“The Telling of Tales” # 03
The Cat Who Used His Wits
By Andre Norton (1940s)
(Six to Ten Years)
Once upon a time, more years ago than I can rightly remember, a cat lived with a hunter in a cabin in the woods. He was very comfortable for there was always a warm fire on the hearth and plenty to eat if he had not had any luck that day in his own hunting.
But one day he returned to the cabin to discover the door locked and the hunter gone to city. Although the cat was able to crawl through a broken window he did not want to stay in the lonely cabin where there was now no fire or anything good left to eat in his dish. So he decided to find a home for himself in the woods.
While he was searching for one he met a fox with whom he had shared hunting trips. And the fox asked him:
“Why do you look so sad, my dear friend?”
“Because," replied the cat, “I have lost my good home. The hunter has gone away and the cabin is cold and dark.”
“Ah, then come and live with me,” said the fox. “I know a fine dry cave near the top of the mountain and we can lie there as snug as a rug.”
The cat went with him and, sure enough, near the top of the mountain was a fine, dry cave just large enough for the two of them with a little to spare. But once inside the fox turned to the cat, who was making himself a bed of fallen leaves and said in a low voice;
“My friend, I have not been honest with you. Not far from here there lives a panther. and each morning when he goes down to the river to drink he sniffs at this door and mutters how good fox would taste for breakfast—--”
“So!” The cat sat down and folded his tail over his front paws. “This is a matter we must think about.”
“If you wish to move--” began the fox.
But the cat shook his head. “No. I shall use my wits and see if we cannot find an answer to the sniffing of this hungry panther.”
For a full hour and fifteen minutes he sat thinking. Then he said to his cave-mate:
“Friend, with you to help me, I think that I can outwit this panther. First we must return to the hunter's cabin and fetch something he stored there in his cupboard.”
“What?” asked the fox.
“Come with me and see,” returned the cat as he set off down the mountain.
Together they crawled through the broken window in the cabin and dragged out the skin of a panther which the hunter had shot several seasons before.
“This is our weapon,” said the cat. “Now help me take it back to our cave.”
“Tomorrow,” the cat continued when they were home again, “you must do just as I tell you----”
The next morning, when the animals heard the sounds of the panther's claws on the rocky hillside path, the fox hurried to the mouth of the cave and bravely walked out dragging the panther skin behind him. While the cat, who was hiding far back in the shadows, said in his deepest and most growly voice:
“So that panther skin will not do, my friend? Very well, if you are so hard to please in your bedding, wait until the morrow and I shall have ten fresh ones for you to choose from!”
Now the panther heard very well all that the cat said and he was much alarmed. For, as he thought to himself, it must be a monster who would be able to get ten fresh panther skins in one day. And since he did not wish his skin to be one of that ten, he hurried home and packed all his belongings and moved to the far side of the woods to live.
The cat and the fox lived very happily together in the cave until the coming of winter. Then the cat missed even more the hearth fire and his warm bed before it. But the hunter had never returned to the cabin. So the cat decided to go to the sheep who lived on the other side of the mountain and beg for some of their wool with which to make a winter bed.
However the sheep were not quick to give him what he wished. For the ram who ruled the flock asked what he had to offer in return. And the cat replied that he did not know, but whatever they wished he would try to get for them.
“Bah! Bah!” laughed the ram. “That you cannot do, little cat. For what we wish is safety from a wicked wolf who lives down the road. Each night as he passes our field he runs his tongue across his cruel teeth and tells us that when the winter snows are deep he will hunt us down to eat. And you, small as you are, cannot stop him!”
“I shall use my wits and see if there is not a way to do so,” replied the cat. And he curled his tail over his fore paws and considered the problem thoughtfully.
Soon he nodded twice, but said nothing more to the ram. Instead he crossed the mountain and returned to the hunter's cabin where he filled a bag with certain things he took from a cupboard. And this lumpy bag he carried back with him to the sheep pasture where he laid it before the ram.
“When next the wolf passes this way,” the cat began, “shake this bag so that what it contains will fly out on the field. And when the wolf asks you where you got bag and contents, tell him that it is the remains of the Sunday dinner of the monster who now lives in a cave near the top of the mountain. If my plan works, you will see no more of the wolf after that.”
“And if we see no more of the wolf,” returned the ram, “you shall have a winter bed of the finest wool we have to offer.”
He kept close guard on the bag which the cat had given him and that night as he saw the wolf coming he gave it a hard shake just as the cat had ordered. Shining bones flew across the field in all directions.
When the wolf came to see what the ram had thrown about he discovered the polished bones of several wolves lay there -- wolves which had been killed by the hunter. He demanded that the ram tell him where these bones had come from, and the ram answered just as the cat had told him to.
The wolf became uneasy, for he thought that the monster might come after him for his next Sunday's dinner. And he hurried home to pack all he owned and move to the other side of the woods.
However, on the other side of the woods he met the panther and they talked about their fright. When they discovered that they both had been driven from their homes by the same monster the panther growled angrily:
“We are both great hunters. And if we go together against this monster surely he will not be able to fight both of us at once. Then we shall be able to kill or drive him away and move back to those pleasant homes we once had.”
Now an old crow heard all that passed between these two and later that same day when he was resting upon a sun warmed bough the cat sprang and caught him. But the crow instead of struggling vainly to free himself cawed:
“Cat, I know of something which will be the saving of your life--”
“So?” The cat kept one paw on the crow's tail but he listened.
“On the far side of the woods the wolf and the panther said this--”
And the crow told the cat all he had overheard.
“One favor earns another,” answered the cat when he was done and allowed the crow to go free. Then he went to call the fox and the ram to a council of war.
“We must try to get rid of these wicked animals,” he said, “for our lives will not be safe if they live on this side of the woods again. Since we cannot fight them equally, fang to fang, and claw to claw, we must use our wits.”
The cat and the fox climbed upon the broad bank of the ram and over them they pulled the skin of the panther which the cat had brought from the cabin, and, when the wolf and the panther came close to the cave, the ram rushed forth in this disguise while the cat squalled his loudest and the fox barked until he thought he would split his throat.
And the panther and the wolf, seeing this strange and fearful monster charging down upon them turned and fled, and for all that I know they may still be running over the rim of the world.
But the cat and the fox have lived happily in their cave from that day to this.
Digitized and edited by Jay Watts ~ aka: Lotsawatts ~ May, 2015
Never before seen short story by Andre Norton
Released here for the first time
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by – Victor Horadam
Duplication of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.