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The day was bright and sunny and at a river floated a small green boat. On the boat was a man clad in brown with a wide-brimmed hat on his head. His name was Sandalpipe. Everyday he would go out to fish and everyday he would go home with just small fry. Sandalpipe never minded the rush of life for he much preferred to just be. Almost everyday of his life was a complete monotony, but this time it will take a turn that he never forsaw.
On that very eventful afternoon when he was rowing back to the bank, an owl landed upon the prow of his boat. For a moment they stared at each other, then suddenly the bird began to speak:

“Whither are you going, lad of young age?
Have you caught enough to feed your kin?
Or perhaps, a friend of the same age?
Whither are you going seeing your catch so thin?”

Sandalpipe sat dumbstruck, for never has he heard an owl speak. He then answered:

“Bird of wisdom, I see you are,
But it seems that business you have not with me.
Attitude you may have, and wisdom gained from afar,
But I suggest you don’t meddle in other business you see.”

But the owl persisted and ignored what Sandalpipe said. Curious, the bird pecked and picked Sandalpipe’s catch and mocked:

“Surely you can do better than to catch young fish, dear lad!
For your catch shall be scoffed at even by the hungriest.
To your fishing I laugh, but to those who are to eat these I am sad.
So why not go again and try your skills to the test?”

Sandalpipe answered:

“Bird of wisdom, I see you are,
But I think your wisdom has deceived even you!
May I ask how many rats have you caught so far?
If it be more than my catch, I’d grant the request made by you.”

With what seemed to be a laugh under his hooting, the owl retorted:

“Dear boy, rats are far different from fishes.
They cower down the dirt and hail the garbage given to them.
Your catch does not cower nor crawl but fill your dishes,
Dare me not to compete for you sure are to lose by your shirt’s hem!”

They broke into a debate as to who was the best in catching their own food. The owl boasted of his sharp claws and far-seeing eyes while Sandalpipe proudly hailed the ingenuity of men and their intelligence. The argument went on until, finally, evening began to set.
The irritated Sandalpipe grabbed the owl by the neck:

“If a challenge is want you want, then it is what you will get!
Night falls upon us and neither of us has had a bite to eat.
Prove you are a better than I, my boat and catch I put on as bet,
Or I take you home for me to cook when the mists come to signal your defeat!”

The owl was silent for a moment and finally agreed to the terms of the challenge. Soon after, they went off. Sandalpipe rowed to the middle of the river and began to fish, while the owl flew into the forest beyond. Sandalpipe sat patiently and waited for a bite; and a bite he had indeed for swarms of night insects began to hover over him, pricking, stinging, and biting here and there. He moved his boat from one spot to another but all he had caught so far were no bigger than his bait.
In the forest, the owl began to hunt for rats scuttling on the damp earth. Here and there he flew and caught only a few small ones. A thought suddenly struck him and he began to fly away. He flew tirelessly into the heart of the forest where he landed upon the window of a small cottage. Peering cautiously inside, he called:

“Pussy cat, pussy cat where could you be?
This is your friend owl, if you could not see.
Help I ask of you if you are not in any business,
Help if you give, a boat and some fish we could possess!”

Then, a voice in the dark answered slyly:

“Owl, o owl, wisest of all winged beasts,
You come here to ask for help and say in return that we shall have a feast?
What is it that you want that needs a cat of grace like me?
What help do you ask from a voice with a body you do not see?”

The owl started to narrate his story about a man he had met at the river and how his conversation with him ended up in a contest. The cat moved out of the shadows and sat in deep thought by the fire, purring at every unspoken idea she has conceived in her head. Finally she spoke:

“This challenge with a man bends to your favour,
For your friendship with me gives your task an easy endeavour!
Worry not! Rats you shall have before mist settles upon the forest floor!
And by the time you return, you shall have good tidings knocking at my door.”

And so the owl left and began to hunt and help out the cat as well. The cat returned to the shadows and waited for her first prey.
After long, thin blankets of mist began to creep its way through thickets and trees.
At the river, Sandalpipe sat. He had now quite a lot of fish. Thoughts began to race through his mind on how he is going to relish the owl’s cooked meat. His confidence grew with every bite he had on his line. He laughed hard and heartily, he cheered and jeered sang songs, part of one went thus:

“I pity the poor winged fool who challenged me,
For there is something he missed and did not see!
Thick are the bushes and cruel are the brambles in the wood,
I doubt he could catch a rat or two, even as best as he could.
Sandalpipe I am, clever and tall!
Woes and worries I have not at all!
I pity the poor winged beast that had the big head,
Now he has lost and will lie on my platter, dead!
Sandalpipe I am, I think before I act, and act before I lose,
Poor winged beast shall fill me up like a Holiday goose!”

He now looked upon the edge of the forest, it was now completely covered in mist. He laughed more and said:

“Finally it is finished, I have won!
He now will return feeling heavy and torn.
True it is that birds have peanuts for brains,
But I never knew that this has not any but grains!”

After a while of celebrating, the owl swooped and landed on Sandalpipe’s boat and looked at the pile of catch. Amused by it, the owl said:

“Well done human, I see you have quite a lot,
From afar your catch I could well spot.
Bat alas! I believe you have lost,
For with me, I have a whole host.”

Sandalpipe was surprised by this and said to the owl:

“It seems that your head is bigger that I thought!
For you bear nothing, not a thread or a moth!
How can you speak as if winning clothes and cash?
When all you say is nothing but balderdash?”

The owl didn’t answer but instead pointed to the riverbank. Thereupon Sandalpipe gazed at a pile of dead rats and mice that could be mistaken for a hill. His jaw dropped and could not say a word. Ruffling his feathers, the owl said:

“It seems that your head is bigger than I thought!
For I bear more than just thread and moth!
I believe now that you fulfill your end of the bargain.
Walk away now and make not a fool of yourself again!”

Sandalpie turned red; fury and shame mixed within him. He docked his boat and walked away with his head down until he finally disappeared in the shadows of the forest. After he had gone completely, the sly cat walked out from behind a tree, purring. The owl flew to her and said:

“My friend we have won the contest of man against beast,
Now this lot is ours, come and let us feast!
The moon shines bright and full above us,
Come join me, stop purring, let us feast, o puss.”

They indulged themselves with fishes and mice. And in an hour, it was all gone and the two were very much full. The owl finally spoke and said:

“Now all that is left is this boat.
Whither shall we go with it should we decide to float?
Shall we find more men to match with our talent?
Or shall we sit and so just be content?”

The cat approached the boat. Studying it, she replied:

“Nay! Friend owl, we shall not sit and waste this floating timber,
Let us ride and let opportunity take us wherever!
The sea is wide and to us the world stands in wait,
Go we must to whither the waves dictate!”

And went away they did! They boarded the boat and sailed to the sea with a guitar and a few coins that Sandalpipe left behind never to be seen again.
At his home, Sandalpipe sat alone by the fireplace, contemplating on his loss. He called out for his pet cat but no cat came to him. He started to look around for his companion until he reached the window and was stunned with what he discovered: feathers. Furious, Sandalpipe said:

“My cat has aided that owl to my loss and grief,
for this long time I have housed a thief!
Now with my boat they could have set sail to sea,
With this I can never let me be!”

He closed the shutters and breathed deep. Pacing, he reached into his pocket and found it was empty, empty of the few coins and the single note it had. Unable to take control of himself, he finally screamed:

“Never shall I rest until I find those two beasts,
Even if my feet take me into the far east!
My boat and my money they have taken away,
But never shall I let this keep me at bay!”

And so here ends this story where began the tale of the owl and the pussycat as was told long ago in rhyme.

Created: Mar 24, 2011


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