IN a great wide forest, full of beautiful trees, and green glades, and thorny thickets, there lived a long time ago a wood-cutter and his wife, who had only one child, a little girl. She was so pretty, and so good, that the sun seemed to shine more brightly when its light fell upon her rosy little face, and the birds would seem to sing more sweetly when she was passing by.
Her real name was Maisie; but the neighbors round about all called her “Little Red Riding-Hood,” because of a scarlet riding-hood and cloak that her kind old grandmother had made for her, and which she nearly always wore.
She was a happy, merry little child, with a smile and a gentle word for everybody, and so you may easily believe that everybody loved her, and was glad to catch a glimpse of her golden curls and her scarlet cloak as she tripped along, singing, under the green boughs.
Now, this, let me tell you before I forget, was at the time when all the birds and beasts, or very nearly all, could speak just as well as you or I; and nobody was surprised to hear them talk, as I suppose one would be nowadays.
Well, as I was saying, Little Red Riding-Hood lived with her parents in a little white cottage with a green door and a thatched roof, and red and white roses climbing all over the walls, and even putting their pretty heads in at the latticed windows, to peep at the child who was so like them.
It was on a bright spring morning early in May, when little Red Riding-Hood had just finished putting away the breakfast-cups that her mother came bustling in from the dairy.
“Here’s a to-do,” she said. “Farmer Hodge has this very minute told me that he hears your Grannie isn’t quite well, and I can’t leave the cheese-making this morning for love or money! Do you go, my dear, and find out how she is—and—stay—take her this little pot of sweet fresh butter, and these two new-laid eggs, and these nice tasty little pasties. Maybe they’ll tempt her to eat a bit. Here’s your basket, and don’t be too long away, honey.”
So little Red Riding-Hood pulled her hood over her curls, and set off down the sunny green slope, with her basket in her hand, at a brisk pace. But as she got deeper into the forest, she walked more slowly. Everything was so beautiful; the great trees waved their huge arms over her, the birds were calling to one another from the thorns all white with blossom, and the child began singing as she went, she could not have told why, but I think it was because the beautiful world made her feel glad.
The path wound along through the trees, and, as it grew wider after turning a corner, Red Riding-Hood saw that she was likely to have company on her walk; for, where two cross-paths divided, there sat a big gray wolf licking his long paws, and looking sharply about him. And “Good morning, Red Riding-Hood,” said he.
“Good morning, Mr. Wolf,” she answered.
“And where may you be going, sweet lass?” said the Wolf, as he walked beside her.
“Oh, Grannie isn’t very well, and mother cannot leave the cheese-making this morning, and so I’m taking her some little dainties in my basket, and I am to see how she is, and tell mother when I get back,” said the child with a smile.
“And,” said the wolf, “where does your good Grannie live, little lady?”
“Through the copse, and down the hollow, and over the bridge, and three meadows after the mill.”
“Does she indeed?” cried he. “Why, then, I do believe she is a very dear old friend of mine, whom I have not seen for years and years. Now, I’ll tell you what we’ll do, you and I: I will go by this way, and you shall take that, and whoever gets there first shall be the winner of the game.”
So the Wolf trotted off one way, and Red Riding-Hood went the other; and I am sorry to say that she lingered and loitered more than she ought to have done on the road.
Well, what with one thing and another, the sun was right up in the very mid-most middle of the sky when she crossed the last meadow from the mill and came in sight of her grandmother’s cottage, and the big lilac-bushes that grew by the garden gate.
“Oh! dear, how I must have lingered!” said the child, when she saw how high the sun had climbed since she set out on her journey; and, pattering up the garden-path, she tapped at the cottage door.
“Who’s there?” said a very gruff kind of voice from inside.
“It’s only I, Grannie dear, your little Red Riding-Hood with some goodies for you in my basket, answered the child.
“Then pull the bobbin,” cried the voice, “and the latch will go up.”
“What a dreadful cold poor Grannie must have, to be sure, to make her so hoarse,” thought the child. Then she pulled the bobbin, and the latch went up, and Red Riding-Hood pushed open the door, and stepped inside the cottage.
It seemed very dark in there after the bright sunlight outside, and all Red Riding-Hood could see was that the window-curtains and the bed-curtains were still drawn, and her grandmother seemed to be lying in bed with the bed-clothes pulled almost over her head, and her great white-frilled nightcap nearly hiding her face.
Now, you and I have guessed by this time, although poor Red Riding-Hood never even thought of such a thing, that it was not her Grannie at all, but the wicked Wolf, who had hurried to the cottage and put on Grannie’s nightcap and popped into her bed, to pretend that he was Grannie herself.
And where was Grannie all this time, you will say? Well, we shall see presently.
“Come and sit down beside my bed, dearie,” wheezed the Wolf, “and let us have a little chat.” Then the Wolf stretched out his large hairy paws and began to unfasten the basket.
“Oh!” said Red Riding-Hood, “what great arms you have, Grannie!”
“All the better to hug you with,” said the Wolf.
“And what great rough ears you have, Grannie!”
“All the better to hear you with, my little dear.”
“And your eyes, Grannie; what great yellow eyes you have!”
“All the better to see you with, my pet,” grinned the Wolf.
“And oh! oh! Grannie,” cried the child, in a sad fright, “what great sharp teeth you have!”
“All the better to eat you with!” growled the Wolf, springing up suddenly at Red Riding-Hood. But just at that very moment the door flew open, and two tall wood-cutters rushed in with their heavy axes, and killed the wicked Wolf in far less time than it takes me to tell you about it.
“But where is Grannie?” asked Little Red Riding-Hood, when she had thanked the brave wood-cutters. “Oh! where can poor Grannie be? Can the cruel Wolf have eaten her up?”
And she began to cry and sob bitterly—when, who should walk in but Grannie herself, as large as life, and as hearty as ever, with her marketing-basket on her arm! For it was another old dame in the village who was not very well, and Grannie had been down to visit her and give her some of her own famous herb-tea.
So everything turned out right in the end, and all lived happily ever after; but I promise you that little Red Riding-Hood never made friends with a Wolf again!