This is a tale of the bright sunny south, and one who lived there, long ago. He was a pheasant, and his name was Francis Quillington.
His greaves were bronze, his waistcoat was magnificent, and he strutted through the golden woods like a matador (at least, he thought so). His brain was small and his wits were short, but he was a pheasant named Francis and he had the
the most Glashingly Swornious tail
of all the creatures of the forest.
His brain was small and his wits were short, and he often became lost, even in places he knew well.
One warm and blue spring morning, Francis went out into the woods for a stroll. He ambled along the winding track, admiring his reflection in his waistcoat, quite unaware of the paths he trod, until he came to a clearing. It was a perfectly circular glade, where a great oak tree had fallen. A striped cat lay on the trunk, eyes half-closed.
“O Cat,” said Francis, who always spoke his mind, which sadly meant he rarely had anything to say. “Who? Are you?”
This was the cat of the lonely evening and the quiet, swift fur. This was the cat of the leaping tail, and he smiled to himself.
“I am the cat of the fluffy paws and the mewling whiskers,” he said.
“I am the property of nobody, and I own nothing but myself,” said the cat.
“I own a waistcoat,” replied Francis. “It has a handsome bird embroidered on it. Look!” And he looked down at his chest, where the shiny waistcoat reflected the scene like a mirror, and instantly became absorbed in admiring his own good looks.
“Friend,” said the cat. “Since the weather is so fine, and the bluebells are tinkling just so, won’t you join me in a bite?”
But Francis had forgotten where he was and whom he was talking to. “Who? Are you?” he said, again.
“I am the cat of the impatient stomach and the grumbling ears,” replied the cat. “Meet me at the woodcutter’s hut in an hour, and I will have something ready for you.”
“Alright. Goodnight, or goodbye,” said Francis, wandering aimlessly away.
His brain was small and his wits were short, and in a little while he came to a river. He was thirsty from his walk, and hot; so he removed his bronze greaves and oh-so-splendid waistcoat and lay on his back in a quiet pool, looking up at the clouds. They seemed to him like an angelic flock of enormous, fluffy white pheasants.
“For surely they could be no other creature,” he said to himself. “The cat has nice whiskers I suppose, nice for some, but he has no wings. No, those big white things are pheasants, and one day I will be just like them.”
A water-rat that was passing by heard this nonsense and laughed. “Friend,” he said, “wings are all very well, but you cannot swim with such a glashing and swornious tail. Don’t you wish you had warm, water-repellent fur like mine, and not that rather poor waistcoat?”
“Leave me alone,” said Francis.
“No need to take offence,” said the rat. “Listen. Meet me at the woodcutter’s hut in half an hour and I’ll give you a beautiful shirt of fish-scales, as a gesture of friendship.”
“Very well,” said Francis. “Since you insulted my waistcoat, I think it is the least you could do.”
After he had towelled himself dry, Francis resumed his walk. By now he quite wanted to get home for a small something as it was noonish or later and he was peckish. And then, his beak picked up the scent of oats.
He followed his nose through the wood.
Into a small and crooked house.
Into the pantry.
And – finally –
Into a large tin of Porridge Oats.
Francis ate until he was stuffed. He ate until the buttons burst off his jacket, and still he was not satisfied. He craned his long neck deeper and deeper into the tin after the delicious oats, until at last he fell in, and the lid clanged down upon him!
He did not care, for he was greedily chewing the oats. Then he paused. Something was approaching on soft paws.
“Where is that stupid bird?” muttered the cat. “If I don’t bring a meal for the woodcutter I shall sleep out in the snow tonight.”
And then Francis heard a scratching sound. “Where is that stupid bird?” Said the water rat. “If I don’t bring a meal for the woodcutter he will chop my tail off and set traps for my cousins.”
And then Francis was very afraid, for he had eaten all of the woodcutter’s oats; and a woodcutter who would put cats out in the snow and cut tails off rats was a woodcutter to avoid, especially if one possessed a particularly fine tail that should never, ever be cut off.
He began to rock the tin. He shoved and he leaped and he charged. He was working so hard he didn’t hear the thump, thump, thump of the woodcutter’s footsteps. And just as the woodcutter opened the door, Francis rolled out of the cupboard with a squawk, and bowled into the rat and the cat so that all three were totally covered in oat-dust.
“What have we here?” said the astonished woodcutter.
“It was him!” said the cat and the rat together.
“Wasn’t,” said Francis.
“Who are you?” said the woodcutter.
“Francis Quillington, at your service, sir.” Francis was afraid, but he was determined to act with dignity. And then he saw the dust on his waistcoat. That made him angry.
“Now look here,” he said. “This cat was supposed to bring you some dinner, and he didn’t make any effort at all. I met him earlier in the day – taking a nap, mind you – and he promised something would be ready and waiting in an hour, and it isn’t. If he had asked me to bring food, I could have, but he just invited me to the party, when he hasn’t even arranged it.”
“I see,” said the woodcutter.
“And the rat is no better,” continued Francis. “He promise me a shirt of fish-scales, but he has brought nothing. He promised you dinner as well, but . . . um. .”
“He’s been eating my oats himself,” growled the woodcutter.
“I didn’t!” squeaked the rat.
“What do you say, Cat?” said the woodcutter.
The cat, who could think quickly, purred. “I assumed that the rat would arranged a feast, so I invited my good friend here to dine with us. And, you know, you could dine on him – so we really did what we promised.”
The woodcutter thought for a moment. Then he kicked the cat through the door, chased the rat with a broom, and grabbed Francis so that he couldn’t fly away.
“You,” he said. “You seem like an honest fellow. At least you haven’t cheated me. Now those two scoundrels are gone, would you care to join me in what is left of these oats, seeing as I now have no other food?”
“Sir,” said Francis Quillington. “I couldn’t possibly impose. Oats, you know, are really no fit food for a pheasant.”
And with that he leapt off the table and wandered home to bed.