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A powerful friend.

From Pussy and Doggy Tales by Edith Nesbit.
Age Rating 4 to 6.

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MY mother was the best of cats. She washed us kittens all over every morning, and at odd times during the day she would wash little bits of us, say an ear, or a paw, or a tail-tip, and she was very anxious about our education. I am afraid I gave her a great deal of trouble, for I was rather stout and heavy, and did not take a very active or graceful part in the exercises which she thought good for us. Our gymnasium was the kitchen hearth-rug. There was always a good fire in the grate, and it seemed to me so much better to go to sleep in front of it than to run round after my own tail, or even my mother's, though, of course, that was a great honour. As for running after the reel of cotton when the cook dropped it, or playing with the tassel of the blind-cord, or pretending that there were mice inside the paper bag which I knew to be empty, I confess that I had no heart or imagination for these diversions.



"Of course, you know best, mother," I used to say; "but it does seem to me a dreadful waste of time. We might be much better employed." "How better employed?" asked my mother severely. "Why," I answered, "in eating or sleeping." At first my mother used to box my ears, and insist on my learning such little accomplishments as she thought necessary for my station in life. "You see," she would say, "all this playing with tails and reels and balls of worsted is a preparation for the real business of life." "What is that?" asked my sister. "Mouse-catching," said my mother very earnestly. "There are no mice here," I said, stretching myself. "No, but you will not always be here; and if you practise the little tricks I show you now with the ball of worsted and the tips of our tails, then, when the great hour comes, and a career is open to you, and you see before you the glorious prize--the MOUSE--you will be quick enough and clever enough to satisfy the highest needs of your nature." "And supposing we don't play with our tails and the balls of worsted?" I said. "Then," said my mother bitterly, "you may as well lie down for the mice to, run over you."



Thus at first she used to try to show me how foolish it was to think of nothing but eating and sleeping; but after a while she turned all her attention to teaching my brother and sister, and they were apt pupils. They despised nothing small enough to be moved by their paws, which could give them an opportunity of practising. They did not mind making themselves ridiculous--a thing which has been always impossible with me. I have seen Tabby, my sister, in the garden, playing with dead leaves, as excited and pleased as though they had been the birds which she foolishly pretended that they were. I thought her very silly then, but I lived to wish that I had taken half as much trouble with my lessons as she did with hers. My mother was very pleased with her, especially after she caught the starlings. This was a piece of cleverness which my sister invented and carried through entirely out of her own head. She made friends with one of the cows at the farm near us, and used to go into the cowhouse and jump on the cow's back. Then when the cow was sent out into the field to get her grassy breakfast, my sister used to go with her, riding on her back.



Now birds are always very much on the look-out for cats, and, if they can help it, never allow one of us to come within half-a-dozen yards of them without taking to those silly wings of theirs. I never could see why birds should have wings--so unnecessary. But birds are not afraid of cows, for cows are very poor sportsmen, and never care to kill and eat anything. Now the back of a cow is the last place where you would think of looking for a cat; so when the starlings saw the cow coming, they didn't think it worth while to use their wings, and when the cow was quite close to the birds--beautiful, fat, delightful birds--- my sister used to pick out with her eye the fattest starling, and then leap suddenly from the cow's back on to her prey. She never missed. "I have never known," said my poor mother with tears of pride in her green eyes--"I have never known a cat do anything so clever."

"It's all your doing, mother dear," said my sister prettily; "if you hadn't taught me so well when I was little, I should never have thought of it." And they kissed each other affectionately. I showed my claws and growled. My mother shook her tabby head. "O Buff," she said, "if you had only been willing to learn when you were little, you might have been as clever as your sister, instead of being the great anxiety you are to me." "And why am I an anxiety?" I said, ruffling up my fur and my tail, for I was very angry. "Because you are useless," she said, "and not particularly handsome; and when a cat is useless and not particularly handsome, they sometimes----" "What?" I said, turning pale to the ends of my ears. "They sometimes drown it, Buff," she said in a whisper, and turned away to hide her feelings. Judge of my own next day when they came into the kitchen and took me up and put me into a basket. I knew all about drowning. These tales of horror are told at twilight time in all cat nurseries, and I knew that if three large stones were put into the basket with me, I might consider my fate sealed.



It was very uncomfortable in the basket. They carried me upside-down part of the way, and it was draughty and hard; but, so far, there were no stones. When they took off the lid of the basket, I found myself under the shade of a huge moving mountain, that seemed about to fall and crush me. It was an elephant. I found that the people where my mother lived had given me to the cook, who had given me to her cousin, who was engaged to be married to a young man whose brother-in-law was the elephant's keeper, and so I found myself in the elephant's house. There was no milk for me--no heads and tails of fish--no scraps of meat--no delicious unforeseen morsels of butter. The elephant was very kind to me. He had once had a friend exactly like me, he explained, but had unfortunately walked upon him, and now I had come to fill the vacant place in his large heart. I resolved at once that he should not walk upon me; but in order to insure this, I was compelled to enter upon a more active existence than I had ever known.



When I asked what I was expected to eat, he said-- "Mice, I suppose; or you can have some of my buns if you like. You might like them at first, but you will soon get tired of them." But I couldn't eat buns. I was never, from a kitten, fond of such things. I got very hungry. Again and again the mice rushed through the straw, and I, heavily, helplessly, in my unpractised way, rushed after them. At first the elephant laughed heartily at my inexpertness; but when he saw how hungry and wretched I was, he said-- "They won't give you any milk, and if they find you don't catch the mice they will take you away from me. Now you are a nice little cat, and I don't want to part with you. We must try and arrange something." Then the great thought of my life came to me. "You walked on the other cat," I said. "What?" he trumpeted in a voice of thunder.



"I beg your pardon," I said hastily; "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings"--and, indeed, I could not have imagined that an elephant would have been so thin-skinned "but a great idea has come to me. Why shouldn't you walk on mice--not too hard, but just so that I could eat them afterwards?" "Well," said the elephant, showing his long tusks in a smile, "you are not very handsome, and you are not very brisk; but you certainly have brains, my dear." He dropped his great foot as he spoke. When he lifted it, there lay a mouse. I had an excellent supper; and before the week's end I heard the keeper say, "This cat has certainly done the trick. She has kept the mice down. We must keep her." They have kept me. They even go so far as to allow me to moisten my mice with milk. There is no moral to this story, except that you should do as you are told, and learn everything you can while you are young. It is true that I get on very well without having done so, but then you may not have my good luck. It is not every cat who can get an elephant to catch her mice for her.

       



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