An Elephant was once appointed ruler of a forest. Now it is well known that the race of elephants is endowed with great intelligence; but every family has its unworthy scion. Our Governor was as stout as the rest of his race are, but as foolish as the rest of his race are not. As to his character, he would not intentionally hurt a fly. Well, the worthy Governor becomes aware of a petition laid before him by the Sheep, stating that their skins are entirely torn off their backs by the Wolves.
“Oh, rogues!” cries the Elephant, “what a crime! Who gave you leave to plunder?”
But the Wolves say:
“Allow us to explain, O father. Did not you give us leave to take from the Sheep a trifling contribution for our pelisses in winter? It is only because they are stupid sheep that they cry out. They have only a single fleece taken from each of them, but they grumble about giving even that!”
“Well, well,” says the Elephant, “take care what you do. I will not permit any one to commit injustice. As it must be so, take a fleece from each of them. But do not take from them a single hair besides.”
The tricksy Monkey, the Goat, the Ass, and bandy-legged Mishka the Bear, determine to play a quartette. They provide themselves with the necessary pieces of music—with two fiddles, and with an alto and a counter-bass. Then they sit down on a meadow under a lime-tree, prepared to enchant the world by their skill. They work away at their fiddlesticks with a will; and they make a noise, but there is no music in it.
“Stop, brothers, stop!” cries the Monkey, “wait a little! How can we get our music right? It’s plain, you mustn’t sit as you are. You, Mishka, with your counter-bass, face the alto. I will sit opposite the second fiddle. Then a different sort of music will begin: we shall set the very hills and forests dancing.”
So they change places, and recommence; but the music is just as discordant as before.
“Stop a little,” exclaims the Ass; “I have found out the secret. We shall be sure to play in tune if we sit in a row.”
They follow its advice, and form in an orderly line. But the quartette is as unmusical as ever. Louder than before there arose among them squabbling and wrangling as to how they ought to be seated. It happened that a Nightingale came flying that way, attracted by their noise. At once they all entreated it to solve their difficulty.
“Be so kind,” they say, “as to bear with us a little, in order that our quartette may come off properly. Music we have; instruments we have: tell us only how we ought to place ourselves.”
But the Nightingale replies,
“To be a musician, one must have a quicker intelligence and a finer ear than you possess. You, my friends, may place yourselves just as you like, but you will never become musicians.”