Cobwebs From an Empty Skull by Ambrose Bierce (AKA: Dod Grile)

Produced by Sandra Brown and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. COBWEBS FROM AN EMPTY SKULL. BY DOD GRILE. ILLUSTRATED WITH ENGRAVINGS BY DALZIEL BROTHERS. _LONDON AND NEW YORK:_ GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS 1874 To my friend, SHERBURNE B. EATON. CONTENTS Fables of Zambri, the Parsee. Brief Seasons of Intellectual Dissipation. Divers Tales. 1. The Grateful
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Produced by Sandra Brown and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.












To my friend,



Fables of Zambri, the Parsee.
Brief Seasons of Intellectual Dissipation. Divers Tales.
1. The Grateful Bear.
2. The Setting Sachem.
3. Feodora.
4. The Legend of Immortal Truth. 5. Converting a Prodigal.
6. Four Jacks and a Knave.
7. Dr. Deadwood, I Presume.
8. Nut-Cracking
9. The Magician’s Little Joke
10. Seafaring.
11. Tony Rollo’s Conclusion.
12. No Charge for Attendance.
13. Pernicketty’s Fright.
14. Juniper.
15. Following the Sea.
16. A Tale of Spanish Vengeance. 17. Mrs. Dennison’s Head.
18. A Fowl Witch.
19. The Civil Service in Florida. 20. A Tale of the Bosphorus.
21. John Smith.
22. Sundered Hearts.
23. The Early History of Bath.
24. The Following Dorg.
25. Snaking.
26. Maud’s Papa.
27. Jim Beckwourth’s Pond.
28. Stringing a Bear.


The matter of which this volume is composed appeared originally in the columns of “FUN,” when the wisdom of the Fables and the truth of the Tales tended to wholesomely diminish the levity of that jocund sheet. Their publication in a new form would seem to be a fitting occasion to say something as to their merit.

Homer’s “Iliad,” it will be remembered, was but imperfectly appreciated by Homer’s contemporaries. Milton’s “Paradise Lost” was so lightly regarded when first written, that the author received but twenty-five pounds for it. Ben Jonson was for some time blind to the beauties of Shakespeare, and Shakespeare himself had but small esteem for his own work.

Appearing each week in “FUN,” these Fables and Tales very soon attracted the notice of the Editor, who was frank enough to say, afterward, that when he accepted the manuscript he did not quite perceive the quality of it. The printers, too, into whose hands it came, have since admitted that for some days they felt very little interest in it, and could not even make out what it was all about. When to these evidences I add the confession that at first I did not myself observe anything extraordinary in my work, I think I need say no more: the discerning public will note the parallel, and my modesty be spared the necessity of making an ass of itself.





A certain Persian nobleman obtained from a cow gipsy a small oyster. Holding him up by the beard, he addressed him thus:

“You must try to forgive me for what I am about to do; and you might as well set about it at once, for you haven’t much time. I should never think of swallowing you if it were not so easy; but opportunity is the strongest of all temptations. Besides, I am an orphan, and very hungry.”

“Very well,” replied the oyster; “it affords me genuine pleasure to comfort the parentless and the starving. I have already done my best for our friend here, of whom you purchased me; but although she has an amiable and accommodating stomach, _we couldn’t agree_. For this trifling incompatibility–would you believe it?–she was about to stew me! Saviour, benefactor, proceed.”

“I think,” said the nobleman, rising and laying down the oyster, “I ought to know something more definite about your antecedents before succouring you. If you couldn’t agree with your mistress, you are probably no better than you should be.”

People who begin doing something from a selfish motive frequently drop it when they learn that it is a real benevolence.


A rat seeing a cat approaching, and finding no avenue of escape, went boldly up to her, and said:

“Madam, I have just swallowed a dose of powerful bane, and in accordance with instructions upon the label, have come out of my hole to die. Will you kindly direct me to a spot where my corpse will prove peculiarly offensive?”

“Since you are so ill,” replied the cat, “I will myself transport you to a spot which I think will suit.”

So saying, she struck her teeth through the nape of his neck and trotted away with him. This was more than he had bargained for, and he squeaked shrilly with the pain.

“Ah!” said the cat, “a rat who knows he has but a few minutes to live, never makes a fuss about a little agony. I don’t think, my fine fellow, you have taken poison enough to hurt either you or me.”

So she made a meal of him.

If this fable does not teach that a rat gets no profit by lying, I should be pleased to know what it does teach.


A frog who had been sitting up all night in neighbourly converse with an echo of elegant leisure, went out in the grey of the morning to obtain a cheap breakfast. Seeing a tadpole approach,

“Halt!” he croaked, “and show cause why I should not eat you.”

The tadpole stopped and displayed a fine tail.

“Enough,” said the frog: “I mistook you for one of us; and if there is anything I like, it is frog. But no frog has a tail, as a matter of course.”

While he was speaking, however, the tail ripened and dropped off, and its owner stood revealed in his edible character.

“Aha!” ejaculated the frog, “so that is your little game! If, instead of adopting a disguise, you had trusted to my mercy, I should have spared you. But I am down upon all manner of deceit.”

And he had him down in a moment.

Learn from this that he would have eaten him anyhow.


An old man carrying, for no obvious reason, a sheaf of sticks, met another donkey whose cargo consisted merely of a bundle of stones.

“Suppose we swop,” said the donkey.

“Very good, sir,” assented the old man; “lay your load upon my shoulders, and take off my parcel, putting it upon your own back.”

The donkey complied, so far as concerned his own encumbrance, but neglected to remove that of the other.

“How clever!” said the merry old gentleman, “I knew you would do that. If you had done any differently there would have been no point to the fable.”

And laying down both burdens by the roadside, he trudged away as merry as anything.


An elephant meeting a mouse, reproached him for not taking a proper interest in growth.

“It is all very well,” retorted the mouse, “for people who haven’t the capacity for anything better. Let them grow if they like; but _I_ prefer toasted cheese.”

The stupid elephant, not being able to make very much sense of this remark, essayed, after the manner of persons worsted at repartee, to set his foot upon his clever conqueror. In point of fact, he did set his foot upon him, and there wasn’t any more mouse.

The lesson imparted by this fable is open, palpable: mice and elephants look at things each after the manner of his kind; and when an elephant decides to occupy the standpoint of a mouse, it is unhealthy for the latter.


A wolf was slaking his thirst at a stream, when a lamb left the side of his shepherd, came down the creek to the wolf, passed round him with considerable ostentation, and began drinking below.

“I beg you to observe,” said the lamb, “that water does not commonly run uphill; and my sipping here cannot possibly defile the current where you are, even supposing my nose were no cleaner than yours, which it is. So you have not the flimsiest pretext for slaying me.”

“I am not aware, sir,” replied the wolf, “that I require a pretext for loving chops; it never occurred to me that one was necessary.”

And he dined upon that lambkin with much apparent satisfaction.

This fable ought to convince any one that of two stories very similar one needs not necessarily be a plagiarism.



An old gentleman sat down, one day, upon an acorn, and finding it a very comfortable seat, went soundly to sleep. The warmth of his body caused the acorn to germinate, and it grew so rapidly, that when the sleeper awoke he found himself sitting in the fork of an oak, sixty feet from the ground.

“Ah!” said he, “I am fond of having an extended view of any landscape which happens to please my fancy; but this one does not seem to possess that merit. I think I will go home.”

It is easier to say go home than to go.

“Well, well!” he resumed, “if I cannot compel circumstances to my will, I can at least adapt my will to circumstances. I decide to remain. ‘Life’–as a certain eminent philosopher in England wilt say, whenever there shall be an England to say it in–‘is the definite combination of heterogeneous changes, both simultaneous and successive, in correspondence with external co-existences and sequences.’ I have, fortunately, a few years of this before me yet; and I suppose I can permit my surroundings to alter me into anything I choose.”

And he did; but what a choice!

I should say that the lesson hereby imparted is one of contentment combined with science.


A caterpillar had crawled painfully to the top of a hop-pole, and not finding anything there to interest him, began to think of descending.

“Now,” soliloquized he, “if I only had a pair of wings, I should be able to manage it very nicely.”

So saying, he turned himself about to go down, but the heat of his previous exertion, and that of the sun, had by this time matured him into a butterfly.

“Just my luck!” he growled, “I never wish for anything without getting it. I did not expect this when I came out this morning, and have nothing prepared. But I suppose I shall have to stand it.”

So he spread his pinions and made for the first open flower he saw. But a spider happened to be spending the summer in that vegetable, and it was not long before Mr. Butterfly was wishing himself back atop of that pole, a simple caterpillar.

He had at last the pleasure of being denied a desire.

_Haec fabula docet_ that it is not a good plan to call at houses without first ascertaining who is at home there.


It is related of a certain Tartar priest that, being about to sacrifice a pig, he observed tears in the victim’s eyes.

“Now, I’d like to know what is the matter with _you_?” he asked.

“Sir,” replied the pig, “if your penetration were equal to that of the knife you hold, you would know without inquiring; but I don’t mind telling you. I weep because I know I shall be badly roasted.”

“Ah,” returned the priest, meditatively, having first killed the pig, “we are all pretty much alike: it is the bad roasting that frightens us. Mere death has no terrors.”

From this narrative learn that even priests sometimes get hold of only half a truth.


A dog being very much annoyed by bees, ran, quite accidentally, into an empty barrel lying on the ground, and looking out at the bung-hole, addressed his tormenters thus:

“Had you been temperate, stinging me only one at a time, you might have got a good deal of fun out of me. As it is, you have driven me into a secure retreat; for I can snap you up as fast as you come in through the bung-hole. Learn from this the folly of intemperate zeal.”

When he had concluded, he awaited a reply. There wasn’t any reply; for the bees had never gone near the bung-hole; they went in the same way as he did, and made it very warm for him.

The lesson of this fable is that one cannot stick to his pure reason while quarrelling with bees.


A fox and a duck having quarrelled about the ownership of a frog, agreed to refer the dispute to a lion. After hearing a great deal of argument, the lion opened his mouth to speak.

“I am very well aware,” interrupted the duck, “what your decision is. It is that by our own showing the frog belongs to neither of us, and you will eat him yourself. But please remember that lions do not like frogs.”

“To me,” exclaimed the fox, “it is perfectly clear that you will give the frog to the duck, the duck to me, and take me yourself. Allow me to state certain objections to–“

“I was about to remark,” said the lion, “that while you were disputing, the cause of contention had hopped away. Perhaps you can procure another frog.”

To point out the moral of this fable would be to offer a gratuitous insult to the acuteness of the reader.


An ass meeting a pair of horses, late one evening, said to them:

“It is time all honest horses were in bed. Why are you driving out at this time of day?”

“Ah!” returned they, “if it is so very late, why are you out riding?”

“I never in my life,” retorted the ass angrily, “knew a horse to return a direct answer to a civil question.”

This tale shows that this ass did not know everything.

[The implication that horses do not answer questions seems to have irritated the worthy fabulist.–TRANSLATOR.]


A stone being cast by the plough against a lump of earth, hastened to open the conversation as follows:

“Virtue, which is the opposite of vice, is best fostered by the absence of temptation!”

The lump of earth, being taken somewhat by surprise, was not prepared with an apophthegm, and said nothing.

Since that time it has been customary to call a stupid person a “clod.”


A river seeing a zephyr carrying off an anchor, asked him, “What are you going to do with it?”

“I give it up,” replied the zephyr, after mature reflection.

“Blow me if _I_ would!” continued the river; “you might just as well not have taken it at all.”

“Between you and me,” returned the zephyr, “I only picked it up because it is customary for zephyrs to do such things. But if you don’t mind I will carry it up to your head and drop it in your mouth.”

This fable teaches such a multitude of good things that it would be invidious to mention any.


A peasant sitting on a pile of stones saw an ostrich approaching, and when it had got within range he began pelting it. It is hardly probable that the bird liked this; but it never moved until a large number of boulders had been discharged; then it fell to and ate them.

“It was very good of you, sir,” then said the fowl; “pray tell me to what virtue I am indebted for this excellent meal.”

“To piety,” replied the peasant, who, believing that anything able to devour stones must be a god, was stricken with fear. “I beg you won’t think these were merely cold victuals from my table; I had just gathered them fresh, and was intending to have them dressed for my dinner; but I am always hospitable to the deities, and now I suppose I shall have to go without.”

“On the contrary, my pious youth,” returned the ostrich, “you shall go within.”

And the man followed the stones.

The falsehoods of the wicked never amount to much.


Two thieves went into a farmer’s granary and stole a sack of kitchen vegetables; and, one of them slinging it across his shoulders, they began to run away. In a moment all the domestic animals and barn-yard fowls about the place were at their heels, in high clamour, which threatened to bring the farmer down upon them with his dogs.

“You have no idea how the weight of this sack assists me in escaping, by increasing my momentum,” said the one who carried the plunder; “suppose _you_ take it.”

“Ah!” returned the other, who had been zealously pointing out the way to safety, and keeping foremost therein, “it is interesting to find how a common danger makes people confiding. You have a thousand times said I could not be trusted with valuable booty. It is an humiliating confession, but I am myself convinced that if I should assume that sack, and the impetus it confers, you could not depend upon your dividend.”


“A common danger,” was the reply, “seems to stimulate conviction, as well as confidence.”

“Very likely,” assented the other, drily; “I am quite too busy to enter into these subtleties. You will find the subject very ably treated in the Zend-Avesta.”

But the bastinado taught them more in a minute than they would have gleaned from that excellent work in a fortnight.

If they could only have had the privilege of reading this fable, it would have taught them more than either.


While a man was trying with all his might to cross a fence, a bull ran to his assistance, and taking him upon his horns, tossed him over. Seeing the man walking away without making any remark, the bull said:

“You are quite welcome, I am sure. I did no more than my duty.”

“I take a different view of it, very naturally,” replied the man, “and you may keep your polite acknowledgments of my gratitude until you receive it. I did not require your services.”

“You don’t mean to say,” answered the bull, “that you did not wish to cross that fence!”

“I mean to say,” was the rejoinder, “that I wished to cross it by my method, solely to avoid crossing it by yours.”

_Fabula docet_ that while the end is everything, the means is something.


An hippopotamus meeting an open alligator, said to him:

“My forked friend, you may as well collapse. You are not sufficiently comprehensive to embrace me. I am myself no tyro at smiling, when in the humour.”

“I really had no expectation of taking you in,” replied the other. “I have a habit of extending my hospitality impartially to all, and about seven feet wide.”

“You remind me,” said the hippopotamus, “of a certain zebra who was not vicious at all; he merely kicked the breath out of everything that passed behind him, but did not induce things to pass behind him.”

“It is quite immaterial what I remind you of,” was the reply.

The lesson conveyed by this fable is a very beautiful one.


A man was plucking a living goose, when his victim addressed him thus:

“Suppose _you_ were a goose; do you think you would relish this sort of thing?”

“Well, suppose I were,” answered the man; “do you think _you_ would like to pluck me?”

“Indeed I would!” was the emphatic, natural, but injudicious reply.

“Just so,” concluded her tormentor; “that’s the way _I_ feel about the matter.”


A traveller perishing of thirst in a desert, debated with his camel whether they should continue their journey, or turn back to an oasis they had passed some days before. The traveller favoured the latter plan.

“I am decidedly opposed to any such waste of time,” said the animal; “I don’t care for oases myself.”

“I should not care for them either,” retorted the man, with some temper, “if, like you, I carried a number of assorted water-tanks inside. But as you will not submit to go back, and I shall not consent to go forward, we can only remain where we are.”

“But,” objected the camel, “that will be certain death to you!”

“Not quite,” was the quiet answer, “it involves only the loss of my camel.”

So saying, he assassinated the beast, and appropriated his liquid store.

A compromise is not always a settlement satisfactory to both parties.


A sheep, making a long journey, found the heat of his fleece very uncomfortable, and seeing a flock of other sheep in a fold, evidently awaiting for some one, leaped over and joined them, in the hope of being shorn. Perceiving the shepherd approaching, and the other sheep huddling into a remote corner of the fold, he shouldered his way forward, and going up to the shepherd, said:

“Did you ever see such a lot of fools? It’s lucky I came along to set them an example of docility. Seeing me operated upon, they ‘ll be glad to offer themselves.”

“Perhaps so,” replied the shepherd, laying hold of the animal’s horns; “but I never kill more than one sheep at a time. Mutton won’t keep in hot weather.”

The chops tasted excellently well with tomato sauce.

The moral of this fable isn’t what you think it is. It is this: The chops of another man’s mutton are _always_ nice eating.


Two travellers between Teheran and Bagdad met half-way up the vertical face of a rock, on a path only a cubit in width. As both were in a hurry, and etiquette would allow neither to set his foot upon the other even if dignity had permitted prostration, they maintained for some time a stationary condition. After some reflection, each decided to jump round the other; but as etiquette did not warrant conversation with a stranger, neither made known his intention. The consequence was they met, with considerable emphasis, about four feet from the edge of the path, and went through a flight of soaring eagles, a mile out of their way![A]

[Footnote A: This is infamous! The learned Parsee appears wholly to ignore the distinction between a fable and a simple lie.–TRANSLATOR.]


A stone which had lain for centuries in a hidden place complained to Allah that remaining so long in one position was productive of cramps.

“If thou wouldst be pleased,” it said, “to let me take a little exercise now and then, my health would be the better for it.”

So it was granted permission to make a short excursion, and at once began rolling out into the open desert. It had not proceeded far before an ostrich, who was pensively eating a keg of nails, left his repast, dashed at the stone, and gobbled it up.

This narration teaches the folly of contentment: if the ostrich had been content with his nails he would never have eaten the stone.


A man carrying a sack of corn up a high ladder propped against a wall, had nearly reached the top, when a powerful hog passing that way leant against the bottom to scratch its hide.

“I wish,” said the man, speaking down the ladder, “you would make that operation as brief as possible; and when I come down I will reward you by rearing a fresh ladder especially for you.”

“This one is quite good enough for a hog,” was the reply; “but I am curious to know if you will keep your promise, so I’ll just amuse myself until you come down.”

And taking the bottom rung in his mouth, he moved off, away from the wall. A moment later he had all the loose corn he could garner, but he never got that other ladder.

MORAL.–An ace and four kings is as good a hand as one can hold in draw-poker.


A young cock and a hen were speaking of the size of eggs. Said the cock:

“I once laid an egg–“

“Oh, you did!” interrupted the hen, with a derisive cackle. “Pray how did you manage it?”

The cock felt injured in his self-esteem, and, turning his back upon the hen, addressed himself to a brood of young chickens.

“I once laid an egg–“

The chickens chirped incredulously, and passed on. The insulted bird reddened in the wattles with indignation, and strutting up to the patriarch of the entire barn-yard, repeated his assertion. The patriarch nodded gravely, as if the feat were an every-day affair, and the other continued:

“I once laid an egg alongside a water-melon, and compared the two. The vegetable was considerably the larger.”

This fable is intended to show the absurdity of hearing all a man has to say.



Seeing himself getting beyond his depth, a bathing naturalist called lustily for succour.

“Anything _I_ can do for you?” inquired the engaging octopus.

“Happy to serve you, I am sure,” said the accommodating leech.

“Command _me_,” added the earnest crab.

“Gentlemen of the briny deep,” exclaimed the gasping _savant_, “I am compelled to decline your friendly offices, but I tender you my scientific gratitude; and, as a return favour, I beg, with this my last breath, that you will accept the freedom of my aquarium, and make it your home.”

This tale proves that scientific gratitude is quite as bad as the natural sort.


Two whales seizing a pike, attempted in turn to swallow him, but without success. They finally determined to try him jointly, each taking hold of an end, and both shutting their eyes for a grand effort, when a shark darted silently between them, biting away the whole body of their prey. Opening their eyes, they gazed upon one another with much satisfaction.

“I had no idea he would go down so easily,” said the one.

“Nor I,” returned the other; “but how very tasteless a pike is.”

The insipidity we observe in most of our acquaintances is largely due to our imperfect knowledge of them.


A wolf went into the cottage of a peasant while the family was absent in the fields, and falling foul of some beef, was quietly enjoying it, when he was observed by a domestic rat, who went directly to her master, informing him of what she had seen.

“I would myself have dispatched the robber,” she added, “but feared you might wish to take him alive.”

So the man secured a powerful club and went to the door of the house, while the rat looked in at the window. After taking a survey of the situation, the man said:

“I don’t think I care to take this fellow alive. Judging from his present performance, I should say his keeping would entail no mean expense. You may go in and slay him if you like; I have quite changed my mind.”

“If you really intended taking him prisoner,” replied the rat, “the object of that bludgeon is to me a matter of mere conjecture. However, it is easy enough to see you have changed your mind; and it may be barely worth mentioning that I have changed mine.”

“The interest you both take in me,” said the wolf, without looking up, “touches me deeply. As you have considerately abstained from bothering me with the question of how I am to be disposed of, I will not embarrass your counsels by obtruding a preference. Whatever may be your decision, you may count on my acquiescence; my countenance alone ought to convince you of the meek docility of my character. I never lose my temper, and I never swear; but, by the stomach of the Prophet! if either one of you domestic animals is in sight when I have finished the conquest of these ribs, the question of _my_ fate may be postponed for future debate, without detriment to any important interest.”

This fable teaches that while you are considering the abatement of a nuisance, it is important to know which nuisance is the more likely to be abated.


A snake tried to shed his skin by pulling it off over his head, but, being unable to do so, was advised by a woodman to slip out of it in the usual way.

“But,” said the serpent, “this is the way _you_ do it!”

“True,” exclaimed the woodman, holding out the hem of his tunic; “but you will observe that my skin is brief and open. If you desire one like that, I think I can assist you.”

So saying, he chopped off about a cubit of the snake’s tail.


An oyster who had got a large pebble between the valves of his shell, and was unable to get it out, was lamenting his sad fate, when–the tide being out–a monkey ran to him, and began making an examination.

“You appear,” said the monkey, “to have got something else in here, too. I think I’d better remove that first.”

With this he inserted his paw, and scooped out the animal’s essential part.

“Now,” said he, eating the portion he had removed, “I think you will be able to manage the pebble yourself.”

To apprehend the lesson of this fable one must have some experience of the law.


An old fox and her two cubs were pursued by dogs, when one of the cubs got a thorn in his foot, and could go no farther. Setting the other to watch for the pursuers, the mother proceeded, with much tender solicitude, to extract the thorn. Just as she had done so, the sentinel gave the alarm.

“How near are they?” asked the mother.

“Close by, in the next field,” was the answer.

“The deuce they are!” was the hasty rejoinder. “However, I presume they will be content with a single fox.”

And shoving the thorn earnestly back into the wounded foot, this excellent parent took to her heels.

This fable proves that humanity does not happen to enjoy a monopoly of paternal affection.


A man crossing the great river of Egypt, heard a voice, which seemed to come from beneath his boat, requesting him to stop. Thinking it must proceed from some river-deity, he laid down his paddle and said:

“Whoever you are that ask me to stop, I beg you will let me go on. I have been asked by a friend to dine with him, and I am late.”

“Should your friend pass this way,” said the voice, “I will show him the cause of your detention. Meantime you must come to dinner with _me_.”

“Willingly,” replied the man, devoutly, very well pleased with so extraordinary an honour; “pray show me the way.”

“In here,” said the crocodile, elevating his distending jaws above the water and beckoning with his tongue–“this way, please.”

This fable shows that being asked to dinner is not always the same thing as being asked to dine.


An old monkey, designing to teach his sons the advantage of unity, brought them a number of sticks, and desired them to see how easily they might be broken, one at a time. So each young monkey took a stick and broke it.

“Now,” said the father, “I will teach you a lesson.”

And he began to gather the sticks into a bundle. But the young monkeys, thinking he was about to beat them, set upon him, all together, and disabled him.

“There!” said the aged sufferer, “behold the advantage of unity! If you had assailed me one at a time, I would have killed every mother’s son of you!”

Moral lessons are like the merchant’s goods: they are conveyed in various ways.


A wild horse meeting a domestic one, taunted him with his condition of servitude. The tamed animal claimed that he was as free as the wind.

“If that is so,” said the other, “pray tell me the office of that bit in your mouth.”

“That,” was the answer, “is iron, one of the best tonics in the _materia medica_.”

“But what,” said the other, “is the meaning of the rein attached to it?”

“Keeps it from falling out of my mouth when I am too indolent to hold it,” was the reply.

“How about the saddle?”

“Fool!” was the angry retort; “its purpose is to spare me fatigue: when I am tired, I get on and ride.”


Some doves went to a hawk, and asked him to protect them from a kite.

“That I will,” was the cheerful reply; “and when I am admitted into the dovecote, I shall kill more of you in a day than the kite did in a century. But of course you know this; you expect to be treated in the regular way.”

So he entered the dovecote, and began preparations for a general slaughter. But the doves all set upon him and made exceedingly short work of him. With his last breath he asked them why, being so formidable, they had not killed the kite. They replied that they had never seen any kite.



A defeated warrior snatched up his aged father, and, slinging him across his shoulders, plunged into the wilderness, followed by the weary remnant of his beaten army. The old gentleman liked it.

“See!” said he, triumphantly, to the flying legion; “did you ever hear of so dutiful and accommodating a son? And he’s as easy under the saddle as an old family horse!”

“I rather think,” replied the broken and disordered battalion, with a grin, “that Mr. AEneas once did something of this kind. But _his_ father had thoughtfully taken an armful of lares and penates; and the accommodating nature of _his_ son was, therefore, more conspicuous. If I might venture to suggest that you take up my shield and scimitar–“

“Thank you,” said the aged party, “I could not think of disarming the military: but if you would just hand me up one of the heaviest of those dead branches, I think the merits of my son would be rendered sufficiently apparent.”

The routed column passed him up the one shown in the immediate foreground of our sketch, and it was quite enough for both steed and rider.

_Fabula ostendit_ that History repeats itself, with variations.


A pig who had engaged a cray-fish to pilot him along the beach in search of mussels, was surprised to see his guide start off backwards.

“Your excessive politeness quite overcomes me,” said the porker, “but don’t you think it rather ill bestowed upon a pig? Pray don’t hesitate to turn your back upon me.”

“Sir,” replied the cray-fish, “permit me to continue as I am. We now stand to each other in the proper relation of _employe_ to employer. The former is excessively obsequious, and the latter is, in the eyes of the former, a hog.”


The king of tortoises desiring to pay a visit of ceremony to a neighbouring monarch, feared that in his absence his idle subjects might get up a revolution, and that whoever might be left at the head of the State would usurp the throne. So calling his subjects about him, he addressed them thus:

“I am about to leave our beloved country for a long period, and desire to leave the sceptre in the hands of him who is most truly a tortoise. I decree that you shall set out from yonder distant tree, and pass round it. Whoever shall get back last shall be appointed Regent.”

So the population set out for the goal, and the king for his destination. Before the race was decided, his Majesty had made the journey and returned. But he found the throne occupied by a subject, who at once secured by violence what he had won by guile.

Certain usurpers are too conscientious to retain kingly power unless the rightful monarch be dead; and these are the most dangerous sort.


A spaniel at the point of death requested a mastiff friend to eat him.

“It would soothe my last moments,” said he, “to know that when I am no longer of any importance to myself I may still be useful to you.”

“Much obliged, I am sure,” replied his friend; “I think you mean well, but you should know that my appetite is not so depraved as to relish dog.”

Perhaps it is for a similar reason we abstain from cannibalism.


A cloud was passing across the face of the sun, when the latter expostulated with him.

“Why,” said the sun, “when you have so much space to float in, should you be casting your cold shadow upon me?”

After a moment’s reflection, the cloud made answer thus:

“I certainly had no intention of giving offence by my presence, and as for my shadow, don’t you think you have made a trifling mistake?–not a gigantic or absurd mistake, but merely one that would disgrace an idiot.”

At this the great luminary was furious, and fell so hotly upon him that in a few minutes there was nothing of him left.

It is very foolish to bandy words with a cloud if you happen to be the sun.


A rabbit travelling leisurely along the highway was seen, at some distance, by a duck, who had just come out of the water.

“Well, I declare!” said she, “if I could not walk without limping in that ridiculous way, I’d stay at home. Why, he’s a spectacle!”

“Did you ever see such an ungainly beast as that duck!” said the rabbit to himself. “If I waddled like that I should go out only at night.”

MORAL, BY A KANGAROO.–People who are ungraceful of gait are always intolerant of mind.


A fox who dwelt in the upper chamber of an abandoned watch-tower, where he practised all manner of magic, had by means of his art subjected all other animals to his will. One day he assembled a great multitude of them below his window, and commanded that each should appear in his presence, and all who could not teach him some important truth should be thrown off the walls and dashed to pieces. Upon hearing this they were all stricken with grief, and began to lament their hard fate most piteously.

“How,” said they, “shall we, who are unskilled in magic, unread in philosophy, and untaught in the secrets of the stars–who have neither wit, eloquence, nor song–how shall we essay to teach wisdom to the wise?”

Nevertheless, they were compelled to make the attempt. After many had failed and been dispatched, another fox arrived on the ground, and learning the condition of affairs, scampered slyly up the steps, and whispered something in the ear of the cat, who was about entering the tower. So the latter stuck her head in at the door, and shrieked:

“Pullets with a southern exposure ripen earliest, and have yellow legs.”

At this the magician was so delighted that he dissolved the spell and let them all go free.


One evening a jackass, passing between a village and a hill, looked over the latter and saw the faint light of the rising moon.

“Ho-ho, Master Redface!” said he, “so you are climbing up the other side to point out my long ears to the villagers, are you? I’ll just meet you at the top, and set my heels into your insolent old lantern.”

So he scrambled painfully up to the crest, and stood outlined against the broad disc of the unconscious luminary, more conspicuously a jackass than ever before.


A bear wishing to rob a beehive, laid himself down in front of it, and overturned it with his paw.

“Now,” said he, “I will lie perfectly still and let the bees sting me until they are exhausted and powerless; their honey may then be obtained without opposition.”

And it was so obtained, but by a fresh bear, the other being dead.

This narrative exhibits one aspect of the “Fabian policy.”


A cat seeing a mouse with a piece of cheese, said:

“I would not eat that, if I were you, for I think it is poisoned. However, if you will allow me to examine it, I will tell you certainly whether it is or not.”

While the mouse was thinking what it was best to do, the cat had fully made up her mind, and was kind enough to examine both the cheese and the mouse in a manner highly satisfactory to herself, but the mouse has never returned to give _his_ opinion.


An improvident man, who had quarrelled with his wife concerning household expenses, took her and the children out on the lawn, intending to make an example of her. Putting himself in an attitude of aggression, and turning to his offspring, he said:

“You will observe, my darlings, that domestic offences are always punished with a loss of blood. Make a note of this and be wise.”

He had no sooner spoken than a starving mosquito settled upon his nose, and began to assist in enforcing the lesson.

“My officious friend,” said the man, “when I require illustrations from the fowls of the air, you may command my patronage. The deep interest you take in my affairs is, at present, a trifle annoying.”


“I do not find it so,” the mosquito would have replied had he been at leisure, “and am convinced that our respective points of view are so widely dissimilar as not to afford the faintest hope of reconciling our opinions upon collateral points. Let us be thankful that upon the main question of bloodletting we perfectly agree.”

When the bird had concluded, the man’s convictions were quite unaltered, but he was too weak to resume the discussion; and, although blood is thicker than water, the children were constrained to confess that the stranger had the best of it.

This fable teaches.


“I hate snakes who bestow their caresses with interested partiality or fastidious discrimination,” boasted a boa constrictor. “_My_ affection is unbounded; it embraces all animated nature. I am the universal shepherd; I gather all manner of living things into my folds. Entertainment here for man and beast!”

“I should be glad of one of your caresses,” said a porcupine, meekly; “it has been some time since I got a loving embrace.”

So saying, he nestled snugly and confidingly against the large-hearted serpent–who fled.

A comprehensive philanthropy may be devoid of prejudices, but it has its preferences all the same.


During a distressing famine in China a starving man met a fat pig, who, seeing no chance of escape, walked confidently up to the superior animal, and said:

“Awful famine! isn’t it?”

“Quite dreadful!” replied the man, eyeing him with an evident purpose: “almost impossible to obtain meat.”

“Plenty of meat, such as it is, but no corn. Do you know, I have been compelled to eat so many of your people, I don’t believe there is an ounce of pork in my composition.”

“And I so many that I have lost all taste for pork.”

“Terrible thing this cannibalism!”

“Depends upon which character you try it in; it is terrible to be eaten.”

“You are very brutal!”

“You are very fat.”

“You look as if you would take my life.”

“You look as if you would sustain mine.”

“Let us ‘pull sticks,'” said the now desperate animal, “to see which of us shall die.”

“Good!” assented the man: “I’ll pull this one.”

So saying, he drew a hedge-stake from the ground, and stained it with the brain of that unhappy porker.

MORAL.–An empty stomach has no ears.


A snake, a mile long, having drawn himself over a roc’s egg, complained that in its present form he could get no benefit from it, and modestly desired the roc to aid him in some way.

“Certainly,” assented the bird, “I think we can arrange it.”

Saying which, she snatched up one of the smaller Persian provinces, and poising herself a few leagues above the suffering reptile, let it drop upon him to smash the egg.

This fable exhibits the folly of asking for aid without specifying the kind and amount of aid you require.


An ox meeting a man on the highway, asked him for a pinch of snuff, whereupon the man fled back along the road in extreme terror.

“_Don’t_ be alarmed,” said a horse whom he met; “the ox won’t bite you.”

The man gave one stare and dashed across the meadows.

“Well,” said a sheep, “I wouldn’t be afraid of a horse; _he_ won’t kick.”

The man shot like a comet into the forest.

“Look where you’re going there, or I’ll thrash the life out of you!” screamed a bird into whose nest he had blundered.

Frantic with fear, the man leapt into the sea.

“By Jove! how you frightened me,” said a small shark.

The man was dejected, and felt a sense of injury. He seated himself moodily on the bottom, braced up his chin with his knees, and thought for an hour. Then he beckoned to the fish who had made the last remark.

“See here, I say,” said he, “I wish you would just tell me what in thunder this all means.”

“Ever read any fables?” asked the shark.

“No–yes–well, the catechism, the marriage service, and–“

“Oh, bother!” said the fish, playfully, smiling clean back to the pectoral fins; “get out of this and bolt your AEsop!”

The man did get out and bolted.

[This fable teaches that its worthy author was drunk as a loon.–TRANSLATOR.]


A lion pursued by some villagers was asked by a fox why he did not escape on horseback.

“There is a fine strong steed just beyond this rock,” said the fox. “All you have to do is to get on his back and stay there.”

So the lion went up to the charger and asked him to give him a lift.

“Certainly,” said the horse, “with great pleasure.”

And setting one of his heels into the animal’s stomach, he lifted him. about seven feet from the ground.

“Confound you!” roared the beast as he fell back.

“So did you,” quietly remarked the steed.


A Mahout who had dismounted from his elephant, and was quietly standing on his head in the middle of the highway, was asked by the animal why he did not revert and move on.

“You are making a spectacle of yourself,” said the beast.

“If I choose to stand upside down,” replied the man, “I am very well aware that I incur the displeasure of those who adhere with slavish tenacity to the prejudices and traditions of society; but it seems to me that rebuke would come with a more consistent grace from one who does not wear a tail upon his nose.”

This fable teaches that four straight lines may enclose a circle, but there will be corners to let.


A dog meeting a strange cat, took her by the top of the back, and shook her for a considerable period with some earnestness. Then depositing her in a ditch, he remarked with gravity:

“There, my feline friend! I think that will teach you a wholesome lesson; and as punishment is intended to be reformatory, you ought to be grateful to me for deigning to administer it.”

“I don’t think of questioning your right to worry me,” said the cat, getting her breath, “but I should like to know where you got your licence to preach at me. Also, if not inconsistent with the dignity of the court, I should wish to be informed of the nature of my offence; in order that I may the more clearly apprehend the character of the lesson imparted by its punishment.”

“Since you are so curious,” replied the dog, “I worry you because you are too feeble to worry me.”

“In other words,” rejoined the cat, getting herself together as well as she could, “you bite me for that to which you owe your existence.”

The reply of the dog was lost in the illimitable field of ether, whither he was just then projected by the kick of a passing horse. The moral of this fable cannot be given until he shall get down, and close the conversation with the regular apophthegm.


People who wear tight hats will do well to lay this fable well to heart, and ponder upon the deep significance of its moral:

In passing over a river, upon a high bridge, a cow discovered a broad loose plank in the flooring, sustained in place by a beam beneath the centre.

“Now,” said she, “I will stand at this end of the trap, and when yonder sheep steps upon the opposite extreme there will be an upward tendency in wool.”

So when the meditative mutton advanced unwarily upon the treacherous device, the cow sprang bodily upon the other end, and there was a fall in beef.


Two snakes were debating about the proper method of attacking prey.

“The best way,” said one, “is to slide cautiously up, endwise, and seize it thus”–illustrating his method by laying hold of the other’s tail.

“Not at all,” was the reply; “a better plan is to approach by a circular side-sweep, thus”–turning upon his opponent and taking in _his_ tail.

Although there was no disagreement as to the manner of disposing of what was once seized, each began to practise his system upon the other, and continued until both were swallowed.

The work begun by contention is frequently completed by habit.



A man staggering wearily through the streets of Persepolis, under a heavy burden, said to himself:

“I wish I knew what this thing is I have on my back; then I could make some sort of conjecture as to what I design doing with it.”

“Suppose,” said the burden, “I were a man in a sack; what disposition would you make of me?”

“The regular thing,” replied the man, “would be to take you over to Constantinople, and pitch you into the Bosphorus; but I should probably content myself with laying you down and jumping on you, as being more agreeable to my feelings, and quite as efficacious.”

“But suppose,” continued the burden, “I were a shoulder of beef–which I quite as much resemble–belonging to some poor family?”

“In that case,” replied the man, promptly, “I should carry you to my larder, my good fellow.”

“But if I were a sack of gold, do you think you would find me very onerous?” said the burden.

“A great deal would depend,” was the answer, “upon whom you happened to belong to; but I may say, generally, that gold upon the shoulders is wonderfully light, considering the weight of it.”

“Behold,” said the burden, “the folly of mankind: they cannot perceive that the _quality_ of the burdens of life is a matter of no importance. The question of pounds and ounces is the only consideration of any real weight.”


A ghost meeting a genie, one wintry night, said to him:

“Extremely harassing weather, friend. Wish I had some teeth to chatter!”

“You do not need them,” said the other; “you can always chatter those of other people, by merely showing yourself. For my part, I should be content with some light employment: would erect a cheap palace, transport a light-weight princess, threaten a small cripple–or jobs of that kind. What are the prospects of the fool crop?”

“For the next few thousand years, very good. There is a sort of thing called Literature coming in shortly, and it will make our fortune. But it will be very bad for History. Curse this phantom apparel! The more I gather it about me the colder I get.”

“When Literature has made our fortune,” sneered the genie, “I presume you will purchase material clothing.”

“And you,” retorted the ghost, “will be able to advertise for permanent employment at a fixed salary.”

This fable shows the difference between the super natural and the natural “super”: the one appears in the narrative, the other does not.


“Permit me to help you on in the world, sir,” said a boy to a travelling tortoise, placing a glowing coal upon the animal’s back.

“Thank you,” replied the unconscious beast; “I alone am responsible for the time of my arrival, and I alone will determine the degree of celerity required. The gait I am going will enable me to keep all my present appointments.”

A genial warmth began about this time to pervade his upper crust, and a moment after he was dashing away at a pace comparatively tremendous.

“How about those engagements?” sneered the grinning urchin.

“I’ve recollected another one,” was the hasty reply.


Having fastened his gaze upon a sparrow, a rattlesnake sprung open his spanning jaws, and invited her to enter.

“I should be most happy,” said the bird, not daring to betray her helpless condition, but anxious by any subterfuge to get the serpent to remove his fascinating regard, “but I am lost in contemplation of yonder green sunset, from which I am unable to look away for more than a minute. I shall turn to it presently.”

“Do, by all means,” said the serpent, with a touch of irony in his voice. “There is nothing so improving as a good, square, green sunset.”

“Did you happen to observe that man standing behind you with a club?” continued the sparrow. “Handsome fellow! Fifteen cubits high, with seven heads, and very singularly attired; quite a spectacle in his way.”

“I don’t seem to care much for men,” said the snake. “Every way inferior to serpents–except in malice.”

“But he is accompanied by a _really interesting_ child,” persisted the bird, desperately.

The rattlesnake reflected deeply. He soliloquized as follows:

“There is a mere chance–say about one chance to ten thousand million–that this songster is speaking the truth. One chance in ten thousand million of seeing a really interesting child is worth the sacrifice demanded; I’ll make it.”

So saying, he removed his glittering eyes from the bird (who immediately took wing) and looked behind him. It is needless to say there was no really interesting child there–nor anywhere else.

MORAL.–Mendacity (so called from the inventors) is a very poor sort of dacity; but it will serve your purpose if you draw it sufficiently strong.


A man who was very much annoyed by the incursions of a lean ass belonging to his neighbour, resolved to compass the destruction of the invader.

“Now,” said he, “if this animal shall choose to starve himself to death in the midst of plenty, the law will not hold _me_ guilty of his blood. I have read of a trick which I think will ‘fix’ him.”

So he took two bales of his best hay, and placed them in a distant field, about forty cubits apart. By means of a little salt he then enticed the ass in, and coaxed him between the bundles.

“There, fiend!” said he, with a diabolic grin, as he walked away delighted with the success of his stratagem, “now hesitate which bundle of hay to attack first, until you starve–monster!”

Some weeks afterwards he returned with a wagon to convey back the bundles of hay. There wasn’t any hay, but the wagon was useful for returning to his owner that unfortunate ass–who was too fat to walk.

This ought to show any one the folly of relying upon the teaching of obscure and inferior authors.[A]

[Footnote A: It is to be wished our author had not laid himself open to the imputation of having perverted, if not actually invented, some of his facts, for the unworthy purpose of bringing a deserving rival into disfavour.–TRANSLATOR.]


One day the king of the wrens held his court for the trial of a bear, who was at large upon his own recognizance. Being summoned to appear, the animal came with great humility into the royal presence.

“What have you to say, sir,” demanded the king, “in defence of your inexcusable conduct in pillaging the nests of our loyal subjects wherever you can find them?”

“May it please your Majesty,” replied the prisoner, with a reverential gesture, repeated at intervals, and each time at a less distance from the royal person, “I will not wound your Majesty’s sensibilities by pleading a love of eggs; I will humbly confess my course of crime, warn your Majesty of its probable continuance, and beg your Majesty’s gracious permission to inquire–What is your Majesty going to do about it?”

The king and his ministers were very much struck with this respectful speech, with the ingenuity of the final inquiry, and with the bear’s paw. It was the paw, however, which made the most lasting impression.

Always give ear to the flattery of your powerful inferiors: it will cheer you in your decline.


A philosopher looking up from the pages of the Zend-Avesta, upon which he had been centring his soul, beheld a pig violently assailing a cauldron of cold slops.

“Heaven bless us!” said the sage; “for unalloyed delight give me a good honest article of Sensuality. So soon as my ‘Essay upon the Correlation of Mind-forces’ shall have brought me fame and fortune, I hope to abjure the higher faculties, devoting the remainder of my life to the cultivation of the propensities.”

“Allah be praised!” soliloquized the pig, “there is nothing so godlike as Intellect, and nothing so ecstatic as intellectual pursuits. I must hasten to perform this gross material function, that I may retire to my wallow and resign my soul to philosophical meditation.”

This tale has one moral if you are a philosopher, and another if you are a pig.


“Awful dark–isn’t it?” said an owl, one night, looking in upon the roosting hens in a poultry-house; “don’t see how I am to find my way back to my hollow tree.”

“There is no necessity,” replied the cock; “you can roost there, alongside the door, and go home in the morning.”

“Thanks!” said the owl, chuckling at the fool’s simplicity; and, having plenty of time to indulge his facetious humour, he gravely installed himself upon the perch indicated, and shutting his eyes, counterfeited a profound slumber. He was aroused soon after by a sharp constriction of the throat.

“I omitted to tell you,” said the cock, “that the seat you happen by the merest chance to occupy is a contested one, and has been fruitful of hens to this vexatious weasel. I don’t know _how_ often I have been partially widowed by the sneaking villain.”

For obvious reasons there was no audible reply.

This narrative is intended to teach the folly–the worse than sin!–of trumping your partner’s ace.


A fat cow who saw herself detected by an approaching horse while perpetrating stiff and ungainly gambols in the spring sunshine, suddenly assumed a severe gravity of gait, and a sedate solemnity of expression that would have been creditable to a Brahmin.

“Fine morning!” said the horse, who, fired by her example, was curvetting lithely and tossing his head.

“That rather uninteresting fact,” replied the cow, attending strictly to her business as a ruminant, “does not impress me as justifying your execution of all manner of unseemly contortions, as a preliminary to accosting an entire stranger.”

“Well, n–no,” stammered the horse; “I–I suppose not. Fact is I–I–no offence, I hope.”

And the unhappy charger walked soberly away, dazed by the preternatural effrontery of that placid cow.

When overcome by the dignity of any one you chance to meet, try to have this fable about you.


“What have you there on your back?” said a zebra, jeeringly, to a “ship of the desert” in ballast.

“Only a bale of gridirons,” was the meek reply.

“And what, pray, may you design doing with them?” was the incredulous rejoinder.

“What am I to do with gridirons?” repeated the camel, contemptuously. “Nice question for _you_, who have evidently just come off one!”

People who wish to throw stones should not live in glass houses; but there ought to be a few in their vicinity.


A cat, waking out of a sound sleep, saw a mouse sitting just out of reach, observing her. Perceiving that at the slightest movement of hers the mouse would recollect an engagement, she put on a look of extreme amiability, and said:

“Oh! it’s you, is it? Do you know, I thought at first you were a frightful great rat; and I am _so_ afraid of rats! I feel so much relieved–you don’t know! Of course you have heard that I am a great friend to the dear little mice?”


“Yes,” was the answer, “I have heard that you love us indifferently well, and my mission here was to bless you while you slept. But as you will wish to go and get your breakfast, I won’t bore you. Fine morning–isn’t it? _Au revoir!”_

This fable teaches that it is usually safe to avoid one who pretends to be a friend without having any reason to be. It wasn’t safe in this instance, however; for the cat went after that departing rodent, and got away with him.


A man pursued by a lion, was about stepping into a place of safety, when he bethought him of the power of the human eye; and, turning about, he fixed upon his pursuer a steady look of stern reproof. The raging beast immediately moderated his rate per hour, and finally came to a dead halt, within a yard of the man’s nose. After making a leisurely survey of him, he extended his neck and bit off a small section of his victim’s thigh.

“Beard of Arimanes!” roared the man; “have you no respect for the Human Eye?”

“I hold the human eye in profound esteem,” replied the lion, “and I confess its power. It assists digestion if taken just before a meal. But I don’t understand why you should have two and I none.”

With that he raised his foot, unsheathed his claws, and transferred one of the gentleman’s visual organs to his own mouth.

“Now,” continued he, “during the brief remainder of a squandered existence, your lion-quelling power, being more highly concentrated, will be the more easily managed.”

He then devoured the remnant of his victim, including the other eye.


An ant laden with a grain of corn, which he had acquired with infinite toil, was breasting a current of his fellows, each of whom, as is their etiquette, insisted upon stopping him, feeling him all over, and shaking hands. It occurred to him that an excess of ceremony is an abuse of courtesy. So he laid down his burden, sat upon it, folded all his legs tight to his body, and smiled a smile of great grimness.

“Hullo! what’s the matter with _you_?” exclaimed the first insect whose overtures were declined.

“Sick of the hollow conventionalities of a rotten civilization,” was the rasping reply. “Relapsed into the honest simplicity of primitive observances. Go to grass!”

“Ah! then we must trouble you for that corn. In a condition of primitive simplicity there are no rights of property, you know. These are ‘hollow conventionalities.'”

A light dawned upon the intellect of that pismire. He shook the reefs out of his legs; he scratched the reverse of his ear; he grappled that cereal, and trotted away like a giant refreshed. It was observed that he submitted with a wealth of patience to manipulation by his friends and neighbours, and went some distance out of his way to shake hands with strangers on competing lines of traffic.


A snake who had lain torpid all winter in his hole took advantage of the first warm day to limber up for the spring campaign. Having tied himself into an intricate knot, he was so overcome by the warmth of his own body that he fell asleep, and did not wake until nightfall. In the darkness he was unable to find his head or his tail, and so could not disentangle and slide into his hole. Per consequence, he froze to death.

Many a subtle philosopher has failed to solve himself, owing to his inability to discern his beginning and his end.


A dog finding a joint of mutton, apparently guarded by a negligent raven, stretched himself before it with an air of intense satisfaction.

“Ah!” said he, alternately smiling and stopping up the smiles with meat, “this is an instrument of salvation to my stomach–an instrument upon which I love to perform.”

“I beg your pardon!” said the bird; “it was placed there specially for me, by one whose right to so convey it is beyond question, he having legally acquired it by chopping it off the original owner.”

“I detect no flaw in your abstract of title,” replied the dog; “all seems quite regular; but I must not provoke a breach of the peace by lightly relinquishing what I might feel it my duty to resume by violence. I must have time to consider; and in the meantime I will dine.”

Thereupon he leisurely consumed the property in dispute, shut his eyes, yawned, turned upon his back, thrust out his legs divergently, and died.

For the meat had been carefully poisoned–a fact of which the raven was guiltily conscious.

There are several things mightier than brute force, and arsenic[A] is one of them.

[Footnote A: In the original, “_pizen;”_ which might, perhaps, with equal propriety have been rendered by “caper sauce.”–TRANSLATOR.]


The King of Persia had a favourite hawk. One day his Majesty was hunting, and had become separated from his attendants. Feeling thirsty, he sought a stream of water trickling from a rock; took a cup, and pouring some liquor into it from his pocket-flask, filled it up with water, and raised it to his lips. The hawk, who had been all this time hovering about, swooped down, screaming “No, you don’t!” and upset the cup with his wing.

“I know what is the matter,” said the King: “there is a dead serpent in the fountain above, and this faithful bird has saved my life by not permitting me to drink the juice. I must reward him in the regular way.”

So he called a page, who had thoughtfully presented himself, and gave directions to have the Remorse Apartments of the palace put in order, and for the court tailor to prepare an evening suit of sackcloth-and-ashes. Then summoning the hawk, he seized and dashed him to the ground, killing him very dead. Rejoining his retinue, he dispatched an officer to remove the body of the serpent from the fountain, lest somebody else should get poisoned. There wasn’t any serpent–the water was remarkable for its wholesome purity!

Then the King, cheated of his remorse, was sorry he had slain the bird; he said it was a needless waste of power to kill a bird who merely deserved killing. It never occurred to the King that the hawk’s touching solicitude was with reference to the contents of the royal flask.

_Fabula ostendit_ that a “twice-told tale” needs not necessarily be “tedious”; a reasonable degree of interest may be obtained by intelligently varying the details.


A herd of cows, blown off the summit of the Himalayas, were sailing some miles above the valleys, when one said to another:

“Got anything to say about this?”