Sandy could not sleep, that night.
He was a thousand miles away from suspecting that he had just met the mistress he had loved in a former birth. Still less did he realise all that their meeting had meant to her. (How could he, poor beast? He had no idea of the war which had caused the death of millions of Two-legged ones and of so many creatures like himself, also. All the inconvenience it had given him had consisted in a certain number of trips to the cellar and back, in a basket — in which he had remained fairly quiet in spite of the noise. And as for Heliodora’s struggle with herself for the sake of ideological orthodoxy, that was something as far above his comprehension as angels’ psychology is beyond that of human beings, — if, of course, there be any such creatures as angels). But he knew that the adventure he had just lived had been the great event of his life. This woman was definitely not like any of the Two-legged ones whom he had known up till then. There was something powerful in her radiance, something irresistible in her touch; her caresses were not like those of the others: they were more-than-physical; they brought into one’s fur, and through the fur into one’s nerves, magnetic energies from an unknown world; they plunged one into a paradise of fervour and of tenderness beyond all expression — into an ocean of delight in which one lost all sense of time and place, and could only purr and purr, and stretch out one’s paws and push out and pull in one’s claws rhythmically . . . as in the far-gone days one had been a fluffy kitten nestling against one’s mother’s warm coat and sucking her milk; in which one could only purr and claw, purr and claw, and forget everything save the certitude of being alive, and of life being the same as pleasure. And when one half-awoke from one’s rapture, and saw those large dark eyes looking down into one’s own — those eyes in which there was such fire and, at the same time, such a depth of sadness, — one felt as though one wanted nothing else but to lose one’s self in their light. Sandy dimly remembered how those eloquent eyes had, at one time, let go two great liquid diamonds, like drops of dew, that had slowly fallen into his fur. He
. . . an enormous ginger-colored cat — Sandy! (p. 60)
remembered how the woman had then pressed him more lovingly in her arms, and rubbed her cheek against his silky round head.
He had known more about human kindness than most cats do, even in England; and as much about human beings’ coddlings as very few cats ever did in the world. But that more-than-feline and more-than-physical bliss in human arms, he had never yet known, and could never forget. That — the touch of a woman who was at the same time a cat-lover and a dedicated fighter for a more-than-human Idea — had no common measure with his former experiences.
So the familiar pleasures became dull, to him, and life dreary.
* * *
Everyone in the house used to pet him, above all little Elsie, in whose bed he used to sleep, but also Elsie’s mother and father and nearly every friend who came to pay them a visit. The ladies would pick him up and stroke him, and those who happened to see him for the first time could not help exclaiming, no sooner he walked into the sitting room “Oh, Mrs. Harrington, what a splendid cat you have!” One even added, one day: “You should exhibit him at the coming cat show. Surely he would get a prize.”
But Mrs. Harrington resented the idea.
“I’d rather him go without one than have him staying three days in a cage, poor Sandy,” said she. “Cats are not made to become exhibits — especially not this one!” And, smoothing down the feline’s thick, stripy coat, she asked jokingly: “Isn’t it so, my pet?”
Sandy looked up to her with eyes full of unaccountable sadness and yearning, and rubbed his head against her legs. She stroked him once more and asked him in a soft voice: “Well, my beauty, what is it? What do you want?” — for it was obvious to her that he wanted something, although she could not make out what . . . or whom.
“Miao!” answered the cat, as he glanced back at her with the same strange, sad look. And this meant: “I want . . . the one who stroked me six months ago; the . . . Two-legged goddess (what else can I call her? I don’t know her name). I want to lie in her arms once more!”
But Mrs. Harrington did not understand the subtleties of feline speech. She interpreted that “Miao!” to the best of her capacity, and thought it meant: “I want something more to eat.” So she went and gave Sandy an extra saucerful of fish. Sandy was not hungry. He smelt the fish and turned aside. Again he rubbed his head against his
mistress’ legs and said “Miao!” But again Mrs. Harrington could not understand him. Nor could little Elsie, who imagined the cat wanted to be fondled. Sandy loosened himself from the child’s embrace, and quietly walked out of the room.
A peculiar feeling of loneliness crept into him. The old hearth was still a warm place to lie by, curled up upon a cushion, on a chair, from which nobody would disturb him. And little Elsie’s bed was still as soft and comfortable as ever. But something was not the same. The strange woman with ardent dark eyes and long, white, pleasure-rousing hands — the Two-legged goddess — had crossed his life like a shadow. And nothing could, afterwards, be exactly the same. Everything was more or less dreary in the light of the unforgettable hour in Heliodora’s arms, or rather in that of the yearning which that hour had left.
* * *
Sometimes, Sandy would dream of her, and give out different sorts of mews in his sleep — smothered mews of contentment, when he dreamt he was in her lap, comfortably curled up, wild mews that sounded like mews of anguish, when he dreamt that she had gone away and left him and that he was roaming in search of her.
Kind Mrs. Harrington was at a loss to understand what to make out of those mews. To her, and to little Elsie, — who was growing up, as pretty as ever, — they were just the sign that the cat was dreaming. And what do human beings know about cats’ dreams? Half the time, they cannot even interpret their own properly. Mother and daughter often watched their sleeping pet. Little Elsie would put out her arms as though to comfort him, if the occasional mews happened to sound too doleful. But Mrs. Harrington would prevent her and say: “Don’t disturb him! How would you like to be disturbed when you are asleep?”
“But mummy, he’s having a bad dream, I tell you!” replied the young girl. And she would stroke the cat gently.
Sandy sometimes imagined it was the beloved and never forgotten hand, and felt so happy that he suddenly woke up . . . soon to fall back into his slumber, as though he wanted to escape the simple, serene, dreary reality; the kind, familiar faces without passion in their eyes; the familiar laps, that were comfortable enough, but not so full of such particular magnetism as felines alone are able to detect; the familiar caresses which, sweet as they were, lacked the indefinable vibrations to which he had once, and once only, responded, as that Two-legged one had held him
an hour long, in her arms, and stroked him, on the cold, lonely footpath, on that memorable, cold, lonely November night — that Two-legged one who, in him, had loved and caressed everlasting Catdom and who, apart from him and from it, used to love things not merely more-than-catlike but more-than-human, things in which, however, be it indirectly, he, the Cat, had his place . . .
Sandy was really happy — in spite of his dimmer and dimmer, yet, ever-persistent recollections, — only when he was busy picking out the pieces of liver in the portion of mashed liver and bread that Elsie or Mrs. Harrington used to serve out to him three times a day, or . . . chasing and catching black beetles in the scullery; or, when he had just come home after Smut — old Miss Tyrell’s pitch-black tom, who lived on the third floor, — had given him a proper “thrashing,” and chased him right down the staircase. Otherwise . . . — by the Big Cat, Lord of Destiny! — life was as dull as dull can be.
And yet it went on for years . . .
Many things changed in the house and in the neighbourhood — and no doubt also in the wide world beyond —: Sandy’s beautiful tortoise-shell coloured mother had died of old age, in spite of all the care both the “vet” and the Harringtons had given her; two of his brothers, whom Elsie had insisted on keeping, were now in the house: one white and yellow, one all yellow, but without stripes. And lately, a Two-legged one had brought in yet another cat: a strange thing with blue eyes and a creamy-coloured fur and dark-brown paws, head and tail (a Siamese) whom Sandy did not like. Would to God the creature had only come for a holiday! — for everyone used to make a fuss of him, and leave poor Sandy to feel lonelier than ever. Mrs. Harrington had even hit her old pet with the back of her hand — not too hard, admittedly; but it was the humiliation, not the slap, that was so painful — for having deliberately scratched the newcomer’s face.
And then, one day, the newcomer went away: the same Two-legged one who had brought him came to fetch him with a basket. He had, indeed, only come for a holiday (but why for such a long one? Sandy wondered. Anyhow, he was pleased the cat had gone). Then Smut got run over by a motorcar. And so did one of the young ginger brothers, a few days later; only the half-white one remained.
Little Elsie was now grown-up, — or seemed so to Sandy, who was not good at detecting how old two-legged creatures could be. Sandy himself was slowly ageing: he was beginning to feel somewhat stiff in the joints, and jumping
upon the mantelpiece or upon a shelf, was no longer such an easy job for him: nor was catching black beetles such an exciting pastime as before. Ordained by the rhythm of regular meals and sleep, and dreamy dozing by the fireside in winter, and Elsie’s and Mrs. Harrington’s occasional caresses, life passed peacefully — but without much interest, not to speak of adventure. Foggier and foggier as years rolled by, and yet, at times, suddenly so vivid, the memory of that hour of bliss in the arms of that strange woman persisted in the cat’s nerves.
* * *
Then came a time when Sandy had grown too weak to move, and lay upon a cushion, in what had once been his mother’s basket, — or upon Elsie’s bed, but not unless she would carry him there, for he could no longer jump. And he gradually lost his appetite, and would only lie quietly, his large amber eyes sometimes wide open, as though they were gazing at some dream-scenery, invisible to all save himself, sometimes completely closed. He still purred, when stroked; and that purr used to break kind Mrs. Harrington’s heart:
“Poor Sandy,” she would say: “he is getting thinner and thinner. It looks as though he won’t remain with us for long.”
And she called for the “vet.” But the “vet” diagnosed “old age,” and could do no more.
In November, 1955, exactly ten years after that night of bliss that he never could really forget, Sandy gave out an unusual mew, and stretched his paws convulsively just as he had twelve years before, on the verandah in Calcutta, in Heliodora’s lap. And before Mrs. Harrington had time to lift him up, he was dead. His amber eyes still looked as though they were staring at things invisible.
“My poor, poor Sandy!” cried Mrs. Harrington. And she wept. And so did Elsie, who had now become a beautiful damsel of sixteen springs. Even Mr. Harrington’s eyes grew moist as he helped to bury the cat’s body in the tiny courtyard behind the house, which they called “the garden.”
But Sandy’s soul, which was Long-whiskers’ soul and that of so many other cats (nay, that of millions of other creatures in the infinity of times bygone), went and wandered there where souls await their destiny.