IT once happened that the king of the fishes got a sad wound in his nose through contact with a steel hook artfully covered by the body of a worm. His Majesty’s physicians being unable to heal the wound, the councilors of the kingdom were called together for the purpose of debating on the subject. They talked a great deal for a long time without any of them reaching a single conclusion, or even making a single proposal. until at last the turtle, who had been thinking while the others were talking, addressed the council:
“In my belief, there is only one cure for his Majesty’s lacerated nose: it is a poultice made from the eye of a living rabbit.”
Here the turtle was interrupted by a general clamor, the purport of which was, that before you could get the eye you must first catch the rabbit, and that there were no rabbits under the water.
“Quite true,” answered the turtle; “but I know of one who lives on land, in a field near the shore.” And as it would have been difficult for any one without legs to walk even a short distance on land, the turtle was asked whether he would not himself go up and interview the rabbit. To this he consented, and forthwith paddled to the surface.
Sure enough, he found the rabbit where he expected to find him, sitting in clover. At once the turtle spoke to him in flattering terms, praising the length of his ears, and so forth, finally inviting him to come down and visit him in the sea.249
The rabbit was much pleased at such civility, and felt a great inclination to see the royal palace, whose splendors the turtle described in eloquent language. But he recognized a serious objection, which he stated thus:
“I am very much obliged to you, but I don’t know how to swim; besides, I am not sure whether the air would agree with me down under the water.”
“Oh,” replied the insinuating hard-shell,” you need have no fears as to that. It is ever so much fresher and cooler down where we live than In this hot, stuffy field. All you have to do is to put your front paws on my back, and I will take you safely below without any exertion on your part.”
Accordingly, the deluded rabbit followed the instructions of the turtle, and soon found himself in the royal water-palace, where the council was awaiting his arrival. The rabbit was ushered to a seat of honor, surrounded by a guard, and then informed with what object he had been brought thither.
But though the rabbit had been deceived, he was as quick with his mind as with his legs, and promptly made up an excuse:
“I have,” said he, “two pairs of eyes — my own, and one of glass. The glass pair I always use for traveling, to save the others from the dust. I am wearing my glass eyes at present, and they would, of course, be no use to his Majesty. However, if the turtle will take me back he is welcome to one of the others, which I buried in the ground before coming away.”
This offer was greeted with unanimous assent, and the turtle was ordered to carry the rabbit ashore, the fishes apologizing to their obliging visitor for giving him so much 250 trouble. “Not at all! Don’t mention it!” said the polite bunny, as he once more climbed on the turtle’s back. And off they went.
The moment they touched the land, the rabbit hopped down, and said to the turtle, while he shook the water out of his ears:
“My friend, I will now leave you to dig for the other pair. The only eyes I ever had are at present in my head, and as I prefer to keep them, I wish you a very pleasant morning!”
Upon which the rabbit scampered away as fast as his four paws would carry him.