The Original Fables of La Fontaine/The League of Rats

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XLVII

THE LEAGUE OF RATS

(Book XII.—No. 26)

There was once a mouse who lived in terrible fear of a cat that had lain in wait watching for her. She was in great anxiety to know what she could do to escape the threatening danger.

Being prudent and wise she consulted her neighbour, a large and important rat. His lordship the rat had taken up his abode in a very good inn, and had boasted a hundred times that he had no fear for either tom-cat or she-cat. Neither teeth nor claws caused him any anxious thought.

"Dame Mouse," said this boaster, "whatever I do, I cannot, upon my word, chase away this cat that threatens you without some help. But let me call together all the rats hereabouts and I'll play him a sorry trick or two."

The mouse curtsied humbly her thanks and the rat ran with speed to the head-quarters; that is to say to the larder, where the rats were in the habit of assembling. Arriving out of breath and perturbed in mind he found them making a great feast at the expense of their host.

"What ails you?" asked one of the feasters. "Speak!"

"In two words," answered he, "the reason for my coming among you in this way is simply that it has become absolutely necessary to help the mice; for Grimalkin is abroad making terrible slaughter among them. This, the most devilish of cats, will, when she has no mice left, turn her attention to the eating of rats."

"He says what is true," cried they all. "To arms, to arms!" Nothing could stem the tide of their impetuosity; although, it is said, a few she-rats shed tears. It was no matter. Every one overhauled his equipment, and filled his wallet with cheese. To risk life was the determination of all. They set off, as if to a fête, with happy minds and joyful hearts.

Alas, for the mouse! These warriors were a moment too late. The cat had her already by the head. Advancing at the double the rats ran to the succour of their good little friend; but the cat swore, and stalked away in front of the enemy, having no intention of surrendering her prey.

At the sound of the cat's defiance, the prudent rats, fearing ill fate, beat a safe retreat without carrying any further their intended onslaught. Each one ran to his hole, and whenever any ventured out again it was always with the utmost caution to avoid the cat.