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And too clever by half.
From Pussy and Doggy Tales by Edith Nesbit.
Start of Story
Age Rating 4 to 6.
"TELL us a story, mother," said the youngest kitten but three.
"You've heard all my stories," said the mother cat, sleepily turning
over in the hay.
"Then make a new one," said the youngest kitten, so pertly that Mrs.
Buff boxed her ears at once--but she laughed too. Did you ever hear a
cat laugh? People say that cats often have occasion to do it.
"I do know one story," she said; "but I'm not sure that it's true,
though it was told me by a most respectable brindled gentleman, a great
friend of my dear mother's. He said he was a second cousin twenty-nine
times removed of Mrs. Tabby White, the lady the story is about."
"Oh, do tell it," said all the kittens, sitting up very straight and
looking at their mother with green anxious eyes.
"Very well," she said kindly; "only if you interrupt I shall leave off."
So there was silence in the barn, except for Mrs. Buff's voice and the
soft sound of pleased purring which the kittens made as they listened to
the enchanting tale.
"Mrs. Tabby White seems to have been as clever a cat as ever went
rat-catching in a pair of soft-soled shoes. She always knew just where a
mouse would peep out of the wainscot, and she had her soft-sharp paw on
him before he had time to know that he was not alone in the room. She
knew how to catch nice breakfasts for herself and her children, a trick
I will teach you, my dears, when the spring comes; she used to lie quite
quietly among the ivy on the wall, and then take the baby birds out of
the nest when the grown-up birds had gone to the grub-shop. Mrs. Tabby
White was very clever, as I said--so clever that presently she was not
satisfied with being at the very top of the cat profession.
"'Cat-people have more sense than human people, of course,' she said to
herself; 'but still there are some things one might learn from them. I
must watch and see how they do things.'
"So next morning when the cook gave Mrs. Tabby White her breakfast, she
noticed that cook poured the milk out of a jug into a saucer. That
afternoon Tabby felt thirsty, but instead of putting her head into the
jug and drinking in the usual way,--you know--she tilted up the jug to
pour the milk out as she had seen the cook do. But cats' paws, though
they are so strong to catch rats and mice and birds, are too weak to
hold big brown jugs. The nasty deceitful jug fell off the dresser and
broke itself. 'Just to spite me, I do believe,' said Mrs. Tabby. And the
milk was all spilled.
"'Now how on earth could that jug have been broken?' said cook, when she
"'It must have been the cat,' said the kitchenmaid; and she was quite
right, but nobody believed her.
"Then Mrs. Tabby White noticed that human people slept in big
soft-cushioned white beds, instead of sleeping on the kitchen
hearth-rug, or in the barn, like cat people. So she said to her children
"'My dears, we are going to move into a new house.'
"And the kittens were delighted, and they all went upstairs very
quietly, and crept into the very best human bed. But unfortunately that
bed had been got ready for a human uncle to sleep in; and when he found
the cats there he turned them out, not gently, and threw boots at them
till they fled, pale with fright to the ends of their pretty tails. And
next morning he told the Mistress of the house that horrid CATS had been
in his bed, and he vowed that he would never pass another night under a
roof where such things were possible. Mrs. Tabby White was very
glad--because no lady can wish for the visits of a person who throws
boots at her. But the Mistress of the house said sadly, 'Oh, Tabby!--you
have lost us a fortune!' And Tabby for all her cleverness didn't
understand what the Mistress meant, but went on purring proudly, and
wondering what clever thing she could do next. And _I_ don't know what
it meant either, so don't you interrupt with silly questions.
"'I think we ought to wear shoes,' was the next thing Mrs. Tabby White
said; but all the human shoes were too big for her. However, there was a
nice pair of salmon-coloured kid shoes, quite new, belonging to the
human child's big doll--and Mrs. Tabby White put them on her eldest
kitten's little browny feet.
"'Now, Brindle,' she said (he was named after the gentleman who told me
the story), 'you are grander than any kitten ever was before.' And at
first Brindle felt pleased--then he tried to feel pleased--then he knew
he wasn't pleased at all. Then the shoes began to hurt him horribly, so
he mewed sadly; and Mrs. Tabby White boxed his ears softly--as mother
cats do; _you_ know how I mean! But when she was asleep he took off the
pink shoes and bit them to pieces. And Nurse slapped him for it. Poor
Mrs. Tabby White was very miserable when she saw her son being slapped:
for it is one thing to box your son's ears (softly, as mother cats do;
_you_ know how I mean), and quite another to see another person do
it--heavily, as is the way with nursemaids.
"But the last and greatest effort Mrs. Tabby White made to imitate human
manners was one Saturday night.
"She saw the human child have its bath before the nursery fire, with hot
water, pink soap, dry towels, and much fussing, and she said to herself,
'Why should I waste hours every day in washing my children with my
little white paws and my little pink tongue, when this human child can
be made clean in ten minutes with this big bath. If I had more time I
could learn to be cleverer, and I should end by being the most
wonderful Cat in all the world.' So she sat, and watched, and waited.
"When the human child was in bed and asleep, Nurse went down to her
supper, leaving the bath to be cleared away later, for it was a hot
supper of baked onions and toasted cheese, and if you don't go to that
supper directly it is ready, you may as well not go at all, for it won't
be worth eating--at least so I have heard the kitchenmaid say.
"Mrs. Tabby White waited till she heard the last of Nurse's steps on the
stairs below, and then she put both her cat-children into the tub, and
washed them with rose-scented soap and a Turkey sponge. At first they
thought it very good fun, but presently the soap got in their eyes and
they were frightened of the sponge, and they cried, mewing piteously, to
be taken out. I don't know how she could have done it, I couldn't
have treated a kitten of _mine_ like that.
"When she took them out, Mrs. Tabby tried to dry them with the soft
towel, but somehow catskin is not so easy to dry as child-skin, and the
little cats began to shiver, and moan: 'Oh, mother, we were so nice and
warm, and now we are so cold! Why is it? What have we done? Were we
"'Drat the cats!' said Nurse, when she came up from supper, and found
Mrs. Tabby White trying to warm her kittens against her own comfortable
fur; 'if they haven't tumbled in the bath!'
"Nurse dried the poor, dear, cruelly-used kittens a little (her hands
were bigger than Mrs. Tabby's, so she could do it better), and put them
in a basket with flannel, and next day Tabby-Kit was quite well, though
rather ragged looking; but Brindle had taken a chill, and for days he
hung between life and death. Poor Mrs. Tabby was like a wild cat with
anxiety, and when at last Brindle was well again (or nearly, for he
always had a slight cough after that), Mrs. Tabby White said to her
children, 'My darlings, I was wrong, I was a silly old cat.'
"'No,' purred the cat-children, 'darling mother, you were always the
best of cats.'
"Mrs. Tabby kissed them both, for of course any one would be pleased
that her children should think her the best of cats, but in her heart
she knew well enough how silly she had been.
"Then she set about washing the kittens, not with pink soap and white
towel this time, but with white paws and pink tongue in the good
* * * * *
"Thank you, mother," said all the kittens; "what a nice horrible story."
"What is the moral?" asked the youngest kitten but three.
"The moral," said Mrs. Buffy, "is, 'There is such a thing as being too
clever by half.' I'm not sure about the story being true, but I know the
moral is. Why, it's nearly tea-time. Come along, children, and get your
So they all crept quietly away to catch the necessary mice, and the
youngest was so afraid of being too clever by half, that she would never
have caught a mouse at all, if her mother had not boxed her
ears--softly, as mother cats do; you know how I mean!