Tell Me a Story

The Fools of Spring (An English Folktale)

According to a great many people, the men of Gotham were wildly ridiculous fools. Perhaps that is so. But it is possible they were actually wise and just pretended to be foolish. I say this because once upon a time, King John announced that he wished to have a castle built in Gotham. He wished the men of Gotham to build it for him.

Naturally, the men of Gotham worried about the cost of such an extravagance, and so they talked among themselves about what to do.

The king's royal messengers arrived one day to scout out the village. It was spring when they came -- a beautiful, sunny day, and they walked everywhere, admiring the look of Gotham. They seemed to think this would be a fine place for a castle, until they came upon a circle of men standing around a great white hare. They were talking to the creature, so the messengers stopped to ask what they were doing.

"Ah, we have a message to send to a friend in York," one of the men explained.

"And no one wishes to travel all the way there," said another.

The messengers did not understand. "What does that have to do with this hare?" they asked.

The men of Gotham laughed. "I caught this hare today," said one, "and as you know, hares are swift, so we thought we'd let him carry our message."

"This hare?" the messengers asked. "He's to carry your message to York?"

"That's right," they said, and the man who caught the hare tied a sealed letter to the hare's neck, leaned in close and whispered, "First you go to Nottingham, and then you take the main road to York. My friend lives near York Cathedral. When you get there, you'll see three houses. My friend's house is the middle one, white with ivy growing on the walls. Give him this letter," he finished, and he set the hare free.

The others stood and watched the hare run across the field, and some of the men cried, "Stop! Stop! You must go to Nottingham first!"

The man who had caught the hare laughed. "It seems he knows a shortcut," he said. "Hares are clever that way. He's likely avoiding the highway for fear of dogs."

"Of course!" the other men of Gotham agreed.

But the messengers shook their heads, and one of them whispered to the other, "These men are fools."

"You mustn't judge everyone on just a few," said the second messenger. "Let's go meet others." So they walked on, and before long they came to another cluster of men who were building a fence.

"Good day," said the messengers. "What are you doing?"

"We're building a fence for a cuckoo," said one of the men of Gotham.

Another man quickly explained, "Cuckoos are the finest singers, but they come to us only in spring. After summer, they fly away."

The men of Gotham explained to the messengers that they had decided to take matters into their own hands. They caught one of the birds, and now they were building it a squared-off fence near the middle of the village.

"Here, we'll keep the cuckoo, so we'll be able to listen to his singing every day, all day," one of the men said. "Everyone will enjoy his song all year long!"

The messengers thought the men were joking. They shrugged and walked away. An hour later, after they had toured the rest of the village, they returned to where the men had been building the fence. It was 6 feet tall, and every crack and crevice and corner was stuffed with brush and branches and twigs.

"No bird can get through this fence!" the men of Gotham announced proudly.

The messengers stared as the men of Gotham carried their cuckoo to the enclosure and put it inside the fence. "Now you'll stay and sing all year for us!" they said to the cuckoo. "If you refuse, we'll give you no food or drink."

Naturally, the moment the men let go of the cuckoo, it flew away, up and over the fence and off into the wild blue yonder.

The men of Gotham shouted, "Come back!"

But it was too late. They looked at each other and agreed: "Next time, we'll have to build a higher fence."

"We will!" they all agreed.

When the messengers heard this, they hurried back to see their king. "Your majesty," the first messenger said, "the villagers of Gotham are fools. You want nothing to do with them, sire."

"They're idiots!" said the other messenger.

"The greatest fools I've ever seen," agreed the first.

They told the king the tale of the cuckoo fence and of the runaway hare, and the king listened closely.

Still, he thought the village could be the perfect place for a nice, big castle, so he sent more messengers. Each one returned with a tale to tell of the fools of Gotham.

"You've never met such fools!" all the messengers said. "They drowned their church bell to hide it from their enemies."

"They tossed all their salt fish into their pond, thinking it would spawn more fish."

"They crushed a watch because they heard it ticking and feared it was evil."

With each day, there came another story of the madness of the men of Gotham, and so the king gave up his plans, and from then on, no one bothered the village. People steered clear, and everyone spoke of the men of Gotham as the greatest fools in the world.

But I still say it may be that the men of Gotham were not fools at all. After all, they didn't have to pay for the king's castle. They didn't have to suffer other fools.

What do you think? Were the men of Gotham the wisest men in the world, or were they fools?

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