Surely Saki must have been a cat lover, and I bet Edward Gorey was, too. You don't have to be a cat lover to appreciate Saki's short story "Tobermory", but I think if you are, or if you have have an understanding of the general superiority of the cat over most other life forms, you'll get a kick out of it. What's not to love about a story about a talking cat. And if these stories, as the blurb says, "skewer banality and hypocrisy of polite English society, pairing the message with the messenger (in this case a cat) was genius (and pretty hilarious) on the part of Saki. It's a pitch perfect story with a surprise at the end.
Tobermory is Lady Blemley's cat, and you might say he steals the show at her most recent house party. It's a full gathering, which includes one Cornelius Appin with his "homely negative personality". He's the one guest who comes to the party with a vague reputation.
"Some one had said he was 'clever' and he had got his invitation in the moderate expectation, on the part of his hostess, that some portion at least of his cleverness would be contributed to the general entertainment."
His claim to fame is that he has discovered a way to make animals talk, and the Blemely's cat has proven to be his first successful pupil.
"Here and there among cats one comes across an outstanding superior intellect, just as one does among the ruck of human beings, and when I made the acquaintance of Tobermory a week ago I saw at once that I was in contact with a 'Beyond-cat' of extraordinary intelligence."
I often wish I knew what my cat was thinking, but then again, maybe it's best not knowing. Cats can be quite disdainful. And if a cat is going to learn to talk, he's going to be able to say more than a one syllable word in reply to any question as Cornelius Appin points out.
"My dear Miss Resker, one teaches little children and savages and backward adults in the piecemeal fashion; when one has once solved the problem of making a beginning with an animal of highly developed intelligence one has no need for those halting methods. Tobermory can speak our language with perfect correctness."
The entertainment Cornelius Appin offers is most decidedly more for the reader's benefit than the guests at Lady Blemely's party. You know those naughty little remarks you might make in passing about your enemies and worse, your friends--don't ever make them in front of the cat. But in every little remark there is a nugget of truth. Painful though it may be. Even if it's spoken by your cat.
"Even in a delicate situation like the present, Agnes Resker could not endure to remain too long in the background."
"'Why did I ever come down here?' she asked dramatically."
"Tobermory immediately accepted the opening."
"'Judging by what you said to Mrs. Cornett on the croquet-lawn yesterday, you were out for food. You described the Blemelys as the dullest people to stay with that you knew, but said they were clever enough to employ a first-rate cook; otherwise they'd find it difficult to get anyone to come down a second time'."
Of course when Tobermory begins revealing the guests for just who or what they really are, and with ease little care and much indifference, the fear spreads . . . What happens if, as he is sure to do, Tobermory teaches his fellow cats to talk as well? I'll let you imagine what they have in mind for the cat. But fate has a funny way of tricking people. Better yet, you can read this story for yourself. It is part of the collection, The Chronicles of Clovis, which is found on Project Gutenberg.
I'm reading the selection of Clovis stories included in The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories this weekend as a matter of fact. Next up is "The Unrest-Cure". I suspect I'll have several other stories as well to report back on next weekend. This collection, and Saki in general, is highly recommended! If you need a little lightness in your life, but with a literary slant, too, Saki is your man.