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Authors: James Herriot

cat stories (10 page)

BOOK: cat stories

I hesitated. “Well, that’s the way it sounds, I’m afraid.” As I spoke, the little cat’s rib cage lifted slightly, then subsided.

“He’s still breathing,” I said, “but only just.” I examined the cat thoroughly and found nothing unusual. The conjunctiva of the eye was a good colour. In fact, there was no abnormality. I passed a hand over the sleek little body. “This is a puzzler, Dick. He’s always been so lively—lived up to his name, in fact, yet here he is, flat out, and I can’t find any reason for it.” “Could he have “ad a stroke or summat?” “I suppose it’s just possible, but I wouldn’t expect him to be totally unconscious. I’m wondering if he might have had a blow on the head.” “I don’t think so. He was as right as rain when I went to bed, and he was never out during t”night.” The old man shrugged his shoulders. “Any road, it’s a poor look-out for “im?” “Afraid so, Dick. He’s only just alive. But I’ll give him a stimulant injection and then you must take him home and keep him warm. If he’s still around tomorrow morning, bring him in and I’ll see how he’s going on.” I was trying to strike an optimistic note, but I was pretty sure that I would never see Frisk again and I knew the old man felt the same. His hands shook as he tied up the box and he didn’t speak until we reached the front door. He turned briefly to me and nodded. “Thank ye, Mr. Herriot.” I watched him as he walked with shuffling steps down the street. He was going back to an empty little house with his dying pet. He had lost his wife many years ago—I had never known a Mrs. Fawcett—and he lived alone on his old age pension. It wasn’t much of a life. He was a quiet, kindly man who didn’t go out much and seemed to have few friends, but he had Frisk. The little cat had walked in on him six years ago and had transformed his life, bringing a boisterous, happy presence into the silent house, making the old man laugh with his tricks and playfulness, following him around, rubbing against his legs. Dick wasn’t lonely any more, and I had watched a warm bond of friendship growing stronger over the years. In fact, it was something more—the old man seemed to depend on Frisk. And now this. Well, I thought, as I walked back down the passage, it was the sort of thing that happened in veterinary practice. Pets didn’t live long enough. But I felt worse this time because I had no idea what ailed my patient. I was in a total fog. On the following morning I was surprised to see Dick Fawcett sitting in the waiting room, the cardboard box on his knee. I stared at him. “What’s happened?” He didn’t answer and his face was inscrutable as we went through to the consulting room and he undid the knots. When he opened the box I prepared for the worst, but to my astonishment the little cat leaped out onto the table and rubbed his face against my hand, purring like a motor cycle. The old man laughed, his thin face transfigured. “Well, what d”ye think of that?” “I don’t know what to think, Dick.” I examined the little animal carefully. He was completely normal. “All I know is that I’m delighted. It’s like a miracle.” “No, it isn’t,” he said. “It was that injection you gave “im. It’s worked wonders. I’m right grateful.

” Well, it was kind of him, but it wasn’t as simple as that. There was something here I didn’t understand, but never mind. Thank heaven it had ended happily.


The incident had receded into a comfortable memory when, three days later, Dick Fawcett reappeared at the surgery with his box. Inside was Frisk, motionless, unconscious, just as before. Totally bewildered, I repeated the examination and then the injection and on the following day the cat was normal. From then on, I was in the situation which every veterinary surgeon knows so well—being involved in a baffling case and waiting with a feeling of impending doom for something tragic to happen. Nothing did happen for nearly a week, then Mrs. Duggan, Dick’s neighbour, telephoned. “I’m ringing on behalf of Mr. Fawcett. His cat’s ill.” “In what way?” “Oh, just lying stretched out, unconscious, like.” I suppressed a scream.

“When did this happen?” “Just found “im this morning. And Mr.

Fawcett can’t bring him to you—he’s poorly himself. He’s in bed.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I’ll come round straight away.” And it was just the same as before. An almost lifeless little creature lying prone on Dick’s bed. Dick himself looked terrible—ghastly white and thinner than ever—but he still managed a smile. “Looks like “e needs another of your magic injections, Mr. Herriot.” As I filled my syringe, my mind seethed with the thought that there was indeed some kind of magic at work here, but it wasn’t my injection. “I’ll drop in tomorrow, Dick,” I said. “And I hope you’ll be feeling better yourself.” “Oh, I’ll be awright as long as t”little feller’s better.

” The old man stretched out a hand and stroked the cat’s shining fur.

The arm was emaciated and the eyes in the skull-like face were desperately worried. I looked around the comfortless little room and hoped for another miracle. I wasn’t really surprised when I came back next morning and saw Frisk darting about on the bed, pawing at a piece of string which the old man was holding up for him. The relief was great but I felt enveloped more suffocatingly than ever in my fog of ignorance. What the hell was it? The whole thing just didn’t make sense. There was no known disease with symptoms like these. I had a strong conviction that reading a whole library of veterinary books wouldn’t help me. Anyway, the sight of the little cat arching and purring round my hand was reward enough, and for Dick it was everything. He was relaxed and smiling. “You keep getting him right, Mr. Herriot. I can’t thank you enough.” Then the worry flickered again in his eyes. “But is he going to keep doing it? I’m frightened he won’t come round one of these times.” Well, that was the question. I was frightened too, but I had to try to be cheerful. “Maybe it’s just a passing phase, Dick. I hope we’ll have no more trouble now.” But I couldn’t promise anything and the frail man in the bed knew it. Mrs. Duggan was showing me out when I saw the district nurse getting out of her car at the front door. “Hello, Nurse,” I said, “you’ve come to have a look at Mr. Fawcett? I’m sorry he’s ill.” She nodded. “Yes, poor old chap. It’s a great shame.

” “What do you mean? Is it something serious?” “Afraid so.” Her mouth tightened and she looked away from me. “He’s dying. It’s cancer. Getting rapidly worse.” “My God! Poor Dick. And a few days ago he was bringing his cat to my surgery. He never said a word.

Does he know?” “Oh yes, he knows, but that’s him all over, Mr.

Herriot. He’s as game as a pebble. He shouldn’t have been out, really.” “Is he … is he … suffering?” She shrugged. “Getting a bit of pain now, but we’re keeping him as comfortable as we can with medication. I give him a shot when necessary and he has some stuff he can take himself if I’m not around. He’s very shaky and can’t pour from the bottle into the spoon. Mrs. Duggan would gladly do it for him, but he’s so independent.” She smiled for a moment. “He pours the mixture into a saucer and spoons it up that way.” “A saucer …?” Somewhere in the fog a little light glimmered. “What’s in the mixture?” “Oh, heroin and pethidene. It’s the usual thing Dr.

Allinson prescribes.” I seized her arm. “I’m coming back in with you, Nurse.” The old man was surprised when I reappeared. “What’s matter, Mr. Herriot? Have you left summat?” “No, Dick, I want to ask you something. Is your medicine pleasant tasting?” “Aye, it’s nice and sweet. It isn’t bad to take at all.” “And you put it in a saucer?”

“That’s right. Me hand’s a bit dothery.” “And when you take it last thing at night there’s sometimes a bit left in the saucer?” “Aye, there is, why?” “Because you leave that saucer by your bedside, don’t you, and Frisk sleeps on your bed …” The old man lay very still as he stared at me. “You mean the little beggar licks it out?”

“I’ll bet my boots he does.” Dick threw back his head and laughed. A long, joyous laugh. “And that sends “im to sleep! No wonder! It makes me right dozy, too!” I laughed with him. “Anyway, we know now, Dick. You’ll put that saucer in the cupboard when you’ve taken your dose, won’t you?” “I will that, Mr. Herriot. And Frisk will never pass out like that again?” “No, never again.” “Eee, that’s grand!”

He sat up in bed, lifted the little cat and held him against his face. He gave a sigh of utter content and smiled at me. “Mr. Herriot, ” he said, “I’ve got nowt to worry about now.” Out in the street, as I bade Mrs. Duggan goodbye for the second time, I looked back at the little house. ““Nowt to worry about,” eh? That’s rather wonderful, coming from him.” “Oh aye, and he means it, too. He’s not bothered about himself.”


I didn’t see Dick again for two weeks. I was visiting a friend in Darrowby’s little cottage hospital when I saw the old man in a bed in a corner of the ward. I went over and sat down by his side. His face was desperately thin, but serene. “Hello, Dick,” I said. He looked at me sleepily and spoke in a whisper. “Now then, Mr. Herriot.

” He closed his eyes for a few moments, then he looked up again with the ghost of a smile. “I’m glad we found out what was wrong with t”little cat.” “So am I, Dick.” Again a pause. “Mrs. Duggan’s got “im.” “Yes. I know. He has a good home there.” “Aye … aye …” The voice was fainter. “But oftens I wish I had “im here.” The bony hand stroked the counterpane and his lips moved again. I bent closer to hear. “Frisk …” he was saying, “Frisk …” Then his eyes closed and I saw that he was sleeping. I heard next day that Dick Fawcett had died, and it was possible that I was the last person to hear him speak. And it was strange, yet fitting, that those last words were about his cat. “Frisk … Frisk …”


Olly and Ginny The Greatest Triumph


Months passed without any thawing of relations between me and our two wild cats and I noticed with growing apprehension that Olly’s long coat was reverting to its previous disreputable state. The familiar knots and tangles were reappearing and within a year it was as bad as ever. It became more obvious every day that I had to do something about it. But could I trick him again? I had to try. I made the same preparations, with Helen placing the nembutal-laden food on the wall, but this time Olly sniffed, licked, then walked away. We tried at his next meal time but he examined the food with deep suspicion and turned away from it. It was very clear that he sensed there was something afoot. Hovering in my usual position at the kitchen window I turned to Helen. “I’m going to have to try to catch him.” “Catch him? With your net, do you mean?” “No, no. That was all right when he was a kitten. I’d never get near him now.”

“How, then?” I looked out at the scruffy black creature on the wall.

“Well, maybe I can hide behind you when you feed him and grab him and bung him into the cage. I could take him down to the surgery then, give him a general anaesthetic and make a proper job of him.”

“Grab him? And then fasten him in the cage?” Helen said incredulously. “It sounds impossible to me.” “Yes, I know, but I’ve grabbed a few cats in my time and I can move fast. If only I can keep hidden. We’ll try tomorrow.” My wife looked at me, wide-eyed. I could see that she had little faith. Next morning she placed some delicious fresh chopped raw haddock on the wall. It was the cats”

favourite. They were not particularly partial to cooked fish but this was irresistible. The open cage lay hidden from sight. The cats stalked along the wall, Ginny sleek and shining, Olly a pathetic sight with his ravelled hair and ugly knotted appendages dangling from his neck and body. Helen made her usual fuss of the two of them, then, as they descended happily on the food, she returned to the kitchen where I was lurking. “Right, now,” I said. “I want you to walk out very slowly again and I am going to be tucked in behind you.

When you go up to Olly he’ll be concentrating on the fish and maybe won’t notice me.” Helen made no reply as I pressed myself into her back, in close contact from head to toe. “Okay, off we go.” I nudged her left leg with mine and we shuffled off through the door, moving as one. “This is ridiculous,” Helen wailed. “It’s like a music hall act.” Nuzzling the back of her neck, I hissed into her ear, “Quiet, just keep going.” As we advanced on the wall, double-bodied, Helen reached out and stroked Olly’s head, but he was too busy with the haddock to look up. He was there, chest-high, within a couple of feet of me. I’d never have a better chance. Shooting my hand round Helen, I seized him by the scruff of his neck, held him, a flurry of flailing black limbs, for a couple of seconds, then pushed him into the cage. As I crashed the lid down, a desperate paw appeared at one end but I thrust it back and slotted home the steel rod. There was no escape now. I lifted the cage on to the wall with Olly and me at eye level and I flinched as I met his accusing stare through the bars. “Oh no, not again! I don’t believe this!” it said. “Is there no end to your treachery?” In truth, I felt pretty bad. The poor cat, terrified as he was by my assault, had not tried to scratch or bite.

It was like the other occasions—his only thought was to get away. I couldn’t blame him for thinking the worst of me. However, I told myself, the end result was going to be a fine handsome animal again.

“You won’t know yourself, old chap,” I said to the petrified little creature, crouched in his cage on the car seat by my side as we drove to the surgery. “I’m going to fix you up properly, this time.

You’re going to look great and feel great.” Siegfried had offered to help me and when we got him on the table, a trembling Olly submitted to being handled and to the intravenous anaesthetic. As he lay sleeping peacefully, I started on the awful tangled fur with a fierce pleasure, snipping and trimming and then going over him with the electric clippers followed by a long combing until the last tiny knot was removed. I had only given him a makeshift hair-do before, but this was the full treatment. Siegfried laughed when I held him up after I had finished. “Looks ready to win any cat show,” he said.

I thought of his words next morning when the cats came to the wall for their breakfast. Ginny was always beautiful, but she was almost outshone by her brother as he strutted along, his smooth, lustrous fur gleaming in the sunshine. Helen was enchanted at his appearance and kept running her hand along his back as though she couldn’t believe the transformation. I, of course, was in my usual position, peeking furtively from the kitchen window. It was going to be a long time before I even dared to show myself to Olly.

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