Do you have a cat? If you do, you may be one of those people who insist that cats have a special place in the universe — and a world of their own that humans can only glimpse from time to time. Here’s a little story that has variations all over the British Isles and beyond. This particular version comes from the highlands of Scotland.
One there were two friends who liked nothing more than going hunting. They believed that the very best hunting was to be had in the far north of Scotland, so they planned a hunting holiday in the autumn every year. They secured lodging away from towns and even other houses, and they arranged with the old woman who managed the lodge to cook for them while they were there. The old woman lived alone the rest of the year, save for her two dogs and one cat.
One day they had a full day of successful hunting — so successful that they were not able to bring back all the birds they’d shot. So the next afternoon, one of the men declared that he would go out and search for the missing birds. The other man, a little older than his companion, was weary from the day before and said that he would rather remain at the lodge. And so the young man set off, intending to return before sunset. However, the day grew late, and still the young man did not return. Finally, long after the usual supper time, the hunting companion showed up looking disheveled and thoroughly exhausted. After supper, when everyone was sitting around the fire – the old woman knitting, the dogs dozing, the cat stretched out with eyes half closed— the younger man began to speak, to explain his unusual tardiness.
“You must be wondering why I was so late,” he started, then stopped, then started again. “I’m not sure I can really explain what happened. But I will try. When I started out this afternoon, I began to retrace the route from our hunting yesterday, as I had intended. But just as I was turning to come back to the lodge, a thick fog came up, and I became completely lost. I wandered around for a considerable time, and was at the point of despairing to ever find my way back, when at last I saw a light glimmering through the fog. I headed for the light, hoping that I would find someone who could give me directions, but as I got closer to the light, suddenly it seemed to disappear. I found myself at the base of a large oak tree, and I climbed it, thinking that from a greater height I might regain my bearings. But once up in the tree, I discovered that the oak was hollow, and looking down, I saw the strangest sight. Or, I think I did. I can hardly imagine that it was real. . . “
And here his voice trailed off. “Go on,” urged his companion. “What did you see?”
“It seemed to be a ceremony of some sort. Yes, it was a funeral — down inside the oak tree, but it was like no other funeral I have ever beheld.”
As he spoke, the old woman kept knitting, the dogs kept dozing, but now the cat was sitting up straight with its eyes open wide.
He went on. “There was a procession and a coffin, but — and this is the strangest part — carrying the coffin were not men, but cats! And the cat-sized coffin that they carried was marked with a crown and scepter.”
At this, the cat gave a loud “Meow.”
Both men turned to gaze at the cat, which seemed puffed up to twice its normal size, its large eyes glowing.And then the cat spoke. “What?!” it exclaimed. “Then old Peter is surely dead. And now I’m the King of the Cats!”
And so saying the cat sprang up the chimney and disappeared, never to be seen again.
So if you have always thought that your cat had a slightly superior attitude, perhaps it is just waiting for that moment when it becomes The King of the Cats!