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The Cat and the Old Rat

(Recueil 1, Livre 3, Fable 18)

 

 

A story writer of our sort

Historifies, in short,

Of one that may be reckoned

A Rodilard the Second,

The Alexander of the cats,

The Attila, the scourge of rats,

Whose fierce and whiskered head

Among the latter spread,

A league around, its dread;

Who seemed, indeed, determined

The world should be unvermined.

The planks with props more false than slim,

The tempting heaps of poisoned meal,

The traps of wire and traps of steel,

Were only play compared with him.

At length, so sadly were they scared.

The rats and mice no longer dared

To show their thievish faces

Outside their hiding places,

Thus shunning all pursuit; whereat

Our crafty General Cat

Contrived to hang himself, as dead,

Beside the wall with downward head,

Resisting gravitation's laws

By clinging with his hinder claws

To some small bit of string.

The rats esteemed the thing

A judgment for some naughty deed,

Some thievish snatch,

Or ugly scratch;

And thought their foe had got his meed

By being hung indeed.

With hope elated all

Of laughing at his funeral,

They thrust their noses out in air;

And now to show their heads they dare;

Now dodging back, now venturing more;

At last on the larder's store

They fall to filching, as of yore.

A scanty feast enjoyed these shallows;

Down dropped the hung one from his gallows,

And of the hindmost caught.

"Some other tricks to me are known,"

Said he, while tearing bone from bone,

"By long experience taught;

The point is settled, free from doubt,

That from your holes you shall come out."

His threat as good as prophecy

Was proved by Mr. Mildandsly;

For, putting on a mealy robe,

He squatted in an open tub,

And held his purring and his breath;—

Out came the vermin to their death.

On this occasion, one old stager,

A rat as grey as any badger,

Who had in battle lost his tail,

Abstained from smelling at the meal;

And cried, far off, "Ah! General Cat,

I much suspect a heap like that;

Your meal is not the thing, perhaps,

For one who knows somewhat of traps;

Should you a sack of meal become,

I had let you be, and stay at home."

Well said, I think, and prudently,

By one who knew distrust to be

The parent of security.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 3, Fable 18

 

 

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