The members of the body once rebelled against the belly.
"You," they said to the belly, "live in luxury and sloth, and never do a stroke of work, while we not only have to do all the hard work there is to be done, but are actually your slaves and have to minister to all your wants. Now, we will do so no longer, and you can shift for yourself for the future."
They were as good as their word, and left the belly to starve. The result was just what might have been expected: the whole body soon began to fail, and the members and all shared in the general collapse. And then they saw too late how foolish they had been.
A fly settled on the head of a bald man and bit him. In his eagerness to kill it, he hit himself a smart slap. But the fly escaped, and said to him in derision, "You tried to kill me for just one little bite; what will you do to yourself now, for the heavy smack you have just given yourself?"
"Oh, for that blow I bear no grudge," he replied, "for I never intended myself any harm; but as for you, you contemptible insect, who live by sucking human blood, I'd have borne a good deal more than that for the satisfaction of dashing the life out of you!"
A donkey was feeding in a meadow, and, catching sight of the wolf, his enemy, in the distance, he pretended to be very lame and hobbled painfully along.
When the wolf came up, he asked the donkey how he came to be so lame, and the donkey replied that in going through a hedge he had trodden on a thorn, and he begged the wolf to pull it out with his teeth, "In case," he said, "when you eat me, it should stick in your throat and hurt you very much."
The wolf said he would, and told the donkey to lift up his foot, and gave his whole mind to getting out the thorn. But the donkey suddenly let out with his heels and fetched the wolf a fearful kick in the mouth, breaking his teeth; and then he galloped off at full speed.
As soon as he could speak the wolf growled to himself, "It serves me right: my father taught me to kill, and I ought to have stuck to that trade instead of trying to cure."
At a gathering of all the beasts the monkey gave an exhibition of dancing and entertained the company vastly. There was great applause at the finish, which excited the envy of the camel and made him desire to win the favour of the assembly by the same means. So he got up from his place and began dancing, but he cut such a ridiculous figure as he plunged about, and made such a grotesque exhibition of his ungainly person, that the beasts all fell on him with ridicule and drove him away.
An ill man was visited by his doctor, who asked him how he was.
"Fairly well, doctor," said he, "but I find I sweat a great deal."
"Ah," said the doctor, "that's a good sign."
On his next visit he asked the same question, and his patient replied, "I'm much as usual, but I've taken to having shivering fits, which leave me cold all over."
"Ah," said the doctor, "that's a good sign too."
When the doctor came the third time and inquired as before about his patient's health, the ill man said that he felt very feverish.
"A very good sign," said the doctor; "you are doing very nicely indeed."
Afterwards a friend came to see the invalid, and on asking him how he did, received this reply:
"My dear friend, I'm dying of good signs."
Two travellers were walking along a bare and dusty road in the heat of a summer's day. When they came to a plane-tree, they joyfully turned aside to shelter from the burning rays of the sun in the deep shade of its spreading branches. As they rested, looking up into the tree, one of them remarked to his companion, "What a useless tree the plane is! It bears no fruit and is of no service to man at all."
The plane-tree interrupted him with indignation. "You ungrateful creature!" it cried. "You come and take shelter under me from the scorching sun, and then, in the very act of enjoying the cool shade of my foliage, you abuse me and call me good for nothing!"
❋ Many a service is met with ingratitude.
A flea once said to an ox, "How comes it that a big strong fellow like you is content to serve mankind, and do all their hard work for them, while I, who am no bigger than you see, live on their bodies and drink my fill of their blood, and never do a stroke for it all?"
To which the ox replied, "Men are very kind to me, and so I am grateful to them: they feed and house me well, and every now and then they show their fondness for me by patting me on the head and neck."
"They'd pat me, too," said the flea, "if I let them: but I take good care they don't, or there would be nothing left of me."
The birds were at war with the beasts, and many battles were fought with varying success on either side. The bat did not throw in his lot definitely with either party, but when things went well for the birds he was found fighting in their ranks; when, on the other hand, the Beasts got the upper hand, he was to be found among the beasts.
No one paid any attention to him while the war lasted: but when it was over, and peace was restored, neither the birds nor the beasts would have anything to do with so double-faced a traitor, and so he remains to this day a solitary outcast from both.
A man of middle age, whose hair was turning grey, had two sweethearts, an old woman and a young one. The elder of the two didn't like having a lover who looked so much younger than herself, so, whenever he came to see her, she used to pull the dark hairs out of his head to make him look old. The younger, on the other hand, didn't like him to look so much older than herself, and took every opportunity of pulling out the grey hairs, to make him look young. Between them, they left not a hair in his head, and he became perfectly bald.
One day a jackdaw saw an eagle swoop down on a lamb and carry it off in its talons.
"My word," said the jackdaw, "I'll do that myself."
So it flew high up into the air, and then came shooting down with a great whirring of wings on to the back of a big ram. It had no sooner alighted than its claws got caught fast in the wool, and nothing it could do was of any use: there it stuck, flapping away, and only making things worse instead of better.
By and by up came the shepherd. "Oho," he said, "so that's what you'd be doing, is it?"
And he took the jackdaw, and clipped its wings and carried it home to his children. It looked so odd that they didn't know what to make of it.
"What sort of bird is it, father?" they asked.
"It's a jackdaw," he replied, "and nothing but a jackdaw: but it wants to be taken for an eagle."
❋ If you attempt what is beyond your power, your trouble will be wasted and you court not only misfortune but ridicule.
A wolf, who had just enjoyed a good meal and was in a playful mood, caught sight of a boy lying flat on the ground, and, realising that he was trying to hide, and that it was fear of himself that made him do this, he went up to him and said, "Aha, I've found you, you see; but if you can say three things to me, the truth of which cannot be disputed, I will spare your life."
The boy plucked up courage and thought for a moment, and then he said, "First, it is a pity you saw me; secondly, I was a fool to let myself be seen; and thirdly, we all hate wolves because they are always making unprovoked attacks on our flocks."
The wolf replied, "Well, what you say is true enough from your point of view; so you may go."
A miller, accompanied by his young son, was driving his donkey to market in hopes of finding a buyer for him. On the road they met a troop of girls, laughing and talking, who exclaimed, "Did you ever see such a pair of fools? To be trudging along the dusty road when they might be riding!"
The miller thought there was sense in what they said; so he made his son mount the donkey, and himself walked at the side.
Before long they met some of his old cronies, who greeted them and said, "You'll spoil that son of yours, letting him ride while you toil along on foot! Make him walk, young lazybones! It'll do him all the good in the world."
The miller followed their advice, and took his son's place on the back of the donkey while the boy trudged along behind.
They had not gone far when they overtook a party of women and children, and the miller heard them say, "What a selfish old man! He himself rides in comfort, but lets his poor little boy follow as best he can on his own legs!"
So he made his son get up behind him. Further along the road they met some travellers, who asked the miller whether the donkey he was riding was his own property, or a beast hired for the occasion. He replied that it was his own, and that he was taking it to market to sell.
"Good heavens!" said they, "with a load like that the poor beast will be so exhausted by the time he gets there that no one will look at him. Why, you'd do better to carry him!"
"Anything to please you," said the old man, "we can but try."
So they got off, tied the donkey's legs together with a rope and slung him on a pole, and at last reached the town, carrying him between them. This was so absurd a sight that the people ran out in crowds to laugh at it, and chaffed the father and son unmercifully, some even calling them lunatics.
They had then got to a bridge over the river, where the donkey, frightened by the noise and his unusual situation, kicked and struggled till he broke the ropes that bound him, and fell into the water and was drowned.
And so the unfortunate miller, vexed and ashamed, made the best of his way home again, convinced that in trying to please all he had pleased none, and had lost his donkey into the bargain.
A stag, pursued by the huntsmen, hid himself under cover of a thick vine. They lost track of him and passed by his hiding-place without being aware that he was anywhere near. Supposing all danger to be over, the stag began to browse on the leaves of the vine. The movement drew the attention of the returning huntsmen, and one of them, supposing some animal to be hidden there, shot an arrow at a venture into the foliage. The unlucky stag was pierced to the heart, and, as he expired, he said, "I deserve my fate for my treachery in feeding on the leaves of my protector."
❋ Ingratitude sometimes brings its own punishment.
A wolf was chasing a lamb, which took refuge in a temple. The wolf urged it to come out of the precincts, and said, "If you don't, the priest is sure to catch you and offer you up in sacrifice on the altar."
To which the lamb replied, "Thanks, I think I'll stay where I am: I'd rather be sacrificed any day than be eaten up by a wolf."
An archer went up into the hills to get some sport with his bow, and all the animals fled at the sight of him with the exception of the lion, who stayed behind and challenged him to fight. But he shot an arrow at the lion and hit him, and said, "There, you see what my messenger can do: just you wait a moment and I'll tackle you myself."
The lion, however, when he felt the sting of the arrow, ran away as fast as his legs could carry him.
A fox, who had seen it all happen, said to the lion, "Come, don't be a coward: why don't you stay and show fight?"
But the lion replied, "You won't get me to stay, not you: why, when he sends a messenger like that before him, he must himself be a terrible fellow to deal with."
❋ Give a wide berth to those who can do damage at a distance.
A wolf caught sight of a goat browsing above him on the scanty herbage that grew on the top of a steep rock; and being unable to get at her, tried to induce her to come lower down.
"You are risking your life up there, madam, indeed you are," he called out: "pray take my advice and come down here, where you will find plenty of better food."
The goat turned a knowing eye on him.
"It's little you care whether I get good grass or bad," said she: "what you want is to eat me."
A stag fell sick and lay in a clearing in the forest, too weak to move from the spot. When the news of his illness spread, a number of the other beasts came to inquire after his health, and they one and all nibbled a little of the grass that grew round the invalid till at last there was not a blade within his reach. In a few days he began to mend, but was still too feeble to get up and go in search of fodder, and thus he perished miserably of hunger owing to the thoughtlessness of his friends.
A certain man who had a donkey and a mule loaded them both up one day and set out on a journey. So long as the road was fairly level, the donkey got on very well: but by and by they came to a place among the hills where the road was very rough and steep, and the donkey was at his last gasp. So he begged the mule to relieve him of a part of his load: but the mule refused.
At last, from sheer weariness, the donkey stumbled and fell down a steep place and was killed. The driver was in despair, but he did the best he could: he added the donkey's load to the mule's, and he also flayed the donkey and put his skin on the top of the double load.
The mule could only just manage the extra weight, and, as he staggered painfully along, he said to himself, "I have only got what I deserved: if I had been willing to help the donkey at first, I should not now be carrying his load and his skin into the bargain."
A certain man had two children, a boy and a girl. The boy was as good-looking as the girl was plain. One day, as they were playing together in their mother's chamber, they chanced on a mirror and saw their own features for the first time. The boy saw what a handsome fellow he was, and began to boast to his sister about his good looks. She, on her part, was ready to cry with vexation when she was aware of her plainness, and took his remarks as an insult to herself. Running to her father, she told him of her brother's conceit, and accused him of meddling with his mother's things. He laughed and kissed them both, and said, "My children, learn from now onwards to make a good use of the glass. You, my boy, strive to be as good as it shows you to be handsome. And you, my girl, resolve to make up for the plainness of your features by the sweetness of your disposition."
A heifer went up to an ox, who was straining hard at the plough, and sympathised with him in a rather patronising sort of way on the necessity of his having to work so hard. Not long afterwards there was a festival in the village and everyone kept holiday: but, whereas the Ox was turned loose into the pasture, the heifer was seized and led off to sacrifice.
"Ah," said the ox, with a grim smile, "I see now why you were allowed to have such an idle time: it was because you were always intended for the altar."