There was once a poor, lean old Woman, who lived in a tiny, tumbled-down house, with a Cat as poor and as lean as herself. This Cat had never tasted a bit of bread, and had come no nearer a mouse than to find its tracks in the dust. One morning, when the Cat was sitting as usual on the roof of the house, he saw another Cat walking along the ridgepole of the roof opposite. At first he scarcely recognized the Cat as one of his own kin, his sides were so sleek and fat. He carried his long tail straight up in the air, and blinked his yellow eyes in the sunshine. As the Fat Cat came nearer, the Lean Cat called out to him,—
“My good neighbor, you look like the happiest cat alive. You are as plump as if you had sat every day of your life at a banquet. Pray tell me where it is that you find so much to eat?”
“Where, indeed,” replied the Fat Cat, sitting down and curling his long tail about his legs, “but at the King’s table. Every day, when the feast is spread, I go thither and snatch away some dainty morsel of food, either a piece of roast beef or a fried trout.”The Lean Cat drew nearer to the edge of the roof. “Oh, tell me,” he begged, “what is roast beef, and how do fried trout smell? I have never tasted anything but broth.”
“Ah, that is why you look as lean as a spider,” the other Cat answered. “Now, if you were only to look once at the King’s table, it would put new life into your old bones. To-morrow, if you wish, I will take you thither.”
With a purr of satisfaction, the Lean Cat jumped off the roof and ran to tell his Mistress the good news. But the Old Woman was far from happy when she heard of the expedition. “I beg you,” she pleaded with her Cat, “to stay at home and be content with your dish of honest broth. Think what might happen to you if the royal cook should catch you stealing from the King’s table!”
But the Lean Cat was so greedy for food that the words of his Mistress went in one ear and out the other. The next day the two cats started for the palace.
Now it had so happened the day before that the cats of the palace had so overrun the banquet table that the King had issued this decree:—
Any cat who this day shows his whiskers within the palace shall be instantly hanged.
The Fat Cat wisely approached the palace stealthily. As he was creeping through the gate, another cat warned him of the decree and he took to his heels. But the Lean Cat was already within the banquet hall, for at the first odor of roasting meat that came through the window he had leaped forward, leaving his companion far behind. He was just snatching a morsel of venison from the table, when a strong hand seized him by the back of the neck, and an instant later he was put to death.
“Alack, alack, woe is me!” sighed the Old Woman that evening when her cat did not return for his supper; “if only my puss had been content with his dish of honest broth, he would still be alive and purring on my hearthstone.”