"Oh no, not again! Mistoffelees! Mistoffelees!"
I had a perfect evening planned out and now this--my newest cat had disappeared. Hurriedly, I threw down my jeweled emerald-and-pearl headache band and ducked under the bed. "Mistoffelees!" I called again.
"Madam?" Hannah, the stiff and formal maid, seemed truly incredulous.
"Don't worry; I'm just looking for Mistoffelees, Hannah," I cried, ransacking my dresser drawers. She gave a startled and suspicious look. "I know, I know, I'm hurrying," I muttered. "But I just don't feel right allowing him to go unaccounted for. He's only a kitten. Have you seen him?"
Hannah grimaced. "Now--which one was Misty--Misto--?"
"Mistoffelees," I corrected, throwing my blouses on the bed as Hannah let out a cry and folded them neatly back into my drawers. "He's the little black one. Black from his ears to the tip of his tail."
Hannah scowled as she folded her arms. "Madam picks such . . . extraordinary names for her cats."
"Oh, not really," I murmured, searching the bathroom. "They just fit their personalities. Mistoffelees is a derivative of Mephistopheles. It's really quite--"
"That explains it," Hannah grumbled. "He's the devil, that one."
"Oh, Hannah!" I exclaimed, searching the closet. "My cats maybe a little mischievous, but they're not devilish."
"That's easy for Madam to say," she muttered. "I'm the one that gots to clean up after ‘em." She jammed her hands on her hips. "And how about that cocky one--what's his name?"
"Ur . . . Rum Tum Tugger?"
"Yes, that's the one," Hannah continued irritably. "He's always scratching at the door soon as I lets him out. And those two trouble-makers, Mungo-something and What's-a-teazer? They're the ones that swiped Madam's Woolworth pearls, I swear by all that's holy."
I could hardly contain a laugh. "Hannah, what would two cats do with my pearls?"
Hannah pouted. "I don't care to be laughed at, Madam--I know it's the truth. They're all little devils."
Closing the closet door, I offered, "Well, I do agree there is something . . . uncanny about them, especially Mistoffelees."
And, as if on cue, a small meow issued from my drawer. I rushed over to it and opened it, and there were a pair of golden eyes and an indistinct black shape I could swear was wearing a smile. Mistoffelees, the tiny black kitten, purred and walked out of the drawer, rubbing his head against Hannah's ankle. The old lady jumped away.
I laughed. "He was there all the time. I guess he must have climbed in there when I left it open to search the closet."
Hannah trembled. "But Madam didn't leave the drawer open."
I started. She was right. Unsure, I gazed at the kitten with scrutiny. How had he . . .?
"It's like the time before, Madam," Hannah said breathlessly. "When you called him in from the garden for hours, and he was asleep in the hall."
I nodded, my eyes transfixed on this innocent little shape of blackness. He seemed to disappear and reappear at will.
Hannah suddenly broke the spell. "Madam! You'll be late!"
"Yes . . . of course!" I muttered, quickly throwing on my wrap and departing through the door so quickly I felt I had skipped forward in time and left part of my life behind in the process.
I barely remembered to stop as I entered the restaurant, hardly giving the man any time to take my wrap and hang it up. "Madame?" asked the supercilious maitre d', putting up his hands in a gesture that made him look utterly ridiculous. Like a cat refusing fish.
"I am Miss Ellen Morgan," I explained, breathing fiercely, trying to remind myself to never eat a chocolate eclair again; they were very inconvenient in situations such as these, when one had to run from house to limousine and limousine to restaurant.
"I am sorry, Madame. Who are you with?" The maitre d' said, though there was no inkling of sympathy about him.
"Mr. William Burbage," I illuminated.
The maitre d' seemed to delight in scanning his black book and finding no name, saying, "I am sorry, Madame, but no one has reserved a table with that name."
I felt my temperature rising. "Mr. William Burbage," I repeated forcefully. "Look again."
He did not even glance at his black book. "I am sorry, Madame--"
"Excuse me-- Ellie?"
I looked up. "William! Can you please explain to this atrocious man that you are William Burbage?!"
I stared with mortification into my dinner plate, blushing as brightly as the beets I had unconsciously pushed into my napkin. "Oh William, can you ever forgive me?"
"Burbage, Bailey, what's the difference?" he asked lightly, sipping his champagne. Handsome William was dressed exquisitely in a white tie and tails.
"So you're not angry?" I asked timidly, staring at his white waistcoat, too frightened to look at his face.
"Ellie," he said in an indulgent tone, "you're an heiress. You can afford to be eccentric."
"No, no," I continued, "eccentricity is having more cats than one can count. Thinking your name was ‘Burbage' instead of ‘Bailey' when we've been--well--you know--for the last six months is inexcusable."
"Truly," William said, taking my hand, "I'm not offended. You have offended me by not wearing that expensive raccoon wrap I sent you last week!"
I winced and apologized to my meat. "Oh, I'm sorry! I--I just--couldn't. I mean, I kept looking at it and thinking, ‘This could have been Cassandra or Admetus or . . .' "
"Oh, you're an angel!" I gasped. "Anyone would be, to put up with me the way you do."
"I assure you, you're the angel," William said, blowing me a kiss. "Now, tell me, chickpea, why were you late? Do you have another beau?"
"Of course not!" I answered, blowing a kiss back. "Unless you think of Mistoffelees as a beau!" I smiled at the thought.
"Mistoffelees? Odd name for a chap," William murmured.
"Oh, no!" I cried, laughing louder than a lady should. "Mistoffelees is the latest addition. I found him--I--" I smiled to myself, "Well, he found me. One day he appeared. Maybe Munkustrap sent him."
"Now, tell me again, who is Munkustrap?"
I sighed fondly. "Munkustrap is the striped tabby who visits us from the alley occasionally."
"And how many of those cats follow him around?"
I took a deep breath. "There's Jemima, Electra, Etcetera, and Pouncival, they're kittens. And then the toms, Alonzo, Tumblebrutus, Skimbleshanks, Plato, and Asparagus. And then there's Demeter and Bombalurina, they're sisters. I think Demeter is Munkustrap's mate, but I can't be sure. And Bombalurina, I think she's taken a fancy to the Tugger."
"Who is . . .?"
Breathlessly I continued. "He's my cat, and a right ornery one, if I'm to believe Hannah."
"Is she a cat?" asked William earnestly.
"She's my servant," I divulged bemusedly.
"Well, Miss Ellie," William teased, "I'm allowed to make some mistakes, aren't I? Go on."
"Well, then there's Jennyanydots. She's my Gumbie Cat."
"Oh, I know this one," William declared. "A Gumbie Cat . . . erm, longues about all day and . . . um . . ."
"I've seen her at least once directing cockroaches," I mumbled, trying to keep from laughing.
"And which one did you say the maitre d' reminded you of?"
My eyes narrowed. "Bustopher Jones. Except that Bustopher is fat and proud and well-dressed. The maitre d' was just fat and proud."
William laughed. "There's more, I think."
"Yes. There's Cassandra, and the twins--Coricopat and Tantomile--and Victoria, and Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer--the scourge of Victoria Grove--"
"Those are the two who are . . . what was that phrase?" William muttered. "Incurably given to rove?"
"Yes, and Hannah says they're the ones who caused the leak on the waterproof roof. And . . . Jellylorum and Admetus and Gus." I winked at William. "Gus is the oldest cat you'll ever meet."
"I beg to differ," William said, spooning his soup. "My prize-winning old sire is older than I am."
I dabbed the crumbs away from my mouth. "You mean Old Deuteronomy?"
"His name is Sam," William insisted. "That's what I named him when I found him, that's his name."
"But ‘Sam' is so . . . I don't know, William, ordinary. ‘Old Deuteronomy' conjures up images of greatness. And that's what cats are. They're great, wonderful, elegant, sophisticated--" He was chuckling. "What are you laughing at?"
He smiled beautifully. "You. Ellie, you're just so . . . unconventional. You collect cats like . . . other women collect china.
Here I am, a cat breeder for royalty and I wouldn't mind calling my animals ‘Peascod.' You are . . . extraordinary."
"Loving cats doesn't make me extraordinary," I pointed out airily.
"You don't love cats," William insisted. "You obsess over them."
"And does that make me a criminal?" I defended sulkily. "That I prefer cats over humans?"
"Not all humans?" William asked tenderly.
"No, not all humans," I smiled.
"Prove that to me, Ellie," William said seriously, opening up a small box to reveal a blindingly brilliant ring. "Marry me."
I stared a long time at the gleaming gem before jumping out of my chair and embracing William. "Oh William! I never would have dreamed it! Oh!"
"Wonderful. Perfectly wonderful!" William exclaimed. "Now, when will you and your brood move in with me in my country house?"
"Oh yes--I--" I stopped short, a cloud forming in my mind. "But--what about Munkustrap and the alley cats? I can't leave them."
William's smile had not faded. "You can get someone else to look after them."
"It . . . won't be the same," I murmured. "I don't suppose you could move to London." The blank look William gave me answered for him.
"Ellie," William muttered, "they're only junkyard cats. They won't know the difference."
I backed away from him. "How can you say that? Don't you know they have feelings--no differently than us?"
William ground his teeth. "That's the trouble with you, Ellie. You care so much about cats you forget how much more important human relationships are."
I narrowed my eyes. "Are cats only breeding receptacles to be manipulated, to you?"
"You're making a scene," William mumbled. "Stop overreacting."
"And I suppose you must think you can manipulate me, too?" I shouted, handing him back his ring. "Goodbye, William."
I must have frightened Hannah when I came home with my face burning with rage and soaked with tears. She said nothing, though, as she prepared a bath for me, and I did not see her all night.
After my bath, I climbed into an Oriental silk dressing-gown and angrily picked off the tiny, multi-colored cat hairs. Even though I had locked my chamber door, Mistoffelees suddenly appeared, crying in his little cat voice.
"Go away," I growled, pushing his tiny little body away with my foot. Instead, he rubbed his head against my leg. I tried to ignore him, but he meowed so mournfully I bent down and scratched his head. The way his small golden eyes winked at me made me smile.
Gathering the little kitten protectively to my chest, I whispered, "I wish I could be like you."
Suddenly there was a flash of light so tremendous I hid my head in my arms to protect myself from it. When I opened my eyes, the room had grown so dark I could only stumble about dumbly, unable to find the lamp. Thinking there must have been an electrical failure, I called for Hannah.
Before she could hear or respond, though, the sight I beheld was too dazzling to tear my eyes away from. Mistoffelees was not Mistoffelees any longer--well, he was, but it was as if Mistoffelees the cat had been stretched onto the frame of a human being; specifically a handsome young man. And he was joined by all my other cats, including the alley cats. I could recognize them all--Munkustrap, the Rum Tum Tugger, Rumpleteazer--they were all themselves--and yet they weren't. They looked at me with the kind of wide-eyed interest I was probably regarding them with.
"What's happening?" I asked, frightened.
And Mistoffelees spoke in English to me. "We wanted to thank you," he said, for always taking care of us. And we know how much you've given up for us."
The cats meowed and rubbed against me one at a time. I was incredulous. "I think I must be going crazy," I said to myself.
"Think what you will," said Mistoffelees. "We're real and we're here.
All those times you've asked yourself, ‘Did they understand me?' We did, Ellie. We did."
The next morning, when William Bailey stopped at 1601 Victoria Grove and demanded an audience with Miss Ellen Morgan, the heiress was not to be found. Her fearful maid Hannah searched every inch of her house, showing Mr. Bill Bailey to Miss Morgan's chamber. There, they found all her clothes in their places, nothing out of the ordinary, no evidence to suggest she had left. It was as if she had just disappeared.
In her chamber, about two dozen felines were discovered taking a cat-nap. Half of the pets were Miss Morgan's, half were alley cats she had taken care of. And there was one cinnamon-colored cat Hannah had never seen before. It rubbed against the maid's leg and hissed at Bailey, before jumping out the window with the other cats. Neither Miss Morgan nor any of the cats were ever seen again.
Hannah thought the cats had eaten Ellie up. Mr. Thomas Stearnes Eliot, who lived across the street, had a different idea.
Author's Note: This story sprung into my head almost complete in its form one Saturday morning after observing my sister's cat--Shadow, who is "black from his ears to the tip of his tail"--lounging in my sock drawer. I wondered how he possibly could have gotten in there, and thus this story evolved. It is dedicated with affection to the Man in White Spats and all those eccentric cat lovers out there.
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