World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 19

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The Horse and the Wolf.

A wolf who, fall'n on needy days,
In sharp look-out for means and ways,
Espied a horse turn'd out to graze.
His joy the reader may opine.
"Once got," said he, "this game were fine;
But if a sheep, 'twere sooner mine.
I can't proceed my usual way;
Some trick must now be put in play."
This said,
He came with measured tread,
And told the horse, with learned verbs,
He knew the power of roots and herbs,--
Whatever grew about those borders,--
He soon could cure of all disorders.
If he, Sir Horse, would not conceal
The symptoms of his case,
He, Doctor Wolf, would gratis heal;
For that to feed in such a place,
And run about untied,
Was proof itself of some disease,
As all the books decide.
"I have, good Doctor, if you please,"
Replied the horse, "as I presume,
Beneath my foot, an aposthume."
"My son," replied the learned leech,
"That part, as all our authors teach,
Is strikingly susceptible
Of ills which make acceptable
What you may also have from me--
The aid of skilful surgery."
The fellow, with this talk sublime,
Watch'd for a snap the fitting time.
Meanwhile, suspicious of some trick,
The weary patient nearer draws,
And gives his doctor such a kick,
As makes a chowder of his jaws.
Exclaim'd the Wolf, in sorry plight,
"I own those heels have served me right.
I err'd to quit my trade, as I will not in future;
Me Nature surely made for nothing but a butcher."

 

The Eagle and the Owl.

The eagle and the owl, resolved to cease
Their war, embraced in pledge of peace.
On faith of king, on faith of owl, they swore
That they would eat each other's chicks no more.
"But know you mine?" said Wisdom's bird.
"Not I, indeed," the eagle cried.
"The worse for that," the owl replied:
"I fear your oath's a useless word;
I fear that you, as king, will not
Consider duly who or what:
Adieu, my young, if you should meet them!"
"Describe them, then, and I'll not eat them,"
The eagle said. The owl replied:
"My little ones, I say with pride,
For grace of form cannot be match'd,--
The prettiest birds that e'er were hatch'd;
By this you cannot fail to know them;
'Tis needless, therefore, that I show them."
At length God gives the owl a set of heirs,
And while at early eve abroad he fares,
In quest of birds and mice for food,
Our eagle haply spies the brood,
As on some craggy rock they sprawl,
Or nestle in some ruined wall,
(But which it matters not at all,)
And thinks them ugly little frights,
Grim, sad, with voice like shrieking sprites.
"These chicks," says he, "with looks almost infernal,
Can't be the darlings of our friend nocturnal.
I'll sup of them." And so he did, not slightly:--
He never sups, if he can help it, lightly.
The owl return'd; and, sad, he found
Nought left but claws upon the ground.
He pray'd the gods above and gods below
To smite the brigand who had caused his woe.
Quoth one, "On you alone the blame must fall;
Thinking your like the loveliest of all
You told the eagle of your young ones' graces;
You gave the picture of their faces:--
Had it of likeness any traces?"

 

The Miser and the Monkey.

A Man amass'd. The thing, we know,
Doth often to a frenzy grow.
No thought had he but of his minted gold--
Stuff void of worth when unemploy'd, I hold.
Now, that this treasure might the safer be,
Our miser's dwelling had the sea
As guard on every side from every thief.
With pleasure, very small in my belief,
But very great in his, he there
Upon his hoard bestow'd his care.
No respite came of everlasting
Recounting, calculating, casting;
For some mistake would always come
To mar and spoil the total sum.
A monkey there, of goodly size,--
And than his lord, I think, more wise,--
Some doubloons from the window threw,
And render'd thus the count untrue.
The padlock'd room permitted
Its owner, when he quitted,
To leave his money on the table.
One day, bethought this monkey wise
To make the whole a sacrifice
To Neptune on his throne unstable.
I could not well award the prize
Between the monkey's and the miser's pleasure
Derived from that devoted treasure.
One day, then, left alone,
That animal, to mischief prone,
Coin after coin detach'd,
A gold jacobus snatch'd,
Or Portuguese doubloon,
Or silver ducatoon,
Or noble, of the English rose,
And flung with all his might
Those discs, which oft excite
The strongest wishes mortal ever knows.
Had he not heard, at last,
The turning of his master's key,
The money all had pass'd
The same short road to sea;
And not a single coin but had been pitch'd
Into the gulf by many a wreck enrich'd.

_Now, God preserve full many a financier_
_Whose use of wealth may find its likeness here!_

 

The Vultures and the Pigeons.

Mars once made havoc in the air:
Some cause aroused a quarrel there
Among the birds;--not those that sing,
The courtiers of the merry Spring,
But naughty hawk and vulture folks,
Of hooked beak and talons keen.
The carcass of a dog, 'tis said,
Had to this civil carnage led.
Blood rain'd upon the swarded green,
And valiant deeds were done, I ween.
Suffice to say, that chiefs were slain,
And heroes strow'd the sanguine plain.
'Twas sport to see the battle rage,
And valiant hawk with hawk engage;
'Twas pitiful to see them fall,--
Torn, bleeding, weltering, gasping, all.
Force, courage, cunning, all were plied;
Intrepid troops on either side
No effort spared to populate
The dusky realms of hungry Fate.
This woful strife awoke compassion
Within another feather'd nation,
Of iris neck and tender heart.
They tried their hand at mediation--
To reconcile the foes, or part.
The pigeon people duly chose
Ambassadors, who work'd so well
As soon the murderous rage to quell,
And stanch the source of countless woes.
A truce took place, and peace ensued.
Alas! the people dearly paid
Who such pacification made!
Those cursed hawks at once pursued
The harmless pigeons, slew and ate,
Till towns and fields were desolate.

_The safety of the rest requires_
_The bad should flesh each other's spears:_
_Whoever peace with them desires_
_Had better set them by the ears._


The Stag and the Vine.

A stag, by favour of a vine,
Which grew where suns most genial shine,
And form'd a thick and matted bower
Which might have turn'd a summer shower,
Was saved from ruinous assault.
The hunters thought their dogs at fault,
And call'd them off. In danger now no more
The stag, a thankless wretch and vile,
Began to browse his benefactress o'er.
The hunters, listening the while,
The rustling heard, came back,
With all their yelping pack,
And seized him in that very place.
"This is," said he, "but justice, in my case.
Let every black ingrate
Henceforward profit by my fate."
The dogs fell to--'twere wasting breath
To pray those hunters at the death.
They left, and we will not revile 'em
A warning for profaners of asylum.

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