THERE was once a man who went on a journey, and he asked a friend to take charge of his plough till he should return. The friend promised to take great care of it. But no sooner was the man gone than he sold the plough and put the price in his own pocket. Was not that a mean trick to serve a friend?
The man came back, and asked his friend for the plough.
"Oh, I am so sorry," the friend replied; "my house is infested with rats, and one night a very big rat came and ate it up."
"Ah well," said the man, "what can't be cured must be endured! It must have been a very big rat, though."
"It was," said the other, "very big."
You must not suppose this man was quite such a fool as he seemed. You will soon see why he did not make a fuss about his plough.
Next day he took his friend's son out for a walk. When they had gone some distance he took the boy to another friend's house, and told this friend to keep the boy safe, but not to let him go out of the house till he returned.
Then he ran back to the boy's father.
"Where is my boy?" asked the father.
"Your boy? Oh, I remember--a hawk swooped down and carried him off."
"Oh, you liar! oh, you murderer!" said the friend. "Come before the judge, and then we shall see."
"As you please," said the man.
So they went to the court.
"What is your complaint?" asked the judge.
"My lord, this man took my son out for a walk with him, and came back alone, and now he says a hawk carried him off. He must have murdered the boy! Justice, my lord, justice!"
"What is this?" asked the judge sternly. "Come, my man, tell the truth."
"It is the truth, my lord," said the man; "he came with me for a walk, and was carried away by a hawk."
"Nonsense!" said the judge. "Who ever heard of a hawk carrying off a boy?"
"And who ever heard, my lord, of a rat eating a plough?"
"What do you mean?" asked the judge.
The man told his story. Then the judge saw that the man who complained had cheated his friend, and understood what was the reason of this little trick. So he said to the man whose son was lost:
"If you find the plough that was entrusted to you, perhaps your son may be found too."
The man was much annoyed at being found out, but, willy nilly, he had to give the plough back. Then his son was brought back safe to him again. And he began to see that honesty is the best policy.