We needn't have worried. The ginger cat, as it turns out, knows well enough on which side his paws are buttered. We thought, having moved him to Scotland in the dead of night in the back of a small car in a specially purchased basket (out of which he stared like a Durer lion with a stony question mark on his face), almost two hundred miles from the land of his fathers, that he might be tempted to try the walk back home again. Visions of "The Incredible Journey" loomed at the back of my concern, and so -- for his own good, we thought, and to save him unnecessary exercise -- he was confined to barracks.
He was not at all a willing house prisoner. But I was implacably determined that he must become thoroughly acquainted with his new home before we risked his vanishing. Every guest and every plumber, every builder, electrician, scrap dealer, milkman, newspaper boy, who came anywhere near was warned, on pain of dire, unnamed consequences, that the cat must not pass the threshold in an outward direction. The baffled object of all this care was shunted mercilessly from locked room to locked room as the building work swept through the place. Probably all this fuss was particularly incomprehensible to him because of the notquite forgotten period in his career when he was on the unwanted list, a mere stray, at large in the Yorkshire fields.
We bought him a collar and a disk with name and address, just in case. We took him out in the garden on a lead and only under strictest supervision, which he disapproved of heartily, whisking his tail furiously and producing a new sound, a kind of smothered cry denoting extreme crossness. Only twice did we let him off the lead, and, my fears confirmed, he immediately leapt onto the wall and, sniffing the air to determine which way Yorkshire lay, skidded down the other side, headed at a vigorous pace through the hole in a neighbour's hedge, and marched across the road -- and I had to trespass up a steep bank into another garden to break his passage. He was in fact heading due south, precisely in the right direction.
Our guard was doubled, and gradually the poor creature became wearily resigned to indoor living. He scarcely even tried to run out. It was all very unfair. It is at times like this that the value of language is acutely recognized. It would have taken little more than a simple sentence to explain to this cat that he now had moved to Scotland, and that he would not be welcomed by the new owners of his old home; that we had brought him with us because we liked his company and that we would happily let him out if he would (in a simple sentence) just promise to come back in again. But this was hypothetical. I still strongly suspected, after weeks and weeks of confinement, that his sense of distance might not be as strong as his sense of direction appeared to be -- that to him Yorkshire might be only a few streets away. Then I started to worry about my tactics. If we were eventually to let him out, which was certainly the plan, perhaps we had by now made him hate the prison house so much that once away he would never want to return.
Round about this time the central heating boiler was being installed, and central heating boilers need flues, and a flue needs a hole through the wall. This hole was duly made. The only thing was that no one thought of blocking up the hole in the meantime. Every door and window was maximumly secure. . . . It was the flue hole that the cat went through.
He disappeared for four whole hours.
Then he came home.
We made it worth his while, of course, providing a sumptuous banquet of good things that cats like to eat, drink, and be merry on. Since then he has been free to come and go as he pleases -- and mostly he is pleased, I'm relieved to report, to come. Once again he is the normal cat: hankering to enter, reluctant to exit.
Then we went away on holiday, taking him to stay with friends who live on Aytoun Road, a mile or almost away. It wasn't until we returned that these friends revealed that they had lost the ginger cat for two complete days after we left. They had eventually traced him back to our place. We were a little smug: this comfortable bundle of a cat of ours was no fool. He had negotiated streets and corners and sniffed his way past wrong gates and privet hedges, until, unintimidated by buses, people, mad dogs, he arrived at the right gate and privet hedge and front door.
Our adulation increased the loudness of his purr, his head was held high, complacency peaked, until --
-- until yesterday morning. It was then that our nearest neighbour knocked on the door. "How's the ginger cat?" She enquired.
"Fine," I said.
"He spent some time with us while you were away. Somebody found him wandering about Aytoun Road, read his address, thought he was too far from home, and brought him back up here."
"Oh. You mean he didn't find his ownm way back?"
The poor animal had probably been planning a brief afternoon stroll outside our friends' house when he had been whisked suddenly back home again. Come to think of it there has been a strange look in his eyes the last few days. It probably means: You huma ns are crazy. Give me a sensible cat every time!m