We live in times when the only feline creatures we happen to know are from the realm of cat-toons. We know Doraemon, Felix, Garfield, Tom and Top Cat, to name just a few. Their eccentricities we adore. Their haughtiness we endure. Their ingenuity makes our spirits soar. Their ruthless manner in handling mice of all kinds we ignore. To put it simply, in a world dominated by TV and internet, they have become a part of folklore.
Now, one does not mean to offend any of these personalities whose intrinsic felineness is rather unmistakable. But there are several others from the realm of literature who are no less admirable. They were born in times when the printed word was ruling the roost. They have left an indelible impression on the minds and psyches of several generations. They have exemplified the traits of bosses and the bossed-over alike. Surely, once in a while, they also deserve to be remembered, honored and feted for having shaped the mindset of humanity.
Take the case of Plumsville. The feline creatures we meet here have sterling qualities of head and heart. Almost all of them wish their privacy to be respected. Some are outright lazy and must have their twenty-three hours of beauty sleep. Some love being tickled beneath the ears before extending a paw of friendship. Others would go to any lengths to ensure that they get their daily dose of vitamins.
Some of them believe in the power of collective bargaining. They tend to assemble under the bed of an eligible bachelor and end up ensuring that his betrothal to a female lion tamer gets scratched. Some exercise great influence over horses, making them win or lose races for their masters.
For those of us who wish to shake a friendly paw with them, here is a quick recap.
The Burden of Snootiness
All feline creatures find it difficult to forget that in some ancient civilizations, they were revered as gods.
(The Story of Webster, Mulliner Nights)
One can readily understand the burden of snootiness they carry on their slender shoulders. Perhaps, this also explains the high-handed behavior they exhibit when dealing with humans.
When a Fish wants an Apology
Fans of Bertie Wooster shall forever remain in debt of the bunch of twenty-three cats found underneath his bed. Thanks to this bunch, Bertie could avoid the dreaded prospect of a saunter down the aisle with Honoria Glossop. (The Inimitable Jeeves)
I was about fed up with the whole thing. I mean, cats in your bedroom—a bit thick, what? I didn’t know how the dickens they had got in, but I was jolly well resolved that they weren’t going to stay picknicking there any longer. I flung open the door. I got a momentary flash of about a hundred and fifteen cats of all sizes and colours scrapping in the middle of the room, and then they all shot past me with a rush and out of the front door: and all that was left of the mob-scene was the head of a whacking big fish, lying on the carpet and staring up at me in a rather austere sort of way, as if it wanted a written explanation and apology.
‘No, she’s got a lunch date. She’s browsing with Sir Roderick Glossop, the loony-doctor. You don’t know him, do you?’
‘Only from hearing you speak of him. A tough egg, I gather.’
‘One of the toughest.’
‘He was the chap, wasn’t he, who found the twenty-four cats in your bedroom?’
‘Twenty-three,’ I corrected. I like to get things right. ‘They were not my cats. They had been deposited there by my Cousins Claude and Eustace. But I found them difficult to explain. He’s a rather bad listener. I hope I shan’t find him at Brinkley, too.’
Suffering from Traumatic Symplegia
In Jeeves in the Offing, we get introduced to the inimitable Augustus. When it comes to a choice between hunting mice and catching up on his sleep, his priorities are very clear.
‘I thought as much, or you would be aware that Augustus is a broken reed to lean on in the matter of catching mice. My own acquaintance with him is a longstanding one, and I have come to know his psychology from soup to nuts. He hasn’t caught a mouse since he was a slip of a kitten. Except when eating, he does nothing but sleep. Lethargic is the word that springs to the lips. If you cast an eye on him, you will see that he’s asleep now.’
‘Coo! So he is.’
‘It’s a sort of disease. There’s a scientific name for it. Trau-something. Traumatic symplegia, that’s it. This cat has traumatic symplegia. In other words, putting it in simple language adapted to the lay mind, where other cats are content to get their eight hours, Augustus wants his twenty-four. If you will be ruled by me, you will abandon the whole project and take him back to the kitchen. You’re simply wasting your time here.’
Then we have the scene depicting an encounter between Augustus and Poppet which gets played out by the side of a lake. The Rev. Aubrey Upjohn, his step-daughter Phyllis, Bobbie Wickham, Wilbert Cream, Kipper and Bertie Wooster have gathered there. As per plans, Bertie is to shove Upjohn into the water, followed by Kipper diving in and saving him. This, it is hoped, would improve the chances of Kipper persuading Upjohn to withdraw the libel case he is planning in connection with a derogatory review Kipper has written of an article of his.
At the moment when Augustus touched ground and curling himself into a ball fell into a light doze, Poppet had completed his tenth lap and was preparing to start on his eleventh. Seeing Augustus, he halted in mid-stride, smiled broadly, turned his ears inside-out, stuck his tail straight up at right angles to the parent body and bounded forward, barking merrily.
I could have told the silly ass his attitude was all wrong. Roused abruptly from slumber, the most easygoing cat is apt to wake up cross. Already Augustus had had much to endure from Phyllis, who had doubtless jerked him out of dreamland when scooping him up in the garden, and all this noise and heartiness breaking out just as he dropped off again put the lid on his sullen mood.
He spat peevishly, there was a sharp yelp, and something long and brown came shooting between my legs, precipitating itself and me into the depths. The waters closed about me, and for an instant I knew no more.
The Object of a high-bred Horse’s Affections
To recover from pink spots, Bertie goes to Maiden Eggesford in Somerset, with its two leading men, Jimmy Briscoe and Pop Cook, their respective horses, Simla and Potato Chip, and their dark rivalry. Aunt Dahlia, a friend of Jimmy Briscoe, has bet on Simla only to find that it isn’t a cinch. Bertie is annoyed to see old enemy Major Plank (previously met in Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves) in residence with Vanessa Cook and her Pop Cook. The latter takes an instant dislike to Bertie when he is found tickling a passing cat which is a favorite of his horse Potato Chip.
Highly bred horses like Potato Chip often develop a strong affection for either a goat or a sheep. In this narrative, the object of his affections is a cat which sleeps in his stall and is there to meet him when he returns from his daily exercise. In the cat’s absence, Potato Chip becomes listless and even refuses any nourishment offered.
We do not get to learn the cat’s name, but Bertie describes his first encounter as follows:
It was a cat of rather individual appearance, being black in its general color scheme but with splashes of white about the ribs and also on the tip of its nose. I chirruped and twiddled my fingers, as is my custom on these occasions, and it advanced with its tail up and rubbed its nose against my leg in a manner that indicated clearly that in Bertram Wooster it was convinced that it had found a kindred soul and one of the boys.
I scratched this one behind the ear, and it received the attention with obvious gratification, purring like the rumble of distant thunder.
Things get muddy when Aunt Dahlia gets a neighborhood poacher to steal the cat in the hope to impede its horse friend, embroiling Bertie in the to-do.
As always, Jeeves rises to the occasion. Thanks to him, Bertie avoids getting married to Vanessa Cook. He also avoids getting into the bad books of Aunt Dahlia.
Ever met a cat who has a black heart hidden by a sleek coat of tabby fur? We would consider stroking one such cat a luxury, little knowing that its shapely head hides a scheming brain. Moreover, like other members of its species, this cat has a conscience as well.
The struggle between Prater’s cat and Prater’s cat’s conscience was short, and ended in the hollowest of victories for the former. The conscience really had no sort of chance from the beginning.
When a can of sardines is found empty on the premises, investigations of a Sherlock-Watson nature are undertaken. Considering the harsh reality that the alleged culprit troops in without knocking, different ways to get rid of the feline menace get deliberated upon.
At tea on the following evening the first really serious engagement of the campaign took place. The cat strolled into the team room in the patronising way characteristic of his kind, but was heavily shelled with lump sugar, and beat a rapid retreat… From that moment its paw was against every man, and the tale of the things it stole is too terrible to relate in detail. Like Death in the poem, it knocked at the doors of the highest and the lowest alike. Or rather, it did not exactly knock. It came in without knocking.
In the hands of P G Wodehouse, animals display not only their intrinsic traits. They also acquire characteristics which set them apart from the rest of the crowd. Pigs charm us by their majestic manner. Dogs regale us with their propensity to bite the rozzers who disrupt the normal flow of our carefree lives.
Cats also get etched out with the attention to detail they deserve. They acquire personable traits. Pointy ears, whiskers, round eyes and a propensity to meow could, after all, also describe a person. But in Plumsville, cats evolve into real characters with a distinctive personality of their own, often surpassing human beings in more ways than one.
A real cat scene, so to say!