Somewhere, sometime, there was a beautiful meadow that was the home of many wild animals. They would have lived very happily there had it not been for one mischief-loving lion. Every day this lion wandered about, killing many helpless creatures for the mere sport of the slaying.
To put an end to this, the animals gathered in a body, and going to the lion, spoke to him like this:
“Mister Lion, we are proud to have such a brave and valiant beast to rule over us. But we don’t think that it is fitting for one of your rank to hunt for his own food. We therefore wait on you with this request: Stay quietly at home from now on, and we your subjects will bring to your lair such food as it is fitting a king.”
The lion, who was greatly flattered, at once accepted their offer. Thus every day the animals drew lots to decide who among their number should offer himself for the lion’s daily portion. In due time it came about that the lot fell on the hare. Now the hare, when he learned that it was his turn to die, complained bitterly.
“Don’t you see that we are still tormented by that lion?” he asked the other animals. “Only leave it to me, and I will release you for all time from his tyranny. ”
The other animals were only too glad at these words, and told the hare to go his way. The hare hid for some time in the bushes, and then hurried to the lion’s lair.
By this time the lion was as angry as he was hungry. He was snarling, and lashing his yellow tail on the ground. When he saw the hare, he called out loudly:
“Who are you, and what are my subjects doing? I have had no morsel of food today!”
The hare besought him to calm his anger and listen to him.
“The lot fell today,” he began, “on another hare and myself. In good season we were on our way here to offer ourselves for your dinner, when a lion sprang out of the bushes and seized my companion. In vain I cried to him that we were destined for the king’s table, and, moreover, that no one was permitted to hunt in these royal woods except your Majesty. He paid no heed to my words save to retort,-‘You don’t know what you are saying. I’m the only king here. That other lion, to whom you all bow down, is a usurper.’ Dumb with fright, I jumped into the nearest bush.”
The lion grew more and more indignant as he listened to the hare’s tale.
“If I could once find that lion,” he roared, “I would soon teach him who is king of these woods.”
“If your Majesty will trust me,” answered the hare, humbly, “I can take you to his hiding-place.”
So the hare and the lion went out together. They crossed the woods and the meadow, and came to an ancient well, which was full of clear, deep water.
“Over there is the home of your enemy,” whispered the hare, pointing to the well. “If you go near enough, you can see him. But,” he added, “perhaps you had better wait till he comes out before you attack him.”
These words only made the lion more indignant. “He shall not live a moment after I have laid eyes on him,” he growled.
So the hare and the lion approached stealthily to the well. As they bent over the edge and looked down into the clear water, they saw themselves reflected there. The lion, thinking that it was the other lion with the other hare, leaped into the well, never to come out again.