Once upon a time there was a Pussy-cat called Ribby, who invited a little dog called Duchess, to tea.
"Come in good time, my dear Duchess," said Ribby's letter, "and we will have something so very nice. I am baking it in a pie-dish—a pie-dish with a pink rim. You never tasted anything so good! And you shall eat it all! I will eat muffins, my dear Duchess!" wrote Ribby.
Duchess read the letter and wrote an answer:—"I will come with much pleasure at a quarter past four. But it is very strange. I was just going to invite you to come here, to supper, my dear Ribby, to eat something most delicious.
"I will come very punctually, my dear Ribby," wrote Duchess; and then at the end she added—"I hope it isn't mouse?"
And then she thought that did not look quite polite; so she scratched out "isn't mouse" and changed it to "I hope it will be fine," and she gave her letter to the postman.
But she thought a great deal about Ribby's pie, and she read Ribby's letter over and over again.
"I am dreadfully afraid it will be mouse!" said Duchess to herself—"I really couldn't, couldn't eat mouse pie. And I shall have to eat it, because it is a party. And my pie was going to be veal and ham. A pink and white pie-dish! and so is mine; just like Ribby's dishes; they were both bought at Tabitha Twitchit's."
Duchess went into her larder and took the pie off a shelf and looked at it.
"It is all ready to put into the oven. Such lovely pie-crust; and I put in a little tin patty-pan to hold up the crust; and I made a hole in the middle with a fork to let out the steam—Oh I do wish I could eat my own pie, instead of a pie made of mouse!"
Duchess considered and considered and read Ribby's letter again—
"A pink and white pie-dish—and you shall eat it all. 'You' means me—then Ribby is not going to even taste the pie herself? A pink and white pie-dish! Ribby is sure to go out to buy the muffins.... Oh what a good idea! Why shouldn't I rush along and put my pie into Ribby's oven when Ribby isn't there?"
Duchess was quite delighted with her own cleverness!
Ribby in the meantime had received Duchess's answer, and as soon as she was sure that the little dog could come—she popped her pie into the oven. There were two ovens, one above the other; some other knobs and handles were only ornamental and not intended to open. Ribby put the pie into the lower oven; the door was very stiff.
"The top oven bakes too quickly," said Ribby to herself. "It is a pie of the most delicate and tender mouse minced up with bacon. And I have taken out all the bones; because Duchess did nearly choke herself with a fish-bone last time I gave a party. She eats a little fast—rather big mouthfuls. But a most genteel and elegant little dog; infinitely superior company to Cousin Tabitha Twitchit."
Ribby put on some coal and swept up the hearth. Then she went out with a can to the well, for water to fill up the kettle.
Then she began to set the room in order, for it was the sitting-room as well as the kitchen. She shook the mats out at the front-door and put them straight; the hearthrug was a rabbit-skin....