How it came to pass that Master Cherry the carpenter found a piece of wood that laughed and cried like a child
There was once upon a time…
“A king!” my little readers will instantly exclaim.
No, children, you are wrong. There was once upon a time a piece of wood.
This wood was not valuable: it was only a common log like those that are burnt in winter in the stoves and fireplaces to make a cheerful blaze and warm the rooms.
I cannot say how it came about, but the fact is that one fine day this piece of wood was lying in the shop of an old carpenter of the name of Master Antonio. He was, however, called by everybody Master Cherry, on account of the end of his nose, which was always as red and polished as a ripe cherry.
No sooner had Master Cherry set eyes on the piece of wood than his face beamed with delight; and, rubbing his hands together with satisfaction, he said softly to himself:
“This wood has come at the right moment; it will just do to make the leg of a little table.”
Having said this he immediately took a sharp ax with which to remove the bark and the rough surface. Just, however, as he was going to give the first stroke, he remained with his arm suspended in the air, for he heard a very small voice saying imploringly, “Do not strike me so hard!”
Picture to yourselves the astonishment of good old Master Cherry!
He turned his terrified eyes all round the room to try and discover where the little voice could possibly have come from, but he saw nobody! He looked under the bench—nobody; he looked into a cupboardthat was always shut—nobody; he looked into a basket of shavings and sawdust—nobody; he even opened the door of the shop and gave a glance into the street—and still nobody. Who, then, could it be?
“I see how it is,” he said, laughing and scratching his wig. “Evidently that little voice was all my imagination. Let us set to work again.”
And taking up the ax, he struck a tremendous blow on the piece of wood.
“Oh! Oh! You have hurt me!” cried the same little voice dolefully.
This time Master Cherry was petrified. His eyes started out of his head with fright, his mouth remained open, and his tongue hung out almost to the end of his chin, like a mask on a fountain. As soon as he had recovered the use of his speech, he began to say, stuttering and trembling with fear.
“But where on earth can that little voice have come from that said Oh! Oh!? Here there is certainly no living soul. Is it possible that this piece of wood can have learnt to cry and to lament like a child? I cannot believe it. This piece of wood, here it is; a log for fuel like all the others, and thrown on the fire it would about suffice to boil a saucepan of beans…How then? Can anyone be hidden inside it? If anyone is hidden inside, so much, the worse for him. I will settle him at once.”
So saying, he seized the poor piece of wood and commenced beating it without mercy against the walls of the room.
Then he stopped to listen if he could hear any little voice lamenting. He waited two minutes—nothing; five minutes—nothing; ten minutes—still nothing!
“I see how it is,” he then said, forcing himself to laugh and pushing up his wig. “Evidently the little voice that said Oh! Oh! was all my imagination! Let us set to work again.”
Nevertheless, he was very frightened, so he tried to sing to give himself a little courage.
Putting the ax aside, he took his plane, to plane and polish the bit of wood; but while he was running it up and down he heard the same little voice say laughing:
“Have done! You are tickling me all over!”
This time poor Master Cherry fell down as if he had been struck by lightning. When he at last opened his eyes he found himself seated on the floor.
His face was quite changed; even the end of his nose, instead of being crimson, as it was nearly always, had become blue from fright.
Illustrations © 2002 by Gris Grimly