The Cat and the Mouse (A Book of Persian Fairy Tales, 1906) By Henry Altemus
ACCORDING to the decree of Heaven, there once lived in the Persian city of Kerman a cat like unto a dragon—a longsighted cat who hunted like a lion; a cat with fascinating eyes and long whiskers and sharp teeth. Its body was like a drum, its beautiful fur like ermine skin.
Nobody was happier than this cat, neither the newly-wedded bride, nor the hospitable master of the house when he looks round on the smiling faces of his guests.
This cat moved in the midst of friends, boon companions of the saucepan, the cup, and the milk jug of the court, and of the dinner table when the cloth is spread.
Perceiving the wine cellar open, one day, the cat ran gleefully into it to see if he could catch a mouse, and hid himself behind a wine jar. At that moment a mouse ran out of a hole in the wall, quickly climbed the jar, and putting his head into it, drank so long and so deeply that he became drunk, talked very stupidly, and fancied he was as bold as a lion.
“Where is the cat?” shouted he, “that I may off with his head. I would cut off his head as if on the battlefield. A cat in front of me would fare worse than any dog who might happen to cross my path.”
The cat ground his teeth with rage while hearing this. Quicker than the eye could follow, he made a spring, seized the mouse in his claws, and said, “Oh, little mouse, now will you take off my head?”
“I am thy servant,” replied the mouse; “forgive my sin. I was drunk. I am thy slave; a slave whose ear is pierced and on whose shoulder the yoke is.”
“Tell fewer lies,” replied the cat. “Was there ever such a liar? I heard all you said and you shall pay for your sin with your life. I will make your life less than that of a dead dog.”
So the cat killed and ate the mouse; but afterwards, being sorry for what he had done, he ran to the Mosque, and passed his hands over his face, poured water on his hands, and anointed himself as he had seen the faithful do at the appointed hours of prayer.
Then he began to recite the beautiful chapter to Allah in the Holy Book of the Persians, and to make his confession in this wise:
“I have repented, and will not again tear the body of a mouse with my teeth. I will give bread to the deserving poor. Forgive my sin, O great Forgiver, for have I not come to Thee bowed down with sorrow?”
He repeated this so many times and with so much feeling that he really thought he meant it, and finally wept for grief.
A little mouse happened to be behind the pulpit, and overhearing the cat’s vows, speedily carried the glad but surprising news to the other mice. Breathlessly he related how that the cat had become a true Mussulman; how that he had seen him in the Mosque weeping and lamenting, and saying:
“Oh, Creator of the world, put away my sin, for I have offended like a big fool.” Then the mouse went on to describe how that the cat had a rosary of beads, and made pious reflections in the spirit of a true penitent.
The mice began to make merry when they heard this startling news, for they were exceedingly glad. Seven chosen mice, each the headman of the village, arose and gave thanks that the cat should at last have entered the fold of the true believers.
All danced and shouted, “Ah! Ah! Hu! Hu!” and drank red wine and white wine until they were very merry. Two rang bells, two played castanets, and two sang. One carried a tray behind his back laden with good things, so that all could help themselves; some smoked water-pipes; another acted like a clown; others played various tunes on different instruments of music.
A few days after the feast, the King of the mice said to them, “Oh, friends, all of you bring costly presents worthy of the cat!” Then the mice scattered in search of gifts, but soon returned, each bearing something worthy of presentation, even to a nobleman.
One brought a bottle of wine; another a dish full of raisins; others came with salted nuts and melon seeds, lumps of cheese, basins of sugar-candy, pistachio nuts, little cakes iced with sugar, bottles of lemon juice, Indian shawls, hats, cloaks and many other things.
Discreetly they bore their gifts before the King of the Cats. When in the royal presence, they made humble obeisances, touching their foreheads on the ground, and saluting him, said:
“Oh, master, liberator of the lives of all, we have brought gifts worthy of thy service. We beseech thee to deign to accept of them.”
Then the cat thought to himself, “I am rewarded for becoming a pious Mussulman. Though I have endured much hunger, yet this day finds me freely and amply provided for. Not for many days have I broken my fast. It is clear that Allah is appeased.”
Then he turned to the mice, and bade them come nearer, calling them his friends. And they went forward trembling. So frightened were they that they were hardly aware of what they were doing. When they were close the cat made a sudden spring upon them.
Five mice he caught, each one the chief of a village; two with his front paws, two with his hind ones, and one in his mouth. The remaining mice barely escaped with their lives.
Picking up one of their murdered brothers, they quickly carried the sad news to the mice, saying: “Why do ye sit still, oh mice? Throw dust on your heads, oh young men, for the cruel cat has seized five of our unsuspecting companions with teeth and claws and has killed them.”
Then for the space of five days they rent their clothes as do the mourners, and cast dust on their heads. Then they said: “We must go and tell our King all that has befallen the mice. We must not fail to tell him this calamity.”
Whereupon they all rose up and went their way in deep sorrow; one beating the muffled drum, one tolling the bell; all had shawls around their necks; their tears the while running in little streams down their whiskers.
Arrived where the King was sitting on his throne, the mice paid homage to him, saying: “Master, we are subjects and thou art King. Behold the cat has treated us cruelly since he became a pious follower of Mahomet. Whereas, before his conversion he was wont to catch only one of us in a year, now that he is a sincere Mussulman his appetite has so increased that only five at a time will satisfy him.”
Whereupon the King fell into such a violent rage that he resembled a saucepan boiling over. But to the deputation of mice he spoke very kindly, calling them his newly-arrived and welcome guests, and to comfort them vowed that he would give the cat such a chastisement that the news of it should circulate through the world.
Then, observing their grief, he commanded that the dead mouse should be buried with all pomp and ceremony. Accordingly they made lamentation for a whole week, as though it had been for one of royal degree; and having prepared delicious sweetmeats, they placed them in baskets and carried them with streaming eyes to the grave.
After the burial service, the King ordered the army to assemble on a given day on the great sandy plain that stretches as far as the eye can see around the city. Then he addressed them, saying:
“Oh, men and soldiers, inasmuch as the cat has so cruelly ill-treated our countrymen, he being a heretic and an evil doer, and brutal in nature, we must now go to the city of Kerman and fight him.”
So three hundred and thirty thousand mice went forth, armed with swords, guns, and spears; and with flags and pennons bravely flying. A passing Arab from the desert, skilfully balancing himself on the back of a swift-traveling camel by means of a long pole, spied the great army in motion, and was so overcome with astonishment that he lost his balance and fell off. Several regiments of mice were put out of action by his fall; but nothing daunted, the army pressed on.
When the army was ready for battle, the King again addressed them saying: “O young men, an ambassador must be sent to the cat, one who is able, discreet, and eloquent.” Then they all shouted: “The King’s orders shall be carried out! Upon our heads be it.”
Now, there was present a learned and eloquent mouse, the ruler of a province, and he it was that the King commanded to go as an ambassador to the cat in the city of Kerman. Almost before his name was out of the King’s mouth, he had jumped out of his place in the ranks, and, traveling swiftly as the winds of the desert, he went in boldly before the cat and said:
“As an ambassador from the King of the Mice am I come, bowed down with grief and fatigue. Know this, my master has determined to wage war, and is even now come with his army to take off your head.”
The cat roared out in reply, “Go tell your King to eat dust! I come not out of this city except at my good pleasure!” Then he sent messengers to bring up quickly some fighting and hunting cats from Khorassan—the land of the sun—to Kerman.
As soon as the cat’s army was ready, the King of the Cats gave them marching orders, promising to come himself to the battle on the next day. The cats came out on horseback, each one like a hungry tiger. The mice also mounted their steeds, armed to the teeth, and boiling with rage. Shouting “Allah! Allah!” the armies fell upon each other with unsheathed swords.
So many cats and mice were killed that there was no room for the horses’ feet. The cats fought valiantly, their fierce attacks carrying them through the first line of the mice, then through the second, and many Ameers and chiefs were killed. The mice, thinking the battle lost, turned to flee, crying out:
“Throw dust upon your heads, young men!”
But afterwards, rallying again, they faced their pursuers and attacked the right wing of the cat’s army, shouting their battle cry of “Allah! Allah!”
In the thickest of the fray a mounted mouse speared the King of the Cats, so that he fell fainting to the ground. Before he could rise, the mouse leaped upon him and brought him captive to the King. So the cats were defeated on that day and sullenly retreated to the city of Kerman.
Having bound the cat, the mice beat him until he became unconscious. Then the plain echoed with the beating of tom-toms and shouts of joy. Then the King of the Mice seated himself on his throne and ordered the cat to be brought before him.
“Scoundrel!” he said to him, “Why hast thou eaten up my army? Hear now the King of the Mice.” The cat hung his head in fear, and remained silent. After a few minutes, he said: “I am thy servant, even to death.” Then the King replied:
“Carry this black-faced dog to the execution ground. I will come in person without delay to kill him in revenge for the blood of my slaughtered subjects.”
So he mounted his elephant, and his guard marched proudly before him. The cat, with his hands tied together, stood weeping. Upon arriving at the execution grounds and discerning that the cat was not yet executed, the King said angrily to the hangman: “Why is it this prisoner is still alive? Hang him immediately!”
At that very moment a horseman came galloping furiously from the city and besought the King, saying: “Forgive this miserable cat; in future he will do us no harm.” However, the King turned a deaf ear to his entreaties, ordering that the cat be killed at once. The mice hesitated, being unwilling, through fear, to carry out the order.
Of course, this made the King very angry. “O foolish mice!” he cried, “Ye will all take pity on the cat, in order that he may again make a sacrifice of you.”
Directly the cat saw the horseman, his courage revived. With one bound he sprang from his place as does the tiger on his prey, burst his bonds asunder, and seized five unfortunate mice. The other mice, filled with dismay and terror, ran hither and thither, crying wildly:
“Allah! Allah! Shoot him! Cut off his head, as did Rastam his enemies on the day of battle!”
When the King of the Mice saw what, had happened, he fainted; whereupon the cat leaped on him, pulled off his crown, and placing the rope over his head, hanged him, so that he died immediately.
Then he darted here and there, seizing and slaying, and dashing mice to the earth, till the whole army of mice was routed, and there was none left to oppose him.
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