Apthorpe – by J R Moeller
Fifty years ago, my wife and I received a small legacy which enabled us to buy a cottage in Suffolk. A photo of the house from the 1900s (judging by the clothes) showed it was thatched. Between the time of the photo and the mid 1960’s the thatch had been replaced by russet tiles. The thatch was not taken away, but raked into the loft and left, providing excellent insulation. It also became home to a prolific colony of mice.
We had lived in a nearby village for several months before moving into our new home. The day we moved, the local farmer’s wife asked us to lunch the next Sunday.
They asked about our new home. We mentioned our main concern.
“We’re overrun with mice,” my wife said. “We have traps everywhere, but they rob the food. They even settle in front of the fire. We’ve named some of them.”
“What about that last litter of kittens?” the farmer’s wife said.
The farmer rushed from the table and returned minutes later, carrying a box out of which a beautiful, orange tabby jumped, surveyed all of us and climbed onto my wife’s lap (she is, of course, the least enamoured of cats). We came away carrying a box with the cat inside.
“What are we calling him,” my wife asked. “We can’t call him cat.”
I was into Evelyn Waugh then. “What about Apthorpe? He carried his own thunder box.”
“What’s a thunder box? Never mind. I can guess.”
* * *
The first week the mice stopped overrunning us in the evening. The builders had cut a new doorway upstairs which necessitated stringing a chain to hold the house together. The wall had a hole cut into it. It was cat sized and it gave access to the loft. Apthorpe seized the chance.
The next morning, I opened the back door to Apthorpe grooming himself in front of a row of six headless mice.
For the next fortnight Apthorpe greeted me each morning with a new collection of corpses. Eventually, the numbers fell until one day, there were no decapitated mice. From then on, Apthorpe spent most evenings in front of the fire.
This harmony lasted for several months until one evening Apthorpe sat in front of the back door and yowled. My wife opened the door and he bolted.
“I suspect he’s going courting,” I said. “There was a black cat hanging about today.”
For the next few years we were hosts to successive litters of kittens until we had to move owing to a change in my job. Apthorpe must have realised we were about to move as he suffered a fatal decline. It was a sad end to his distinguished life.
Some years later, our former neighbours called on us. The new owners of our house seemed quite happy, although they complained about the number of mice that pestered them. They needed an Apthorpe, although I doubt there would be another cat quite like him.
The author has lived with animals all his life, having grown up on a farm. This piece is based on a cat who was part of the family for many years.