The Wolf, the Fox, and the Ass
The Lion, as king of the beasts, made a law that no beast should, without lawful cause, do any hurt to another; and should come once a year to court, to confess, and be absolved or punished, according to his deserts. Now it happened that the Wolf and the Fox were going thither together, and overtaking the Ass on the road, said to him:—"Brother, it is a long way to court, and it certainly must be much more tedious to you than to ourselves, because of your slow pace; but we can avoid the trouble of going thither, if you think fit. Let us three confess ourselves to one another, and send our absolutions to court, attested by two of us as witnesses."
The Ass liked the proposal; into a clover field they went, and the Fox thus confessed himself first:—"It happened, as I was going one night through a village, a Cock, by his loud crowing, disturbed all the people that were asleep; at which I grew very angry, and bit off his head; then, fearing that the stench of his dead body might be offensive to the Hens, I ate him up. Nevertheless, it happened, three days after, as I was going by the same village, those very Hens spied me; and, instead of thanking me for the great kindness I had done them, cried out, 'Murderer, murderer!' Then I, in defence of my honour, killed three of them; and, lest they should have stunk and offended the neighbourhood, ate them up too. This is all I have done; for which I now await your sentence."
The Wolf thereupon expressed himself thus:—"You have, indeed, offended against the letter of our monarch's law, but not against the meaning of it; since your intentions were honourable, to take care of the quiet of men, and to vindicate your injured reputation. If, therefore, you will promise never to be so hasty again in killing any beast, I vote for your absolution." This the Fox readily did; and the Ass joined in opinion with the Wolf, who then thus began his confession:—
"As I was one day walking along, I saw a Sow trampling down the corn of a poor peasant, and tearing it up by the roots, while her hungry Pigs were strayed far from her, and could not get themselves out of the mire; so that I, growing very angry at the great mischief she did the peasant, and at her neglect of motherly duty, killed and ate her up. Three days after, chancing to go again the same way, I observed that those Pigs were grown very lean; and reflecting that, through want of their mother's milk, they would certainly die a languishing death, I put an end to their miseries, and ate them up too. This I have to confess."
The Fox instantly argued in this manner:—"Though you confess to having killed both mother and children; and though it seems, at first sight, that you have heinously offended against the law of our king; yet I see, nevertheless, that your intentions were good: to prevent mischief from falling upon men, to stir up a mother to her duty, and to show compassion to her miserable children, are virtues that no law can forbid or punish. I, therefore, declare you absolved." To which the Ass agreed.
The Ass then made his confession:—"You both know," said he, "that it is not in my nature to do hurt to other beasts, nor to shed blood; and, therefore, you cannot expect to hear any such thing from me; but, to content you, I will relate to you what happened innocently to me, while I was in the service of a master. He was an old man, and apt to take cold in his feet; so that, when he travelled, to keep them dry and warm, he was wont to stick a little hay in his shoes. Now I carried him, one winter, to an inn, where he was to lie all night; and when we came to the door, the innkeeper brought him a pair of dry slippers, that his dirty shoes might not soil the house; so that he pulled them off, and left them without, and me by them. In short, my master and his host found themselves so well in the chimney-corner, that they never thought of poor me; but left me all night in the bitter cold, without giving me a handful of food: so that I ate up all the hay that stuck in his shoes. This is all I have to say;—if you will call it a confession, you may: however, I think nothing can be said against it."
"Oh!" said the Fox, immediately, "this is not, indeed, an offence against the letter of the law, which mentions only the doing hurt to beasts, and takes no notice of eating of hay; but, if we reflect on the dangerous consequences of this action, and that so reverend a creature as a chill, aged man, by being thus robbed of his hay in the winter, and the next day continuing his road without it, might have caught a cold, a cough, and a cholic, that would have brought his grey hairs to the grave:—whoever, I say, reflects on this, cannot but be of my opinion,—which is, that the Ass largely deserves to die. Cousin Wolf, what say you to this matter?" "I," said the Wolf, "am of opinion that by reason of the ill consequences that might have attended this action, the Ass deserves a double death, and to be made an example to others." With that he leaped upon him, and tore out his throat, and the Fox and he immediately ate him up.
Knaves can always find reasons for justifying their own conduct, and condemning that of others.