On a little farm, not far from a great forest, there once lived a man and his wife, who had an old dog and a very old cat. One day the man, whose name was Simon, said to his wife, whose name was Susan:
"Susan, what is the use of keeping that old cat? She hasn't caught a mouse for these ten years. I've made up my mind to drown her to-morrow."
"Oh, don't do that, Simon!" said Susan; "I'm sure she can catch mice almost as well as a younger cat."
"Nonsense," said Simon; "she has neither teeth nor claws, and the mice could dance under her nose without being caught. Besides that, she wouldn't know a mouse from a wild deer. I've made up my mind to put her out of the way."
Susan, who loved the cat, was very unhappy; and the cat, who was lying under her chair and heard every word, was very unhappy, too. When Simon went off to the fields to work, the cat mewed so pitifully that her mistress opened the door and told her to save herself if she could.
"Run to the woods, my poor little beast," she said, "run as fast as your old legs can carry you. But be sure that my man Simon doesn't see you."
The cat was glad to take her advice, and, when Simon came home at night, Susan told him that poor Puss had gone away, and was nowhere to be found.
"Well, I shall not have the trouble of drowning her," said Simon. "But there's the old dog—I wish we were rid of him, too. He is even worse than the cat. He is so blind that he can't tell a man from a gate post, and he is always barking at the wrong time, and going to sleep when he ought to be watching. I've made up my mind to hang him to-morrow."
"Oh, don't do that, Simon!" said Susan; "I'm sure he'll watch the house well after this."
"Nonsense," said Simon; "he is not only blind, but deaf, and thieves might carry off the whole house before he would give the alarm. I've fully made up my mind to put him out of the way."
Susan was very unhappy when she heard this and the dog, who was lying in the corner and understood every word, was very unhappy, too. As soon as Simon had gone out to his work, the poor fellow got up and howled so pitifully that his mistress opened the door and told him to save himself, if he could, by following the cat.
"Run for your life, poor beast!" she cried; "but be sure that my man Simon doesn't see you."
The dog hurried off as fast as he could, and when Simon came home, Susan told him that Towser had gone away too.
"He is a lucky dog, for I had the rope ready for him," said Simon. But Susan was very sad, for she was fond of both the poor beasts.
The very next day the cat and the dog met in the woods. They had not been good friends at home, but now they were quite glad to see each other. After they had rubbed noses they sat down under a willow tree and began to talk about their bad luck. They had not been there long when a friendly fox passed that way and saw them. He stopped and asked them what was the matter and why their faces were so sad.
The cat said: "Many a mouse have I caught in my day, but now that I am old and past work my master wants to drown me."
And the dog said: "Many a thief have I driven from the house, but now that I am old and almost blind my master wants to hang me."
"Ah, me! that's the way the world goes," said the fox; "but I'll help you out of your troubles, if you'll help me out of mine."
"We will do our best," said they; "but how can we help you?"
"By joining my army," said the fox. "The wolf has declared war against me, and is now marching to meet me. His army is a bear and a wild boar, and to-morrow we are to fight a battle at the salt spring."
"All right," said the dog and cat; "we'll stand by you. Better be killed in battle than hung or drowned just because nobody wants us."
"Follow me, then," said the fox; and the three started on the march to meet the wolf and his army.
Now it happened the next morning that the wolf and his army got to the salt spring first. They waited for some time, and as the fox did not come, they began to feel very cross.
"He is a great coward," said the wolf.
"I am not so sure of it, general," said the bear. "He may be at one of his tricks. I think that I will climb up into this oak tree and see if he is in sight."
When he had climbed to the topmost branch he looked round, and said, "I can't see anybody!" Then he looked round a second time, and said, "I can't see anybody!" But when he looked round the third time, he said, "I see a great army coming over the hill, a mile away; and one of the warriors carries the funniest flag you ever saw!"
He was joking about the cat, who was coming with her tail stuck straight up into the air. The wolf and the wild boar laughed, and the bear grinned in his own funny way; and all of them thought of what fine sport they would have with the fox and his army.
"It is so hot," said the bear, "I think I'll take a little nap in the fork of the tree. At the rate those fellows are coming it will be an hour before they are here."
The wolf curled himself up at the foot of the oak; and the wild boar crept into the long grass and lay down where nothing could be seen of him but the tip of an ear. And soon they were all asleep.
It was not long until the fox, the dog, and the cat came up. The cat saw the wild boar's ear, and thinking it was a mouse, pounced upon it.
The wild boar was badly scared, for he could not think what it was that had wakened him from his nap. He sprang up with a loud grunt, and then, without looking round him, ran for his life through the thick woods.
But the cat was frightened as badly as he. She sprang into the tree, and scrambled up the trunk into the very face of the bear, who was sleeping in the shade of the green branches.
And who should be frightened now but the bear? He leaped up with a savage growl, missed his footing, and fell to the ground, right on top of the wolf, who was killed as dead as a stone.
"We have met the enemy, and the field is ours," said the fox, as he saw the bear rushing away among the trees.
"We came, we saw, we conquered!" said the cat, as she leaped nimbly to the ground.
On their way from the battlefield, the fox caught a dozen mice and gave them to the cat.
"When you go back to Simon's house," said he, "carry them in, one at a time, and lay them at his feet."
"All right!" said the cat; and she did exactly as the fox told her.
"There, Simon!" cried Susan, "didn't I tell you that I thought Puss was as good a mouser as many a younger cat?"
"Wonders will never end," said Simon. "Nobody shall harm that cat if I know it."
The fox and the dog were all this time skulking in the bushes behind the barn.
"I see that our friend Simon has killed the pig to-day," said the fox, "and no doubt Susan has made sausages and put them away in the cupboard. Now, as soon as it is dark you must go into the yard and bark as loud as you can."
"All right," said the dog; and he did just as the fox told him. "Simon," said Susan, "I hear poor Towser barking in the yard, and I hope that now he has come back you will be good to him. Do go out and see what is the matter. I am afraid there are thieves about, and they'll be sure to steal all my sausages."
"Nonsense!" said Simon. "The dog doesn't know a thief from a haystack. I'll hang him to-morrow, as sure as my name is Simon." And, as he was very tired, he would not get up.
The next morning Susan was up at daylight, for it was Sunday, and she was going to church in the village. She thought how nice it would be to take a few sausages to her aunt, who lived on the road, and she went into the kitchen and looked in the cupboard. But lo and behold! there was a hole in the floor, and not a sausage could be seen in the cupboard. She ran and called her husband.
"Simon! Simon!" she cried, "the old dog was right, and I was right, and you were wrong. Thieves have been in the kitchen, and they have not left me a single sausage. Oh, if you had only gone out when the dog barked!"
"Wonders will never end," said Simon, scratching his head. "I didn't think the old dog would ever bark at a thief. He is worth his food yet, and nobody shall ever harm him if I know it."
The fox did a sharp piece of business for himself that night, too; for it was he who stole the sausages.