Many people suppose that the donkey is lazy. This is a great mistake. It is his pride.
Years ago, there was nobody quite so fine as the donkey. He was a great swell in those times. No one could express an opinion of anything without the donkey showing where he was in it. No one could mention the name of an important personage without the donkey declaring how well he knew him.
The donkey was, above all things, a proud and aristocratic beast.
One day a party of animals were discussing one thing and another, until finally the conversation drifted around to mythology.
"I have always admired that giant, Atlas," observed the ox in the course of the conversation. "It was amazing how he could carry things."
"Oh, yes, Atlas," said the donkey, "I knew him very well. I once met a man and we got talking of Atlas. I expressed my admiration for the giant and my desire to meet him some day, if possible. Whereupon the man said there was nothing quite so easy. He was sure that his dear friend, Atlas, would be happy to meet so charming a donkey. Was I at leisure next Monday? Well, then, could I dine with him upon that date? So, you see, it was all arranged. I found Atlas to be a very pleasant fellow."
"It has always been a wonder to me how he could have carried the earth on his back," said the horse.
"Oh, my dear sir, nothing is more simple," cried the donkey. "One has only to make up one's mind to it, and then—do it. That is all. I am quite sure that if I wished I could carry a range of mountains upon my back."
All the others said, "Oh, my!"
"Yes, I could," asserted the donkey, stoutly. "It is merely a question of making up one's mind. I will bet."
"I will wager also," said the horse. "I will wager my ears that you can't carry a range of mountains upon your back."
"Done," cried the donkey.
Forthwith the party of animals set out for the mountains. Suddenly, however, the donkey paused and said, "Oh, but look here. Who will place this range of mountains upon my back? Surely I can not be expected to do the loading also."
Here was a great question. The party consulted. At length the ox said, "We will have to ask some men to shovel the mountain upon the donkey's back."
Most of the others clapped their hoofs or their paws and cried, "Ah, that is the thing."
The horse, however, shook his head doubtfully. "I don't know about these men. They are very sly. They will introduce some deviltry into the affair."
"Why, how silly," said the donkey. "Apparently you do not understand men. They are the most gentle, guileless creatures."
"Well," retorted the horse, "I will doubtless be able to escape since I am not to be encumbered with any mountains. Proceed."
The donkey smiled in derision at these observations by the horse.
Presently they came upon some men who were labouring away like mad, digging ditches, felling trees, gathering fruits, carrying water, building huts.
"Look at these men, would you," said the horse. "Can you trust them after this exhibition of their depravity? See how each one selfishly—"
The donkey interrupted with a loud laugh.
And then he cried out to the men, "Ho, my friends, will you please come and shovel a range of mountains upon my back?"
"Will you please come and shovel a range of mountains upon my back?"
The men were silent for a time. Then they went apart and debated. They gesticulated a great deal.
Some apparently said one thing and some another. At last they paused and one of their number came forward.
"Why do you wish a range of mountains shovelled upon your back?"
"It is a wager," cried the donkey.
The men consulted again. And as the discussion became older, their heads went closer and closer together, until they merely whispered, and did not gesticulate at all. Ultimately they cried, "Yes, certainly we will shovel a range of mountains upon your back for you."
"Ah, thanks," said the donkey.
"Here is surely some deviltry," said the horse behind his hoof to the ox.
The entire party proceeded then to the mountains. The donkey drew a long breath and braced his legs.
"Are you ready?" asked the men.
"All ready," cried the donkey.
The men began to shovel.
The dirt and stones flew over the donkey's back in showers. It was not long before his legs were hidden. Presently only his neck and head remained in view. Then at last this wise donkey vanished. There had been made no great effect upon the range of mountains. They still towered toward the sky.
The watching crowd saw a heap of dirt and stones make a little movement and then was heard a muffled cry. "Enough! Enough! It was not two ranges of mountains! It is not fair! It is not fair!"
But the men only laughed as they shovelled on.
"Enough! Enough! Oh, woe is me—thirty snow-capped peaks upon my little back. Ah, these false, false men! Oh, virtuous, wise, and holy men, desist."
The men again laughed. They were as busy as fiends with their shovels.
"Ah, brutal, cowardly, accursed men; ah, good, gentle, and holy men, please remove some of those damnable peaks. I will adore your beautiful shovels forever. I will be slave to the beckoning of your little fingers. I will no longer be my own donkey—I will be your donkey."
The men burst into a triumphant shout and ceased shovelling.
"Swear it, mountain-carrier."
"I swear! I swear! I swear!"
The other animals scampered away then, for these men in their plots and plans were very terrible. "Poor old foolish fellow," cried the horse; "he may keep his ears. He will need them to hear and count the blows that are now to fall upon him."
The men unearthed the donkey. They beat him with their shovels. "Ho, come on, slave." Encrusted with earth, yellow-eyed from fright, the donkey limped toward his prison. His ears hung down like leaves of the plantain during the great rain.
So, now, when you see a donkey with a church, a palace, and three villages upon his back, and he goes with infinite slowness, moving but one leg at a time, do not think him lazy. It is his pride.