World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 14

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The Oyster and the Litigants.

Two pilgrims on the sand espied
An oyster thrown up by the tide.
In hope, both swallow'd ocean's fruit;
But ere the fact there came dispute.
While one stoop'd down to take the prey,
The other push'd him quite away.
Said he, "'Twere rather meet
To settle which shall eat.
Why, he who first the oyster saw
Should be its eater by the law;
The other should but see him do it."
Replied his mate, "If thus you view it,
Thank God the lucky eye is mine."
"But I've an eye not worse than thine,"
The other cried, "and will be cursed,
If, too, I didn't see it first."
"You saw it, did you? Grant it true,
I saw it then, and felt it too."
Amidst this sweet affair,
Arrived a person very big,
Ycleped Sir Nincom Periwig.
They made him judge,--to set the matter square.
Sir Nincom, with a solemn face,
Took up the oyster and the case:
In opening both, the first he swallow'd,
And, in due time, his judgment follow'd.
"Attend: the court awards you each a shell
Cost free; depart in peace, and use them well."

_Foot up the cost of suits at law,_
_The leavings reckon and awards,_
_The cash you'll see Sir Nincom draw,_
_And leave the parties--purse and cards._

The Wolf and the Lean Dog.

A Troutling, some time since,
Endeavour'd vainly to convince
A hungry fisherman
Of his unfitness for the frying-pan.
The fisherman had reason good--
The troutling did the best he could--
Both argued for their lives.
Now, if my present purpose thrives,
I'll prop my former proposition
By building on a small addition.
A certain wolf, in point of wit
The prudent fisher's opposite,
A dog once finding far astray,
Prepared to take him as his prey.
The dog his leanness pled;
"Your lordship, sure," he said,
"Cannot be very eager
To eat a dog so meagre.
To wait a little do not grudge:
The wedding of my master's only daughter
Will cause of fatted calves and fowls a slaughter;
And then, as you yourself can judge,
I cannot help becoming fatter."
The wolf, believing, waived the matter,
And so, some days therefrom,
Return'd with sole design to see
If fat enough his dog might be.
The rogue was now at home:
He saw the hunter through the fence.
"My friend," said he, "please wait;
I'll be with you a moment hence,
And fetch our porter of the gate."
This porter was a dog immense,
That left to wolves no future tense.
Suspicion gave our wolf a jog,--
It might not be so safely tamper'd.
"My service to your porter dog,"
Was his reply, as off he scamper'd.
His legs proved better than his head,
And saved him life to learn his trade.

Nothing too Much.

Look where we will throughout creation,
We look in vain for moderation.

The grain, best gift of Ceres fair,
Green waving in the genial air,
By overgrowth exhausts the soil;
By superfluity of leaves
Defrauds the treasure of its sheaves,
And mocks the busy farmer's toil.
Not less redundant is the tree,
So sweet a thing is luxury.
The grain within due bounds to keep,
Their Maker licenses the sheep
The leaves excessive to retrench.
In troops they spread across the plain,
And, nibbling down the hapless grain,
Contrive to spoil it, root and branch.
So, then, with licence from on high,
The wolves are sent on sheep to prey;
The whole the greedy gluttons slay;
Or, if they don't, they try.

Next, men are sent on wolves to take
The vengeance now condign:
In turn the same abuse they make
Of this behest divine.

Of animals, the human kind
Are to excess the most inclined.
On low and high we make the charge,--
Indeed, upon the race at large.
There liveth not the soul select
That sinneth not in this respect.
Of "Nought too much," the fact is,
All preach the truth,--none practise.

The Cat and the Fox.

The cat and fox, when saints were all the rage
Together went upon pilgrimage.
Our pilgrims, as a thing of course,
Disputed till their throats were hoarse.
Then, dropping to a lower tone,
They talk'd of this, and talk'd of that,
Till Renard whisper'd to the cat,
"You think yourself a knowing one:
How many cunning tricks have you?
For I've a hundred, old and new,
All ready in my haversack."
The cat replied, "I do not lack,
Though with but one provided;
And, truth to honour, for that matter,
I hold it than a thousand better."
In fresh dispute they sided;
And loudly were they at it, when
Approach'd a mob of dogs and men.
"Now," said the cat, "your tricks ransack,
And put your cunning brains to rack,
One life to save; I'll show you mine--
A trick, you see, for saving nine."
With that, she climb'd a lofty pine.
The fox his hundred ruses tried,
And yet no safety found.
A hundred times he falsified
The nose of every hound.--
Was here, and there, and everywhere,
Above, and under ground;
But yet to stop he did not dare,
Pent in a hole, it was no joke,
To meet the terriers or the smoke.
So, leaping into upper air,
He met two dogs, that choked him there.

_Expedients may be too many,_
_Consuming time to choose and try._
_On one, but that as good as any,_
_'Tis best in danger to rely._

The Monkey and the Cat.

Sly Bertrand and Ratto in company sat,
(The one was a monkey, the other a cat,)
Co-servants and lodgers:
More mischievous codgers
Ne'er mess'd from a platter, since platters were flat.
Was anything wrong in the house or about it,
The neighbours were blameless,--no mortal could doubt it;
For Bertrand was thievish, and Ratto so nice,
More attentive to cheese than he was to the mice.
One day the two plunderers sat by the fire,
Where chestnuts were roasting, with looks of desire.
To steal them would be a right noble affair.
A double inducement our heroes drew there--
'Twould benefit them, could they swallow their fill,
And then 'twould occasion to somebody ill.
Said Bertrand to Ratto, "My brother, to-day
Exhibit your powers in a masterly way,
And take me these chestnuts, I pray.
Which were I but otherwise fitted
(As I am ingeniously witted)
For pulling things out of the flame,
Would stand but a pitiful game."
"'Tis done," replied Ratto, all prompt to obey;
And thrust out his paw in a delicate way.
First giving the ashes a scratch,
He open'd the coveted batch;
Then lightly and quickly impinging,
He drew out, in spite of the singeing,
One after another, the chestnuts at last,--
While Bertrand contrived to devour them as fast.
A servant girl enters. Adieu to the fun.
Our Ratto was hardly contented, says one.--

_No more are the princes, by flattery paid_
_For furnishing help in a different trade,_
_And burning their fingers to bring_
_More power to some mightier king._

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