The Wheel of fortune

Señor Don Tomás Ricárdo, the husband of the Lady Puss whose Kitten I had been the means of saving, was one of the richest, and perhaps the noblest, Cats of all our tribe, residing in Norsarque.

He was very indignant when he heard from his Lady how nearly the darling of his family had been killed through the rudeness of a Bear, and he curled his whiskers and waved his tail in the excess of his anger. He did more than this; he went out among his friends, and, calling together a meeting of Cats, who were very numerous in the city, he made, as I heard, a speech which produced an immense effect upon them.

He commenced by saying that the Cat tribe was known (among themselves) to be the most ancient, the most noble, the most virtuous, the most courageous, and the most clever of all the animals who lived upon the face of the earth. (This was received with loud mews of satisfaction; and one enthusiastic Tom called out, "Cats for ever!") He then began to compare our race with other beasts generally, and, saying a good deal in favour of the Dogs, for a reason which will presently appear, yet still placing Cats in the first rank of created things, he went on to speak of Bears. Encouraged by the groans, which the mention of such disagreeable beasts occasioned, he boldly inveighed against the conduct of the Bear, then upon the throne; spoke of his favouritism in encouraging into the city so many of his tribe, and asked the meeting, in an injured tone, how they would feel when an entire army of these monstrous animals should march in and live upon the best of the land, while they, the Cats, would starve for want of the necessaries of life. (Of course the audience declared they should not like it at all, and uttered the most discordant cries to prove their assertion, amid which the same enthusiastic Tom exclaimed, "Down with the Bears!") His hearers being thus prepared to receive the most favourable accounts of the doings of Cats, and the most atrocious histories of the actions of Bears, Señor Don Tomás Ricárdo proceeded at once to the adventure of the morning, in which his Kitten had nearly been brought to an untimely end, and, although the mishap was quite as much due to the carelessness of the nurse as to the rudeness of the master of the band, he worked up such a wonderful picture, that the audience, thrilled with horror, soon after separated, with a determination to bear the tyranny of the Ursine Dynasty no longer.

I cannot tell what machinery was put in operation to produce the effects which shortly after ensued; but I suppose, in a place where beasts are fond of change and have very little to do, it is not difficult to get them to do mischief. It is certain that an alliance was formed between the Cats and Dogs of the city, who outnumbered together the rest of the inhabitants, and one fine day, about a week after the meeting just described, there was a revolution in Norsarque; the Bears who could not escape were torn to pieces by the enraged rebels, and after some hours' fighting, peace was restored, and Señor Don Tomás Ricárdo was elected King! Cats were appointed with Dogs to fill different offices of State, and all animals of these races were, as it is easy to imagine, in very high favour.

The change was a very important one to me. I had been on most friendly terms with Señora Dona Ricárdo ever since my saving her Kitten; and when her husband was appointed to his elevated dignity, and she herself became Queen, Her Majesty did not forget her former companions, but offered me the post of Puss of Honour!

Behold me now, from the wild little creature, robbing birds' nests and hunting rats, raised to the high dignity of attendant on a Queen! It is true, I was rather mortified to think that my elevation was due more to a mere combination of circumstances than to any merit of my own; but I consoled myself with the reflection that mine was not a solitary example, and that if we animals refused to enjoy the goods of fortune when they were thrown in our way, because we did not happen exactly to deserve them, there would be very few beasts who could enjoy anything at all.

His Majesty Don Tomás was ambitious of renown; and no sooner found himself upon the throne, than he proceeded to make a great many changes and reforms, which, though certainly very necessary, were far from pleasing to his subjects.

Her Majesty Dona Tomás was ambitious, too, but her reforms produced a very contrary effect; for as they referred to the dress of the female sex, which she laboured to make as showy and attractive as possible, every alteration was received with enthusiasm, and the more frequent the changes, the greater they were liked. She spent whole days in considering the propriety of long and short waists; she had many sleepless nights in thinking over some new fashion for a cloak; and the quantity of bonnets she spoiled before she got one to her mind, would have covered the heads of half the female inhabitants of Norsarque. The one she selected at last, curiously enough, did not cover the head at all, but sticking up in a very pretty way at the back of the neck, allowed the whole head to be visible. It was natural enough that the young Pussies, who had pretty faces and glossy hair, should think a fashion—which permitted them to show both to the admiring gaze of passers-by—a most delightful one; but it seemed strange to me at first that the old and ugly Cats should adopt it so eagerly. On thinking a second time, however, my surprise vanished; for, in the first place, you never could convince a Cat that she was not pretty or graceful or attractive in some way; and secondly, no female Cat ever seemed to know when she was old.

These were some of the brilliant days of my existence; but, alas! the most brilliant are always those which fade away the quickest. I said that the reforms of His Majesty were not received with the same pleasure as those carried out by the Queen. He had the good sense to observe that they were not liked; but was too proud to withdraw them when he had once declared that they should be carried through. Discontent increased daily,—a feeling said to be fomented by the Dogs, who were more dissatisfied than the rest, because, I suppose, they had received more;—murmurs were soon heard throughout the city; and another fine day, with the same rapidity which had marked the fall of the Bears and the elevation of the Cats, saw the Cats overthrown in their turn, and the Dogs,—those ungrateful Dogs!—raised in their place.

The same confusion occurred on this occasion as happened previously. His Majesty Don Tomás Ricárdo was strangled by a Cur, as he was escaping from the Palace; Her Majesty fled no one knew whither. The household ran off in every direction, and I took to flight with the rest. Fortunately Snubbini—who was a great favourite with everybody and had some friends among the dominant party—saved me from either violence or insult, and I was able to remain shut up in my own apartment until things were once more settled, and calm was restored.

When that event did occur, I resolved in my own mind to depart from Norsarque, and take my way back to the city of my birth, which I now felt a strong inclination to see again. The proposal seemed no less delightful to my faithful valet than it was agreeable to myself; but how far the thought of the effect which our fine clothes and foreign habits was to produce upon the good beasts of Caneville mixed itself up with our wish to return to our native country, I leave to the charitable to determine.

It was with a very different train that I took my departure from Norsarque to that with which I had entered it. Then Snub, with a single box upon his head, was my solitary attendant and my only luggage; now Snub, converted into Snubbini, my servant, multiplied by four, and my trunk by five, made no despicable figure. We carried with us all the necessaries for lodging at night and for refreshment during the day; and passing on by easy journeys, we arrived, in about three weeks, at Caneville.

How delightful did each well-known spot appear to me as I drew near and recognized its familiar feature! how fondly did I gaze upon each hill, each tree, which I had visited and loved in earlier days! with what a mixed feeling of gratitude, of pain, and pleasure, did I recline upon the soft grass, and, gazing on the city, pass in review the scenes and events which had occurred there, and in which I had been an actress! I have known many pleasures in the course of my life, but I count the return to one's country, after a long absence, as one of the purest and most satisfactory. I am not aware if the having left it with the shame of crime could destroy this delight; but I, who left mine with the feeling of disappointment and vexation, felt that it, at least, had no power to make my pleasure less; for the first few days of my return—during which I visited every old haunt, and every spot to which was attached a recollection—were perfectly happy.

Age creeps upon us all imperceptibly, and we are long before we can bring ourselves to confess that we are growing old: even when we say so, we flatter ourselves that we are yet strong and hearty, and have many years in store to live before we reach our resting-place. We may however generally discover we are no longer young by comparing the different effects produced on us by the same events at various periods of our existence; and if we find that we cease to attribute to them the same consequence with which we once invested them, we shall not be far wrong in looking upon our change of opinion as one of the proofs of our first youth being over. As I write these Memoirs, I cannot forbear smiling at many things to which, at the time they were acting, I attached a vast deal of importance. I remember, as if it were only yesterday, my first entrance into the streets of Caneville after my long absence abroad. I recollect, with wonderful accuracy, my having selected my most showy dress, my most fashionable mantle, my most delightful bonnet, with which to astonish the weak minds of the inhabitants of my native city. I remember glancing round with pride at Snubbini, who had put on his richest suit of livery, and who was strutting along with his gold-headed staff under his arm, and his nose straight before him. I remember, too, the satisfaction I experienced when, on drawing near my house, one of my former neighbours, who was reputed the richest and proudest Cat of the quarter, drew aside to let me pass, and made me a profound bow as I swept by!

I think I have learnt to be wiser since that time, and to appreciate things as they are, not by what they seem. It is long before vanity can be eradicated from the heart; but I do believe I managed to root out some of mine before my pretensions to youth and beauty were entirely departed. Solitary thought and study, stolen from the gaieties of the world, have taught me great truths; they have proved to me the more vividly the goodness of my deceased cousin, and the wisdom of her counsels. I have again aimed at being useful to my fellow-creatures; and although I have often failed, I have sometimes succeeded, and one success, in such a pursuit, outweighs a thousand failures. If I can only impress this truth upon one out of, I hope, my many readers, there may be some good even in a Cat's Tale.

Alfred Elwes


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