A town mouse and a country mouse were acquaintances, and the country mouse one day invited his friend to come and see him at his home in the fields. The town mouse came, and they sat down to a dinner of barleycorns and roots, the latter of which had a distinctly earthy flavour. The fare was not much to the taste of the guest, and soon he broke out with "My poor dear friend, you live here no better than the ants. Now, you should just see how I fare! My larder is a regular horn of plenty. You must come and stay with me, and I promise you you shall live on the fat of the land."
So when he returned to town he took the country mouse with him, and showed him into a larder containing flour and oatmeal and figs and honey and dates. The country mouse had never seen anything like it, and sat down to enjoy the luxuries his friend provided: but before they had well begun, the door of the larder opened and someone came in. The two mice scampered off and hid themselves in a narrow and exceedingly uncomfortable hole. Before long, when all was quiet, they ventured out again; but someone else came in, and off they scuttled again. This was too much for the visitor.
"Good-bye," said he, "I'm off. You live in the lap of luxury, I can see, but you are surrounded by dangers; whereas at home I can enjoy my simple dinner of roots and corn in peace."
A lion saw a fine fat bull pasturing among a herd of cattle and cast about for some means of getting him into his clutches; so he sent him word that he was sacrificing a sheep, and asked if he would do him the honour of dining with him. The bull accepted the invitation, but, on arriving at the lion's den, he saw a great array of saucepans and spits, but no sign of a sheep; so he turned on his heel and walked quietly away.
The lion called after him in an injured tone to ask the reason, and the bull turned round and said, "I have reason enough. When I saw all your preparations it struck me at once that the victim was to be a bull and not a sheep."
❋ The net is spread in vain in sight of the bird.
A wolf charged a fox with theft, which he denied, and the case was brought before an ape to be tried. When he had heard the evidence on both sides, the ape gave judgment as follows: "I do not think," he said, "that you, wolf, ever lost what you claim; but all the same I believe that you, fox, are guilty of the theft, in spite of all your denials."
❋ The dishonest get no credit, even if they act honestly.
There were two cocks in the same farmyard, and they fought to decide who should be master. When the fight was over, the beaten one went and hid himself in a dark corner; while the victor flew up on to the roof of the stables and crowed lustily. But an eagle espied him from high up in the sky, and swooped down and carried him off. At once the other cock came out of his corner and ruled the roost without a rival.
❋ Pride comes before a fall.
A man caught a jackdaw and tied a piece of string to one of its legs, and then gave it to his children for a pet. But the jackdaw didn't at all like having to live with people, so, after a while, when he seemed to have become fairly tame and they didn't watch him so closely, he slipped away and flew back to his old haunts.
Unfortunately, the string was still on his leg, and before long it got entangled in the branches of a tree and the jackdaw couldn't get free, try as he would. He saw it was all up with him, and cried in despair, "Alas, in gaining my freedom I have lost my life."
A farmer was greatly annoyed by a fox, which came prowling about his yard at night and carried off his fowls. So he set a trap for him and caught him. In order to be revenged on him, he tied a bunch of tow to his tail and set fire to it and let him go. As ill-luck would have it, however, the fox made straight for the fields where the corn was standing ripe and ready for cutting. It quickly caught fire and was all burnt up, and the farmer lost all his harvest.
❋ Revenge may be a two-edged sword.
A cat fell in love with a handsome young man, and begged the goddess Venus to change her into a woman. Venus was very gracious about it, and changed her at once into a beautiful maiden that the young man fell in love with at first sight and shortly afterwards married.
One day Venus thought she would like to see whether the cat had changed her habits as well as her form, so she let a mouse run loose in the room where they were. Forgetting everything, the young woman had no sooner seen the mouse than up she jumped and was after it like a shot.
The goddess was so disgusted at seeing this that she changed her back again into a cat.
A crow was filled with envy on seeing the beautiful white plumage of a swan, and thought it was due to the water in which the swan constantly bathed and swam. So he left the neighbourhood of the altars, where he got his living by picking up bits of the meat offered in sacrifice, and went and lived among the pools and streams. But though he bathed and washed his feathers many times a day, he didn't make them any whiter, and at last died of hunger into the bargain.
❋ You may change your habits, but not your nature.
A stag, blind of one eye, was grazing close to the sea-shore and kept his sound eye turned towards the land, so as to be able to perceive the approach of the hounds, while the blind eye he turned towards the sea, never suspecting that any danger would threaten him from that quarter. As it fell out, however, some sailors, coasting along the shore, spied him and shot an arrow at him, by which he was mortally wounded. As he lay dying, he said to himself, "Wretch that I am! I bethought me of the dangers of the land, whence none assailed me: but I feared no peril from the sea, yet thence has come my ruin."
❋ Misfortune often assails us from an unexpected quarter.
A fly sat on one of the shafts of a cart and said to the mule who was pulling it, "How slow you are! Do mend your pace, or I shall have to use my sting as a goad."
The mule was not in the least disturbed. "Behind me, in the cart," said he, "sits my master. He holds the reins, and flicks me with his whip, and him I obey, but I don't want any of your impertinence. I know when I may dawdle and when I may not."
A cock, scratching the ground for something to eat, turned up a jewel that had by chance been dropped there.
"Ho!" said he, "a fine thing you are, no doubt, and, had your owner found you, great would his joy have been. But for me! give me a single grain of corn before all the jewels in the world."
A wolf hung about near a flock of sheep for a long time, but made no attempt to molest them. The shepherd at first kept a sharp eye on him, for he naturally thought he meant mischief: but as time went by and the wolf showed no inclination to meddle with the flock, he began to look on him more as a protector than as an enemy: and when one day some errand took him to the city, he felt no uneasiness at leaving the wolf with the sheep. But as soon as the shepherd's back was turned the wolf attacked them and killed the greater number.
When the shepherd returned and saw the havoc he had wrought, he cried, "It serves me right for trusting my flock to a wolf."
A farmer set some traps in a field which he had lately sown with corn, in order to catch the cranes which came to pick up the seed. When he returned to look at his traps he found several cranes caught, and among them a stork, which begged to be let go, and said, "You ought not to kill me: I am not a crane, but a stork, as you can easily see by my feathers, and I am the most honest and harmless of birds."
But the farmer replied, "It's nothing to me what you are: I find you among these cranes who ruin my crops, and, like them, you shall suffer."
❋ If you choose bad companions no one will believe that you are anything but bad yourself.
A horse, who had been used to carry his rider into battle, felt himself growing old and chose to work in a mill instead. He now no longer found himself stepping out proudly to the beating of the drums, but was compelled to slave away all day grinding the corn.
Bewailing his hard lot, he said one day to the miller, "Ah me! I was once a splendid war-horse, gaily caparisoned, and attended by a groom whose sole duty was to see to my wants. How different is my present condition! I wish I had never given up the battlefield for the mill."
The miller replied gruffly, "It's no use your regretting the past. Fortune has many ups and downs: just take them as they come if you can do nothing better."
An owl, who lived in a hollow tree, was in the habit of feeding by night and sleeping by day; but her slumbers were greatly disturbed by the chirping of a grasshopper, who had taken up his abode in the branches. She begged him repeatedly to have some consideration for her comfort, but the grasshopper, if anything, only chirped the louder.
At last the owl could stand it no longer, but determined to rid herself of the pest by means of a trick. Addressing herself to the grasshopper, she said in her pleasantest manner, "As I cannot sleep for your song, which, believe me, is as sweet as the notes of a lute, I have a mind to taste some nectar I was given the other day. Won't you come in and join me?"
The grasshopper was flattered by the praise of his song, and his mouth, too, watered at the mention of the delicious drink, so he said he would be delighted.
No sooner had he got inside the hollow where the owl was sitting than she pounced on him and ate him up.
One fine day in winter some ants were busy drying their store of corn, which had got rather damp during a long spell of rain. Before long up came a grasshopper and begged them to spare her a few grains, "For," she said, "I'm simply starving."
The ants stopped work for a moment, though this was against their principles. "May we ask," said they, "what you were doing with yourself all last summer? Why didn't you collect a store of food for the winter?"
"The fact is," replied the grasshopper, "I was so busy singing that I hadn't the time."
"If you spent the summer singing," replied the ants, "you can't do better than spend the winter dancing." And they chuckled and went on with their work.
One winter a farmer found a viper frozen and numb with cold, and out of pity picked it up and placed it in his bosom. The viper was no sooner revived by the warmth than it turned on its benefactor and bit him fatally. As the poor man lay dying, he cried, "I have only got what I deserved for taking compassion on so villainous a creature."
❋ Kindness is thrown away on the evil.
Two frogs were neighbours. One lived in a marsh, where there was plenty of water, which frogs love: the other in a lane some distance away, where all the water to be had was that which lay in the ruts after rain. The marsh frog warned his friend and pressed him to come and live with him in the marsh, for he would find his quarters there far more comfortable and – what was still more important – more safe.
But the other refused, saying that he could not bring himself to move from a place he had become accustomed to. A few days afterwards a heavy wagon came down the lane, and he was crushed to death under the wheels.
A very unskilful cobbler, finding himself unable to make a living at his trade, gave up mending boots and took to doctoring instead. He gave out that he had the secret of a universal antidote against all poisons, and acquired no small reputation, thanks to his talent for puffing himself.
One day, however, he fell very ill; and the king of the country bethought him that he would test the value of his remedy. Calling, therefore, for a cup, he poured out a dose of the antidote, and, under pretence of mixing poison with it, added a little water, and commanded him to drink it.
Terrified by the fear of being poisoned, the cobbler confessed that he knew nothing about medicine, and that his antidote was worthless. Then the king summoned his subjects and addressed them as follows: "What folly could be greater than yours? Here is this cobbler to whom no one will send his boots to be mended, and yet you have not hesitated to entrust him with your lives!"
A donkey and a cock were in a cattle-pen together. Before long a lion, who had been starving for days, came along and was just about to fall on the donkey and make a meal of him when the cock, rising to his full height and flapping his wings vigorously, uttered a tremendous crow.
Now, if there is one thing that frightens a lion, it is the crowing of a cock: and this one had no sooner heard the noise than he fled. The donkey was mightily elated at this, and thought that, if the lion couldn't face a cock, he would be still less likely to stand up to and donkey: so he ran out and pursued him. But when the two had got well out of sight and hearing of the cock, the lion suddenly turned on thedonkey and ate him up.
❋ False confidence often leads to disaster.