Produced by David Widger
By W.W. Jacobs
List of Illustrations
THE WHITE CAT
The traveller stood looking from the tap-room window of the Cauliflower at the falling rain. The village street below was empty, and everything was quiet with the exception of the garrulous old man smoking with much enjoyment on the settle behind him.
“It’ll do a power o’ good,” said the ancient, craning his neck round the edge of the settle and turning a bleared eye on the window. “I ain’t like some folk; I never did mind a drop o’ rain.”
The traveller grunted and, returning to the settle opposite the old man, fell to lazily stroking a cat which had strolled in attracted by the warmth of the small fire which smouldered in the grate.
“He’s a good mouser,” said the old man, “but I expect that Smith the landlord would sell ‘im to anybody for arf a crown; but we ‘ad a cat in Claybury once that you couldn’t ha’ bought for a hundred golden sovereigns.”
The traveller continued to caress the cat.
“A white cat, with one yaller eye and one blue one,” continued the old man. “It sounds queer, but it’s as true as I sit ‘ere wishing that I ‘ad another mug o’ ale as good as the last you gave me.”
The traveller, with a start that upset the cat’s nerves, finished his own mug, and then ordered both to be refilled. He stirred the fire into a blaze, and, lighting his pipe and putting one foot on to the hob, prepared to listen.
It used to belong to old man Clark, young Joe Clark’s uncle, said the ancient, smacking his lips delicately over the ale and extending a tremulous claw to the tobacco-pouch pushed towards him; and he was never tired of showing it off to people. He used to call it ‘is blue-eyed darling, and the fuss ‘e made o’ that cat was sinful.
Young Joe Clark couldn’t bear it, but being down in ‘is uncle’s will for five cottages and a bit o’ land bringing in about forty pounds a year, he ‘ad to ‘ide his feelings and pretend as he loved it. He used to take it little drops o’ cream and tit-bits o’ meat, and old Clark was so pleased that ‘e promised ‘im that he should ‘ave the cat along with all the other property when ‘e was dead.
Young Joe said he couldn’t thank ‘im enough, and the old man, who ‘ad been ailing a long time, made ‘im come up every day to teach ‘im ‘ow to take care of it arter he was gone. He taught Joe ‘ow to cook its meat and then chop it up fine; ‘ow it liked a clean saucer every time for its milk; and ‘ow he wasn’t to make a noise when it was asleep.
“Take care your children don’t worry it, Joe,” he ses one day, very sharp. “One o’ your boys was pulling its tail this morning, and I want you to clump his ‘ead for ‘im.”
“Which one was it?” ses Joe.
“The slobbery-nosed one,” ses old Clark.
“I’ll give ‘im a clout as soon as I get ‘ome,” ses Joe, who was very fond of ‘is children.
“Go and fetch ‘im and do it ‘ere,” ses the old man; “that’ll teach ‘im to love animals.”
Joe went off ‘ome to fetch the boy, and arter his mother ‘ad washed his face, and wiped his nose, an’ put a clean pinneyfore on ‘im, he took ‘im to ‘is uncle’s and clouted his ‘ead for ‘im. Arter that Joe and ‘is wife ‘ad words all night long, and next morning old Clark, coming in from the garden, was just in time to see ‘im kick the cat right acrost the kitchen.
He could ‘ardly speak for a minute, and when ‘e could Joe see plain wot a fool he’d been. Fust of all ‘e called Joe every name he could think of— which took ‘im a long time—and then he ordered ‘im out of ‘is house.
“You shall ‘ave my money wen your betters have done with it,” he ses, “and not afore. That’s all you’ve done for yourself.”
Joe Clark didn’t know wot he meant at the time, but when old Clark died three months arterwards ‘e found out. His uncle ‘ad made a new will and left everything to old George Barstow for as long as the cat lived, providing that he took care of it. When the cat was dead the property was to go to Joe.
The cat was only two years old at the time, and George Barstow, who was arf crazy with joy, said it shouldn’t be ‘is fault if it didn’t live another twenty years.