The Lion having been shot by a passing hunter, the other beasts held a council to decide which of them should succeed him as King. All were agreed that the new king should be the one best fitted to rule, as excelling in the highest and most noble qualities of a ruler. But there was a trifle of difficulty in agreeing which quality best befitted a monarch.
‘Courage is the noblest quality of all,’ said the Shrew, ‘for it was the hallmark of our late King. And as all the world knows I fear nothing, I should therefore be King in his place.’
‘Courage is vain without strength,’ said the Bull. ‘As I am the strongest of us gathered here, it is quite plain to me that I should be King.’
‘Strength is no better than weakness if it comes to bear too late,’ said the Horse. ‘My swiftness is what you really want in a King.’
‘What are strength and speed without vision to guide them?’ said the Eagle. ‘My eyes are keener than any of yours, and therefore I should be King.’
‘What a King needs most,’ said the Ape, ‘is a sound grasp of things. Not one of you has an appendage to compete with my hands.’
‘All these things are useless,’ said the Owl, ‘without wisdom to direct them. And as I am well known to be wisest—’
But before he was done speaking, all the beasts set to quarrelling with a will, each proclaiming his pre-eminence at the top of his voice. It was some time before the Bull (who was loudest) called them to order, reminding them that not all their claims had been heard. The Sheep and the Fox were yet to speak.
The Sheep, of course, had the admirable point of view that it was peace that the beasts needed most, and as he was the most peaceable of all creatures, they could do worse than profit by his royal example. But while he was waiting meekly for the noise to subside, the Fox stole up from behind and killed him and ate him, and was just finishing his meal when the others called his name.
‘What of you, cousin Fox?’ they said. ‘Surely you have some reason to offer why you should be King.’
‘I, cousins?’ said the Fox, licking his chops. ‘I have no claim to make. I am quite content that you should settle the precedence among yourselves.’
4 January 2010