"That's well," said the snake. "I have been trying to get out for two days, and, oh, how hungry I am. I must have something to eat, and there is nobody around, so I must eat you."
"But that wouldn't be fair," said the man with a trembling voice. "But for me you would never have come out from under the stone."
"I do not care for that," said the snake. "Self-preservation is the first law of life; you ask anybody if that isn't so."
"Any one will tell you," said the man, "that gratitude is a person's first duty, and surely you owe me thanks for saving your life."
"But you haven't saved my life if I am to die of hunger," said the snake.
"Oh yes, I have," said the man; "all you have to do is to wait till you find something to eat."
"Meanwhile I shall die, and what's the use of being saved!"
So they disputed and they disputed whether the case was to be decided by the claims of gratitude or the rights of self-preservation, till they did not know what to do.
"I tell you what I'll do," said the snake, "I'll let the first passer-by decide which is right."
"But I can't let my life depend upon the word of the first comer."
"Well, we'll ask the first two that pass by."
"Perhaps they won't agree," said the man; "what are we to do then? We shall be as badly off as we are now."
"Ah, well," said the snake, "let it be the first three. In all law courts it takes three judges to make a session. We'll follow the majority of votes."
So they waited till at last there came along an old, old horse. And they put the case to him, whether gratitude should ward off death.
"I don't see why it should," said the horse. "Here have I been slaving for my master for the last fifteen years, till I am thoroughly worn out, and only this morning I heard him say, 'Roger' — that's my name — 'is no use to me any longer; I shall have to send him to the knacker's and get a few pence for his hide and his hoofs.' There's gratitude for you."
So the horse's vote was in favour of the snake. And they waited till at last an old hound passed by limping on three legs, half blind with scarcely any teeth. So they put the case to him.
"Look at me," said he; "I have slaved for my master for ten years, and this very day he has kicked me out of his house because I am no use to him any longer, and he grudged me a few bones to eat. So far as I can see nobody acts from gratitude."
"Well," said the snake, "there's two votes for me. What's the use of waiting for the third? He's sure to decide in my favour, and if he doesn't it's two to one. Come here, and I'll eat you!"
"No, no," said the man, "a bargain's a bargain; perhaps the third judge will be able to convince the other two, and my life will be saved."
So they waited and they waited, till at last a fox came trotting along, and they stopped him and explained to him both sides of the case. He sat up and scratched his left ear with his hind paw, and after a while he beckons the man to come near him. And when he did so the fox whispered, "What will you give me if I get you out of this?"
The man whispered back, "A pair of fat chickens."
"Well," said the fox, "if I am to decide this case I must clearly understand the situation. Let me see! If I comprehend aright, the man was lying under the stone and the snake — — "
"No, no," cried out the horse and the hound and the snake. "It was the other way."
"Ah, ha, I see! The stone was rolling down and the man sat on it, and then — — "
"Oh, how stupid you are," they all cried; "it wasn't that way at all."
"Dear me, you are quite right. I am very stupid, but, really, you haven't explained the case quite clearly to me."
"I'll show you," said the snake, impatient from his long hunger, and he twisted himself again under the stone and wriggled his tail till at last the stone settled down upon him and he couldn't move out. "That's the way it was."
"And that's the way it will be," said the fox and, taking the man's arm, he walked off, followed by the horse and the hound. "And now for my chickens."
"I'll go and get them for you," said the man, and went up to his house, which was near, and told his wife all about it.
"But," she said, "why waste a pair of chickens on a foxy old fox! I know what I'll do."
So she went into the back yard and unloosed the dog and put it into a meal-bag and gave it to the man, who took it down and gave it to the fox, who trotted off with it to his den.
But when he opened the bag out sprung the dog and gobbled him all up.
There's gratitude for you.
Next: Johnnie and Grizzle