Tybert the Cat and Courtoys the Dog were companions – that is to say they were as friendly as their natures would let them be. Both of them were exceedingly greedy and selfish. The cat was spiteful and the dog was sullen. Master Tyb was always willing to give up to the dog what he did not need himself, and on his part, Courtoys never stole the cat's food while the cat was looking. Each was willing to play a mean trick on the other if he could do so without injury to himself, but except for these little matters they were quite in accord, and more or less friendly, and on the whole they got on very well together.
There came a time when, in spite of Tybert's shyness and Courtoys strength, they could by no means find anything to eat. For two days not a morsel of food had passed the lips of either, and this made them very bad tempered.
"I wish I'd never seen you," said Courtoys to Tyb. "A fine partner you are, on my word, when you can't find food for us. Where are your wonderful wits that you are always boasting of?"
"In my head," answered Tyb spitefully. "And such as they are, they have to do duty for two. If you'd talk less, and think more, and use your eyes, we would be better off. Here is a cart coming along the road; perhaps we shall find our dinner inside it!"
Sure enough, a heavy wagon was rumbling along the road towards them, driven by a farmer with a round face. As it came nearer, Tyb and Courtoys sniffed the air, and the water ran out of the corners of their mouths.
"Fish," said Tybert ravenously.
"Fish!" echoed Courtoys. "Here's a chance to use those wits of yours. How can we get it?
"I have a plan," answered the cat. "Come quickly and hide yourself with me in the ditch until the wagon has passed, and I will tell you all about it!"
So it was done. The wagon rumbled by. The scent of the fish it was laden wit, filled the air. The driver went on calmly smoking his pipe. And two pairs of hungry eyes were gazing at him through the bushes that bordered the side of the road.
"Now then," cried Tybert, "our time has come. Follow the wagon and don't let it out of your sight for a moment, but take care that the driver does not see you. I shall go on in front and stretch myself out on the road, pretending to be dead. I guess that the driver when seeing me lying there, will want my skin and pick me up and throw me into the cart. Once there, I'll throw the fish out to you, and you will know what to do with it."
"Oh, yes, I'll know what to do with it," said Courtoys to himself, with a grin, and, keeping well out of sight of the driver, he followed the wagon.
Tybert's plan worked fine. He ran on for about a quarter of a mile, keeping to the fields bordering the road, and then stretched himself out at full length, with his mouth open as though he were dead.
"Oho!" said the farmer, as he drove up. "What's this? A dead cat! I'll take him with me, and sell his skin for a few sous. This time next week some fine lady will be wearing him round her neck, thinking it's sable fur." And with that he dismounted, picked up the cat and slung him carelessly into the wagon on top of the heap of fish.
Hardly was he back in his place, than Tybert arose and began to pick out the biggest and fattest fish and throw them into the road. He had to be very careful in doing this, because now and again the farmer turned his head. Once when a very big fish was tumbled out, the noise of its fall aroused the farmer, who swung round sharply on his seat. Tybert was only just in time to avert discovery by laying himself out and pretending to be dead as before.
When he had thrown out what he considered was a enough for the dog and himself, Tybert rested awhile, so that the dog could collect the spoils, and then jumped from the wagon to go and claim his share. When he came up to Courtoys, however, he found to his dismay that nothing was left of the fish but a heap of bones.
"That was a splendid plan of yours, brother," said Courtoys, licking his lips. The fish were delicious, and I hardly feel hungry at all now! Do make haste and take your share! And he waved his paw invitingly towards the heap of bones. Tybert gave him one look, and then grinned as though in enjoyment of an excellent joke. Not by word or action did he give any sign of the anger he felt inside, but he determined to have his revenge.
A day or two later his chance came. Lurking in his usual stealthy way in a farmyard, he saw the farmer go into the house with a fine big ham, which he hung by a cord on a nail in the kitchen wall. Away he ran to Courtoys and told him what he had seen.
"Well," said Courtoys surlily, "and what about it?"
"Why," answered Tybert. "There is no reason why we should not feast on that ham, you and I. It will be the easiest thing in the world to steal it. The latch of the kitchen window is broken, and it cannot be locked. All you have to do is to go there tonight, creep through the window, pull down the ham, and throw it out to me."
"Why can't you get it yourself?" asked Courtoys suspiciously.
"Ah," said the cat, "I don't think I am not strong enough to pull it down."
"And what about the farmer's dogs? I seem to remember hearing they are savage brutes!"
" Well, of course, if you're afraid . . ." answered the cat.
"You can be afraid yourself!" cried Courtoys. "Leave this to me."
So that very night, when the moon had set, the two crept into the farmyard. The dog managed to get through the window into the kitchen unobserved. The next moment he had pulled down the ham and had thrown it out of the window to Tybert, who was waiting below. Tybert seized it in his mouth and ran off, but as soon as he reached the gate he gave a series of such blood-curdling meows, that he roused every dog on the farm. Out they came, hair bristling and teeth flashing, just in time to catch Courtoys as he jumped down from the window.
Then there was a ferocious fight. With his back to the wall Courtoys put up a sturdy resistance, but he was very badly mangled before he managed to escape. With one ear torn off and one eye closed, bleeding from many wounds and panting with his exertions, he limped painfully up to where the cat awaited him.
"My poor friend," cried Tybert. "Are you badly hurt? Never mind, the ham was worth it – it simply melted in the mouth. I have already eaten my share, and I willingly give you yours! So saying, he pointed to the greasy string by which the ham had been suspended, and which was now all that remained. Courtoys gazed at it blankly.
"You see," explained Tybert calmly, as he prepared to take his departure, "a cord is worth a good many fish bones!"