Cobwebs from an Empty Skull, by Ambrose Bierce

Fables of Zambri, the Parsee.

Persian with Oyster

i.

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.

ii.

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.

iii.

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.

iv.

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.

v.

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.

vi.

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.

vii.

Old Gent in Oak Tree

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.

viii.

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.

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

ix.

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.

x.

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.

xi.

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.

xii.

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.

xiii.

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.”

xiv.

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.

xv.

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.

xvi.

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.”

Two Thieves with Sack

“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.

xvii.

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.

xviii.

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.

xix.

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.”

xx.

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.

xxi.

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.

xxii.

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!*

* This is infamous! The learned Parsee appears wholly to ignore the distinction between a fable and a simple lie. — TRANSLATOR.

xxiii.

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.

xxiv.

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.

Thief and Pig

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

xxv.

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.

xxvi.

Bathing Naturalist

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.

xxvii.

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.

xxviii.

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.

xxix.

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.

xxx.

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.

xxxi.

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.

xxxii.

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.

xxxiii.

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.

xxxiv.

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.”

xxxv.

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.

xxxvi.

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.

Defeated Warrior

“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. Æneas 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.

xxxvii.

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 employé to employer. The former is excessively obsequious, and the latter is, in the eyes of the former, a hog.”

xxxviii.

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.

xxxix.

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.

xl.

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.

xli.

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.

xlii.

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.

xliii.

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.

xliv.

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.”

xlv.

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.

xlvi.

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.”

Improvident Man

“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.

xlvii.

“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.

xlviii.

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.

xlix.

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.

l.

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 Æsop!”

The man did get out and bolted.

This fable teaches that its worthy author was drunk as a loon. — TRANSLATOR.

li.

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.

lii.

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.

liii.

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.

liv.

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.

lv.

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.

lvi.

Staggering Man

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.”

lvii.

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.

lviii.

“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.

lix.

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.

lx.

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.*

* 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.

lxi.

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.

lxii.

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.

lxiii.

“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.

lxiv.

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.

lxv.

“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.

lxvi.

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?”

Cat and Mouse

“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.

lxvii.

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.

lxviii.

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.

lxix.

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.

lxx.

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* is one of them.

* In the original, “pizen;“ which might, perhaps, with equal propriety have been rendered by “caper sauce.”— TRANSLATOR.

lxxi.

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.

lxxii.

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?”

“Not much,” was the answer. “It’s airy.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” continued the first; “I am troubled about our course. If we could leave the Pleiades a little more to the right, striking a middle course between Boötes and the ecliptic, we should find it all plain sailing as far as the solstitial colure. But once we get into the Zodiac upon our present bearing, we are certain to meet with shipwreck before reaching our aphelion.”

They escaped this melancholy fate, however, for some Chaldean shepherds, seeing a nebulous cloud drifting athwart the heavens, and obscuring a favourite planet they had just invented, brought out their most powerful telescopes and resolved it into independent cows — whom they proceeded to slaughter in detail with the instruments of smaller calibre. There have been occasional “meat showers” ever since. These are probably nothing more than  —

Our author can be depended upon in matters of fact; his scientific theories are not worth printing. — TRANSLATOR.

lxxiii.

A bear, who had worn himself out walking from one end of his cage to the other, addressed his keeper thus:

“I say, friend, if you don’t procure me a shorter cage I shall have to give up zoology; it is about the most wearing pursuit I ever engaged in. I favour the advancement of science, but the mechanical part of it is a trifle severe, and ought to be done by contract.”

“You are quite right, my hearty,” said the keeper, “it is severe; and there have been several excellent plans proposed to lighten the drudgery. Pending the adoption of some of them, you would find a partial relief in lying down and keeping quiet.”

“It won’t do — it won’t do!” replied the bear, with a mournful shake of the head, “it’s not the orthodox thing. Inaction may do for professors, collectors, and others connected with the ornamental part of the noble science; but for us, we must keep moving, or zoology would soon revert to the crude guesses and mistaken theories of the azoic period. And yet,” continued the beast, after the keeper had gone, “there is something novel and ingenious in what the underling suggests. I must remember that; and when I have leisure, give it a trial.”

It was noted next day that the noble science had lost an active apostle, and gained a passive disciple.

lxxiv.

A hen who had hatched out a quantity of ducklings, was somewhat surprised one day to see them take to the water, and sail away out of her jurisdiction. The more she thought of this the more unreasonable such conduct appeared, and the more indignant she became. She resolved that it must cease forthwith. So she soon afterward convened her brood, and conducted them to the margin of a hot pool, having a business connection with the boiling spring of Doo-sno-swair. They straightway launched themselves for a cruise — returning immediately to the land, as if they had forgotten their ship’s papers.

When Callow Youth exhibits an eccentric tendency, give it him hot.

lxxv.

“Did it ever occur to you that this manner of thing is extremely unpleasant?” asked a writhing worm of the angler who had impaled him upon a hook. “Such treatment by those who boast themselves our brothers is, possibly, fraternal — but it hurts.”

“I confess,” replied the idler, “that our usages with regard to vermin and reptiles might be so amended as to be more temperately diabolical; but please to remember that the gentle agonies with which we afflict you are wholesome and exhilarating compared with the ills we ladle out to one another. During the reign of His Pellucid Refulgence, Khatchoo Khan,” he continued, absently dropping his wriggling auditor into the brook, “no less than three hundred thousand Persian subjects were put to death, in a pleasing variety of ingenious ways, for their religious beliefs.”

“What that has to do with your treatment of us” interrupted a fish, who, having bitten at the worm just then, was drawn into the conversation, “I am quite unable to see.”

“That,” said the angler, disengaging him, “is because you have the hook through your eyeball, my edible friend.”

Many a truth is spoken in jest; but at least ten times as many falsehoods are uttered in dead earnest.

lxxvi.

A wild cat was listening with rapt approval to the melody of distant hounds tracking a remote fox.

“Excellent! bravo!” she exclaimed at intervals. “I could sit and listen all day to the like of that. I am passionately fond of music. Ong-core!

Presently the tuneful sounds drew near, whereupon she began to fidget; ending by shinning up a tree, just as the dogs burst into view below her, and stifled their songs upon the body of their victim before her eyes — which protruded.

Cat in Tree

“There is an indefinable charm,” said she —“a subtle and tender spell — a mystery — a conundrum, as it were — in the sounds of an unseen orchestra. This is quite lost when the performers are visible to the audience. Distant music (if any) for your obedient servant!”

lxxvii.

Having been taught to turn his scraps of bad Persian into choice Latin, a parrot was puffed up with conceit.

“Observe,” said he, “the superiority I may boast by virtue of my classical education: I can chatter flat nonsense in the language of Cicero.”

“I would advise you,” said his master, quietly, “to let it be of a different character from that chattered by some of Mr. Cicero’s most admired compatriots, if you value the priviledge of hanging at that public window. ‘Commit no mythology,’ please.”

The exquisite fancies of a remote age may not be imitated in this; not, perhaps, from a lack of talent, so much as from a fear of arrest.

lxxviii.

A rat, finding a file, smelt it all over, bit it gently, and observed that, as it did not seem to be rich enough to produce dyspepsia, he would venture to make a meal of it. So he gnawed it into smithareens* without the slightest injury to his teeth. With his morals the case was somewhat different. For the file was a file of newspapers, and his system became so saturated with the “spirit of the Press” that he went off and called his aged father a “lingering contemporary;” advised the correction of brief tails by amputation; lauded the skill of a quack rodentist for money; and, upon what would otherwise have been his death-bed, essayed a lie of such phenomenal magnitude that it stuck in his throat, and prevented him breathing his last. All this crime, and misery, and other nonsense, because he was too lazy to worry about and find a file of nutritious fables.

This tale shows the folly of eating everything you happen to fancy. Consider, moreover, the danger of such a course to your neighbour’s wife.

* I confess my inability to translate this word: it may mean “flinders.”— TRANSLATOR.

lxxix.

“I should like to climb up you, if you don’t mind,” cried an ivy to a young oak.

“Oh, certainly; come along,” was the cheerful assent.

So she started up, and finding she could grow faster than he, she wound round and round him until she had passed up all the line she had. The oak, however, continued to grow, and as she could not disengage her coils, she was just lifted out by the root. So that ends the oak-and-ivy business, and removes a powerful temptation from the path of the young writer.

lxxx.

A merchant of Cairo gave a grand feast. In the midst of the revelry, the great doors of the dining-hall were pushed open from the outside, and the guests were surprised and grieved by the advent of a crocodile of a tun’s girth, and as long as the moral law.

“Thought I ’d look in,” said he, simply, but not without a certain grave dignity.

“But,” cried the host, from the top of the table, “I did not invite any saurians.”

“No — I know yer didn’t; it’s the old thing, it is: never no wacancies for saurians — saurians should orter keep theirselves to theirselves — no saurians need apply. I got it all by ’eart, I tell yer. But don’t give yerself no distress; I didn’t come to beg; thank ’eaven I ain’t drove to that yet — leastwise I ain’t done it. But I thought as ’ow yer’d need a dish to throw slops and broken wittles in it; which I fetched along this ’ere.”

And the willing creature lifted off the cover by erecting the upper half of his head till the snout of him smote the ceiling.

Open servitude is better than covert begging.

lxxxi.

A gander being annoyed by the assiduous attendance of his ugly reflection in the water, determined that he would prosecute future voyages in a less susceptible element. So he essayed a sail upon the placid bosom of a clay-bank. This kind of navigation did not meet his expectations, however, and he returned with dogged despair to his pond, resolved to make a final cruise and go out of commission. He was delighted to find that the clay adhering to his hull so defiled the water that it gave back no image of him. After that, whenever he left port, he was careful to be well clayed along the water-line.

The lesson of this is that if all geese are alike, we can banish unpleasant reflections by befouling ourselves. This is worth knowing.

lxxxii.

The belly and the members of the human body were in a riot. (This is not the riot recorded by an inferior writer, but a more notable and authentic one.) After exhausting the well-known arguments, they had recourse to the appropriate threat, when the man to whom they belonged thought it time for him to be heard, in his capacity as a unit.

“Deuce take you!” he roared. “Things have come to a pretty pass if a fellow cannot walk out of a fine morning without alarming the town by a disgraceful squabble between his component parts! I am reasonably impartial, I hope, but man’s devotion is due to his deity: I espouse the cause of my belly.”

Hearing this, the members were thrown into so extraordinary confusion that the man was arrested for a windmill.

As a rule, don’t “take sides.” Sides of bacon, however, may be temperately acquired.

lxxxiii.

A man dropping from a balloon struck against a soaring eagle.

“I beg your pardon,” said he, continuing his descent; “I never could keep off eagles when in my descending node.”

“It is agreeable to meet so pleasing a gentleman, even without previous appointment,” said the bird, looking admiringly down upon the lessening aeronaut; “he is the very pink of politeness. How extremely nice his liver must be. I will follow him down and arrange his simple obsequies.”

This fable is narrated for its intrinsic worth.

lxxxiv.

To escape from a peasant who had come suddenly upon him, an opossum adopted his favourite expedient of counterfeiting death.

“I suppose,” said the peasant, “that ninety-nine men in a hundred would go away and leave this poor creature’s body to the beasts of prey.” [It is notorious that man is the only living thing that will eat the animal.] “But I will give him good burial.”

So he dug a hole, and was about tumbling him into it, when a solemn voice appeared to emanate from the corpse: “Let the dead bury their dead!”

“Whatever spirit hath wrought this miracle,” cried the peasant, dropping upon his knees, “let him but add the trifling explanation of how the dead can perform this or any similar rite, and I am obedience itself. Otherwise, in goes Mr. ’Possum by these hands.”

“Ah!” meditated the unhappy beast, “I have performed one miracle, but I can’t keep it up all day, you know. The explanation demanded is a trifle too heavy for even the ponderous ingenuity of a marsupial.”

And he permitted himself to be sodded over.

If the reader knows what lesson is conveyed by this narrative, he knows — just what the writer knows.

lxxxv.

Three animals on board a sinking ship prepared to take to the water. It was agreed among them that the bear should be lowered alongside; the mouse (who was to act as pilot) should embark upon him at once, to beat off the drowning sailors; and the monkey should follow, with provisions for the expedition — which arrangement was successfully carried out. The fourth day out from the wreck, the bear began to propound a series of leading questions concerning dinner; when it appeared that the monkey had provided but a single nut.

“I thought this would keep me awhile,” he explained, “and you could eat the pilot.”

Hearing this, the mouse vanished like a flash into the bear’s ear, and fearing the hungry beast would then demand the nut, the monkey hastily devoured it. Not being in a position to insist upon his rights, the bear merely gobbled up the monkey.

lxxxvi.

Thirsty Lamb

A lamb suffering from thirst went to a brook to drink. Putting his nose to the water, he was interested to feel it bitten by a fish. Not liking fish, he drew back and sought another place; but his persecutor getting there before him administered the same rebuff. The lamb being rather persevering, and the fish having no appointments for that day, this was repeated a few thousand times, when the former felt justified in swearing:

“I’m eternally boiled!” said he, “if ever I experienced so many fish in all my life. It is discouraging. It inspires me with mint sauce and green peas.”

He probably meant amazement and fear; under the influence of powerful emotions even lambs will talk “shop.”

“Well, good bye,” said his tormentor, taking a final nip at the animal’s muzzle; “I should like to amuse you some more; but I have other fish to fry.”

This tale teaches a good quantity of lessons; but it does not teach why this fish should have persecuted this lamb.

lxxxvii.

A mole, in pursuing certain geological researches, came upon the buried carcase of a mule, and was about to tunnel him.

“Slow down, my good friend,” said the deceased. “Push your mining operations in a less sacrilegious direction. Respect the dead, as you hope for death!”

“You have that about you,” said the gnome, “that must make your grave respected in a certain sense, for at least such a period as your immortal part may require for perfect exhalation. The immunity I accord is not conceded to your sanctity, but extorted by your scent. The sepulchres of moles only are sacred.”

To moles, the body of a lifeless mule A dead mule’s carcase is, and nothing more.

lxxxviii.

“I think I’ll set my sting into you, my obstructive friend,” said a bee to an iron pump against which she had flown; “you are always more or less in the way.”

“If you do,” retorted the other, “I’ll pump on you, if I can get any one to work my handle.”

Exasperated by this impotent conservative threat, she pushed her little dart against him with all her vigour. When she tried to sheathe it again she couldn’t, but she still made herself useful about the hive by hooking on to small articles and dragging them about. But no other bee would sleep with her after this; and so, by her ill-judged resentment, she was self-condemmed to a solitary cell.

The young reader may profitably beware.

lxxxix.

A Chinese dog, who had been much abroad with his master, was asked, upon his return, to state the most ludicrous fact he had observed.

“There is a country,” said he, “the people of which are eternally speaking about ‘Persian honesty,’ ‘Persian courage,’ ‘Persian loyalty,’ ‘Persian love of fair play,’ &c., as if the Persians enjoyed a clear monopoly of these universal virtues. What is more, they speak thus in blind good faith — with a dense gravity of conviction that is simply amazing.”

“But,” urged the auditors, “we requested something ludicrous, not amazing.”

“Exactly; the ludicrous part is the name of their country, which is —”

“What?”

“Persia.”

xc.

There was a calf, who, suspecting the purity of the milk supplied him by his dam, resolved to transfer his patronage to the barn-yard pump.

“Better,” said he, “a pure article of water, than a diet that is neither fish, flesh, nor fowl.”

But, although extremely regular in his new diet — taking it all the time — he did not seem to thrive as might have been expected. The larger orders he drew, the thinner and the more transparent he became; and at last, when the shadow of his person had become to him a vague and unreal memory, he repented, and applied to be reinstated in his comfortable sinecure at the maternal udder.

“Ah! my prodigal son,” said the old lady, lowering her horns as if to permit him to weep upon her neck, “I regret that it is out of my power to celebrate your return by killing the fatted calf; but what I can I will do.”

And she killed him instead.

Mot herl yaff ecti onk nocksal loth ervir tu esperfec tlyc old.*

* The learned reader will appreciate the motive which has prompted me to give this moral only in the original Persian. — TRANSLATOR.

xci.

“There, now,” said a kitten, triumphantly, laying a passive mouse at the feet of her mother. “I flatter myself I am coming on with a reasonable degree of rapidity. What will become of the minor quadrupeds when I have attained my full strength and ferocity, it is mournful to conjecture!”

“Did he give you much trouble?” inquired the aged ornament of the hearth-side, with a look of tender solicitude.

“Trouble!” echoed the kitten, “I never had such a fight in all my life! He was a downright savage — in his day.”

“My Falstaffian issue,” rejoined the Tabby, dropping her eyelids and composing her head for a quiet sleep, “the above is a toy mouse.”

xcii.

A crab who had travelled from the mouth of the Indus all the way to Ispahan, knocked, with much chuckling, at the door of the King’s physician.

“Who’s there?” shouted the doctor, from his divan within.

“A bad case of cancer,” was the complacent reply.

“Good!” returned the doctor; “I’ll cure you, my friend.”

So saying, he conducted his facetious patient into the kitchen, and potted him in pickle. It cured him — of practical jocularity.

May the fable heal you, if you are afflicted with that form of evil.

xciii.

A certain magician owned a learned pig, who had lived a cleanly gentlemanly life, achieving great fame, and winning the hearts of all the people. But perceiving he was not happy, the magician, by a process easily explained did space permit, transformed him into a man. Straightway the creature abandoned his cards, his timepiece, his musical instruments, and all other devices of his profession, and betook him to a pool of mud, wherein he inhumed himself to the tip of his nose.

“Ten minutes ago,” said the magician reprovingly, “you would have scorned to do an act like that.”

“True,” replied the biped, with a contented grunt; “I was then a learned pig; I am now a learned man.”

xciv.

“Nature has been very kind to her creatures,” said a giraffe to an elephant. “For example, your neck being so very short, she has given you a proboscis wherewith to reach your food; and I having no proboscis, she has bestowed upon me a long neck.”

“I think, my good friend, you have been among the theologians,” said the elephant. “I doubt if I am clever enough to argue with you. I can only say it does not strike me that way.”

“But, really,” persisted the giraffe, “you must confess your trunk is a great convenience, in that it enables you to reach the high branches of which you are so fond, even as my long neck enables me.”

“Perhaps,” mused the ungrateful pachyderm, “if we could not reach the higher branches, we should develop a taste for the lower ones.”

“In any case,” was the rejoinder, “we can never be sufficiently thankful that we are unlike the lowly hippopotamus, who can reach neither the one nor the other.”

“Ah! yes,” the elephant assented, “there does not seem to have been enough of Nature’s kindness to go round.”

“But the hippopotamus has his roots and his rushes.”

“It is not easy to see how, with his present appliances, he could obtain anything else.”

This fable teaches nothing; for those who perceive the meaning of it either knew it before, or will not be taught.

xcv.

A pious heathen who was currying favour with his wooden deity by sitting for some years motionless in a treeless plain, observed a young ivy putting forth her tender shoots at his feet. He thought he could endure the additional martyrdom of a little shade, and begged her to make herself quite at home.

“Exactly,” said the plant; “it is my mission to adorn venerable ruins.”

She lapped her clinging tendrils about his wasted shanks, and in six months had mantled him in green.

“It is now time,” said the devotee, a year later, “for me to fulfil the remainder of my religious vow. I must put in a few seasons of howling and leaping. You have been very good, but I no longer require your gentle ministrations.”

“But I require yours,” replied the vine; “you have become a second nature to me. Let others indulge in the delights of gymnastic worship; you and I will ‘surfer and be strong’— respectively.”

The devotee muttered something about the division of labour, and his bones are still pointed out to the pilgrim.

xcvi.

A fox seeing a swan afloat, called out:

“What ship is that? I wish to take passage by your line.”

“Got a ticket?” inquired the fowl.

“No; I’ll make it all right with the company, though.”

So the swan moored alongside, and he embarked — deck passage. When they were well off shore the fox intimated that dinner would be agreeable.

“I would advise you not to try the ship’s provisions,” said the bird; “we have only salt meat on board. Beware the scurvy!”

“You are quite right,” replied the passenger; “I’ll see if I can stay my stomach with the foremast.”

So saying he bit off her neck, and she immediately capsizing, he was drowned.

MORAL— highly so, but not instructive.

xcvii.

A monkey finding a heap of cocoa-nuts, gnawed into one, then dropped it, gagging hideously.

“Now, this is what I call perfectly disgusting!” said he: “I can never leave anything lying about but some one comes along and puts a quantity of nasty milk into it!”

A cat just then happening to pass that way began rolling the cocoa-nuts about with her paw.

“Yeow!” she exclaimed; “it is enough to vex the soul of a cast-iron dog! Whenever I set out any milk to cool, somebody comes and seals it up tight as a drum!”

Then perceiving one another, and each thinking the other the offender, these enraged animals contended, and wrought a mutual extermination. Whereby two worthy consumers were lost to society, and a quantity of excellent food had to be given to the poor.

xcviii.

A mouse who had overturned an earthern jar was discovered by a cat, who entered from an adjoining room and began to upbraid him in the harshest and most threatening manner.

“You little wretch!” said she, “how dare you knock over that valuable urn? If it had been filled with hot water, and I had been lying before it asleep, I should have been scalded to death.”

“If it had been full of water,” pleaded the mouse, “it would not have upset.”

Cat, Mouse and Urn

“But I might have lain down in it, monster!” persisted the cat.

“No, you couldn’t,” was the answer; “it is not wide enough.”

“Fiend!” shrieked the cat, smashing him with her paw; “I can curl up real small when I try.”

The ultima ratio of very angry people is frequently addressed to the ear of the dead.

xcix.

In crossing a frozen pool, a monkey slipped and fell, striking upon the back of his head with considerable force, so that the ice was very much shattered. A peacock, who was strutting about on shore thinking what a pretty peacock he was, laughed immoderately at the mishap. N.B. — All laughter is immoderate when a fellow is hurt — if the fellow is oneself.

“Bah!” exclaimed the sufferer; “if you could see the beautiful prismatic tints I have knocked into this ice, you would laugh out of the other side of your bill. The splendour of your tail is quite eclipsed.”

Thus craftily did he inveigle the vain bird, who finally came and spread his tail alongside the fracture for comparison. The gorgeous feathers at once froze fast to the ice, and — in short, that artless fowl passed a very uncomfortable winter.

c.

A volcano, having discharged a few million tons of stones upon a small village, asked the mayor if he thought that a tolerably good supply for building purposes.

“I think,” replied that functionary, “if you give us another dash of granite, and just a pinch of old red sandstone, we could manage with what you have already done for us. We would, however, be grateful for the loan of your crater to bake bricks.”

“Oh, certainly; parties served at their residences.” Then, after the man had gone, the mountain added, with mingled lava and contempt: “The most insatiable people I ever contracted to supply. They shall not have another pebble!”

He banked his fires, and in six weeks was as cold as a neglected pudding. Then might you have seen the heaving of the surface boulders, as the people began stirring forty fathoms beneath.

When you have got quite enough of anything, make it manifest by asking for some more. You won’t get it.

ci.

“I entertain for you a sentiment of profound amity,” said the tiger to the leopard. “And why should I not? for are we not members of the same great feline family?”

“True,” replied the leopard, who was engaged in the hopeless endeavour to change his spots; “since we have mutually plundered one another’s hunting grounds of everything edible, there remains no grievance to quarrel about. You are a good fellow; let us embrace!”

They did so with the utmost heartiness; which being observed by a contiguous monkey, that animal got up a tree, where he delivered himself of the wisdom following:

“There is nothing so touching as these expressions of mutual regard between animals who are vulgarly believed to hate one another. They render the brief intervals of peace almost endurable to both parties. But the difficulty is, there are so many excellent reasons why these relatives should live in peace, that they won’t have time to state them all before the next fight.”

cii.

A woodpecker, who had bored a multitude of holes in the body of a dead tree, was asked by a robin to explain their purpose.

“As yet, in the infancy of science,” replied the woodpecker, “I am quite unable to do so. Some naturalists affirm that I hide acorns in these pits; others maintain that I get worms out of them. I endeavoured for some time to reconcile the two theories; but the worms ate my acorns, and then would not come out. Since then, I have left science to work out its own problems, while I work out the holes. I hope the final decision may be in some way advantageous to me; for at my nest I have a number of prepared holes which I can hammer into some suitable tree at a moment’s notice. Perhaps I could insert a few into the scientific head.”

“No-o-o,” said the robin, reflectively, “I should think not. A prepared hole is an idea; I don’t think it could get in.”

MORAL. — It might be driven in with a steam-hammer.

ciii.

“Are you going to this great hop?” inquired a spruce cricket of a labouring beetle.

“No,” replied he, sadly, “I’ve got to attend this great ball.”

“Blest if I know the difference,” drawled a more offensive insect, with his head in an empty silk hat; “and I’ve been in society all my life. But why was I not invited to either hop or ball?”

He is now invited to the latter.

civ.

“Too bad, too bad,” said a young Abyssinian to a yawning hippopotamus.

“What is ‘too bad?’” inquired the quadruped. “What is the matter with you?”

“Oh, I never complain,” was the reply; “I was only thinking of the niggard economy of Nature in building a great big beast like you and not giving him any mouth.”

“H’m, h’m! it was still worse,” mused the beast, “to construct a great wit like you and give him no seasonable occasion for the display of his cleverness.”

A moment later there were a cracking of bitten bones, a great gush of animal fluids, the vanishing of two black feet — in short, the fatal poisoning of an indiscreet hippopotamus.

The rubbing of a bit of lemon about the beaker’s brim is the finishing-touch to a whiskey punch. Much misery may be thus averted.

cv.

A salmon vainly attempted to leap up a cascade. After trying a few thousand times, he grew so fatigued that he began to leap less and think more. Suddenly an obvious method of surmounting the difficulty presented itself to the salmonic intelligence.

“Strange,” he soliloquized, as well as he could in the water — “very strange I did not think of it before! I’ll go above the fall and leap downwards.”

So he went out on the bank, walked round to the upper side of the fall, and found he could leap over quite easily. Ever afterwards when he went up-stream in the spring to be caught, he adopted this plan. He has been heard to remark that the price of salmon might be brought down to a merely nominal figure, if so many would not wear themselves out before getting up to where there is good fishing.

cvi.

“The son of a jackass,” shrieked a haughty mare to a mule who had offended her by expressing an opinion, “should cultivate the simple grace of intellectual humility.”

“It is true,” was the meek reply, “I cannot boast an illustrious ancestry; but at least I shall never be called upon to blush for my posterity. Yonder mule colt is as proper a son —”

“Yonder mule colt?” interrupted the mare, with a look of ineffable contempt for her auditor; “that is my colt!”

“The consort of a jackass and the mother of mules,” retorted he, quietly, “should cultivate the simple thingamy of intellectual whatsitsname.”

The mare muttered something about having some shopping to do, threw on her harness, and went out to call a cab.

cvii.

“Hi! hi!” squeaked a pig, running after a hen who had just left her nest; “I say, mum, you dropped this ’ere. It looks wal’able; which I fetched it along!” And splitting his long face, he laid a warm egg at her feet.

“You meddlesome bacon!” cackled the ungrateful bird; “if you don’t take that orb directly back, I ’ll sit on you till I hatch you out of your saddle-cover!”

MORAL. — Virtue is its only reward.

cviii.

A rustic, preparing to devour an apple, was addressed by a brace of crafty and covetous birds:

“Nice apple that,” said one, critically examining it. “I don’t wish to disparage it — wouldn’t say a word against that vegetable for all the world. But I never can look upon an apple of that variety without thinking of my poisoned nestling! Ah! so plump, and rosy, and — rotten!”

“Just so,” said the other. “And you remember my good father, who perished in that orchard. Strange that so fair a skin should cover so vile a heart!”

Just then another fowl came flying up.

Rustic and Crafty Birds

“I came in, all haste,” said he, “to warn you about that fruit. My late lamented wife ate some off the same tree. Alas! how comely to the eye, and how essentially noxious!”

“I am very grateful,” the young man said; “but I am unable to comprehend how the sight of this pretty piece of painted confectionery should incite you all to slander your dead relations.”

Whereat there was confusion in the demeanour of that feathered trio.

cix.

“The Millennium is come,” said a lion to a lamb. “Suppose you come out of that fold, and let us lie down together, as it has been foretold we should.”

“Been to dinner to-day?” inquired the lamb.

“Not a bite of anything since breakfast,” was the reply, “except a few lean swine, a saddle or two, and some old harness.”

“I distrust a Millennium,” continued the lamb, thoughtfully, “which consists solely in our lying down together. My notion of that happy time is that it is a period in which pork and leather are not articles of diet, but in which every respectable lion shall have as much mutton as he can consume. However, you may go over to yonder sunny hill and lie down until I come.”

It is singular how a feeling of security tends to develop cunning. If that lamb had been out upon the open plain he would have readily fallen into the snare — and it was studded very thickly with teeth.

cx.

“I say, you!” bawled a fat ox in a stall to a lusty young ass who was braying outside; “the like of that is not in good taste!”

“In whose good taste, my adipose censor?” inquired the ass, not too respectfully.

“Why — h’m — ah! I mean it does not suit me. You ought to bellow.”

“May I inquire how it happens to be any of your business whether I bellow or bray, or do both — or neither?”

“I cannot tell you,” answered the critic, shaking his head despondingly; “I do not at all understand it. I can only say that I have been accustomed to censure all discourse that differs from my own.”

“Exactly,” said the ass; “you have sought to make an art of impertinence by mistaking preferences for principles. In ‘taste’ you have invented a word incapable of definition, to denote an idea impossible of expression; and by employing in connection therewith the words ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ you indicate a merely subjective process in terms of an objective quality. Such presumption transcends the limit of the merely impudent, and passes into the boundless empyrean of pure cheek!”

At the close of this remarkable harangue, the bovine critic was at a loss for language to express his disapproval. So he said the speech was in bad taste.

cxi.

A bloated toad, studded with dermal excrescences, was boasting that she was the wartiest creature alive.

“Perhaps you are,” said her auditor, emerging from the soil; “but it is a barren and superficial honour. Look at me: I am one solid mole!”

cxii.

“It is very difficult getting on in the world,” sighed a weary snail; “very difficult indeed, with such high rents!”

“You don’t mean to say you pay anything for that old rookery!” said a slug, who was characteristically insinuating himself between the stems of the celery intended for dinner. “A miserable old shanty like that, without stables, grounds, or any modern conveniences!”

“Pay!” said the snail, contemptuously; “I’d like to see you get a semi-detatched villa like this at a nominal rate!”

“Why don’t you let your upper apartments to a respectable single party?” urged the slug.

The answer is not recorded.

cxiii.

A hare, pursued by a dog, sought sanctuary in the den of a wolf. It being after business hours, the latter was at home to him.

“Ah!” panted the hare; “how very fortunate! I feel quite safe here, for you dislike dogs quite as much as I do.”

“Your security, my small friend,” replied the wolf, “depends not upon those points in which you and I agree, but upon those in which I and the dog differ.”

“Then you mean to eat me?” inquired the timorous puss.

“No-o-o,” drawled the wolf, reflectively, “I should not like to promise that; I mean to eat a part of you. There may be a tuft of fur, and a toe-nail or two, left for you to go on with. I am hungry, but I am not hoggish.”

“The distinction is too fine for me,” said the hare, scratching her head.

“That, my friend, is because you have not made a practice of hare-splitting. I have.”

cxiv.

“Oyster at home?” inquired a monkey, rapping at the closed shell.

There was no reply. Dropping the knocker, he laid hold of the bell-handle, ringing a loud peal, but without effect.

“Hum, hum!” he mused, with a look of disappointment, “gone to the sea side, I suppose.”

So he turned away, thinking he would call again later in the season; but he had not proceeded far before he conceived a brilliant idea. Perhaps there had been a suicide! — or a murder! He would go back and force the door. By way of doing so he obtained a large stone, and smashed in the roof. There had been no murder to justify such audacity, so he committed one.

The funeral was gorgeous. There were mute oysters with wands, drunken oysters with scarves and hat-bands, a sable hearse with hearth-dusters on it, a swindling undertaker’s bill, and all the accessories of a first-rate churchyard circus — everything necessary but the corpse. That had been disposed of by the monkey, and the undertaker meanly withheld the use of his own.

MORAL. — A lamb foaled in March makes the best pork when his horns have attained the length of an inch.

cxv.

“Pray walk into my parlour,” said the spider to the fly. “That is not quite original,” the latter made reply. “If that’s the way you plagiarize, your fame will be a fib — But I’ll walk into your parlour, while I pitch into your crib. But before I cross your threshold, sir, if I may make so free, Pray let me introduce to you my friend, ‘the wicked flea.’” “How do you?” says the spider, as his welcome he extends; “‘How doth the busy little bee,’ and all our other friends?” “Quite well, I think, and quite unchanged,” the flea said; “though I learn, In certain quarters well informed, ’tis feared ‘the worm will turn.’” “Humph!” said the fly; “I do not understand this talk — not I!” “It is ‘classical allusion,’” said the spider to the fly.

cxvi.

A polar bear navigating the mid-sea upon the mortal part of a late lamented walrus, soliloquized, in substance, as follows:

“Such liberty of action as I am afflicted with is enough to embarrass any bear that ever bore. I can remain passive, and starve; or I can devour my ship, and drown. I am really unable to decide.”

So he sat down to think it over. He considered the question in all its aspects, until he grew quite thin; turned it over and over in his mind until he was too weak to sit up; meditated upon it with a constantly decreasing pulse, a rapidly failing respiration. But he could not make up his mind, and finally expired without having come to a decision.

It appears to me he might almost as well have chosen starvation, at a venture.

cxvii.

A sword-fish having penetrated seven or eight feet into the bottom of a ship, under the impression that he was quarrelling with a whale, was unable to draw out of the fight. The sailors annoyed him a good deal, by pounding with handspikes upon that portion of his horn inside; but he bore it as bravely as he could, putting the best possible face upon the matter, until he saw a shark swimming by, of whom he inquired the probable destination of the ship.

“Italy, I think,” said the other, grinning. “I have private reasons for believing her cargo consists mainly of consumptives.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the captive; “Italy, delightful clime of the cerulean orange — the rosy olive! Land of the night-blooming Jesuit, and the fragrant laszarone! It would be heavenly to run down gondolas in the streets of Venice! I must go to Italy.”

“Indeed you must,” said the shark, darting suddenly aft, where he had caught the gleam of shotted canvas through the blue waters.

But it was fated to be otherwise: some days afterwards the ship and fish passed over a sunken rock which almost grazed the keel. Then the two parted company, with mutual expressions of tender regard, and a report which could be traced by those on board to no trustworthy source.

The foregoing fable shows that a man of good behaviour need not care for money, and vice versâ.

cxviii.

A facetious old cat seeing her kitten sleeping in a bath tub, went down into the cellar and turned on the hot water. (For the convenience of the bathers the bath was arranged in that way; you had to undress, and then go down to the cellar to let on the wet.) No sooner did the kitten remark the unfamiliar sensation, than he departed thence with a willingness quite creditable in one who was not a professional acrobat, and met his mother on the kitchen stairs.

“Aha! my steaming hearty!” cried the elder grimalkin; “I coveted you when I saw the cook put you in the dinner-pot. If I have a weakness, it is hare — hare nicely dressed, and partially boiled.”

Whereupon she made a banquet of her suffering offspring.*

Adversity works a stupendous change in tender youth; many a young man is never recognized by his parents after having been in hot water.

* Here should have followed the appropriate and obvious classical allusion. It is known our fabulist was classically educated. Why, then, this disgraceful omission? — TRANSLATOR.

cxix.

“It is a waste of valour for us to do battle,” said a lame ostrich to a negro who had suddenly come upon her in the desert; “let us cast lots to see who shall be considered the victor, and then go about our business.”

To this proposition the negro readily assented. They cast lots: the negro cast lots of stones, and the ostrich cast lots of feathers. Then the former went about his business, which consisted of skinning the bird.

MORAL. — There is nothing like the arbitrament of chance. That form of it known as trile-bi-joorie is perhaps as good as any.

cxx.

An author who had wrought a book of fables (the merit whereof transcended expression) was peacefully sleeping atop of the modest eminence to which he had attained, when he was rudely awakened by a throng of critics, emitting adverse judgment upon the tales he had builded.

Fox and Geese

“Apparently,” said he, “I have been guilty of some small grains of unconsidered wisdom, and the same have proven a bitterness to these excellent folk, the which they will not abide. Ah, well! those who produce the Strasburg pâté and the feather-pillow are prone to regard us as rival creators. I presume it is in course of nature for him who grows the pen to censure the manner of its use.”

So speaking, he executed a smile a hand’s-breath in extent, and resumed his airy dream of dropping ducats.

cxxi.

For many years an opossum had anointed his tail with bear’s oil, but it remained stubbornly bald-headed. At last his patience was exhausted, and he appealed to Bruin himself, accusing him of breaking faith, and calling him a quack.

“Why, you insolent marsupial!” retorted the bear in a rage; “you expect my oil to give you hair upon your tail, when it will not give me even a tail. Why don’t you try under-draining, or top-dressing with light compost?”

They said and did a good deal more before the opossum withdrew his cold and barren member from consideration; but the judicious fabulist does not encumber his tale with extraneous matter, lest it be pointless.

cxxii.

“So disreputable a lot as you are I never saw!” said a sleepy rat to the casks in a wine-cellar. “Always making night hideous with your hoops and hollows, and disfiguring the day with your bunged-up appearance. There is no sleeping when once the wine has got into your heads. I’ll report you to the butler!”

“The sneaking tale-bearer,” said the casks. “Let us beat him with our staves.”

Requiescat in pace,” muttered a learned cobweb, sententiously.

“Requires a cat in the place, does it?” shrieked the rat. “Then I’m off!”

To explain all the wisdom imparted by this fable would require the pen of a pig, and volumes of smoke.

cxxiii.

A giraffe having trodden upon the tail of a poodle, that animal flew into a blind rage, and wrestled valorously with the invading foot.

“Hullo, sonny!” said the giraffe, looking down, “what are you doing there?”

“I am fighting!” was the proud reply; “but I don’t know that it is any of your business.”

“Oh, I have no desire to mix in,” said the good-natured giraffe. “I never take sides in terrestrial strife. Still, as that is my foot, I think —”

“Eh!” cried the poodle, backing some distance away and gazing upward, shading his eyes with his paw. “You don’t mean to say — by Jove it’s a fact! Well, that beats me! A beast of such enormous length — such preposterous duration, as it were — I wouldn’t have believed it! Of course I can’t quarrel with a non-resident; but why don’t you have a local agent on the ground?”

The reply was probably the wisest ever made; but it has not descended to this generation. It had so very far to descend.

cxxiv.

A dog having got upon the scent of a deer which a hunter had been dragging home, set off with extraordinary zeal. After measuring off a few leagues, he paused.

“My running gear is all right,” said he; “but I seem to have lost my voice.”

Suddenly his ear was assailed by a succession of eager barks, as of another dog in pursuit of him. It then began to dawn upon him that he was a particularly rapid dog: instead of having lost his voice, his voice had lost him, and was just now arriving. Full of his discovery, he sought his master, and struck for better food and more comfortable housing.

“Why, you miserable example of perverted powers!” said his master; “I never intended you for the chase, but for the road. You are to be a draught-dog — to pull baby about in a cart. You will perceive that speed is an objection. Sir, you must be toned down; you will be at once assigned to a house with modern conveniences, and will dine at a French restaurant. If that system do not reduce your own, I’m an ’Ebrew Jew!”

The journals next morning had racy and appetizing accounts of a canine suicide.

cxxv.

A gosling, who had not yet begun to blanch, was accosted by a chicken just out of the shell:

“Whither away so fast, fair maid?” inquired the chick.

“Wither away yourself,” was the contemptuous reply; “you are already in the sere and yellow leaf; while I seem to have a green old age before me.”

cxxvi.

A famishing traveller who had run down a salamander, made a fire, and laid him alive upon the hot coals to cook. Wearied with the pursuit which had preceded his capture, the animal at once composed himself, and fell into a refreshing sleep. At the end of a half-hour, the man, stirred him with a stick, remarking:

“I say! — wake up and begin toasting, will you? How long do you mean to keep dinner waiting, eh?”

“Oh, I beg you will not wait for me,” was the yawning reply. “If you are going to stand upon ceremony, everything will get cold. Besides, I have dined. I wish, by-the-way, you would put on some more fuel; I think we shall have snow.”

“Yes,” said the man, “the weather is like yourself — raw, and exasperatingly cool. Perhaps this will warm you.” And he rolled a ponderous pine log atop of that provoking reptile, who flattened out, and “handed in his checks.”

The moral thus doth glibly run —

    A cause its opposite may brew;

The sun-shade is unlike the sun,

    The plum unlike the plumber, too.

A salamander underdone

    His impudence may overdo.

cxxvii.

A humming-bird invited a vulture to dine with her. He accepted, but took the precaution to have an emetic along with him; and immediately after dinner, which consisted mainly of dew, spices, honey, and similar slops, he swallowed his corrective, and tumbled the distasteful viands out. He then went away, and made a good wholesome meal with his friend the ghoul. He has been heard to remark, that the taste for humming-bird fare is “too artificial for him.” He says, a simple and natural diet, with agreeable companions, cheerful surroundings, and a struggling moon, is best for the health, and most agreeable to the normal palate.

People with vitiated tastes may derive much profit from this opinion. Crede experto.

cxxviii.

A certain terrier, of a dogmatic turn, asked a kitten her opinion of rats, demanding a categorical answer. The opinion, as given, did not possess the merit of coinciding with his own; whereupon he fell upon the heretic and bit her — bit her until his teeth were much worn and her body much elongated — bit her good! Having thus vindicated the correctness of his own view, he felt so amiable a satisfaction that he announced his willingness to adopt the opinion of which he had demonstrated the harmlessness. So he begged his enfeebled antagonist to re-state it, which she incautiously did. No sooner, however, had the superior debater heard it for the second time than he resumed his intolerance, and made an end of that unhappy cat.

“Heresy,” said he, wiping his mouth, “may be endured in the vigorous and lusty; but in a person lying at the very point of death such hardihood is intolerable.”

It is always intolerable.

cxxix.

A tortoise and an armadillo quarrelled, and agreed to fight it out. Repairing to a secluded valley, they put themselves into hostile array.

“Now come on!” shouted the tortoise, shrinking into the inmost recesses of his shell.

“All right,” shrieked the armadillo, coiling up tightly in his coat of mail; “I am ready for you!”

And thus these heroes waged the awful fray from morn till dewy eve, at less than a yard’s distance. There has never been anything like it; their endurance was something marvellous! During the night each combatant sneaked silently away; and the historian of the period obscurely alludes to the battle as “the naval engagement of the future.”

cxxx.

Hedgehog and Hare

Two hedgehogs having conceived a dislike to a hare, conspired for his extinction. It was agreed between them that the lighter and more agile of the two should beat him up, surround him, run him into a ditch, and drive him upon the thorns of the more gouty and unwieldy conspirator. It was not a very hopeful scheme, but it was the best they could devise. There was a chance of success if the hare should prove willing, and, gambler-like, they decided to take that chance, instead of trusting to the remote certainty of their victim’s death from natural cause. The doomed animal performed his part as well as could be reasonably expected of him: every time the enemy’s flying detachment pressed him hard, he fled playfully toward the main body, and lightly vaulted over, about eight feet above the spines. And this prickly blockhead had not the practical sagacity to get upon a wall seven feet and six inches high!

This fable is designed to show that the most desperate chances are comparatively safe.

cxxxi.

A young eel inhabiting the mouth of a river in India, determined to travel. Being a fresh-water eel, he was somewhat restricted in his choice of a route, but he set out with a cheerful heart and very little luggage. Before he had proceeded very far up-stream he found the current too strong to be overcome without a ruinous consumption of coals. He decided to anchor his tail where it then was, and grow up. For the first hundred miles it was tolerably tedious work, but when he had learned to tame his impatience, he found this method of progress rather pleasant than otherwise. But when he began to be caught at widely separate points by the fishermen of eight or ten different nations, he did not think it so fine.

This fable teaches that when you extend your residence you multiply your experiences. A local eel can know but little of angling.

cxxxii.

Some of the lower animals held a convention to settle for ever the unspeakably important question, What is Life?

“Life,” squeaked the poet, blinking and folding his filmy wings, “is —.” His kind having been already very numerously heard from upon the subject, he was choked off.

“Life,” said the scientist, in a voice smothered by the earth he was throwing up into small hills, “is the harmonious action of heterogeneous but related faculties, operating in accordance with certain natural laws.”

“Ah!” chattered the lover, “but that thawt of thing is vewy gweat blith in the thothiety of one’th thweetheart.” And curling his tail about a branch, he swung himself heavenward and had a spasm.

“It is vita!” grunted the sententious scholar, pausing in his mastication of a Chaldaic root.

“It is a thistle,” brayed the warrior: “very nice thing to take!”

“Life, my friends,” croaked the philosopher from his hollow tree, dropping the lids over his cattish eyes, “is a disease. We are all symptoms.”

“Pooh!” ejaculated the physician, uncoiling and springing his rattle. “How then does it happen that when we remove the symptoms, the disease is gone?”

“I would give something to know that,” replied the philosopher, musingly; “but I suspect that in most cases the inflammation remains, and is intensified.”

Draw your own moral inference, “in your own jugs.”

cxxxiii.

A heedless boy having flung a pebble in the direction of a basking lizard, that reptile’s tail disengaged itself, and flew some distance away. One of the properties of a lizard’s camp-follower is to leave the main body at the slightest intimation of danger.

“There goes that vexatious narrative again,” exclaimed the lizard, pettishly; “I never had such a tail in my life! Its restless tendency to divorce upon insufficient grounds is enough to harrow the reptilian soul! Now,” he continued, backing up to the fugitive part, “perhaps you will be good enough to resume your connection with the parent establishment.”

No sooner was the splice effected, than an astronomer passing that way casually remarked to a friend that he had just sighted a comet. Supposing itself menaced, the timorous member again sprang away, coming down plump before the horny nose of a sparrow. Here its career terminated.

We sometimes escape from an imaginary danger, only to find some real persecutor has a little bill against us.

cxxxiv.

A jackal who had pursued a deer all day with unflagging industry, was about to seize him, when an earthquake, which was doing a little civil engineering in that part of the country, opened a broad chasm between him and his prey.

“Now, here,” said he, “is a distinct interference with the laws of nature. But if we are to tolerate miracles, there is an end of all progress.”

So speaking, he endeavoured to cross the abyss at two jumps. His fate would serve the purpose of an impressive warning if it might be clearly ascertained; but the earth having immediately pinched together again, the research of the moral investigator is baffled.

cxxxv.

“Ah!” sighed a three-legged stool, “if I had only been a quadruped, I should have been happy as the day is long — which, on the twenty-first of June, would be considerable felicity for a stool.”

“Ha! look at me!” said a toadstool; “consider my superior privation, and be content with your comparatively happy lot.”

“I don’t discern,” replied the first, “how the contemplation of unipedal misery tends to alleviate tripedal wretchedness.”

“You don’t, eh!” sneered the toadstool. “You mean, do you, to fly in the face of all the moral and social philosophers?”

“Not unless some benefactor of his race shall impel me.”

“H’m! I think Zambri the Parsee is the man for that kindly office, my dear.”

This final fable teaches that he is.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bierce/ambrose/cobwebs-from-an-empty-skull/chapter1.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31