The Courtship of Arthur and Al

by James Thurber

Once upon a time there was a young beaver named Al and an older beaver named Arthur. They were both in love with a pretty little female. She looked with disfavor upon the young beaver's suit because he was a harum-scarum and a ne'er-do-well. He had never done a single gnaw of work in his life, for he preferred to eat and sleep and to swim lazily in the streams and to play Now-I'll-Chase-You with the girls. The older beaver had never done anything but work from the time he got his first teeth. He had never played anything with anybody. When the young beaver asked the female to marry him, she said she wouldn't think of it unless he amounted to something. She reminded him that Arthur had built thirty-two dams and was working on three others, whereas he, Al, had never even made a bread-board or a pin tray in his life. Al was very sorry, but he said he would never go to work just because a woman wanted him to. Thereupon she offered to be sister to him, but he pointed out that he already had seventeen sisters. So he went back to eating and sleeping and swimming in the streams and playing Spider-in-the-Parlor with the girls. The female married Arthur one day at the lunch hour — he could never get away from work for more than one hour at a time. They had seven children and Arthur worked so hard supporting them he wore his teeth down to the gum line. His health broke in two before long and he died without ever having had a vacation in his life. The young beaver continued to eat and sleep and swim in the streams and play Unbutton-Your-Shoe with the girls. He never Got Anywhere, but he had a long life and a Wonderful Time.
Moral: It is better to have loafed and lost than never to have loafed at all.

(Source: Thurber, James. Fables for Our Time. New York, 1940.)
(Number of words: 324)


Now-I'll-Chase-You, Spider-in-the-Parlor, Unbutton-Your-Shoe (made-up) names all suggest games that bring boys and girls into fairly harmless physical contact. They can, of course, lead to other things — and the young bachelor Al has those probably on his mind.
beaver ("Biber")
suit ("Werbung, Heiratsantrag")
harum-scarum person who acts wildly and thoughtlessly
ne'er-do-well lazy person who will never be successful
to gnaw to keep biting at something
a gnaw of work the usual phrase is 'a stroke of work'
to amount to something to be successful in some way
gum firm pink flesh in the mouth in which the teeth are fixed
to loaf to waste time by not working (The moral parodies two well-known lines by the English poet Tennyson: " 'Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all.")