HomeJean de La FontaineTHE FRAUDULENT TRUSTEE

THE FRAUDULENT TRUSTEE. Jean de La Fontaine

Animals I′ve sung in verse,
Memory′s daughters aiding;
Perhaps I should have done far worse,
In other heroes trading.
In my book the dogs sit down
With wolves in conversation;
And beasts dressed up in vest and gown,
All sorts, of every nation,
Reflect each kind of folly duly,
My verse interprets them so truly.
Fools there are, and wise there are,
But my heroes I can′t flatter;
For ′tis certain that, by far,
The former ones exceed the latter.
Swindlers I have painted often—
Brutes whom kindness cannot soften;
Tyrants, flatterers, and the crew
Who take your gifts, then bite at you.
In my pages you′ll find many
Examples of the utter zany;
But chiefly have I had to do
With those who say what is not true.
The ancient wise man cried aloud,
"All men are liars!" Had he stated
This fact but of the wretched crowd,
E′en then I should have hesitated;
But that we mortals, great and small,
Both good and bad, are liars all,
I should deny at once, of course,
Did I not know the maxim′s source.
But he who lies as Æsop lies,
Or, to go a little higher,
As old Homer, is no liar;
For the charming dreams we prize,
With which they have enriched the world,
Are brightest truths in fiction furled.
The works of such should live for ever;
And he who lies like them lies never.
But he who should attempt to lie
As a Fraudulent Trustee did,
A liar is, most certainly,
And should suffer for′t as he did.
The story tells us
That, proposing
To journey into foreign lands,
A merchant, in the Persian trade—
In friends all confidence reposing—
Agreement with a neighbour made,
To leave some iron in his hands.
"My metal?" said he, coming back.
"Your metal! ′tis all gone, alack!
A rat has eaten up the lot!
I′ve scolded all my slaves, God wot!
But, in spite of all control,
A granary floor will have a hole."
The merchant opened well his eyes,
And never hinted aught of lies;
But soon he stole his neighbour′s child,
And then he asked the rogue to dine.
To which the other answered, wild
With anguish, "Sir, I must decline—
I loved a child—I have but one—
I have! What say I? I have none,
For he is stolen!" Then replies
The Merchant, "With my own two eyes,
On yester eve, at close of day,
I saw your offspring borne away,
With many a struggle, many a howl,
To an old ruin, by an owl."
"An owl," the father cried, "convey
To such a height so big a prey!
My son could kill a dozen such;
For my belief this is too much!"
"I do not that deny," replies
His friend, "yet saw it with these eyes;
And wherefore should you think it strange
That in a land where rats can steal
A ton of iron from a grange,
An owl should seize a boy of ten,
Fly with him to his lofty den.
And of him make a hearty meal?"
The Fraudulent Trustee perceived
Which way the artful story tended,
Gave back the goods, the man received
His child, and so the matter ended.

Between two Travellers, on their road,
Dispute arose, in a strange mode:—
The one a story-teller, such
As oft are met with, who can′t touch
On any great or trivial topic,
Without the use—that is, abuse—
Of lenses microscopic.
With them all objects are gigantic,
Small ponds grow huge as the Atlantic.
The present instance said he "knew
A cabbage once that grew so tall,
It topped a lofty garden wall."
"I′m sure," replied his friend, "′tis true,
For I myself a pot have met,
Within which no large church could get."
The first one such a pot derided:
"Softly, my friend," rejoined the second;
"You quite without your host have reckoned;
To boil your cabbage was my pot provided!"

The man of the monstrous pot was a wag,
The man of the iron adroit;
And if ever you meet with a man who′ll brag,
Never attempt to stint him a doit,
But match his long bow with your strong bow.


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