THE STRANGEST QUEST
Lizzie and the other cats had spent an unusual day, following the cat moot. Bushy kept looking at his food at meal times, and saying “None of this makes any sense” while consoling himself with large helpings of food, and then continued in a somewhat mournful vein, “Well I suppose it will, when we meet again tonight.” He then solemnly observed the cat dish, and gulping yet down more food, relished each successive mouthful as if it were his last with a sort of grim delight. Lily kept darting around the hermitage, in and out of the various cat flaps, squeaking at the top of her voice “Here’s a how do you do!” much to Molly’s disdain, who said “I do wish Lily that you would grow up. You are small in size, and very small in intelligence” This did not bother Lily at all, who was quite oblivious to criticism. Dolly kept jumping up and down, and said in her sweet high voice. “I think something wonderful is going to happen. It’s all so exciting.”
“I don’t know if it’s wonderful” Tommy said in his deep bass voice “It’s certainly most baffling”. He addressed these views to Bushy, who seemed to be spending most of the day either looking at the feeding bowls, or contemplating the fact that, at present the facts did not appear to be going anywhere particular. “It’s a sort of mission.” he explained to Tommy. “A mission impossible do you mean?” said Tommy. “No! more like a mystery mission” replied Bushy, “Or perhaps a mystical mission” said Lizzie who had been eavesdropping.
“Should we tell the hermits?” asked Sammy who had emerged from Sister Colette’s anchorhold. “I think we should, because they would be so excited to hear our news.” he continued, but Lizzie cut in somewhat abruptly “ I don’t think that would be a good idea”. “Why?” asked Sammy as he jumped up and down on his long lanky legs, obviously wanting fun and adventure. “ Well, firstly for the simple reason that whatever we are involved in, they will think that we are being the good and obedient cats that they obviously think we are, and of course in that they would certainly be right, and so they will think that we will be doing the right thing, and of course they are infallibly right in that too.” And fluffing out her fur, as female cats do not have bosoms, to expand as women do, in a very dignified voice she continued in almost magisterial tones, “ And they most probably know all about it anyway.” In that Lizzie was actually completely wrong. The hermits had not known about the Cat Moot, and they had not seen the four beautiful ladies carrying gleaming golden candelabras through the house singing the most lovely melodies imaginable. This was because Brother Damon, and Brother Stephen were fast asleep, and Sister Colette was making her herbal medicines at the moment when the ladies had arrived in the chapel. Also these heavenly visitors were invisible to humans, but not to cats.
So the day wore on, a rather brighter and sunnier day than before, and the Virginia Creeper, that decked the Church and hermitage walls, its leaves red and gold, complemented the golden setting sun. Night came up, the hermits retired, the hours ticked by, and the clock struck 12. Lizzie roused the more sleepy cats who had not been hunting mice, by letting out a very loud but sweet Miaow, which was the sign that the cats should assemble in the garden, and headed there herself. Quite what she or the others were expecting they did not know. What they were not expecting were to find three men sitting cross legged on the ground, looking as if they were sitting around enjoying a sunny afternoon in August, after a picnic perhaps, but not what you would expect to see at Midnight in later October. The three men were the same ones who had been watching the cat moot from the roof of the Church the night before, but had not been seen by the cats, because of course they had all gone off to sleep immediately the meeting finished and the lady visitors had departed.
“Oh!” said Lizzie “Ought you to be here?” At this point all the other cats were, metaphorically speaking, hiding behind her skirts, as children do with their mothers, (These days though, rather depressingly most mothers will be wearing trousers or jeans, though of course if the men started wearing dresses, the women might return to their more traditional mode of dress). The hooded friar, who it turned out was a Franciscan, the one who had the wolf by his side the previous night, threw back his head laughed and said “Well I think that we are on the same mission?” “Are we?”said Lizzie, a bit non-plussed. “Is it a mystery mission?” asked Bushy The Franciscan answered “I think probably it is exactly what Lizzie said it was, a mystical mission.” Suddenly there was a squeak of delight from Sammy, “I knew this would be an adventure”. “Yes it is!" said Freddie who started to dance. Lizzie looked on with a look of amused disapproval, but when Sammy began to sing, all the cats joined in. The friar looked on with delight as did his Dominican Brother, whose dark face framed two brilliant laughing eyes. Meanwhile the priest, who was older than the other two, was smiling warmly and was enjoying himself hugely. And this was the song that Sammy sang, while twirling a stick in his right fore paw rather like a drum major as Freddy danced standing on his hind feet:
If you’re anxious for to shine in the high aesthetic line
As a cat of culture rare,
You must get up all the germs of the transcendental terms,
And plant them everywhere,
You must lie upon the daisies and discourse in novel phrases
Of your complicated state of mind,
The meaning doesn’t matter if it’s only idle chatter
Of a transcendental kind.
And everyone will say,
As you walk your mystic way,
“If this young cat expresses himself
In terms too deep for me,
Why, what a very singularly deep young cat
This deep young cat must be!”
By this time Sammy was really getting into his stride and was dancing and singing with great gusto and abandon, ably supported by the other cats. He was about to launch into the second verse, when Lizzie, in a very loud voice exclaimed, “Excellent my dear, but we haven’t got time for entertainments now !”, and turning to the three men she said. “You must excuse us, but we do rather a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan for our own amusement and for the local cat and dog population. We have had some stunning successes, but strangely the dogs, would you believe it, have rather high brow taste, and prefer Wagner, Puccini, and Strauss; would you believe? The animal kingdom is such a constant source of amazement, don’t you think?” The cats had, by this time all collapsed on the ground, and would have much preferred to have carried on the singing and the dancing. The three men continued to look on with a sort of celestial glee, and in the silence, Bushy said “Can anyone tell me all about this?” The Franciscan friar sprung to his feet and throwing back his head laughed longly and loudly. “This is just what is needed.” He said. “Is it?” said Dolly. “It is.” said the priest. “Of course” chortled Lily as she darted all over the lawn at top speed. “I know who you all are, You are all saints!” she said, “And I know who you are.” squeaked Dolly, “You are Saint Francis, and Saint Martin de Porres”, “and St. John Bosco” added Freddie in case anyone got in before him. “Your are absolutley right” said St. Francis “And now I will tell you why we are here, why you are here, and why the four gracious ladies came to you last night, and who they were.”
“We are here because the cat moot was called by God, who has felt it necessary that you cats, who have a special place in the animal kingdom, may lead a mission to the Pope. He is, at present, hemmed in on all sides by critics within the Church and doubtful well-wishers without. No doubt they will turn against him, as they did with Pope Benedict. You and all the animals, created by our Good Lord, give praise to God by your very being, alas humans, who are the victims of original sin, are always caught between good and evil, and have to use free will and great valour to finally arrive in the courts of Heaven. It is your task, with the help of a few other animals, to help the Pope to stop this disastrous rush towards Hell, on which so many of the human race are bound. For much of the time during the mission, you will apparently be on your own. We will be there, but for the most part invisible, even to you. Now and again you will see us when you need to.” At this information some of the cats looked rather apprehensive, especially Lily and Dolly. Bushy just looked somewhat like a mixture of a grizzled old sailor and a wise owl. Lizzie looked thoughtful, Molly had a faraway look in her eyes, the two boys Sammy and Freddie were wide eyed in amazement, and Tommy at that very moment had dozed off and was soundly purring and snoring. He was soon woken up a by a sharp poke in his ribs from Lizzie. “Really Tommy this will never do, not at such an important moment as this.” she said in a loud stage whisper.
St. Francis continued. “Now these are your other companions on the journey.” From the bushes emerged a mouse, the large dog that had been with St. John Bosco on the roof, the previous night, and the final animal to emerge from the bushes was a magnificent looking wolf. The cats gasped in horror, and their tails all bushed up in unison. It was then that St. Martin spoke up. “My dear cats, you must not worry yourselves one bit, because these animals are now heavenly animals and can do you no harm.” With that the cats' tails returned to their normal shapes. St. John then said “Let me introduce my animal friends to you. Here is Lorenzo, known to history as the wolf of Gubbio.” Lorenzo came forward and bowed in a very gracious manner to the cats. “Here is Grigio, who was like another guardian angel, and who protected me from danger when I was on earth.” The huge hound smiled an enormous doggy smile which positively dazzled the cats, and then sat down, to make them feel more at ease. And before St. John could introduce the mouse formally, it had run over to the cats to make friends. As he was larger than we imagine mice to be (he was as big as a rat), the cats were somewhat at a loss for words. Normally Freddy would eat every mouse he saw. “You see now”, said St. Martin, what you would have seen at my priory in Santiago, the mice drinking the milk out of the same dish as the cats.” Freddie, who was an excellent mouser was dumbfounded, and looked positively overwhelmed when the mouse went up to him and rubbed noses with him. “His name is Beppe” said St. Martin. “There are two more animals who were are waiting to join you” said St. Francis. He looked towards the library door, out of which stepped a big brown bear with a raven on his shoulder. “Ah, here they come, St. Corbinian’s bear, Hans, with Elijah’s raven, a direct descendent of the raven who was sent from the Ark by Noah. “What’s his name?” asked Freddie, “Methuselah” replied St. Martin. By this time the poor cats were looking flabbergasted. What else was going to come and disturb their peace. Lizzie began to have visions of crocodiles invading the garden, and Lily was darting all over the place with such speed, that there was a good chance of her hitting something or somebody and knocking herself out. This so exasperated Molly that she said somewhat sharply “For goodness sake pull yourself together Lily. There’s nothing to worry about. The saints are in charge. You have to trust!”
The Bear and the raven approached the cats with something approaching awe and reverence. “How do you do” said the bear in the most booming of voices. “Well” said Lizzie “Very well”. Then the raven jumped down from Hans’ shoulder and gave a deep bow to Lizzie and said “It’s a delight to make your acquaintance”. “Oh how kind of you to say so” replied Lizzie It was all getting too much for her, and the last two nights had almost drained the energy out of this tender hearted cat, who though maternal was not exactly a leader as such.
Silence fell under the night sky, and a peace that you could almost touch descended upon the saints and the animals. The cats and their new friends were not left long to enjoy the silence, for suddenly the most wonderful singing was heard in the distance, which got louder and louder, and then the whole wall of the Church disappeared and there was a great group of saints and angels singing in what looked like a waterfall of golden fireworks. You could see Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, and members of St John Bosco’s Salesian order. The angels came in all shapes and sizes. Some had huge rainbow coloured wings, others had dazzling white, gold, and blue wings, that were like the waves of the sea. The music was so wonderful and so loud, that the cats wondered if the neighbourhood wouldn’t all be roused from sleep. Obviously not, as no lights went on, no windows were opened, and no voices cried out “What’s happening?" It was as if the music was wrapped in silence. From the great celestial gathering an opening was made and from this opening emerged a golden stairway, and walking, or more accurately gliding down it came the four beautiful women, who had been listening to the cat moot the night before. Floating down to St. Francis, they bowed to him, St. Martin, and St. John, and they in turn bowed to them. “Dear sisters, you are most welcome, and more than welcome on this most important of nights” said St. Francis, who then turned to the animals and said “Here is St. Hildegarde of Bingen whose mystical understanding of animals, herbs and minerals is unsurpassed. The Benedictine Abbess smiled and bowed to the assembled animals, who tried to bow in their own ways, not always entirely successful one might add. The raven looked as if he had got is beak stuck in the grass. St Martin then took the beautiful Poor Clare Nun by the hand and led her right up to the animals. She bent down and greeted each with a touch. And as each animal was touched they were momentarily illuminated with a golden light. “This is St. Colette of the other Corbie, the one in France, and like her holy father Francis, had a special love for all your kin.” With a deep bow, St. Colette went to join her Benedictine sister. St. John, then taking the two other women by the hand, led them to the animals who surrounded them with much interest, pawing them with the cats making little chirping noises. Peppe the mouse had crawled up Hans’s fur and perched himself on his other shoulder to get a better view of things. St. John, in the most distinct and thrilling tones proclaimed “This is St. Catherine of Siena, whose whole life was spent in bringing peace to the Church, and this her great precursor St. Bridget of Sweden who did the same; both suffered immensely for this blessed work, and now in glory are acclaimed. These two ladies shimmered with a silvery light, bowed together and then withdrew to join the others with St. Francis and his companions.
Francis clapped his hands and in a very loud voice said,
Not a moment must be lost;
We are to begin our journey of peace and mercy now.
We have meetings with the Pope, with a Patriarch
And with four very importent men,
And the other meetings different from the first three,
Are shrouded all in deep mystery.
But God who brings his mercy in many forms to man,
Will seek to guide us in his powerful arms,
And give us courage when events will seem to cause us harm.
Now follow me and see the ship above not made for water or for sea.
The animals looked up and beheld a wonderful sight, a glittering ship looking like a Swan, and with a huge square sail, began to descend from about a thousand feet above them. It almost looked as if it was made of stars, and perhaps it was, or better still it had the feel of a wood on a Summer’s night with the leaves of the trees and bushes bedecked with glow worms. It was manned by angels. Gently the boat came to rest in the middle of the garden. An angel who sparkled quite as much as the boat, but with a blue ice like light, let down the ramp for the animals to enter the boat on. He welcomed them with these words; “Welcome my friends to this fair boat, The Halcyon.” Lizzie led the way, followed by all the female cats. The male ones then followed behind, with Tommy slightly limping, as he was indeed lame in one of his back legs. They were followed by the hound, and then the wolf, with Hans, Beppe and Methuselah coming up in the rear. The Angel pulled up the ramp, and the cats suddenly got very agitated. They rushed to the side of the deck and Dolly cried out, almost in tears, to the saints “Aren’t you coming with us?” St. Colette smiled to them, and said “Yes we will be joining you, but we have some work to do before we come. Do not worry, you are in good hands, your angels will guard and protect you”. No sooner were the words out of St. Colette’s mouth, than the boat literally shot up into the air, rather like a very fast lift shooting to the top of a very tall skyscraper. The small animals were almost pinned to the floor by the force of the ship shooting upwards. The large ones looked slightly nervous, and Hans gripped the mast of the ship. The Church and St. Patrick’s were now very small and far away, and the town of Corby was steadily diminishing in size. The boat then stopped suddenly and turned due West.
“It is time for you all to sleep” the Angel said “I and my companions (there were three other angels manning the boat) will sing you to sleep”. All the animals made themselves comfortable. The cats realized that Hans was a wonderful radiator, and so they all clustered around him, rather as kittens cluster around their mother’s teets. The dogs lay down next to the ship’s mast. The Angel began to sing a song of great beauty, and his fellow angels joined him in celestial harmony.
Ave Regina caelorum!
Ave, Domina angelorum;
Salve Radix, Salve Porta,
Ex qua mundo lux es orta.
Gaude, Virgo gloriosa,
Super omnes speciosa.
Vale, O valde decora!
Et pro nobis Christum exora.
( Hail, Queen of Heaven, beyond compare,
To whom the angels homage pay;
Hail, Root of Jesse, Gate of Light,
That opened to the world’s new Day.
Trans. Stanbrook Abbey)
As the beautiful anthem finished, and the last strains of music drifted on the midnight air, the animals were all sound asleep. The ship moved serenely over a sea of clouds, white with the light of a full moon. The stars looked down kindly upon our little band, while in some golden tower in the heavens, the saints discussed the first challenge that the cats and their new friends would have to face. It was strange that such creatures had to engage in the affairs of men, but as those affairs were now in danger of unleashing terrible evils on the Earth, it was perhaps to the most vulnerable and the weakest that God had given the challenge, because they, unlike Man, would not rebel.