Gateway to the Classics: The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by Clifton Johnson
The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by  Clifton Johnson

The Wise Men of Gotham

J OHN BLACK and Thomas Brown were two men of Gotham. They were neighbors, but they were not good friends. One day when Thomas was returning home from Nottingham market he met John on Nottingham bridge and called out roughly, "Where are you going, man?"

"That's none of your business," replied John, "but I don't mind telling you that I am going to Nottingham to buy sheep."

"Buy sheep!" said Thomas, "and which way will you bring them home?"

"Oh," responded John, "I will bring them over this bridge."

"No you won't," said Thomas. "I'm going to stay right here and stop them."

"You'd better not try any tricks of that sort!" exclaimed John, "or it will be the worse for you."

"I'm not afraid of your threats!" shouted Thomas, "and I say again, I'll never let you drive your sheep across this bridge."

"You will!" yelled John.

"I won't!" declared the other.


Each man carried a stout cane, and as they talked they swung their canes in the air and thumped with them on the ground.

"If you act like that," said John, "you will make my sheep jump over the side of the bridge into the water and they will drown."

"Let them drown," said Thomas. "I don't care. You can take them home some other way."

"No, I shall not!" said John, "I shall bring them across this bridge."

"You will get a rap on your head with my cane if you do," said Thomas.

While they were quarrelling another man of Gotham came from the market leading a horse with a bag of meal on its back. He stopped on the bridge and listened to learn what the trouble was between his two neighbors. "How is this?" said he,—"you are ready to come to blows over some sheep; but I see not a single sheep for you to fight about."

"No," explained the other two, "they are not bought yet."

"Ah, foolish men!" said the newcomer. "Where is your common-sense? Here, lift this bag of meal from the horse to my shoulders and I will show you what I think of you."

They did as he suggested, and then he went to the side of the bridge, untied the mouth of the bag and shook all his meal out into the river. "Now, neighbors," said he, "how much meal is there in my bag?"

"Why, surely," replied they, "there is none at all."

"Quite right!" said he, "and just as much wit is there in your two heads to stir up a strife about a thing you have not."

So the three men went their ways, and which was the wisest of these three persons, do you think?

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