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THE EYE OF THE MASTER. Jean de La Fontaine

THE EYE OF THE MASTER. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE EYE OF THE MASTER. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

A Stag sought refuge from the chase
Among the oxen of a stable,
Who counselled him—if he was able—
To find a better hiding-place.
"My brothers," said the fugitive,
"Betray me not; and I will show
The richest pastures that I know;
Your kindness you will ne′er regret,
With interest I′ll pay the debt."
The oxen promised well to keep
The secret: couched for quiet sleep,
Safe in a tranquil privacy,
The Stag lay down, and breathed more free.

At even-time they brought fresh hay,
As was their custom day by day;
Men went and came, ah! very near,
And last of all the overseer,
Yet carelessly, for horns nor hair
Showed that the hiding stag was there.
The forest dweller′s gratitude
Was great, and in a joyous mood
He waited till the labour ceased,
And oxen were from toil released,
Leaving the exit once more free,
To end his days of slavery.
A ruminating bullock cried,
"All now goes well; but woe betide
When that man with the hundred eyes
Shall come, and you, poor soul! surprise?
I fear the watchful look he′ll take,
And dread his visit for your sake;
Boast not until the end, for sure
Your boasting may be premature."
She had not time to utter more,
The master opened quick the door.
"How′s this, you rascal men?" said he;
"These empty racks will never do!
Go to the loft; this litter, too,
Is not the thing. I want to see
More care from those that work for me;
Whose turn these cobwebs to brush out?
These collars, traces?—look about!"
Then gazing round, he spies a head,
Where a fat ox should be instead;
The frightened stag they recognise.
In vain the tears roll from his eyes;
They fall on him with furious blows,
Each one a thrust, until, to close,
They kill and salt the wretched beast,
And cook him up for many a feast.

Phædrus hath put it pithily,
The master′s is the eye for me,
The lover′s, too, is quick to see.

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