This story was taken from The Talking Thrush And Other Tales From India – Illustrated by W. Heath Robinson. Originally published in 1899, this is a wonderful collection of 43 Indian folk-tales superbly illustrated by W. Heath Robinson.
One greedy bishop, a very clever crow, and dead cat for dinner.
A Crow is a Crow for Ever
An Indian Tale
THERE once was a very learned Bishop, who was very fond of bird’s-nesting. One day he saw a fine large nest up in an elm-tree, and when he had climbed up he saw that it was full of young Crow-chicks. One of these chicks had such a winsome appearance, that the Bishop put him inside his hat, and took him home to the Palace.
In due time the Crow grew up, and as he heard around him continually the Bishop and his friends talking divinity, by degrees he became quite clever in divinity himself. He knew all the kings of Israel and Judah, and the cities of refuge, so that at last there was no question in a divinity paper he could not answer. Indeed, once when the examining Chaplain was ill, the Crow did his work for him.
The fame of this learned Crow spread far and wide, until at last it reached the King’s ears. Now the Bishop had been expecting this all along, and ever since he found the young Crow he had been training him for a purpose. I am sorry to say he was rather a greedy man; and as he hoped to get something out of the King by the means of this Crow, he trained him to fly towards anything that shone bright, such as gold and silver.
“When the King asks me to show off my Crow,” he thought, “I will ask as a price anything the Crow may choose; and then doubtless he will fly to the King’s crown, and I shall be King!”
At the first all fell out as he looked for. The King sent word to say he wanted to see the Crow. He was sitting in the garden, with his gold crown on, and all his courtiers around him; and then asked to hear him say all the kings of Israel and Judah.
“With pleasure, sire,” said the Bishop; “if your Majesty will deign to grant him what he chooses for a reward. He has been well taught, and will not work for nothing.”
“By all means,” said the King; “let him choose his reward, and I will give it.”
Then the Bishop took his Crow out of his hat, and the Crow said all the kings of Israel and Judah quite right, forwards and backwards, without a single mistake. The King was delighted: he could not have done as much.
“And now, sire,” said the Bishop, “I will let him go, and tell him to choose his own prize.”
So the Bishop let the Crow loose. The Crow was flying straight for the King’s crown, when all on a sudden what should he spy but a dead cat! He turned off on the instant, and down he swooped on the dead cat. You know Crows eat dead things and offal; and this Crow liked a dead cat for dinner better than a gold crown.
The King laughed, the courtiers roared with merriment.
“Bishop,” said the King, when he had done laughing, “your Crow is easily pleased, it seems! Well, he has chosen his reward, and by my royal beard, he shall have it. Ha, ha, ha!”
But the Bishop felt very rueful indeed. All his pains and trouble lost, and nothing to show for it! He shook his head and went away, singing to himself a little chant he made up on the spot, all out of his own head—
“I kept my Crow in a lovely cage,
And taught him wisdom’s holy page;
But still ’tis true, whate’er he may know,
A dirty Crow is a dirty Crow.”