CHAPTER I. The Overture—After which the Curtain rises upon a Drinking Chorus
A crow, who had flown away with a cheese from a dairy-window, sate perched on a tree looking down at a great big frog in a pool underneath him. The frog's hideous large eyes were goggling out of his head in a manner which appeared quite ridiculous to the old blackamoor, who watched the splay-footed slimy wretch with that peculiar grim humour belonging to crows. Not far from the frog a fat ox was browsing; whilst a few lambs frisked about the meadow, or nibbled the grass and buttercups there.
Who should come in to the farther end of the field but a wolf? He was so cunningly dressed up in sheep's clothing, that the very lambs did not know Master Wolf; nay, one of them, whose dam the wolf had just eaten, after which he had thrown her skin over his shoulders, ran up innocently towards the devouring monster, mistaking him for her mamma.
"He, he!" says a fox, sneaking round the hedge-paling, over which the tree grew, whereupon the crow was perched looking down on the frog, who was staring with his goggle eyes fit to burst with envy, and croaking abuse at the ox. "How absurd those lambs are! Yonder silly little knock-kneed baah-ling does not know the old wolf dressed in the sheep's fleece. He is the same old rogue who gobbled up little Red Riding Hood's grandmother for lunch, and swallowed little Red Riding Hood for supper. Tirez la bobinette et la chevillette cherra. He, he!"
An owl that was hidden in the hollow of the tree woke up. "Oho, Master Fox," says she, "I cannot see you, but I smell you! If some folks like lambs, other folks like geese," says the owl.
"And your ladyship is fond of mice," says the fox.
"The Chinese eat them," says the owl, "and I have read that they are very fond of dogs," continued the old lady.
"I wish they would exterminate every cur of them off the face of the earth," said the fox.
"And I have also read, in works of travel, that the French eat frogs," continued the owl. "Aha, my friend Crapaud! are you there? That was a very pretty concert we sang together last night!"
"If the French devour my brethren, the English eat beef," croaked out the frog,—"great, big, brutal, bellowing oxen."
"Ho, whoo!" says the owl, "I have heard that the English are toad-eaters too!"
"But who ever heard of them eating an owl or a fox, madam?" says Reynard, "or their sitting down and taking a crow to pick?" adds the polite rogue, with a bow to the old crow who was perched above them with the cheese in his mouth. "We are privileged animals, all of us; at least, we never furnish dishes for the odious orgies of man."
"I am the bird of wisdom," says the owl; "I was the companion of Pallas Minerva: I am frequently represented in the Egyptian monuments."
"I have seen you over the British barn-doors," said the fox, with a grin. "You have a deal of scholarship, Mrs. Owl. I know a thing or two myself; but am, I confess it, no scholar—a mere man of the world—a fellow that lives by his wits—a mere country gentleman."
"You sneer at scholarship," continues the owl, with a sneer on her venerable face....