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Cat Stories (Everyman's Library Pocket Classics Series) Hardcover – October 18, 2011
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About the Author
Diana Secker Tesdell is the editor of the Everyman's Pocket Classic anthologies Christmas Stories, Love Stories, Dog Stories, Cat Stories, Horse Stories, New York Stories, Bedtime Stories, Stories of Art and Artists, Stories of Fatherhood, Stories of Motherhood, Stories of the Sea, and Stories from the Kitchen, and of the Everyman's Library Pocket Poet Lullabies and Poems for Children.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
THE SNOW WAS falling, and the Cat’s fur was stiffly pointed with it, but he was imperturbable. He sat crouched, ready for the death-spring, as he had sat for hours. It was night – but that made no difference – all times were as one to the Cat when he was in wait for prey. Then too, he was under no constraint of human will, for he was living alone that winter. Nowhere in the world was any voice calling him; on no hearth was there a waiting dish. He was quite free except for his own desires, which tyrannized over him when unsatisfied as now. The Cat was very hungry – almost famished, in fact. For days the weather had been very bitter, and all the feebler wild things which were his prey by inheritance, the born serfs to his family, had kept, for the most part, in their burrows and nests, and the Cat’s long hunt had availed him nothing. But he waited with the inconceivable patience and persistency of his race; besides, he was certain. The Cat was a creature of absolute convictions, and his faith in his deductions never wavered. The rabbit had gone in there between those low-hung pine boughs. Now her little doorway had before it a shaggy curtain of snow, but in there she was. The Cat had seen her enter, so like a swift grey shadow that even his sharp and practised eyes had glanced back for the substance following, and then she was gone. So he sat down and waited, and he waited still in the white night, listening angrily to the north wind starting in the upper heights of the mountains with distant screams, then swelling into an awful crescendo of rage, and swooping down with furious white wings of snow like a flock of fierce eagles into the valleys and ravines. The Cat was on the side of a mountain, on a wooded terrace. Above him a few feet away towered the rock ascent as steep as the wall of a cathedral. The Cat had never climbed it – trees were the ladders to his heights of life. He had often looked with wonder at the rock, and miauled bitterly and resentfully as man does in the face of a forbidding Providence. At his left was the sheer precipice. Behind him, with a short stretch of woody growth between, was the frozen perpendicular wall of a mountain stream. Before him was the way to his home. When the rabbit came out she was trapped; her little cloven feet could not scale such unbroken steeps. So the Cat waited. The place in which he was looked like a maelstrom of the wood. The tangle of trees and bushes clinging to the mountain-side with a stern clutch of roots, the prostrate trunks and branches, the vines embracing everything with strong knots and coils of growth, had a curious effect, as of things which had whirled for ages in a current of raging water, only it was not water, but wind, which had disposed everything in circling lines of yielding to its fiercest points of onset. And now over all this whirl of wood and rock and dead trunks and branches and vines descended the snow. It blew down like smoke over the rock-crest above; it stood in a gyrating column like some death-wraith of nature, on the level, then it broke over the edge of the precipice, and the Cat cowered before the fierce backward set of it. It was as if ice needles pricked his skin through his beautiful thick fur, but he never faltered and never once cried. He had nothing to gain from crying, and everything to lose; the rabbit would hear him cry and know he was waiting.
It grew darker and darker, with a strange white smother, instead of the natural blackness of night. It was a night of storm and death superadded to the night of nature. The mountains were all hidden, wrapped about, overawed, and tumultuously overborne by it, but in the midst of it waited, quite unconquered, this little, unswerving, living patience and power under a little coat of grey fur.
A fiercer blast swept over the rock, spun on one mighty foot of whirlwind athwart the level, then was over the precipice.
Then the Cat saw two eyes luminous with terror, frantic with the impulse of flight, he saw a little, quivering, dilating nose, he saw two pointing ears, and he kept still, with every one of his fine nerves and muscles strained like wires. Then the rabbit was out – there was one long line of incarnate flight and terror – and the Cat had her.
Then the Cat went home, trailing his prey through the snow.
The Cat lived in the house which his master had built, as rudely as a child’s block-house, but staunchly enough. The snow was heavy on the low slant of its roof, but it would not settle under it. The two windows and the door were made fast, but the Cat knew a way in. Up a pine-tree behind the house he scuttled, though it was hard work with his heavy rabbit, and was in his little window under the eaves, then down through the trap to the room below, and on his master’s bed with a spring and a great cry of triumph, rabbit and all. But his master was not there; he had been gone since early fall and it was now February.He would not return until spring, for he was an old man, and the cruel cold of the mountains clutched at his vitals like a panther, and he had gone to the village to winter. The Cat had known for a long time that his master was gone, but his reasoning was always sequential and circuitous; always for him what had been would be, and the more easily for his marvellous waiting powers so he always came home expecting to find his master.
When he saw that he was still gone, he dragged the rabbit off the rude couch which was the bed to the floor, put one little paw on the carcass to keep it steady, and began gnawing with head to one side to bring his strongest teeth to bear.
It was darker in the house than it had been in the wood, and the cold was as deadly, though not so fierce. If the Cat had not received his fur coat unquestioningly of Providence, he would have been thankful that he had it. It was a mottled grey, white on the face and breast, and thick as fur could grow.
The wind drove the snow on the windows with such force that it rattled like sleet, and the house trembled a little. Then all at once the Cat heard a noise, and stopped gnawing his rabbit and listened, his shining green eyes fixed upon a window. Then he heard a hoarse shout, a halloo of despair and entreaty; but he knew it was not his master come home, and he waited, one paw still on the rabbit. Then the halloo came again, and then the Cat answered. He said all that was essential quite plainly to his own comprehension. There was in his cry of response inquiry, information, warning, terror, and finally, the offer of comradeship; but the man outside did not hear him, because of the howling of the storm.
Then there was a great battering pound at the door, then another, and another. The Cat dragged his rabbit under the bed. The blows came thicker and faster. It was a weak arm which gave them, but it was nerved by desperation. Finally the lock yielded, and the stranger came in. Then the Cat, peering from under the bed, blinked with a sudden light, and his green eyes narrowed. The stranger struck a match and looked about. The Cat saw a face wild and blue with hunger and cold, and a man who looked poorer and older than his poor old master, who was an outcast among men for his poverty and lowly mystery of antecedents; and he heard a muttered, unintelligible voicing of distress from the harsh piteous mouth. There was in it both profanity and prayer, but the Cat knew nothing of that.
The stranger braced the door which he had forced, got some wood from the stock in the corner, and kindled a fire in the old stove as quickly as his half-frozen hands would allow. He shook so pitiably as he worked that the Cat under the bed felt the tremor of it. Then the man, who was small and feeble and marked with the scars of suffering which he had pulled down upon his own head, sat down in one of the old chairs and crouched over the fire as if it were the one love and desire of his soul, holding out his yellow hands like yellow claws, and he groaned. The Cat came out from under the bed and leaped up on his lap with the rabbit. The man gave a great shout and start of terror, and sprang, and the Cat slid clawing to the floor, and the rabbit fell inertly, and the man leaned, gasping with fright, and ghastly, against the wall. The Cat grabbed the rabbit by the slack of its neck and dragged it to the man’s feet. Then he raised his shrill, insistent cry, he arched his back high, his tail was a splendid waving plume. He rubbed against the man’s feet, which were bursting out of their torn shoes.
The man pushed the Cat away, gently enough, and began searching about the little cabin. He even climbed painfully the ladder to the loft, lit a match, and peered up in the darkness with straining eyes.He feared lest there might be a man, since there was a cat. His experience with men had not been pleasant, and neither had the experience of men been pleasant with him. He was an old wandering Ishmael among his kind; he had stumbled upon the house of a brother, and the brother was not at home, and he was glad.
He returned to the Cat, and stooped stiffly and stroked his back, which the animal arched like the spring of a bow.
Then he took up the rabbit and looked at it eagerly by the firelight. His jaws worked. He could almost have devoured it raw. He fumbled – the Cat close at his heels – around some rude shelves and a table, and found, with a grunt of self-gratulation, a lamp with oil in it. That he lighted; then he found a frying-pan and a knife, and skinned the rabbit, and prepared it for cooking, the Cat always at his feet.
When the odour of the cooking flesh filled the cabin, both the man and the Cat looked wolfish. The man turned the rabbit with one hand and stooped to pat the Cat with the other. The Cat thought him a fine man. He loved him with all his heart, though he had known him such a short time, and though the man had a face both pitiful and sharply set at variance with the best of things.
It was a face with the grimy grizzle of age upon it, with fever hollows in the cheeks, and the memories of wrong in the dim eyes, but the Cat accepted the man unquestioningly and loved him. When the rabbit was half cooked, neither the man nor the Cat would wait any longer. The man took it from the fire, divided it exactly in halves, gave the Cat one, and took the other himself. Then they ate.
Top customer reviews
As a crazy old cat lady (now officially of an age and station to qualify as such), I feel compelled to provide this brief overview of Cat Stories. This collection of nineteen stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdell is arranged into three whimsical sections: People and Their Cats, Cats and Their People, and Fanciful Felines. But don’t let this rather lighthearted arrangement of cleverly titled stories fool you; it is, like most books about animals, Not Cheerful. I’m not interested in writing thorough analytical reviews of books these days, but I do want to point out the fates of the cat characters of each story for those who are determining whether or not to add this volume to their own cat shelves. As for myself, I will be handing on this rather sad collection as, while I have a great capacity for appreciating fictional tragedy (sometimes), I can almost never appreciate it when it’s tragedy about animals.
Part of my dislike, I will fairly admit, is due to bias. I picked out this collection thinking it would be good bed-time reading. Since it is patently not good bed-time reading (with the exception of Angela Carter’s bawdy and humorous retelling of puss-in-boots), and one story of which could be accurately described as nightmare-inducing (“The Black Cat” by Edgar Allen Poe), this book entirely failed to meet my simple criteria of 'cat stories I will read to forget my woes of the day as I enjoy the purity of feline antics and their misunderstood bonds with their human caretakers.'
“The Islands” by Alice Adams – The cat dies (old age/inoperable cancer at 19, humanely euthanized).
“I See You, Bianca” by Maeve Brennan – The cat probably dies (allowed to roam freely, one day never comes back).
“Lillian” by Damon Runyon – The cat is habitually fed alcohol by her owner until she’s addicted/a drunk.
“An Old Woman and Her Cat” by Doris Lessing – The cat dies (unfairly euthanized when his elderly homeless owner dies of neglect/abandonment).
“Tobermory” by Saki – The cat dies in a cat fight after his owners have decided to kill him anyway.
“Cats Will Be Cats” by P. G. Wodehouse – The cat drinks alcohol by accident and becomes a rowdy brawler, but he lives.
“The Cat That Walked by Himself” by Rudyard Kipling – The cat lives, but the story is kind of obnoxious.
“The Cat” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman – The cat lives, though his human does abandon him for the winter for the cat to fend for himself in bad weather.
“Broomsticks” by Walter de la Mare – The cat is abandoned (or he chooses to desert the domesticated life; either way you want to put it, the human character makes a decision to give up on the cat, which comes to abandonment).
“Ming’s Biggest Prey” by Patricia Highsmith – The cat lives, though it’s far from a heart-warming tale, and the antagonist does make a couple of unsuccessful attempts on the cat’s life.
“The Black Cat” by Edgar Allen Poe – The cat is abused, mutilated, and then hanged by the sadistic main character. Avoid at all costs. I cried. Honestly why someone (Diana Secker Tesdell) thought it was a good idea to include an Edgar Allen Poe story in an anthology aimed at cat lovers is beyond me.
“The Price” by Neil Gaiman – The cat lives but gets beaten up “the Devil” every night, presumably until the cat’s death.
“Space-Time for Springers” by Fritz Leiber – Starts out promising and one of the more well-written stories in the collection, but the end is bleak for the cat although he technically lives.
“The Garden of Stubborn Cats” by Italo Calvino – The cats live and are overall successful in their mission of life and survival.
“Ancient Sorceries” by Algernon Blackwood – This is the longest story in the collection (possibly long enough to qualify as a novella), and also features no cat characters whatsoever. Only witches who purportedly can transform themselves into cats, although whether they can or not is inconsequential to the story.
“The King of the Cats” by Stephen Vincent Benét – The presumed cats (most likely) live, although technically there aren’t any cat characters in true cat form. (This is based on a folk-tale of the same name.)
“Schrödinger’s Cat” by Ursula K. Le Guin – The cat may or may not die. If the title didn’t make it obvious.
“Puss-in-Boots” by Angela Carter – The cat lives and actually turns out quite happy. He isn’t abused and there aren’t any cat fights.
“Cat ‘n’ Mouse” by Steven Millhauser – This is a play-by-play of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. The cat gets “erased” with a rag in the end.
In other words, very few of these stories are actually fun or inspiring or clever reads that succeed in entertaining a cat-person. The choice to include a Poe story makes me wonder if the editor even read any of the works she collected.
In terms of cat story compilations, I have had better luck with the stories in Catfantastic, a series of anthologies edited by Andre Norton (nom de plume of Alice Sheldon).
While some stories are about owners and their affection for their cats-- I would put the first six stories ("People and their Cats") in that category, Ms. Tesdell, to her everlasting credit, includes the magical, the surreal, the horrific, the humorous, the mysterious side of cats as well. There is much more than lap sitters included here.
P. G. Wodehouse has a delicious description of a lawyer that is spot on. In his story "Cats Will Be Cats" when his uncle wants him to pose as a lawyer, the character Lancelot knows immediately how he must act: "'Lawyers cough dryly. . . And then I suppose one would put the tips of the fingers together a good deal and talk about Rex v. Biggs Ltd and torts and malfeasances and so forth.'" Patricia Highsmith's story "Ming's Biggest Prey" is precisely what you would expect from the creator of the Tom Ripley character. While the cat Ming is much loved and adored by his mistress Elaine, danger lurks for Ming in the person of Elaine's friend Teddie. Doris Lessing's "An Old Woman and Her Cat" is heartbreaking in its realistic rendering of the homeless. Hetty refuses to go into a home, "an institution in which the old were treated like naughty and dim-witted children until they had the good fortune to die" because she cannot take her cat Tibby with her. Algernon Blackwood's "Ancient Sorceries," long enough to be almost a novella, is a mesmerizing tale of a young man's encounter with witchcraft and the necessary accompanying feline characters. Fritz Lieber, an author I did not know previously, writes ("Space-Time for Springers") of Gummitch, a cat with an I.Q. of 160 who has an interesting commentary on the difference and similarities-- from a cat's perspective-- of mirrors and windows. A fascinating gem of a story. And Stephen Vincent Benet introduces us to Monsieur Tibault, a famous conductor with a not very well hidden secret as relates to cats.
When reading most of the stories in this great addition to cat fiction has become just a pleasant memory for me, the two that I will not forget are Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" and "Puss-in-Boots" by Angela Carter. Poe's story is proof once again that he is a great writer of the horror and crime story and a perfect example of why students, even non-English majors, like him. And Ms. Carter's cat is a tomcat in every sense of the word, helping his master arrange trysts and assisting him in each of his many sexual forays. Ms. Carter brings the writing of the risqué story to a level that only good writers can: "Figaro Here; Figaro there. . . This little Figaro can slip into my lady's chamber smart as you like at any time whatsoever that he takes the fancy for. . . a cat of the world, cosmopolitan, sophisticated ."