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Better than gold is the poor man's sleep,
Better than gold is a thinking mind,
Better than gold in affliction's hour
ALEXANDER SMART. THE LYING SERVANT.
THERE lived in Bavaria a certain lord, pious, just, and wise, to whose lot it fell to have a serving-man, a great rogue, and, above all, addicted to the vice of lying The name of the lord is not given in the story; therefore the reader need not trouble himself about it.
This fellow was given to boast of his wondrous travels. He had visited countries which are nowhere to be found on the map, and seen things which mortal eye had never beheld. He would lie through the twenty-four hours of the clock; for he dreamed falsehoods in his sleep, to the truth of which he swore when awake. His lord was shrewd as well as a virtuous man, and used to see the lies in the valet's mouth; so that he was often caught—hung, as it were, in his own untruths, as in a trap. Nevertheless, he persisted still the more in his lies; and when any one said, “ How can that be ?” he would answer, with fierce oaths and protestations, that it was so.
It chanced, one pleasant day in spring, after the rains had fallen heavily and swollen the floods, that the lord and his servant rode out together, and their way was through a silent and shady forest. Suddenly appeared an old and well-grown fox.
Look !” exclaimed the master; "what a huge beast! Never before have I seen a reynard so large.”
Doth this beast surprise thee by its hugeness ?” replieth straight the serving-man, casting his eye slightingly on the animal as he fled away for fear. “I
have been in a kingdom where the foxes are as big as the bulls in this !”
Whereupon, hearing so vast a lie, the lord answered calmly, but with mockery in his heart, “In that kingdom there must be excellent lining for cloaks, if furriers can there be found to dress skins so large.”
And so they rode on, the lord in silence; but soon he began to sigh heavily. Still he seemed to wax more and more sad in spirit, and his sighs grew deeper and more quick. Then the servant inquired of the lord what sudden affliction or cause of sorrow bad happened
“Alas !” replied the wily master, “I trust in Heaven's goodness that neither of us two hath to-day, by any frowardness of fortune, chanced to say the thing which is not true ; for, assuredly, he that hath so done must this day perish !”
The servant, on hearing these doleful words, and perceiving real sorrow to be depicted on his master's countenance, instantly felt as if his ears grew more wide, so that not a word or syllable of so strange a discovery might escape his troubled sense ; and so, with eager exclamation, he demanded of the lord to ease his suspense, and to explain why so cruel a doom was now about to befall him who had spoken an untruth.
Hear, then,” answered the lord, “ since thou must needs know; and may no trouble come to thee from what I shall say. To-day we ride far, and in our course is a vast and heavy-rolling flood, of which the ford is narrow and the pool is deep. To it hath Heaven given the power of sweeping down into its dark holes all dealers in falsehood who may rashly
venture to put themselves within its truth-loving current. But to him who bath told no lie there is no fear of the river. Spur we our horses, for to-day our journey must be long."
Then the servant thought, “ Long, indeed, must the journey be for some who are now here ;” and, as he spurred, he sighed more deeply than his master had done before him, who now went gaily on. They soon came to a brook. Its waters were small, and its channel such as a boy might leap across. Yet, nevertheless, the servant began to tremble, and falteringly asked, “ Is this the river where larmless liars must perish ?”
“ This ? ah, no,” replied the lord; “ this is but a a brook : no liar need tremble here."
Yet was the servant not wholly assured; and stammeringly said, “ My gracious lord, thy servant now bethinks him that he to-day hath made a fox too huge; that of which he spake was not so large as an ox, but as big as a good-sized deer.”
The lord replied, with wonder in his tone, " What of this fox concerneth me? If large or small, I care not. Spur we our horses, for to-day our journey must be long."
“Long, indeed,” still thought the serving-man; and in sadness he crossed the brook. Then came they to a stream, running quickly through a green meadow, the stones showing themselves in many places above its frothy water. The varlet started, and cried aloud, “Another river! Surely of rivers there is to-day no end; was it of this thou spakest heretofore ?"
“No," replied the lord; “not of this.” And more
he said not; yet marked he with inward gladness his servant's fear.
“ Because, in good truth,” rejoined the rogue, “it is on my conscience to give thee note that the fox of which I spake was not bigger than a calf.”
Large or small, let me not be troubled with the fox ; the beast concerneth not me at all."
As they quitted the wood, they perceived a river in the way, which gave signs of having been swollen by the rains; and on it was a boat. “This, then, is the doom of liars," said the serving-man; and he looked earnestly towards the ferry-boat.
“ Be informed, my good lord, that reynard was not larger than a fat sheep."
The lord seemed angry, and answered, “ This is not yet the grave of falsehood : why torment me with this fox? Rather spur we our horses, for we have far to go.”
Now the day declined, and the shadows of the travellers lengthened on the ground; but darker than the twilight was the sadness on the face of the knave. And as the wind rustled the trees, he ever and anon turned pale, and inquired of his master if the noise were of a torrent or a stream of water. Still, as the evening fell, his eyes strove to discover the course of a winding river. But nothing of the sort could he discern; so that his spirits began to revive, and he was fain to join in discourse with the lord. But the lord held his peace, and looked as one who expects an evil thing.
Suddenly the way became steep, and they descended into a low and woody valley, in which there