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Information

Author: Jean de La Fontaine - 1668

Translated into English
  by Frederick Colin Tilney - 1913

Original title (French):
La Cour du Lion

Country of origin: France

Translations

English - aligned


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The Wishes

Jean de La Fontaine / Frederick Colin Tilney

When the Great Mogul held empire, there were certain little
sprites who used to undertake all sorts of tasks helpful to mankind.
They would do housework, stable-work, and even gardening. But if one
interfered with them, all would be spoilt.

One of these friendly sprites cultivated the garden of a worthy family
living near the Ganges. His duties were performed deftly and
noiselessly. He loved not only his master and mistress, but the garden
also. Possibly the zephyrs, who are said to be friends of the sprites,
helped him in his tasks. At any rate he did his very best, and never
ceased in his efforts to load his hosts with every pleasure. To prove
his zeal he would have stayed with these people for ever, in spite of
the natural propensity of his kind for waywardness. But his mischievous
fellow-sprites fell to plotting. They induced the chief of their band to
remove him to another field of labour. This the chief promised and,
either by caprice or by policy, finally brought about. Orders came that
the devoted worker should set out for the uttermost part of Norway,
there to take charge of a house which at all times of the year was
covered with snow. So from being an Indian, the poor thing became a
Laplander.

"I am forced to leave you," he said to his hosts, "but for what fault of
mine this has come to pass I cannot tell. I only know that go I must,
and in a very little while too; a month perhaps, or maybe only a week.
Make the most of the interval. Fortunately, I can fulfil three wishes
for you; but not more than three."

To mankind there is nothing very out-of-the-way in merely wishing. These
good people decided that their first wish should be for abundance, and
straightway. Abundance, by the double-handful, poured gold into their
coffers; wheat into their granaries; wine into their cellars. Repletion
was everywhere. But, alas, what cares of direction, what account
keeping; what time and anxiety this affluence involved!

Thieves plotted against them. Great lords borrowed from them. The prince
taxed them. They were, in fact, reduced to misery by this excess of good
fortune. At last they could endure it no longer. "Take back this awful
overplus of wealth," they cried. "Even the poor are happy in comparison
with us, and poverty is more covetable than such riches. Away, then,
with these treasures! And thou, sweet Moderation, mother of all peace,
sister of repose, come to us again!" With these words, which made their
second wish, lo! Moderation returned and they received her with open
arms, once again enjoying peace.

Thus at the end of these two wishes they were exactly where they were in
the first place, and so it is with all who are given to wishing, and
wasting in dreams the time they had better have spent in doing. But
being philosophical people they laughed, and the sprite laughed with
them. To profit by his generosity when he had left them, they hazarded
their third wish and asked for wisdom. Wisdom is a treasure which never
embarrasses.