"There will be no more cats in the cathedral. I have ordered cages. The cats will be removed. If you have cats in the Close then they must be removed too. I will not have cats in the cathedral precinct at all. Is that understood?"
The new Dean looked around. He had called a meeting of the Chapter and a number of others who worked in the cathedral.
"But Dean I don't think you understand. The cathedral has always had cats. The cathedral is known for them." Canon Anselm protested, "They bring in a lot of money. There are all the books and postcards, t-shirts, caps and tea towels, the recipe book and the cat-themed knitting book...and the last lot of cathedral kittens were sent to cathedrals around the world."
"Nonsense. Cathedrals are known for their music, their art, their architecture...and worship of course." Somehow the Dean managed to make the last sound of little importance.
"Ours is known for all that and the cats," Canon Stephen muttered. He was old and the two Cloister cats, Matins and Vespers, slept with him at night. They were like two hot water bottles that did not go cold. He had felt the cold ever since his beloved wife had died the previous winter.
"And the Bishop has agreed to this?" asked the organist. He thought it unlikely. Cadenza, mother of the latest litter, lived with the Bishop and his wife. They would not give her up without a fight.
"I have not yet spoken to him but the Bishop will agree because it is the only sensible move. The cats cost the cathedral far too much. They are dirty. It puts visitors off if they get cat hair all over their clothes and it is quite unseemly to have cats wandering through a place of worship. What is more I cannot even be in the same room as one without suffering severe consequences. Cats are not mentioned in the Bible. The cats must go. That's all I have to say. Now I have a very important meeting to attend with the Mayor..."
The Dean picked up his phone and slid out before anyone could say any more.
"We can't have cats? Of course they are mentioned. They are one of the living things our Lord created. Just because they are not mentioned by name does not mean they are not mentioned," muttered old Canon Stephen again, "And, bless them, they keep me warm,"
The librarian, Canon Mark, sighed. Matins and Vespers were naughty but they were devoted to the old man.
"Come on. I'll make a cup of tea and we'll think about this. It's not right," Canon Mark told him. He was worried too. He relied on Decani to help dust the books. Decani's whiskers were just the right width for cleaning between the most delicate bindings. How would the library fare without Decani to help with caring for the books?
The organist was pale with shock. His own cat, Purrgolesi, and young Cantori helped the mice clean the organ pipes. It would be very expensive to bring in outside cleaners, far more than it cost to keep the cats and the mice. Who would chase the leaves from the cloisters and clear the grounds of rubbish if Matins and Vespers weren't there? What if there were muddy paw prints on the carpet occasionally? The cats had more than paid for their keep last year!
Bach, the Senior Cathedral Cat, heard the news and wondered how the Cathedral would cope without cats to help for cleaning the stained glass, scrubbing the vases and the baptismal font, dusting the hymn books and straightening the kneelers, keeping the mice in order and posing for photographs for merchandise to sell to help pay for the upkeep of the ancient building. What would be the point of training each litter of kittens to do the same thing in cathedrals all over the world? Cathedral cats worked hard!
Bach was so concerned he called a meeting of the other cats. This was his family. What were they going to do? There was uproar when he told them what was planned but Bach held up his paw and silenced them.
"Stop your caterwauling. We need to think."
The cats looked at each other in dismay. The Cathedral was their home! They couldn't leave!
"We need to show the Dean how much work we do," Bach told them.
"I think we should go on strike," Cantori said. He could sometimes be very lazy.
"No, not strike. If the Dean saw us just lying around that would only encourage him," Bach said, "but we could all take a short holiday together - just for the weekend. If we aren't here and things don't get done he might reconsider."
The cats looked at each other again. A holiday for everyone sounded good. The cats usually only went away in pairs. Where could they go?
"We can't go too far but Mouse says Tom and Lizzie would have us there for the weekend. The Leaf Music Oak needs a Christmas Clean. We can do that for them in return for having us. "
Mouse was Tom-the -harpist's cat. His sister Lizzie was the cathedral's music librarian. They wouldn't want the cats to leave.
And the weekend? That meant tomorrow and Sunday. They were the two busiest days of the week for the cathedral cats. Tom and Lizzie's place was not far away at all. Giving the Leaf Music Oak a Christmas Clean didn't sound like much of a holiday but if it meant they could still live in the cathedral the cats thought they would do it.
"Now, it is too far for the kittens. Cadenza and I can only carry one each..."Bach looked around. Kitten carrying duties were not lightly given. No, not Matins and Vespers. They had to keep Canon Stephen warm tonight. He looked around, Purcell? Praetorius? Grimani? Cantori? That was a bit of a risk but he did like the new kittens. Decani? Yes, no problem there.
While Cadenza was supervising the move Bach went to find Monteverdi, the mouse in charge of the organ mice, so they knew they would get no help cleaning the organ pipes.
"We can't do it by ourselves," Monteverdi squeaked in horror. We won't clean the pipes at all!"
Bach was rather sorry about that. The organ would sound dreadful but perhaps....
The spiders sighed and said, "I suppose you expect us to spin more webs than usual."
"Don't overdo it," Bach told them. He was not on particularly good terms with the spiders. Their old webs stuck to his fur. All the same it would be worth it if it added to the chaos.
A little later anyone who looked would have been surprised to see a procession of cats going out of the close, almost all of them carrying a kitten.
That night nobody, apart from Canon Stephen, could find a cat anywhere. The Dean didn't notice. He simply assumed everyone had kept their cats indoors.
Next morning, just as Matins and Vespers were running down the street, a van drew up. The driver left a large pile of cat cages at the front door of the cathedral.
The Dean hurried over. Excellent! He called in all the cathedral staff and set them to finding the cats. Not one could be found.
"They must be somewhere!"
"No, not even Cadenza and the kittens. Someone must have moved them," Canon Anselm said. He was worried. Where had the cats gone? How did they know?
At Tom and Lizzie's place the cats had been very busy giving the Leaf Music Oak a Christmas Clean. It had actually been great fun. The weather had been cold but fine and sunny and Tom had been able to take his harp outside. He played Leaf Music and the cats found themselves dancing up and down the tree collecting all the old leaves, sorting them into piles for the Oak Leaf Society, and polishing all the new leaves. They had cleaned the bark with their claws and tuned the branches under Tom's supervision. Now it was singing happily. The cats were feeling quite pleased. Lizzie had given them all tuna for lunch too!
It was a little while before Bach realised that Decani and Cantori were missing. Had they been caught? No, it was not possible. They had both carried kittens all the way. Bach and Cadenza had counted all eight kittens on one paw each. And yes, they had been here earlier because of course Cantori had been the one to climb right to the top of the Leaf Music Oak. Had the little scamps gone off to play instead of working? Cantori might get distracted but Decani would sometimes have to be reminded it was mealtime. So where were they?
Nobody could find them. Bach had a sleepless night prowling and calling.
In the meantime the spiders had been busy and there were cobwebs every where. They had done a particularly good job of clogging up the organ pipes. The mice had not cleared away anything at all. The organ sounded dreadful.
The organist refused to play. That meant the choir boys couldn't sing in tune. They wriggled and squirmed in their seats because they didn't have Cantori and Decani watching them from their usual places under the pews. Part of the problem was the cold. People were shivering and shuffling their feet. They didn't want to take their hands out of their pockets to hold the hymn books. Purrgolesi had turned the heating off before leaving.
All this disrupted the Dean's very long sermon about the importance of people over pets. He mentioned his extreme allergy to cats not once but many times.
"If there was a cat anywhere in the cathedral right now I would scarcely be able to breathe. I would not be able to speak to you."
The congregation had heard enough of that and started muttering among themselves.
The Dean was delighted. He thought the congregation was agreeing with him.
After twice the usual time he finished with a flourish and then turned to leave the pulpit. As he did so a cat appeared from directly under the pulpit, from within no more than a cat's whisker of the Dean. It had clearly been there right through the Dean's sermon. The Dean dived at it and missed. Another cat appeared from behind the altar
"Catch them!" the Dean implored.
The congregation made a half-hearted attempt to do so. There was chaos. The choir boys kept on getting in the way. Someone almost caught one but somehow didn't quite manage to do it. The cats ran along the pews, up one aisle, down another, around the baptismal font, through the side chapels and over the tombs of not one but three Lords Harpcottle and their wives. (Someone claimed that the first Lord Harpcottle gave them his sword to slide down when the Dean tried to catch one by the tail.)
Eventually the cats shot up into the organ loft. The organist hastily hid them under his cassock.
Old Canon Stephen just sat there. When things had calmed down and the little grey cats seemed to be safe the old Canon rose and went to complete his part of the service.
As he did so he passed the Dean.
"The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy," he quoted from Proverbs (12.22).
The Dean glared at him but the old Canon just shook his head sadly and then went about his duties.
The Bishop was back the following day.
"Get rid of the cats?" he asked, "Our cathedral is known for cats. We won't be getting rid of them. Which one was in the pulpit?"
"Decani," his wife told him
The Bishop nodded. That didn't surprise him.
"And the other one was Cantori of course?"
"I wonder how they knew?"
"How did you know?" Bach asked Decani, "You took a great risk. I should be very angry with you and I wish you had told me. It would have saved a lot of trouble."
"No. The oak needed some help so I thought you could have some fun and I knew Lizzie would give everyone tuna. I was under the table at the meeting. The Dean didn't sneeze or get itchy which is what happens if you can't be near one of us.. I think that's what the word allergic means."
"It means he was lying,"Bach said and went to lie in a sunny patch.
Decani went off to visit the Bishop's wife before Cantori ate all the tuna.