Today is International Cat Day, an excuse to remember Gunnar Tebben. Here he is in Chapter 4 (Rehearsal with Interludes) of August Folly doing what he does best – stealing and then boasting about it. On this occasion it earns him the thanks and approbation of Margaret, Richard and Mr Tebben.
“Mrs. Tebben, prowling in the larder to get food for her family, who, full of Mrs. Palmer’s claret cup and sandwiches, had begged her not to, found Gunnar, locked up there by mistake, angrily eating the rest of the haddock. Everyone blamed Gunnar.
‘Bad cat,’ said Mr. Tebben. ‘The Vikings, it is true, ate quantities of dried fish, smoked or salted, but less from desire than necessity. When fresh meat was procurable they greatly preferred it.’
Margaret rubbed Gunnar behind his ears. Richard carried him up to his room and allowed him to curl up on his pillow. But no sooner was Richard asleep than Gunnar got out of the window and boasted hideously to his friends in the village that he had broken into the larder single-handed and eaten all the next day’s dinner.”
When Angela was living in Australia the family owned both dogs and cats. In 1982 Angela’s youngest son, Lance, edited a booklet of extracts from letters exchanged between his mother and Angela’s mother, Margaret Mackail. It’s an entertaining and, at times, surprising collection. Here are just a few examples of Lance’s life with the kitten:
April 20th 1922
“The kitten has a mortal enmity to Lance’s plush monkey and in the morning the following happens. The kitten comes in at my bedroom window and wakes me by walking on me. Then Lance wakes all in one breath and scrambling to his feet throws all his bedclothes and children out of bed with screams of joy. The kitten, who has been waiting for this, rushes at the monkey, pounces on it and carries it away with arched neck, and kills it in a corner. And whenever it [the kitten] catches sight of it [the monkey] during the day it carries it away and claws it to death.”
“Pussy gets the better of him now, and I sometimes find him screaming with rage while he (if I dare call it so), I mean the cat, embraces one of Lance’s legs or feet and kills it.”
“To see Lance with tears in his eyes and a broken voice saying “Ta” to the cat for his own plush monkey is an affecting sight.”
June 26th 1922
He [Lance] calls the cat “Dear gorl (girl)” and shows great acumen in saying “Bee-gee” to all horses. He adores birds but has no name for them.”Baby, Mother and Grandmother, 1982. Published by the Angela Thirkell Society.