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Middle & High School - Reading Comprehension
1.28 The Peasant, The Snake, and The Fox

Directions: Read the following story and answer the multiple choice questions. Also, on a sheet of paper, describe in your own words, the elements of the story -- the characters, the time, the setting, the events, the problem, and the solution.
Once upon a time, a peasant on his way home heard a feeble voice calling "Help! Help!" He looked round, took a careful step or two then realised that the sound was coming from beneath a large boulder. He asked in amazement: "Who's that calling?" And a voice replied,

"It's me. The rock rolled down over my hole and I'm shut in. I can't get out, I'm going to die. Please help me. Move the boulder." The peasant then asked:

"But who are you?"

"I'm a poor snake," came the reply.

"A snake? But if I let you out you will bite me."

"No, no, I promise I won't. Get me out, please!" The peasant allowed himself to be persuaded and he shifted the boulder . . . and out of a hole in the ground slid a snake which darted towards the peasant and tried to bite him. The man jumped back and cried,

"Why did you do that?" The snake replied, "Because every good deed is rewarded by an evil one, didn't you know that?"

"No, I didn't. I don't think that's so," said the peasant.

"Very well," said the snake. "Let's go and ask someone. If we come across someone who thinks as you do, well, that's it, but if people say I'm right, then I shall bite you. Agreed?"

"Agreed," said the peasant, and off they went.

A little later, they met an old mangy lame horse, thin and covered in scratches, with an uncombed mane and dirty tail. The peasant spoke to him.

"Listen, friend. If someone does a good deed, what does he get as his reward?" Without a moment's hesitation, the horse replied.

"A bad deed. Look at me! I served my master faithfully for years and now that I'm old, he has left me to die of starvation!" At these words, the snake turned to the peasant and hissed, "Did you hear that? I shall bite you now!" But the man exclaimed: "Wait! One question isn't enough! We have to ask someone else."

"Bother!" exclaimed the snake. "Very well, let's look for someone else, but wait and see, I'm right and I'll get my bite!" So, leaving the horse behind, the pair went on their way.

They met a sheep which, at the peasant's question, said: "A good deed is always repaid with a bad deed. Look at me, I always follow my master and never complain. I obey him all the time and what does he do? He shears my fleece in winter, so I feel the cold, and makes me keep it in summer, so I melt with the heat!"

"Get ready," said the snake, "I'm about to bite!" But the peasant said,

"Please! We've had the first round, and the second one as well, now let's play the deciding round. If I'm wrong at the third question, then I'll let you bite me."

On they went, and in the wood, the peasant caught sight of a fox. Suddenly he had an idea. With an excuse, he left the snake on the road and ran into the wood to speak to the fox.

"Listen, fox, do you too think that a good deed is always rewarded by a bad one?"

"Of course!" replied the fox. Then the man went on.

"Well, listen, I'm going to ask you the same question in front of a snake. If you say that one good deed is rewarded by another good deed, I'll give you a present of a piglet, a lamb or a goose. How's that?"

"Good," said the fox. The peasant went back to the snake.

"I saw a fox over there," he said. "As you know, foxes are wise. Let's go and hear what he thinks about it." A little later they asked the fox the same question and the fox replied as had been agreed.

"A good deed is always rewarded with another good deed, but," he went on, "why ask me that question?"

"Because this snake, that I helped to escape from his hole blocked by a boulder, wants to bite me," replied the peasant. The fox looked at the snake and said, "Hmm! I think a snake can manage to slither under a boulder."

"But it was a big boulder," the snake protested, "and, it was blocking the entrance to my den."

"I don't believe you!"

"Oh, don't you? Well come and see then," said the snake, setting off for his den with the fox and the peasant. Pointing to the boulder, he said, "See? That boulder fell just there," and he pointed to the entrance.

But the fox shook his head. "A big snake like you couldn't get into such a little hole," he said. Annoyed, the snake retorted,

"Don't you think so?" and slid swiftly into the hole. Then the fox shouted,

"Quick, peasant man! Shut him in!" and the peasant rolled the boulder back across the mouth of the den, imprisoning the snake (and I think he's in there yet!).

"Ah, fox," said the peasant happily, "now that was a good deed! You got rid of that wicked snake for me! Thanks a million!"

"Oh, it was nothing," replied the fox, "but don't forget that piglet, the lamb and the goose you promised me."

"No, I won't. Come to the farm this evening and you shall have them," said the man.

That same evening, the fox went to the farm, but the peasant appeared with two snarling dogs and a gun, shouting, "Get out of here, you horrible beast, if you don't want to get into trouble!"

The fox trotted away, sad and disappointed, muttering, "and they say I'm cunning! The cunning one is that peasant. Oh, well, that poor snake was probably right, good deeds are repaid with bad deeds," and off he went, his tail between his legs, into the wood.

Q 1: Why do you think the peasant knows the fox will help him?
He doesn't, but there is no other animal to ask.
Because he can see the fox is hungry.
Because he knew the fox.
Because foxes are thought to be clever.

Q 2: What does cunning mean?

Q 3: What does feeble mean?

Q 4: The story started out with the peasant helping the snake, but in the end, he betrayed the fox who had helped him. Why do you think the peasant's character changed?
Because the fox betrayed him.
Because he came to believe what the snake said: every good deed is rewarded by an evil one.
Because he was not kind to start.
Because he was afraid of the fox.

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