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Poem by John Gay
Part I. Fable 23. The Old Woman and her Cats
Who friendship with a knave hath made, Is judged a partner in the trade. The matron who conducts abroad A willing nymph, is thought a bawd; And if a modest girl is seen With one who cures a lover's spleen, We guess her not extremely nice, And only wish to know her price. 'Tis thus that on the choice of friends Our good or evil name depends. A wrinkled hag, of wicked fame, Beside a little smoky flame Sate hovering, pinched with age and frost; Her shrivelled hands, with veins embossed, Upon her knees her weight sustains, While palsy shook her crazy brains: She mumbles forth her backward prayers, An untamed scold of fourscore years. About her swarmed a numerous brood Of cats, who, lank with hunger, mewed. Teased with their cries, her choler grew, And thus she sputtered: 'Hence, ye crew. Fool that I was, to entertain Such imps, such fiends, a hellish train! Had ye been never housed and nursed, I, for a witch had ne'er been cursed. To you I owe, that crowds of boys Worry me with eternal noise; Straws laid across, my pace retard, The horse-shoe's nailed (each threshold's guard), The stunted broom the wenches hide, For fear that I should up and ride; They stick with pins my bleeding seat, And bid me show my secret teat.' 'To hear you prate would vex a saint; Who hath most reason of complaint?' Replies a cat. 'Let's come to proof. Had we ne'er starved beneath your roof, We had, like others of our race, In credit lived as beasts of chase. 'Tis infamy to serve a hag; Cats are thought imps, her broom a nag; And boys against our lives combine, Because, 'tis said, you cats have nine.'
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