When he came across the motionless cat on the path in front of him, Angus stopped in his tracks, uncertain what to do.
Cyril, though, acted without hesitation. He was used to the wiles of cats and to their deceptive strategies. How many times had he fallen for the tricks of a particular cat, a resident of Northumberland Street, that would lie on a step as if asleep, presenting for any passing dog an impossibly tempting target? All the while, of course, that cat would not be asleep, but would be watching very carefully through a slit in its eyes, ready to leap out of reach – and then, triumphantly and provocatively hiss its derision from its place of safety. As any dog would do, he fell for that every time, and, like any dog, he lived in hope that one day he would administer justice to that cat, paying it back for all the humiliation it had heaped on the canine world. Oh, there were scores to settle, all right …
So now, seeing this cat lying still on the path, Cyril uttered a low growl and began to inch forward, hackles raised, as a hunting dog might stalk its prey through the long grass. When the cat did not react and as he came within reach of it, it dawned on him that something was amiss. Looking back over his shoulder, he sought guidance from Angus. This was a very unusual situation and Cyril would naturally take his cue from his master.
“Stay, Cyril,” commanded Angus, and stepped forward to take command of the situation. He leaned forward and reached out to touch the cat – a touch that confirmed what was so clearly the case: the cat was dead.
Cyril nosed at the cat and then looked up at Angus. There was nothing here for them and they should move on – that was what Angus imagined Cyril was thinking. But Angus himself was of another view. He was disinclined to leave a dead cat in the gardens, in just the same way as he was disinclined to leave litter lying about. If, on his morning walk, he encountered – as he sometimes did – the remains of a fish supper tossed carelessly over the garden railings by some keelie, Angus would always pick it up and deposit in the nearest bin. Discarded fish suppers encouraged gulls, who were noisy neighbours, or foxes, who were better-off in the country than in the town. And quite apart from that, litter defaced and coarsened the urban environment, and if he did not pick it up, Angus reckoned, then nobody else would.
The same must surely apply to dead cats. If he walked past this cat, and everybody else did the same, then it would simply remain where it was and become a health hazard. There might be no vultures in Drummond Place, but presumably there were rats waiting the wings, and these would make a mess of things. And then there was the question of sympathy for the cat itself. As a species, we buried our dead, but we also extended this consideration to the animals with whom we shared our lives. A domestic animal should not be left where it fell, but should be given a decent burial, thought Angus, and since he was the one who had found the poor creature, he should perform this service for it.
“I’m afraid that’s the end of the walk,” Angus said the Cyril. “We can’t leave this poor chap here.”
Cyril looked blank. None of the words that Angus had just uttered matched his small vocabulary of commands, with the exception of walk, which he thought he recognised. But they were already on a walk, so that hardly took matters any further.
While Cyril struggled with syntax, Angus bent down and gingerly lifted the cat from the ground. It was unexpectedly light, even though it appeared to be sizeable by the standards of domestic cats. The body was stiff, although not so rigid as to prevent the head from lolling slightly as Angus stood up. This meant that the eyes stared directly up at him, and he saw that they were green. He had not expected that – these green, sightless eyes; nor had he expected the pang of sorrow that came upon him.
“Poor fellow,” said Angus. “Poor fellow.”
Cyril was silent. He understood nothing of what was happening.
Carrying his burden, like a pall-bearer in some private obsequy, Angus, followed by Cyril, made his way back towards the gate. There was nobody to see them, but had there been, they might have stopped and watched this poignant procession of deceased, officiant, and chief mourner making its melancholy way down Scotland Street. And then seen the little procession disappear through the outer door of Number 44, where the next stage of proceedings – whatever that might be – would take place beyond the eyes of others.
That next stage involved Domenica, who watched as Angus laid out the cat on a newspaper spread across the kitchen table.
“I found him on a path,” Angus told Domenica. “Do you recognise him?”
Domenica examined the cat. “No,” she said. “He looks a little like that cat from Cumberland Street – the one that hangs about the bar, but that cat’s eyes are …”
“Blue,” said Angus. “He has Siamese in him, that cat. His eyes are blue.”
Domenica peered more closely. “These are green. They’re beautiful.”
“Yes. Burmese cats have eyes like that. He must have Burmese somewhere in his background.”
Domenica sighed. “Such a pity. Do you think he was run over?”
“But does it matter now?” Domenica continued. “Somebody’s going to miss him, I imagine.” She paused. “What are you going to do, Angus?”
Angus made a gesture of uncertainty. “Bury him, I suppose.”
He shrugged. “In Drummond Place Gardens? Where I found him?”
Domenica did not think that a good idea. “I’m not sure if the Committee would approve. And I’m sure you need their permission for that sort of thing.”
Angus frowned. “You’re probably right. Remember that row over somebody planting some daffodil bulbs without permission? The Committee sent out that notice saying that under no circumstances was anybody permitted to dig in the gardens. They were very explicit.”
He looked to Domenica for guidance. “So, what do I do? Throw him out with the rubbish? Isn’t that a bit heartless?”
She agreed that it was. But there must be some procedure for this, she thought – after all, there were plenty of dogs and cats that died in town – what did their owners do?
“I think it’s a matter for the local council,” said Angus. “There must be somebody up at the City Chambers who knows what to do.”
“Phone them,” said Domenica.
“Do you think they answer their phones?” asked Angus. “Or do they have a machine that gives you options?”
“They might,” said Domenica. “Give it a try.”
“And the machine will say, If you’re calling about a dead cat, please press option 179.”
“It’s not funny,” Domenica scolded. “Have some respect.”