A Cat on the Doorstep

We had a cat once. In fact we had two. Smut arrived one day on the back doorstep of my parents’ house, the place where I was born, and made himself at home. He was a totally self-contained creature, completely independent in body and spirit. He brought home a rabbit one day bigger than himself. He wrestled it up the stone steps to our back door, his contribution to the household economy as I suppose, for he did not make a meal of it for himself. Instead he left the rabbit for us to deal with and retired to a corner of the back porch where he proceeded calmly and fastidiously to wash himself – playing his cello, as my brother-in-law used to say.

We never knew where Smut (right) came from. He was a stray. He just arrived and encamped himself, Smut, the cat.scrambling to the top step whenever I arrived home, his nose pressed hopefully into the corner of the door jamb hoping to gain entry to the house. He was beyond being a kitten but not yet fully grown. For a while everyone said, “For heaven’s sake don’t feed the cat. We’ll never be rid of it.” And of course we never were. Everyone surreptitiously fed him saucers of milk out of compassion and in no time he had adopted us permanently. He gained the right of residence in our house by sheer persistence and force of personality.

But Smut was not a lap-cat; not an indoors creature at all. He was a black and white farm cat, lean and muscular, always out on the prowl. He must have been somebody’s pet before he adopted us for he had been de-fused, so to speak, and he would sometimes condescend to grace the lap of one or another of the household during the evening. But he was a wary fellow, his claws always out, always flexing, always puddling the lap he was occupying, making his bed fully comfortable before he would lie down quietly there for a while. We came to love him in spite of this excruciatingly painful habit.

Jasper the cat.Jasper (left) was the polar opposite of Smut, a fully loaded Tom, stocky and with a broad head, a handsome fellow whose grey and black tiger coat gave him a decidedly fearsome aspect. He came to our new home with my partner, Viv, and my first introduction to him was when she instructed me to catch him up and put him in a cat-box for the journey home. Knowing Smut’s character and how he would have reacted to a complete stranger grabbing him up I was pretty wary as you might imagine. When we de-flea’d Smut my brother-in-law had to wear thick leather gauntlets to hold him while I applied the powder, and neither of us ever came off unscathed.

But Jasper turned out to be nothing like that. For all his fearsome tiger coat he was the gentlest creature imaginable. His claws were never exposed in our presence. He would play at chasing a soft toy dangled before him on a string, or chase the spotlight of a torch beam about the living room carpet in a state of high alert, all his hunting instincts in play, creeping up on the spotlight on his belly and pouncing, only to find to his astonishment that the spotlight had no substance.

And then he would willingly climb onto my lap and settle himself there comfortably for the evening before going to the door at bedtime. For Jasper was the neighbourhood lothario. Any she-cat in the district would receive a visit from him at the appropriate time, with the usual results; a horrible yowling, howling performance reminiscent of a baby being murdered somewhere across the close, and Jasper on the doorstep next morning looking sated and smug.

The day we brought jasper home – he was first to take up residence in our house – we did not know enough to keep him indoors for a day or two, or to butter his paws to acclimatise him to his new home and territory, and he disappeared next day, we knew not where. He was missing for nearly a week, we supposed trying to find his way back to his old home. But a river intervened; not your poxy bit of a stream, mind, but a socking great highway for ships. Then one day Viv said, “Hark! There’s Jasper!” (well OK, she didn’t actually say Hark! But you get my drift). And sure enough there he came round the corner of the house, back home. We were delighted, and he never left us after that, bar for those nights out on the tiles.

But when, some years later, Smut came to our house too, we feared two tom cats might not get along together, especially given Smut’s prickly nature. We need not have feared. They growled and prowled round each other at first, but in time they came to tolerate each other when they saw that Viv and I treated them both alike, fed them both, petted them both and so on. Both cats lived to a ripe old age in cat terms. Smut, sadly, we think was poisoned by a nasty neighbour with a grudge. No proof of course, just circumstances, and the neighbour has since, thankfully, moved on. Jasper lived to well over twenty and died peacefully of old age in our living room. His bones sleep under the back lawn wrapped in a shroud with a note that says, “Here lies Jasper, a faithful old friend.” I am in tears even as I write this.

There are no cats in my novels, something of an oversight on my part as author, perhaps. So I can make no sensible segue into a selling message. But maybe I’ll introduce a cat – or some other friendly little creature – into my next novel. I think that would be a fitting tribute to Jasper and Smut, faithful little friends both.

Anyway, you can still buy my books at Amazon UK and Amazon US. (Search Charles Beddingfield at other Amazon stores). And Happy Reading, one and all…

PS: Apologies for the poor quality of photos. These were just little family snaps taken in the long ago days before digital cameras were invented. Cute though, hey?

2 Thoughts on “A Cat on the Doorstep

  1. Rhoma Peel on March 5, 2013 at 7:44 pm said:

    What a beautiful story, Charles. It reminds me so much of our first two faithful friends, Sooty and Sweep, who both lived to be 18 years old. Following the loss of those two lovely creatures, we adopted Charlie and Jake who also lived to a ripe old age – Charlie was 21 and Jake was 19 when they, too, joined the throng among the flowers and shrubs in our garden. We now have Tiger whom, I am convinced, was sent to us by Charlie, as he is a mixture of all the spirit, friendliness and total love and devotion of the other 4 cats. Thank you for a lovely story…I remember those stone steps up to your back door so well. :)

  2. Charles on March 5, 2013 at 10:40 pm said:

    Thanks for that lovely memory, Rhoma. Glad you liked my little essay. I might add some more of these peices as time goes by.

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