(For those of you who have not met them, these are the Cathedral Cats - Bach and Cadenza are the parents of Cantori, Decani, Matins, Vespers, and others. They are working cats and one of their roles is to clean after the Cathedral cleaners have done their job.)
Cantori was sulking. Bach was cross with him, very cross. Cantori had failed Advanced Tail Cleaning.
It was hardly surprising. Cantori had almost failed Elementary Tail Cleaning and then Tail Cleaning One and Tail Cleaning Two.
“Practice makes purrrrrrfect,” Bach had growled.
“I did,” Cantori said.
“You did not,” Bach said in a growl almost as deep as the lowest note on the pedalboard of the organ. “If you can’t pass Advanced Tail Cleaning you will never get to Tail Tip Cleaning. Tail Tip Cleaning is vital for a Cathedral Cat.”
“Then I don’t want to be a Cathedral Cat,” Cantori told him sulkily.
Bach looked at him. Bach’s fur rippled in a way that told Cantori he had gone too far, much too far.
Cantori knew why. Cathedral Cats had very important jobs to do, especially at Christmas and Easter. It wasn’t enough to be born in the Cathedral Close they had to study and practice constantly. Their most important task, helping the mice to clean the inside of the organ pipes, was something Cantori thought he would never master. Bach made it look easy but Cantori knew Bach worked at least an hour a day to keep his skills up just on that.
“Where’s Decani?” Bach asked. Decani had failed too. Bach was worried about Decani. Decani was a clumsy cat. He had always been clumsy. He had barely passed any of the numerous exams all the cats needed to pass. If it hadn’t been for living entirely within the Cathedral Close Bach worried that Decani would already have used all nine lives.
“Don’t know.” Cantori said crossly, “Don’t care.”
He actually felt bad about Decani. He had been teasing Decani. Decani could never hold his tail in the right position and turn it the right way let alone at the correct speed and distance or anything else.
It was worse for Decani because he had tried. The other cats should have looked up to him because he was the only cat who could read. Even Bach had to rely on Decani to read the Cathedral Courier. But Decani couldn’t pass his exams so they teased him instead.
Bach prowled the length of the Cathedra looking for Decani. He looked under every pew. He looked on top of every cushion and under each kneeler. He looked in the organ loft and the library, in the gallery and the flower room. He looked in the vases and even in the baptismal font. Decani was nowhere to be found. Had he run off?
Bach went to find Cadenza. She was feeding their new kittens and didn’t really want to know about her errant older children. Cantori was simply lazy. Decani was clumsy. They had failed. There was nothing to be done for now. They would simply have to try again next year.
“You need to be a little tougher on them,” she told Bach.
His whiskers bristled and he stalked off, tail low in anger. He had been tough but he couldn’t make Cantori practice or Decani less clumsy.
Decani was not at Evening Prayer. He had never missed Evening Prayer before. Bach was really worried by now. Cantori, Matins, Vespers, Terce and the rest of them were all there. Even Cadenza had left the kittens, safely stowed in their kitten carrel, and come but Decani was not there.
He wasn’t at Morning Prayer either. Bach was convinced Decani had run off by now. He went to see Mouse. Mouse led the cats in Cathedral Lane. Mouse was busy cleaning and sorting the notes for Tom’s harp. It was a difficult job and it kept Mouse particularly busy just before Christmas but he stopped for long enough to say,
“No, can’t say I have even heard a whisker twitch about him.”
That was really alarming.
Bach went back to the Cathedral Close. He sat and worried…and then worried some more. Cadenza worried. That upset the other cats. Even the kittens didn’t feed properly. The Dean worried because all the cats seemed to be off their food and one of them seemed to be missing altogether.
“Come on Bach,” he said kindly, “Let’s see if we can find Decani. He must be somewhere. Perhaps he’s just been shut in.”
Bach didn’t think so but he followed the Dean. They searched. They searched all the places that Bach had already searched. The Dean even opened doors Bach had not been able to unlock “just in case” but there was no sign of Decani.
“I’ll have to tell the Bishop,” the Dean said at last. Losing a Cathedral Cat would upset everyone. They usually lived to a great age. Losing such a young cat so close to Christmas would be even worse. There was so much work for them to do and they took such great pride in helping to keep the Cathedral immaculate and welcoming.
Bach followed the Dean across the grass, through the high door in the wall, and up the path to the Bishop’s Palace. Out of the corner of his eye Bach could see Cantori following them. His tail was drooping. His whiskers were drooping even further. His coat looked rough with anxiety. He had stopped sulking but, if anything, he looked even more miserable than before.
“Come in Dean, come in! You’re being followed…hello Bach... and which one are you? Cantori I think. Do come and have a look. I’m really rather worried. It started out as a bit of fun but he keeps at it and at it.”
What on earth was the Bishop talking about now? The Dean was trying to explain but the Bishop just said,
“My dear friend do come and have a look.”
They all followed him into the little room the Bishop’s wife used for doing all sorts of Cathedral related things like mending the linen and writing the rosters for the flowers, darning the holes in the socks of the choirboys and taking up their cassocks.
There was a mirror against one wall. There was Decani. He was sitting in front to of the mirror trying to get his right paw around his tail in the approved manner and hold it in the correct position. As they watched he seemed to slump slightly and then he tried with his left paw. He did it perfectly. Right paw wrong. Left paw perfect. He looked puzzled and miserable.
“He has been at it for hours. We thought he was just playing at first but he….” The Bishop shrugged, “I can’t work it out.”
Bach could. He knew exactly what the problem was. Not one of them had recognised it. He walked over to Decani and sat there. He put his left paw on Decani’s right paw and stopped him.
“I can’t do it! I’ve tried and tried and tried and I can’t do it. I can only do it with the wrong paw! I’m no good to anyone,” Decani cried. It came out as the most pathetic miaou Bach had ever heard. He kept his left paw on Decani’s right paw.
“Decani, you can do it. You are a left pawed cat. That is an extraordinary and beautiful thing. It is the most useful sort of cat there is. You can do your tail cleaning perfectly. I think you might actually pass tail tip cleaning you’re so good. I might even start you on cleaning the organ pipes. Come along.”
Decani looked at him bewildered. Then he let his whiskers go straight out for a moment. Left pawed? The smallest left whisker twitched with relief. He had just been given the best possible Christmas present. He didn’t say anything but he followed everyone to the door.
“Am I left pawed too?” Cantori asked as the three cats made their way across the now snowy grass.
“No,” replied Bach, “You just need to work harder.”