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Once upon a time ...

a terrible scourge swept through a huge forest full of animals. It was the plague. One after the other all the animals, big and small, strong and weak, died of the dreadful disease.

None could hope to escape such a horrible fate, not even the lion himself, king of the forest. Indeed, it was the lion who gathered together the survivors, and said in a trembling voice: "This disaster is a punishment for our wicked ways. And I for one will admit I've been wicked. If you find me guilty, I'll gladly give up my life if you think that would help you in making amends for your own sins. So I confess that, during my lifetime, I've eaten many an innocent sheep."

"But, Sire," broke in one of the animals, "surely you don't think that eating sheep is a serious sin. We too . . . we too . . .'' And they all began to tell their own stories.

One by one, the animals told of their crimes against their neighbors. The leopard had killed on more than one occasion, the eagle had snatched rabbits and lambs, the fox and the wolf had stolen and murdered. Even the placid-looking owl had little birds and mice on his conscience. Everyone had some wicked deed, serious or otherwise, to confess. But each animal, after his confession, was forgiven by the others, all just as guilty, of course. Last came the donkey, who said with a mortified air: "I did a very wicked thing too. One day, instead of just grazing here and there, I ate two clumps of grass in a clover meadow, without permission. I was sorry afterwards, and I've had a guilty conscience about it ever since!"

All the animals glared at the donkey and, shouting and calling insults, they chorused: "So that's who brought the plague on us! Stealing grass from a poor peasant! Shame on you!" And the fate of the donkey was decided unanimously.

How often are innocent folk made to pay for the wicked deeds of the guilty.

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