The Original Fables of La Fontaine/The Cat and the Fox
THE CAT AND THE FOX
(Book IX.—No. 14)
The cat and the fox, in the manner of good little saints, started out upon a pilgrimage. They were both humbugs, arch-hypocrites, two downright highwaymen, who for the expenses of their journey indemnified themselves by seeing who could devour the most fowls and gobble the most cheese.
The way was long and therefore wearisome, so they shortened it by arguing. Argumentation is a great help. Without it one would go to sleep. Our pilgrims shouted themselves hoarse. Then having argued themselves out, they talked of other things.
At length the fox said to the cat, "You pretend that you're very clever. Do you know as much as I? I have a hundred ruses up my sleeve."
"No," answered the cat, "I have but one; but that is always ready to hand, and I maintain that it is worth a thousand other dodges."
Then they fell again to disputing one against the other on each side of the question, the whys and the wherefores, raising their voices higher and higher. Presently the sudden appearance of a pack of hounds stopped their noise.
The cat said to the fox, "Now, my friend, ransack that cunning brain of yours for one of your thousand ruses. Fetch down from your sleeve one of those certain stratagems. As for me, this is my dodge." So saying, he bounded to a tall tree and climbed to its top with alacrity.
The fox tried a hundred futile doublings; ran into a hundred holes; put the hounds at fault a hundred times; tried everywhere to find a safe place of retreat, but everywhere failed between being smoked out of one and driven out of another by the hounds. Finally, as he came out of a hole two nimble dogs set upon him and strangled him at the first grip.
Too many expedients may spoil the business. One loses time in choosing between them and in trying too many. Have only one; but let it be a good one.