Four animals, of natures various,
Living lives the most precarious,
Together dwelt, and yet apart,
Close to, and e′en within the heart
Of a most ancient pine.
The one was Master Cat, who claws;
Another, Master Rat, who gnaws;
The Weasel third, with waist so fine,
And of a very ancient line.
The fourth was sapient Master Owl,
Whose midnight hoot disturbs the ghoul.
One night, a man about their tree
A snare disposed with secresy;
And Master Cat, at early dawn,
From couch with hope of plunder drawn,
Scarce half awake, fell plump within
The cruelly-invented gin.
Such caterwauling then arose,
That Master Gnaw-cheese hurried round
To see, in fetters safely bound,
The deadliest of his special foes.
Then Master Purrer softly cried,
"Sir Rat, your true benevolence
Is known in all the country wide;
So pray, for pity, take me hence
From this atrocious, strangling snare
In which I′ve fallen, unaware;
′Tis strange, but true, that you alone,
Of all the Rats I′ve ever known,
Have won my heart, and, thank the skies!
I′ve loved you more than both my eyes.
[′]Twas just as I was on my way,
As all devout ones should, to pray,
At early dawn, that I was pent
Within this cursed instrument.
My life is in your hands, my friend;
Pray, with your tooth these, shackles rend."
But curtly then replied the Rat,
"Pray, say what I should gain by that?"
"My friendship true, for evermore,"
The Cat replied. "These talons grim
Shall be your guard; the Owl no more
Should watch your nest; the Weasel slim
Shall never make of you his meat."
"Not such a fool," replied the Rat,
"Am I as to release a Cat!"
And forthwith sought his snug retreat;
But near the narrow hole he sought
The Weasel watched, perhaps meaning nought.
Still further upward climbed the Rat,
To where the great Owl grimly sat;
At last, by dangers menaced round,
Sir Gnaw-cheese once more seeks the ground,
And, working hard with practised grinder,
Relieves poor Puss from cords that bind her.
The task is just completed,
When the ruthless man appears,
And, overwhelmed with equal fears,
The new allies by different paths retreated.
Soon after this adventure
The Cat beheld, one sunny day,
Snug in a place from cats secure,
His friend the Rat, and said, "I pray,
Come, let′s embrace, we are friends again.
It gives me, on my word, true pain
To think that one to whom I owe
My life should deem me still his foe!"
"And do you think," replied the Rat,
"That I am ignorant of a Cat?
I know within your bosom lies
The germ of all hypocrisies."
To trust to friendships that rogues feign
Is leaning on a straw, ′tis plain.