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The Oyster and the Litigants

(Recueil 2, Livre 9, Fable 9)



Two pilgrims on the sand espied

An oyster thrown up by the tide.

In hope, both swallowed ocean's fruit;

But before the fact there came dispute.

While one stooped down to take the prey,

The other pushed him quite away.

Said he, "Twere rather meet

To settle which shall eat.

Why, he who first the oyster saw

Should be its eater, by the law;

The other should but see him do it."

Replied his mate, "If thus you view it,

Thank God the lucky eye is mine."

"But I have an eye not worse than thine,"

The other cried, "and will be cursed,

If, too, I didn't see it first."

"You saw it, did you? Grant it true,

I saw it then, and felt it too."

Amidst this sweet affair,

Arrived a person very big,

Ycleped Sir Nincom Periwig.

They made him judge, to set the matter square.

Sir Nincom, with a solemn face,

Took up the oyster and the case:

In opening both, the first he swallowed,

And, in due time, his judgment followed.

"Attend: the court awards you each a shell

Cost free; depart in peace, and use them well."

Foot up the cost of suits at law,

The leavings reckon and awards,

The cash you'll see Sir Nincom draw,

And leave the parties—purse and cards.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 9, Fable 9



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