The Man Who Disliked Cats

It was Harold who first made us acquainted, when I was dining one night at the Café Britannique, in Soho. It is a peculiarity of the Café Britannique that you will always find flies there, even in winter. Snow was falling that night as I turned in at the door, but, glancing about me, I noticed several of the old faces. My old acquaintance, Percy the bluebottle, looking wonderfully fit despite his years, was doing deep- breathing exercises on a mutton cutlet, and was too busy to do more than pause for a moment to nod at me; but his cousin, Harold, always active, sighted me and bustled up to do the honours.

He had finished his game of touch-last with my right ear, and was circling slowly in the air while he thought out other ways of entertaining me, when there was a rush of air, a swish of napkin, and no more Harold.

I turned to thank my preserver, whose table adjoined mine. He was a Frenchman, a melancholy-looking man. He had the appearance of one who has searched for the leak in life’s gaspipe with a lighted candle; of one whom the clenched fist of Fate has smitten beneath the temperamental third waistcoat-button.

He waved my thanks aside. “It was a bagatelle,” he said. We became friendly. He moved to my table, and we fraternized over our coffee.

Suddenly he became agitated. He kicked at something on the floor. His eyes gleamed angrily.

“Ps-s-st!” he hissed. “Va-t’en!”

I looked round the corner of the table, and perceived the restaurant cat in dignified retreat.

“You do not like cats?” I said.

“I ’ate all animals, monsieur. Cats especially.” He frowned. He seemed to hesitate.

“I will tell you my story,” he said. “You will sympathise. You have a sympathetic face. It is the story of a man’s tragedy. It is the story of a blighted life. It is the story of a woman who would not forgive. It is the story—”

“I’ve got an appointment at eleven,” I said.

He nodded absently, drew at his cigarette, and began:—

I have conceived my ’atred of animals, monsieur, many years ago in Paris. Animals are to me a symbol for the lost dreams of youth, for ambitions foiled, for artistic impulses cruelly stifled. You are astonished. You ask why I say these things. I shall tell you.

I am in Paris, young, ardent, artistic. I wish to paint pictures. I ’ave the genius, the ent’usiasm. I wish to be disciple of the great Bouguereau. But no. I am dependent for support upon an uncle. He is rich. He is proprietor of the great Hotel Jules Priaulx. My name is also Priaulx. He is not sympathetic. I say, “Uncle, I ’ave the genius, the ent’usiasm. Permit me to paint.” He shakes his head. He say, “I will give you position in my hotel, and you shall earn your living.” What choice? I weep, but I kill my dreams, and I become cashier at my uncle’s hotel at a salary of thirty-five francs a week. I, the artist, become a machine for the changing of money at dam bad salary. What would you? What choice? I am dependent. I go to the hotel, and there I learn to ’ate all animals. Cats especially.

I will tell you the reason. My uncle’s hotel is fashionable hotel. Rich Americans, rich Maharajahs, rich people of every nation come to my uncle’s hotel. They come, and with them they have brought their pets. Monsieur, it was the existence of a nightmare. Wherever I have looked there are animals. Listen. There is an Indian prince. He has with him two dromedaries. There is also one other Indian prince. With him is a giraffe. The giraffe drink every day one dozen best champagne to keep his coat good. I, the artist, have my bock, and my coat is not good. There is a guest with a young lion. There is a guest with an alligator. But especially there is a cat. He is fat. His name is Alexander. He belong to an American woman. She is fat. She exhibits him to me. He is wrapped in a silk and fur creation like an

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