MR. G. Ha! Steward, how are you, my old boy? How do things go on at home?
STEWARD. Bad enough, your honour; the magpie's dead!
MR. G. Poor mag! so he's gone. How came he to die?
STEWARD. Over-ate himself, Sir.
MR. G. Did he indeed? a greedy dog. Why, what did he get that he liked so well?
STEWARD. Horseflesh; he died of eating horseflesh.
MR. G. How came he to get so much horseflesh?
STEWARD. All your father's horses, Sir.
MR. G. What! are they dead too?
STEWARD. Ay, Sir; they died of over-work.
MR. G. And why were they over-worked?
STEWARD. To carry water, Sir.
MR. G. To carry water, and what were they carrying water for?
STEWARD. Sure, Sir, to put out the fire.
MR. G. Fire! what fire?
STEWARD. Your father's house is burned down to the ground.
MR. G. My father's house burnt down! and how came it to be on fire?
STEWARD. I think, Sir, it must have been the torches.
MR G. Torches! what torches?
STEWARD. At your mother's funeral.
MR. G. My mother dead?
STEWARD. Ay, poor lady, she never looked up after it.
MR. G. After what?
STEWARD. The loss of your father.
MR. G. My father gone too?
STEWARD. Yes, poor gentleman, he took to his bed as soon as he heard of it.
MR. G. Heard of what?
STEWARD. The bad news, an' it please your honour.
MR. G. What? more miseries, more bad news!
STEWARD. Yes, Sir, your bank has failed, your credit is lost and you're not worth a shilling in the world. I make bold, Sir, to come and wait on you about it; for I thought you would like to hear the news.
SOURCE: Bell's Speaker.
PARALLELS: Jacques de Vitry, Exempla, ed. Crane, No. ccv., a servant being asked the news by his master returned from a pilgrimage to Compostella, says the dog is lame, and goes on to explain: "While the dog was running near the mule, the mule kicked him and broke his own halter and ran through the house, scattering the fire with his hoofs, and burning down your house with your wife." It occurs even earlier in Alfonsi's Disciplina Clericalis, No. xxx., at beginning of the twelfth century, among the Fabliaux, and in Bebel, Werke, iii., 71, whence probably it was reintroduced into England. See Prof. Crane's note ad loc.
REMARKS: Almost all Alfonsi's exempla are from the East. It is characteristic that the German version finishes up with a loss of honour, the English climax being loss of fortune.
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