Little Billy lived in a small village in rural Scotland with his family. Little Billy’s father owned two acres of farmland on which the family cultivated barley, wheat and potatoes. Little Billy’s mother gathered wood, cooked food, washed clothes and cleaned the house each day. Little Billy and his younger sister, Sally, went to school and helped their mother and father.
One day, Little Billy’s father fell sick. He called Little Billy to his bedside.
“Billy, my boy, I need you to go to town tomorrow. Can you do that?” he said.
Little Billy jumped at the idea for he so badly wanted to watch the circus show in town.
“Yes, Father,” he said.
“I need you to buy some seeds and fertilizer for our farm.”
With these words, Little Billy’s father asked him to fetch his black pouch from the cupboard, from which he extracted ten pounds and gave them to the boy.
Early next morning, Little Billy’s mother packed some oatcakes and bread for him to eat during the day. She also packed some cheddar cheese and a little bottle of wine for Little Billy’s grandmother, whose house was on the way to town.
When Little Billy was ready to go, his younger sister brought a handful of pennies, all her savings in the world, and gave them to her brother.
“Billy, won’t you buy a doll for me? I really really want a doll,” she cried.
“Of course, Sally. I’ll buy a doll for you.”
Little Billy waved to his mother and sister and set off towards the town at eight o’clock in the morning.
At a little distance from the house, Little Billy sat under the shade of a tree and unwrapped the block of cheddar cheese his mother had so carefully packed for his grandmother. Little Billy closed his eyes and smelled the cheese. Ah, what heavenly delight! He loved cheddar and the family’s only cow produced little milk, with which his mother prepared the cheese, most of which was sold in the village. Little Billy and his family only got to eat a little bit of cheese just once a month.
Little Billy opened his mouth wide and took a bite of the cheese. He caressed the cheese with his tongue and smothered it with his palate, savouring the rich, textured taste. Very soon, he took another bite and another. He gobbled up the bread and the oatcakes and washed them down with the little bottle of wine.
“What are you doing?”
A high-pitched voice sounded from the branches of the tree directly above him.
Little Billy jumped. “Who’s there?”
A little bluebird fluttered in the branches above, her little head bowed down to look at Little Billy. “You ate the food your mother packed for your grandmother. How could you do that?”
“I was hungry,” Little Billy said defiantly.
“Will you tell your mother the truth?” said the bluebird.
“Of course not!” cried Little Billy, now angry. He picked up a stone and hurled it at the bluebird. The bird hovered in the air, breaking into a song.
“Liar, Liar, you Dirty Liar,
If you lie, I’ll roast you over a hot-hot fire.”
As Little Billy picked up another stone, the bird flew away, its song ringing in Little Billy’s ear. He burped loudly and set off on his journey again.
When Little Billy neared his grandmother’s house, it was nearly noon. He slapped some dirt on his face and clothes and knocked on his grandmother’s door.
Little Billy’s grandmother was a frail, old woman who could hardly see.
“My dear,” she cried on seeing her grandson. “What happened to you? Are you hurt?”
Little Billy wrapped his arms around his grandmother’s round, cushiony waist. “I’m so scared, granny. I’m so scared,” he shrieked.
“What’s the matter, my dear?”
Little Billy’s grandmother ushered him to a chair and made some hot chocolate for him, which he drank in one large gulp.
“Some bad men attacked me, granny,” he whined. “They slapped me and kicked me and stole from me.”
“How awful! My poor dear,” said his grandmother.
“They took all my food and the cheddar cheese and the bottle of wine that Mother had sent for you. They even stole my ten pounds! Oh, what will I say to Father! He will be so disappointed. I lost all his hard-earned money.”
Little Billy buried his head in his grandmother’s lap and began to cry.
Little Billy’s grandmother waddled over to her tiny cupboard and collected all the notes and coins in her silver box. Eight pounds and fifty pence.
With the money in his pocket and a two-egg omelette in his bulging stomach, Little Billy set out on his journey once again, smiling inwardly.
When he reached the town, Little Billy went straight to the circus and bought a ticket for five pounds. For another five pounds, Little Billy rode Eli, the elephant, for ten minutes. From the circus, Little Billy went straight to the spring fair, where he spent his remaining money on various rides.
When he was exhausted and hungry, Little Billy hung outside a small coffee shop, eyeing a family at a table there. Little Billy noticed that the nice family eating sandwiches in the coffee shop seemed to be well off. The mother was carrying a smart purse and the father wore a stylish hat. Their daughter wore a pretty pink dress with a satin bow around her waist.
Little Billy filled his eyes with tears and tapped at the glass window of the coffee shop.
The mother saw him and couldn’t look away. She invited Little Billy to join them for a snack.
Little Billy hogged on the plate of sandwiches, thanking the family profusely for their immense kindness.
Once the plates were taken away, the man asked Little Billy where he lived.
“I live in the village, Sir, with my grandmother,” Little Billy said timorously.
“Just your grandmother?” the woman asked.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Little Billy answered. “My parents died when I was very young. Since then, I live with my grandmother in our little house on our small farm. She’s a very mean old woman. When she finds out I lost the money she gave me to buy the seeds, she will be furious. I think she might break my leg today.”
With these words, Little Billy dropped his head on the table and began sobbing.
The woman placed her hand kindly over his head. “Do not cry, boy. We will help you. Won’t we, my dear?” she said, looking at her husband.
The man pulled out his wallet from his pocket and gave Little Billy ten pounds.
Thanking the family for their kindness, Little Billy left the coffee shop and went straight to the market, where he bought the seeds and fertilizer his father had asked him to buy. He saw the dolls at a shop but decided to buy himself ice cream and chocolates with the money his little sister gave him. Little Billy’s pockets were once again empty.
On the way out of town, Little Billy saw a blind beggar seated by the side of the road, singing a tuneless song. Little Billy sat down beside the beggar, glancing at his bowl that held several coins and a few notes.
“Sir, may I sit here for a while? I beg on the other side of town, but some goons stole my money and drove me away,” said Little Billy.
“Who are you, boy?” said the old beggar.
“I’m blind, Sir.”
“Since birth?” asked the beggar.
“No, Sir. I was born healthy with fine eyesight. One day, as we were sleeping at home, a fire broke out. My little sister died in the fire. I was burned too, but I survived. I lost my eyesight, Sir,” said Little Billy.
“Yes, you may sit here with me,” said the old beggar, patting Little Billy’s arm.
As the old beggar talked about his life and how he lost his eyesight, Little Billy reached out for the bowl, emptied it into his pocket and returned the empty bowl to its position. While the old beggar continued talking, Little Billy quietly slipped away, laughing silently.
Little Billy set off towards his village with three pounds and eighty pence in his pocket and half a sandwich that he had saved from the coffee shop.
It was nearly evening when Little Billy stopped for a short break. He sat down under a tree to eat his sandwich and decide how he would spend the money he stole from the beggar.
Overhead, he heard the fluttering of a bird and looked up.
The bluebird was on the tree. It broke into a song:
“Liar, Liar, you Dirty Liar,
Prepare to be roasted over a hot-hot fire.”
Little Billy quickly grabbed a stone and hurled it at the bird, but it flew away.
“Humph!” exclaimed Little Billy. “I’ll kill that bird if I see it again.”
Little Billy continued his journey towards home. It was getting dark and there were no milestones, but Little Billy was quite sure he had passed the place where his grandmother’s house used to be. But now, there was nothing there! Just a tree and nothing else. How strange, thought Little Billy as he headed home.
When Little Billy approached his house, the moon was in the sky. Little Billy was shocked to see that instead of his father’s two-acre farmland now stood a small, barren farmland, barely one-tenth in size. His family’s large brick house was replaced by a small hut with a thatched roof!
Shakily, Little Billy knocked on the door, his heart hammering in his chest. The bluebird’s song kept ringing in his ears. It was impossible! No!
The door was opened by his grandmother, who stood straight, could see without her glasses and wore a mean expression on her hard face.
“You’re late, you brat!” she bellowed, slapping Little Billy across his face.
Little Billy fell on the floor and rubbed his eyes. He couldn’t see very clearly. Everything was becoming blurry.
“Where are Mother and Father?” cried Little Billy.
Little Billy’s grandmother broke into high-pitched, evil laughter. “Your mother and father are dead, you stupid boy! Don’t you remember, you fool?”
Little Billy started crying. He could hardly see anything. “And... and Sally, my little sister?” he whimpered.
Little Billy’s grandmother grabbed him roughly by his shirt and dragged him to a small mirror on the wall.
“Sally died in the fire that turned you into an ugly freak,” said Little Billy’s grandmother.
Little Billy saw his face and body, his skin shrunk and crumpled, brown and uneven, reflected in the mirror.
He shrank in horror from the monster staring back at him from the mirror and fell to the floor. As his world went pitch-black, Little Billy heard his grandmother’s voice from somewhere behind him.
“Get to work, you little freak! And if you mess things up again, I swear today, I’ll break your leg!”