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The Bear and the Two Companions

(Recueil 1, Livre 5, Fable 20)



Two fellows, needing funds, and bold,

A bearskin to a furrier sold,

Of which the bear was living still,

But which they presently would kill

At least they said they would.

And, if their word was good,

It was a king of bears an Ursa Major

The biggest bear beneath the sun.

Its skin, the chaps would wager,

Was cheap at double cost;

"Twould make one laugh at frost

And make two robes as well as one.

Old Dindenaut, in sheep who dealt,

Less prized his sheep, than they their pelt

(In their account It was theirs,

But in his own, the bears.)

By bargain struck on the skin,

Two days at most must bring it in.

Forth went the two. More easy found than got,

The bear came growling at them on the trot.

Behold our dealers both confounded,

As if by thunderbolt astounded!

Their bargain vanished suddenly in air;

For who could plead his interest with a bear?

One of the friends sprung up a tree;

The other, cold as ice could be,

Fell on his face, feigned death,

And closely held his breath,

He having somewhere heard it said

The bear never preys on the dead.

Sir Bear, sad blockhead, was deceived

The prostrate man a corpse believed;

But, half suspecting some deceit,

He feels and snuffs from head to feet,

And in the nostrils blows.

The body's surely dead, he thinks.

"I'll leave it," says he, "for it stinks;"

And off into the woods he goes.

The other dealer, from his tree

Descending cautiously, to see

His comrade lying in the dirt,

Consoling, says, "It is a wonder

That, by the monster forced asunder,

We're, after all, more scared than hurt.

But," adds he, "what of the creature's skin?

He held his muzzle very near;

What did he whisper in your ear?"

"He gave this caution, - "Never dare

Again to sell the skin of bear

Its owner has not ceased to wear."

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 5, Fable 20



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