From Dr. Boli’s Fables for Children Who Are Too Old to Believe in Fables.

ONCE IN THE Catskill Mountains of upstate New York there was a tortoise, and he was really rather speedy as tortoises go. And at the same time there was a hair, growing on the chin of one of those lazy Dutch settlers so abundant in those parts, champion nappers who could snore for decades at a stretch.

“You know,” said the hair, “I’m just about the fastest thing there is. In a year, I’ll grow down to this old Knickerbocker’s kneecap.”

The tortoise was quite surprised to hear an individual hair speaking in reasonably good English, and was even more surprised to discover that he could speak English in reply. Apparently he had never tried it before, and the ability had sat latent in him all the years of his long reptilian life.

“You’re not as fast as all that,” the tortoise answered. “For a hair, you may be speedy, but a zippy tortoise like me could run rings around you and then dash off so fast all you’d see would be smoking tracks.”

“Oh, really?” asked the hair with a sarcastic twirl. “Well, then, let’s just see who’s the fastest. You see that ankle way down yonder, the one you get to if you head straight past the kneecap and keep going on down the shin? I challenge you to a race. The first one to get to old Van der Donck’s left ankle wins.”

“You’re on,” said the tortoise; and at a prearranged signal they both started out, the tortoise stomping along with all his might and the hair growing like a summer weed. For some time the tortoise clearly had the better of it, and indeed he had nearly reached the kneecap while the hair was still struggling to get past the collarbone.

But then, after having slept only a few weeks, the lazy Dutch colonist awoke from his abbreviated nap, picked himself up, and started walking, and never stopped walking until he got to Albany, where he had some business to attend to. The tortoise followed at a mad pace (by tortoise standards), and for all I know he may still be trudging down the road to Albany, racing at top tortoise speed toward the long-vanished ankle. Meanwhile, the Dutch settler, taking to town life, decided to shave his beard, the clean-shaven look having come into fashion. Every morning the hair must begin its own journey afresh, and after many years is still not any closer to the ankle.

Thus there is no way of telling which party will win the race, and the moral of this fable must remain in limbo until the outcome of the race is finally decided.