Read CHAPTER XXI - A new kind of watch-dog of The Rambles of a Rat , free online book, by A. L. O. E., on ReadCentral.com.

What a rubbing of noses ensued! after all my travels and perils it was such joy to see again the face of a friend! I had so much also to relate, (I have ever been a loquacious rat,) that I almost lost breath in my long narration. I wound up my account with a description of the last adventure of Whiskerandos, who was now, in my eyes, ten times more a hero than before.

“And now that I have told you my news,” said I, “let’s hear a little of yours. In the first place, where is old Oddity?”

Bright-eyes hung down his head, and drooped his long tail in a touching and melancholy manner. Such conduct in so lively a rat showed me at once that my last surviving brother was dead!

“How did it happen?” was all that I could say.

“Not a week after our arrival in these parts, he was caught in a hay-rick by a farmer!” faltered Bright-eyes. “I saw him seized by the neck, I heard his despairing cry; I could not stay to see the poor fellow killed, and I was afraid of sharing his fate, so I made off as fast as I could.”

“Poor Oddity!” sighed I very mournfully, “never was there an uglier nor a better-hearted rat! Ah! what pleasure I vainly promised to myself in relating to you all my adventures! I have been across the deep waters, encountered various perils, now in danger of being cooked in a pie, now shivering on a barrel in the ocean, and yet here am I safe and sound after all; while you, remaining quietly in England, have ignominiously perished in a hay-rick!”

Whiskerandos, who, being a brown rat, could not be expected to feel the same regret as myself, now turned towards Bright-eyes, and asked him how far we were from London “For I long to be back in my old quarters,” said he.

“A fortnight’s journey for a rat, should he travel by land,” replied Bright-eyes: “we came down very comfortably in a river boat, which carried us to within five miles of this spot.”

“I have had enough of water for some time,” said Whiskerandos; “and now that the fields are full of ripe corn, and the gardens of fruit, nothing so pleasant as a journey by land! What say you, friend Ratto?” inquired he.

“I have no mind for a long journey either by land or by sea,” replied I in a melancholy tone; “I’ll keep company with you for a day or two, Whiskerandos, but I would rather not return now to London. I will settle quietly for a time in the country near the spot where poor Oddity died!”

“And you?” said Whiskerandos, turning to Bright-eyes.

The lively rat shook his ears with all his natural vivacity. “Pardon me,” he cried, “but I’m of Oddity’s opinion, heroes like Sir Whiskerandos are the very worst travelling companions in the world! How Ratto has escaped with his life I cannot imagine, but I shall certainly not try the experiment of following your fortunes for an hour! I’ve no fancy to be baked in a pie, or starved on a barrel, crushed by a drosky, or worried by a dog, drowned in a sack, or suspended by my tail! No, no, valiant Whiskerandos, I’m quite content to admire your courage at a distance, but I don’t want to share your exploits, and would rather have my ears than your fame!”

And off skipped the merry little rat, before we could say a word to stay him.

Whiskerandos and I, being weary enough with the adventures through which we had passed, slept for the greater part of that day in the field, and wandered about during the night in a not vain search for food.

The next day was remarkably hot. It was the season of harvest, and we felt the necessity of keeping quietly concealed, as many men, and women also, were busily engaged in the fields. The heat, however, produced thirst, and no water was near in which we could quench it.

“I say, Ratto,” observed Whiskerandos, “do you see yonder object, near that sheaf, that glitters so brightly in the sun?”

“It is a can,” replied I, “doubtless belonging to one of the reapers.”

“I should not wonder if there were a hunch of bread and cheese beside it,” said Whiskerandos.

“I should not be surprised if there were.”

Whiskerandos remained for a minute in silence, then said, “I want to compare English beer with Russian kwas.”

“You are not going into the field!” I cried in alarm.

“I am going, why, there is nothing to fear; there is not a reaper near, and if there were, he would need to be a sharp fellow who could catch a rat in an open field!”

So the daring fellow went on his way, and I, after peeping cautiously on this side and that, to make sure that no human being could see us in the stubble, hurried after my companion, being to the full as curious as himself to make acquaintance with the contents of the can.

There was a bundle of something beside it, tied up in a large red handkerchief, something of a very inviting odour. But scarcely had Whiskerandos, who was foremost, touched the reaper’s dinner with the end of his whiskers, when something jumped up suddenly from behind the bundle, and the voice of a rat fiercely exclaimed, “Keep off, or I’ll bite you!”

Whiskerandos looked surprised at the unexpected defiance, but my feelings of amazement can scarcely be conceived when I recognised, (could it be!) the dumpy form, blunt head, and piebald skin of my lost brother Oddity!

I rushed forward with a squeak of delight! No doubt, though less eager and excited in his manner, Oddity also was greatly pleased at meeting with his brother again. He looked, however, suspiciously from the handkerchief to Whiskerandos, and again desired him to “keep off,” with a resolution of which I had never dreamed the piebald rat capable.

“What is in that bundle, that you guard it so carefully?” said I, after we had rubbed noses again and again, with every expression of affection.

“The property of my master,” replied my brother.

“Master!” exclaimed both Whiskerandos and I in amazement, “who ever heard of the master of a rat! Since when have you taken upon yourself the office of a watch-dog, to guard what belongs to our enemy, man?”

“Since man first showed mercy to one of the race of Mus, since he spared a defenceless rat when in his power. I know you, Whiskerandos, I know you,” continued Oddity, the hairs bristling up on his back, as my companion, either in jest or earnest, took the corner of the handkerchief between his sharp teeth: “you are reckoned a hero amongst rats, but I too can fight in defence of what is confided to my charge; you have killed a ferret, and you may kill me, but while I have a tooth in my jaw, or a drop of blood in my body, you shall not touch a crumb belonging to my master!”

Whiskerandos would have been more than a match for three Odditys, for the piebald one had neither his strength, nor agility, nor experience in fighting; but the strong rat seemed at this juncture to have no inclination to give battle to the weak one. I hope that it will be considered no sign of cowardice on his part, that he quietly dropped the corner of the handkerchief, and never even attempted to examine the contents of the can.

Of course I was all curiosity to know every particular of my brother’s deliverance. In his own quiet, homely way, he told me his simple tale, keeping, however, all the time, a watchful eye upon the bundle beside him, while Whiskerandos acted the part of a sentinel to give me timely warning if any human being should approach so near as to endanger our safety. I will tell the story of Oddity as nearly as I can in his own words, I only wish that I could describe the expression of his bluff, honest face, at various parts of his narration.