Lord and Master - The Story of the Man Who Understood the Language of the Animals
There was once a young shepherd, an honest industrious fellow, who passed most of his time in the hills looking after his master's flocks. One afternoon he happened upon a bush which some gipsies had set a-fire. As he stopped to watch it he heard a strange hissing, whistling sound. He went as close as he could and in the center of the bush which the flames had not yet reached he saw a snake. It was writhing and trembling in fear.
"Help me, brother!" the snake said. "Help me and I will reward you richly! I swear I will!"
The shepherd put the end of his crook over the flames and the snake crawled up the crook, up the shepherd's arm, and wound itself about his neck.
It was now the shepherd's turn to be frightened.
"What! Will you kill me as a reward for my kindness?"
"Nay," the snake said. "Do not be afraid. I will not injure you. Do as I tell you and you will have nothing to regret. My father is the Tsar of the Snakes. Take me to him and he will reward you for rescuing me."
"But I can't leave my flocks," the shepherd said.
"Have no fear about your flocks. Nothing will happen to them in your absence."
"But I don't know where your father, the Tsar of the Snakes, lives," the shepherd protested.
"I'll show you," the snake said. "I'll point out the direction with my tail."
So in spite of his misgivings the shepherd at last agreed to the snake's suggestion and, leaving his sheep in God's care, started up the mountainside in the direction which the snake pointed out with his tail.
They reached finally a sort of pocket in the hills which was sandy and rocky and exposed to the full force of the sun. The snake directed the shepherd to the entrance of a cave which had a huge door composed entirely of living snakes closely wound together. The shepherd's snake said something in his breathy whistling voice and the door pulled itself apart and allowed the shepherd to enter the cave.
"Now," whispered the snake, "when my father asks you what you want, tell him you want the gift of understanding the language of the animals.