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The Adventures of A Rat Race

by James B. Marshall

The carpenters came on a certain Monday morning to make some needed alterations about Mr. Wilson's stable at the rear of his house yard. And you know what a noise carpenters will make when working; far more than enough to disturb the most contented of rats.

Peggy O'Conner, who was moving to and from the kitchen hanging up linen to dry in the yard, said she saw no rat pass by her; but as a rat was found in the library, it must have come there by way of the side yard from the stable.

It was a rather warm summer morning, but with enough of a breeze blowing to start Uncle Leonard sneezing if he should drop off to sleep while sitting in a draught. Now, merry Uncle Leonard was asleep in an easy-chair down in the library, where the two window-sashes were raised and both doors were open. He had gone there, as usual, to read the morning paper, but gradually it drooped nearer and nearer the end of his nose, as usual, until it finally spread itself adroitly over his closed eyes, to fend off the flies. Then he began to make that soft steam-enginery sound that most stout gentlemen make when asleep, about as loud as the purring of "Cattegat," Lou and Amy's cat.

Cattegat always followed Uncle Leonard to the library if possible, to escape Lou and Amy, who, during their vacation, were trying to teach him to hold a lump of sugar on the end of his nose while seated on his hind paws. Cattegat, who liked the sugar but not the trick, had been so named by a Danish gentleman who had presented him to Lou and Amy.

The rat as it entered the library thought, doubtless, that it was a pretty comfortable-looking place, or else it wouldn't have gone about the room smelling and sniffing until it found a piece of sponge-cake, knocked by the canary from the wires of its cage.

That little breeze went on blowing across Uncle Leonard's head, and directly he gave a rousing "ashoo!" of a sneeze. Such an "a-a-sh-sh-shoo," that he actually sneezed himself into a sitting position. The rat was more startled at such a noise than at all the carpenters had made, and dropping the cake, peeped from behind an ottoman where it took refuge.

Cattegat jumped up and looked at Uncle Leonard as if to ask him if he had made that noise, and then glanced about the room.

"What can ail the cat!" exclaimed Uncle Leonard, as Cattegat went across the floor in about three springs. Then quickly closing the yard door, he called, "A rat! a rat!" as the rat ran from behind the ottoman.

Cattegat and the rat raced headlong around the room once, and Uncle Leonard nearly kicked himself off his feet as the rat slipped unhurt by him. Then away went the rat out of the library through the other door, along the hall, and up the front stairs; away tore Cattegat not far behind it; and quickly in pursuit trotted Uncle Leonard, calling, "Catch him, Cattegat; catch him, Cattegat!"

At the moment, Lou, a very handy boy about the house, was in a second-story room near the head of the stairs, and had just finished gluing in the leg of Amy's rocking-chair. He had taken the chair there to mend, because the floor was not carpeted, but smoothly varnished, and any glue dropped could be easily removed. Amy stood watching him as she slowly untied a package of prepared chalk for the teeth, with which she had shortly before returned from the drug store.

"Gracious! what's coming up stairs?" said Lou, placing the glue brush on the chair beside the glue-pot, and stepping to the door.

"Look out for the rat!" shouted Uncle Leonard.

Amy instantly sprang on the first object at hand, her just-mended rocking-chair, which gave way, of course, and over she went. However, she broke her fall by catching at the chair holding the glue-pot and brush, though the glue rolled to the right and the brush to the left. The package of prepared chalk, that had received an upward pitch as Amy had toppled over, then came down in time to plentifully powder both her and Lou.

The latter had turned to clear the way for the rat and Cattegat, not more than an instant later than Amy had taken alarm, but the glue had been spilled more quickly. And though Lou jumped over the pool of glue safely, he landed right under the shower of chalk, and directly upon the slippery glue brush. Presto! down went Lou, and shooting over the smooth floor, vanished under the bed at the far end of the room, as though he had been a clown playing in a pantomime.

Amy, so filled with laughter, could scarce manage to climb on the sound chair before the rat and Cattegat came whizzing through the doorway; both leaped clear of the spilled glue, and scampered in a flash across the floor into the next room, and so on through several other rooms that communicated.

"Oho! bravo, Cattegat!" said Uncle Leonard, as he came on, running at a wonderful rate for him. Right through the doorway he ran, but on seeing Amy, he was about to lessen his speed, and have her join in the chase, when he stepped in the pool of glue. Slip, slip, slide across the room, went Uncle Leonard, with his feet getting farther apart, as though the floor was the slipperiest of ice. He slid to and against a wash-stand, and then sank down slowly and gracefully at its foot in a way that would have done credit to a champion gymnast. But he shook the stand so violently that the water-pitcher was shaken over within its basin, and emptied half its contents upon his head.

Amy rushed to his aid, righted the pitcher, and inquired if he was hurt.

"Not a bit," said Uncle Leonard, getting again on his feet, smiling mirthfully at his own dripping coat, and giving one of those jolly laughs of his at Amy's chalk-powdered head. "Come along, my dear," continued he; "keep the chase up, or the rat will yet have the best of it. But where's Lou?"

"Here I am!" answered Lou, poking his laughing, powdered face from under the bed, and crawling out. And away they all followed the chase, Uncle Leonard kicking off his gluey slippers, and catching up a pair of Papa Wilson's.

Cattegat and the rat in the mean time had been racing up and down the front bedrooms, frightening Mamma Wilson and Aunt Laura into climbing up on one of the beds, and Cattegat had distinguished himself by knocking over a sewing basket and a screen. As the pursuers appeared upon the scene, rat and cat ran out into the hallway again, through a door that Aunt Laura had opened, hoping to get clear of them.

Then pat, pat, pat, again in chase went Lou and Amy's shoes; flap, flap, flap, followed Uncle Leonard's slippers; and Mamma Wilson and Aunt Laura brought up the rear with an irregular run and walk. Right through the length of the whole second story, through the hallway, and from room to room they rushed, with such a clatter and whoop as had never before been heard in that house, merry as were its people.

Cattegat will now surely catch that ferocious rat in the last room, thought every one. But no; straight down the back stairs plunged the rat, and jump, jump, followed Cattegat, still several feet behind it. And at the bottom of the stairway, closed by a door, the race would have been doubtlessly won by Cattegat, but Peggy O'Conner, hearing such an unusual commotion overhead, came to the door to inquire its cause. As Peggy opened the door she heard several voices call: "Don't open that door; Cattegat's after a rat."

Bang! went the door—closed quickly, I assure you; but something flew past Peggy, and she only shut the door in Cattegat's face.

As that something, very much like a rat, flew past Peggy, and vanished out of the kitchen, a piece of soap that Katie, the other girl, threw with a very bad aim, went flying after it. But frightened Peggy, in dismay, raised her hands, backed awkwardly against a tub of blue water on the floor, and before she could recover her balance, splashed down into the water, which flew about like the spray of a great fountain.

As the whole party filed down the back stairs, Katie was trying amidst her merriment to help wringing-wet Peggy out of her queer bath, and all but Cattegat had something to laugh at.

Cattegat seemed very much disappointed because the rat had escaped, and went out in the yard, and hid himself under a rose-bush.

As for the rat, Lou is pretty certain that he sees it occasionally capering about the stable, very much unlike a common rat that has never had an adventure.