The Billy Goat and the King
Once there lived a certain king who understood the language of all
birds and beasts and insects. This knowledge had of course been given
him by a fairy godmother; but it was rather a troublesome present, for
he knew that if he were ever to reveal anything he had thus learned he
would turn into a stone. How he managed to avoid doing so long before
this story opens I cannot say, but he had safely grown up to manhood,
and married a wife, and was as happy as monarchs generally are.
This king, I must tell you, was a Hindu; and when a Hindu eats his
food he has a nice little place on the ground freshly plastered with
mud, and he sits in the middle of it with very few clothes on–which
is quite a different way from ours.
Well, one day the king was eating his dinner in just such a nice,
clean, mud-plastered spot, and his wife was sitting opposite to wait
upon him and keep him company. As he ate he dropped some grains of
rice upon the ground, and a little ant, who was running about seeking
a living, seized upon one of the grains and bore it off towards his
hole. Just outside the king’s circle this ant met another ant, and the
king heard the second one say:
‘Oh, dear friend, do give me that grain of rice, and get another one
for yourself. You see my boots are so dirty that, if I were to go upon
the king’s eating place, I should defile it, and I can’t do that, it
would be so very rude.’
But the owner of the grain of rice only replied:
‘If you want rice go and get it. No one will notice your dirty boots;
and you don’t suppose that I am going to carry rice for all our
Then the king laughed.
The queen looked at herself up and down, but she could not see or feel
anything in her appearance to make the king laugh, so she said:
‘What are you laughing at?’
‘Did I laugh?’ replied the king.
‘Of course you did,’ retorted the queen; ‘and if you think that I am
ridiculous I wish you would say so, instead of behaving in that stupid
way! What are you laughing at?’
‘I’m not laughing at anything,’ answered the king.
‘Very well, but you _did_ laugh, and I want to know why.’
‘Well, I’m afraid I can’t tell you,’ said the king.
‘You _must_ tell me,’ replied the queen impatiently. ‘If you laugh
when there’s nothing to laugh at you must be ill or mad. What is the
Still the king refused to say, and still the queen declared that she
must and would know. For days the quarrel went on, and the queen gave
her husband no rest, until at last the poor man was almost out of his
wits, and thought that, as life had become for him hardly worth living
while this went on, he might as well tell her the secret and take the
‘But,’ thought he, ‘if I am to become a stone, I am not going to lie,
if I can help it, on some dusty highway, to be kicked here and there
by man and beast, flung at dogs, be used as the plaything of naughty
children, and become generally restless and miserable. I will be a
stone at the bottom of the cool river, and roll gently about there
until I find some secure resting-place where I can stay for ever.’
So he told his wife that if she would ride with him to the middle of
the river he would tell her what he had laughed at. She thought he
was joking, and laughingly agreed; their horses were ordered and they
On the way they came to a fine well beneath the shade of some lofty,
wide-spreading trees, and the king proposed that they should get off
and rest a little, drink some of the cool water, and then pass on. To
this the queen consented; so they dismounted and sat down in the
shade by the well-side to rest.
It happened that an old goat and his wife were browsing in the
neighbourhood, and, as the king and queen sat there, the nanny goat
came to the well’s brink and peering over saw some lovely green leaves
that sprang in tender shoots out of the side of the well.
‘Oh!’ cried she to her husband, ‘come quickly and look. Here are some
leaves which make my mouth water; come and get them for me!’
Then the billy goat sauntered up and looked over, and after that he
eyed his wife a little crossly.
‘You expect me to get you those leaves, do you? I suppose you don’t
consider how in the world I am to reach them? You don’t seem to think
at all; if you did you would know that if I tried to reach those
leaves I should fall into the well and be drowned!’
‘Oh,’ cried the nanny goat, ‘why should you fall in? Do try and get
‘I am not going to be so silly,’ replied the billy goat.
But the nanny goat still wept and entreated.
‘Look here,’ said her husband, ‘there are plenty of fools in the
world, but I am not one of them. This silly king here, because he
can’t cure his wife of asking questions, is going to throw his life
away. But I know how to cure you of your follies, and I’m going to.’
And with that he butted the nanny goat so severely that in two minutes
she was submissively feeding somewhere else, and had made up her mind
that the leaves in the well were not worth having.
Then the king, who had understood every word, laughed once more.
The queen looked at him suspiciously, but the king got up and walked
across to where she sat.
‘Are you still determined to find out what I was laughing at the other
day?’ he asked.
‘Quite,’ answered the queen angrily.
‘Because,’ said the king, tapping his leg with his riding whip, ‘I’ve
made up my mind not to tell you, and moreover, I have made up my mind
to stop you mentioning the subject any more.’
‘What _do_ you mean?’ asked the queen nervously.
‘Well,’ replied the king, ‘I notice that if that goat is displeased
with his wife, he just butts her, and that seems to settle the
‘Do you mean to say you would _beat_ me?’ cried the queen.
‘I should be extremely sorry to have to do so,’ replied the king; ‘but
I have got to persuade you to go home quietly, and to ask no more
silly questions when I say I cannot answer them. Of course, if you
_will_ persist, why—-‘
And the queen went home, and so did the king; and it is said that they
are both happier and wiser than ever before.