Sunday, 17 August 2008
A Dinner with Ned Kelly
I don't know if this tale is true or not, but I tell it to you as it was told to me. Many years ago, a young boy came home from the market with six napkin rings. Each one was stamped with the initials 'N K' just his rifle was. They were also dated '1871' and looked like they had been made from tin cans, though they hadn't. At first the boy was told he'd been had and that the napkin rings were not really Ned Kelly's, but it was soon verified by a Kelly scholar.
It was said that they had been given to somebody who had sheltered the Kelly gang and from there they had made the journey through time all objects make, passing on occasionally until they were sold to the boy at the market.
A man who was a carter had sold them to the boy. This carter had a cat called Max, a tabby cat of some distinction, who was famous among cats in the area. Now the carter left the market the day after having sold all he had and went on the road again. The cart was pulled by an old English Shire horse called Old Bill because nobody got away from him when his blood was up. The carter forgot to take the cat with him, so Max followed the boy home and looked pitiful. It worked and he got himself a home until the carter should return.
Now the neighbourhood cats were suspicious of Max and so was Mr Griswold of number 37. Actually, Mr Griswold was suspicious of all cats, but especially Max. Max looked distinguished and tough. He walked with a swagger, his tail up like a banner, his eyes green and fierce. He looked like a small dark grey tiger and if he was challenged he could fight like one too. Mr Griswold laid a trap for Max and soon had him caged. He put Max in his shed where there were lots of other cats in cages too.
The boy wondered where Max had gone but thought merely that Max was out prowling. So the boy gave his mother the napkin rings and she put them in the kitchen drawer and promptly forgot about them. The boy also forgot about them, for he loved to go on the prowl himself. But two evenings later, when his mother asked him to set the table, he found the napkin rings and put them out with fine linen napkins next to the knife and fork.
Now not a lot of people know, but cats are in touch with the spirits around us. Those who die and leave us are able to visit now and then and cats know it. So Max, remembering the boy with Ned Kelly's napkin rings yowled until the old dead outlaw came to the shed and saw what Mr Griswold had done to the cats.
"By god, I never did like bars!" he declared.
"Then tell the boy to come and free us," Max answered, adding, "We shall have an uprising of cats against the Griswold."
Ned thought that sounded fine and went looking for the napkin rings. Finding them in the neighbourhood, he hurried there directly. He found the boy, his mother and father and sister sitting down to eat and joined them at the table. Well you can imagine the uproar, until Ned Kelly reassured the family that he was not there to rob or harm anyone. He let them eat in peace and told them of his daring in the past when he was alive to entertain them. After supper he whispered to the boy what Max had asked and the boy chuckled at the thought of a wild adventure.
Naturally the boy did not tell his parents for they would have forbidden him, which would have made the adventure even more appealing. He went to bed and considered what he would do to free the cats. Ned Kelly went back to Max and told him help was on the way before he left the shed and strolled down to the police station.
Meanwhile, Max roused up the caged cats telling them that they would soon be free and would avenge themselves on the Griswold. Three of the cats harrumphed, but most of the cats were with Max. One of the three sceptical cats asked Max who he was that they should follow him. Max sat at the front of his cage and raised one paw for silence.
"I say that one day we will be free cats again and we shall never be caged. I say that we will triumph out of this adversity. This I say - I Carter's puss!"
They debated what they would do throughout the night, while Mr Griswold put the pillows over his ears to block out the yowling from the shed.
The following day, Mr Griswold went to work and the boy went to Mr Griswold's back garden. He unscrewed the lock from the shed and opened the door. Row upon row of cats miaowed and yowled. The boy first freed Max who purr-miaowed his thanks and leapt to the floor. The boy freed all the cats and to be on the safe side, took all the cages and destroyed them all with Mr Griswold's sledgehammer. He put the destroyed bits of sledgehammer back in the shed, closed the door and screwed back the lock. The cats scattered for they missed their freedom. But they all swore to return that evening with every cat in the neighbourhood.
The boy left the garden and strolled home the 'picturesque' way in case he should be caught out of school. It did him no good for he was soon rounded up and hauled off to school, but at least he had freed the cats as Ned Kelly had asked him.
That night it is said, Mr Griswold returned home and made himself some supper. A caterwauling began and he ran outside to catch more cats with a large net. Suddenly he was set upon by fifty hissing, growling well-muscled balls of furry anger. He threw his net behind him and fled with the cats in close pursuit of him. He was never seen again and the following month when the carter returned, carter's puss hid in the cart until the market was over. The boy had saved his pennies and came home with Florence Nightingale's handkerchief...