Editor’s note: This fable by James Anthony Froude is extracted from Gems From Froude (published 1872).
A farmer, whose poultry-yard had suffered severely from the foxes, succeeded at last in catching one in a trap. “Ah, you rascal!” said he, as he saw him struggling, “I’ll teach you to steal my fat geese! — you shall hang on the tree yonder, and your brothers shall see what comes of thieving!” The Farmer was twisting a halter to do what he threatened, when the Fox, whose tongue had helped him in hard pinches before, thought there could be no harm in trying whether it might not do him one more good turn.
“You will hang me,” he said, “to frighten my brother foxes. On the word of a fox they won’t care a rabbit-skin for it; they’ll come and look at me; but you may depend upon it, they will dine at your expense before they go home again!”
“Then I shall hang you for yourself, as a rogue and a rascal,” said the Farmer.
“I am only what Nature, or whatever you call the thing, chose to make me,” the Fox answered. “I didn’t make myself.”
“You stole my geese,” said the man.
“Why did Nature make me like geese, then?” said the Fox. “Live and let live; give me my share, and I won’t touch yours: but you keep them all to yourself.”
“I don’t understand your fine talk,” answered the Farmer; “but I know that you are a thief, and that you deserve to be hanged.”
His head is too thick to let me catch him so, thought the Fox; I wonder if his heart is any softer! “You are taking away the life of a fellow-creature,” he said; “that’s a responsibility — it is a curious thing, that life, and who knows what comes after it? You say I am a rogue — I say I am not; but at any rate I ought not to be hanged — for if I am not, I don’t deserve it; and if I am, you should give me time to repent!” I have him now, thought the Fox; let him get out of it if he can.
“Why, what would you have me do with you?” said the man.
“My notion is that you should let me go, and give me a lamb, or goose or two, every month, and then I could live without stealing; but perhaps you know better than me, and I am a rogue; my education may have been neglected; you should shut me up, and take care of me, and teach me. Who knows but in the end I may turn into a dog?”
“Very pretty,” said the Farmer; “we have dogs enough, and more, too, than we can take care of, without you. No, no, Master Fox, I have caught you, and you shall swing, whatever is the logic of it. There will be one rogue less in the world, anyhow.”
“It is mere hate and unchristian vengeance,” said the Fox.
“No, friend,” the Farmer answered; “I don’t hate you, and I don’t want to revenge myself on you; but you and I can’t get on together, and I think I am of more importance than you. If nettles and thistles grow in my cabbage-garden, I don’t try to persuade them to grow into cabbages. I just dig them up. I don’t hate them; but I feel somehow that they mustn’t hinder me with my cabbages, and that I must put them away; and so, my poor friend, I am sorry for you, but I am afraid you must swing!”