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Aesop's Fables: Sir Roger L'Estrange (1692)


A Carpenter dropt his Ax into a River, and put up a Prayer to Mercury to help him to’t again. Mercury div’d for’t, and brought him up a golden one; but that was not it, the Fellow said: And so he plung’d a second Time, and fetch’d up another of silver. He said that it was not it neither. He try’d once again, and then up comes an Ax with a wooden Handle, which the Carpenter said, was the very Tool that he had lost. Well! (says Mercury) thou art so such a poor Wretch, that I’ll give thee all three now for thy Honesty. This Story got into everybody’s Mouth, and the Rumour being spread, it came into a Knave’s Head to try the same Experiment over again. And so away goes he, and down he sits, sniv’ling and yelping upon the Bank of a River, that he had dropt his Ax into the Water there. Mercury that was at hand it seems, heard his Lamentation, and dipping once again for his Ax, as he had done for the other; and up he brings him a golden Ax, and asks the Fellow if that were it: Yes, yes, says he, this is it. O thou impudent Sot, cries Mercury; to think of putting Tricks upon him that sees through the very Heart of thee.
THE MORAL. The great Searcher of out Hearts is not to be impos’d upon, but he will take his own time either to reward or punish.

L'Estrange originally published his version of the fables in 1692. There is a very nice illustrated edition in the Children's Classics series by Knopf: Sir Roger L'Estrange. Aesop - Fables which is available at amazon.com.