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Lion and Cat.
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The more he thought of it the more sulky he grew, and in the morning, when the lion
said that it was time for them to start to hunt, the cat told him that
he might kill the bear and snake by himself, as HE had a headache, and
would rather stay at home. The little fellow knew quite well that the
lion would not dare to go out without him and his ball for fear of
meeting a bear or a snake.
The quarrel went on, and for many days neither of the brothers spoke to
each other, and what made them still more cross was, that they could get
very little to eat, and we know that people are often cross when they
are hungry. At last it occurred to the lion that if he could only steal
the magic ball he could kill bears and snakes for himself, and then the
cat might be as sulky as he liked for anything that it would matter.
But how was the stealing to be done? The cat had the ball hung round his
neck day and night, and he was such a light sleeper that it was useless
to think of taking it while he slept.
No! the only thing was to get him to lend it of his own accord, and after some days the lion (who was not
at all clever) hit upon a plan that he thought would do.
'Dear me, how dull it is here!' said the lion one afternoon, when the
rain was pouring down in such torrents that, however sharp your eyes or
your nose might be, you could not spy a single bird or beast among the
bushes. 'Dear me, how dull, how dreadfully dull I am. Couldn't we have a
game of catch with that golden ball of yours?'
'I don't care about playing catch, it does not amuse me,' answered
the cat, who was as cross as ever; for no cat, even to this day, ever
forgets an injury done to him.
'Well, then, lend me the ball for a little, and I will play by myself,'
replied the lion, stretching out a paw as he spoke.
'You can't play in the rain, and if you did, you would only lose it in
the bushes,' said the cat.
'Oh, no, I won't; I will play in here. Don't be so ill-natured.' And
with a very bad grace the cat untied the string and threw the golden
ball into the lion's lap, and composed himself to sleep again.
For a long while the lion tossed it up and down gaily, feeling that,
however sound asleep the boy-brother might LOOK, he was sure to have one
eye open; but gradually he began to edge closer to the opening, and at
last gave such a toss that the ball went up high into the air, and he
could not see what became of it.
'Oh, how stupid of me!' he cried, as the cat sprang up angrily, 'let us
go at once and search for it. It can't really have fallen very far.'
But though they searched that day and the next, and the next after that,
they never found it, because it never came down.
After the loss of his ball the cat refused to live with the lion any
longer, but wandered away to the north, always hoping he might meet
with his ball again. But months passed, and years passed, and though he
travelled over hundreds of miles, he never saw any traces of it.
At length, when he was getting quite old, he came to a place unlike any
that he had ever seen before, where a big river rolled right to the foot
of some high mountains.
The ground all about the river bank was damp
and marshy, and as no cat likes to wet its feet, this one climbed a
tree that rose high above the water, and thought sadly of his lost ball,
which would have helped him out of this horrible place. Suddenly he saw
a beautiful ball, for all the world like his own, dangling from a branch
of the tree he was on. He longed to get at it; but was the branch strong
enough to bear his weight? It was no use, after all he had done, getting
drowned in the water. However, it could do no harm, if he was to go a
little way; he could always manage to get back somehow.
So he stretched himself at full length upon the branch, and wriggled his
body cautiously along. To his delight it seemed thick and stout. Another
movement, and, by stretching out his paw, he would be able to draw the
string towards him, when the branch gave a loud crack, and the cat made
haste to wriggle himself back the way he had come.