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  1. The Mice and the Cat (Fable)
  2. The Talking Tree
  3. The Cock's Stone

The Mice and the Cat (Fable)

Many mice dwelt in a hole in the wall. Once they saw a cat who was lying on the floor. The cat's head hung low and he looked sad.

After looking at the cat for a long while one of the mice said: "This creature seems to be quite harmless and gentle and pure of mind. I want to speak to him and become friends with him."

When the mouse had said this and approached closer, he was seized by the cat and torn into pieces. When they saw this, the rest of the mice said to one another: "No, we should not rashly put our trust in someone's looks."

People may be better judged by what they do than by how they look. • Look before you leap; ravening wolves may lurk all dressed up like sheep.

(Abstemius, retold)


The Talking Tree

Once on a time there was a king who fancied he had gathered in his castle all the rarest things in the world. One day a stranger came and asked permission to see the collection. He looked at everything minutely, and then said: "The best thing of all is wanting."

"What is wanting?" asked the king.

"The talking tree," answered the stranger.

Yes, a talking tree was not among all those wonderful things. With this flea in his ear the king had no more peace. He could not even sleep at night. He sent messengers and exploring commissions throughout the whole world in search of the talking tree, but they all returned empty- handed.

The king then thought the stranger must have been making fun of him, and ordered him to be arrested. "Please," said he, "if your messengers and explorers have searched badly, how can it be my fault? Let them search better."

"But have you seen the talking tree with your own eyes?"

"I have seen it with my own eyes, and what is more, I've heard it with my own ears."


"I no longer remember now."

"And what did it say?"

"Well, it said:

"Ever to wait for what never comes,

Is enough to give one the worst doldrums.'"

So the story was really true! The king again sent off his messengers. A whole year passed, and they all returned as before, empty-handed. Then the king was so angry that he ordered the stranger's head to be chopped off.

"But what fault of mine is it if your Majesty's people have searched badly? Let them search better."

His persistence struck the king as singular! So he called together his ministers and announced to them his intention of going himself in quest of the talking tree. He would not consider himself a king till he had it safe within his castle walls.

So he set out in disguise. He walked and walked. After travelling for many days he spent the night camping in a deep valley, where not one living soul was to be seen. He stretched himself out on the ground, and was just dropping off asleep when he heard a voice, as of someone weeping:

"Ever to wait for what never comes, Is enough to give one the worst doldrums!" He started up and lent an ear. Had he been dreaming? Then he heard it again. He had not been dreaming.

At once he asked, "Who are you?"

Nobody answered, but next morning, as soon as it was dawn, he noticed near at hand a beautiful tree with branches bending down to the earth. This must be the tree he was after. T make sure, he stretched out his hand and plucked two leaves.

"Ahh! why do you tear me?" said a sad voice.

The king was quite terrified in spite of all his daring; yet he asked:

"Who are you?"

"I am the daughter of a king of Spain," said the voice.

"And how did you come here?"

"One day I saw a fountain as clear as crystal and thought I would bathe in it. No sooner did its waters touch me than I fell under this enchantment.

"What can I do to set you free?"

"You must find out the words of the spell and swear to marry me."

"Okay, but tell me first why did not you answer me last night?"

"Ah!" sighed the tree, "the witch was there! Be quiet! Go away now! I hear her coming back. If by misfortune she found you here, she would throw the spell over you too."

The king ran and hid himself behind a sort of low wall that ran near, and saw the witch come riding on her broomstick.

"Who were you talking to?" asked she.

"To the wind that blows," answered the tree.

"But I see footmarks here!"

"They may be your own."

"Ah, they're mine, are they?" cried the enraged witch, and seizing a great iron club she struck the tree, screaming all the while:

"Wait till I get at you! I'll let you know."

"That will do!" shrieked the tree. "I shall do it no more! I shall never do it again!"

But the witch cried, "Ah, they're mine, are they? Wait till I get at you! I'll let you see!"

The king was greatly distressed at this, but as he could do nothing he saw it was useless to remain there any longer. He resolved to go and try to find out the spell. So he began to retrace his steps; but he took the wrong path due to a thick fog that gently surrounded him.

He came to think he had quite lost his way in the fog and could not find any way out of it. And since it was getting late, climbed up into a high tree to pass the night there, to be out of reach of the wild beasts.

But, lo and behold! just at midnight he heard a deafening noise that rang through the whole wood. It was an ogre coming home, with his hundred mastiffs barking and yelping at his heels.

"Oh, what a fine smell of white flesh!" cried the ogre; and he stopped at the foot of the tree our king was on, and began sniffing up in the air. "Oh, what a good smell!"

The poor king felt cold shivers pass all over him, while he heard the mastiffs rooting and growling among the brushwood around, scraping up the earth and snuffing at his footmarks. But, luckily it was as dark as pitch. The ogre looked about in vain for some little time, then at last went away and called off his mastiffs.

When daylight came, the king, still quaking with fear, slid down from the tree, and began going forward very cautiously. After some time he met a beautiful young girl.

"Lovely maiden," said he, "show me how I may get out of this wood. I am a traveller who has lost his way."

"Poor fellow! how on earth did you get here? My father will pass again in a short time, and will most surely eat you up alive!"

And indeed they could hear the barking of the mastiffs not far off, and the voice of the ogre calling them after him.

"I am lost this time!" thought the king.

"Come here!" cried the maiden; "throw yourself flat down on your face; I shall sit on you, and cover you over with my skirts. Don't even breathe!"

When the ogre saw his daughter, he stopped, "What are you sitting there for?"

"I am resting a little."

"Oh, what a good smell of flesh!"

"A little boy went past and I gobbled him up."

"Well done! And his bones?"

"The dogs ate them up."

Yet the ogre went on sniffing at the air.

"Oh, what a good smell!"

"Well, father, if you wish to reach the seashore in time, don't stop on the way." As soon as the ogre had gone off the king came out from his hiding-place and related his story to the kind maiden.

"If you will but promise to marry me, I can give you the spell you need to break the charm."

Now, this girl was a perfect beauty, and the king would have been nothing loath to wed her, but he remembered his former promise.

"Alas, fair maiden, I have already pledged my word!"

"That's unlucky for me. But no matter." She led him to a great mansion, and taking a pot of ointment that belonged to her father, smeared some of it on him, which at once spread a charm over him.

"And now, my pretty maid, you must please lend me an axe."

"Here is one."

"What is this grease on the edge?"

"It is but some oil from the whetstone on which it was sharpened."

With the charm he now had on him, the king was able to get back in a twinkling to the spot where stood the talking tree.

The witch was not there, so the tree said to him, "Take care! My heart is hidden away in the trunk. When you cut me down, don't mind what the witch says. If she tells you to strike high up, you must strike down. If she tells you to strike down, you must strike up; if not, you will kill me. Then you must cut the nasty old witch's head off at one blow, or it will be all over with you. Not even the charm can save you."

The witch came back after some time. "What are you seeking for in these parts?" she asked of the king.

"I am looking for a tree to make charcoal of, and I have just been considering this one."

"Will it suit you? I make you a present of it, on condition that in felling it you strike exactly where I tell you."

"Very well. Thank you!"

"Strike here." But instead, the king smote there.

"Oh, I made a mistake! Let me begin again."

All the while he could not manage to get a stroke at the witch, who was on her guard. At last he cried, "O-o-o-o-oh!"

"What do you see?"

"Such a fine star!"

"By daylight? That's impossible!"

"See, up there! Right over that branch!"

And while the witch turned her back to look right over the branch, the king aimed a mighty blow and cut her head clean off.

No sooner was the enchantment thus broken, than from the trunk of the tree there stepped forth a damsel so lovely one could scarcely look at her. The king, delighted at having saved her, brought her back with him to his castle, and ordered splendid rejoicings and preparations for the celebration of their wedding.

When the day came and the court ladies were dressing the queen in her bridal robes, to their great astonishment they perceived that she was made of wood, though so beautiful. One of them flew to the king.

"Please your Majesty, the queen is not of flesh and blood, but of wood!"

The king and his Ministers went to see this wonder. To the sight she was like a living woman any person would have been deceived but to the touch she was wood. Yet she could talk and move. The Ministers declared that the king could not marry a wooden doll, even though it could talk and move. And they countermanded the feasting and rejoicings.

"There must be still some other spell hanging over her!" thought the king. And then he remembered the grease on the axe. So he took a piece of meat, and cut it up with the axe. He had guessed aright. The bits of meat still seemed to all appearance to be meat anyone would have been deceived but to the touch they were wood. It was the ogre's daughter who had betrayed him through jealousy!

So he said to his ministers, "I am going away, but shall soon return."

And he travelled till he came to the wood where he had met the beautiful maiden.

"Here again? What good wind has brought you back?"

"I am come for you, dear!"

But the ogre's daughter would not believe him. "On your word of honour as a king, did you really come for me?"

"On my royal word!" And he said quite true; only she imagined it was for their wedding he had come. So, taking his arm, they went into the house together.

"See, here is the axe you lent me." And in giving it to her the king contrived to prick her hand with the point.

"Ah! what has your Majesty done to me? I am turning into wood!"

The king made believe to be much grieved at this accident.

"Is there no remedy for it?"

"Yes! Open that cupboard and you will find a pot of ointment in it; rub me all over with the oil it contains and I shall be cured at once."

So the king did as she bade him, and took the pot of ointment.

"Now, wait till I come back!" he cried, and dashed out of the house.

She understood, but too late, and began screaming after him, "Treason! treason!"

Then she unchained her father's great mastiffs to give him chase. But it was all of no use! - the king was already far out of sight.

So the queen was quite freed from the spell that bound her, and returned to her natural state again; and as she was no longer a wooden doll, the ministers agreed to celebrate the wedding.



The Cock's Stone

There was once in the city of Black-Grotto an old man named Janor, who was so miserably poor that all he owned was a little cock that he had reared on bread-crumbs. But one morning, being pinched with hunger, he took it into his head to sell the cock. Taking it to the market, he there met two rascally magicians. With them he made a bargain, selling it to them for half-a-crown. So they told him to take it to their house and they would count him out the money. Then the magicians went their way.

But unknown to them, Janor followed them at a distance and overheard them whispering together and saying, "Who would have told us that we should meet with such a piece of good luck? This cock will make our fortune to a certainty by the stone he has in his pate; we will quickly have it set in a ring, and then we shall have everything we can ask for."

"Hush," answered the other, "I see myself rich and can hardly believe it; and I am longing to twist the cock's neck and get rich; for in this world virtue without money goes for nothing, and a man is judged of by his coat."

Janor, who had travelled about in the world and eaten bread from more than one oven, heard this talk and then turned on his heel and scampered off. Running home he twisted the cock's neck, and opening its head found the stone. At once he had the stone set in a brass ring. Then, to try its power, he said, "I wish to become eighteen years old."

Hardly had he uttered the words when his blood began to flow more quickly, his nerves became stronger, his limbs firmer, his flesh fresher, his eyes more fiery; his silver hairs were turned to gold; into his empty mouth came back all his teeth. and his beard, which had become hard and stubbly, grew fine and soft again. In short, he was changed to a most beautiful youth.

Then he went into the woods and said, "I wish for a splendid castle, and to marry the king's daughter."

At once appeared a great-looking castle there. In the great halls, supported by carved pillars, silver glittered everywhere; he trod on gold; beautiful pictures drew his eye; jewels dazzled him. Servants swarmed like ants about the place; and the horses and carriages could hardly be counted. There was such a display of riches that when the king came to see it he was amazed; and willingly gave his daughter in marriage to Janor. She died in a few years, but left a little daughter called Prettina.

Meanwhile the magicians discovered the great wealth of Janor and laid a plan to rob him of his good fortune. They thought they could get at her father's treasures through her. So they made a pretty little doll, which played and danced by clockwork and dressed themselves as merchants. Then they went to the castle when Janor was out and showed it to Prettina. Delighted with it, she asked what it cost; and they answered it was not to be bought for money, but that she might have it and welcome if she would only do them a favour, which was to let them see the ring that her father owned. They wished to take the model and make another like it. Then they would give her the doll without any payment at all.

Prettina, who had never heard the proverb, "Think well before you buy anything cheap," at once accepted this offer; and bidding them return the next morning she promised to ask her father to lend her the ring. So the magicians went away, and when her father returned home Prettina coaxed and caressed him, till at last she persuaded him to give her the ring, making the excuse that she was sad at heart and wished to divert her mind a little.

Next day the magicians returned; and no sooner had they the ring in their hands than they vanished. Not a trace of them was to be seen. The happening struck Prettina with terror.

When the magicians came to a wood they desired the ring to destroy the spell by which the old Janor had become young again. And at once Janor, who was just at that minute in the presence of the king, was suddenly seen to grow hoary, his hairs to whiten, his forehead to wrinkle, his eyebrows to grow bristly, his eyes to sink in, his face to be furrowed, his mouth to become toothless, his beard to grow bushy, his back to be humped, his legs to tremble, and above all, his glittering garments to turn to rags and tatters! The king ordered the miserable old fellow to be driven away with blows and hard words.

Janor went weeping to his daughter, and asked for the ring to set matters right again. When he heard of the trick played by the false merchants, he was ready to throw himself out of the window, for the ignorance of Prettina, had turned him into a scarecrow for the sake of a silly doll. Then set out for the merchants. He threw a cloak about his neck, slung a wallet on his back, drew his sandals on his feet, took a staff in his hand, and leaving his daughter stunned with how old he had become since the morning, he set out on his journey.

On and on he walked till he arrived at the kingdom of Deep-Hole. Mice lived there. They took him for a spy of the cats and at once led before Nibbler the king. Then the king asked him who he was, where he came from, and what he was about in that country. Janor first gave the king a cheese-paring in sign of tribute, and then related to him all his misfortunes, one by one. He concluded by saying that he was resolved to toil and travel on till he got tidings of those thievish villains who had robbed him.

At these words king Nibbler wished to comfort the poor man and summoned the mice elders to a council. He asked their opinions on the misfortunes of Janor, commanding them to use all diligence and endeavour to get some tidings of those false merchants.

Now, the mice Pecker and Skipjack had lived for six years at a tavern of great resort hard by there and were well used to the ways of the world. They said to Janor, "Be of good heart, comrade! matters will turn out better than you imagine. One day we were in a room in the hostelry of the "Horn", where the most famous men in the world lodge and make merry. Then two persons from Hook-Castle came in. After they had eaten their fill and had seen the bottom of their flagon, they fell to talking of a trick they had played on a certain old man of Black-Grotto, cheating him out of a stone of great value.

When Janor heard this, he told the two mice that if they would trust themselves in his company and come with him to the country where those rogues lived, and recover the ring for him, he would give them as much cheese and salt meat as ever they liked, which they might eat and enjoy with their king Nibbler. For such a reward the two mice were willing to go over seas and mountains; and taking leave of his mousy majesty they set out.

At last they arrived at Hook-Castle, where the mice told Janor to remain under some trees on the brink of a river while they went to seek the house of the magicians. As they knew Jennarone never took the ring from his finger they had to resort to a trick to get it from him. So they waited till the magicians had gone to bed and were fast asleep. Then Pecker began to nibble the finger that the ring was on; The magician felt smart and took the ring off and laid it on a table at the head of the bed. But as soon as Skipjack saw this he popped it into his mouth. Then they both ran back to find Janor.

Great was his joy; and as the ring gave him back his power, he at once turned the magicians into two donkeys. On one he rode. The other he loaded with cheese and bacon and set off towards Deep-Hole, where, having given presents to the king and his councillors, he thanked them for their help, praying that no mousetrap might ever lay hold of them and no cat ever mishandle them.

Janor returned to Black-Grotto even more handsome than before, and was received by the king and by his daughter Prettina with the greatest affection in the world. The two donkeys remained beasts of burden while he lived happily with Prettina till the end of his life. And he never took the ring from his finger again.



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