English > ESL Library Index

Online ESL Literature Library
Great literature free and accessible for everyone.




By W. S. Karajich

A CERTAIN man had a shepherd who had served him faithfully and honestly
for many years. One day, as the Shepherd was tending his sheep, he
heard a hissing noise in the forest, and wondered what it could he. He
went, therefore, into the wood in the direction of the sound, to learn
what it was. There he saw that the dry grass and leaves had caught
fire, and in the middle of a burning circle a Snake was hissing. The
Shepherd stopped to see what the Snake would do, for the fire was
burning all around it, and the flames approached it nearer and nearer
every moment. Then the Snake cried from amid the fire-

"Oh, Shepherd! for heaven's sake save me from this fire!"

The Shepherd stretched out his crook over the flames to the Snake, and
the Snake passed along it on to his hand, and from his hand it crawled
to his neck, where it twisted itself round.

When the Shepherd perceived this, he was greatly alarmed, and said to
the Snake-

"What have I done in an evil hour? Have I saved you to my own

The Snake answered him, "Fear not, but carry me to my father's house.
My father is the King of the snakes."

The Shepherd, however, began to beg the Snake to excuse him, saying
that he could not leave the sheep; but the Snake answered-

"Be not troubled about the sheep; no harm shall happen to them; only go
as fast as you can."

The Shepherd then walked through the forest with the Snake until he
came to a gate which was entirely made of snakes knotted together.
There the Snake on the Shepherd's neck gave a whistle, and all the
other snakes untwisted themselves. Then the Snake said to the

"When we come to my father's palace he will give you whatever you ask
for: silver, gold, and precious stones. Do you, however, take nothing
of these, but beg to know the language of the brutes and other
creatures. He will refuse you this for a long time, but at last he
will grant your request."

Meanwhile they came to the palace, to the father, who, shedding many
tears, cried-

"For heaven's sake! my dearest daughter, where have you been?"

And she told him in due order how she had been surrounded by the forest
fire, and how the Shepherd had rescued her. Then the King of the
snakes turned to the Shepherd and said to him-

"What would you have me give you for the deliverance of my daughter?"

The Shepherd answered, "Only let me understand the language of animals;
I want nothing else."

Then the King said, "That is not good for you; for if I were to bestow
upon you the gift of the knowledge of the tongue of animals, and you
were to tell anyone of it, you would instantly die. Ask, therefore,
for something else; whatever you desire to possess, I will give to

To which the Shepherd replied-

"If you wish to give me anything, then grant me the knowledge of the
language of brute creatures; but if you do not care to give me that-
farewell, and God protect you! I want nothing else." And the Shepherd
turned to leave the place.

Then the King called him back, saying-

"Stay! come here to me, since you will have it at all hazards. Open
your mouth."

The Shepherd opened his mouth, and the King of the snakes breathed into
it, and said-

"Do you now breathe into my mouth."

The Shepherd breathed into his mouth, and the Snake King breathed again
into that of the Shepherd. After they had breathed each three times
into the other's mouth, the King said-

"Now you understand the language of animals, and of all created things.
Go in peace, and God be with you! but for the life of you, tell no one
of this; if you do, you will die on the instant!"

The Shepherd returned home through the forest. As he walked he heard
and understood all that the birds said, and the grass and all the other
things that are upon the earth. When he came to his sheep and found
them all together and quite safe, he laid himself down to rest.
Scarcely had he lain down when there flew two ravens toward him, who
took their perch upon a tree, and began to talk together in their own

"What if that Shepherd only knew that underneath the place where the
black lamb lies there is a cellar full of silver and gold!'

When the Shepherd heard this, he went to his master, and told him of
it. The master took a cart with him, and they dug down to a door
leading to the cave, and removed the treasure to his house. But the
master was an honest man, and gave all the treasure to the Shepherd,

"My son, all this treasure is yours, for heaven has given it to you.
Buy yourself a house with it, marry, and live happily in it."

The Shepherd took the treasure, built himself a house, and, having
married, lived a happy life. Soon he became known as the richest man,
not only in his own village, but so rich that there was not his equal
in the whole neighborhood. He had his own shepherd, cow keeper,
hostler, and swineherd; plenty of goods and chattels, and great riches.

One day, just before Christmas, he said to his wife, "Get some wine,
and some brandy, and all things necessary; to-morrow we will go to the
farmyard and take the good things to the shepherds that they may also
enjoy themselves."

The wife followed his directions and prepared all that he had told her.
When they arrived on the following day at the farmhouse, the master
said to the shepherds in the evening--

"Come here, all of you; eat, drink, and be merry. I will watch over
the flocks for you to-night." And he went, in very deed, and remained
with the flocks.

About midnight the wolves began to howl and the dogs to bark, and the
wolves said in their language-

"May we come in and do what mischief we like? Then you, too, shall
have your share."

And the dogs answered in their language, "Come in; and we will eat our
fill with you."

But among the dogs there was an old one, who had but two teeth in his
head, and he said to the wolves-

"That will not do. So long as I have my two teeth in my head you shall
do no harm to my master nor his."

The master heard it all, and understood what was said. On the
following morning he ordered all the dogs to be killed save only the
old one. The hinds said, "Heaven forbid, sir; that would be a great
pity!" But the master answered, "Do what I have told you."

Then he prepared to return home with his wife, and they both mounted
their horses. And as they rode on, the husband got a little ahead,
while the wife fell behind. At last the husband's horse neighed, and
called to the mare-

"Come on! make haste! Why do you lag behind!"

And the mare answered him, "Ah yes, it is all very easy for you: you
have only one to carry, the master; while I have to carry two, the
mistress and her baby."

The husband turned round and laughed, and his wife seeing this, urged
the mare forward, overtook her husband, and asked him what he had been
laughing at.

"Nothing; I do not know; just something that came into my mind,"
answered the husband.

But the wife was not satisfied with this answer, and she pressed him
again and again to tell her why he had laughed.

But he excused himself, and said-

"Let me alone, wife! What is the matter with you? I do not know
myself why I laughed."

But the more he denied her the more she insisted upon his telling her
what he had been laughing at. At last the husband said to her-

"Know then, that if I tell you the reason, I shall instantly die."

The woman, however, did not care for that, but urged him to tell her

Meanwhile they had reached home. The husband ordered a coffin to be
made immediately, and when it was ready he had it placed before the
house, and said to his wife-

"See now, I now lay me down in this coffin, and then tell you why I
laughed; but as soon as I have told you I shall die."

The husband lay down in the coffin, and looked around him for the last
time. And there came the old Dog from the farmyard, and sat down at
his head and whined. The husband seeing this, said to his wife-

"Bring a piece of bread and give it to this Dog."

The wife brought out a piece of bread, and threw it down to the Dog;
but the Dog would not even look at it. Then the House Cock ran up, and
began to pick at the bread; and the Dog said to it-

"You miserable greedy thing, you! You can eat, and yet you see that
the master is going to die!"

The Cock answered the Dog, "And let him die since he is such a fool. I
have a hundred wives, and I call them all together whenever I find a
grain of corn, and as soon as they have come round me, I swallow it
myself. And if any one of them got angry, I should be at her directly
with my beak. The master has only one wife, and he cannot even manage

When the husband heard this he quickly sprang out of the coffin, took
up a stick, and called his wife into the room.

"Come, wife," he said, "I will tell you what you so much want to hear."

Then as he beat her with the stick he cried, "This is it, wife! This
is it."

In this way he quieted his wife, and she never asked him again what he
had been laughing at.

Many Thanks for Using the ESL Literature Library from 1-language.com.

Copyright © 2013 All rights reserved.