Cats can surprise you.
On Saturday we rolled up at a friend’s to see a legendary cat: a creature whose portly girth is noteworthy.
She is a very big tortoiseshell cat. A vast acreage of cat. When Felix first set eyes on this luxuriant lover of life he chortled uncontrollably for several minutes. Scurry the cat does anything but Scurry.
She is a ponderous dowager who appears punctually at four for her tea. She has a coat as soft as sable, so that one has an uncontrollable urge to knead her as she passes; and she takes life at a slow pace. Her owners wonder if there is anything between her ears: but I think she is like a vast deep pool, fathomless and serene.
Imagine my surprise, then, when, on a lazy Summer’s afternoon, she spotted something living on the far side of the lawn.
Suddenly this cat-mountain became a fleet-footed living hummock. A tortoiseshell molehill travelling across the lawn in the twinkle of an eye. What had seemed, just instants earlier, to be an animal who did stationary very well indeed was flying across a well-trimmed English lawn much as if they were a lion on the Serengeti.
Cats can surprise you.
Of course, they can surprise some people more than others.
Bond Street, London, 1795. And a snatch of intelligence about one of the most notorious gamblers of the time.
The notorious gambler was the Prince of Wales: a dandy of the first degree, always fashionably attired. And he loved a flutter. In fact the story goes that he once laid a considerable sum on which of two raindrops would reach the bottom of a window.
A snatch of an anecdote appeared in a magazine of the time – The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction. What the sources of its reporter, The Gatherer, were, I could not say. But it proves that the Prince Regent didn’t know cats very well at all.
The Prince Regent was returning from a club along one of London’s most fashionable streets with Charles James Fox, that great champion of American Independence.
As they walked along on a wonderful sunny morning, Fox spied a cat lounging luxuriously in a shop doorway. And he hit on the idea for fleecing the Prince.
Lets bet, he said. Each of us can take a side of the street and we’ll count how many cats we see on our side. The one with the most cats wins the wager.
The Prince agreed; and then, in a master stroke, they each chose their side of the street.
They proceeded and Mr Fox managed to count thirteen cats while the Prince did not managed to count one.
It’s a miracle, the great royal figurehead pronounced. Or a fix. And he demanded of Fox: how the devil did he do it?
Mr Fox, clever and wily like his name, smiled wolfishly. “Your Royal Highness took, of course,” he said, “the shady side as most agreeable; but I knew that the sunny side would be left for me, and cats love sunshine.”