The Ant and The Grasshopper – Intermediate Level

When I was a very small boy I was made to learn by heart certain fables, the morals of which were carefully explained to me. Among these was The Ant and the Grasshopper. This was written to bring home to children the important lesson that hard work is rewarded and laziness is punished. In the story the ant spends a busy summer gathering its winter food. As she does this, the grasshopper sits in the grass singing to the sun. Winter comes and the ant is comfortably provided for. However, the grasshopper has no food. The grasshopper goes to the ant and asks for a little food. Then the ant gives him her well-known answer:

“What were you doing in the summer time?”

“While you were not here, I sang. I sang all day, all night.”

“You sang. Well, then go and dance.”

Although I did not normally disagree with what adults told me, I could never quite accept the message of this fable. It may be that as a child I found it hard to understand what was right and what was wrong. I felt sad for the grasshopper, and for some time I never saw an ant without putting my foot on it. This was my way of showing that I did not think it was right to worry so much about the future.

I could not help thinking of this fable when the other day I saw George Ramsay having lunch by himself in a restaurant.

I never saw anyone looking so sad. He was looking into space as though the problems of the whole world sat on his shoulders. I was sorry for him and thought at once that his unfortunate brother had been causing trouble again. I went up to him and held out my hand.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’m not in the happiest of spirits,” he answered.

“Is it Tom again?”

He sighed.

“Yes, it’s Tom again.”

“Why don’t you stop trying to help him?” You’ve done everything in the world for him. You must know that by now that he’s quite hopeless.

I suppose every family has a black sheep. Tom had been causing problems for George for twenty years. He had begun life well enough: he went into business, married and had two children. The Ramsays were perfectly respectable people. There was every reason to suppose that Tom Ramsay would have a useful and honourable career. But one day, without warning, he announced that he didn’t like work and that he wasn’t suited for marriage. He wanted to enjoy himself. He would listen to no arguments. He left his wife and his business. He had a little money and he spent two happy years in the various capitals of Europe.

Stories about his life in Europe reached his family from time to time and they were shocked by them. He certainly had a very good time. They shook their heads and asked what would happen when his money was spent. They soon found out: he borrowed.

He was charming and had no morals. I have never met anyone to whom it was more difficult to refuse a loan. He made a regular income from his friends and he made friends easily. But he always said that the money you spent on things that you needed was boring. The money that was amusing to spend was the money you spent on things that you didn’t really need.

For this he depended on his brother George. He did not waste his charm on him. George was a serious man and not likely to be fooled in this way. George was respectable. Once or twice he believed Tom’s promises that he would change his ways. He gave him large sums of money to help him make a fresh start. From these Tom bought a new car and some very nice jewellery.

When George finally came to understand that his brother would never settle down, he said that he would no longer help him. Tom, without any thought that it was wrong, began to make George look bad in the eyes of his friends. It was not very nice for a respectable lawyer to find his brother working behind he bar of his favourite restaurant or to see him waiting in the driver’s seat of a taxi outside his club. Tom said that to serve in a bar or to drive a taxi was a perfectly good job. However, if George could help him with a couple of hundred pounds, he didn’t mind giving it up for the honour of the family. George paid.

Once Tom nearly went to prison. George was terribly upset, and told me all about it. Really Tom had gone too far. He had been wild, thoughtless and selfish before this. However, he had never done anything dishonest, by which George meant illegal. If Tom were made to appear before a judge, he would certainly have spent time in gaol. But you cannot allow this to happen to your brother. The man Tom had cheated, a man called Cronshaw, wanted revenge. He was determined to take the matter into court. He said Tom was dishonest and should be punished. It cost George an infinite deal of trouble and five hundred pounds to settle the matter. I have never seen him as angry as when he heard that Tom and Cronshaw had gone off together to Monte Carlo the moment they cashed the cheque. They spent a happy month there.

For twenty years Tom raced and gambled, made love with the prettiest girls, danced, ate in the most expensive restaurants, and dressed perfectly. Though he was forty-six you would never have taken him for more than thirty-five. He was an amusing person to be with, and though you knew he had no money you could not but enjoy his society. He had high spirits, was always cheerful and was very charming. I was never unhappy about the money he regularly asked me for the to pay for the necessities of his life. I never lent him fifty pounds without feeling as though it was I who owed him. Tom Ramsay knew everyone and everyone knew Tom Ramsay. You could not like some of the things he did, but you could not help liking him.

Poor George, only a year older than Tom, looked sixty. He had never taken more than a fortnight’s holiday in the year for a quarter of a century. He was in his office every morning at nine-thirty and never left it till six. He was honest, hard working and worthy. He had a good wife, to whom he had never been unfaithful even in thought, and four daughters to whom he was the best of fathers. He made a point of saving a third of his income. His plan was to stop working at fifty-five and move to a little house in the country where he proposed to work in his garden and play golf. He had never done anything bad in his life. He was glad that he was growing old because Tom was growing old too.

“It was all very well when Tom was young and good-looking,” he said, “but he’s only a year younger than I am. In four years he’ll be fifty. He won’t find life so easy then. I shall have thirty thousand pounds by the time I’m fifty. For twenty-five years I’ve said that Tom would end his life poor and homeless. And we shall see how he likes that. We shall see if it really pays best to work or do nothing.”

Poor George! I felt sorry for him. I wondered now as I sat down beside him what terrible thing Tom had done. George seemed to be very much upset.

“Do you know what’s happened now?” he asked me.

I was prepared for the worst. I wondered if Tom had got into the hands of the police at last. George could hardly bring himself to speak.

“I hope you will agree that I have worked hard all my life and always been fair, respectable and honest. After a life of saving, I can look forward to living the rest of my days on a small income from safe investments. I’ve always done my duty in whatever state of life in which it has pleased God to place me.”

“True.”

“And you can’t disagree that most of his life Tom has been lazy, immoral and dishonest. If there were any justice he’d have been locked up for not paying back money he owed.”

“True.”

George grew red in the face.

“A few weeks ago he married a woman old enough to be his mother. And now she’s died and left him everything she had. Half a million pounds, a yacht, a house in London and a house in the country.”

George Ramsay beat his hand on the table.

“It’s not fair, I tell you; it’s not fair. Damn it, it’s not fair.”

I could not help it. I gave out a shout of laughter as I looked at George’s angry face. I rolled in my chair; I very nearly fell on the floor. George never forgave me. But Tom often asked me to excellent dinners in his charming house in Mayfair. And if he occasionally borrows a little money from me, that is simply from force of habit. It is never more than a pound.