Departments

Fable of the Hawk and the Handsaw

[After a certain line in Hamlet, II.2. The moral, I think, fits the context.]


See an old man, a great lord. For as long as any other man living could then remember, that man had been mighty and magnificent and accustomed to exercise his hawks every morning. But long ago, when he was young, when he was poor and obscure, when the deeds that would raise him were still ahead of him, he was accustomed to take his axe and his handsaw to the woodlot every morning, and exercise himself.

He had won many victories, and lived a temperate life, and lived long—and now he had to pay for it. His mind and its confident enterprises were slipping into confusion—so that, for example, on a certain morning, he mixed his customs, and took his hawk to the manor woodlot.

He knelt before a tree already felled, though his old joints resisted his efforts to set his knees firmly. His confusion was only partial. He did not try to hew or cut the wood with the hawk. Rather, he removed its hood, and set it on the log as he would set it on its prey.

The hawk, misunderstanding what was wanted, caught sight of a bird passing above, and rose up after it.

This left the lord with neither hawk nor handsaw, kneeling in the dirt before a log, wet dirt soaking his leggings and chilling his blood—while the old man wondered what his father would do to him, how could he tell his father that the handsaw had flown away?

Above, where the hawk hunted, the wind was changing. A gentle north wind was replaced by a blowing chill from the south, which drove the hawk and his prey apart. With the wind came cold rain, stinging rain which the mortified old man could not feel, rain that chilled his blood further, till he toppled and sprawled over the log before him.

The hawk, returning, found its master limp, cold, gasping. It rose again, flew through the cold rain, harried the heads of a party of men setting out from the manor. They followed the hawk by easy stages, and found their stricken lord. They wrapped him with their mantles and bore him back gently. But the hawk they forgot. Cold, wet, exhausted, it died beside the woodsman's handsaw, which he had foolishly left out in the rain.

In the hall that evening when the rescuers of the lord were telling the story to all the lord's company, a lady there asked what had become of the hawk. Whereupon the company all became silent. So they stayed through the night and into morning, when the news came of their lord's death.

They found the hawk where he had died, and buried him in the lord's grave, with the lord, and with his sword which he had wielded in manhood, and with an old handsaw which he had wielded in youth.

Moral: Devotion is often wrongly through its own Reward—though of all Things it should be best and oftenest rewarded.