A Lion, who had always been a great hunter, was stricken in his old age with a fever and obliged to retreat into his lair. He had not even strength enough to stand on his legs, but slept all day with his great head resting on his front paws.
Now there was a Fox who had always lived near the Lion, and had followed the Lion when he went hunting in the wood. When the Lion had killed and eaten his fill of any game, the Fox always came up behind and devoured all that was left. Thus he lived for many years in this lazy fashion, and grew fat and strong. When he heard of the Lion's illness, he was greatly distressed.
"Shall I now, at this late stage of life, be obliged to kill my own meat?" he thought to himself. Then he lay down in his hole and set his wily brain to work.
Finally he arose and, putting on a very sad face, went to the Lion's lair and inquired for his health. The Lion replied mournfully that he thought he should soon die.
"But is there no cure for such a fever?" asked the Fox.
"None," replied the Lion, "unless I eat the heart and the ears of an Ass."
"Those, your Majesty, can be easily obtained, if you will but heed my advice," replied the Fox.
"Tell me, then, what trick you have devised," returned the Lion, "for I will gladly do anything to save my life."
So the Fox began:—
"Near here is a spring where every day a Bleacher comes to wash clothes, and an Ass, who is his beast of burden, grazes in the next field. Maybe I can make friends with the Ass. Then I will bring him near your den, and you can come out and kill him."
The next morning, when the Fox saw the Ass from afar, he trotted over to the spring and inquired, "Good Ass, why is it that you look so thin and worn?"
"Can you not see," replied the Ass, "that this Bleacher is constantly overworking me? He never grooms me, and never gives me enough to eat."
"That is a hard lot," the Fox made answer; "but have you not four good legs? Why do you not use them? A few moments would carry you safe beyond his reach."
"Alas," said the Ass, "I should only fall into the hands of another master, who might treat me even worse than this one. We poor asses are born to be beasts of burden, and there is no escape for us."
"But I," answered the Fox, softly, "can tell you of an escape. I know of a beautiful garden not far from here, filled with the finest clover, and where there are no men. I have just recently carried another Ass thither, and he is now sleek and happy."
The stupid Ass, never for a moment doubting that the Fox spoke the truth, besought him to take him to this garden. So, while the Bleacher was splashing his clothes in the spring, the Fox and the Ass set out together.
The Lion was lying in wait in his lair, and when the Ass came by, he sprang out and struck the poor beast a blow. But the Lion's paws were so weakened by the fever that the blow did nothing more than startle the Ass, who ran off across the field.
The Fox was at first very angry that his little game had thus failed, but he soon devised another trick. He trotted off swiftly and soon overtook the Ass.
"Traitor!" cried the Ass. "Is this the freedom which you promised me? Do you take me away from the hands of my master merely to hurl me into the jaws of a Lion?"
"Oh, foolish and weak-hearted Ass," replied the Fox. "You must know that this garden of which I told you is enchanted. You will meet there creatures in the shape of lions and wolves who will pretend to harm you, but who in reality can do nothing to hurt you. I should have warned you against these strange beasts, but it slipped my mind, I was so anxious to save you from your cruel master before it was too late. Only return now and be of good courage. You will soon see how needless your fears are."
The Fox trotted home in advance, and after a short hesitation, the Ass followed him. He soon found himself in a bed of clover, where he fed to his heart's content. In the meantime the Fox went to the Lion's den and whispered some words of cunning in his ear. After a while the Lion came forth. He walked quietly around the Ass, but did not once seek to do him harm. At last the Ass began to talk to him, and the Lion replied gently. They were soon such friends that the Ass, after he had finished eating, lay down by the Lion's side and went to sleep. The Fox now gave the signal, and the Lion fell upon the Ass and slew him.
"There is but one thing more necessary," said the Lion, "to make my cure complete. I must go and bathe in the spring before eating. Do you therefore watch over the Ass until I return."
With these words the Lion crawled away, and the Fox seized this chance to devour the heart and the ears of the Ass, which were in truth the only parts of him worth eating.
The Lion, after finishing his bath, returned and began to hunt for the heart and the ears of the Ass, When he could find no trace of either, he said to the Fox:—
"Faithless creature, where are the two parts of the Ass which were to cure my fever?"
And the Fox replied, "Oh, most worthy King, you should yourself know that this beast had neither heart nor ears. If he had had ears, which are the seat of the hearing, he would have known that I spoke falsehoods; and if he had had a heart, which is the seat of the feelings, he would have been overcome with fear at the very sight of you." And with these last words of treachery, the Fox escaped into the woods.