★ The Hare And The Hedgehog Story :
This tale, my young readers, will seem to you to be quite false; but still it must be true, for my Grandfather, who used to tell it to me, would wind up by saying, “All this is true, my son, else it would never have been told to me.” The tale runs thus:–
It was a fine summer’s morning, just before harvest-time; the buckwheat was in flower, and the sun was shining brightly in the heaven above, a breeze was blowing over the fields, where the larks were singing; and along the paths the people were going to church dressed in their best. Every creature seemed contented, even the Hedgehog, who stood before his door singing as he best could a joyful song in praise of the fine morning. Indoors, meanwhile, his Wife was washing and drying the kitchen, before going into the fields for a walk to see how the crops were getting on.
She was such a long while, however, about her work that Mr. Hedgehog would wait no longer, and trotted off by himself. He had not walked any very long distance before he came to a small thicket, near a field of cabbages, and there he espied a Hare, who he guessed had come on a similar errand to himself; namely, to devour a few fine heads. As soon as Mr. Hedgehog saw the Hare, he wished him a good morning; but the latter, who was in his way a high-minded creature, turned a fierce and haughty look upon the Hedgehog, and made no reply to his greeting. He asked, instead, in a very majestic tone, how he came to be walking abroad at such an early hour. “I am taking a walk,” replied the Hedgehog.
“A walk!” repeated the Hare, in an ironical tone, “methinks you might employ your legs about something better!”
This answer vexed the Hedgehog most dreadfully, for he could have borne anything better than to be quizzed about his legs, because they were naturally short, and from no fault of his own. However, he said to the Hare, “Well, you need not be so proud, pray, what can you do with those legs of yours?” “That is my affair,” replied the Hare. “I expect, if you would venture a trial, that I should beat you in a race,” said the Hedgehog.
“You are laughing! you, with your short legs!” said the Hare contemptuously. “But still, since you have such a particular wish, I have no objection to try. What shall the wager be?”
“A louis d’or,” replied the Hedgehog.
“Done!” said the Hare, “and it may as well come off at once.”
“No! not in such great haste, if you please,” said the Hedgehog; “I am not quite ready yet; I must first go home and freshen up a bit. Within half-an-hour I will return to this place.”
Thereupon the Hedgehog hurried off, leaving the Hare very merry. On his way home the former thought to himself, “Mr. Hare is very haughty and high-minded, but withal he is very stupid, and although he thinks to beat me with his long legs, I will find a way to defeat him.” So, as soon as the Hedgehog reached home, he told his Wife to dress herself at once to go into the field with him.
“What is the matter?” asked his Wife.
“I have made a wager with the Hare, for a louis d’or, to run a race with him, and you must be witness.”
“My goodness, man! are you in your senses!” said the Wife, “do you know what you are about? How can you expect to run so fast as the Hare?”
“Hold your tongue, Wife; that is my affair. Don’t you reason about men’s business. March, and get ready to come with me.”
As soon, then, as the Hedgehog’s Wife was ready they set out together; and on the way he said, “Now attend to what I say. On the long field yonder we shall decide our bet. The Hare is to run on the one side of the hedge and I on the other, and so all you have to do is to stop at one end of the hedge, and then when the Hare arrives on the other side at the same point, you must call out, ‘I am here already.'”
They soon came to the field, and the Hedgehog stationed himself at one end of the hedge, and his Wife at the other end; and as soon as they had taken their places the Hare arrived. “Are you ready to start?” asked the Hare. “Yes,” answered the Hedgehog, and each took his place. “Off once, off twice, three times and off!” cried the Hare, and ran up the field like a whirlwind; while the Hedgehog took three steps and then returned to his place.
The Hare soon arrived at his goal, as he ran all the way at top speed, but before he could reach it, the Hedgehog’s Wife on the other side called out, “I am here already!” The Hare was thunderstruck to hear this said, for he thought it really was his opponent, since there was no difference in the voices of the Hedgehog and his Wife. “This will not do!” thought the Hare to himself; but presently he called out, “Once, twice, and off again;” and away he went as fast as possible, leaving the Hedgehog quietly sitting in her place. “I am here before you,” cried Mr. Hedgehog, as soon as the Hare approached. “What! again?” exclaimed the Hare in a rage; and added, “Will you dare another trial!” “Oh! as many as you like; do not be afraid on my account,” said Mr. Hedgehog, courteously.
So the Hare then ran backwards and forwards three-and-seventy times, but each time the Hedgehogs had the advantage of him, for either Mr. or Mrs. shouted before he could reach the goal, “Here I am already!”
The four-and-seventieth time the Hare was unable to run any more. In the middle of the course he stopped and dropped down quite exhausted, and there he lay motionless for some time. But the Hedgehog took the louis d’or which he had won, and went composedly home with his Wife.
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The Tongue-cut Sparrow