- roundabout: taking a longer route to reach a destination.
- prospect: the possibility or likelihood of something happening in the future.
- weasels: small, carnivorous mammals with long, slender bodies and short legs.
- stalked: to move silently and carefully in order to approach or observe something/someone.
- apt: suitable or appropriate for the situation.
- fangs: long, pointed teeth, usually found in carnivorous animals.
- curving: having a shape that bends or curves.
- lashed: to move forcefully or violently from side to side.
- merriment: happiness, joy, or amusement.
- scatterbrained: forgetful or disorganized.
The Crow and the Cat
Mrs Frisby looked again at the sun and saw that she faced an unpleasant choice. She could go home by the same roundabout way she had come, in which case she would surely end up walking alone in the woods in the dark – a frightening prospect, for at night the forest was alive with danger. Then the owl came out to hunt, and foxes, weasels and strange wild cats stalked among the tree trunks.
The other choice would be dangerous, too, but with luck it would get her home before dark. That would be to take a straighter route, across the farmyard between the barn and the chicken house, going not too close to the house but cutting the distance by half. The cat would be there somewhere, but by daylight – and by staying in the open, away from the shrubs – she could probably spot him before he saw her.
The cat: He was called Dragon. Farmer Fitzgibbon’s wife had given him the name as a joke when he was a small kitten pretending to be fierce. But when he grew up, the name turned out to be an apt one. He was enormous, with a huge, broad head and a large mouth full of curving fangs, needle sharp. He had seven claws on each foot and a thick, furry tail, which lashed angrily from side to side. In colour he was orange and white, with glaring yellow eyes; and when he leaped to kill, he gave a high, strangled scream that froze his victims where they stood.
But Mrs Frisby preferred not to think about that. Instead, as she came out of the woods from Mr Ages’ house and reached the farmyard fence she thought about Timothy. She thought of how his eyes shone with merriment when he made up small jokes, which he did frequently, and how invariably kind he was to his small, scatterbrained sister Cynthia. The other children sometimes laughed at her when she made mistakes, or grew impatient with her because she was forever losing things, but Timothy never did. Instead, he would help her find them. And when Cynthia herself had been sick in bed with a cold, he had sat by her side for hours and entertained her with stories. He made these up out of his head, and he seemed to have a bottomless supply of them.
Taking a firm grip on her packets of medicine, Mrs Frisby went under the fence and set out towards the farmyard. The first stretch was a long pasture; the barn itself, square and red and big, rose in the distance to her right; to her left, farther off were the chicken houses.
When at length she came abreast of the barn, she saw the wire fence that marked the other end of the pasture; and as she approached it, she was startled by a sudden outburst of noise. She thought at first it was a hen, strayed from the chicken-yard – caught by a fox? She looked down the fence and saw that it was no hen at all, but a young crow, flapping in the grass, acting most oddly. As she watched, he fluttered to the top wire of the fence, where he perched nervously for a moment. Then he spread his wings, flapped hard, and took off- but after flying four feet he stopped with a snap and crashed to the ground again, shedding a flurry of black feathers and squawking loudly.
He was tied to the fence. A piece of something silvery – it looked like wire – was tangled around one of his legs; the other end of it was caught in the fence. Mrs Frisby walked closer, and then she could see it was not wire after all, but a length of silver-coloured string, probably left over from a Christmas package.
The crow was sitting on the fence, pecking ineffectively at the string with his bill, cawing softly to himself, a miserable sound. After a moment he spread his wings, and she could see he was going to try to fly again.
‘Wait,’ said Mrs Frisby.
The crow looked down and saw her in the grass.
‘Why should I wait? Can’t you see I’m caught? I’ve got to get loose.’
‘But if you make so much noise again the cat is sure to hear. If he hasn’t heard already.’
‘You’d make a noise, too, if you were tied to a fence with a piece of string, and with night coming on.’
‘I would not,’ said Mrs Frisby, ‘if I had any sense and knew there was a cat near by. Who tied you?’ She was trying to calm the crow, who was obviously terrified.
He looked embarrassed and stared at his feet. ‘I picked up the string. It got tangled with my foot. I sat on the fence to try to get it off, and it caught on the fence.
‘Why did you pick up the string?’
The crow, who was very young indeed – in fact, only a year old – said wearily: ‘Because it was shiny.’
‘You knew better.’
‘I had been told.’
Birdbrain, thought Mrs Frisby, and then recalled what her husband used to say: The size of the brain is no measure of its capacity. And well she might recall it, for the crow’s head was double the size of her own.
‘Sit quietly,’ she said. ‘Look towards the house and see if you see the cat.’
‘I don’t see him. But I can’t see behind the bushes. Oh, if I could just fly higher.’
‘Don’t,’ said Mrs Frisby. She looked at the sun; it was setting behind the trees. She thought of Timothy, and of the medicine she was carrying. Yet she knew she could not leave the foolish crow there to be killed -and killed he surely would be before sunrise – just for want of a few minutes’ work. She might still make it by dusk if she hurried.
‘Come down here,’ she said. I’ll get the string off.’
‘How?’ said the crow dubiously.
‘Don’t argue. I have only a few minutes.’ She said this in a voice so authoritative that the crow fluttered down immediately.
‘But if the cat comes…’ he said.
‘If the cat comes, he’ll knock you off the fence with one jump and catch you with the next. Be still.’ She was already at work with her sharp teeth, gnawing at the string. It was twined and twisted and twined again around his right ankle, and she saw she would have to cut through it three times to get it off.
As she finished the second strand, the crow, who was staring towards the house, suddenly cried out:
‘I see the cat!’
‘Quiet!’ whispered Mrs Frisby. ‘Does he see us?’
‘I don’t know. Yes. He’s looking at me. I don’t think he can see you.’
‘Stand perfectly still. Don’t get in a panic.’ She did not look up but started on the third strand.
‘He’s moving this way.’
‘Fast or slow?’
‘Medium. I think he’s trying to figure out what I’m doing.’
She cut through the last strand, gave a tug, and the string fell off.
‘There, you’re free. Fly off, and be quick.’
‘But what about you?’
‘Maybe he hasn’t seen me.’
‘But he will. He’s coming closer.’
Mrs Frisby looked around. There was not a bit of cover anywhere near, not a rock nor a hole nor a log; nothing at all closer than the chicken yard – and that was in the direction the cat was coming from, and a long way off.
‘Look,’ said the crow. ‘Climb on my back. Quick. And hang on.’
Mrs Frisby did what she was told, first grasping the precious packages of medicine tightly between her teeth.
‘Are you on?’
She gripped the feathers on his back, felt the beat of his powerful black wings, felt a dizzying upward surge, and shut her eyes tight.
‘Just in time,’ said the crow, and she heard the angry scream of the cat as he leaped at where they had just been. ‘It’s lucky you’re so light. I can scarcely tell you’re there.’ Lucky indeed, thought Mrs Frisby; if it had not been for your foolishness I’d never have got into such a scrape. However, she thought it wise not to say so, under the circumstances.
‘Where do you live?’ asked the crow.
‘In the garden patch. Near the big stone.’
‘I’ll drop you off there.’ He banked alarmingly, and for a moment Mrs Frisby thought he meant it literally.
But a few seconds later – so fast does the crow fly – they were gliding to earth a yard from her front door.
‘Thank you very much,’ said Mrs Frisby, hopping to the ground.
‘It’s I who should be thanking you,’ said the crow. ‘You saved my life.’
‘And you mine.’
‘Ah, but that’s not quite even. Yours wouldn’t have been risked if it had not been for me – and my piece of string.’ And since this was just what she had been thinking, Mrs Frisby did not argue.
‘We all help one another against the cat,’ she said.
‘True. Just the same I am in debt to you. If the time ever comes when I can help you, I hope you will ask me. My name is Jeremy. Mention it to any crow you see in these woods and he will find me.’
‘Thank you,’ said Mrs Frisby, ‘I will remember.’ Jeremy flew away to the woods, and she entered her house, taking the three doses of medicine with her.
Paul Hoets is a freelance maker who lives in South Korea. If you liked this article and would like to contribute to his empire of dirt, silicon and tech. education, buy him a coffee!