My Weekly

A Cat Of Many Talents

A story to make you smile

- By Jill Grove

When the student is ready the teacher will appear, Josh, that’s what my mum always told me. She never said who the teacher might be, but never in a million years did I expect it to be a cat!

In truth, I was a dog-person but the neighbour’s moggy visited everyone on Mulberry Drive and often greeted me at my door, back arched and eyes bright.

He was a mess of matted fur with marmalade eyes and a meow so small I thought I’d gone deaf. He was a mixed bag to look at, a bit persian round the tail and a bit bobcat round the ears. I soon realised he was a cat of many talents.

I’m sorry to say, it was me who named him Furbag, which probably makes me the most disrespect­ful student ever.

Mulberry Drive is a smart little cul-de-sac with friendly neighbours, despite the incident with Bob’s nephew, Jim, taking Maggie Soames’ pension. I always thought Jim was a wrong’un but luckily I never said as much.

We made up the money from a cake-sale organised by the owner of the local coffeeshop, the lovely Miss Reeves, though we never found a replacemen­t for the purse.

“It had a ladybird with a bow in its hair,” Maggie told us, “The spitting image of my niece.”

As she spoke, Furbag appeared from nowhere and Maggie, scratching under his chin, was soon smitten. I marvelled at his sociabilit­y, a little jealous I admit.

It was Miss Reeves – or Anna I should say – who first found out about Furbag’s secret identity.

Anna often popped in to visit Maggie, to check if she needed bread and to hear the saga of Maggie’s efforts to grow the prize pumpkin for the yearly fete.

“The trick is to feed ’ em milk,” said Maggie, “so the skin grows nice and thick.”

They’d just sat down with tea at the kitchen table when Furbag appeared at the window.

“He often comes to chase off intruders,” Maggie said airily. “And he guards the house while I’m out.”

Anna was impressed.

“You know the reason why,” Maggie said with a knowing look. Anna listened open-mouthed as Maggie told her.

She thinks Furbag is the reincarnat­ion of her brother,” Anna laughed as she told me later, tucking her golden-brown hair behind her ear. “He has a spot on his cheek where her brother had a birthmark, and he rolls on his back when Maggie plays Dean Martin.”

I wasn’t convinced of course. Where was the proof? But Maggie had set Furbag a few tests, all of which he’d

passed with flying colours.

“I’m glad,” I told Anna. “Maggie can go on believing it if it makes her happy.”

Furbag had no ID collar, so I asked around to see if anyone knew where he’d come from, but all I got were blank looks.

Of course, I thought Maggie should take Furbag in, but I was surprised how many people had stories to tell about the little cat.

“He’s a psychic,” Father Abbott told me. “He picked the winning horse twice this month. I read out the names and he gives me a wink, on the downlow.”

My face must’ve been a sight! Who knew our local vicar liked a flutter?

Then I spoke to Jones, our local bobby, and I gaped as he insisted Furbag was his muse, helping him complete his unfinished painting of the fairy riverboat.

“If you look closely,” said Jones, “you’ll observe the small scruffy cat peeking out from Titania’s train.”

I left looking sheepish. Furbag knew more about my neighbours than I did!

What’s more, with the tomcat keeping watch, Maggie grew more confident leaving the house. Then one day she said she’d dreamed Furbag came to visit her – along with the thief, Jim Snell.

“Don’t worry, Jim won’t be bothering you again,” I assured her but she stubbornly shook her head.

“Furbag told me Jim’s innocent,” she insisted, “But it’ll all come right when Jim speaks to the mayor.”

Anna and I exchanged glances. I thought the old dear had lost it this time, but Maggie was now telling us about her new pumpkin feed, so we thought no more of it… until I got the phone call from my brother.

The mayor is coming to Mulberry drive?” Anna asked, incredulou­s. She’d made supper for us both, as she did every Wednesday after work.

I waited till she’d finished her slice of Madeira before telling her the story.

“He wants to visit a local affected by crime, for ‘Spotlight on Community’,” I said. “He’s visiting Mulberry Drive Community Centre on Saturday with a photograph­er, and wants a picture of himself meeting Maggie.”

Anna was surprised, then happy, but finally she bit her lip. “I’d best make sure there’s cake,” she said.

Maggie cooked pumpkin pie – which was a fitting end to her project which sadly never won any prizes.

Anna baked a huge Victoria sponge and fairy cakes and entirely too many sweet things for what would surely be a flying visit, but it meant I was called in to make icing and keep an eye on the timer, so I made no complaints. Being with Anna made my day.

I spent every day with Anna but even so, I couldn’t find the courage to tell her how I felt.

The weather on Saturday was crisp, cold and glorious, and the mayor nodded along to Maggie’s stories as the photograph­er took pictures. When he took a snap of Mulberry Drive Maggie made sure he got us all in – all except Furbag who’d mysterious­ly vanished.

“It’s not like him to miss a photo-op,” I said, but I was cut short as we heard the dreadful row. A clatter of pans and an angry voice came from Bob Snell’s house and suddenly Furbag was leaping across the gardens towards us.

“He’s got something in his mouth,” said Father Abbott.

I caught Furbag and, sure enough, he did have something in his mouth – a purse stitched with a ladybird on its side.

I looked at Anna in surprise, then we all turned round as Bob Snell came pounding out of his front door after Furbag.

He stopped dead when he saw us, and his face sank like a soufflé as he realised we all now knew the truth.

It was Bob who had stolen Maggie’s purse, to pay for some mess he’d gotten into with a loan shark. Bob had just recovered from a nasty fall and was always ill with his diabetes, so his nephew Jim had agreed to take the rap for him, on the solemn promise that Bob would get profession­al help.

I shrank inside my boots. Jim was innocent! The mayor listened to Jim’s story, and the photograph­er wasted no time getting photos, including a close-up of Bob being helped into a police car.

The photo made the front page of the Chronicle. There was even a tiny snap of Furbag, looking as proud and regal as a cat can. The story continued onto page two with quotes from everyone on Mulberry Drive with tales of their amazing feline sleuth.

Maggie was convinced Furbag set up the sting, being no ordinary cat, and Father Abbott somehow likened the little puss to Sampson’s lion returning a good deed on the community who saved him.

Somehow, in all the excitement I finally told Anna how much I liked being with her and she kissed me.

“I think you were the last person to know!” she said.

Anna and I have no explanatio­n for the miraculous cat who appeared from nowhere and disappeare­d just as mysterious­ly, without goodbyes.

Though when Jones’s cat gave birth to its litter we all noticed one had a flash of tabby in his white fur and several had marmalade eyes.

We sometimes talk of Furbag, Anna and I, as we sit on the sofa together. We wonder if he really predicted the winning horses as Father Abbott claimed, or was the reincarnat­ion of Maggie’s brother.

All I know is that a cat taught me to be slow to judge but quick to love and to reach out to others, because you’ve got nothing to lose… and maybe a whole lot of amazing to win.

There was a DREADFUL noise and Furbag was LEAPING towards us

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