THE CAT’S TEACHING
Heliodora shivered as she stepped out of the railway carriage and walked along the platform, alone amidst the indifferent crowd. It was not merely the cold, which bit through her inadequate clothing, that sent that strange, icy sensation along her spine. The cold was nothing; she had hardly noticed it. It was not merely sadness at the knowledge that nobody was waiting for her: that had no importance; and she was used to it, anyhow. It was a deep-seated feeling of utter powerlessness at the same time as of total revolt that caught hold of her once more, stronger than ever. She knew she was now in London. And that city, that she had visited several times long before, and that she had loved, now appeared to her as nothing more and nothing less than the centre from which destruction had descended upon all that had meant anything to her: the starting point of the thousands of bombers which had broken the resistance of the State of her dreams (already before the double wave of converging invaders had closed itself over its smoking ruins). And she loathed the monstrous nest of hypocrisy, blind hatred and stupidity.
Had the finest of those proud S.S. men, whom she looked upon as more-than-human beings, suddenly stood before her and asked her to love the English in spite of all — for the sake of the love which Adolf Hitler had shown them to the very end; for the sake of the yet unborn generations of theirs, that would, one day (never mind when), join the rest of Europe in the tardy exaltation of all he had said and done; — had he, nay, ordered her to love them in her dear Führer’s name, she doubtless would have tried to obey (for she valued nothing as much as discipline) but probably would have failed to do so. The bitterness that filled her heart would have silenced every other feeling. It already threw a shadow even upon her unconditional faith in the Man she worshipped: as she stepped out of Waterloo Station into the street, she could not help seeing, in every one of the rare passersby, a person who was glad that National Socialist Germany was now crushed. And she would keep on thinking of the soldiers of the British Expeditionary Corps of 1940, and wondering, for the thousandth
time, against her better sense: “Why didn’t he have them all killed off on their way to Dunkirk, and land, and end the war victoriously, then and there?”
No, not even the finest of her German comrades would have succeeded in delivering her from that obsessing, heretical question.
* * *
But there were no German National Socialists in England in 1945, save prisoners of war, all of them away from London, — and no English ones, save a handful of “18Bs,” nearly all in internment. It was not a person that suddenly walked out of the night, straight up to the life-long fighter for Aryan racialism, but . . . an enormous, ginger-coloured cat — Sandy!
Stately, and supremely graceful, his brushy tail erect, up he came, as though something had been drawing him to that apparently unknown woman. He did not himself realise what was attracting him: human beings do not remember their former lives, let alone cats! But one thing he did realise, and that was that the attraction was irresistible. He started purring as he came nearer the one in whose lap he had so often lain, in days bygone; in whose arms he had died his latest death, nearly two years before. Not that he remembered. I repeat: cats don’t. He merely felt as though enchanted at the sight of her, and happier and happier as he entered her field of radiance, and drew nearer and nearer to her.
She caught sight of him and halted in the middle of the lonely footpath; put down her suitcase and travelling bag and spoke to the magnificent creature: “My puss! My stripy velvet!” He was now at her feet, looking up to her, rubbing his round silky head, with amber-coloured eyes, against her legs. She stooped and stroked him; at the contact of her hand his supple back undulated. She picked him up carefully and held him against her breast. “My purring fur!” she whispered, as she continued caressing him. He stretched out a powerful paw, and began clawing for pleasure into the wool of her scarf.
How heavy he was! And how thick and glossy was his coat! Heliodora suddenly recalled the hundreds of poor, emaciated cats she had been seeing for so many years in the streets of Calcutta and of every Indian town, — and even more so in every town of the Near and Middle East that she knew and in the South of Europe; poor emaciated cats that used to run away at the approach of a human being, and that it used to take days, often weeks to tame,
so deep was the terror of man within their blood. This one was obviously well-fed and well-loved. He seemed accustomed to human caresses . . . And a fact dawned upon the woman’s mind — a simple, trivial fact which at once appeared to her as all-important and full of meaning: this cat belonged to English people, and they were kind to him.
And what the best among her brothers in faith, what even those whom she revered as her superiors could probably not have achieved at that time, — November, 1945, — the innocent beast, utterly unaware of human affairs, did without difficulty: through the mere contrast between his fine condition and that of animals in countries in which Aryan blood is absent, or less pure than in Northern Europe, he gave Heliodora back her sincere consciousness of the oneness of the Nordic race, in spite of all the horrors of recent fratricidal war. In a flash, she recalled the godlike Man whose decisions she had dared question, in the secrecy of her mind; whose wisdom she had been on the brink of criticising. “My beloved Führer,” thought she, as a tear rolled down her cheek into the cat’s warm winter fur, “you were a hundred thousand times right in sparing them at Dunkirk; you were right in holding out your hand to them to the last. Forgive me my folly. Forgive me my rebellion! Great One, you were right — always right!”
And she held Sandy tighter in her arms, and stroked him more lovingly. A sort of silent dialogue took place, on that cold London night, between the dedicated woman and the feline, who had nothing but the testimony of his beauty to oppose to the heaviest accusations against the people among whom he had grown up.
“It is true that they started the war,” Heliodora could not help thinking, even after her first impulse of reconciliation, for hatred, and especially righteous hatred, is difficult to kill.
“Prrr, prrr, prrr,” purred the cat; “but they fed me. They fed me well, in spite of the rationing: see how sleek I am, and what a splendid coat I have! Prrr, prrr, prrr . . . They deprived themselves to feed me. They are good people, I tell you . . .”
“It is true that they hate all we love,” thought the woman. “They hate our Leader; they hate his beloved Germany and her gospel of health, pride and power . . .”
“Prrr, prrr, prrr,” purred back the cat; “but they love me; they love us; they are good and kind to us. Prrr, prrr, prrr, you mustn’t hate them, you cannot hate them, if you love us.”
“It is true that they have destroyed Europe” . . . That thought would keep on coming back to Adolf Hitler’s disciple.
“They have poured streams of fire over Germany; betrayed their own race; identified themselves with its worst enemies . . .”
“Prrr, prrr, prrr,” purred back the cat; “that is because they had been (as they are still being) misled, deceived. But one day they shall wake up from their delusion, turn against their bad shepherds, and help the people of their own blood to build up a new Europe — the very Europe of your dreams, in which we creatures will all be happy — for they are good people at heart; good people like Aryans generally are, taken as a whole. Prrr, prrr, prrr . . . The proof of it is that they have taken such good care of me! Prrrrrrrrr . . .”
“O Cat, you are right,” agreed at last the tough old racialist. “Deeper and more everlasting than what people ‘do’ is what people are: the quality of their blood, which manifests itself in little actions of everyday life. You are right: propagandas come and go; the virtues of the blood remain. “They” were deceived into waging war upon their brothers, but you, my beauty, you they loved spontaneously, without being induced to — because men of their race are naturally inclined to kindness.”
And the woman stooped down, laid the cat in her lap, and softly took his big round head in both her hands. And the cat purred and purred, and drew his claws in and out, in and out, and nestled against her, as though he had never known any other caresses but hers. Time flew, and passersby became scarcer and scarcer.
Then, on the ground floor of a neighbouring house, a door was opened. And in the light that flooded the footpath, Heliodora saw a kind-looking young woman and a six or seven-year old golden-haired little girl. The mother called: “Sandy, Sandy, where are you my pet?” And the child, pointing to the cat in the stranger’s lap, across the street, cried out: “There he is, mummy! The lady has taken him . . .” and ran to fetch him. Heliodora, leaving her things where they were, stood up with Sandy in her arms, and carried him back to his owners.
“He is so beautiful that I could not help picking him up and stroking him,” she said. “I love cats.”
“And so do we,” answered the kind-looking woman. This one was born at our fireside some two years ago. He is a beauty, isn’t he?”
“He is my cat,” said the child. “He sleeps with me. And his mother sleeps on a cushion in her basket.”
The door was closed again. And Heliodora went her way with her suitcase and travelling bag. The night was cold; the future uncertain. She did not even know where she
would sleep, just then, let alone how and where she would manage to settle down — and how she would then find an opportunity of going to Germany. But that meeting with the cat that she knew so well, and yet that she could not recognise, had filled her with renewed self-confidence. She was grateful — so grateful — to the lovely and loving beast for having been the instrument of her regaining her old, rigid, National Socialist orthodoxy: that unquestioning acceptance of anything the Führer had said, done or ordered. Thanks to that cat, she now felt sure her Leader was infallible; infallible in spite of defeat; in spite of hundreds of miles of ruins and millions of “displaced persons,” not to speak of the dead. Generations of blond, blue-eyed children, as good and kind as the little girl she had just met, would honour him as their invisible Leader, in times yet to come, times without end . . .
“O Cat,” thought she; “had I to learn that from you?” And she felt small — but strong in spite of all, in the consciousness of unshaken faith.