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Fable Of The Eagle And The Cat

( Originally Published 1902 )

LORD SPENCER gave a dinner to some literary friends at his home in London. Benjamin Franklin being among the number. During the conversation the host lamented the fact that the fable, as a form of expression, had gone out of date ; that the birds and the beasts, and other creatures had said all that they knew, and were not likely to replenish their stock of learning. With this in view all the guests were in accord except Franklin, who remained silent. Lord Spencer appealed to him directly for his opinion, and he replied : " Why, my lord, I cannot say that I have the honor to think with you in this affair. The birds and beasts have indeed said a great many wise things ; but it is likely they will say a great many more yet before they are done. Nature, I am thinking, is not quite so easily exhausted as your lordship seems to imagine." The host then asked Franklin to offer an illustration of the truths he had uttered, by giving them an impromptu fable. This he declined to do, but the other guests insisted so urgently that he wrote upon a piece of paper this fable, which he read to them : " Once upon a time, as an eagle, in the full pride of his pinions, soared over a humble farm-yard, darting his fiery eyes around in search of a pig, a lamb, or some such pretty titbit, what should he behold but a plump young rabbit, as he thought, squatted among the weeds. Down at once upon him he pounced, and, bearing him aloft in his talons, thus chuckled to himself with joy: ` Zounds, what a lucky dog am I ! Such a nice rabbit here, this morning, for my breakfast!' His joy was but momentary; for the supposed rabbit happened to be a stout cat, who, spitting and squalling with rage, instantly stuck his teeth and nails like fury into the eagle's thighs, making the blood and feathers fly at a dreadful rate. ` Hold ! Hold ! for mercy's sake!' cried the eagle, his wings shivering in the air with very torment. ` Villain ! ' retorted the cat, with a tiger-like growl, ` dare you talk of mercy after treating me thus, who never injured you?" 0 God bless you, Mr. Cat, is that you?' rejoined the eagle.

`Pon honor, I did not intend it, sir. I thought it was only a rabbit I had got hold of—and you know we are all fond of rabbits. Do you suppose, my dear sir, that if I had but dreamt it was you, I would ever have touched a hair of your head? No, indeed ; I am not such a fool as all that comes to. And now, my dear Mr. Cat, come, let's be good friends again, and I'll let you go with all my heart.' ` Yes, you'll let me go, scoundrel, will you, here from the clouds, to break every bone in my skin ! No, villain, carry me back, and put me down exactly where you found me, or I'll tear the throat out of you in a moment.' Without a word of reply, the eagle stooped at once from his giddy height, and sailing humbly down, with great complaisance restored the cat to his simple farm-yard, there to sleep or hunt his rats and mice at pleasure."

After he had completed his story, all were silent. Finally, Lord Spencer, in a sad tone replied, " Ah, Dr. Franklin, I see the drift of your fable; and my fears have already made the application. God grant that Britain may not prove the eagle and America the cat."

In a little over a year from that time the Declaration of Independence was passed. The British eagle undertook to devour the American rabbit, and, after eight years of scratching and fighting, it was glad to lay down the cat. There are individuals like nations, who are very quick to lay hold upon a rabbit, without teeth or claws with which to defend itself, who are very shy about touching a cat, which can make such a savage fight.

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