A FISH was once flapping and flopping on the sand by the banks of a river. She was a lady Fish--how she got there I don't know; but she had been better to stay at home, as you shall hear. Well, she flapped away on the sand, and couldn't get off; she began to feel very dry. A man came by, riding upon a horse. "O Man," shouted the Fish, "do carry me back to the water again, or I shall be dried up and die."
"No, no," said the Man, "not I, indeed! You are a she, and I have had so much bother with shes in my life that I shall keep clear of you."
"O dear good Man!" cried the Fish, "do please help me, and I will promise not to behave badly; I'll be as nice as any man could be. Just think! if you leave me here, I shall dry into a stick, or somebody will come along and eat me."
The Man scratched his head, and wondered what he ought to do; but at last he took pity on the Fish, and got down off his horse. Then he picked up the Fish and put her on his shoulder, and walked down to the water. "Now then," said he, "in with you."
"Take me into deep water," said the Fish; "this won't do for me." So the good-natured fellow took her and waded into the water till he was neck-deep. Then the Fish opened her mouth wide, and said--
"Now I'm going to eat you! I'll teach you to say nasty things about women."
That was a nice way of showing gratitude to the Man, wasn't it? I wonder the Man did not eat the Fish, instead of the Fish eating him. But I am afraid the Man was rather stupid. It never occurred to him that he might eat the Fish, and all he did was to scratch his head again. "That's not fair," said he; "I saved your life, and now you want to eat me. We must find some one to decide between us, and say which is right."
"All right," said the Fish; "take me up on your shoulder again, and let us find somebody."
So the Man took her up on his shoulder again, and out of the water came he. On the bank of the river grew a Crab-apple Tree, and the Man appealed to this Tree to decide their dispute. "O Tree," said he, "this Fish was lying on the sand, and I saved her life, and now she wants to eat me. Do you think that is right?"
"Of course!" said the Tree--whose temper was as crabbed as his apples--"of course! Why not? You men are always doing mischief. Here am I, an innocent Crab-apple Tree, and people come along and cut off my branches to shade themselves from the sun. I call that cool!"
"Well," said the Man, "they want to be cool, and that's why they cut your branches off."
"Don't be a fool," squeaked the Crab-apple Tree; "you know what I mean. So as you do all this damage to us, we are right to do all we can to hurt you, and therefore this Fish has a right to eat you if she chooses."
"Come along," said the Fish, as she opened her mouth; "jump in!"
"Wait a bit," said the Man, "we must try somebody else. I feel sure there is something wrong with this judgment." The Fish did not wish to ask anybody else, but she had to agree, because they were on dry land.
So they went along until they saw an Elephant.
"O Elephant!" cried the Man, "do you see this Fish? I saved her life, and now she wants to eat me. Do you think this is right?"
"Right?" said the Elephant, "I should rather think so! Why, you men are horrid brutes, always making us carry half-a-dozen of you about on our backs, or prodding us with a spike, or something nasty. Eat you up? I only wish I could eat you up, and I would do it too, but nature makes me eat leaves, and you are too tough for me to digest."
So there was no comfort to be had from the Elephant.
The Fish opened her mouth wider than ever, for she was getting hungry, and said, "Now then, look sharp--in with you!"
The Man was in despair. What was he to do? "Give me one more chance," said he, "and if they all say the same, then you shall eat me."
He looked round, and not far off he saw a Jackal. "Friend Jackal," he called out; "I say, Jackal! Stop a minute, I want to ask you something."
"All right," said the Jackal, "ask away."
"This Fish," said the Man, "was flip-flap-flopping on the sand and gasping for breath, and I saved her life; and then as soon as she got safe back into the water again, she wanted to eat me. Do you think that's right?"
"Hm," said the Jackal, "I don't quite understand. Where was the Fish?"
"Lying on the sand, you booby," said the Fish, getting angry.
"How?" asked the Jackal.
"Why," said the Fish, "what does that matter, I should like to know?"
"Can't understand," said the Jackal, looking stupidly all round and then up at the sky.
"Well," said the Fish, angrier than ever, "all you are asked to do, is to say whether or no I am to eat this Man. Can't you do that without all this bother?"
"No," said the Jackal.
"Oh dear," said the Fish, "what a stupid you must be! All right then, come along, and we'll show you." So she made the Man take her on his shoulder again, and carry her to the place where she had been lying on the sand.
"That's the place," said she.
The Jackal was not satisfied yet, but he must needs see how she lay. So the Man put her down on the sand, and the Fish began flip-flap-flopping again.
"Now then," said the Jackal to the Man, "up on the horse with you, and be off! What does the Fish matter to you? Let her die, she deserves no better."
The Man thought this a good idea, so he got up on his horse, and off, and was more resolved than ever to keep clear of women.
But the Fish was very angry at being tricked so neatly. "You shall pay for this!" she gasped to the Jackal; "I'll come and eat you in your den."
"All right, you may try," said the Jackal, "but I fancy you will get eaten yourself." And so saying, away he scampered.
The Fish flapped and flopped, until somehow or other she managed to flap herself into the river.
After this the Fish used to sit by the roots of a fig-tree which went down into the river, with her mouth gaping, in the hope that something might fall in. The Jackal used to come down to this place to drink, and one day, as he was drinking, the Fish caught him tight by the leg.
"Oh you silly Fish," said the Jackal, "why didn't you catch my leg? You have got hold of the wrong thing," said he; "there's my leg, if you want it," pointing to the root of the fig-tree. The foolish Fish believed she had made a mistake, and let go the Jackal's leg, and took a good bite of the root. The Jackal laughed, and scampered away, crying, "Oh what a fool you are! You don't know wood from meat!"
"Never mind," said the Fish, "next time it will be my turn, and then we shall see. I'll come and eat you in your den."
Next day, when the Jackal had gone into the forest to find food, our friend the Fish jumped out of the water, and went roll, roll, rolling into the forest, until she came to the den of the Jackal; and inside the door of the Jackal's den she stood on her tail, waiting for him to come back. By-and-by back came the Jackal, sure enough; but Jackals are very cunning creatures, and he came up slinking quietly, and saw the Fish before the Fish saw him. So he called out in a loud voice, "Den, Den!"
No answer. Again he called out, "Den, Den!" This time the Fish thought that the Den was no doubt accustomed to reply when the Jackal called to it. Perhaps it was shy because she was present. Anyhow she thought she had better answer, so she called out in return, "Well, well!"
"You there?" asked the Jackal.
"Yes, I'm here all right," answered the Fish.
"Just stop a minute," said the Jackal, "and I'll be back directly."
Away he ran, and the Fish crept inside the hole, and hid. The Jackal ran about gathering dry leaves, and with the leaves he made a little pile at the mouth of his hole. Then he went to a fire which some traveller had left smouldering, and seizing a brand, he brought it and set light to the leaves at the mouth of the cave. The fire soon burned up.
"Is that nice, dear Den?" asked the Jackal.
"Very nice, thank you," said the Fish, who thought she must go on pretending.
"I'll soon make you warm," said the Jackal, and he piled on more fuel. It began to get very hot.
"That's enough now," said the Fish.
"No, no, Den dear," said the cunning Jackal, laughing
to himself. More and more leaves he piled on the top
of the fire. One side of the Fish got so hot that she
turned the other. Then it got hotter and hotter, and
soon the Fish expired. When the fire went out, the
Jackal looked into the cave, and there was the Fish,
done on both sides crisp and brown. He sat
down on his haunches, and gobbled her
up in a trice, and he never had a
nicer dinner. That was the
end of the foolish and