Authors: Paul Gallico
Perhaps Thomasina did not really have divine powers. Possibly she was only an ordinary cat. But it cannot be denied that she changed three lives in a near-miraculous manner . . .
There was Andrew MacDhui, Scottish veterinarian, whose bristling manner matched his fiery beard. Dour and withdrawn since his wife’s death, he had little patience with wooing sick animals back to health and was said to be a wee bit too quick with the chloroform.
There was Andrew’s seven-year-old daughter, who brought her ailing cat, Thomasina, to her father to be cured—only to be bitterly disappointed by Andrew’s hasty and unfeeling disposal of her beloved cat.
And there was Lori—beautiful, “daft Lori,” whose gentle and mysterious powers of healing caused some of the villagers to call her a saint—or a witch.
How Thomasina, taking full advantage of a cat’s nine lives, brought these three together is a story which may be enjoyed for its face-value excitement and whimsey, but in which the more discerning reader will find both trenchant allegory and spirit-lifting philosophy.
Set in the rugged and picturesque Scottish highland, Paul Gallico’s latest and finest work, while it retains the elements of faith and enchantment which have long delighted his many devotees, is primarily a novel of romance, character, and high adventure. With superb artistry, the author of The Snow Goose and The Small Miracle blends fantasy and warm humanity into a poignant tale of the natural and the supernatural in
the Enchanted Cat.
Books by Paul Gallico
FAREWELL TO SPORT
ADVENTURES OF HIRAM HOLLIDAY
THE SECRET FRONT
THE SNOW GOOSE
LOU GEHRIG—PRIDE OF THE YANKEES
GOLF IS A NICE FRIENDLY GAME
CONFESSIONS OF A STORY WRITER
TRIAL BY TERROR
THE SMALL MIRACLE
THE FOOLISH IMMORTALS
LOVE OF SEVEN DOLLS
All of the characters in this book
are fictitious and any resemblance
to actual persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 57-13018
Copyright © 1957 by Paul Gallico
Designed by Diana Klemin
Cover and Frontispiece by Gioia Fiammenghi
All Rights Reserved
Printed in the United States of America
T H O M A S I N A
r. Andrew MacDhui, veterinary surgeon, thrust his brick-red, bristling beard through the door of the waiting room adjacent to the surgery and looked with cold, hostile eyes upon the people seated there on the plain pine, yellow chairs with their pets on their laps or at their feet awaiting his attendance.
Willie Bannock, his brisk, wiry man of all work in dispensary, office, and animal hospital had already gossiped a partial list of those present that morning to Mr. MacDhui, including his friend and next-door neighbor the minister, Angus Peddie. Mr. Peddie, of course, would be there with or because of his insufferable little pug dog, whose gastric disturbances were brought on by pampering and the feeding of forbidden sweets. Mr. MacDhui’s glance dropped to the narrow lap of the short-legged, round little clergyman, and for a moment his eye was caught up in the unhappy, milky one of the pug, rolled in his direction, filled with the misery of bellyache, and yet expressing a certain hope and longing as well. The animal had come to associate his visits to this place, the smells, and the huge man with the fur on his face with relief.
The veterinary disentangled himself from the hypnotic eye and wished angrily that Peddie would follow his advice on feeding the animal and not be there wasting his time. He noted the rich builder’s wife from Glasgow on holiday with her rheumy little Yorkshire terrier, an animal he particularly detested, with its ridiculous velvet bow laced into its silken topknot. There was Mrs. Kinloch over the ears of her Siamese cat, which lay upon her knee, occasionally shaking its head and complaining in a raucous voice, and, too, there was Mr. Dobbie, the grocer, whose long and doleful countenance reflected that of his Scots terrier, who was suffering from the mange and looked as though a visit to the upholsterer would be more practical.
There were a half dozen or so others, including a small boy whom he seemed to have seen somewhere before, and at the head of the line he recognized old, obese Mrs. Laggan, proprietress of the newspaper and tobacco shop, who, with her aged, wheezing, nondescript, black mongrel, Rabbie, his muzzle grayed, his eyes rheumy with age, was a landmark of Inveranoch and seemingly had been so for years.
Mrs. Laggan was a widow and had been for the past twenty-five years of her seventy-odd. For the last fifteen of them her dog Rabbie had been her only companion, and his fat form draped across the doorsill of Mrs. Laggan’s shop was as familiar a figure, to natives as well as visitors to the Highland town, as that of the fat widow in her Paisley shawl. Since the doorsill was Rabbie’s place, nose between forepaws, eyes rolled upward, clients of the widow Laggan had learned to step over Rabbie when entering and departing. It was said in the High Street that descendants of these clients were already born with this precaution bred into them.
Mr. MacDhui looked his clients over and the clients looked back at him with varying degrees of anxiety, hope, deference, or in some cases a return of the hostility that seemed to be written all over the well-marked features of his face, the high brow, the indignantly flaring red-tufted eyebrows, commanding blue eyes, strong nose, full and sometimes mocking lips, half seen through the bristle of red mustache and beard and the truculent and aggressive chin.
His eyes and, above all, his manner always seemed cold and angry, perhaps because, it was said in Inveranoch, he was on the whole a cold and angry man.
A widower of the stature and flamboyance of Mr. Veterinary Surgeon MacDhui was subject enough for gossip in a Highland town the size of Inveranoch in Argyllshire, where he had been in practice for only a little over eighteen months. By the nature of his profession he was a figure of importance there, since he looked after not only the personal and private pets of the townspeople, but was responsible also for the health of the livestock raised in the outlying farms of the district, the herds of Angus cattle and black-faced sheep, pigs, and fowl. In addition, he was the appointed veterinary of the district for the inspection of meat and milk and sanitary husbandry as well.
The gossips allowed that Andrew MacDhui was an honest, forthright, and fair-dealing man, but, and this was the opinion of the strictly religiously inclined, a queer one to be dealing with God’s dumb creatures, since he appeared to have no love for animals, very little for man, and neither the inclination nor time for God. Whether or not he was an out-and-out unbeliever, as many claimed, he certainly never was seen in Mr. Peddie’s church, even though the two were known to be good friends. Others claimed that when his wife had died his heart had turned to stone, all but the corner devoted to his love for his seven-year-old child Mary Ruadh, the one who was never seen without that ill-favored, queer-marked ginger cat she called Thomasina.
Mind you, said the tattlers, no one denied that he was a good doctor for the beasties, and efficient. Quick to cure or kill, and a mite too handy with the chloroform rag, was the word that went around. Those who felt kindly toward him held that he was a humane man, not disposed to see a hopelessly sick animal suffer needlessly, while those who disliked him and his high-handed ways called him a hard, cruel man to whom the life of an animal was as nothing, and who was openly contemptuous of people who were sentimentally attached to their pets.
And many of those who did not encounter him professionally were inclined to the belief that there must be some good in the man else he would not have had the friendship and esteem of Mr. Angus Peddie, pastor and guide of the Presbyterian flock of Inveranoch. It was said that the minister, who had known MacDhui in their student days, had been largely instrumental in persuading his friend, upon the death of his wife Anne, to purchase the practice of Inveranoch’s retiring vet and move thither, leaving behind him the unhappy memories that had bedeviled him in Glasgow.
Several of the inhabitants of Inveranoch remembered Mr. MacDhui’s late father John, himself a Glasgow veterinary, a dour, tyrannical old man with a strong religious bent, who, holding the purse strings, had compelled his son to follow in his footsteps. The story was that Andrew MacDhui had wished to study to become a surgeon in his youth but in the end had been compelled for financial reasons to yield to his father’s wishes and likewise become a veterinary.
One of these inhabitants had once paid a visit to the gloomy old house in Dunear Street in Glasgow where for a time father and son practiced together until the old man died, and had nothing good to say about it, except that it was not much to wonder at that Mr. MacDhui had turned out as he had.
Mr. Peddie had known MacDhui’s father as a psalm-singing old hypocrite in whose home God served merely as an auxiliary policeman. Whatever seemed healthy or fun, old John MacDhui’s God was against, and Andrew MacDhui had grown up first hating Him and then denying Him . . . The tragedy of the loss of his wife Anne, when his daughter, Mary Ruadh, was only three, had confirmed him in his bitterness.
His scrutiny completed, MacDhui now pointed his beard at old, fat Mrs. Laggan and jerked with his head in the direction of his office. She gave a little bleat of fright, picked Rabbie up out of her lap, and arose painfully, holding him in her arms, where he lay on his back, forepaws bent limply, watery eyes revolving. He resembled an overstuffed black and gray porker and he wheezed at every breath like a catarrhal old man snoring.
Mr. Angus Peddie pulled in his feet to let her by and gave her a warm, cherubic smile of encouragement, for he was the very opposite of the figure that a dour Scots churchman is supposed to resemble. He was short, inclined to stoutness, sweet-natured, and extraordinarily vital. He had a round, dimpled face and mischievous eyes and smile, which, however, could instantly express the deepest sympathy, penetrating understanding, and concern.
Peddie’s pug dog, who, as well as suffering from chronic indigestion, staggered under the name of Fin de Siècle, an indication of the kind of humor one might be expected to encounter in the large Peddie family, lay likewise wheezing in the ministers lap. Peddie lifted him into a sitting position so that he could better see Mrs. Laggan and her sick dog go by. He said, “That’s Mrs. Laggan’s Rabbie, Fin. The poor wee thing isn’t feeling well just now.” The rolling eyes of the two dogs met for a moment in melancholy exchange.
Mrs. Laggan followed Mr. MacDhui into the examining room of the surgery and deposited Rabbie on his back upon the long, white-enameled examining table, where he remained, his forepaws still limp and his breath coming in difficult gasps.
The veterinarian lifted the lip of the animal, glanced at its teeth, pulled down its eyelids, and placed one hand for a moment upon its heaving belly. “How old is this dog?” he asked.
Mrs. Laggan, traditionally dressed as became a respectable widow, in rusty black with a Paisley shawl over her shoulders, seemed to shrink inside her clothes. “Fifteen years and a bit,” she replied. “Well, fourteen, since he’s been grown from the wee pup he was the day I got him,” she added, as though by quickly subtracting a year from his age she might lure fate into permitting him to remain a year longer. Fifteen was very old for a dog. With fourteen there was always hope they might live to be fifteen, like Mrs. Campbell’s old sheep dog, which was actually going on sixteen.
The veterinarian nodded, glanced perfunctorily at the dog again, and said, “He ought to be put out of his misery. You can see how bad his asthma is. He can hardly breathe.” He picked the dog up and set him on his feet on the floor, where he promptly collapsed onto his belly with his chin flat on the floor and his eyes turned up adoringly to the person of Mrs. Laggan. “Or walk,” concluded MacDhui.
The widow had many chins. Fear set them all to quivering. “Put him away? Put the puir beastie to death? But whatever should I do then when he’s all I’ve got in this world? We’ve been together for fifteen years now, and me a lonely widow for twenty-five. What would I do without Rabbie?”
“Get another dog,” MacDhui replied. “It shouldn’t be difficult. The village is full of them.”
“Och, how can ye speak so? It would no’ be Rabbie. Can ye not be giving him a wee bit o’ medicine to tide him over until he gets well? He’s been a very healthy dog.”
Animals, reflected Mr. MacDhui, were never a problem; it was the sentimentality of their owners that created all the difficulties. “The dog must die soon,” he said. “He is very old and very ill. Anyone with half an eye can see that his life has become a burden to him and that he is suffering. If I gave him some medicine, you would be back here within a fortnight. It might prolong his life for a month, at the most six months. I am a busy man,” he concluded, but then added more gently, “It would be kinder to make an end to him.”
The quivering of her chins now had spread to her small mouth, as Mrs. Laggan looked fearfully into the day that would be without Rabbie; no one to talk to, no one to whose breathing she would hearken whilest she had her evening cup of tea, or lay in bed at night. She said what came into her head, but not what was bursting her heart. “The coostomers who come to my shop will miss Rabbie sore if he’s no’ there for them to be stepping over.” But she was meaning, “I’m an old woman. I have not many days left myself. I am lonely. The dog has been my companion and my comfort for so long. He and I know one another’s ways so well.”
“Yes, yes, Mrs. Laggan, no doubt. But you must make up your mind, for I have other patients waiting.”
Mrs. Laggan looked uneasily to the big, vital man with the red mustache and beard. “I suppose I should no’ be selfish if puir Rabbie is suffering . . .”
Mr. MacDhui did not reply, but sat waiting.
Life without Rabbie—the once cold nose pressed against her hand, the edge of pink tongue that protruded when he was contemplative, his great sigh of contentment when he was fed full—but above all his presence; Rabbie always within sight, sound, or touch. Old dogs must die; old people must die. She was minded to plead for the bit of medicine, for another month, a week, a day more with Rabbie, but she was rushed and nervous and fearful. And so she said, “Ye would be very gentle with him—”
MacDhui sighed with impatient relief. “He will not feel a thing, I assure you.” He arose. “I think you are doing what is right, Mrs. Laggan.”
“Very well then. Make away with him. What will it be I’ll be owing you?”
The veterinarian had a moment’s pang brought on by the sight of the trembling lips and chins and cursed himself for it. “There will be no charge,” he said curtly.
The widow Laggan regained sudden control of her face and her dignity, though her eyes were wet. “I’ll be paying for your services—”
“Two shillings then—”
She paid out of a small black purse, setting the florin onto his desk with a snap that caused Rabbie to prick up his graying ears for a moment. Without another glance at her oldest and dearest friend, Mrs. Laggan made for the door. She held herself as proudly and erectly as she could, for she would not be a fat old woman dissolving into grief before this hard man. She bore up to pass through and close it behind her.
Thin women in sorrow have both the faces and figures for bleakness and woe, but there is nothing quite as futile and shaking as the aspect of a fat woman in affliction. The small mouth unable to form into the classic lines of tragedy can but purse and quiver. Grief is bowed, but fat keeps the stout woman’s curves constant, except that the flesh suddenly grays and looks as though the juices of life had gone out of it for all its roundness.
When the widow Laggan emerged from the surgery and entered the waiting room once more, all eyes were turned upon her, and the Reverend Peddie recognized the symptoms at once and got up and went to her, crying, “Oh dear— Don’t say that something ill has befallen Rabbie. Is he to remain in hospital?” And then he echoed the prior remarks of the widow. “Why, whatever would the town do without the presence of Rabbie across the sill?”
Safe within the circle of her own people, Mrs. Laggan could let the tears flow freely as she told of the sentence passed upon her friend. “Th’ doctor said ’twould be better if he were to be put away just now. Och, why must those we love always go and we remain behind? Twill no’ be the same any more wi’out Rabbie. I doubt not I’ll be following him soon and ’twill be a’ for the best.” She dabbed at her eyes with a cotton handkerchief and essayed a smile. “Do ye remember how Rabbie wud block the door and all the gentry would raise up their knees to pass ower him?”
It was so small a thing that had happened, yet the waiting-room was stiff with the tragedy of it, and Mr. Peddie felt the horror clamped like a hand about his heart, squeezing that member until it felt in some similar measure the pain that was oppressing the widow Laggan. Mr. Peddie had one of those awful moments, to which he was prone, when he could not decide what it was that God would wish him to do, what God Himself would do, were He to stand there with them all in the presence of the agony of the widow Laggan.
For to Mr. Angus Peddie there was neither gloom nor sourness nor melancholy about either the God or the religion he served. Creation and the world created, along with the Creator, was a perpetual joy to him, and his mission seemed to be to see that his flock appreciated and was properly grateful for all the wonders and beauties of nature, man, and beast as well as the great and marvelous unexplained mysteries of the universe. He did not try to explain God, the Father, or the Son, but worked to help his people love and enjoy Him. A man of unusual tolerance and breadth of vision, he believed that man could deny God for a time, but not forever, since God was so manifest in everything that lived and breathed, in things both animate and inanimate, that He was universal and hence undeniable.
And yet, human being that he was, he felt the panic when his God chose to turn his back upon the likes of the widow Laggan and his own warm heart was riven with pity for her plight.
There stood a weeping fat woman dabbing at her eyes with a small cloth, the tears straggling unevenly over the curves of her cheeks and her triple chins quaking and jouncing. And in a moment she would walk out of there and begin to die.
Peddie felt the strong push of the impulse to rush into the surgery of Mr. MacDhui, crying, “Stop Andrew! Don’t kill the animal. Let it live out its time. Who are you, who hate Him, to play God? But he resisted it. What right had he to interfere? MacDhui knew his business, and veterinarians, just as doctors, frequently had to make decisions and break news that was painful to people, except that to the vet was sometimes given the additional mercy of destruction to save pain and suffering . . .
Mrs. Laggan said once more, speaking as though to herself, “ ’Twill no’ be the same wi’out Rabbie," and went out. Mr. MacDhui’s beard came in through the door again and he stood there a moment regarding them all truculently, as though experiencing some remnant of the scene that had just taken place and the sympathy engendered for the old woman.
He asked, “Who’s next?" and his countenance took on even a greater expression of distaste when the Glasgow builder’s wife with the Yorkshire terrier half arose irresolutely from the hard, waiting-room chair and the dog gave a shrill yelp of terror.
A small voice said, “Please sir, could you spare a moment?"
Someone remarked, “It’s little Geordie McNabb, the draper’s boy."
Geordie was eight. He wore khaki shorts and a khaki shirt and the kerchief of the Scout Wolf Cubs. He had a round, solemn face with dark hair and eyes and a curiously Chinesey cast of countenance. In his grubby hands he clasped a box, and in the box palpitatingly reposed his good deed for that day. MacDhui strode over to him overpoweringly, overtoweringly, looming over him like a red Magog, thrusting his bristling beard nearly into the box as he boomed, “Well, lad, what is it you want?"
Geordie stood his ground bravely. Patently, inside the box there was a green frog with heaving sides. The boy explained.
“There’s something wrong with his foot. And he cannot hop. I found him by the side of the lochan. He was trying very hard to hop but he couldn’t at all. Will you make him better please so that he can be hopping again?"
The waves of old bitternesses had a way of rolling up inside Andrew MacDhui at the oddest and wrongest moment, causing him to do and say things that he did not mean to at all. Here he was in his waiting room full of clients, and it suddenly came over him as he stood bent over and looking down into the box,
Doctor to a frog with a broken leg, that’s what you are, my great, fine fellow—
And thereupon the old angers and regrets returned to plague and irritate him. Had there been justice in the world, all of these people in the room, yes, and the child too, would have been there to consult him about ailing hearts or lungs or throats or livers, aches and pains and mysterious cramps, sicknesses and diseases, which he would combat for them and put to rights. And there they were instead, with their pampered, snuffling, mewing, and whining little pets kept for their own flattery’s sake, or because they had been too lazy or selfish to bring a child into the world on whom to lavish their love and affection.
The ailing Yorkie was quite near to him and his nostrils, already flaring with disgust of himself and all humanity, caught a whiff of the perfume with which his mistress had scented him. He therefore replied to Geordie McNabb out of the black cloud of anger enveloping him, “I have no time for such foolishness. Cannot you see that I am busy with a room full of people? Go put the frog back by the pond again and leave it be. Off with you now."
Into the dark, round eyes of Geordie came that expression reserved to children who have been hurt by and disappointed in their grownups. “But it’s
he said. “It’s no well. Will he not die?"
MacDhui, not ungently this time, steered the child toward the door and gave him a farewell pat on the behind. “Off you go, boy. Put it back where you found it. Nature will look after it. Now then, if you like, Mrs. Sanderson—"
f it is family you go by, then you will certainly be impressed with mine, for I am a relative of that Jennie—Jennie Baldrin of Glasgow—about whose life and times and adventures in London, aboard ship and elsewhere, a whole book has been written and published.
We are Edinburgh on one side of my family, several of my forebears not only having been employed at the university in the usual capacity as hunters, but one or two are said to have contributed to scientific knowledge and advance, and Glasgow on the other, the Jennie Baldrin side.
Jennie was my great-aunt and she was most distinguished and Egyptian-looking, with a small, rather narrow head, long muzzle, slanting eyes, and good-sized, rounded, well-upstanding ears, and in this I am said to resemble her closely, though, of course, our coloring is quite different. I mention this with excusable pride, since it shows that we trace our ancestry back to the days when people had the good sense to recognize us as gods.
That false gods are worshiped today—well, more’s the pity, for in Egypt, in the old days when members of our family were venerated in the temples, times were better and people, by and large, seemed happier. That, however, is neither here nor there and does not concern what I have to tell. Yet, if you know that once you were a god, no matter how long ago—well, it is bound to show somewhat in your demeanor.
Nor does Jennie play any part at all in what is to follow, except that I suppose I inherited something of her independence, spunk, and poise, not to mention elegance, and I brought in her name only as a possible point of interest to you should you happen to be familiar with her story.
I, too, have had a most curious adventure and experience, one of the most interesting and marvelous things that ever happened, at least that part which concerns myself.
I will not keep you in suspense. It has to do with a murder.
But what makes this story different from any you ever read is that the one who is murdered is—ME.
The name I bear, Thomasina, came about through one of those ridiculous and inexcusable errors committed by so many people who attempt to determine our sex when we are very young. I was originally christened Thomas when I came to live at the home of the MacDhuis in Glasgow to be the pet of Mary Ruadh, then aged three. When the error became obvious the name was simply feminized to Thomasina by Mrs. McKenzie, our housekeeper, whether I liked it or not and without so much as a by-your-leave.
I do not know why people are quite so stupid at determining our sex when we are young. The difference is easy enough to see if you will just
instead of guess, and take a little trouble, for with boys, things are apart, and with girls they are near together, and that’s the rule, no matter how small they might be.
Mr. Andrew MacDhui might have told at a glance, no doubt, since he was a veterinary surgeon. But he was a most queer man to follow the profession of doctor to animals, since he had little love for and no sentimental interest in them whatsoever, and hence never paid the slightest attention to me from the moment I came into the house, which I cannot say disturbed me. The disregard was mutual.
We lived in a large, rather gloomy house on Dunear Street, which Mr. MacDhui had inherited from his father, who was also a veterinarian when he died. The two lower floors were given over to the offices, surgery, and animal hospital and we lived on the two upper ones; Mr. MacDhui, his wife, and Mary Ruadh. They all had red hair. I have too, or rather ginger-colored with a white blaze on my chest. But what people really seem to find irresistible about me is that I have four white feet, and the very tip of my tail is white to match. I am quite used to receiving compliments upon my looks and bearing.
Although I was then only six months old myself, I remember Mary Ruadh’s mother, Anne. She was beautiful and her hair was the color of the copper pots by the fireside. She was very gay and always singing about the house, which made it less dark and gloomy, even on rainy days. She was forever cuddling and spoiling Mary Ruadh and they would often spend time “giving one another whispers," which was a kind of love-making. It was not an unhappy household, in spite of Mr. MacDhui. But it did not last long, for soon after I came Mrs. MacDhui contracted a disease from a parrot that was being kept in the hospital, and died.
That was a bad time for me, I can tell you, and if it had not been for Mrs. McKenzie I do not know what would have happened to me, for Mr. MacDhui half went out of his mind, they said, and it certainly sounded like it, the manner in which he raged and carried on, and the love he had had for his wife he now transferred to his daughter, and half frightened her to death with it, and me too, I can assure you. He kept staying away from home and would not go near the hospital for days on end and things were getting in a bad state when he received a visit from an old friend of his from the country, a minister by the name of Mr. Peddie, and after that things got a little better and soon we had a great change.
It seems that Mr. Peddie and Mr. MacDhui had known one another when they were both students at Edinburgh University—they might even have known some of
family there—and Mr. Peddie told Mr. MacDhui that there was a practice for sale in the town where he lived and advised him to go there.
So. Mr. MacDhui sold out his practice in Glasgow and the house on Dunear Street where he was brought up, and we all moved to Inveranoch on the west bank of Loch Fyne in Argyllshire, where my tragedy happened to me.
Mary Ruadh then was six years old, going on seven, and we lived in the last house but one near the end of Argyll Lane. Our next-door neighbor was Mr. MacDhui’s friend, Mr. Angus Peddie, the minister, who kept a most disgusting pug dog by the name of Fin. Ugh!
Our house was really two houses, one next the other, but separated, and they were of whitewashed stone with slate roofs; they were rather long and narrow, two stories high, with tall chimneys at each end, on which there was usually perched a sea gull. In one of these we lived and in the adjoining one was the office, waiting room, surgery, and hospital of Mr. MacDhui. But of course we never went there, for Mary Ruadh was forbidden to do so. After what had happened in Glasgow, Mr. MacDhui had sworn he would never again have sick animals in the place where he lived.
I considered myself a good deal better off in Inveranoch than in Glasgow because Loch Fyne was an arm of the sea that pushed up from the ocean down by Greenock right up into the Highlands as far as Cairndow and brought with it gulls to watch in flight and the smell of the sea and fish and queer birds to chase that ran along the beach, behind which lay a wonderful dark and scary country of woods and glens and mountains of stone in which to hunt. I was never allowed out in Glasgow, but it was quite different here and soon I became a real Highlander and we Highlanders, of course, looked down on every one else.
Inveranoch was not as large a city as Glasgow, in fact it was quite small, with no more than a few thousand inhabitants, but to make up for that hundreds of visitors came there every summer for their holidays.
This was the busiest time for Mr. MacDhui, for the guests often brought their pets with them, mostly dogs, of course, but sometimes also cats and birds, and once, a monkey, and the climate did not always agree with them or they would get themselves bitten or stung in the woods, or pick a fight with one of us Highlanders, which was foolish since they were much too soft and then their owners would have to bring them to Mr. MacDhui for repairs. He seemed to take this in very ill part, for he was a man who hated pets and disliked being a veterinarian and preferred to pass his time in the back country with the farmers and crofters rather than keep office hours.
However none of this was any of my concern and I was fairly comfortable at this time and living a routine sufficiently to my own taste, except for one thing. Mary Ruadh had become a cat carrier.
If you will have had a little girl yourself you will know what I am talking about. If not, you may have noticed that, at a certain age, little girls always carry a doll around wherever they go, but some carry their cat. Often they do not even know they are carrying it as they walk or toddle about with it. They hold it around the middle clutched to their breasts, just below the shoulders, so that most of the cat dangles a dead weight, with head and forequarters hanging over the arm.
Mary Ruadh did vary this most uncomfortable and humiliating position sometimes by placing me across her shoulders like a fur piece, where I could rest and even be admired by people, who sometimes said it was difficult to tell which was Mary Ruadh’s hair and which was me. I didn’t mind that. Or she would carry me upside down in both arms, like a little baby. I hated that.
If you ask me why I put up with it, I cannot tell you, since my philosophy of life is quite simple. When you find yourself in a situation where unpleasant things, or things you don’t like, occur more frequently than pleasant ones—walk out.
Well, there were other things too, which I wasn’t going to mention, but as long as I am on the subject, I might as well. There was the being made to sit on a chair sometimes at tea with a napkin around my neck and pretend I was a person, or, rather, Mary Ruadh pretended. This got me a few caraway-seed cakes, of which I happened to be fond, and a couple of laps of cambric tea out of a saucer, but it didn’t make up for the indignity.
When I had kittens they took them away from me and drowned them.
At night I was forced to sleep at the foot of her bed. Nor could I go away to my favorite chair after she fell asleep, for if she woke up and I was not there she would call for me and sob most heartbreakingly. Sometimes during the night, even when I was there, she would wake up and begin to cry softly in the darkness and murmur, “Mummy—Mummy!” for it seemed she remembered her too. Then she would reach down in the darkness and wake me up and hold me to her so hard, with her face buried in my flank, that I could hardly breathe, and you know how we hate to be held.
She would then cry, “Oh, Thomasina, Thomasina, I love you. Don’t ever leave me.” After a little she would become more quiet and I would wash her face a little and lick the salt tears from her cheeks, which made her laugh and giggle and say, “Thomasina—you
and soon she would go to sleep again.
And I stayed on. Believe me, if it had been a little boy, I should not have done so, thank you very much. I should soon enough have run away and not come back, taken to the woods, or found someone else in town to live with, for I am perfectly capable of looking after Thomasina. Though I may look delicate, I am most resilient, have a hardy constitution, and can stand almost anything. Once a boy on a bicycle ran over me. Mrs. McKenzie came running out of the house screaming that I was killed, and Mary Ruadh cried and carried on so that it took an hour afterward to calm her, and all that happened was that the boy fell off his bicycle and hurt himself and I got up and walked away.
Well, and then there was Mr. MacDhui himself and there is plenty I could tell you about him, and none of it favorable. An animal doctor who didn’t like animals, there’s a good one. A bit too quick with the chloroform rag when people brought their sick pets to his surgery, was what they said. I’ll tell you I wouldn’t want him treating me. Mr. MacDhui was jealous of me because his daughter loved me so much, and he hated me. But what was even worse, he ignored me. Mr. High-and-mighty-around-the-house-as-though-I-was-not-there. Nose in the air; whiskers bristling all of the time. And the medicine smell of him. Ugh! It was the same one that came out of the hospital when you went past. When he came home at night and bent down to kiss Mary Ruadh his huge, bristly, red face with the medicine and pipe smell would come right close to mine, since Mary Ruadh would be carrying me, and it made me feel sick.
Naturally I annoyed him all I could, calling attention to myself by washing in front of him, taking care to be on
chair when I knew he would be wanting it, lying in doorways where he would be likely to trip over me, rubbing up against his legs and ankles, leaving hairs on his best clothes whenever I could find them, and jumping up on his lap when he sat down to read the paper and making smells of my own. He did not dare to be rough with me when Mary Ruadh was in the room and so he would just pretend I was not there and then get up suddenly to go for some tobacco and dump me off.
Add up all of these things and you might almost say it amounted to sufficient cause for me to move out. Yet I stayed on and was not too unhappy. I wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone else, but if the truth be known, I was rather fond of the child.
I think it could have been because in some ways girl children and cats are not unalike. There is some special mystery about little girls, an attitude of knowing secret things and a contemplative and not wholly complimentary quality about the way they look at you sometimes that is often as baffling and exasperating to their elders as we are.
If you have ever lived with a girl child you will know that quiet, infuriating retirement into some private world of their own of which they are capable, as well as that stubborn independence in the face of stupid or unreasonable demands or prohibitions. These same traits seem to annoy you in us as well. For you can no more force a cat or a girl child to do something they do not wish to do than you can compel us to love you. We had this in common, Mary Ruadh and I.
Thus I did many strange things I should not have believed myself capable of doing. When Mary Ruadh went to school—this adventure of mine took place during the summer holidays—I suffered her to carry me all the way there, and to be pawed or fussed over by the other children until the bell rang and she went inside, when I was free to run home and look after my business.
But, believe it or not, when it came time for her to come home in the afternoon I would be sitting up on the gatepost with my tail curled about my legs, watching for her. True, it was also a fine vantage point from which to spit on the minister’s pug dog when it went by, but nevertheless, there I was. The neighbors used to say you could always tell what time of day it was by the MacDhui cat getting up onto the gatepost to watch for her wee mistress.
I, Thomasina, waiting on a gatepost for a somewhat grubby, red-haired, and not even especially beautiful child.
Sometimes I wondered whether perhaps there was not another bond between us: we were each to the other something to cling to when the sun went down and nightfall brings on fear and loneliness.
Loneliness is comforted by the closeness and touch of fur to fur, skin to skin, or—skin to fur. Sometimes when I awoke at night after a bad dream I would listen to the regular breathing of Mary Ruadh and feel the slight rise and fall of the bedclothes about her. Then I would no longer be afraid and would go back to sleep again.
I have mentioned that Mary Ruadh was not an especially beautiful child, which perhaps was not polite, since she thought that I was certainly the most beautiful cat in the world, but I meant especially beautiful in the unusual sense. She was a rather usual-looking little girl except for her eyes, which told you of some special quality in her or about her when you looked into them. Often I was not able to do so for long. Their color was a bright blue, a most intense blue, but sometimes when she was thinking thoughts I could not understand or even guess, they turned as dark as the loch on a stormy day.