Beverly's Circulating Cattery
Beverly's Circulating Cattery
FROM what I have already told you about my friend Beverly, gentlemen," said the Colonel, "you are aware that as an inventor his name will stand out from the records of the ages with a glittering prominence. The facts which I now am about to set before you will demonstrate that through the oncoming eras equally will his name glitter as a promoter, and with a like obtrusiveness. In projecting his Circulating Cattery—"
"What the dickens is a circulating cattery?" asked the Doctor.
"Gently! Gently! my dear Doctor," put in the Bishop. "Saint James, you will remember, refers to the tongue—usually the phrase is misquoted—as 'an unruly evil.' The form of your question borders all too closely upon profanity. I beg that you will have care! Pardon, Colonel, my interpolation of this word in season—my cloth, you know, imposes duties upon me—and pray proceed."
"It is conceivable, Doctor," the Colonel resumed, with a perceptible touch of sarcasm in his tone, "that a mind of average intelligence might infer from my words that the subject about which you request information is precisely the subject about which I am in the act of giving it. I will, however, adapt my method to what I venture to term the eccentricity of your apprehension. You know, I presume, that a circulating library is a repository for the storage and dissemination of books? Well, a circulating cattery is a repository for the storage and dissemination of cats."
"Gosh!" exclaimed the Doctor. "Who wants cats disseminated?"
"According to the view of the matter taken by my friend Beverly," the Colonel answered, "a great many people eagerly desire the dissemination of those interesting and pleasing animals. Beverly himself was quite devoted to cats, and it was his own unsatisfied longing for their agreeable companionship that prompted him to develop his admirable and benevolent scheme.
"As you doubtless remember, my friend was made a widower by the regrettable explosion of one of his most ingenious inventions—a pneumatic carpet-sweeper that he had brought almost to perfection when the catastrophe occurred—and that, along with Mrs. Beverly, two housemaids and the family cat were involved in the fatal wreck. You also will remember that the silver lining of that sombre household cloud was his invention of the Beverly Crematory and a little later, of the clockwork cat—known as the 'Household Rat-ridder'—which now is in very general practical use throughout the world.
"But to a man of Beverly's affectionate nature a clockwork cat could not take the heart-filling place of a real cat—that would purr when you scratched its ears, and rub against your legs, and jump over an umbrella, and give you its paw. That was the sort of cat he wanted; but after Mrs. Beverly's explosive decease his life became so nomadic that the gratification of his longing was impossible. Sometimes for days together he would be travelling by rail. Frequently he made voyages to and from the ports of Europe. Even when he was what he called settled down, his settling rarely lasted for more than a month or two and always was in a lodging-house or a hotel. Under such transitory conditions, keeping a cat—at least, keeping the same cat—was quite out of the question. Usually, when his stay anywhere was to exceed a week, he tried to borrow or to hire a cat; but people who have the right kind of cats are indisposed to lend them, and a little experience in hiring cats convinced him that only the wrong kind could be hired.
"It was out of that, to him, painful situation that his Circulating Cattery project was evolved. His primary purpose was that he himself might have a nice cat to pet wherever he wanted one and for as long a time as suited his convenience. But beyond this—Beverly was no visionary schemer—he had an eye to the substantial profit which he perceived would accrue from a cat-loan company run on business lines. With these two ends in view, he set about organizing with a characteristically energetic enthusiasm his Circulating Cattery Co., Limited: which he intended should be the nucleus, and the parent corporation, of a system of such institutions to be extended gradually into all the countries of the civilized world.
"As at first projected, his scheme went no farther than the establishment of depositories for cat circulation—framed on the plan of circulating libraries—in the principal cities of America and Europe. Each depository was to be a building of liberal size divided into liberally proportioned cubicles—his original notion of shelves and cages was discarded as too cramping to the cats—provided with a roof garden. plentifully planted with catnip, where the animals in assorted companies could lake the air. Proceeding on library lines, access to the collections was facilitated by card catalogues: each card giving a specific cat's number (its name, during the hiring period, very properly being left to the individual fancy of its temporary possessor) and a description of its personal appearance and moral characteristics. To this information was appended the price to be paid for the cat as taken out by the month, week, or day—the rate varying, of course, with the animal's qualities or accomplishments: a good trick-cat, or an amiable lap-cat with a rich purr, naturally coming higher than a stolid rug-cat useful merely as a decorative adjunct to an open fire."
"What did he charge for a back-fence cat with a yowl warranted to carry two miles?" asked the Doctor.
"Mr. Beverly's scheme did not include the dissemination of cats of that sort," the Colonel answered, coldly. "Be good enough to observe, gentlemen, that the facts which I am presenting to you relate to a serious business enterprise seriously conceived in a spirit of philanthropy. Beverly was confident that a handsome financial return was to be expected from his somewhat unusual undertaking, but that was not the phase of the matter that most appealed to him. His strongest impelling motive in establishing his circulating catteries was his benevolent desire to enlarge the sum of human happiness by bringing cats to the catless; to enable cat-lovers—temporarily or permanently uncatted—everywhere to have opportunity, at a reasonably graduated cost, to cuddle little soft furry bodies, to stroke little round furry heads, to clasp fondly little furry paws!"
The Colonel spoke with emotion. After a moment of silence, he continued: "It was a just perception of the fact that his scheme did not really cover the whole field that led Mr. Beverly ingeniously to enlarge it: by providing for the cat-needs not merely of travellers temporarily sojourning in strange cities, but of travellers actually in transit by boat or rail. His plan was an adaptation of that by which, on European railways, rugs and pillows are rented for the night, and, on transatlantic steamers, deck chairs are rented for the voyage. At all terminal railway stations, and on steamer-docks on sailing-days, he proposed to establish dépôts of cats from which travellers could make their selections; and to provide for passengers who came late, or who neglected to avail themselves of their cat opportunities before starting, a small assortment of cats for circulation was to be carried on transatlantic steamers and on transcontinental trains. At the end of the run, or the voyage, authorized Cattery agents were to be on hand to collect the Company's property, and to receipt for its return in good condition; and such agents also were to be in attendance at important way-stations on the railway lines—to whom people who got tired of their cats, or who for any other reason wished to be rid of them, could turn them in. The charges for this transit service were somewhat in excess of ordinary circulation charges; and the cat-tickets had a contract clause printed on their backs by which the hirer was bound to make good their value—inserted in a blank left for that purpose—in case they bolted out of the car window, or tumbled overboard, or otherwise were lost. For the convenience of habitual travellers, thousand-mile cat-tickets were provided—to be punched in one of four columns, according to the class of the cat, and also to be punched for the miles of cat used. In a smaller way, family ten-trip cat-tickets—"
"Pardon me. Colonel," said the Judge, "for intruding at this point an observation based upon my personal feelings. Frankly, if my own attitude toward cats is in the least degree representative, your friend Beverly's cat-circulating scheme could end only in disastrous failure. Now we have at home, much against my will, a cat named Ginger—and I may say, briefly, that she lives up to her name. Indeed, she lives beyond it—for when that cat settles down to business she can make things hotter for the entire household than all the ginger that ever grew! Why, the other day—"
"My dear Judge," interrupted the Bishop. "you generalize over-hastily. Pray bear in mind that malevolence is very far from being a prevailing feline characteristic. Your Ginger may not be what she ought to be—but you just ought to know our Timothy! Really, he is one of the very nicest cats that ever lived! You will be amused, I am sure, when I tell you that we named him—the name being appropriate to his sex—in playfully derisive memory of that schismatic Monophysite of Egypt who, in the fifth century, usurped the Patriarchate and was known contemptuously as 'Timothy the Cat.' Conceivably, gentlemen, you have not given more than passing attention to the exceedingly curious episode in Patristic history in which that extraordinary man played so strange and so sinister a part. A word or two about the matter I am persuaded will be of interest to you. Firstly, I shall speak briefly of Timothy himself. I quote, initially, from Gregory, who—after lucidly reviewing the action taken in the premises by the General Council of Chalcedon, to which I shall refer later—lays bare before us the character of the usurping Patriarch in these terse but pregnant words: 'Ad captandum vulgus—' "
"Great Scott, Bishop!" broke in the Doctor. "Cheese it on your Latin—and let the Colonel have a chance! Patriarchs who knocked around in the fifth century are cold storage of the worst sort. What the Colonel's giving us isn't much better; but, anyway, it's more or less alive."
"I had hoped, but as I now perceive vainly," said the Bishop with dignity, "that my momentary obligation to a topic of serious interest would be well received. My cloth, of course, forbids me to show resentment at being thus abruptly checked in an utterance not unworthy. I think, of considerate attention. I shall say no more than that in the present instance, as in regrettably numerous previous instances, my zeal to impart useful knowledge has made me oblivious to the uselessness of such well-meant effort in my present surroundings. I beg, my dear Colonel, that you will pardon my too-obviously ill-timed interruption and that you will proceed."
"Yes, go right ahead, Colonel," added the Doctor, "and tell us how Beverly's circulating cats circulated. I never happened to meet any of 'em myself. Did the thing fall through?"
"We await with interest, Colonel," said the Judge, suavely, but a little drowsily, "the conclusion of your interesting narrative. What I was going to say about our cat can wait till another time."
"I have no desire," the Colonel replied, with a biting severity, "to emulate the other members of this company in their disposition to interruption. When the Judge has quite finished his exposition of disagreeable facts concerning his cat Mustard—"
"Ginger," corrected the Judge.
"Pardon me, Ginger. When he has quite finished, I say, all that he has to tell about Ginger; and when the Bishop has concluded his eulogy of his cat Timothy, and with it his side-essay on Egyptian Patriarchs, I shall feel myself at liberty to add the very few words necessary to bring my little account of Mr. Beverly's Circulating Cattery project to an end. That is, of course, Doctor, unless you should see fit to intervene on your own account with some appositely inopportune remarks."
"Oh come off, Colonel. Let's have the rest of it. Even if the Judge is half asleep, and the Bishop has half his Early Christian back up, I'm listening all right—and I don't deserve to be jumped on. It's really a good enough cat-story—as such things go. How did it end?"
"It ended," the Colonel replied icily, "in Mr. Beverly's second marriage. Having once more a settled home, he acquired cats in sufficient quantities for his personal satisfaction and abandoned his larger scheme."