An argosy of fables/Russian fables

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An argosy of fables
Book 3. Part 4, Russian fables




ON a beautiful summer day the Leaves of a tree whispered softly to the breezes; and as the shadows fell across the valley this was what they were saying, boasting of their luxuriant abundance:

"Is it not a fact that we are the pride of the whole valley? Is it not due to us that this tree is so vigorous and wide-spreading, so stately and majestic? What would it be without us? Yes, indeed, we may well praise ourselves without vanity! Do we not, by our cool shade, protect the shepherd and the traveller from the noonday heat? Do we not, by our beauty, attract the shepherdess to come and dance here? And from among us, both morning and evening, the nightingale sings; while as for you, gentle breezes, you hardly ever desert us."

"You might spare just a word of thanks to us," interrupted a faint voice from under ground.

"Who is it that has the audacity to call us to account? Who are you who are talking down there beneath the grass?" the leaves retorted pertly, tossing disdainfully on the tree.

"We are they," came the reply from far down below, "who burrow here in the darkness to provide you with food. Is it possible that you do not know us? We are the Roots of the tree on which you flourish. Go on rejoicing in your beauty! But remember there is this difference between us that with every autumn the old Leaves die, and with every spring new Leaves are born; but if the Roots once perish neither you nor the tree can live at all."

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


THE Sheep before the Lion came, and prayed
Protection from the Wolves, that havoc made
Among the flocks. Compassion moved his breast:
Thrice having roared, he thus his will expressed:—
"We Leo, King, and so forth,—having found
The sore indictment by the Sheep profound
Against the Wolves, and touched with sympathy
For their most sad condition, thus decree:
If any Wolf shall any Sheep offend.
Said Sheep with leave said Wolf to apprehend.
And carry him before the nearest Bear
In the Commission of the Peace—and then
Such order as the matter may invite
Be duly made—and Heaven defend the right!"
So 'twas decreed. 'Tis a most curious fact.
No Sheep hath yet enforced the Act:
'Tis probable they are no more attacked:
The Wolves now graze, it is to be inferred
(How this agrees with them I have not heard).
If rogues defraud, or men in power oppress—
Go to law instantly and get redress.

(Krilov, Fables. Translated from the Russian for Fraser's Magazine.)


NEIGHBOUR, a favor I would ask
 —'Tis no great thing—'tis but a Cask
An empty Cask's not much to lend
Just to accommodate a friend.
When one money wants to borrow.
Then 'tis as well to cry 'To-morrow—
Not just now—I can't indeed—
No cash have I but what I need.'
For he that lends away his purse
May find it to return averse."
The Cask was lent—the Cask came back
Quite sound—at least, without a crack;
But then of oil't had such a snack!
So strong a scent that it quite spoiled
Whatever was poured in. 'Twas boiled.
Was scalded, aired; yet still the taint
Remained matter of complaint.
To cure it was a fruitless task.
And so they burned the infected Cask.

Parents! The lesson of my fable
For you is specially intended.
Deem not defects may be evaded
Imbibed in youth; since naught is able.
When once the evil's taken place,
Early impressions to efface,
Do what we may, they still prevail
And to correct them all our efforts fail.

(Krilov, Fables. Translated from the Russian for Fraser's Magazine.)


TWO Flies, determining to change
 Their country, and abroad to range,
In order novel sights to see.
Explained their project to a Bee.
To her they stated
Their friend. Sir Parrot, had related
Of foreign parts such wondrous things.
They were resolved to use their wings.
There surely was no great temptation
Longer to stay in this dull nation,
Where everything was cold and dingy.
And folks grew every day more stingy!
"They grudge us e'en the smallest sup;
From us poor Flies they cover up
Both meat and drink; and fence, alas!
Their fruits of every kind with glass.
So are we treated by the wealthy.
And 'mongst the poor fare scarcely better.
Since Spiders there, our foes so stealthy,
Weave treacherous webs, our wings to fetter."

"Well, friends," the home-spun Bee replied,
"'Tis not for me your scheme to chide,
If you on travelling are bent.
For my part, I am quite content
Here to remain. Folks praise my Honey;
And though it is not always sunny
In this our clime, here is our hive;
And we to earn our food contrive—
Nay, all considered, really thrive.
We have our labours to attend to,
And know that those we ought to bend to;
While folk like you go where you list
And certainly will not be missed.
It matters not where you're abiders,—
None profit by you, save the Spiders."

(Krilov, Fables. Translated from the Russian for Fraser's Magazine.)


A LARGE Cloud passed rapidly over a country which was parched by heat, but did not let a single drop fall to refresh it. Presently this same Cloud poured a generous shower of rain into the sea, and then began to boast of its generosity, within hearing of a neighbouring Mountain. But the Mountain replied:

"What good have you done by such mistaken generosity? And how can any one help being pained by the sight of it? If you had poured your showers over the thirsty land, you would have saved a whole district from hunger. But as for the sea, my friend, it has plenty of water already, without your adding a few little rain drops to it."

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


ON a certain holiday a big crowd had gathered in front of the window of a rich man's home, and stared with open-mouthed wonder at a Squirrel running in the revolving wheel of its cage. A Thrush, perched on a branch of a neighbouring tree, also wondered. The Squirrel ran so fast that his feet seemed to twinkle, and his bushy tail spread itself straight out behind him.

"Dear old friend of my native woods," said the Thrush, "will you please tell me what on earth you are doing?"

"My dear fellow," replied the Squirrel, "I can hardly stop to talk, for I have to work hard all day. I am, in fact, the courier of a great nobleman, so that I can hardly stop to eat or drink or even to take breath." And immediately the Squirrel began again, running faster than ever in its wheel.

"Yes," said the Thrush, as he flew away, "I can see plainly enough that you are running. But for all that, you are always there at the same window."

There are many busy-bodies in the world, always worrying, always rushing back and forth; every one wonders at them. They seem ready to jump out of their own skins; but in spite of it all, they make no more progress than does the Squirrel in his wheel.

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


A DIAMOND which some one had lost lay for a long time beside a Pebble in the dust of the high-road. At last it was picked up by a merchant, and sold to a King who had it set in gold as one of the ornaments of his royal crown. When the Pebble heard of the brilliant fortune of the Diamond, it began to complain of its own hard lot; and one day, seeing a peasant driving by, it called out to him:

"Do me a favour, kind sir, take me with you to the city. Why should I lie here in the mud and dust while my friend the Diamond, so I am told, is enjoying the honours of the Court? I don't understand why it has been treated so royally. It lay here beside me for many years; and after all, it is nothing but a stone, like myself. Please take me with you! Who can tell? Perhaps when I reach the city I too may be highly honoured!"

The peasant picked up the Pebble, tossed it into his lumbering cart, and brought it to the city. On its way the Pebble passed the time picturing itself as occupying a place beside the Diamond in the King's crown. But it really met with quite a different fate. It was put to good use, for it served to mend a hole in the high-road.

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


A CONCEITED young Pike took it into his foolish young head to leave his native home in the water, and lead the life of a Cat. Perhaps he was envious of the Cat's easy, comfortable life; or perhaps he was tired of eating nothing but fish dinners. At all events he asked Pussy to take him with her the next time she went to hunt mice in the warehouse.

"But, my dear friend," said the Cat, "what in the world do you know about catching mice? I am afraid you will make a sad mess of it! You know the old sayings, 'A tailor should stick to his last,' and 'Jack of all trades is master of none.'"

"Don't worry about me," replied the Pike, "Catching mice is mere play to any one who is used to catching minnows!"

"Oh, very well, we shall see! Come along," said the Cat.

So the two friends went together to the warehouse, and lay in wait, each in front of a separate mouse-hole. The Cat had great luck in her hunting, and after enjoying a hearty mouse dinner, went to see what sort of sport her friend had had. Alas, the poor Pike lay flat on the ware-room floor, feebly gasping for breath, and with its tail half nibbled away by the mice. So the Cat, seeing that her friend had undertaken a task beyond his strength, dragged him back to the edge of the pond, and flung him, half dead, into his native water.

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


AN Ass, happening one day to meet a Nightingale, said to her: 'Listen, my dear, they tell me that you really have a wonderful voice, and for a long time I have wanted to hear you sing, and to judge for myself whether you are as great an artist as they say."

At this the Nightingale began to display her art, whistling in countless ways, with long-drawn, sobbing notes, and passing from one song to another. At one time she let her voice die away until it was like the distant echo of the wind among the reeds; at another, she poured forth a shower of tiny notes, like the ripple of running water. All nature stopped to listen to her song: the breezes died down; the other birds were hushed; the cattle and the sheep laid themselves silently down upon the grass.

At length the singer ended. Then the Ass, bending his head towards the ground, remarked:

"That's not half bad. Honestly, I can listen to you without being bored. But it's a pity that you have never heard our Cock crowing. You would sing a great deal better if you could take a few lessons from him!"

(Kilov, Fables. Adapted from translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


A CERTAIN Russian peasant named Trishka, discovered one day that his Caftan, or long-skirted gown, was out at elbow. It seemed a simple matter; so he took his needle, cut off a quarter of each sleeve, and used the pieces to patch the elbows. The Caftan was all right again, excepting that now his arms were bare for a quarter of their length. This was in itself no great matter; but Trishka soon found that everybody was laughing at him. So he said to himself:

"Since I am no fool I can soon make things right again. All I need to do is to make the sleeves as long as they were before. Oh, Trishka is a match for any of them!"

So he cut off the skirts of his Caftan, and used them to lengthen his sleeves. Once more Trishka was happy, even though he had a Caftan no longer than a waistcoat.

Moral. Many people go through life wearing Trishka's Caftan; They are always hoping to get out of debt by borrowing of Peter to pay Paul.

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


AN Inquisitive Man was one day met by a friend who cordially hailed him:

"Good morning, my good fellow! And where do you come from?"

"From the Museum of Natural History, where I have just spent three hours. I saw everything there was to see and examined it carefully. It was all so astonishing that honestly I am not clever enough to describe the half of it. Nature is certainly wonderful in her rich variety! There are more birds and beasts than I ever dreamed of—not to mention the butterflies dragonflies and beetles—some green as emeralds and others as red as coral! And there were tiny little gnats too—why, really, some of them are smaller than the head of a pin!"

"And of course you saw the elephant? What did you think of him? I'll wager you felt as though you were looking at a mountain!"

"Elephant? Are you quite sure that they have an elephant?"

"Quite sure."

"Well, old man, don't tell anybody—but the fact is that I didn't notice the elephant!"

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


ONCE upon a time the Lion, King of all the animals, became the father of a son. As the young Lion Prince grew older, the King began to ask himself which of the animals he could trust to teach his son how to become a good and wise King. Should he hand him over to the Fox? No, for although the Fox was clever, he was a great liar, and liars are always getting into trouble. Should he entrust him to the Mole? No, for although the Mole was a careful and orderly animal, it could only see things under its very nose; it never looked far ahead. Should he choose the Panther? No, for although the Panther was strong and brave, and a great fighter, it knew nothing about law and politics—and a King must learn to be a just judge and wise statesman, as well as a good soldier. In short, not a single animal, not even the wise old Elephant, knew enough to satisfy the Lion.

Now it happened that another monarch, the Eagle, King of the birds, who was an old friend of the Lion, learned of his difficulty, and wishing to do him a great kindness offered to undertake the education of the young Prince himself. The old Lion was delighted; for what could be better than to find a King for a Prince's teacher? So the Lion's son was gotten ready, and sent off to the Eagle's Court, to learn how to be a King.

After two or three years had passed, the Lion King, who had grown quite old, sent for his son to come home and relieve him of the cares of state. Having decided to turn the kingdom over to the young Lion, he summoned all the animals together, and in the presence of this assembly he asked his son to tell them what he had been taught and if he was made King what he intended to do to make his people happy.

"Father," said the Lion Prince, "I have learned many things which no one else of all these animals here knows. I can tell where every bird, from the Eagle to the Quail, can most readily find water; what kind of food each bird needs, and how many eggs it lays; I can tell the wants of every bird that flies, without forgetting a single one. If you put me in charge of the kingdom I shall begin at once to teach the animals how to build nests."

At this the beasts all howled aloud, and the old King perceived too late, that the young Lion had not been taught the knowledge which a King needs most of all—the knowledge of the wants of his own people and the interests of his own country.

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


A DOG and a Horse, who both belonged to the same farmer, began, one day, to dispute as to which had given the more valuable services.

"You have done nothing to boast of!" said the Dog, "I shouldn't be surprised to see you driven off the farm altogether! A noble career, indeed, to slave all day dragging a plough or a cart. Yet I never heard of your doing anything finer! How can you possibly think yourself my equal? I never rest day or night. All day long I watch the cattle in the meadow; and throughout the night I guard the house."

"I don't deny it," replied the Horse, "All that you say is quite true. Only, please remember that if it were not for my ploughing there would be nothing at all for you to guard."

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


AN Elephant was once being led through the streets of a town as the chief attraction of a travelling circus, and crowds had gathered to stare and wonder at him. All of a sudden, a Pug Dog appeared from some corner or other, and as soon as he caught sight of the Elephant made a dash at him, snapping and barking fiercely.

"Stop your noise. Puppy," advised a shaggy old Mastiff, "You are making yourself ridiculous! Do you think you can fight an Elephant? You have already barked yourself hoarse; yet the Elephant keeps right on, and does not pay the slightest attention to you."

"Yes, yes," said the Pug, "that is what makes me so brave. Without having to fight at all, I can make people think that I am a very savage animal. 'Look at Puggy!' the other dogs will all say, 'what courage he must have, or he would never dare to bark at an Elephant!'"

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


A FARMER with a long rod in his hands was driving some Geese to town, to sell them, and hoping to make a good bargain, he was hurrying them on rather urgently. Consequently, the Geese complained loudly to every passer-by.

"Were ever Geese more unfortunate than we? This farmer drives us along as roughly as though we were common, ordinary Geese. He is such an ignorant fellow himself that he does not know that he ought to pay us great honour, because we are the noble sons of those famous Geese that once saved Rome from destruction."

"And is that your reason for expecting people to honour you today?" one of the passers-by asked them.

"Why, yes, our fathers, the Geese of Rome—"

"I know, I have read all about that. But what I am asking you, is of what use have you yourselves ever been? What have you done?"

"We? Why, nothing!"

"Then why should you expect to be held in honour? Let your fathers sleep in peace—they received their reward. But you, my friends, are fit only to be roasted."

(Kilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


THE Eagle, King of the birds, once appointed a Cuckoo to the position of Court Nightingale. The Cuckoo, proud of his new rank, seated himself on the bough of an aspen tree, and began to show his qualities as a singer. Presently he looked around to see what sort of an impression he was making. To his dismay all the other birds were starting to fly away, some angrily protesting, and the rest laughing at him. The Cuckoo was very indignant, and hurried back to the Eagle to make a complaint against the other birds.

"Your Majesty, I ask for justice," he cried, "By your command I was appointed Court Nightingale of these woods—and yet the other birds have dared to laugh at my singing!"

"My friend," answered the Eagle, "I am a King, but I am not God. It is impossible for me to do away with the cause of your complaint. I can order a Cuckoo to be called a Nightingale. But to make a Nightingale out of a Cuckoo—that I cannot do."

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


ONCE upon a time the Elephant was high in favour at the Court of the Lion, King of beasts. All the animals of the forest began to gossip, and many were the guesses they made as to how the Elephant had become such a favourite.

"He is not a handsome beast," the animals all agreed, "he is not even amusing. And as for his habits, he certainly has very bad manners!"

"If he only had a brush like mine," said the Fox, proudly whisking his fine, bushy tail, "I should not have thought it so strange!"

"Or if he had big, strong claws like mine," rejoined the Bear, "it would not have been so extraordinary. But, as we all know, the poor beast has no claws at all!"

"You don't think, do you, that his tusks got him into favor?" broke in the Ox. "Is it possible that they were mistaken for horns, like mine?"

"Do you mean to tell me," demanded the Ass, shaking his ears, "that you really none of you know what it is that has made the Elephant so popular at Court? Why, I guessed the reason right away! If it had not been for his beautiful long ears, he would never have got into favour!"

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


AN Eagle had soared above the clouds to the highest peak of a mountain range, and perching upon an ancient cedar, admired the landscape spread out below it. For it seemed as though the boundaries of the whole world could be seen from that height.

"Heaven be praised," said the Eagle, "for giving me such powers of flight, that there is no mountain too high for me to reach. I am now looking down upon the beauties of the world from a point which no other living creature has ever reached!"

"What a boaster you are," observed a Spider from a near-by twig. "Where I am sitting isn't so far below you, is it, friend Eagle?"

The Eagle glanced upward. True enough, the Spider was busily spinning its web from a twig above his head.

"However did you reach this height?" asked the Eagle. "Weak and wingless, as you are, how did you ever crawl way up here?"

"Why, I fastened myself unto you," returned the Spider. "You yourself brought me from down below clinging to your tail feathers. But now that I am so high up in the world I can get along very well by myself, without your help. So you needn't put on any airs with me. For I want to tell you that—"

At this moment a sudden gust of wind swept by, and brushed the Spider, web and all, back again into the depths of the valley from which it had come.

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


A MONKEY, which had grown weak-sighted in old age, remembered having heard men say that this was not a serious misfortune, but only made it necessary to wear glasses. So the Monkey provided himself with half a dozen pairs of Spectacles, and after turning them this way and that, tried wearing them first on the top of his head, and then on the end of his tail, smelled of them and licked them, but all to no purpose. The Spectacles did not help him to see any better. "Good gracious," cried the Monkey, "what fools people are to listen to all the nonsense that they hear. All that I have been told about Spectacles is a pack of lies. They are not a particle of


use to me!" And hereupon the Monkey in his vexation flung the Spectacles down upon the ground so violently that they were broken to pieces.

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


A PAPER Kite, which some boys were flying until it soared above the clouds, called down from on high to a Butterfly far below in the valley.

"Really and truly, friend Butterfly, I hardly recognized you from way up here. Confess, now, that you envy me when you see how high I am flying!"

"Envy you? No, indeed!" replied the Butterfly, "you have no reason for feeling so proud of yourself! You fly high, to be sure. But you are always tied by a string. Such a life, my friend, is very far from a happy one. As for me, humble though I am, I still can fly where I choose. I should not want to spend all my life as the tool of some one else's foolish amusement!"

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


A LOVING mother bought a good, strong Comb, to keep her little boy's hair in order. The child was so pleased with his new present that he would not let it out of his hands. Whether playing games, or learning his alphabet, he was all the time drawing the Comb through his soft, thick, golden curls. And what a wonderful Comb is was! It not only did not pull out his hair, but glided through so smoothly and easily that it never even got caught in it. But at last, one day, this good, kind, wonderful Comb was lost. The boy had been playing and romping until he had got his hair into a regular tangle. But no sooner did the nurse start to comb it than the boy began to cry and scream, "Where is my own Comb?" and would not let any one touch his hair with any comb but his.

At last the Comb was found. But when they tried to draw it through his hair, it could not be moved either backward or forward; all it did was to pull his hair out by the roots, and bring tears of pain to his eyes.

"How wicked you are, you bad old Comb!" cried the boy. But the Comb replied:

"My dear boy, I am the same Comb that I always was; only your hair has become badly tangled." Whereupon our foolish young friend in his rage flung his Comb out of the window into the river.

So long as men have a clear conscience they love to hear the truth, as the little boy loved his Comb. It is only when our consciences become tangled that the truth begins to hurt.

(Krilov, Fables. Adapted from the translation by William R. S. Ralston.)


UPON the summit of a lofty rock,
An Eagle chanced to espy
A Worm; whom thus he 'gan in taunting tone to mock:
"Reptile! What raised thee thus high?
How haps it I so vile a creature see
Perched on the same eminence with me.
Here daring to abide?"
"By my own strength," the Worm replied.
"I hither made my way; and small in
My opinion, the difference of the mode
In which to the same point we took our road;
What you by soaring did, I did by crawling."

(Anonymous. Translated from the Russian for Fraser's Magazine.)