In the twisted heart of the old city lived Mrs. Goat with her seven children. She had to work hard to care for those children. Mr. Goat, who was a drinker and a layabout, had walked out several years before, leaving Mrs. Goat to raise the children on her own. She hadn’t been too sorry to see him go.
Being a single parent meant long days and short nights. Mrs. Goat worked two and sometimes three jobs to keep her children in barely more than rags. But they were good children, if not always well behaved, and Mrs. Goat wasn’t above giving any of them a clip on the ear to remind them that growing up in the old city didn’t mean they could behave like savages.
There weren’t many schools in the old city in those days, so the elder children taught the younger to read and write. Mrs. Goat left every morning by seven o’clock. The children usually finished their chores around the house by noon, and that left them the rest of the afternoon and evening to play and snooze and get up to mischief of one kind and another before Mrs. Goat came home again in the early evening.
Every morning before leaving the house, Mrs. Goat said to the four eldest, twin girls and twin boys—in that order:
“Now children, finish your chores before doing anything else. Lock the door if you go out for a walk, and never, never, never let a stranger into the house.”
“Yes mother,” the children always said. They did their chores, sometimes they went into the narrow streets to walk or to play, but once back indoors, they never, never, never let anyone into the house.
Now at that time there were many seedy and unsavoury characters living in the old city. One of the worst of them all was Mr. Wolf. He was a tall, thin character, with a main of grey hair and clean-shaven chops that were an attempt to hide his wolfish disposition. He lived on the main floor of an old warehouse near the river, and he spent his time prowling the streets and looking for victims. He preyed on the weak, the stupid, and the young. So despicable was Mr. Wolf that even the hardest of the hardened criminals gave him a wide berth. Rumours of Mr. Wolf and his exploits were whispered in the dens and taverns of the old city.
“You don’t want to mess with the old Wolf,” said Mr. Fox, nodding wisely to his companions over mugs of gin-punch. They all shuddered and shook their heads.
The children had heard of Mr. Wolf, but they felt safe enough during the day while their mother was at work—as long as they followed her instructions. “Never, never, never open the door to a stranger,” they reminded one another.
One afternoon, while Mrs. Goat was at work, and after the children had finished their chores for the day, they heard a knock at the door. They stopped what they were doing and stared at each other.
“Who could that be?” they whispered to one another.
The eldest set of twins hurried to the door and peeped through the peep-hole. There, standing on the doorstep, as bold as you please, stood Mr. Wolf.
Mr. Wolf had put on a clean suit that morning. He shaved his long chops carefully, and he brushed back his shaggy hair. He had decided the night before that it was time to make a move to collect Mrs. Goat’s children. He had seen them often enough, but they hadn’t seen him—he made certain of that. He got to know their habits, morning and afternoon, and today was the day he was going to collect himself some tender and juicy kids.
“Hello children,” called Mr. Wolf, in what he thought was a friendly voice. “I’m the local Inspector of Schools, and I’ve come to see that you’re educated.” He snickered to himself. He thought it was a particularly good joke.
In proof of his lie, he held up a card to the peep-hole. It read:
Mr. Tobias Wulf
Inspector of Schools.
But the children weren’t that stupid. And the golden rule was to never, never, never let a stranger into the house.
“You’ll have to come back when our mother is home,” called the eldest of the twin girls. “We’re not allowed to let a stranger of any kind enter the house.”
The twin boys nodded their agreement as they watched their sisters.
Mr. Wolf was a patient sort of predator, but this was too much. Glancing first up and down the street, he drew back his fist, and he hit that door, which burst open with a crash.
There was screaming and running about as the elder children tried to protect the younger. But Mr. Wolf was intent on his business, and all the screaming only served to enrage him further. In no time at all, he had those children trust up like spring pigs, and two by two he carried them out to his blacked-out van and tossed them inside. He drove away, licking his chops in anticipation, while the children wept and moaned in the back of the van. All, save one.
In his haste to make off with the children, Mr. Wolf had neglected to count his captives. Everyone in that part of the old city knew Mrs. Goat had seven kids, but only six bundles of misery lay on the smelly floor of the van.
The seventh, and youngest, acting on the orders of the eldest twin, had hidden herself in a cupboard while Mr. Wolf tied up the others. She trembled from head to foot, but never a sound did she make as she crouched in the darkness of the cupboard. She felt sorry for her six siblings, but she felt worse at the thought of her mother’s return, and having to tell her the tale of the wicked, wicked Mr. Wolf.