BINKA AND MR MOW
Binka looked even more beautiful than usual, as she sat in the reddening glow of the evening sunlight. Her eyes were pale green, her fur was long and silky and mostly the colour of gold, copper and jet, with a pure white chest and paws, and a long graceful bushy tail. Around her neck hung a silver bell, which made a tinkling sound whenever she moved. Binka was a cat you see, though she had the poise and air of a graceful princess. She was companion to, of course not owned by, Maryse Dubois, and Binka, Maryse and Mr and Mrs Dubois lived in a stately chateau. Each day Binka would descend the steps at the back of the house, at a slow dignified pace, picking her way cautiously across the pebbles until she reached the soft grass of the immaculately kept lawns, edged either side with wide borders of shrubs and flowers. Further on, were immensely tall fir trees, beyond which was a gently flowing river.
Binka didn’t like the river much. She was a little afraid of it, but she liked that end of the garden. You see, Binka may have acted like a princess most of the time, but when no one was looking she would often run as fast as she could up one of the tall fir trees, find that she had climbed further than she had really wanted to and then have to try to descend, maintaining her dignity, in case anyone was looking!
To Maryse, Binka was more precious than anything in the world and when she was at home, they were inseparable. Maryse bought her special treats, found her toys to amuse her and let her sleep on comfy cushions and curled up on her bed at night. Life was so good. The summer was hot, the roses were in bloom, school had finished and all was perfect. This was how it must be for everyone and everything. Her world was perfect and Binka had pride of place in it.
Then, one day, when Maryse was standing at her bedroom window, with Binka in her arms, she saw a thin black and white cat nervously climbing up the steps from the lawns and she watched Eva the housekeeper emerge from the back door and walk slowly towards it with a plate of food. The next day, Maryse asked Eva about the black and white cat, but Eva looked a bit embarrassed. “Don’t go saying anything about it, will you? Your father doesn’t like cats, although he doesn’t mind your Binka. But it’s just that I feel sorry for the little scrap, not having no home or anything”.
“No home!” Maryse responded with surprise. “Well, who looks after him?”
“No one. Not every cat lives like your Binka does!”
“But where does he sleep? Who feeds him?” Maryse persisted.
“Well, to the first question, I don’t know. Perhaps in the barns. And to the second question, he catches a mouse or something, or comes here”. And she chuckled to herself and waddled from the kitchen with a big basket of clothes.
Summer turned to autumn and the school term began again. Less time with Binka, but Binka was always waiting for her when she came home, framed in the large picture window, sitting like a statue next to the yellow orchid.
Maryse still saw the black and white cat from time to time. It bothered her to think that he had no home to go to. His fur was thin and he looked so frail. She hoped that the weather wouldn’t be too bad and if Eva fed him, perhaps he would be all right. Binka would hiss with disapproval if she saw the little stray, and Maryse tried not to acknowledge him because she didn’t want to hurt Binka’s feeling; but Eva called him Mr Mow and somehow the name stuck.
Soon there was the chill of winter. Log fires burned brightly in the downstairs rooms and the boiler kept the rest of the house toasty warm. December had been fairly mild, but January was bitterly cold and as Maryse stared down at Binka sleeping on her comfy cushion, she thought how harsh it must be to be out in the cold.
“Can’t you let Mr Mow in?” Maryse asked Eva. “Afraid not”, she said! “More than my job’s worth, but I have made up a little box with a blanket in it in the barn. Don’t know whether he will use it though”. For some days Maryse didn’t see Mr Mow and there was no let up on the cold weather.
One morning Maryse’s father announced at breakfast that there would be some work going on as they were going to pull down the barns. Maryse panicked and exclaimed “Oh, please don’t do that Papa!”
“Why ever not?” her father said looking astonished at such an unusual outburst from his daughter. “Why would you want to keep them?" he replied. They’re in a terrible state! In any case, it won’t happen for a couple of weeks, until this weather perks up”. And with that, he folded his table napkin and left, already talking about other things that he had to do that day.
It was the weekend and Maryse was playing with Binka, trailing pieces of wool in front of her. Binka would pretend that such games were beneath her and then would suddenly give in and pounce on the writhing thread. When the game was over Binka curled up on a soft counterpane, purring loudly.
Maryse happened to glance out of the window. It was going dark already and she saw Mr Mow, hobbling painfully up the path. It was beginning to snow. Maryse put on her coat, Binka jumped down from the bed and they went downstairs and outside. The wind was bitingly cold and the path was slippery with ice. The snowflakes stung her face and Binka lagged behind. At first, there was no sign of Mr Mow and so Maryse, with Binka now at her heels, decided to search in the barn. They found him there – obviously very ill and whereas he would normally run away, he just lay there outstretched on the cold concrete floor.
Binka didn’t hiss like she normally did but just sat and watched as if she understood that things were very bad for the waif and stray. Maryse grasped Binka and ran, hardly able to see through the tears in her eyes, in search of Eva. Eva was in the kitchen. Maryse was very distressed and Eva was shocked to see her like this. Maryse explained how ill Mr Mow was and how they had to do something quickly, expecting Eva to immediately take some action.
But instead, Eva stared down into her pleading blue eyes and said “Oh, my dear. I don’t want to get into trouble with your folks and it would cost a lot of money to get a vet and I’m not sure he wouldn’t run away anyway. Poor little scrap!”
“But he has no one, Eva”. I was given money at Christmastime. I can pay for the vet”.
“Well”, there was a long pause “we’ll see tomorrow” said Eva weakly.
“No! We must do something now” insisted Maryse. “We must, or he’ll die”.
Normally Eva would have been cross, being spoken to in that way, but now she was only concerned how to handle this situation.
Maryse left Eva and ran upstairs sobbing. She put Binka safely in her bedroom and then returned to the barn with a blanket from her cupboard. She would see if she could lay the blanket near to him, but he just moved further away.
She had brought a few of Binka’s special treats, but he wasn’t interest. She took a torch and began her vigil. She would stay with him. He mustn’t be alone.
Eva must have had second thoughts. Maryse heard her approaching footsteps and Eva exclaimed when she saw Maryse huddled, shivering by Mr Mow.
“Oh, the trouble you are going to get me into!” lamented Eva. She stared a while at Mr Mow, who opened his eyes and glanced up pathetically from time to time. “OK, young lady. You win. You’d better dig deep in that money box of yours. I’ll give Mr George, the vet, a ring now”.
When Mr George arrived, he had a young boy with him and together they gathered up the frightened cat.
“He will be alright won’t he?” begged Maryse.
“We’ll see dear”, said Mr George, laying a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Maryse returned to her room. “Please make Mr Mow well” she whispered, to herself, over and over, almost as a little prayer.
A few minutes later there were voices downstairs. Maryse’s father wanted to know what was going on. Why had the vet had been there and poor Eva was struggling to explain why. Maryse, he called upstairs. I’d like you to come down here please. “Can you explain what this is all about?” he asked sternly.
“Well, it’s just that I couldn’t let him die, Papa”. And she bit her lip waiting for his reaction, hoping that it would be sympathetic to such a desperate situation.
“Maryse”, he said “You have a cat already, which I tolerate, but you cannot have two. Before you know it they will be running around all over the place”.
“No, Papa. That wouldn’t happen; it’s just that I want to save him”.
“And I suppose that is why you didn’t want me to pull the barns down”.
“Yes Papa” she replied timidly.
“Well, you’d better be off to bed. We’ll see about this in the morning”.
It took Maryse ages to go to sleep. When she was awake she sobbed, when she was asleep, she dreamed.
Thankfully, the next morning, her father wasn’t there. He had had to travel to London urgently. And her mother had already left for work too. In fact both her parents seemed very busy for the next couple of days and so there was time for matters to take their course.
On returning from school on Friday night, Eva was waiting for her with a big grin on her face. “Guess what she said, your ‘little scrap’ is going to be fine. They reckon he should be back out next week!”
And sure enough, Mr George dropped him back and almost ungratefully he ran off to an unknown destination and his old life. Her father left the barns standing until later in the spring and Eva made sure that some extra hay and blankets were put in there.
Soon he was padding up the path every evening for a supper that she had prepared for him – and Binka would hiss disapprovingly and watch him with an imperious air.
Maryse noticed that the boy who had accompanied the vet was often on the school bus and one afternoon they sat together. She discovered that his name was Daniel and that he was, in fact, the vet’s son. He said that he also hoped to work with animals one day too. They soon often shared the school journey together and developed a strong friendship. Spring turned into summer and sometimes Daniel would stop by on the pretext of helping with maths homework. If it was really nice, they would sit for a while on the lawn drinking ice cold fruit juice and Binka would sit between them, vying for strokes and cuddles and titbits of what they were eating. “Binka, the Princess” as he would call her.
One day, as they were sat together, and Binka was rolling in the sunlight on the lawn, they saw Mr Mow making his way cautiously up the path.
“You know” said Daniel, “one day when we are older, why don’t we create an animal sanctuary for homeless cats like Mr Mow and other animals. As if Binka approved, she rolled back up onto her paws and stared at them lovingly. Maryse looked at Binka and Mr Mow. “I think it would be most wonderful thing to do”, she said. “Let’s make a pact now”!
But September came, school began and then the shock that Daniel was moving away! His father had found a bigger veterinary practice, with house attached. It all happened so quickly and in their last meeting, they promised to keep in touch and fulfil the pact that they had made. He hugged Binka and handed her back to Maryse. “I really don’t want to go he said, but I’ll write every day. Well, nearly every day”, he laughed cheekily and off he went down the path, turning round when he reached the end to wave a last goodbye.
Maryse waited anxiously for letters, but they never came. Well, at least they didn’t actually reach her. Her father was aware of their friendship and wanted Maryse to forget about working with animals. She was only young and he wanted her to become a lawyer like himself. And so, much against her wishes, she went to university to study law, though her heart wasn’t in it and worst of all, at the end of the first year she received the shattering news that the chateau was to be sold and her parents would be moving in a smaller house in the nearby village. Maryse was heartbroken. She would miss the old house and all the memories but she didn’t know how Binka would cope with the move and her new home. She spent her holidays working on her studies and helping to pack up the old home. Binka looked confused but once in the new house, after a couple of days, she seemed to be settling quite well and Maryse left her, feeling fairly confident that all would be well.
Two more years passed and at the end of university, Maryse worked in a law firm for a while, but when she was quiet and alone, her thoughts strayed to those summer days on the lawn with Binka, talking to Daniel and she thought of the pact they had made. Why had he never written? Sometimes she would realise that a tear had moistened her cheek. It was a weekend in late spring when she was feeling really low, that she decided that she must go back to the chateau and see it again.
That Saturday morning, she boarded the bus back to her home town. The sky was a cloudless blue, the birds were singing and spring flowers adorned the lawns and flower beds. It took just an hour before she saw the familiar biscuit coloured stone walls and the wrought iron gates of her past home. She rang the bell and the bus drew to a gentle halt. She was the only person to alight at this stop and as the bus drove away she felt the silence close in around her.
She was back again but it wasn’t hers anymore and for a brief moment she regretted coming back. What was the point? No Binka waiting for her at the big window. No Eva to welcome her in. Her father sitting sternly in his study, looking at her over his reading glasses. Her mother, always rushing around, always looking elegant, giving her a hug and dashing out through the double doors.
She stood staring at the iron gates wondering why she had made the journey. And, oh, the shock! There to the side of the gates was a For Sale notice! She felt a sense of panic. At that moment there was a grating sound and the gate slowly opened. Standing there was Daniel!
She gasped and the next thing they were hugging each other and Maryse was crying. “Why didn’t you ever write” she asked emotionally.
“I did” he said, with air of frustration. “Nearly every day like I said. Well, at least, at the beginning. Did you never get my letters?”
“No!” She lowered her eyes, shaking her head in disbelief. And then, with a sigh, turning back to him, she asked “So, why are you here?”
“My Dad bought the place two years ago. The other sale fell through and this is where he had always wanted to be, although he didn’t think your family would ever want to move away. He's not been well lately though and it's a bit too much to handle by myself. So, hence the for sale notice. Oh Maryse, I thought you’d gone forever. Do you remember the rescue centre that we talked about? Well, I started to create one at the back where the old barns used to be. Would you like to to see it? Oh, and by the way, you’ve come at the right time because Binka is staying with us.
“What!” exclaimed Maryse. “Why is she here?”
Because your parents wanted a little holiday and saw that we offered boarding facilities as well”.
What an afternoon it was, seeing Binka again, sitting on the lawn, watching her roll on the grass catching up on all they’d been doing. Without realising it the sun had almost gone. It seemed to be a magical half-light world. They were silent for a few moments. It was Maryse who spoke first. “Well, I suppose I’d better be going. It’s been wonderful, Daniel”. She was aware that her voice was not stable and waited to regain her composure. Then, she added, almost out of nervousness. “Have you had any enquiries for this place?” Daniel lowered his gaze. “Well”, he said. “I’m not sure that it’s on the market any more”.
“Why’s that?” she asked innocently.
“Well, you see there has been a slight change in events”.
He looked up and they held each other’s gaze. It was almost dark, but she could still see his dark brown eyes and black eyelashes. When they were younger she had wondered what it was that was so special about his eyes.
She had often pondered, was it a look of kindness? Maybe sincerity? Now, she realised that it was both of those things, plus a look of compassion; a word that she had only recently really come to know; an understanding, a feeling, a love for other things.
He looked down. “I mean, if, umm ... just supposing, we were able to keep that pact … you remember? Maybe run this centre together as sanctuary for animals like Mr Mow. Would you?”
For the first time in what seemed like years, Maryse felt true joy. He leant forward and they shared a kiss. Binka purred loudly and seemed as ecstatically happy as they both were.
And, so together they worked and worked to develop the sanctuary for animals in distress. Binka went back to her old ways and was quite regal about her place as top cat.
Two years later, in midsummer, Binka was sitting on Maryse’s lap in the evening sunshine in the garden. Maryse seldom relaxed, but for this brief moment she reflected on the happiness that life had brought her in abundance.
So many animals had been made better, given a home, or released in to the wild. It was a well known rescue centre now. The local blacksmith had made some additions to the wrought iron gates too and on the top of each was the image of a cat – one was of Binka, painted in glorious colours of gold, copper and jet and the other was simple black and white, Mr Mow.