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Heliodora and Black Velvet




Chapter 10


Heliodora could no more forget the animals, and especially the cats, that had come into her life, than Sandy had been able to forget her. There was, of course, a great difference: she had been the great event in Sandy’s life, as in Long-whiskers’, and in Sadhu’s, and in that of so many other cats (and dogs) that she had saved from misery. In her life, the great thing was the struggle for the defence of the Third German Reich and, beyond the Reich, for the defence of Aryan man. It exceeded by far the boundaries of the feline world, however much she loved the latter. And yet . . . One would not remain in keeping with actual facts, were one not to point out what an enormous part animals had played in the shaping of the woman’s whole outlook: her love for them had been — coupled with her natural propensity to go to extremes — the main origin of her wholehearted acceptance of the National Socialist values as well as of the methods which the enemies of the régime called “inhuman.” It had, first and foremost, been her main protection against every sort of anti-Nazi and even — long before the nineteen-thirties, during the first World War, — against every sort of anti-German propaganda. When people had told her, as a child, that the Germans were “monsters” who used to “chop off children’s hands,” she had simply answered that it “served the children right” — for she had seen many of them tormenting living creatures, especially insects, or pinning live butterflies upon pieces of cardboard. Her early knowledge of the horrors of vivisection and, even before that, the everyday sight of quarters of meat hanging before butchers’ shops, had set her definitely against any exaltation of “man” and the “rights of the human person,” and made her indifferent, nay, ostentatiously, provocatively indifferent, to any tortures inflicted upon what she called “two-legged mammals,” save when these happened to be people she particularly admired, individually or collectively, mostly people who shared her ideas.

Not only had she never felt the slightest sympathy for the “poor Jews” and other alleged “victims of Nazi tyranny,” as we have already stated in the beginning of


this story, but she had, from the very start, taken pride in proclaiming to whomever cared to hear her, that this attitude of hers did not proceed merely from the fact that she considered Jews as a dangerous lot. She admitted that, taken individually, they were not all necessarily dangerous, — unless one believed (as she in fact did) in the power of thought, in which case every anti-Nazi, even the apparently most harmless, was to be considered dangerous. And yet, she had no sympathy for them. And she told people so. It pleased her to fling into their faces that boisterous denial of human solidarity, as a life-long protest against man’s almost universal indifference to the daily crimes against life perpetrated all over the world by slaughterers, trappers, hunters, circus men and vivisectors.

“As long as the thought of slaughterhouses and vivisection chambers does not keep you awake all night,” she told whomever cared to speak to her, “concentration camps and ‘Gestapo methods’ of cross-examination shall not disturb me — on the contrary!”

And when some interlocutor would dare point out that “the victims, here, were human beings,” she would merely answer: “Of course. And why not? Human beings are or can become dangerous to our Cause; animals, never.”

Such was the attitude Heliodora had kept before and throughout the war. After the war, she became, in her bitterness, still more aggressive, more defiant. To every item of post-war anti-Nazi propaganda, she had an answer. To an English woman who had ventured to mention before her Ilse Koch’s alleged “lampshades made out of human skins,” she replied: “And what? I’ll condescend to listen to you when I hear you have broken the windows of all the fur shops in London, and helped to lynch the fur traders, — not before! In that lampshade story, the victims, — if they ever existed, — are not said to have been captured just for their skins, as far as I know.”

In Iceland, in Norway, in Sweden, in England, in France, wherever she went, she stood up for the German doctors tried and hanged for having practiced euthanasia upon incurable patients or for having performed experiments upon inmates of concentration camps. “A world that censures such actions and that, on the other hand, encourages vivisection and glorifies such fellows as Pasteur, does not deserve to live,” declared she. And she fully meant whatever she said. She defied “public opinion” — or rather the opinion dictated to the public by newspapers, films and wireless alike, and backed by what she called “the Christian superstition.” Defiance was, in her case, the most obvious consequence of repeated self-assertion. And


repeated self-assertion was the only pleasure left to her in the dreary, post-war world; the world of Germany’s “re-education.”

In Germany itself, she found oral defiance was not enough, and resorted to open counter-propaganda in defence of National Socialism. She would have resorted to direct, violent action against the “re-educators,” had it been materially possible: nothing short of that could really have expressed all her contempt for them and their “human values.” But oral and written provocation, several months long, was enough to land her into trouble. On one fine February night, in 1949, she was arrested and ushered into a dark, damp cell, and left there to wait for the sweet will of the authorities and to meditate upon the price one must pay for the pleasure of supporting, with all its implications, a life-centred faith of political import, in a world ruled according to man-centred principles.

* * *

Heliodora was quite happy in her dark, damp cell. Never had she indeed been so happy, since the day she had, in Calcutta, heard hopeful news of the war for the last time. Her coming trial was to give her an opportunity of defying, before a real audience, those man-centred principles which she hated, and of glorifying in public the one great Man who, like herself, had placed a beautiful, healthy police dog high above a degenerate human being.

In the far-away old room in Calcutta, however, the room with the broad, sunny verandah, full of green plants, thirteen-year-old Sadhu, the last of her cats, was dying — dying of feline distemper, as so many cats do, in India; dying also of dreariness, of loneliness, now that his companion, Lalu, had gone, two years before, never to come: back; dying of despair, after having waited some three-and-a-half years for that which his poor ageing cat’s head could not clearly define, but which his whole being longed for: the old, loving presence about the room; the old lap, in which he used to lie and purr; the hands that used to smooth down his glossy coat; her — the “Two-legged goddess.” The friend in whose care she had left him was kind to him: he used to feed him; and stroke him, occasionally. But it was not the same as “her” caresses. So poor Sadhu died — as Sandy was to die some years later — with the persistent yearning for her. And his loving cat-soul came and tried to make her feel its presence in the dark cell. She was too absorbed by other thoughts to become aware of anything such as a furry contact or a purr, but she did


suddenly think of the cats she had left in Calcutta, and in particular of Sadhu. “Where can they be, now?” she thought. “And where can he be?” She imagined him basking in the sunshine, on the verandah, with Lalu, of whose loss nobody had informed her. And something told her that she would never see either — or, in fact, any, — of them again.

Several months later, in jail, it so happened that she was, after a search in her cell, brought before the British governor of the prison who — to her utmost pleasure and pride — declared her to be “the most objectionable type of Nazi” he “had ever come across.” Had she remained “natural,” she would have turned to him a beaming face — for this was, in her eyes, the greatest compliment an opponent could pay her. But she had to “put up a show” in order not to rouse the Governor’s anger, for upon his decision depended the conservation or destruction of certain papers found in her cell. In order to bring for a second, tears into her own eyes, she thought of Sadhu — not knowing that he was dead.

* * *

Time passed . . . And thanks to the shallowness of the Western Allies, who do not take the hostility of sincere enemies too seriously, when these are poor and powerless, Heliodora was released.

In early 1954, she was living in the outskirts of a little Westphalian town, in a tiny room on the first floor, the window of which opened upon a landscape of bushes and fields. In front of her door ran a passage, at the end of which was the staircase. Her next-door neighbour generally used to leave her baby’s perambulator on the landing.

One evening, as Heliodora came home, she found a young black cat comfortably curled up upon the cushions in the “pram.” She knew her neighbour had no cats, and wondered wherefrom this one had come. She could not help stroking him. He purred in response. She picked him up. He purred louder. She carried him into her room; warmed a little milk for him, which he lapped. She had no meat to give him, as she ate none herself, but she gave him some cheese, which he seemed to enjoy.

She examined him as she stroked him. He was a pitch-black young tom, with already powerful paws and a round, tigerish head. On his chest, like on Sadhu’s, there was one tiny white spot — the only one on his whole body. He strongly reminded her of Sadhu. “Are you really he, come back to me?” wondered she, as she put a kiss upon his


head. (She had been told in a letter, after her release, that Sadhu had died). The loving creature purred, so as to say: “I am; — and I have already spent a short cat’s life in search of you. Now I was born again, less than three months ago. And at last, here you are! Don’t abandon me! Keep me! Prrr, prrr, prrr . . .”

Heliodora kept him and called him “Schwarzer Samt” — “Black Velvet” — for that is what he was: a supple, black velvet body, with golden eyes. His instinct had told him at once that this two-legged creature wanted him; that she was the one he had, all the time, vaguely felt he had been seeking, before, between, and after two deaths at least. He jumped upon the woman’s bed and nestled against her body, with his head and two front paws upon her arm. And he purred himself to sleep as she stroked him.

The next day, she bought him some pork liver, which he gulped down greedily. She also put in a corner a big flat tin full of fresh, clean sand, the purpose of which Black Velvet immediately understood. In the afternoon, she left the room. And the cat made himself comfortable upon a cushion by the fire and dozed until she returned. He now knew that he had nothing to fear; that he was her cat and that she would always come back to him — never abandon him; never give him away save (if ever necessity be) to a second herself.

* * *

And he was not mistaken. In the evening, she came back with another piece of pork liver, and another pint of creamy milk for him: ready to receive him in her arms when he had eaten and drunk; and willing to smooth him down and make him purr. And the following day, and every day that came afterwards, it was the same. Black Velvet, who lived in the passing instant, was supremely happy. And so was Heliodora when she did not happen to think of the future.

Black Velvet loved jumping upon her writing table and lying his whole length, flat upon her papers; and also putting out his paw, and trying to catch her pen when she was writing. She would never turn him down; never show him any sign of impatience. At the most, she would softly pull her paper from under him, in order to continue writing, — and at the same time, pass her long white hand over his fur. Or she would stop writing for a while, and tenderly look into his large yellow eyes, as she once used to into Sadhu’s. She did not know that he was Sadhu himself,


reborn for the second time since his death in Calcutta. But she loved him just as much as if she had known. She loved him as she loved all felines, big and small — the creatures she felt herself the most attracted to, after her human brothers in faith. (In fact, she was more unconditionally attracted to the former, as, in their case, no ideological considerations were at the root of her love.)

* * *

One fine winter morning, on the 16th of December, 1954, there was a hard knock at the door. Black Velvet, who scented danger, jumped from the bed to the table and from the table to the top of the wardrobe and into an old tin which had once contained some twenty kilos of marmalade, but which now lay empty and useless in that high place, looking over the whole room. The tin was just wide enough to hold Black Velvet, curled into a ball of fur, his legs folded under him. But it was deep; and the cat felt safe at the bottom of it.

From that dark, metallic shelter, he heard his mistress get up, throw a dressing gown over her shoulders, and open the door. Then he heard footsteps upon the floor — footsteps that sounded heavy, and many. And the door was closed again. Then there were voices: Heliodora’s, and three others: men’s voices. Black Velvet was surprised not to hear more than three: from the noise of the footsteps, — to which he was not accustomed — it had seemed to him as though a whole battalion had entered the room.

He listened. Through the resounding walls of his hiding place, the voices reached him, amplified. But they were not angry voices; apparently, the newcomers were not intent on doing Heliodora any harm — at least, so it appeared to Black Velvet, from his exalted post of observation.

After a while, the cat decided to look and see for himself what was going on — since it now seemed quite clear that he had been mistaken in presuming danger, and since it was, anyhow, beginning to get too hot in his shelter, at the bottom of which there were old papers. So he raised himself upon his hind-legs, put his front-paws on the border of the tin, and “looked out,” — looked down upon the happenings in the room. There was his mistress in her blue dressing gown, sitting on the bed opposite him; two men were seated, each one on one of the only two chairs available, while a third man — a stout, round-headed

“Nothing but a ‘black panther’” (p. 81)


blond, — was standing in front of the wardrobe, exactly below Black Velvet’s jam tin.

The men, who were policemen, were putting questions to Heliodora. One of them was pointing to Adolf Hitler’s picture upon her night table, — in fact, to the only picture in the room, — as to a proof that the “ominous reports” against the woman — the reports describing her as a “dangerous underground fighter for Nazism,” — were all-too-accurate. Heliodora was answering with the detachment of those who have nothing to lose: “Of course I am His disciple! I have never denied I was. Only . . . I am not ‘dangerous’, much as I would like to be: most unfortunately, I have not the slightest power.”

From the normal, not unfriendly tone of the voices, Black Velvet surmised that there could be no objection to his coming down, and curling himself up once more in the depth of the eiderdown — so much more comfortable than the bottom of the jam tin, even lined with newspapers. His usual landing place, when springing from the top of the wardrobe, was Heliodora’s writing table. But now, the stout, blond man’s powerful skull provided a convenient intermediary landmark along the downward trajectory. The stately representative of re-educated Germany’s coercive forces was suddenly shaken by an altogether unexpected bulk, falling, with strange elasticity, upon his head, and jumping off again, while Heliodora could not repress a fleeting smile.

“Ai, ai! Was ist das?” shouted the man, not even noticing, in his amazement, that the cat, that had been among the papers on the table half a second before, had now leaped onto the eiderdown.

“Nothing but a ‘black panther’,” replied the unrepenting fighter. “But,” she added, knowing that this name was often (symbolically) used to designate S.S. men, “no fear! It is only a four-legged one!”

The three men had to admire the magnificent cat, now gracefully nestling in the depth of the feather cushion. One of them asked Heliodora whether he was hers.

“Yes, of course,” said she.

“And what do you feed him on, that he is so sleek and glossy?” asked another.

“Pork liver, and milk. He won’t touch anything else,” was the reply.

It was an accurate statement, but an undiplomatic one, — for after that Heliodora had all the trouble in the world to convince the three policemen — average men, like policemen generally are, all over the earth — that she was merely telling the truth when she declared not having any other


income but the ninety marks which a kind soul used to send her every month from India.

“You could not possibly spend so much money on your cat’s food, if you only had that!” they told her. And as the truth does not always sound true, they had great difficulty in believing that she actually fed herself on potatoes and macaroni, and was none the worse for it.

* * *

After thoroughly searching the little room, — which did not take long, — the three men bade Heliodora follow them in their car. She was to undergo a ten hours’ cross-examination. For the first time, Black Velvet was all alone the whole day.

At first, he slept. Then, he sat upon the windowsill, and busied himself watching the landlord’s lovely white turtledoves, that stood in a row, on the border of the roof. It was not their beauty that roused his interest, but the atavistic propensity of the feline to catch birds. Unfortunately (for him) the window was closed. He could at most follow the doves’ movements through the glass pane, making unusual, quivering noises with his mouth, while his whiskers stood out straight. Then the birds disappeared within their shelter, and there was a change in the quality of daylight: the Sun was getting low. Black Velvet now started watching the street below. It was at such a time, more or less, that she generally used to come and bring him his food. He waited and waited to see her on the opposite footpath, to hear her footsteps in the staircase, and the noise of the key in the keyhole. But he heard nothing. And she did not come.

At nightfall, Black Velvet stirred. Was it she, at last? The door was flung open; but it was not she. It was Henny, one of the landlady’s daughters, who had come in with a dish of pork liver and a cup full of milk for the cat. Heliodora, before going, had requested her to feed him and left her the keys of the room.

Henny loved Black Velvet. And of all people she was, after Heliodora, the one Black Velvet loved the most. She stooped to pick him up in her arms, and she stroked him until she felt, under the thick, warm, glossy coat, the vibration of a responsive purr. When the cat had eaten his food and drunk his milk, she seated herself upon a chair in the midst of heaps of papers and books — the room was topsy-turvy after the policemen’s search — and for a long time, kept him upon her lap. When he had finally


purred himself to sleep, she softly placed him upon the eiderdown, and discreetly went away.

He was still fast asleep when Heliodora came back, at 10 p.m. or so. She put down another saucer full of liver — the rest of the cat’s daily ration, which the landlady had kept for him in her “fridge” — and went straight to him. She did not pick him up, not wanting to disturb him. But she lay her cheek upon his fur, — deep down, in the warmth of the eiderdown, where he had curled himself up, — and stroked him. Slowly, from the soft, living cushion, rose a purr; then, the golden eyes half-opened, gazed lovingly into her black eyes, and closed themselves again, while a velvet paw stretched towards her, drawing its claws in and out, rhythmically. Then the whole cushion moved into a new position — head upside down, and front paws across the chin — and the purr became more subdued and more regular. Now that he knew she was back, now that he had seen her and felt her, Black Velvet could safely sink into the delight of a peaceful sleep. He had nothing to fear. For him, life would continue as before.

* * *

It continued: in the eiderdown (or in Heliodora’s lap, when she was home) practically the whole day long; in the vastness of the world beyond house and street — over expanses covered with snow, or, soon, with grass and flowers, or growing corn; in the mysterious shade of hedge and bush; up tree trunks and, occasionally, up some smooth, vertical, telegraph post, from the top of which Black Velvet mewed and mewed before he could make up his mind to come down again — all night, till four or five in the morning.

Heliodora used to write at night, as everything was calm and quiet, and congenial to thought, — but she would interrupt her work once, twice, or more, and go down into the garden behind the house, and often into the field beyond the garden, to see what Black Velvet was doing. She would call him. But he was far too happy, frolicking in the moonlight, to wish to come so soon. He would merely rush towards her, until he was within her sight, and then give out a strange mew, as though to say “Here I am!,” and rush back into freedom; or he would lie down somewhere, be it in the shadow of a huge cabbage, be it on the branch of some tree — and look at her mischievously, but not stir. At last, — when daybreak was drawing nigh, and she would come for the third or fourth time, — he would run to her, climb up her body, and seat himself


upon her shoulders for her to carry him home. There, alter eating the food she had cooked for him, he would wait till she had put out the light and gone to bed, and jump up, and work himself into the warm nest, under the quilts, and lie at her side, purring and purring. And he would place his icy-cold paws one after the other into her loving hands, for her to hold them and warm them.

He was as happy as he could be, and his mistress also — to the extent there still could be any “happiness” for her after the disaster of 1945.

Then came a change: the landlord needed Heliodora’s little room, and asked her to leave. She found nobody willing to lodge her with Black Velvet and was thus compelled to part from him. But she would at least give him as good a home as she possibly could. She wrote to all the cat lovers she could think of, in and outside Germany, and waited anxiously for their suggestions. The best reply came from an old friend of hers, who lived in the centre of France, who had a garden, and who was prepared to take charge of Black Velvet completely, in case of need. Heliodora knew that nowhere on earth her pet would be as well loved and cared for as in that woman’s home. So she laid the cat upon a cushion, in a basket more than big enough for him, and carried him to France. It broke her heart to leave the little room where she had been living so happily with him, for over two years, and the peaceful little township to which she had become accustomed. But there was nothing else she could do.

And thus, — after a long train journey, during which he was “as good as gold” — Black Velvet became the finest tom-cat in a lovely French village nearly three thousand feet above sea level, surrounded with fragrant fir tree woods. After entrusting him to the kind friend who was henceforth to take care of him, Heliodora stooped down before the bed upon which he had stretched himself as naturally as if he had known the house for years. She put her arms round him, and kissed his black, soft, thick fur. He purred in response, as he always had. And she, with tears in her eyes, — yet, released, at heart, knowing she was leaving her pet in good hands, — went back to the land of her dreams; the land of her comrades and superiors who were keeping alive the flame of National Socialist faith, and who would one day (she hoped), seize power once more and rule the West.

She did not know she was never to hold Black Velvet in her arms again.