The Original Fables of La Fontaine/The Quarrel between the Dogs and the Cats and between the Cats and the Mice

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Original Fables of La Fontaine by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by F. C. Tilney
The Quarrel between the Dogs and the Cats and between the Cats and the Mice



(Book XII.—No. 8)

Discord has always reigned in the universe; of this our world furnishes a thousand different instances, for with us the sinister goddess has many subjects.

Let us begin with the four elements. Here you may be astonished to observe that they are, throughout, in antagonism to each other. Besides these four potentates how many other forces of all descriptions are everlastingly at war!

In bygone times there was a house which was full of cats and dogs who lived together like amicable cousins, for this reason: Their master had made a hundred irrevocable laws and rules, settling their respective tasks, their meals, and every other incident of their lives, and at the same time he threatened with the whip the first one who should promote a quarrel. The kindly, almostly brotherly nature of this union was very edifying to the neighbours.

But at last the concord ceased. Some little favouritism in the bestowal of a bone, or a dish of food, caused the outraged remainder to raise furious protests. I have heard some chroniclers attribute the discord to an affair of love and jealousy. At any rate, whatever the origin, the altercation speedily fired both hall and kitchen, and divided the company into partisans for this cat or for that dog.

A new rule was made, which exasperated the cats, and their complaints deafened the whole neighbourhood. Their advocate advised returning absolutely to the old rules and decrees. The law books were searched for, but could nowhere be found. And that was no wonder, for the books which had been hidden in a corner by one set of partisans at first had been at last devoured by mice. This gave rise to another law-suit, which the mice lost and had to pay for.

Many old cats, cunning, subtle, and sharp, and bearing a grudge against the whole race of mice beside, lay in wait for them, caught them, and cleared them out of the house, much to the advantage of the master of the establishment.

So, returning to my moral, one cannot find under heaven any animal, any being, any creature who has not his opponent. This appears to be a law of nature. It would be time wasted to seek for a reason. God does well whatever he does. Beyond that I know nothing; but I do know that people come to high words over nothing three times out of four. Ah, ye human folk! even at the age of sixty you ought to be sent back to the schoolmaster.