How The Cat Was Belled

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A fable told by La Fontaine,
  Two centuries or more ago,
Describes some rats who would arraign
  A cat, their direst foe,
Who killed so many rats
  And caused the deepest woe,
This Catiline of cats.

The poor rats were at their wits' end
Their homes and families to defend;
  And as a last resort
  They took the case to court.

It seems they called a caucus wise
Of rats of every age and size,
  And then their dean,
  With sapient mien,
A very Solon of a rat,
Said it was best to bell the cat.

The quaint old tale goes on to tell
How this plan would have worked quite well,
  But, somehow, flaws
  Appeared, because
No one would hang the bell.

Though there the ancient fable ends,
Later report the tale extends,
  No longer is the truth withheld;
  Developments appear,
  And so you have it here.
  For the first time
  Set down in rhyme
  Just how that cat was belled.

The council, as 'twas getting late,
Was just about to separate,
  When suddenly a rat arose
  Who said he could a plan propose
  Which would, he thought, succeed
  And meet their urgent need.

Now as this rat was very small,
And had no dignity at all,
  Although his plan was well advised,
  We really need not be surprised
That all the rats of riper years
Expressed the gravest doubts and fears;
  Till suddenly
  He said, said he,
"If you will leave it all to me,
  I will avow
  Three days from now
That you shall all be free."
The solemn council then adjourned.
Each rat to home and fireside turned;
  But each shook his wise head
  And to his neighbor said:
"It is a dangerous job, in truth,
Though it seems naught to headstrong youth."

Now young Sir Rat we next behold,
With manner brave and visage bold,
  Go marching down
  To London town,
Where wondrous things are sold.
  We see him stop
  At a large shop,
And with the bland clerk's courteous aid
This was the purchase that he made:
A bicycle of finest make,
With modern gear and patent brake,
Pedometer, pneumatic tire,
And spokes that looked like silver wire,
  A lantern bright
  To shine at night,
Enamel finish, nickel plate,
And all improvements up to date.
Said sly Sir Rat: "It suits me well,
Especially that sweet-toned _bell_."

The shades of night were falling fast
When Sir Rat turned toward home at last.
The neighbors watched him as he passed
And said: "What is that queer-shaped thing?
Surely that can't be made to ring."
  Sir Rat went on, nor stayed
  To hear the jests they made;
And just outside the old cat's gate
He stopped and boldly braved his fate,
  For if that cat
  Should smell a rat
How quickly he'd come out and catch him,
And with what gusto he'd despatch him!
Sir Rat, against the picket-fence
Leaned the machine, then hurried hence,
  And hid himself with glee,
  And waited breathlessly
  To see what that
  Cantankerous cat
Would say, when in the twilight dim
He saw that brightly shining rim.

  Sir Rat, though hidden quite,
  And safely out of sight,
Had scarcely time to wink his eye,
When Mr. Cat came sauntering by.

  "Ha! Ha!" said he,
  "What's this I see,
A bicycle! and just my size!
Well, this, indeed, is a surprise!
  I'll confiscate
  This treasure great;
How quickly I'll fly o'er the ground
When I pursue my hunting round!"

He mounted it with eager haste,
It suited well his sporting taste;
  He guided it at will,
  And used the brake with skill,
He grasped the handle-bars, and then--
You see it was his custom when
He did a thing, to do it well--
Of course he used the clear-toned bell!

Victory now! the deed is done!
No longer at the set of sun
The rats fly shrieking to their nests,
They saunter round with merry jests
  And ne'er a thought of fear,
  Knowing full well
  They'll hear the bell
  When Mr. Cat draws near.

And young Sir Rat who did the deed,
Whose cleverness relieved their need,
  His wondrous enterprise
  Was lauded to the skies.
And everywhere his name
Was hailed with shouts of fame.

In difficulties, oft we see
Modern improvements frequently
Will prove a happy remedy.

© Carolyn Wells