by Joseph Dillon Ford

Once upon a time there was a sheep farmer who, though by no means extremely rich, managed his affairs sufficiently well to leave his son a modest inheritance. The farmer's son, however, who had been little more than a burden on his father while the old man was still alive, was hardly satisfied with the new wealth he received. He could think only about how he might double or triple his riches with little more effort on his own part.

The frugal old farmer used to take his fleecy white sheep to market in a large cart drawn by an ass. At the end of the day's journey, he rewarded the ass with a bunch of carrots, for which small recompense the faithful animal was both grateful and content. The farmer's stingy son, on the other hand, could not tolerate such generosity:

"What a fool my father was for wasting his carrots on such a useless beast! Surely an ox could draw the cart just as well, and would keep my grass well-trimmed in the bargain."

So saying, the farmer's son unhitched the ass, whacked it squarely on the rump with a long stick, and with a scornful "good riddance" sent the poor creature galloping away and braying all the while in a most pitiable manner. Later that very day, he bought a sturdy ox, and the next morning, he hitched it to the cart and proudly drove his sheep to market, although he did arrive a little later than usual.

The farmer's son continued to conduct his business in this way for some time, but by and by he had second thoughts about the ox:

"What a useless creature this is!" he exclaimed. "When it is not taking me to market it does nothing more than gorge itself on the green grass in my pasture and bellow interminably. Certainly a cow could draw the cart just as well and would give me cream in the bargain."

Straightaway he sold his ox and purchased a robust bovine with big brown spots. When it was time once more to go to market, the farmer's son hitched her to the cart laden with fleecy white sheep and cracked his whip. Not accustomed to being a beast of burden, and still heavy with milk, the obliging cow yet managed to reach the village by afternoon. Though the hour was late, the farmer's son sold his sheep, turned the usual profit, and reached home by sunset.

He continued for some time to pursue his affairs in this manner, and because he was especially fond of cream, the farmer's son grew plumper than ever he had been before. By and by, however, he grew weary of riding to town, and began to have second thoughts about the cow:

"What a useless creature is this sluggish cud-chewing pie-dropper! Why, I could build a boat, take even more sheep to market than I do now, and get there faster than ever before on the river. And with the extra profits I would make, I could buy the finest cheese and the sweetest wine in all the land.

And so he sold the cow, bought a box of fourpenny nails and odd bits of lumber, and hastily proceeded to transform his cart into a sort of river barge (although he really knew very little about boat-building).

The next week, he loaded his curious flat-bottomed craft with a dozen fleecy white sheep and set sail for the village, beaming with the magnificence of his accomplishment. As the swift current carried him along, he completely ignored the lovely scenery of the countryside and could only imagine the banquet which lay in store for him once he had concluded his business in town. But just when he saw the spires of the old cathedral rise above the treetops and could almost taste the success he believed was at hand, a storm suddenly blew in from the sea. Rains pelted the farmer's son from above, waves rocked the clumsily made boat to-and-fro, fierce winds tore the sails, and lightning struck the mast. In an instant the overburdened vessel broke apart and the sheep were thrown into the turbulent river waters. Some drowned immediately, but most managed to make their way to shore and fled into the forest.

Shortly thereafter the farmer's son, who had learned nothing from his misfortune, lost not only his farm but also, many would say, his wits. Today he wanders as a beggar through the village marketplace, sometimes braying unaccountably like an ass, and ever eager for the occasional carrot he receives from a sympathetic greengrocer.

The moral of the story: A wise man is content to have only what he needs, but a foolish man will not recognize simple good fortune till through his own folly he has lost it.

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Last updated September 19, 2001
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© Copyright 2001 by Joseph Dillon Ford