The Grey Fairy Book
Once on a time there was a rich merchant, who had an only son called Bobino. Now, as
the boy was clever, and had a great desire for knowledge, his father sent him to be under
a master, from whom he thought he would learn to speak all sorts of foreign languages.
After some years with this master, Bobino returned to his home.
One evening, as he and his father were walking in the garden, the sparrows in the trees
above their heads began such a twittering, that they found it impossible to hear each other
speak. This annoyed the merchant very much, so, to soothe him, Bobino said: 'Would you
like me to explain to you what the sparrows are saying to each other?'
The merchant looked at his son in astonishment, and answered: 'What can you mean?
How can you explain what the sparrows say? Do you consider yourself a soothsayer or a
'I am neither a soothsayer nor a magician,' answered Bobino; 'but my master taught me
the language of all the animals.'
'Alas! for my good money!' exclaimed the merchant. 'The master has certainly mistaken
my intention. Of course I meant you to learn the languages that human beings talk, and
not the language of animals.'
'Have patience,' answered the son. 'My master thought it best to begin with the language
of animals, and later to learn the languages of human beings.'
On their way into the house the dog ran to meet them, barking furiously.
'What can be the matter with the beast?' said the merchant. 'Why should he bark at me
like that, when he knows me quite well?'
'Shall I explain to you what he is saying?' said Bobino.
'Leave me in peace, and don't trouble me with your nonsense,' said the merchant quite
crossly. 'How my money has been wasted!'
A little later, as they sat down to supper, some frogs in a neighbouring pond set up such a
croaking as had never been heard. The noise so irritated the merchant that he quite lost
his temper and exclaimed: 'This only was wanting to add the last drop to my discomfort
'Shall I explain to you?' began Bobino.