The Rat with a Bell… a fable

February 21, 2018

There was an old country house that was infested with rats and nothing could be secured from their depredations. The vermin scaled the walls to reach the farmer’s bacon hanging from the ceiling and hanging shelves offered no protection for the cheese and pastries. The preserves and sweetmeats were no safer in the pantry, the rats gnawed through cupboard doors, undermined floors, and ran races behind the wainscots.

The cats could not reach them, the vermin were too clever and too well fed to bother with poisoned bait, and traps only caught a few heedless stragglers. However, the farmer caught one of these stragglers and fitted him with a small bell and then let him loose.

Mouse and bell

Moral: He who is raised so much above his fellow creatures as to be the object of their terror, but suffer for it in loosing all the comforts of society. He is a solitary being in the midst of crowds. He keeps them at a distance and they equally shun him. Dread and affection cannot subsist together. Design by Meredith Eliassen, 2018.

Overjoyed by his freedom, the rat ran into the nearest whole and searched for his companions. They heard the tinkle, tinkle at a distance and assumed it was an enemy in their midst and scattered in every-which way. The bell-bearer pursued, and soon guessing the cause of their flight, he was greatly amused. He chased his friends from hole to hole, and room to room, laughing all the while at their fears, even as he increased it by all means in his power. Soon he had the whole house to himself. He thought, “That’s right, the fewer, the better.” So he rioted alone and stuffed himself with goodies until he could hardly walk.

For two or three days, life was good. He ate and ate, until he grew tired of his lonely condition and longed for his old family and friends. The difficulty now was how to get rid of the bell. He pulled and tugged with his fore-feet until he nearly wore all of the fur from his neck, but all in vain. The bell was now his plague and torment, so the rat wandered from room to room searching for a companion, but they all stayed out of his reach At last, as he moped about in despair, he fill into a puss’s clutches and was devoured in an instant.

Source: John Aikin (1747-1822) and Anna Lætitia Barbauld (1743-1825), Evenings at home, or, The juvenile budget opened (New-York: Harper & Brothers, 82 Cliff-Street, 1839.) Barbauld was unable to publish because of her political stances, and collaborated with her brother to get this book published.



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