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THE CAT AND THE OLD RAT. Jean de La Fontaine

THE CAT AND THE OLD RAT. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE CAT AND THE OLD RAT. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

I′ve read in some old Fabulist, I know,
A second Nibblelard, of Cats
The Alexander, and of Rats
The Attila, struck many a fatal blow;
And this exterminating creature
Was quite a Cerberus by nature.
(The author writes) For miles away,
This Cat was feared; he′d vowed, they say,
To clear the world of mice,
And in a trice.
The disks within a jar hung gingerly,
"The death to Rats:" the traps, and gins, and springs,
The nooses, poisons, and such things,
Were nothing to this Cat, but merely toys.
Soon as he heard no longer stir or noise,
The mice being prisoned in each hole,
Cheek and jowl;
So that it was in vain to hope for prey,
He tried another "lay."
Shammed death, laid down fast holding by a cord;
A trickster, eager for the horde—
The mice, good folk, deem he is hung
For stealing meat or cheese, tight strung
For scratching some one, or for breaking done.
At last they think the monster′s sand is run;
His funeral will be quite a gala day.
Then out they slowly creep,
First one small nose, and then another,
Next a young mouse, then an old brother,
And then they scurry back in fright;
But four step once more to the light,
And lastly all come out to play,
And now begins another sort of treat:

The dead Cat falls upon his nimble feet,
Snaps up the slowest, head and tail.
"Ha! ha!" he gobbling cried, "It could not fail,
My ruse de guerre; no holes avail
To save these creatures, and I warn them now,
They all will come to the same mouth, I trow."
His prophecy came true—the master of his art,
A second time played well his part.
His fur he whitened o′er with flour,
That very hour,
And hid within
A white meal bin.
No bad contrivance, every one must own.
The Rats could not leave well alone;
One Rat was wary, shy to venture out,
And pry about—
Man of the world, and master of finesse,
He′d lost his tail in battle, too,
And half a dozen tricks he knew.
"This mass of white may be all sham, I guess,"
He cried, still shunning the Cat′s ambuscade:
"Beneath the stuff I fear some trap is laid;
No matter if it′s flour or no,
It may be so;
But sack or not, still I won′t venture near."
′Twas neatly said, his prudence and his fears
I much approve; Experience told him true,
Suspicion′s Safety′s mother,
And Wisdom′s foster brother.

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