Four creatures, wont to prowl,—
Sly Grab-and-Snatch, the cat,
Grave Evil-bode, the owl,
Thief Nibble-stitch, the rat,
And Madam Weasel, prim and fine,—
Inhabited a rotten pine.
A man their home discovered there,
And set, one night, a cunning snare.
The cat, a noted early-riser,
Went forth, at break of day,
To hunt her usual prey.
Not much the wiser
For morning’s feeble ray,
The noose did suddenly surprise her.
Waked by her strangling cry,
Grey Nibble-stitch drew nigh:
As full of joy was he
As of despair was she,
For in the noose he saw
His foe of mortal paw.
“Dear friend,” said Mrs. Grab-and-Snatch,
“Do, pray, this cursed cord detach.
I have always known your skill,
And often your good-will;
Now help me from this worst of snares,
In which I fell at unawares.
It’s by a sacred right,
You, sole of all your race,
By special love and grace,
Have been my favourite—
The darling of my eyes.
It was ordered by celestial cares,
No doubt; I thank the blessed skies,
That, going out to say my prayers,
As cats devout each morning do,
This net has made me pray to you.
Come, fall to work on the cord.”
Replied the rat, “And what reward
Shall pay me, if I dare?”
“Why,” said the cat, “I swear
To be your firm ally:
These powerful claws are yours,
Which safe your life insures.
I’ll guard from quadruped and fowl;
I’ll eat the weasel and the owl.”
“Ah,” cried the rat, “you fool!
I’m quite too wise to be your tool.”
He said, and sought his snug retreat,
Close at the rotten pine-tree’s feet.
Where plump he did the weasel meet;
Whom shunning by a happy dodge,
He climbed the hollow trunk to lodge;
And there the savage owl he saw.
Necessity became his law,
And down he went, the rope to gnaw.
Strand after strand in two he bit,
And freed, at last, the hypocrite.
That moment came the man in sight;
The new allies took hasty flight.
A good while after that,
Our liberated cat
Espied her favourite rat,
Quite out of reach, and on his guard.
“My friend,” said she, “I take your shyness hard;
Your caution wrongs my gratitude;
Approach, and greet your staunch ally.
Do you suppose, dear rat, that I
Forget the solemn oath I mewed?”
“Do I forget,” the rat replied,
“To what your nature is allied?
To thankfulness, or even pity,
Can cats be ever bound by treaty?”
Alliance from necessity
Is safe just while it has to be.
The Cat and the Rat by Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables in Book 8
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