Two men were traveling in company on their way to a distant city. Each had a bag of food to support him on the journey, which would last several days. They agreed to first eat the provision of one man, and when that was finished to consume that of the other, which they expected would be sufficient to last during their journey. But when the store of the first man was finished, the second man would not allow his companion to use his own bag, as they had previously agreed.
“For Heaven”s sake, Jack!” exclaimed the first man, “give me something to eat. If you will not bestow it in return for my bread, give it as charity. Otherwise, I shall starve and die in this wilderness, while my family and children will be left paupers. Spare me, Jack, spare me!”
But it was impossible to persuade the second man, who refused, saying:
“No, I will give you nothing, lest the bread should not be enough for both. I will eat my own food and go. I don”t care for you.”
Can a hungry man walk? The one who had the provision bag went on ahead, leaving his starving companion behind. For a while the poor man walked, casting earth in his mouth and drinking water from every brook until sunset, when he came to a ruined mill.
“Let me lodge in this ruined mill,” he thought. “Heaven is merciful.”
There was nothing in the ruined mill, except an old tambourine which hung from the wall. In order not to be torn by wild beasts, the man entered the grain holder of the mill and tried to sleep. At midnight he saw a bear enter the mill and sit opposite the grain holder. Soon arrived a wolf, and took his seat near the bear, and at last came a fox, and sat next to the wolf. The wolf asked the bear, saying:
“How is it with you, brother bear? How do you fill that great stomach of yours, when game is so scarce nowadays?”
“I never am in trouble because of scarcity of food,” answered the bear. “I find plenty of vegetables in the neighborhood, which have delicious roots. When I am hungry I dig some of these and appease my hunger.”
“This is good!” thought the hungry man, in his concealment.
“And how is it with you, brother wolf,” asked the fox. “Do you ever succeed in satisfying your gluttonous appetite, now that every shepherd keeps a cursed dog?”
“Oh, never mention that,” answered the wolf, sighing deeply. “I have been planning all the time, during the past two or three months, to snatch some morsels from the flocks of the mayor of Greendale, but I never succeed in approaching the flock for fear of the big black dog, who never leaves the sheep. I do not know why the doctors do not kill that cursed dog, and bathe with its blood the King”s son, who would at once be healed from the disease which has been tormenting him so long that the doctors have given up hope. By this means the poor lad would be cured and the obstacle before me would be removed.”
“Good!” thought the man to himself.
“And how is it with you, brother fox?” asked the bear. “How are you getting along?”
“Gramercy!” said Reynard, “although I am not as strong as you are, yet Heaven has given me wisdom and dexterity, and I have never been troubled by hunger. Eh! I have accumulated some wealth also. I have a jug full of gold hidden under yonder sycamore tree, and another under the threshold of this mill. I get the gold pieces out once a day and enjoy myself in playing with them. Then I put them into the jugs and hide them once more.”
“Very good!” said the man to himself.
The man took courage; his mind began to work; he suddenly took hold of the tambourine and began to play on it. Hearing this, the beasts ran away and disappeared in the twinkling of an eye. They thought a wedding procession was coming; and beasts are very much afraid of wedding processions. By this time it was daybreak. The man came out from his concealment, took the two jugs full of gold, filled his pockets, and hid the remainder in another place. He dug the roots which the bear had recommended and satisfied his hunger. He then asked the way to the village of Greendale and became a guest in the mayor”s house. As he provided costly presents both for the mayor and the members of his family, they were all highly pleased with him. In the morning he heard the mayor whispering with the members of his family as to the present they could make their guest in recompense for his costly offerings. Thereupon the man said:
“I have admired the black dog of your flock; I wish I could have one like it.”
“Since your desire is for that black dog,” answered the mayor, “you may have it; we can easily find another dog for the flock.”
The man put a rope around the neck of the dog, and taking with him a skin bottle, withdrew to a lonely place, where he cut the throat of the dog, and caught its blood in the skin. Taking the skinful of dog”s blood, he went to the city and presenting himself to the King, said:
“I am a doctor; I can heal your son.”
“If you can heal my son,” said the King, “I will assure you the second place in the kingdom after my death; but if you do not heal him, I will cut off your head.”
“May your son himself enjoy your throne,” said the man; “but if I do not heal him my head is yours.”
The King consented, and the man took the invalid Prince, who was very weak and upon his deathbed, to a room alone, where he applied the dog”s blood over all his body, and laid him to sleep. Towards evening the lad had perspired and became wet all over. The assumed doctor washed him, and once more applied the dog”s blood. He continued this treatment two days; on the third day the lad was cured, his body being as sound as that of a newly born babe. The man took the Prince to the King, who was so much pleased that he presented the physician with a magnificent palace, and abundant wealth. Not only the court but all the people of the country loved the man for his generous spirit. He sought and obtained the rest of the fox”s treasure, which he had hidden, and caused his family to be brought to his new palace, where they lived a happy life, and praised Heaven.
But what became of his niggardly companion, who had refused to give away a slice of bread? He reached his destination safely, but never attained success there, and was obliged to go from city to city seeking work to earn a living. At last he came to the city where his fortunate companion lived, and seeing him enjoying a princely life, asked him how he attained it. His former comrade told him everything. Thereupon the man hastened to the ruined mill, with the expectation that he also would attain good luck, and hid himself in the grain holder. The beasts again came to hold a meeting.
“Mr. Chairman,” said Reynard to the bear, as soon as they came in, “before we commence our deliberations, we would better look carefully and see if there is a human being near by to hear us. Because I have been robbed since our last meeting.”
They all got up to look around, and lo! there was a man in the grain holder.
“Vile intruder!” exclaimed the fox, biting the man”s legs madly. The bear gave him some violent blows on the head with his heavy paws which made him fall senseless, and the wolf tore him into pieces. Thus ended the life of this niggardly man.