THE STORY OF CATS
Rev. Pam Crane
One evening Binki and I were sitting by the fire, trying to find animals in the embers, when suddenly I said ...
“Look! There’s a lion!”
Binki saw it too; and then a piece of coal collapsed, sparks flew up, and it turned into a very small cat. Binki’s eyes were shining deep gold in the firelight, with a distant sort of expression. I knew he was remembering something, and soon he would say so. I waited. Presently he twitched his whiskers, shifted a paw, looked at me, and said,
“My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was a Lion.”
“What was his name?” I asked.
“I don’t know”, he said a little crossly, “I wasn’t there.”
“Perhaps lions didn’t have names then,” I suggested, knowing I had been tactless.
“No, perhaps they didn’t”, he agreed with relief. There was a pause. We listened to the crackling of the fire and watched our shadows jumping about all over the room. I reached for a paper.
“Shall I tell you what happened to my great-great-great .... to that Lion I was telling you about?”
He obviously wanted to, so I put down my paper and leaned forward in what I hoped was a serious, listening sort of way.
“All right,” I said.
Binki got up, stretched thoughtfully one leg that had been curled under him, inspected the rug, and began:
“Well, in my ... in my Ancestor’s day, there were simply millions of Lions, all over the place...”
“That was a good idea,” I broke in, “calling him an Ancestor. It saves all those ‘great’s every time!”
“Thank you. That’s what I thought. As I was saying, there were all these Lions ...”
“And tigers?” I asked.
“And Tigers; they were their cousins of the great Cat family, but the Tigers lived in the Long Grasses, while the Lions liked the open plains where there was more sun. I’ll tell you another story about that later on. There were other Cats too; Leopards, and Black Panthers, and Cheetahs, and the great white Snow Leopard, and the Lynx, whom nobody really liked, because when you were thinking privately to yourself, he had a way of sitting and staring at you that made you feel most un-private.”
“Like you do sometimes,” I said, and Binki looked hurt.
“I do wish you wouldn’t interrupt,” he grumbled. I apologised, and he went on.
“You know that after Noah’s great Flood there was no rain at all for a very long time. Nobody even believed in rain, because noone who was alive had ever seen it. But one day a volcano erupted right underneath the sea. The flames that came out boiled it up just like water in a kettle, and clouds of steam rolled all over the sky. The winds carried the clouds for miles and miles, until they began to get cooler and cooler and cooler ... and the wetness clung together in large drops, which soon started to fall out of the sky, down, down, down onto the forests, the plains, the mountains and rivers and long grasses.
Nobody noticed at first. It was just after lunch, and everyone was dozing on a full tummy, out in a sunny patch of grass, or under the trees. Then, all of a sudden, they were wide awake, with the sun gone, and shivers going through them, and rain falling faster and faster! The Cheetahs and Leopards sprang into the nearest and thickest trees to get out of the storm that thrashed down on them as if to beat the world to death. But the rest stood stupefied, gazing at the sky, with tears running mingled with the blinding rain down their noses. Lynx was panic-stricken, and snarled and snapped at the rain, whimpering when it wouldn’t go away. My Ancestor had got his hair in his eyes and couldn’t do anything to help himself or anyone else. The Tigers and Black Panther had tried to make for cover, but had got thoroughly entangled in the soaking grasses. As for Snow Leopard, he had been caught up on a high crag in the mountains, and was now crouched unhappily under a slight overhang of rock, which was still not big enough to shelter him from the downpour. The Cats were all so frightened that they didn’t even speak, but just shut their eyes and wished it would stop. A few crept into shivering little groups, huddled together for warmth and comfort in their misery. Never had the great Cats felt so small ...
As twilight was falling, the downpour stopped. The last drops slid down bruised grass-stems and ran together in rivulets underfoot, and tiny beads of water that still hung trembling were pricked with fire from the sunset as the sky cleared. Somebody sneezed, and carefully, slowly, the Cats blinked the raindrops off their lashes and opened their eyes.
‘The grass has grown!’ exclaimed a Tiger.
‘Look at the trees!’ cried the Black Panther in astonishment.
Everyone had been busily shaking themselves out of stiff positions, until their fur, which had been plastered wetly to their sides, stuck out in wisps and spikes. Now they all stood stock still with amazement, wondering how on earth the entire jungle could shoot up to such a terrifying, gigantic height in just a few hours of rain. It was not until they saw enormous spotted animals slipping down from the trees that had sheltered them during the storm, that the sharp-eyed Lynx realised what had happened. Now that the rain had gone he was his usual calm self. He looked round at the assembled company and announced,
‘We have shrunk.’ ”
“Had they really?” I gasped at this point.
“Yes, they really had,” said Binki, happy to have told me something I didn’t know already... “All the big Cats who were caught in the rain shrank to the size I am now. The reason there are no spotted small cats is because the Cheetahs and Leopards kept dry in the trees. Of course, not all the big Cats were shrunk; ; some of the many had found shelter, and their descendants are as great as they were. But most of them suffered this awful fate, and that is why there are so many of us! Afterwards they roamed the countryside, looking for places where Man had made fires, so that they could dry themselves. The Men made them more than welcome, because they weren’t afraid of little cats; and the cats gradually came to love the fireside and Man’s company. But we have never forgiven the rain for our humiliatiion. Never. All cats hate water to this day. That is why we claw at it and stamp on it, and take a delight in seeing it dwindle away under the working of our tongues! But if we can, we run from it, as from an enemy ...”
“You don’t mind it so much,” I remarked.
“Well ... I’m different,” said Binki, glancing at me warily across the rug to see if I was going to argue the point. I decided I would’t. After all, he is different.
“Thank you for telling me about your Ancestor,” I said.
“Not at all,” said he. And started to wash himself.