One summer's day Otto, the mayor of Plov, looked out his window and found a goat in his garden.
"My cabbage!" he cried. He stormed next-door to Isaac the cobbler. "Is that your goat devouring my garden?"
"Just bought her this morning," Isaac replied. "I tied her up with a piece of twine."
"Well, go get her!" roared Otto. "And next time, tie her up with something stronger!"
"Certainly, Mayor," said Isaac. "I'll do exactly that."
The next morning Otto looked outside and found the goat eating his peas.
"I tied her with heavy cord," Isaac explained to the mayor. "Then use something stronger!"
The next day Otto saw the goat nibbling his lettuce. The next morning it was his watermelons. Then his spinach, his onions, his beans, and then his beets.
"I've tried twine and I've tried cord," the cobbler explained while leading the goat back home. "I've tried rope, leather, wire, and chain. There's nothing made that can hold that goat!"
Otto caught sight of the length of heavy chain attached to the trunk of an oak. "Idiot!" he burst out. At the other end of the chain was the goat's rope collar. "A thousand pounds of chain wouldn't hold that goat! She's just slipping out of the collar! Make it tighter, you thickwit!"
"Certainly, Mayor," said Isaac. "I'll do just that."
In the morning Otto walked outside and for once found no goat in his garden. He strolled down his row of tomatoes, smiling to think how sweet they would taste when ripe. He headed back to his house--then he heard a scream.
He stopped. The air was filled with shouts. Men stood in their fields, pointing at the sky; and all of a sudden Otto realized that the daylight was growing dimmer.
"The sun!" someone shrieked. "It's going out!"
Otto looked up and gaped in wonder. A black spot seemed to be eating away at the sun. Like a puddle of ink, the spot grew larger until only half the sun remained. Then just a sliver. Then gradually the blackness withdrew, leaving the sun whole.
Never had the people of Plov seen such a thing before. They gathered around their mayor, wringing their hands and shaking with fear.
"What can have happened?" someone shouted.
"Was it a demon devouring the sun for breakfast?"
"Or the sun's own shadow falling on itself?"
"What if the blackness comes back again--and the sun disappears forever?"
"There'd be no more days!" Isaac cried. "Only one long night. Everything would die!"
Otto stood in the center of the crowd, deep in thought on the matter. "Something must have taken place this morning that caused the sun to vanish for a spell. Think!" he shouted. "Think back clearly! What happened just before the sun disappeared?"
"But of course!" spoke up Pifkin, the village musician. "All morning long I'd been playing my fiddle. Then I stopped for a moment to drink some water--and the next thing I knew, the blackness appeared!"
"Quick!" cried Otto. "Back to your fiddle!"
Pifkin dashed down the road like a rabbit, the crowd following just as fast. He flew in his door and darted back out, carrying his fiddle and his music stand, with sheets of music flying behind him.
"Hurry now!" Otto shouted. "Or the sun may decide to vanish again."
Pifkin put his stand in the middle of the road to make sure that the sun should take notice. Then he tightened his bow, tuned his strings, propped up some music, and began to play.
He played jigs. He played airs. He played rondos and waltzes. Feverishly he went from one piece to another, working to keep the sun in the sky.
"More music!" he called out. "Bring me something new! The sun may be growing tired of this!"
At once the onlookers scattered, madly searching the village for music. But no sooner had a piece been set before him than Pifkin sped through it from beginning to end. He hurtled through scales. He charged through wedding songs. He flew through page after page of hymns.
Finally he neared the last piece of music to be found in Plov--when his bow snapped in two and the music stopped.
"It can't be!" Pifkin gasped in horror.
The crowd stood paralyzed in the sudden silence, waiting for the sun to withdraw its light. But to the amazement of all it continued to shine, blazing down as if nothing had happened.
"We've been fooled," Otto spoke up. "Pifkin's fiddling wasn't the cause, or the sun would have disappeared by now. What else occurred before the sun went out?"
"I have it!" shouted Emil, the dairyman's son. "I was feeding the chickens and cleaning the barn when our cow Alexandra began to moo. I walked over to see her, and she mooed again-then suddenly the sun began to vanish!"
"Hurry!" cried Otto. "Back to your barn! Alexandra must never moo again!"
As quick as the wind Emil ran back home, the crowd trailing after him down the road. He burst into his barn and ran to Alexandra, wondering if she might be about to moo.
"Keep calm, Alexandra," he spoke to her nervously. "Nothing's the matter. No need to moo."
He dumped out her water trough, scrubbed it clean, and filled it up with clear, cool water. The men of the village bathed the cow while the children swatted flies in the barn. Soups and strudels and candies and sugar cakes were set before her.
Emil eyed the sun anxiously as Alexandra devoured her food. Soon, after such an unaccustomed feast, she began to suffer from a stomachache. Emil instantly read the look in her eyes. He dashed frantically toward her through the crowd, but just as he got there--Alexandra mooed.
"Alexandra!" he screamed. "See what you've done! You've brought the entire world to an end!"
The crowd froze in fear, then rushed outside--and found the sun still shining down.
"Fooled again," Otto declared. "Something else must have caused it to vanish."
The villagers stood and thought in silence.
"I found a rat in my flour barrel," said the baker.
"A blackbird pecked at my head just before the sun went out," someone else offered.
"I dropped a potato on my toe," Mashka, the fruit seller stated, "not a minute before the light dimmed."
Otto stood and thought a moment. Those things all happen every day without the sunlight disappearing. Whatever it was, it must have been something that had never happened before.
The villagers contemplated the problem. As they stood deep in thought, Otto heard the sound of a goat maaing nearby.
"That's it!" he cried. "Isaac! At last I've discovered the cause!"
"What?" asked Isaac.
"Why, your goat--what else! This was the only morning since you first brought her home that she didn't get into my garden!"
"But, of course!" exclaimed Isaac. "Otto--you're a genius!"
The two men, followed by the crowd, darted into Isaac's shed and hastily led the goat toward Otto's house.
"This way, goat!" Otto shouted, scattering his biggest, almost-ripe tomatoes before her. Isaac followed, hurrying her along, and soon she was grazing on Otto's lettuce, a smile of contentment on her face.
"Otto--you've done it!" Isaac rejoiced.
The next few days Otto kept watch on the sky and found no more black spots blotting the sun. The villagers congratulated him on putting the heavens back in order. And though Isaac disliked getting up so early, and though Otto never had much to harvest thereafter, just before dawn each morning Isaac led his goat out of his shed, and Otto led her into his garden. And the sun, as they happily pointed out, continued to shine on the village of Plov.
By Paul Fleischman