats."

The next morning, however, his face wore a different expression, when his eye fell upon the spot where the night before had hung a likeness of himself. There was the frame, but the picture had gone: it had been eaten by the rats.

At this the wicked Bishop was frightened. He thought of the poor dying people he had spoken of as rats the day before, and he turned cold and trembled. As he stood shivering, a man from the farm ran up in terror, exclaiming that the rats had eaten all the corn that had been stored in the granaries.

Scarcely had the man finished speaking when another messenger arrived, pale with fear, and bringing tidings more terrible still. He said ten thousand rats were coming fast to the palace, and told the Bishop to fly for his life, adding a prayer that his master might be forgiven for the crime he had committed the day before.

"The rats shall not find me," said Bishop Hatto, for that was his name. "I will go shut myself up in my strong tower on the Rhine. No rats can reach me there; the walls are high, and the stream around is so strong the rats would soon be washed away if they attempted to cross the water."

So off he started, crossed the Rhine, and shut himself up in his tower. He fastened every window securely, locked and barred the doors, and gave strict injunctions that no one should be allowed to leave the tower or to enter it. Hoping that all danger was over, he lay down, closed his eyes, and tried to sleep. But it was all in vain; he still shook with fear. Then, all at once, a shrill scream startled him. On opening his eyes he saw the cat on his pillow. She too was terrified, and her eyes glared, for she knew the rats were close upon them.

Up jumped the Bishop, and from his barred window he saw the black cloud of rats swiftly approaching. They had crossed the deep current, and were marching in such a direct line toward his hiding-place that they might have been taken for a well-marshalled army. Not by dozens or scores, but by thousands and thousands, the creatures were seen. Never before had there been such a sight.

"Down on his knees the Bishop fell,
And faster and faster his beads did he tell,
As louder and louder, drawing near,
The gnawing of their teeth he could hear.

"And in at the windows, and in at the door,
And through the walls helter-skelter they pour,
And down from the ceiling and up through the floor,
From the right and the left, from behind and before,
From within and without, from above and below,
And all at once to the Bishop they go.

"They have whetted their teeth against the stones,
And now they pick the Bishop's bones.
They gnawed the flesh from every limb,
For they were sent to do judgment on him."

Such was the horrible fate of Bishop Hatto; and whether it be perfectly true or not, it is a striking illustration of the folly, as well as the cruelty, of selfishness.