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Madame Théophile and the Parrot, edited by Andrew Lang

Ménagerie Intime.

After the death of Cagnotte, whose story you may have read, Théophile was so unhappy that he would not have another dog, but instead, determined to fill the empty place in his heart with cats. One of those that he loved the best was a big yellowy-red puss, with a white chest, a pink nose, and blue eyes, that went by the name of Madame Théophile, because, when he was in the house, it never left his side for a single instant. It slept on his bed, dreamed while sitting on the arm of Théophile’s chair while he was writing (for Théophile was by this time almost a grown-up man), walked after him when he went into the garden, sat by his side while he had his dinner, and sometimes took, gently and politely, the food he was conveying to his own mouth.

One day, a friend of Théophile’s, who was leaving Paris for a few days, brought a parrot, which he begged Théophile to take care of while he was away. The bird not feeling at home in this strange place, climbed up to the top of his cage and looked round him with his funny eyes, that reminded you of the nails in a sofa. Now Madame Théophile had never seen a parrot, and it was plain that this curious creature gave her a shock. She sat quite still, staring quietly at the parrot, and trying to think if she had ever seen anything like it among the gardens and roofs of the houses, where she got all her ideas of the world. At last she seemed to make up her mind:

 ‘Of course, it must be a kind of green chicken.’

Having set the question at rest, Madame Théophile jumped down from the table where she had been seated while she made her observations, and walked quickly to the corner of the room, where she laid herself flat down, with her head bent and her paws stretched out, like a panther watching his prey.

The parrot followed all her movements with his round eyes, and felt that they meant no good to him. He ruffled his feathers, pulled at his chain, lifted one of his paws in a nervous way, and rubbed his beak up and down his food tin. All the while the cat’s blue eyes were talking in a language the parrot clearly understood, and they said: ‘Although it is green, that fowl would make a nice dinner.’

But Madame Théophile had not lain still all this while. Slowly, without even appearing to move, she had drawn closer and closer. Her pink nostrils trembled, her eyes were half shut, her claws were pushed out and pulled into their sheaths, and little shivers ran down her back.

Suddenly her back rounded itself like a bent bow, and with one bound she leapt on the cage. The parrot knew his danger, and was too frightened to move; then, calling up all his courage, he looked his enemy full in the face, and, in a low and deep voice he put the question: ‘Jacky, did you have a good breakfast?’

This simple phrase struck terror into the heart of the cat, who made a spring backwards. If a cannon had been fired close to her ear, or a shopful of glass had been broken, she could not have been more alarmed. Never had she dreamed of anything like this.

‘And what did you have—some of the king’s roast beef?’ continued the parrot.

‘It is not a chicken, it is a man that is speaking,’ thought the cat with amazement, and looking at her master, who was standing by, she retired under the bed. Madame Théophile knew when she was beaten.