Illustration: Funny cats family By Kudryashka/Adobe Stock
The Commune of Cats.
Read by Richard.
Lizzie & Maddy by Jana.
Proofed & audio edited by Jana.
Adapted by Bertie.
Long ago, when cats could still talk like human beings, a commune of cats lived in a large mansion. Each of the 28 rooms in the house was filled with cats and kittens. Only the 29th room was uncrowded. This room was very large and took up the entire third floor of the house - we shall hear more about who lived there later.
All in all, 103 cat families slept in the building, and strolled around the extensive grounds. The cats had everything they needed to lead a comfy life because they were rich. A princess had once lived in the house until she was very old, and she left all her fortune to the cats. When the princess ascended to the great palace in the sky, her faithful servant continued to live in the house and attend to all the cats’ needs. The years went by until he too passed on to join the princess, and then the cats wondered who could be their new servant.
Now it so happened that there was a good hearted young girl of sixteen years old who lived in the same town as the cats. This young lady’s name was Lizzy, and she lived with her stepsister, Maddy, who was extremely mean to her, and used to tell her that she was ugly and stupid. One day, Lizzy had had enough of being run down and criticised, and she declared,
“That’s it! I’m off to live with the cats!”
“Meow!” Said her stepsister mockingly.
But Lizzy was not joking. She meant what she said. She packed her few possessions into a little bag and left for the big mansion belonging to the cats.
She opened the front gate, and walked up the path through the overgrown garden. The grass was long, and there grew lots of dandelions, daisies, and even stinging nettles, because that was how the cats liked to keep their garden. Cats believe that the wilder nature is, the better.
As she approached the house, she could hear a purring sound emanating from within.
The great front door was ajar - just enough to let a cat slip through. Lizzy pushed it open and walked in. She had been expecting to see cats, but even so, she was amazed by what she found. There were cats climbing over, or sleeping, on the piano, the sofas, the chairs, the windowsills, one of them had even managed to jump from the balcony onto the chandelier - every one of the steps of the great staircase was a seat for at least two cats. Everywhere she looked there were cats!
“Excuse me,” said Lizzy. “May I speak to the chief cat?”
“None of us is chief,” declared a sleepy black cat, “because all who live in the cat commune are equal, but we acknowledge the wisdom of a wise cat whose name is Comrade Gatsby. You may find him on the third floor.”
Lizzy thanked the black cat and climbed the stairs, being careful not to step on any of the feline inhabitants. She passed up through the second floor which was as packed with cats as the first, and, carried on climbing up to the third storey of the house. She was surprised that this part of the staircase was empty of cats and she could see the red carpet woven with the gold coat of arms of the princess who had once lived in the house. When she arrived at the top, she at first thought that the entire floor was empty of life. It was one long spacious room filled with sunlight. Paintings hung on the walls, and statues of people who might have been Romans or Greeks seemed to be the only occupants. It was like a gallery in a museum ! Her eye was drawn to one especially large and elegant painting. It was a portrait of a bejewelled lady, whom she guessed to be the princess and former owner of the house, and in her arms she was holding a fat, smug, tabby cat. As she moved her eyes from the painting, she finally noticed, fast asleep on a large gilded throne, a tabby cat exactly like the one in the picture, only fatter, and with gray hairs.
“Ahem,” she said, “Excuse me sir.”
“Prrrr,” said the cat, “you may bring me my cream.” Lizzy looked around and she saw a silver jug of cream sitting on a windowsill to keep. She poured some into a gold rimmed bowl and brought it to the old cat, who gladly licked it with his rough tongue.
“Erm, I hope you don’t mind me asking, Sir, but are you the cat in the painting with the princess?”
“Oh no” replied the tabby. “He lived here long ago, in the former times, when things were entirely different.”
“Very good Sir. I hope you don’t mind my questions. I’m curious by nature, you see. In actual fact, I’ve come to look for work. I can cook, clean, and mend, and I can even tend to the garden.”
“Mmm,” said Comrade Gatsby. “We are in need of a new servant. We shall try you out, and if you work hard, you may stay.”
“Thank you Sir, thank you. I promise not to disappoint you,” said Lizzy gratefully.
From then on, she slept on a sofa on the ground floor, surrounded by cats. In the day, she washed the windows, dusted the furniture, wiped cat hairs off the sofas, cleaned out the fireplaces, and scrubbed the floors on her hands and needs. The cats, who appreciated cleanliness, always got out of her way so that she could carry out her duties freely. But of course, there was only so much Lizzy could do. However hard she scrubbed, she could not get rid of the fishy, catty smell that hung around the lower floors of the palace. At first the pong made her feel a little queasy, but she soon got used to it, and after a while, stopped noticing it all together.
She soon showed her good nature. She helped little kittens who got stuck in trees, she nursed old cats who had aches and pains, and when two or more cats were screeching at each other, on the verge of a dreadful fight with tooth and claw, she soothed their tempers and patched up the quarrel. She did all this - and she still had time to bring Comrade Gatsby his cream and make sure that his bed was clean and comfortable. When the fishmonger delivered dinner, she took the largest and best piece to Comrade Gatsby and then divided the rest fairly among the families of cats who lived downstairs. Finally she cooked some pilchards for her own supper.
In short, before her two week trial period was up, the cats loved Lizzy far too much to let her go. Comrade Gatsby gave her a permanent position as the cats’ servant.
Six months passed in this way, and Lizzy who had been working hard the whole time, was in need of a break. She had saved up a few pennies from her small salary, and she meant to go to the seaside. She asked Comrade Gatsby if she could have his blessing for the holiday, and he said,
“A comrade worker deserves a rest once a year. Take a gold coin from my trunk. You have earned it.”
Lizzy had not looked in Comrade Gatsby’s private trunk before, although she had polished its brass plates and lock. Now she had his permission, she opened it with the key, and found that it was brimming with gold coins. What a fortune was in there! And he had several more trunks at the other end of the room.
She took just one gold coin, thanked her master for his generosity, and happily skipped downstairs where she promised all the cats that she would be back after two weeks were up.
“Mee-ow, me-ow, what we will do without you? Lizzy, please stay?” pleaded the cats.
But Lizzy laughed happily and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be back in no time. I’ve given my word to Comrade Gatsby that I will return after my holiday. And why shouldn’t I? I’m as happy as I have ever been living here and working for you.”
Lizzy left the house, passed through the garden, and strolled down the road heading for the inn where the stagecoach picked up passengers on the way to the seaside. But before she reached the inn, who should she see, but her cruel stepsister, Maddy?
“Well, we’ll, we’ll, look who it is!” exclaimed Maddy. “It’s the cat girl. Meow! How are you? How’s life in the house of cats?”
“Oh it’s simply wonderful!” replied Lizzy. “I’m off on holiday with this gold sovereign that Comrade Gatsby, the wisest and most revered of the cats has given me. He has boxes and boxes of coins just like this one!” and she flashed her gold at her sister. “A proper gentleman he is, and he treats me so nicely and with a great deal of respect.”
Now it might have been unwise of Lizzy to give all this information to Maddy, but she could not help herself. She wanted to boast about how she had found happiness and a good job after leaving a life of misery with her stepsister.
Maddy tossed her head and said, “Hmmph. I wouldn’t lower myself to work for cats.”
“Well, that’s your loss,” replied Lizzy, and she ran off to the inn to catch her coach to the seaside.
Now Maddy thought to herself, “So, that old cat is rich is he? I know. I’ll marry him. And when he dies, which might be sooner rather than later, I shall have all his money! And then I shall kick all the cats out of the house and live there with whichever handsome young man I pick for my husband. I’m not simple like Lizzy. I’m not going to work my knees off just for one measly gold coin, when with my looks and charm, I can have it all!”
Maddy went to the House of Cats. She pushed open the garden gate, and saw that the garden was overgrown and overrun with kittens. She turned her nose up and walked purposely up to the front door. She pulled the bell rope, but as it did not ring, she pushed open the door. Inside she found cats crawling everywhere.
“Phorrr! This place stinks!” she said. Like Lizzy before her, she climbed up the stairs until she came to the part of the house that was richly furnished and more or less empty of cats. She glanced around the top floor and saw the tabby cat fast asleep on his throne, and she did not fail to notice the painting of the princess with a very similar animal sitting on her lap.
“Oi there?,” said Maddy. “My sister Lizzy told me, I could find you here.” Lizzy was in fact her step-sister, but she was not being precise.
“Ah, I’m glad you came,” said the Tabby. “Be a good lass. Fetch me my cream.”
Maddy thought that he was being rather patronising, but all the same, she did as he asked, and poured some cream from the silver jug on the window cill into his bowl. She brought it over to the fat old tabby who began to lick it with his rough tongue while purring. When he had finished, Maddy asked,
“Enjoy that, did you?”
“Not bad,” replied the cat.
Maddy sat down on the throne next to Comrade Gatsby and tickled him behind the ears.
“Now listen, I have a proposal. If you want to always be the cat who got the cream, why don’t you marry me? I’ll be sure to look after you properly, better than my sister, because I know how to spoil a cat rotten, while she’s just a simple girl, who doesn’t even appreciate the finer things in life.”
“Well that’s an idea,” said Comrade Gatsby. “Stop here for a couple of weeks, and look after the house. If you work better than your sister, I shall consider your proposal.”
“You’re on. I know you won’t be disappointed,” said Maddy.
“You can start downstairs right away,” said the Comrade. “Lizzy has only been gone an hour, but it’s chaos already. I can hear kittens meowing for their milk.”
“Leave it to me, I’ll soon sort them out,” promised Maddy.
She went down the stairs, clapped her hands, and called out, “Order! Order! Can we have some order around here please?”
The cats meowed back at her.
“Now where’s your manners?” asked Maddy, and picking up the broom, she shewed cats off the stairs. “Shoo, shoo, off you go,” she said as she swept them away from the tables. The cats did not like being treated so roughly, but they were afraid of the woman whose eyes blazed fiercely.
“Who are you?” asked one of them.
“I’m the elder and better sister of Lizzy,” she replied. “And soon I’m to marry Comrade Gatsby, so ‘you’ better treat me with respect”.
“Lizzy’s much nicer than you are,” said another cat.
“And more dopey,” replied Maddy. “Here clear off that sofa, you’re getting hairs all over the cushions - hey! - and you cat there ! Don’t you dare go scratching your claws on the back of that chair - here I’ll show you what for! Clear off !” And she threw a bucket of soapy water over him.
Cats screeched and scattered in all directions.
Now the cats had to admit that Maddy was efficient, even if she was bad tempered. “I run a tight ship and I don’t take any nonsense,” she insisted. Gradually she cleared a good deal of the clutter and cat hairs out of the mansion - the trouble was that she drove a large number of the cats out into the garden too.
After 10 days were up, the house was looking even more spic and span than when Lizzy had been cleaning, and the cats were trained to keep off the sofas and the stairs.
In the early evening, when the fishmonger bought his box of food for the house, Maddy quizzed him for any information he had on Comrade Gatsby.
“Well he always pays the bills promptly, and he’s the boss cat around here,” said the fishmonger, “I knew his grandfather when the good princess was alive. We always used to joke that he was the real master of the house, and now, in his grandson’s time, that’s come true.”
“So is that Comrade Gatsby’s grandfather in the painting of the princess?” asked Maddy.
“That’s him, alright, ” confirmed the fishmonger.
Maddy brought Comrade Gatsby his prize fish, as she did every day.
“Here you are Comrade,” she said. “Wrap your chops round this fine piece of trout.”
“I shall, indeed,” said the old cat.
“But before I leave you to it,” said Maddy, “have you considered my proposal?”
“Which one was that?” asked the Comrade.
“Why marriage, of course!” said Maddy. “My sister is due back in a couple of days time. You wouldn’t want the house to slip back into her old slack and lazy state would you?”
“Well actually, I liked her better than you,” said Gatsby.
Maddy was so furious that she picked up the cat’s bowl of fish and flung it out of the open window. They both heard it crash on the path outside, where several cats were soon screeching and fighting over the fine food.
“Temper, temper,” said Comrade Gatsby.
“That was nothing. I’ll give you temper!” screeched Maddy shaking her fist at the comrade. He remained motionless and stared back at her, just as if she were a crazy dog on the end of a lead. Maddy thought about his sharp claws, and her own face, and thought better of trying to strangle him.
“I know the truth about you,”she said. “I heard the story from the fishmonger. You’re the grandson of that cat in the painting. You say that everything has changed and all you cats are equal, but you’re just a fat old aristocratic cat living a life of luxury while all the comrades are in crowded and filthy conditions downstairs. Nothing has changed at all. You’re a hypocrite cat, and if you don’t marry me, I shall tell all the comrades downstairs the truth about you and your life of luxury. And I’ll tell them to come up here and see for themselves.”
“If the cats visit the top floor, they will ruin it in no time with their claws,” said Comrade Gatsby, “just like they have spoiled downstairs, and they would spend all the money at once and then we would all be poor. The cats need a wise leader. That’s why they have me.”
“So, won’t you marry me?” asked Maddy, who already knew the answer.
“Sorry,” said the cat. “You’re not my type.”
“Right then,” replied the scorned young woman. “You’ll soon see that you’ve made a BIG mistake!”
And she hurried downstairs, propelled by her fury.
“Cats! Cats!”she called out, clapping her hands. “Comrade Gatsby has invited you all upstairs to see how he lives!”
At first, the cats took little notice, but when Maddy went to fetch a broom - which made her look threatening - they started to listen to her.
“Go on, he’s waiting for you, go upstairs and see!” she insisted.
“Well, I for one am curious,” said a black and white cat.
“It’s not as if we are busy right now, let’s go and take a peek,” agreed another who, judging by her looks, might have been a Siamese.
Half a dozen cats took up the offer, and padded up the stairs to look round Comrade Gatsby’s upper floor. Maddy followed thinking, “I’m going to enjoy this - when they see he has all that luxury to himself while they are packed in downstairs, they’ll throw him out!”
But she was very disappointed. The cats looked around at the room open eyed and full of admiration.
“Very nice,” said one.
“I like your paintings,” said another.
“And the curtains are very tasteful,” said a third, who started to climb up one of the drapes.
Maddy was fuming, until a fourth cat went to pee in a corner. She sniggered, and Gatsby hissed sternly, “Comrade, that is not the place!” and the ill-brought up cat backed off.
The Siamese and the Black and White cats, who were the leaders of the delegation, bowed down before Comrade Gatasby’s thrown, and said,
“Oh Lord High Comrade, thank you for inviting us to your floor. We want to take this opportunity to thank you for all you do for us, especially for paying the fishmonger’s bills.”
“Oh you creeps!” sneered Maddy, but they took no notice of her.
Comrade Gatsby licked his paw nonchalantly and replied, “As a reward for your loyalty, you may take a sardine out of the ice box on your way out.”
“Thank you, thank you, your High Lord Comradeship” said the cats.
“And I have one more task for you.”
“Yes, your highness?”
“Get a guard of cats together and escort Miss Maddy from the grounds of the house and make sure she never comes back.”
“Yes your Lordship,” the cats said, and the black and white cat turned round and hissed fearfully at Maddy.
“You don’t frighten me,” she replied, grabbing an inkpot from the desk and throwing it back at him. The pot landed next to his paw, and the ink splattered obliterating some of his white spots.
The inky cat stared back at her with his eyes glowing like a tiger in the forest. A moment later, the other cats, sharp with tooth and claw, pounced onto Maddy.
“Here, get off me, you fiendish felines,” shouted Maddy.
“MEEEEEEEEEOW!” screeched the cats.
She tried to throw the cats off her, but they were biting and scratching wildly and she had no choice but to run downstairs. As she passed through the lower floors, scores of other cats joined in the pursuit and chased her through the grounds and the house and out onto the street. Further down the road, the kind hearted Lizzy, who had returned early from her holiday, saw her step sister running towards her with scratched face, arms and legs, and a torn dress.
“These cats are completely mad! They are crazy, get them away from me!” shouted her sister as she hurtled past.
“Hmm,” I wonder what got into her,” said Lizzy, and she went happily on her way back to the house of cats.
“Surprise!” she called out as she came through the door. “I came back early because I missed you all so much.”
The cats replied with loud appreciative purring.
“My, my,” said Lizzy. “You’ve managed so well. The house is far cleaner and tidier than I expected to find it.”
After she had picked up and cuddled some of the kittens who had noticeably grown in her absence, she went upstairs to tell Comrade Gatsby that she was back.
“How nice to see you, my dear,” he purred. “We’ve truly missed you. I have a proposal. How would you like to marry me? I am not immortal, I won’t live forever, and one day all this can be yours.”
“Well thank you, Comrade,” said Lizzy taken aback. “That’s a most generous offer, and my heart is truly touched. I do hope you won’t be offended if I say that one day I do hope to marry a young man, and so if you will be so gracious, please accept my most humble refusal.”
“It was just a passing thought,” said Comrade Gatsby. “I am not at all offended. In fact, I think it is to your credit that you are not greedy for this fine house and all the gold and valuable jewels and works of art contained within. Another girl might give a very different answer. Since you are so honest, I have a second proposal. How would you like to have the cottage at the end of the garden? It can be yours for life, and if you marry a young man who is true to you, you can live there with him.”
“Oh thank you Comrade, you are so very generous and kind. That would be my dream and would make me happy for all my days.”
And so Lizzy went to live in the cottage at the end of the garden, and continued to work as housekeeper and nurse for the cats in the big mansion. A year later she married her childhood sweetheart who came to live with her in the cottage and helped her look after the commune of cats. They had six children and lived happily for all their days, while her step sister Maddy married a rich lawyer for his money and moved to the big city but the only person she ever loved was herself, and she always especially hated cats.
And that was the Cat Commune.
Written by Bertie, loosely based on a traditional story.
For now, from me Richard Scott, at Storynory.com, goodbye.