Poor Richard tells that the Burgomaster and Aldermen of a small town west of Chicago one day were meeting in council to discuss the draining of the local swamp, when a stranger appeared in their hall and offered to drain it for them. He was long of face and limb and would not identify himself, however he was pressed, other than to say that he was the Heron King, which the Burgomaster and Aldermen found strange, as he was dressed in rags.
“What price will you ask of us for this feat of engineering?” the Burgomaster asked the Heron King.
“A very modest price, indeed,” the Heron King replied. “I only ask your permission to dry out your land, and then I will do it, not for any reward from you, but for the amusement of seeing how you enjoy my gift. And I will accomplish no feat of engineering, for I am not an engineer, nor do I employ any. I shall dry out your land by magic.”
“Very well,” laughed the Burgomaster and all the Aldermen. “You have our permission to dry out our land.” The Heron King bowed and disappeared. The council then had a good laugh and they all went home and told their wives and children that night about the mad beggar who had promised to dry up their swamp. The wives and children all laughed, too, and then they all went to bed.
In the morning they awoke to find that not only had their swamp been drained, but the moisture had been parched out of all the land for twenty miles around the town. The wells had dried up, the plants had died and the arable fields had been reduced to fine dust.
The Heron King, still dressed in rags, stood in the town square, and the town gathered around him. First the townspeople objected to what he had done, then they yelled in anger, and finally they pleaded, abasing themselves on the ground and weeping, for him to restore their land to what it had been.
The Heron King listened to it all silently, a curious smile on his lips, and when every last person of the town had dried his throat begging and reddened his eyes weeping, and the whole crowd had fallen silent again, he finally spoke.
“Thank you,” he said, “for the amusement.” And then he was gone.
Poor Richard says: Be very careful what you wish for, and beware consequences that you do not intend.
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The foregoing is another chapter heading from Witchy Eye. I wanted something that felt like an American Aesop and that helped build the milieu, especially around the central and somewhat mysterious figure of the Heron King.