A hungry fox saw some fine bunches of grapes hanging from a vine that was trained along a high trellis, and did his best to reach them by jumping as high as he could into the air. But it was all in vain, for they were just out of reach. So he gave up trying and walked away with an air of dignity and unconcern, remarking, "I thought those grapes were ripe, but I see now they are quite sour."
A man and his wife had the good fortune to own a goose that laid a golden egg every day. Lucky though they were, they soon began to think they were not getting rich fast enough. Imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it in order to secure the whole store of precious metal at once. But when they cut it open they found it was just like any other goose. Thus, they neither got rich all at once, as they had hoped, nor enjoyed any longer the daily addition to their wealth.
❋ Much wants more and loses all.
There was once a house that was overrun with mice. A cat heard of this, and said to herself, "That's the place for me," and off she went and took up her quarters in the house, and caught the mice one by one and ate them. At last the mice could stand it no longer, and they determined to take to their holes and stay there. "That's awkward," said the cat to herself: "the only thing to do is to coax them out by a trick."
So she considered a while, and then climbed up the wall and let herself hang down by her hind legs from a peg, and pretended to be dead.
By and by a mouse peeped out and saw the cat hanging there. "Aha!" it cried, "you're very clever, madam, no doubt: but you may turn yourself into a bag of meal hanging there if you like, yet you won't catch us coming anywhere near you."
❋ If you are wise you won't be deceived by the innocent airs of those you have once found to be dangerous.
There was once a dog who used to snap at people and bite them without any provocation, and who was a great nuisance to everyone who came to his master's house. So his master fastened a bell round his neck to warn people of his presence. The dog was very proud of the bell and strutted about tinkling it with immense satisfaction. But an old dog came up to him and said, "The fewer airs you give yourself the better, my friend. You don't think, do you, that your bell was given you as a reward of merit? On the contrary, it is a badge of disgrace."
❋ Notoriety is often mistaken for fame.
There was once a charcoal-burner who lived and worked by himself. A fuller, however, happened to come and settle in the same neighbourhood; and the charcoal-burner, having made his acquaintance and finding he was an agreeable sort of fellow, asked him if he would come and share his house: "We shall get to know one another better that way," he said, "and, besides, our household expenses will be diminished."
The fuller thanked him, but replied, "I couldn't think of it, sir: why, everything I take such pains to whiten would be blackened in no time by your charcoal."
Once on a time all the mice met together in council, and discussed the best means of securing themselves against the attacks of the cat.
After several suggestions had been debated, a mouse of some standing and experience got up and said, "I think I have hit upon a plan which will ensure our safety in the future, provided you approve and carry it out. It is that we should fasten a bell round the neck of our enemy the cat, which will by its tinkling warn us of her approach."
This proposal was warmly applauded, and it had been already decided to adopt it, when an old mouse got upon his feet and said, "I agree with you all that the plan before us is an admirable one: but may I ask who is going to bell the cat?"
A bat fell to the ground and was caught by a weasel, and was just going to be killed and eaten when it begged to be let go. The weasel said he couldn't do that because he was an enemy of all birds on principle. "Oh, but," said the bat, "I'm not a bird at all: I'm a mouse."
"So you are," said the weasel, "now I come to look at you"; and he let it go.
Some time after this the bat was caught in just the same way by another weasel, and, as before, begged for its life. "No," said the weasel, "I never let a mouse go by any chance."
"But I'm not a mouse," said the bat; "I'm a bird."
"Why, so you are," said the weasel; and he too let the bat go.
❋ Look and see which way the wind blows before you commit yourself.
A dog and a sow were arguing and each claimed that its own young ones were finer than those of any other animal. "Well," said the sow at last, "mine can see, at any rate, when they come into the world: but yours are born blind."
A crow was sitting on a branch of a tree with a piece of cheese in her beak when a fox observed her and set his wits to work to discover some way of getting the cheese. Coming and standing under the tree he looked up and said, "What a noble bird I see above me! Her beauty is without equal, the hue of her plumage exquisite. If only her voice is as sweet as her looks are fair, she ought without doubt to be queen of the birds."
The crow was hugely flattered by this, and just to show the fox that she could sing she gave a loud caw. Down came the cheese, and the fox, snatching it up, said, "You have a voice, madam, I see. What you want is wits."
There was once a groom who used to spend long hours clipping and combing the horse of which he had charge, but who daily stole a portion of his allowance of oats, and sold it for his own profit. The horse gradually got into worse and worse condition, and at last cried to the groom, "If you really want me to look sleek and well, you must comb me less and feed me more."
A wolf came upon a lamb straying from the flock, and felt some scruples about taking the life of so helpless a creature without some plausible excuse; so he cast about for a grievance and said at last, "Last year, sirrah, you grossly insulted me."
"That is impossible, sir," bleated the lamb, "for I wasn't born then."
"Well," retorted the wolf, "you feed in my pastures."
"That cannot be," replied the lamb, "for I have never yet tasted grass."
"You drink from my spring, then," continued the wolf. "Indeed, sir," said the poor lamb, "I have never yet drunk anything but my mother's milk."
"Well, anyhow," said the wolf, "I'm not going without my dinner": and he sprang upon the lamb and devoured it without more ado.
A peacock taunted a crane with the dullness of her plumage. "Look at my brilliant colours," said she, "and see how much finer they are than your poor feathers."
"I am not denying," replied the crane, "that yours are far more colourful than mine; but when it comes to flying I can soar into the clouds, whereas you are confined to the earth like any dunghill cock."
A cat heard that the birds in an aviary were ailing. So he got himself up as a doctor, and, taking with him a set of the instruments proper to his profession, presented himself at the door, and inquired after the health of the birds. "We shall do very well," they replied, without letting him in, "when we've seen the last of you."
❋ A villain may disguise himself, but he will not deceive the wise.
A spendthrift, who had wasted his fortune, and had nothing left but the clothes in which he stood, saw a swallow one fine day in early spring. Thinking that summer had come, and that he could now do without his coat, he went and sold it for what it would fetch. A change, however, took place in the weather, and there came a sharp frost which killed the unfortunate swallow.
When the spendthrift saw its dead body he cried, "Miserable bird! Thanks to you I am perishing of cold myself."
❋ One swallow does not make summer.
An old woman became almost totally blind from a disease of the eyes, and, after consulting a doctor, made an agreement with him in the presence of witnesses that she should pay him a high fee if he cured her, while if he failed he was to receive nothing.
The doctor accordingly prescribed a course of treatment, but every time he paid her a visit he took away with him some article out of the house, so that when he visited her for the last time and the cure was complete, there was nothing left.
When the old woman saw that the house was empty she refused to pay him his fee. After repeated refusals on her part, he sued her before the magistrates for payment of her debt.
On being brought into court she was ready with her defence. "The claimant," said she, "has stated the facts about our agreement correctly. I undertook to pay him a fee if he cured me, and he, on his part, promised to charge nothing if he failed. Now, he says I am cured; but when my eyes were bad I could at any rate see well enough to be aware that my house contained a certain amount of furniture and other things; but now, when according to him I am cured, I am entirely unable to see anything there at all."
The moon once begged her mother to make her a gown. "How can I?" she answered; "there's no fitting your figure. At one time you're a New Moon, and at another you're a Full Moon; and between whiles you're neither one nor the other."
A woodman was felling a tree on the bank of a river, when his axe, glancing off the trunk, flew out of his hands and fell into the water. As he stood by the water's edge lamenting his loss, Mercury appeared and asked him why he grieved. On learning what had happened, out of pity for the woodman's distress he dived into the river and, bringing up a golden axe, asked him if that was the one he had lost.
The woodman answered that it was not, and Mercury then dived a second time, and, bringing up a silver axe, asked if that was his. "No, that is not mine either," said the woodman.
Once more Mercury dived into the river, and brought up the missing axe. The woodman was overjoyed at recovering his property, and thanked his benefactor warmly; and the latter was so pleased with his honesty that he made him a present of the other two axes.
When the woodman told the story to his companions, one of these was filled with envy of his good fortune and determined to try his luck for himself. So he went and began to fell a tree at the edge of the river, and presently contrived to let his axe drop into the water.
Mercury appeared as before, and, on learning that his axe had fallen in, he dived and brought up a golden axe, as he had done on the previous occasion.
Without waiting to be asked whether it was his or not the fellow cried, "That's mine, that's mine," and stretched out his hand eagerly for the prize: but Mercury was so disgusted at his dishonesty that he not only declined to give him the golden axe, but also refused to recover for him the one he had let fall into the stream.
❋ Honesty is the best policy.
A donkey and a fox went into partnership and sallied out to forage for food together. They hadn't gone far before they saw a lion coming their way, at which they were both dreadfully frightened. But the fox thought he saw a way of saving his own skin, and went boldly up to the lion and whispered in his ear, "I'll manage that you shall get hold of the donkey without the trouble of stalking him, if you'll promise to let me go free." The lion agreed to this, and the fox then rejoined his companion and contrived before long to lead him by a hidden pit, which some hunter had dug as a trap for wild animals, and into which he fell. When the lion saw that the donkey was safely caught and couldn't get away, it was to the fox that he first turned his attention, and he soon finished him off, and then at his leisure proceeded to feast upon the donkey.
❋ Betray a friend, and you'll often find you have ruined yourself.
A lion asleep in his lair was waked up by a mouse running over his face. Losing his temper, he seized it with his paw and was about to kill it. The mouse, terrified, piteously entreated him to spare its life. "Please let me go," it cried, "and one day I will repay you for your kindness."
The idea that such a tiny creature could ever be able to do anything for him amused the lion so much that he laughed aloud and good-humouredly let it go.
But one day the lion got entangled in a net that had been spread for game by some hunters, and the mouse heard and recognised his roars of anger and ran to the spot. Without more ado it set to work to gnaw the ropes with its teeth, and succeeded before long in setting the lion free.
"There!" said the mouse, "you laughed at me when I promised I would repay you: but now you see, even a mouse can help a lion."
A thirsty crow found a pitcher with some water in it, but so little was there that, try as she might, she could not reach it with her beak, and it seemed as though she would die of thirst within sight of the remedy. At last she hit upon a clever plan. She began dropping pebbles into the pitcher, and with each pebble the water rose a little higher until at last it reached the brim, and the knowing bird could quench her thirst.
❋ Necessity is the mother of invention at times.