O NCE upon a time twelve men of Gotham went fishing in the stream that supplied the town pond, and sometimes they fished from the shore, and sometimes they waded out into the stream to get better positions from which to cast their lines. As they were coming back one of them said, "We have ventured much this day wading. I pray God that none of us that did come from home be drowned."
"Let us see about that," said a second man. "Twelve of us came out this morning. I will count and see if there be twelve going back."
So he counted, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven."
But he forgot to count himself. "I can make no more than eleven," said he. "Surely, one of us is drowned."
Then the other men counted, but each forgot to count himself and could find only eleven. "Alas!" said one to another, "there is no doubt about it. One of us is drowned."
They went back to the stream where they had been fishing and looked up and down for him that was drowned and made great lamentation. By and by a man of Nottingham came riding past. "What are you looking for there?" he asked, "and why are you so sorrowful?"
"Oh," said they, "this day we came to fish in this stream, and there were twelve of us, and one is drowned, for now there are but eleven of us."
"Count me how many of you there be," said the stranger.
One of the men of Gotham counted, and as he did not count himself he made eleven.
"Well," said the stranger, "what will you give me if I will find the twelfth man? "
"Sir," said they, "we will give you all the money we have."
"Give me the money," said the Nottingham man.
When the money was safe in his pocket he said, "Now pass in front of me; and he began with the first man and hit him a crack on the shoulders with his whip.
"There is one," said he.
The next one he cracked with his whip likewise. "There are two," said he; and so he served them all down to the last, whom he gave an extra hard blow and said, "Here is your twelfth man."
"God bless your heart!" said all the company; "you have found our neighbor."