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Fable of the Old Man and the Ravens

Once there was an old man, a farmer. Every day he drove his cart to market, and every day he stopped to throw seed to the ravens. Now, the old man did not load the cart, but paid his young nephew to do it. The old man, who had little use for words, had never spoken to him, except to hire him, and to promise that he would inherit the farm.

When the old man was late to rise one morning, the young man left in anger; and the ravens sent one of their number to check on the old man. Through the window, the chosen raven saw that the old man was dead. When he told the other ravens, they became fearful, for they had grown in numbers and depended on the old man for food.

“I have a plan,” said the chosen raven. The ravens came in numbers to the deserted farm. They broke in a window with their beaks and gathered up the farmer’s clothes: his hat, his gloves, his coat, his boots. They brought the farmer’s old scarecrow, and dressed him in the farmer’s garments. They tied the farmer’s fishing line to the hands and feet and head of the scarecrow.

When the young man arrived the next day, he saw the ravens overhead and said to the old man, who was waiting for him: “Aren’t they here a little early?” The farmer shrugged. “Guess they’re hungry,” continued the young man. The farmer nodded and climbed stiffly into the cart. “That fall chill bothering your joints already?” The farmer nodded, picked up and tugged the reins, and the cart rolled on.

Once the cart was out of sight, the ravens let the scarecrow fall and ate everything on the cart. In this way, day by day over months, the ravens grew many and fat.

One day his nephew said to the farmer: “Your fields are getting scraggly. You want me to handle it this year? This place’ll be mine someday, and I might as well start getting to know it.” The farmer nodded rhythmically. “Those ravens sure do follow you around.” The uncle nodded sharply and climbed onto his cart.

It was so for years, the young man doing the farm work and loading up the cart for the market. Fortunately for the ravens, the old man, who had prospered in his last years, had become a miser. Whenever the young man needed money they only had to dig up coins where they had seen the farmer bury them.

One day the young man said: “It’s time I leave here and go see the world. I’ve stored plenty of food for you, you’ll be fine for a few years until I come back. I know you’ll still be here. People keep saying you’re bound to kick off, but you won’t give them the pleasure, will you?”

What could the farmer do, but raise his arms and shrug?

What would feed an old man for years would last the many ravens only months. They became afraid and lamented; but the chosen raven, now the king of the unkindness, said: “I have a plan.” At his order, many ravens came together and lifted the scarecrow high into the air, searching for the young man’s night camp. When dark had come, while the young man tied his horse and lit his fire, there came much squawking of ravens out of the dark woods. “Damn ravens are everywhere these days.”

The young man saw the farmer come slowly out of the wood. “Is – is that you? It can’t be. How…” The farmer rose into the air unsupported, his arms waving. “Oh, no! You’re dead. You’re a ghost!” A raven lighted on the ground before the fire. The old man pointed to it. “The raven? The ravens. You want me to keep feeding the ravens. Of course I will. Don’t worry about it. I’ll keep feeding them. As many as show up.”

The ghost rose up over the young man, arms outspread. “I swear I will!” At that, the ghost sank, lowered his arms, and drifted back into the forest and the dark.

The young man returned to the farm, only to find that his uncle’s house had burned down – with him in it. The young man had only his dear uncle’s bones to bury.

The young man soon regretted his oath, as ravens appeared in incredible numbers; but when he came out of his tent to feed them, they led him, leading him from before and behind, to where his his uncle had buried his wealth. With that money, the young man was able to build a new house, and he found a wife to keep it.

So as the young man became an old man, keeping his vow, he often told how the ravens, to whom his uncle had always been so kind, had shown their simple gratitude; and he always laughed at any who called ravens cunning.

Moral: Silence is not Evidence of Wisdom.