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Authors: James Herriot

cat stories

cat stories
Herriot, James
(2012)
JAMES HERRIOTS CAT STORIES

by

James Herriot

 

Copyright 1994 by James Herriot. All rights reserved.

BOOK JACKET INFORMATION

Illustrated by Lesley Holmes

 

What better match of author and subject than James Herriot, the world’s most beloved veterinarian and storyteller, and the adorable feline friends who delight so many millions of cat lovers around the world? Between these covers, teller and tales finally meet in a warm and joyful new collection that will bring delight to the hearts of readers the world over: James Herriot’s Cat Stories. Here are Buster, the kitten who arrived on Christmas; Alfred, the cat at the sweet shop; little Emily, who lived with the gentleman tramp; and Olly and Ginny, the kittens who charmed readers when they first appeared at the Herriots” house in the worldwide bestseller Every Living Thing.

And along with these come others, each story as memorable and heartwarming as the last, each told with that magic blend of gentle wit and human compassion that marks every word from James Herriot’s pen.

 

For lovers of cats, James Herriot’s books, or both, James Herriot’s Cat Stories will be a gift to treasure.

 

JAMES HERRIOT’S books include: All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord God Made Them All, Every Living Thing, and James Herriot’s Dog Stories.

 

Now retired after fifty years in veterinary practice, he lives with his wife in North Yorkshire, England.

ALSO BY JAMES HERRIOT

All Creatures Great and Small All Things Bright and Beautiful All Things Wise and Wonderful The Lord God Made Them All Every Living Thing James Herriot’s Yorkshire James Herriot’s Dog Stories The Best of James Herriot

FOR CHILDREN

Moses the Kitten Only One Woof The Christmas Day Kitten Bonny’s Big Day Blossom Comes Home The Market Square Dog Oscar, Cat-Ab-Town Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb James Herriot’s Treasury for Children CONTENTS

 

Story Page

 

Introduction ……………………

1 Alfred: The Sweet-Shop Cat …

8 Oscar: The Socialite Cat ……..

28 Boris and Mrs. Bond’s Cat Establishment …………………

55 Olly and Ginny: Two Kittens Who Came to Stay ………………..

70 Emily and the Gentleman of the Road …..

91 Olly and Ginny Settle In ……..

112 Moses Found Among the Rushes ……

119 Frisk: The Cat with Many Lives ….

128 Olly and Ginny: The Greatest Triumph ……………..

139 Buster: The Feline Retriever ……

 

JAMES HERRIOT’S CAT STORIES

Introduction

Cats have always played a large part in my life, first when I was a boy in Glasgow, then as a practising veterinary surgeon, and now, in my retirement, they are still there, lightening my days. They were one of the main reasons why I chose a career as a vet. In my school days my animal world was dominated by a magnificent Irish setter called Don with whom I walked the Scottish hills for close on fourteen years, but when I returned from these rambles there were always my cats to greet me, arching around my legs, purring and rubbing their faces at my hands. There was never a time when our household did not have several cats, and they each had their particular charms. Their innate grace and daintiness and their deeply responsive affection made them all dear to me and I longed for the day when I would learn about them at the Veterinary College.

Their playfulness, too, was a constant source of entertainment. I can remember one, Topsy by name, who was the instigator of many games, repeatedly dancing, crabwise, up to Don with her ears wickedly cocked until he could resist no longer and sprang at her, which inevitably started a long wrestling match. Occasionally, we had the local vet out when the cats were ill and I used to watch him with awe: here was someone who had studied the species intimately and knew every bone, nerve and sinew in their bodies. I was astounded when I got to the College and found that nowhere was there any interest in my beloved cats. One of my text books was an immense tome called Sisson’s Anatomy of Domestic Animals. It took a fairly strong man to lift it from the shelf, and to carry it around was a labour in itself. I searched the pages eagerly. They profusely illustrated the innards of horse, ox, sheep, pig and dog in that strict order. The dog only just squeezed in, but I couldn’t find a cat anywhere. Finally I consulted the index. There was nothing under the letter c and I thought ah, of course, it would be under f for feline, but again my search was fruitless and I was forced to conclude, sadly, that my poor furry friends didn’t even have a mention. I couldn’t believe it. I thought of the thousands of old folks and housebound invalids who drew joy and comfort and friendship from their cats. They were the only pets they could have.

What was my profession thinking of? The simple fact was that they had fallen behind the times. Sisson’s Anatomy was published in 1910

and reprinted several times up to 1930 and it was this edition, fresh from the press, which I studied in my student days. I have often gone on record saying that, although I spent my professional life in large-animal practice, my original ambition was to be a doctor of dogs and cats. But I qualified in the days of the great depression of the thirties when jobs were difficult to find and I ended up tramping in Wellington boots over the North Yorkshire Dales.

I did this for more than fifty years and loved every minute of it, but at the beginning I thought I would miss my cats. I was wrong.

There were cats everywhere. Every farm had its cats. They kept the mice away and lived a whole life of their own in those rural places.

Cats are connoisseurs of comfort, and when inspecting the head of a cow I often found a cosy nest of kittens with their mother in the hay rack. They were to be seen snuggled between bales of straw or stretched blissfully in sunlit corners because they love warmth, and in the bitter days of winter the warm bonnet of my car was an irresistible attraction. No sooner had I drawn up in a farmyard than a cat or two was perched just beyond my windscreen. Some farmers are real cat lovers apart from wanting them around for their practical uses; and in these places I might find a score of the little creatures enjoying this unexpected bonus of warmth. When I drove away I had a pattern of muddy paw-marks covering every inch of the heated metal. This soon dried on, and since I had neither time nor inclination for car washing they remained as a semi-permanent decoration. On my daily round in our small country town I found many instances of old folks in their little cottages with a cat by the fireside or curled in their laps. Such companionship made a huge difference to their lives. All this to remind me of cats and yet our official education ignored them. But that was more than fifty years ago and things were beginning to change even then. They were starting to include cats in the lectures at the veterinary colleges and so I assiduously picked the brains of students who came to see practice with us. Later, as the practice expanded, I did the same with the young assistants who arrived bursting with the new knowledge. Also, articles about cats began to appear in our veterinary periodicals and I would read these avidly. This went on throughout the fifty-odd years of my veterinary life and now, when I am retired and it is all over, I often look back and think of the changes which took place during my era. The recognition of cats was, of course, only a small part of the almost explosive revolution which transformed my profession; the virtual disappearance of the farm horse, the advent of antibiotics which swept away the almost medieval medicines I had to dispense, the new surgical procedures, the wonderful protective vaccines which regularly appeared—all these things seem like the realisation of a dream. Cats are now arguably the most popular of all family pets. Large, prestigious books are written about them by eminent veterinarians and, indeed, some vets specialise in the species to the exclusion of all others.

In front of the desk where I write I have a long row of the old text books I studied in those far-off days. Sisson is there, looking as vast as ever, and all the others I keep to dip into when I try to remember things about the past or when I just want a good laugh; but side by side with them are the fine new volumes with only one theme-cats. I think back, too, on the strange views that many people held about cats. They were selfish creatures reserving their affections only for situations which would benefit them, and they were incapable of the unthinking love a dog dispenses. They were totally self-contained creatures who looked after their own interests only.

What nonsense! I have felt cats rubbing their faces against mine and touching my cheek with claws carefully sheathed. These things, to me, are expressions of love. At the moment of writing we have no cat, because our border terrier does not approve of them and likes to chase them. However, he does not start to run until they do because, although he will fight any dog large or small, he is secretly wary of cats. If a cat stands his ground, Bodie will make a wide circuit to avoid him. But when he is asleep—his favourite occupation in his thirteenth year—cats visit us from our neighbours in the village.

We have a chest-high wall outside our kitchen window and here the assorted felines assemble to see what we have to offer. We keep various goodies for them and spread them on the wall, but there is one gorgeous yellow and white tom who is so affectionate that he would rather be petted than fed. I have quite a battle with him as he nearly knocks the carton of titbits from my hand in his efforts to nose his way into my palm with a thunderous purring. Often I have to abandon the feeding and concentrate on the rubbing, stroking and chin tickling which he really wants. I think it is a sensible axiom that, once retired, one should not continue to haunt one’s former place of business. Of course, Skeldale House is more than that to me; it is a place of a thousand memories, where I shared the bachelor days with Siegfried and Tristan, where I started my married life, saw my children grow up from babyhood and went through a half century of the triumphs and disasters of veterinary practice. Today, though, I go there only to pick up my mail and, in the process, to have a quick peep at how things are going. The practice is run by my son, Jimmy, and his splendid young partners and last week I stood in the office watching the constant traffic of little animals coming in for consultations, operations, vaccinations; so different from my early days when our work was 90 percent agricultural. I turned away from the shaggy stream to speak to Jimmy. “Which animal do you see most often in the surgery?” I asked. He thought for a moment before replying. “Probably fifty-fifty dogs and cats, but I think the cats are edging ahead.”

 

Alfred The Sweet-Shop Cat

 

My throat was killing me. Three successive nocturnal lambings on the windswept hillsides in my shirtsleeves had left me with the beginnings of a cold and I felt in urgent need of a packet of Geoff Hatfield’s cough drops. An unscientific treatment, perhaps, but I had a childish faith in those powerful little candies which exploded in the mouth, sending a blast of medicated vapour surging through the bronchial tubes. The shop was down a side alley, almost hidden away, and it was so tiny—not much more than a cubby hole—that there was hardly room for the sign, GEOFFREY HATFIELD, CONFECTIONER, above the window. But it was full. It was always full, and, this being market day, it was packed out. The little bell went “ching” as I opened the door and squeezed into the crush of local ladies and farmers” wives. I’d have to wait for a while but I didn’t mind, because watching Mr. Hatfield in action was one of the rewarding things in my life. I had come at a good time, too, because the proprietor was in the middle of one of his selection struggles. He had his back to me, the silver-haired, leonine head nodding slightly on the broad shoulders as he surveyed the rows of tall glass sweet jars against the wall. His hands, clasped behind him, tensed and relaxed repeatedly as he fought his inner battle, then he took a few strides along the row, gazing intently at each jar in turn. It struck me that Lord Nelson pacing the quarterdeck of the Victory, wondering how best to engage the enemy, could not have displayed a more portentous concentration. The tension in the little shop rose palpably as he reached up a hand, then withdrew it with a shake of the head, but a sigh went up from the assembled ladies as, with a final grave nod and a squaring of the shoulders, he extended both arms, seized a jar and swung round to face the company. His large Roman Senator face was crinkled into a benign smile. “Now, Mrs.

Moffat,” he boomed at a stout matron and, holding out the glass vessel with both hands, inclined it slightly with all the grace and deference of a Cartier jeweller displaying a diamond necklace, “I wonder if I can interest you in this.” Mrs. Moffat, clutching her shopping basket, peered closely at the paper-wrapped confections in the jar. “Well, ah don’t know. …” “If I remember rightly, madam, you indicated that you were seeking something in the nature of a Russian caramel, and I can thoroughly recommend these little sweetmeats. Not quite a Russian, but nevertheless a very nice, smooth-eating toffee.” His expression became serious, expectant. The fruity tones rolling round his description made me want to grab the sweets and devour them on the spot, and they seemed to have the same effect on the lady. “Right, Mr. Hatfield,” she said eagerly, “I’ll “ave half a pound.” The shopkeeper gave a slight bow. “Thank you so much, madam, I’m sure you will not regret your choice.” His features relaxed into a gracious smile and, as he lovingly trickled the toffees onto his scales before bagging them with a professional twirl, I felt a renewed desire to get at the things. Mr. Hatfield, leaning forward with both hands on the counter, kept his gaze on his customer until he had bowed her out of the shop with a courteous, “Good day to you, madam,” then he turned to face the congregation.

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