The Story of a Cat, a Mouse, a Lizard and an Owl
Translated by S. M. Mitra
from the Sanskrit
This is the story of four creatures, none of whom loved each other,
who lived in the same banyan tree in a forest in India. Banyan trees
are very beautiful and very useful, and get their name from the fact
that "banians," as merchants are called in India, often gather together
in their shade to sell their goods. Banyan trees grow to a very great
height, spreading their branches out so widely that many people can
stand beneath them. From those branches roots spring forth, which,
when they reach the ground, pierce it, and look like, columns holding
up a roof. If you have never seen a banyan tree, you can easily find
a picture of one in some dictionary; and when you have done so, you
will understand that a great many creatures can live in one without
seeing much of each other.
In an especially fine banyan tree, outside the walls of a town called
Vidisa, a cat, an owl, a lizard and a mouse, had all taken up their
abode. The cat lived in a big hole in the trunk some little distance
from the ground, where she could sleep very cosily, curled up out
of sight with her head resting on her forepaws, feeling perfectly
safe from harm; for no other creature, she thought, could possibly
discover her hiding-place. The owl roosted in a mass of foliage at
the top of the tree, near the nest in which his wife had brought up
their children, before those children flew away to seek mates for
themselves. He too felt pretty secure as long as he remained up there;
but he had seen the cat prowling about below him more than once,
and was very sure that, if she should happen to catch sight of him
when he was off his guard seeking his prey and obliged to give all
his attention to what he was doing, she might spring out upon him
and kill him. Cats do not generally attack such big birds as owls,
but they will sometimes kill a mother sitting in her nest, as well
as the little ones, if the father is too far off to protect them.
The lizard loved to lie and bask in the sunshine, catching the flies
on which he lived, lying so still that they did not notice him, and
darting out his long tongue suddenly to suck them into his mouth. Yet
he hid from the owl and the cat, because he knew full well that,
tough though he was, they would gobble him up if they happened to be
hungry. He made his home amongst the roots on the south side of the
tree where it was hottest, but the mouse had his hole on the other side
amongst damp moss and dead leaves. The mouse was in constant fear of
the cat and the owl. He knew that both of them could see in the dark,
and he would have no chance of escape if they once caught sight of him.
1. Which of these four creatures do you think was most to be pitied?
2. Do you think that animals ever hate or love each as human
The lizard and the mouse could only get food in daylight; but the
lizard did not have to go far for the flies on which he lived, whilst
the mouse had a very dangerous journey to take to his favourite feeding
place. This was a barley field a short distance from the banyan tree,
where he loved to nibble the full ears, running up the stalks to get at
them. The mouse was the only one of the four creatures in the banyan
tree who did not feed on others; for, like the rest of his family,
he was a vegetarian, that is to say, he ate nothing but vegetables
Now the cat knew full well how fond the mouse was of the barley-field,
and she used to keep watch amongst the tall stems, creeping stealthily
about with her tail in the air and her green eyes glistening,
expecting any moment to see the poor little mouse darting hastily
along. The cat never dreamt that any danger could come to her, and
she trod down the barley, making quite a clear path through it. She
was quite wrong in thinking herself so safe, for that path got her
into very serious trouble.
It so happened that a hunter, whose great delight was to kill wild
creatures, and who was very clever in finding them, noticing every
little thing which could shew him where they had passed by, came
one day into the barley-field. He spied the path directly and cried,
"Ha! ha! Some wild animal has been here; not a very big one; let's
have a look for the footprints!" So he stooped down to the ground,
and very soon saw the marks of pussy's feet. "A cat, I do believe,"
he said to himself, "spoiling the barley she doesn't want to eat
herself. I'll soon pay her out." The hunter waited until the evening
lest the creature should see what he was going to do, and then in the
twilight he set snares all over the barley-field. A snare, you know,
is a string with a slip-knot at the end of it; and if an animal puts
his head or one of his paws into this slip-knot and goes on without
noticing it, the string is pulled tight and the poor creature cannot
3. Was it right or wrong of the hunter to set the snare?
4. Do you think the cat was wrong to lie in wait for the mouse?
Exactly what the hunter expected happened. The cat came as usual to
watch for the mouse, and caught sight of him running across the end of
the path. Puss dashed after him; and just as she thought she really
had got him this time, she found herself caught by the neck, for she
had put her head into one of the snares. She was nearly strangled
and could scarcely even mew. The mouse was so close that he heard the
feeble mew, and in a terrible fright, thinking the cat was after him,
he peeped through the stems of the barley to make sure which way to
run to get away from her. What was his delight when he saw his enemy
in such trouble and quite unable to do him any harm!
Now it so happened that the owl and the lizard were also in the
barley-field, not very far away from the cat, and they too saw the
distress their hated enemy was in. They also caught sight of the little
mouse peeping through the barley; and the owl thought to himself,
"I'll have you, my little friend, now puss cannot do me any harm,"
whilst the lizard darted away into the sunshine, feeling glad that
the cat and the owl were neither of them now likely to trouble their
heads about him. The owl flew quietly to a tree hard by to watch what
would happen, feeling so sure of having the mouse for his dinner that
he was in no hurry to catch him.
5. What would you have done if you had been the mouse, when you saw
the cat in the snare?
6. Was the owl wise or foolish to wait before he caught the mouse?
The mouse, small and helpless though he was, was a wise little
creature. He saw the owl fly up into the tree, and knew quite well
that if he did not take care he would serve as dinner to that great
strong bird. He knew too that, if he went within reach of the claws
of the cat, he would suffer for it. "How I do wish," he thought to
himself, "I could make friends with the cat, now she is in distress,
and get her to promise not to hurt me if ever she gets free. As long
as I am near the cat, the owl will not dare to come after me." As he
thought and thought, his eyes got brighter and brighter, and at last
he decided what he would do. He had, you see, kept his presence of
mind; that is to say, he did not let his fright of the cat or the owl
prevent him from thinking clearly. He now ventured forth from amongst
the barley, and coming near enough to the cat for her to see him quite
clearly, but not near enough for her to reach him with her claws,
or far enough away for the owl to get him without danger from those
terrible claws, he said to the cat in a queer little squeaky voice:
"Dear Puss, I do not like to see you in such a fix. It is true we have
never been exactly friends, but I have always looked up to you as a
strong and noble enemy. If you will promise never to do me any harm,
I will do my best to help you. I have very sharp teeth, and I might
perhaps be able to nibble through the string round your beautiful
neck and set you free. What do you think about it?"
7. Do you think there was any chance of a cat and a mouse becoming
8. Can you give two or three instances you know of presence of mind
When the cat heard what the mouse said, she could hardly believe her
ears. She was of course ready to promise anything to anyone who would
help her, so she said at once:
"You dear little mouse, to wish to help me. If only you will nibble
through that string which is killing me, I promise that I will always
love you, always be your friend, and however hungry I may be, I will
starve rather than hurt your tender little body."
On hearing this, the mouse, without hesitating a moment, climbed up
on to the cat's back, and cuddled down in the soft fur near her neck,
feeling very safe and warm there. The owl would certainly not attack
him there, he thought, and the cat could not possibly hurt him. It was
one thing to pounce down on a defenceless little creature running on
the ground amongst the barley, quite another to try and snatch him
from the very neck of a cat.
The cat of course expected the mouse to begin to nibble through
the string at once, and became very uneasy when she felt the little
creature nestle down as if to go to sleep, instead of helping her. Poor
Pussy could not turn her head so as to see the mouse without drawing
the string tighter, and she did not dare to speak angrily lest she
should offend him. "My dear little friend," she said, "do you not
think it is high time to keep your promise and set me free?"
Hearing this, the mouse pretended to bite the string, but took care not
to do so really; and the cat waited and waited, getting more miserable
every minute. All through the long night the same thing went on:
the mouse taking a little nap now and then, the cat getting weaker
and weaker. "Oh," she thought to herself, "if only I could get free,
the first thing I would do would be to gobble up that horrid little
mouse." The moon rose, the stars came out, the wind murmured amongst
the branches of the banyan tree, making the unfortunate cat long to be
safe in her cosy home in the trunk. The cries of the wild animals which
prowl about at night seeking their food were heard, and the cat feared
one of them might find her and kill her. A mother tiger perhaps would
snatch her, and take her to her hungry cubs, hidden away in the deep
forest, or a bird of prey might swoop down on her and grip her in his
terrible claws. Again and again she entreated the mouse to be quick,
promising that, if only he would set her at liberty, she would never,
never, never forget it or do any harm to her beloved friend.
9. What do you suppose the mouse was thinking all this time?
10. If you had been the mouse, would you have trusted to what the
cat said in her misery?
It was not until the moon had set and the light of the dawn had put
out that of the stars that the mouse, made any real effort to help
the cat. By this time the hunter who had set the snare came to see if
he had caught the cat; and the poor cat, seeing him in the distance,
became so wild with terror that she nearly killed herself in the
struggle to get away. "Keep still! keep still," cried the mouse,
"and I will really save you." Then with a few quick bites with his
sharp teeth he cut through the string, and the next moment the cat
was hidden amongst the barley, and the mouse was running off in
the opposite direction, determined to keep well out of sight of the
creature he had kept in such misery for so many hours. Full well he
knew that all the cat's promises would be forgotten, and that she
would eat him up if she could catch him. The owl too flew away,
and the lizard went off to hunt flies in the sunshine, and there
was not a sign of any of the four inhabitants of the banyan tree
when the hunter reached the snare. He was very much surprised and
puzzled to find the string hanging loose in two pieces, and no sign
of there having been anything caught in it, except two white hairs
lying on the ground close to the trap. He had a good look round,
and then went home without having found out anything.
When the hunter was quite out of sight, the cat came forth from the
barley, and hastened back to her beloved home in the banyan tree. On
her way there she spied the mouse also hurrying along in the same
direction, and at first she felt inclined to hunt him and eat him
then and there. On second thoughts however she decided to try and keep
friends with him, because he might help her again if she got caught a
second time. So she took no notice of the mouse until the next day,
when she climbed down the tree and went to the roots in which she
knew the mouse was hidden. There she began to purr as loud as she
could, to show the mouse she was in a good humour, and called out,
"Dear good little mouse, come out of your hole and let me tell you how
very, very grateful I am to you for saving my life. There is nothing in
the world I will not do for you, if you will only be friends with me."
The mouse only squeaked in answer to this speech, and took very good
care not to show himself, till he was quite sure the cat was gone
beyond reach of him. He stayed quietly in his hole, and only ventured
forth after he had heard the cat climb up into the tree again. "It
is all very well," thought the mouse, "to pretend to make friends
with an enemy when that enemy is helpless, but I should indeed be a
silly mouse to trust a cat when she is free to kill me."
The cat made a good many other efforts to be friends with the mouse,
but they were all unsuccessful. In the end the owl caught the mouse,
and the cat killed the lizard. The owl and the cat both lived for
the rest of their lives in the banyan tree, and died in the end at
a good old age.
11. Do you think it is ever possible to make a real friend of an enemy?
12. What do you think the mouse deserved most praise for in his
13. Which of the four animals in this story do you like best and
which do you dislike most?
14. Can an animal be blamed for acting according to its nature? For
instance, can you call it cruel for a cat or an owl to kill and eat
15. Is it always right to forgive an injury?
16. Can you give an example from history of the forgiveness of