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The Lion And The Cat

from The Brown Fairy Book





Far away on the other side of the world there lived, long ago, a lion
and his younger brother, the wild cat, who were so fond of each other
that they shared the same hut. The lion was much the bigger and stronger
of the two--indeed, he was much bigger and stronger than any of the
beasts that dwelt in the forest; and, besides, he could jump father and
run faster than all the rest. If strength and swiftness could gain him a
dinner he was sure never to be without one, but when it came to cunning,
both the grizzly bear and the serpent could get the better of him, and
he was forced to call in the help of the wild cat.

Now the young wild cat had a lovely golden ball, so beautiful that you
could hardly look at it except through a piece of smoked glass, and he
kept it hidden in the thick fur muff that went round his neck. A very
large old animal, since dead, had given it to him when he was hardly
more than a baby, and had told him never to part with it, for as long as
he kept it no harm could ever come near him.

In general the wild cat did not need to use his ball, for the lion was
fond of hunting, and could kill all the food that they needed; but now
and then his life would have been in danger had it not been for the
golden ball.

One day the two brothers started to hunt at daybreak, but as the cat
could not run nearly as fast as the lion, he had quite a long start. At
least he THOUGHT it was a long one, but in a very few bounds and springs
the lion reached his side.

'There is a bear sitting on that tree,' he whispered softly. 'He is only
waiting for us to pass, to drop down on my back.'

'Ah, you are so big that he does not see I am behind you,' answered the
wild cat. And, touching the ball, he just said: 'Bear, die!' And the
bear tumbled dead out of the tree, and rolled over just in front of
them.

For some time they trotted on without any adventures, till just as they
were about to cross a strip of long grass on the edge of the forest, the
lion's quick ears detected a faint rustling noise.

'That is a snake,' he cried, stopping short, for he was much more afraid
of snakes than of bears.

'Oh, it is all right,' answered the cat. 'Snake, die!' And the snake
died, and the two brothers skinned it. They then folded the skin up into
a very small parcel, and the cat tucked it into his mane, for snakes'
skins can do all sorts of wonderful things, if you are lucky enough to
have one of them.

All this time they had had no dinner, for the snake's flesh was not
nice, and the lion did not like eating bear--perhaps because he never
felt sure that the bear was REALLY dead, and would not jump up alive
when his enemy went near him. Most people are afraid of SOME thing, and
bears and serpents were the only creatures that caused the lion's heart
to tremble. So the two brothers set off again and soon reached the side
of a hill where some fine deer were grazing.

'Kill one of those deer for your own dinner,' said the boy-brother, 'but
catch me another alive. I want him.'

The lion at once sprang towards them with a loud roar, but the deer
bounded away, and they were all three soon lost to sight. The cat waited
for a long while, but finding that the lion did not return, went back to
the house where they lived.

It was quite dark when the lion came home, where his brother was sitting
curled up in one corner.

'Did you catch the deer for me?' asked the boy-brother, springing up.

'Well, no,' replied the man-brother. 'The fact is, that I did not get up
to them till we had run half way across the world and left the wind
far behind us. Think what a trouble it would have been to drag it here!
So--I just ate them both.'

The cat said nothing, but he did not feel that he loved his big brother.
He had thought a great deal about that deer, and had meant to get on his
back to ride him as a horse, and go to see all the wonderful places
the lion talked to him about when he was in a good temper. 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.

But when cats make up their minds to do anything they generally DO it;
and this cat began to look about to see if there was really no way of
getting at his ball. Yes! there was, and it was much surer than the
other, though rather more difficult. Above the bough where the ball was
hung was another bough much thicker, which he knew could not break with
his weight; and by holding on tight to this with all his four paws, he
could just manage to touch the ball with his tail. He would thus be able
to whisk the ball to and fro till, by-and-by, the string would become
quite loose, and it would fall to the ground. It might take some time,
but the lion's little brother was patient, like most cats.

Well, it all happened just as the cat intended it should, and when the
ball dropped on the ground the cat ran down the tree like lightning,
and, picking it up, tucked it away in the snake's skin round his neck.
Then he began jumping along the shore of the Big Water from one place to
another, trying to find a boat, or even a log of wood, that would take
him across. But there was nothing; only, on the other side, he saw two
girls cooking, and though he shouted to them at the top of his voice,
they were too far off to hear what he said. And, what was worse, the
ball suddenly fell out of its snake's skin bag right into the river.

Now, it is not at all an uncommon thing for balls to tumble into rivers,
but in that case they generally either fall to the bottom and stay
there, or else bob about on the top of the water close to where they
first touched it. But this ball, instead of doing either of these
things, went straight across to the other side, and there one of the
girls saw it when she stooped to dip some water into her pail.

'Oh! what a lovely ball!' cried she, and tried to catch it in her pail;
but the ball always kept bobbing just out of her reach.

'Come and help me!' she called to her sister, and after a long while
they had the ball safe inside the pail. They were delighted with their
new toy, and one or the other held it in her hand till bedtime came, and
then it was a long time before they could make up their minds where it
would be safest for the night. At last they locked it in a cupboard in
one corner of their room, and as there was no hole anywhere the ball
could not possibly get out. After that they went to sleep.

In the morning the first thing they both did was to run to the cupboard
and unlock it, but when the door opened they started back, for, instead
of the ball, there stood a handsome young man.

'Ladies,' he said, 'how can I thank you for what you have done for me?
Long, long ago, I was enchanted by a wicked fairy, and condemned to keep
the shape of a ball till I should meet with two maidens, who would take
me to their own home. But where was I to meet them? For hundreds of
years I have lived in the depths of the forest, where nothing but wild
beasts ever came, and it was only when the lion threw me into the sky
that I was able to fall to earth near this river. Where there is a
river, sooner or later people will come; so, hanging myself on a tree, I
watched and waited. For a moment I lost heart when I fell once more into
the hands of my old master the wild cat, but my hopes rose again as I
saw he was making for the river bank opposite where you were standing.
That was my chance, and I took it. And now, ladies, I have only to say
that, if ever I can do anything to help you, go to the top of that high
mountain and knock three times at the iron door at the north side, and I
will come to you.'

So, with a low bow, he vanished from before them, leaving the maidens
weeping at having lost in one moment both the ball and the prince.





Next: Which Was The Foolishest?

Previous: Kisa The Cat



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