Many years ago, there lived in England a wise and good king whose name was Alfred. No other man ever did so much for his country as he; and people now, all over 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 people, called the Danes, had come from over the sea, and were fighting the English. 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 scattered. 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 woodcutter. He was very tired and hungry, and he begged the woodcutter’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 supper if you watch these 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 together 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 woodcutter’s hut. His mind was busy making plans for tomorrow.
In a little while the woman 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 something to eat, but you do not want to work!”
The king was so hungry that he did not mind the woman’s angry words half so much as the loss of the cakes. He sat meekly through his scolding, and promised the good lady that he would henceforth keep his mind on his work if she would see fit to make some more cakes for their dinner.
In the end, she relented and mixed up a new batter, and the king went to bed with a full belly and a renewed determination to stay focused on the present and do the work. And so, it was not many days hence that he gathered his men together again and beat the Danes in a great battle.
Citation: Baldwin, James. 50 Famous Stories Retold. New York: American Book Company, 1896. Edited by S.E. Schlosser. This story is in the public domain and is part of the cited work.