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The Wayward Donkey by W. H. Beard

 

There was once a little donkey who gave his poor mother no end of trouble, he was so stubborn, unreasonable, exacting, and dreadfully saucy. Why, when angry, he didn't hesitate at all to call his mother an old donkey, right out. One day, when crossed in some particularly absurd desire, he declared he would run away. Immediately putting his threat into execution, off he trotted, heedless of his poor fond mother's entreaties. Away he went, sustained at first by his temper and pride.

But as the day wore on, he became weary, faint, and hungry. The matter of food and shelter became a question of serious alarm, and how to obtain them was a problem too great for his little donkey brain to solve. He now remembered that he had never had to trouble himself with all this before, all the needs and comforts of life having been provided for him without thought or care on his part.

The land over which he was travelling was quite poor, and only afforded a few little stunted thistles, which seemed to consist more of prickers than anything else, which pierced his tender little nose, and made it bleed. He saw plenty of oats and other grains, as well as nice vegetables, growing in fields, but so well guarded by high fences that he could not hope to get at them. Many times, when hunger and fatigue had subdued his pride, would he have returned home; but he had wandered so far that he had not the least idea which way he had come. To add to his distress, he saw the sun was fast declining. Already he felt the chills of evening. But there was no use bemoaning his fate, and he must make the best of it.

At length, too weary to travel farther, he was forced to lie down to rest, and selected for the purpose an unfenced overgrown piece of ground of considerable extent. Here, as he lay among the weeds, nothing was visible of him above their tops but his two ears, which might easily have been taken for two stakes, or the roots of an upturned stump. As he lay shivering in the damp grass, he felt anything but comfortable. The sun went down, the moon arose and shed a cold light over the face of nature, which made him feel lonely indeed.

Suddenly there appeared above the grass several other pairs of ears, bobbing about, quite like his own. The sight thrilled him with something akin to pleasure, for he asked himself, "To whom can such ears belong but to little donkeys? and if young donkeys are around, they must have mothers, or a mother, near by, who, no doubt, would be very glad to adopt such a fine specimen of the race as I." The reader has already seen that he was a conceited little donkey.

So saying, he arose quickly to his feet; the others stood up also, though not as he did on their four feet, but on their hind-legs—that is to say, they stood up on their haunches—and looked at him in blank amazement; but as he approached them they bounded away so fast that it was useless to try to overtake them. When he stood still, they also stopped, and again stood upon their haunches, and peered at him over the tops of the weeds. Master Donkey did not try again to go to them, but expostulated with them upon their ill-breeding and unkind behavior, called them cousins, told them he was tired and hungry, and asked for food and shelter. This touched their tender little hearts, and they cautiously drew near, and made the acquaintance of their supposed cousin.

On a close scrutiny, however, they doubted his claim to relationship, and flatly told him so. But they good-naturedly said if he was hungry, it was no more than common humanity to first relieve his wants, and discuss the question afterward. Even murderous man would do as much as that, so they brought him carrots and other vegetables in abundance from a farm garden near by, from which they were accustomed to supply their own wants.

When his appetite was satisfied, his humility, such as it was, oozed out, and he became as arrogant as ever, and stoutly claimed that he was their big cousin, though, he said, he was not particularly anxious to be acknowledged by such a pack of little dwarfish thieving creatures as they were, who would steal through the farmer's fence to purloin vegetables for a cousin whom they impudently refused to recognize.

Their spokesman retorted, and said they claimed a right to a share, sufficient for their needs, of whatever grew upon the earth. To be sure, they were obliged to obtain it stealthily at night, as man claimed it all for himself, and it would be almost certain death to be found by him within his inclosure. Indeed, many of their unfortunate fellows had already suffered death for the exercise of this natural right. If, however, he regarded their act as a crime, he was himself a criminal, inasmuch as he had accepted the fruits, and profited by the act, knowing how the food had been obtained. To this the donkey could make no answer; at least he did not think it prudent to try, as night was still before him, and the question of shelter still unsolved.

Good-nature was soon restored, and the discussion renewed. The rabbits could see many points of difference, but two only of resemblance. It certainly could not be denied that the ears were remarkably like, and the complexion was very nearly the same; but the hard feet were so widely different from their own soft paws! And the tail, too, long and dangling like a cow's—what a tail for a rabbit! Then, again, they had observed that he stood while eating, whereas a true rabbit always crouched comfortably near the ground while taking his food. In the matter of voice, too, they flattered themselves there was a wide difference. However, all this might be changed or improved by judicious training, except the feet. The hoofs they despaired of. The tail they proposed to nibble off at a proper length from the body. This operation the donkey positively refused to submit to, but finally consented to hold his tail up over his back as much like a rabbit as possible, and, moreover, would at once set about his lessons to learn their ways, so that he might the sooner adapt himself to their habits, and become one of them.

Accordingly, one of the cleverest of their number was charged with his instruction, and immediately began with the important art of sitting on the haunches with his tail curled up upon his back. In this, though he strained every nerve to perform it, he made an ignominious failure. He could only maintain the position for a moment, and then pitch forward or fall backward, seeming to rock over on his curved tail, and cutting such a ridiculous figure that it made all the rabbits laugh. This made him very angry, and he began to use his heels in a most vigorous and unrabbitlike manner. All ran for their lives, but not all escaped unhurt. The "spraggly" forms of two or three of those nearest to him showed dark against the moon-lit sky before they limped off, and, joining their fellows, gathered in a little knot at a distance from their fractious pupil, and discussed his merits with great freedom. They voted him an ill-natured brute, a stupid dolt—in short, a perfect donkey. Scarcely had they arrived at this unanimous conclusion, when—pop! pop! bang! bang!—four loud reports, and four little rabbits lay in the agonies of death.

The farmer and his son, seeing by the moonlight strange movements in the field, had stolen upon them, in the unguarded moment of their excitement, with their double-barrelled guns, and, as the boy expressed it, bagged four rabbits and a donkey; for poor little donkey stood paralyzed with fear. He had never looked upon death before, and was an easy captive. Without troubling himself to inquire who the rightful owner was, the farmer took him for his own, housed him that night in a stall by himself, where he passed almost the entire night, notwithstanding the fatigues of the day, in such reflections as he was capable of; and though he grew up to be a great donkey, to be sure, the lessons of that day were never forgotten by him.

THE WAYWARD DONKEY AND HIS FRIENDS.—From Drawings by W. H. Beard.

THE WAYWARD DONKEY AND HIS FRIENDS.—From Drawings by W. H. Beard.