The Original Fables of La Fontaine/The Man Who ran after Fortune and the Man who waited for Her in His Bed

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The Original Fables of La Fontaine by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by F. C. Tilney
The Man Who ran after Fortune and the Man who waited for Her in His Bed

XII

THE MAN WHO RAN AFTER FORTUNE
AND THE MAN WHO WAITED FOR
HER IN HIS BED

(Book VII.—No. 12)

Who does not run after Fortune?

I would I were in some spot whence I could watch the eager crowds rushing from kingdom to kingdom in their vain chase after the daughter of Chance!

They are indeed but faithful followers of a phantom; for when they think they have her, lo! she is gone! Poor wretches! One must pity rather than blame their foolishness, "That man" they say with sanguine voice, "raised cabbages; and now he is Pope! Are we not as good as he?" Ah! yes! a hundred times as good perhaps; but what of that? Fortune has no eyes for all your merit. Besides, is Papacy, after all, worth peace, which one must leave behind for it? Peace—a treasure that once was the possession of gods alone—is seldom granted to the votaries of Dame Fortune. Do not seek her; and then she will seek you. That is the way with women!


There once were two friends, who lived comfortably and prospered moderately in a village; but one of them was always wishing to do better. One day he said to the other, "Suppose we left this place and tried our luck elsewhere? You know that a prophet is never received in his own country!"

You try, by all means," returned his friend, "but as for me, I am contented where I am. I desire neither better climate nor better possibilities. You please yourself. Follow your unquiet spirit. You'll soon return, and I shall sleep soundly enough awaiting you."

So the man of ambition, or the money-grubber, whichever you like to call him, took to the road, and arrived next day at a place where, if anywhere, Dame Fortune should be found, namely, the court. He stayed at court for some long time, never missing an opportunity to put himself in the way of favours. He was in evidence when the king went to bed, when he arose, and on all other propitious occasions.

"What's amiss?" he said at last. "Fortune, I am convinced, dwells here; for I have seen her the guest now of this one and now of that one. How is it that I cannot entertain the capricious creature? I must try her elsewhere. I have already been told that the people of this place are exceedingly ambitious. Evidently there is no room for me here. So, adieu! gentleman of the court, and follow to the bitter end this will-o'-the-wisp! They tell me that Dame Fortune has temples in Surat. Very well! We will go there."

He embarked at once. What hearts of bronze have humankind! The man who first attempted this awful route and defied its terrors must have had a heart of adamant. Often did our traveller turn his eyes towards his little home as first pirates, then contrary winds, then calms, then rocks—all agents of death—in turn assailed him. Strange it is that men should take such pains to meet death, since it will come only too quickly to them in their homes!

Our adventurer arrived in India. There they told him that Japan was the place where Fortune dispensed her favours. He hurried there. The sea wearied of carrying him about. In the end all the profit his long voyages brought him was the lesson which he learnt from savages, and that was: "Stop in your own country and let Nature instruct you." Japan, India, or anywhere else; no one place was better than another as a hunting ground for Fortune; so the conclusion was forced upon him that he had been wiser had he stayed in his own village. At last he renounced all these ungrateful wanderings and returned to his own country; and as he caught sight of his homestead from afar he wept for joy, and cried: "Happy is the man who, staying in his home, finds constant occupation in adjusting his desires to his surroundings. To him the court, the sea, and the land of Fortune are but hearsay. Thou, fickle Dame, flaunting before our eyes dignities and wealth, dost cause us to follow after these allurements to the ends of the earth, only to find them empty shams. Henceforth I wander no more, for here at home a hundred times more success shall I find."

Having registered this vow against Fortune the wanderer came to the door of his friend, and lo! there sat Fortune, waiting on the threshold, whilst his friend slumbered within.