A Camel Driver, crossing the plains, stopped to rest where a caravan had halted and built a fire the night before; in the morning they had moved on before it had died out. As the night wind arose, it fanned the sparks and soon set all the brush-wood around on fire. In the midst of the brush-wood lay coiled an Adder, fast asleep. The flames, however, soon awoke him, but not until he was completely encircled by the fire. He was about to despair of his life, when he saw the Camel Driver and called upon him for aid. At first the Camel Driver hesitated, for he remembered the poisonous sting of the Adder. Still, he could not bear to see any living creature suffer, so he promised to help the Adder. He had a bag beneath his saddle. This he now drew forth and tied to the end of his spear. He then reached it over into the midst of the burning brush; the Adder crawled inside, and the Camel Driver drew him safely out of the fire.
"Now go your way," said the Camel Driver, loosening the neck of the bag so that the Adder could glide out. "Only remember the kindness which I have shown to you, and do you hereafter be kind to men in your turn."
"I confess," replied the Adder, slipping out on the ground, "that you have been kind to me, and yet I shall not go away until I have stung both you and your camel. I only leave it to you to decide whether I shall sting you first or the camel."
"What a monster of ingratitude you are!" cried the Camel Driver. "Is it right to return evil for good?"
"Such is the custom of men," said the Adder.
"You are not only ungrateful, but untruthful as well," the Camel Driver made reply. "It would be hard indeed for you to prove these words of yours. There is no other creature in the world, I venture to say, who will agree with you. If you can find out one other, I will allow you to sting me."
"Very well," responded the Adder; "let us put the question to yonder Cow."
The Cow stopped chewing her cud. "If you mean what is man's custom," she began, in answer to their question, "I must answer to my sorrow that he is wont to repay evil for good. For many years I have been the faithful servant of a farmer. Every day I have supplied him with milk to drink and rich cream for his butter. Now I am old and no longer able to serve him. So he has put me out in this pasture that I may grow fat, and only yesterday he brought the butcher to see me. To-morrow I am to be sold for beef. Surely this is repaying my kindness with evil."
"You see," said the Adder to the Camel Driver, "that what I said is true. Get ready for me to sting you. Shall it be you or the camel first?"
"Hold," replied the Camel Driver. "In court a decree is not passed without the testimony of two witnesses. Bring another witness, and if he agrees with the Cow, you may do with me as you please."
The Adder looked about him and saw that they were standing beneath a huge palm-tree. "Let us put the question to the tree," he said.
When the Palm had heard their question, he shook his great branches sadly. "Experience has taught me," he moaned, "that for every favor you do to men, you must expect some injury in return. I stand here in the desert, doing harm to none and good to many. Every traveler who comes by can rest beneath my shade. I bear dates for his refreshment, and gladly give my sap to quench his thirst. Yet when the traveler has eaten and slept beneath my shade, he looks up into my branches and says to himself: 'That branch would make me a good cane, or handle for my axe,' or 'What splendid wood there is in this tree! I must cut off a limb to make some new doors for my house.' And I must consent to this without a murmur. Thus is my kindness returned by men."
"The two witnesses have now testified," spoke the Adder, "and agree. Which shall I bite first, you or the camel?"
But just at that moment a Fox ran by, and the Camel Driver pleaded that they might hear one more testimony. The Adder was so pleased with what the Cow and the Tree had said, that he readily agreed to listen to the Fox.
When the Camel Driver had finished telling the whole tale to the Fox, the Fox laughed out loud. "You seem to be a clever fellow," he replied to the Camel Driver. "Why do you tell me such a falsehood?"
"Indeed, he is telling you nothing but the truth," the Adder hastened to assure the Fox.
Again the Fox laughed outright. "Do you mean to tell me," he asked scornfully, "that such a large Adder as you could possibly get into such a small bag?"
"If you do not believe it, I will crawl in again and show you," answered the Adder.
"Well," responded the Fox, thoughtfully, "if I see you in there with my own eyes, then I will consent to give my answer to your question."
The Camel Driver straightway held the bag open, and the Adder crept in and coiled up in the bottom.
"Be quick now," cried the Fox, "and draw the string. Any creature so lacking in gratitude as this Adder deserves nothing but death."