Lord Spencer Speaks

The Saga of Young Mr. Cat

In which Spencer Compton falls for a creature of the feline persuasion

Upon my word, the most startling discovery I’ve made while exploring this town named for me is that it has gone to the dogs.

And, perhaps even more alarmingly, to the cats.

I, Lord Wilmington, lived a silken life of quiet and tidy decorum while growing up without pets on our moated and beautifully gardened Compton Wynyates estate in Warwickshire, England, during the 1660s and 1670s. The Compton hound, Sturdy, was a feisty and slobbery hunter who knew his place (behind the barns) and only spoke when on the trail of a fox or nosing out a pheasant. There were a few cats that were allowed to mouse the granary, but they were exceedingly wiley and virtually invisible given Sturdy’s taste for them.

And my beautiful mother, Mary Noel, found felines to be insufferably haughty and superior — well beyond their lowly station. “They look at you as if you’re on the menu,” she’d sniff. Remember, just a few hundred years earlier there had been a mass slaughter of cats in Europe because many associated them with witchcraft and sorcery. (Which likely helped fuel the rodent-borne plague that killed six out of 10 people.)

So imagine my surprise at the legions of highly visible (and audible) dogs and cats in and around Wilmington! Hounds of every shape and size in restaurants, stores, pubs, their heads hanging out of passing cars, endlessly out on walks, excreting, tongues lolling and dripping, shedding fur, licking and barking and whining!

I see dogs on leashes on the beaches, yipping and yapping at every step as if the sand is gnawing at their feet. (To me, it’s the most unwelcome sound at the seashore, second only to the buffoons who blast their music as if it’s a gift for those who come to hear the soothing sounds of the ocean.)

And the cats! Verily, they just flop and lounge in Wilmington’s yards, sidewalks, alleys — even in the street!  Every worthless cat now parading as a prowling carnivore is instead just another serial sleeper. They make no pretense of hunting, stalking, lurking, sneaking, cat-footing or even slinking away when noticed. They just look at you, slowly blinking, as if awaiting the butler to bring them a fresh tin of sardines and perhaps a cigarette.

“Don’t you have work to do?” I’d inquire, arching my famously hirsute eyebrows.

But all ignore me. In just the 250-some years since I was the speaker of the House of Commons and British prime minister, cats have lost their pride.

Which brings us to the most alarming portion of this rather embarrassing missive to you, my loyal subjects: A young cat has adopted me. Lord Wilmington, of all people! And not just any feline, but a creature with special powers and, I believe, a secret message written in his fur from another dimension.

I know, I know. The sheerest piffle, you are thinking. As you should. But allow me to tell this improbable tale from the beginning, remembering, dear readers, that I was famed across Britain’s vast empire for honesty and understatement, along with plodding indifference.

It was a year ago — a windy, rainy fall night with an invigorating chill in the air. I was awakened by a strident yowl. In the dim light from the watery streetlights I could see a half-grown kitten squeezing his way into my Queen Street bedroom through the small gap of an open window. Stunned, I managed to grab the clawing cat, elbowing the window further open so I could toss the kitten out of it and slam it shut. Fancy that!

I heard a bit more yowling, but silence returned and so did my slumbers.

Upon awakening, I made my customary coffee (yes, I have been converted) and stepped onto the front porch to drink it on my cushioned glider. And there, curled fast asleep upon my throne, was last night’s intruder. My “ahem” only caused an ear to twitch. So I toed the swing until the kitten awoke and tumbled down, immediately grooming its unusual coat. (Tortoiseshell tabby, I later learned.)

I clapped my hands and hissed, and the kitten raced away, positively bounding in a most satisfying way. “At least this one has a bit of shame,” I said before carefully sweeping the cushion clean so I could settle my robed self upon it. But he (obviously male) returned late that evening during brandy hour, making little chirping noises as if introducing himself. Again I shooed him away.

This continued for days. Even turning the water hose on him could not dampen his ardor for my company. He switched his sleeping arrangements to the plush welcome mat on the sheltered back deck and, after a few weeks, I found myself having coffee on the back porch, listening to the little mewling chatter with which Young Mr. Cat, as I called him, would greet me each morning and evening.

I was pleased that he banished with alacrity the neighborhood feline bully, Dirty White Tom, who previously felt free to stroll through our yards as if they were his.

I didn’t feed YMC, thinking there were rodents he could eat. But as the weeks went by, I discovered that the older couple next door, Richard and Gloria, hosted Young Mr. Cat for breakfast each morning.

And on the other side, my 91-year-old blind neighbor, Jo, awaited his deft step with delicate delectables. “You’re ruining him,” I’d tell them fruitlessly.

But one day, Jo responded to my chastising by saying, “You have to take him to the vet, Lord Compton.”

“Why ever should I?”

“Because he’s your cat,” Jo replied. “And I think he’s got worms or ear mites. And he needs to be fixed.”

Fixed?

“Castrated,” she explained. “Otherwise our yards will smell like urine and other cats will come to fight.”

Young Mr. Cat indeed fought mightily as I packed him into a cardboard carrier given to me by Gloria. Even the veterinarian assistants were surprised at the ferocity of this young catamount. I had to keep him indoors for the better part of two days until the anesthesia dissipated. (He didn’t like being inside and still doesn’t.) That’s when I found he had a profound interest in watching Jeopardy!, the only television show I find worthy of viewing.

Thus began our nightly ritual. At precisely 7:30 p.m. on weeknights, he appears at the back door to come in to watch the ever-faithful and royal Alex Trebek. After Final Jeopardy he exits without comment. Yes, I admit to petting him a little. But the only time I allowed him on my lap was the guilt-filled evening after his surgery. If castration helps “settle” male cats, why not humans? 

By then I had begun to notice the startling power Young Mr. Cat has for attracting other wildlife. First I noticed him chatting with a box turtle that had lumbered into the large, beautifully gardened (ahem) yard here on Queen Street.

A few days later, two butterflies put on such an aerial show around him I had to dub them the Samurai Butterflies. Every songbird typically mortified of cats comes and sings and chirps close by. They, too, show off for Young Mr. Cat with fanciful flights that, from my view in the porch, can only be for his (and my) viewing pleasure. He particularly seems to inspire Exceptional Squirrel, as I have named him. He races to the very tip-top of the towering oaks and then flies from one to the other as YMC watches happily. We’ve been visited repeatedly by Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and one of those ugly ducks with the most expressive feathered pompadours.

My suspicion of some kind of superpower became a certainty when I saw a manhole cover-size mud turtle nose-to-nose with him. That was shortly after a turkey vulture swooped daringly and repeatedly just a few feet over our heads — such beautiful under-feathers, such a grand flier! — before landing just yards away, proudly pacing back and forth on his clown-shoe feet.

When I’d ask YMC — yes, I started talking to him long ago — about his power over other animals (including me), he’d roll over on his back, displaying his most unusual under-fur. At first I thought he was just being playful, but after closely examining photographs I took of him with my intelligent phone, I noticed distinctive patterns in his markings — dashes, dots, Xs, triangles and scroll-like markings that I believe to be some kind of code that I am attempting to interpret.

Laugh all you want. My contemporaries in British Parliament were fond of mocking me as a dullard and a fop. But Lord Wilmington became (albeit briefly) the most powerful man in the empire.  Besides, my loyal subjects, here you are reading the words of an impeccably dressed and credentialed man who has somehow travelled time to a town named for him 280 years ago.

By the way, YMC has grown to 10 pounds during this past year. At his unspoken request, he is heretofore to be known simply and elegantly as Mr. Cat.

—Spencer Compton

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