A stag once asked a sheep to lend him a measure of wheat, saying that his friend the wolf would be his surety. The sheep, however, was afraid that they meant to cheat her; so she excused herself, saying, "The wolf is in the habit of seizing what he wants and running off with it without paying, and you, too, can run much faster than I. So how shall I be able to come up with either of you when the debt falls due?"
❋ Two blacks do not make a white.
Three bulls were grazing in a meadow, and were watched by a lion, who longed to capture and devour them, but who felt that he was no match for the three so long as they kept together. So he began by false whispers and malicious hints to foment jealousies and distrust among them. This stratagem succeeded so well that before long the bulls grew cold and unfriendly and finally avoided each other and fed each one by himself apart. No sooner did the lion see this than he fell on them one by one and killed them in turn.
❋ The quarrels of friends are the opportunities of foes.
A young man who fancied himself something of a horseman, mounted a horse that had not been properly broken in and was exceedingly difficult to control. No sooner did the horse feel his weight in the saddle than he bolted, and nothing would stop him.
A friend of the rider's met him in the road in his headlong career, and called out, "Where are you off to in such a hurry?"
To which he, pointing to the horse, replied, "I have no idea: ask him."
A goat was straying in a vineyard, and began to browse on the tender shoots of a vine which bore several fine bunches of grapes.
"What have I done to you," said the vine, "that you should harm me thus? Isn't there grass enough for you to feed on? All the same, even if you eat up every leaf I have, and leave me quite bare, I shall produce wine enough to pour over you when you get slaughtered."
Two pots, one of earthenware and the other of brass, were carried away down a river in flood. The brazen pot urged his companion to keep close by his side, and he would protect him. The other thanked him, but begged him not to come near him on any account: "For that," he said, "is just what I am most afraid of. One touch from you and I should be broken in pieces."
❋ Equals make the best friends.
A hound who had served his master well for years and had run down many a quarry in his time, began to lose his strength and speed owing to age. One day, when out hunting, his master started a powerful wild boar and set the hound at him. The hound seized the beast by the ear, but his teeth were gone and he could not retain his hold; so the boar escaped. His master began to scold him severely, but the hound interrupted him with these words: "My will is as strong as ever, master, but my body is old and feeble. You ought to honour me for what I have been instead of abusing me for what I am."
A nobleman announced his intention of giving a public entertainment in the theatre, and offered splendid prizes to all who had any novelty to exhibit at the performance. The announcement attracted a crowd of conjurers, jugglers, and acrobats, and among the rest a clown who was very popular with the crowd. The clown let it be known that he was going to give an entirely new turn.
When the day of the performance came, the theatre was filled from top to bottom some time before the entertainment began. Several performers exhibited their tricks, and then the popular favourite came on empty-handed and alone. At once there was a hush of expectation: and he, letting his head fall on his breast, imitated the squeak of a pig to such perfection that the audience insisted that he showed them the animal. They said he must have it somewhere hidden about his person. He, however, convinced them that there was no pig there, and then the applause was deafening.
Among the spectators was a countryman. He disparaged the clown's performance and announced that he would give a much superior exhibition of the same trick on the following day. Again the theatre was filled to overflowing, and again the clown gave his imitation among the cheers of the crowd.
The countryman, meanwhile, before going on the stage, had hidden a young porker under his smock; and when the spectators derisively bade him do better if he could, he gave it a pinch in the ear and made it squeal loudly. But they all with one voice shouted out that the clown's imitation was much more true to life. Thereupon he produced the pig from under his smock and said sarcastically, "There, that shows what sort of judges you are!"
A lark nested in a field of corn, and was rearing her brood under cover of the ripening grain. One day, before the young were fully fledged, the farmer came to look at the crop. Finding it was yellowing fast, he said, "I must send round word to my neighbours to come and help me reap this field."
One of the young larks overheard him and was very much frightened, and asked her mother whether they hadn't better move house at once.
"There's no hurry," she answered; "a man who looks to his friends for help will take his time about a thing."
In a few days the farmer came by again, and saw that the grain was overripe and falling out of the ears on the ground. "I must put it off no longer," he said; "This very day I'll hire the men and set them to work at once."
The lark heard him and said to her young, "Come, my children, we must be off: he talks no more of his friends now, but is going to take things in hand himself."
❋ Self-help is often good help.
A lion and a donkey set up as partners and went a-hunting together. In course of time they came to a cave where there were a number of wild goats. The lion took up his stand at the mouth of the cave and waited for them to come out, while the donkey went inside and brayed for all he was worth in order to frighten them out into the open. The lion struck them down one by one as they appeared; and when the cave was empty the donkey came out and said, "Well, I scared them pretty well, didn't I?"
"I should think you did," said the lion: "why, if I hadn't known you were a donkey, I should have turned and run myself."
A prophet sat in the market-place and told the fortunes of all who cared to engage his services. Suddenly there came running up one who told him that thieves had broken into the prophet's house, and that they had made off with everything they could lay hands on.
The prophet was up in a moment, and rushed off, tearing his hair and calling down curses on the miscreants. The bystanders were much amused, and one of them said, "Our friend professes to know what is going to happen to others, but it seems he does not perceive all that is in store for himself."
A young hound started a hare, and, when he caught her up, would at one moment snap at her with his teeth as though he were about to kill her, while at another he would let go his hold and frisk about her, as if he were playing with another dog.
At last the hare said, "I wish you would show yourself in your true colours! If you are my friend, why do you bite me? If you are my enemy, why do you play with me?"
❋ He is no friend who plays double.
A lion was lying asleep at the mouth of his den when a mouse ran over his back and tickled him so that he woke up with a start and began looking about everywhere to see what it was that had disturbed him.
A fox who was looking on, thought he would have a joke at the expense of the lion; so he said, "Well, this is the first time I've seen a lion afraid of a mouse."
"Afraid of a mouse?" said the lion testily: "not I! It's his bad manners I can't stand."
A trumpeter marched into battle in the van of the army and put courage into his comrades by his warlike tunes. Being captured by the enemy, he begged for his life, and said, "Do not put me to death; I have killed no one: indeed, I have no weapons, but carry with me only my trumpet here."
But his captors replied, "That is only the more reason why we should take your life; for, though you do not fight yourself, you stir up others to do so."
A wolf once got a bone stuck in his throat. So he went to a crane and begged her to put her long bill down his throat and pull it out.
"I'll make it worth your while," he added. The crane did as she was asked, and got the bone out quite easily. The wolf thanked her warmly, and was just turning away, when she cried, "What about that fee of mine?"
"Well, what about it?" snapped the wolf, baring his teeth as he spoke; "you can go about boasting that you once put your head into a wolf's mouth and didn't get it bitten off. What more do you want?"
An eagle built her nest at the top of a high tree, a cat with her family occupied a hollow in the trunk half-way down, and a wild sow and her young took up their quarters at the foot. They might have got on very well as neighbours had it not been for a trickery of the cat. Climbing up to the eagle's nest she said to the eagle, "You and I are in the greatest possible danger. That dreadful creature, the sow, who is always to be seen grubbing away at the foot of the tree, means to uproot it so that she may eat up your family and mine at her ease."
Having thus driven the eagle almost out of her senses with terror, the cat climbed down the tree, and said to the sow, "I must warn you against that dreadful bird, the eagle. She is only waiting her chance to fly down and carry off one of your little piglets when you take them out, to feed her brood with."
She succeeded in frightening the sow as much as the eagle. Then she returned to her hole in the trunk, from which, feigning to be afraid, she never came forth by day. Only by night did she creep out unseen to procure food for her kittens. The eagle, meanwhile was afraid to stir from her nest, and the sow dared not leave her home among the roots: so that in time both they and their families perished of hunger, and their dead bodies supplied the cat with ample food for her growing family.
A wolf was worried and badly bitten by dogs, and lay a long time for dead. By and by he began to revive, and, feeling very hungry, called out to a passing sheep and said, "Would you kindly bring me some water from the stream close by? I can manage about meat, if only I could get something to drink."
But this sheep was no fool. "I can quite understand", said he, "that if I brought you the water, you would have no difficulty about the meat. Good-morning."
A tunny-fish was chased by a dolphin and splashed through the water at a great rate, but the dolphin gradually gained on him, and was just about to seize him when the force of his flight carried the tunny on to a sandbank. In the heat of the chase the dolphin followed him, and there they both lay out of the water, gasping for dear life.
When the tunny saw that his enemy was doomed like himself, he said, "I don't mind having to die now: for I see that he who is the cause of my death is about to share the same fate."
The citizens of a certain city were debating about the best material to use in the fortifications which were about to be erected for the greater security of the town. A carpenter got up and advised the use of wood, which he said was readily procurable and easily worked. A stone-mason objected to wood on the ground that it was so inflammable, and recommended stones instead. Then a tanner got on his legs and said, "In my opinion there's nothing like leather."
❋ Every man for himself.
A bull gave chase to a mouse that had bitten him in the nose: but the mouse was too quick for him and slipped into a hole in a wall. The bull charged furiously into the wall again and again until he was tired out, and sank down on the ground exhausted with his efforts.
When all was quiet, the mouse darted out and bit him again. Beside himself with rage he started to his feet, but by that time the mouse was back in his hole again, and he could do nothing but bellow and fume in helpless anger.
Before long he heard a shrill little voice say from inside the wall, "You big fellows don't always have it your own way, you see: sometimes we little ones come off best."
❋ The battle is not always to the strong.
A hound started a hare from her form, and pursued her for some distance; but as she gradually gained on him, he gave up the chase.
A rustic who had seen the race met the hound as he was returning, and taunted him with his defeat. "The little one was too much for you," he said.
"Ah, well," said the hound, "don't forget it's one thing to be running for your dinner, but quite another to be running for your life."