Once upon a fine summer morning a magnificent lion was taking a stroll through the forest. The sun was shining through the leaves and a gentle breeze ruffled his mane. The lion paused to admire his reflection in a little forest pool. He couldn't help noticing how extremely handsome he was, with the longest golden whiskers you could possibly imagine. 
      The lion became aware of a faint, squeaky noise on the ground beneath him and, looking down, he observed that he had trodden on the tail of a very small mouse. The mouse was squeaking pathetically and struggling to get away.
      “Please, Sir,” he squealed, "you are treading on my tail! Would you be so kind as to let me go?”
      “What an extraordinary little creature!" exclaimed the lion. “What possible use are you to anybody? Can you explain why you are so ridiculously small?” 

 “Well,” replied the mouse in defensive tones, “I’ve been ill.’’  

     The lion laughed so hard that the leaves blew about. He raised his paw, and released the mouse.
      “Oh, thank you, thank you!" squeaked the mouse, smoothing out his bruised tail with his little pink paw. “Perhaps I can do you a good turn one of these days?” 
      The lion looked astonished.
      "You! Do me a good turn? What on earth do you think a miserable little thing like you could do to help me I should like to know?"
      “Well, you never know," squeaked the mouse, “something might turn up!"
      The lion continued his stately walk, highly amused to think that he should need any help from a mouse. But the lion did not know that there were hunters in the district who had already spotted his large footprints near the little pond in the forest.
      They had been watching him from a distance for several days, and now they had a plan to catch him. A little further along the lion’s path they had stretched a net, covering it with leaves so that it could not be seen, and tied the corners to a young tree, which was bent right down to form a spring. 
      Completely unaware of the danger he was in, the lion walked onto the net. The largest of the hunters drew a great knife from his belt and, with a single blow, cut through the rope that held the tree bent over. The trees sprang up as the rope parted, pulling up the four corners of the net. Inside the net, struggling, roaring, and thrashing desperately about, the great lion was caught.
      “Got him! Got him!” shouted a hunter. "What a beauty! Look at the size of him!” And they jumped about and slapped each other on the back.
      “The zoo will pay a lot of money for this fellow,” said the large hunter with a knife.
  In vain the poor lion tried to bite the rope with his great teeth or reach one of the hunters with his wicked claws, but they were very careful to keep well back out of reach, and there was nothing he could do. 
      Hauling on the ropes, they pulled the net with the lion inside along the Forest path, until they reached some bushes where they had concealed their lorry. With a crash and a bang they let down the tailboard and the poor lion felt himself being bumped and banged into the dark interior of the lorry. With another crash the tailboard went up again and the poor lion was imprisoned. He heard the frightening noise of an engine starting up and then he was bounced and bumped along until the lorry reached the main road. He had never been so terrified since he had been a tiny cub.
      It was quite some time before the lion calmed down sufficiently to notice his surroundings. He then became aware of two tiny points of light in the corner of the lorry, and little nibbling noises coming from the same direction.
      “Is anyone there?” he called.
     “It’s me!” said the mouse. "Are you coming for a ride into town? I often come in on Wednesdays. It's market day you know."
      “What do you mean?” asked the astonished lion. “Surely you didn’t get into this awful place on purpose? Were you not trapped as I was? They said they were taking me to the zoo, but I don’t know what a zoo is. I am very frightened!" 
      And he wrung his great paws in despair.
      “There is nothing to be frightened of.” said the mouse. “There's a lot of grain and good things to eat on the floor. When we get to town I will show you round the market and we can come home again in the evening. That’s what I usually do."
      “But you don’t understand,” howled the lion in despair. “I am trapped, I am all tied up in this dreadful net.” 
      And enormous tears trickled down his great golden nose, landing with a plop on the floor of the lorry.
      “Perhaps I can help?"said the mouse. “Perhaps I can gnaw through the strands of the net with my sharp little teeth and make a hole big enough to get you out?”
      “Oh, please, please do, Mouse!” entreated the lion. 
      So the mouse began to nibble and gnaw with his sharp little teeth.
  Nibble, nibble, nibble, chew, chew, chew, went the mouse, and p-o-i-n-g one of the strands broke. Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw, munch, munch, munch. P-i-n-g, p-o-i-n-g, p-i-n-g - the strands of the net continued to part and a hole appeared, through which the lion could get nearly all his face.
      “Hurry up, mouse, for goodness sake!" he muttered anxiously. “If the lorry stops it will be too late. They will send me to the zoo.” He trembled and shook with fear.
      “I am being as quick as I can!" said the mouse, rather snappishly. “My little jaws are aching, let me tell you.” 
      “I am sorry, mouse, I have been a very foolish lion. I should not have laughed at you for being so small,” said the lion humbly. “I had no idea what a clever little creature you are, and brave as well. Fancy coming into this awful, black trap on purpose.”
      The mouse continued to chew, and the strands of net continued to break, and in a moment the lion could get out one paw, and then the other paw, and then, just as the lorry stopped, he struggled completely out of the net. There was a lot of laughter and noise, and the tailboard crashed down again, filling the lorry with sunlight.
      The lion charged out like an enormous golden rocket, scattering terrified hunters in all directions, and he ran all the way back to his forest home, faster than he had ever run in all his life.
      When he finally stopped, panting and exhausted, in the safety of a cool glade, he was amazed to hear the voice of his little friend the mouse, quite close to his left ear.
      “I thought I would have a lift,” squeaked the mouse, emerging from the thick golden mane. “I do hope you don’t mind?”
      “Good gracious!" said the lion. "Weren't you frightened? I must’ve been going at one hundred miles an hour.”
      “Oh no!" said the mouse. "it was a most enjoyable ride. Goodbye, Lion! Let me know if you ever need a friend.” And he scampered off to his home under the mango tree.

      And the moral of the story is: one should never turn down the chance of friendship, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

The Lion and the Mouse. 

By Jo Hewlett

To be read to small, impressionable people, possibly at bed time.

(From La Fontaine)