Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Story of Mr. Bingley

When we scouted this place out back in 2002, there was an orange cat hanging around outside. The house was vacant. We were told it had been vacant for a year. And prior to that, had been a rental for awhile.

We are all cat lovers. Handyman, like my dad, loves cats. Handyman could never have cats as a child, because his brother is allergic. He had to satisfy himself with the barn cats at his grandparents farm, when he visited them every summer.

When we married in 1991, I had two cats. The amazing Chelsea, best female cat ever; and her neurotic mother, Monet. Monet and Handyman bonded while we were still dating, when she jumped out my open apartment window and landed (much to her surprise), one-story below ground in the old coal dump area outside my ancient apartment building. She was stranded in the brick, room-size well when he showed up one day, and like the prince he still is, he rescued her.

I remember telling my vet that I was getting married and needed to change my name in their files. He said, "You are going to ruin a perfectly good relationship by getting married?!" I replied, "He likes cats." Dr. McCune said, "Oh, I understand."

But back to Mr. Bingley. There was never a doubt in anyone's mind that we would tame any cat on the premises, once we moved in. Each time we came to look at this place, and talk ourselves into the big plunge of remodeling it; he was here. Big, orange and quiet, skulking around.

When we finally took posession, we saw him still. Not skinny, but skittish. Soon enough, little #2, almost 4 at the time, sat on the sidewalk by the garage and up he came, to pet her! He rubbed on her immediately and that was all there was to be done. He sniffed noses with our big male cat through the cracked-open patio doors and soon came in to join our family.

We had named this place Netherfield, an homage to our obsession with Jane Austen literature. (We try not to call it Neverdone, but that does creep in occasionally.) So the only logical name for this feline was Mr. Bingley, the popular owner of Netherfield, in Pride & Prejudice. The moniker fit, as our Mr. Bingley possessed all the same characteristics of his namesake: good humor, gentlemanlike behavior and kindness.

We enjoyed his wonderful presence for over a year. He never wandered far, always coming in at night. We were sure he appreciated his home. Then one day, no Mr. B. The next day, no Mr. B. It was heart-breaking. We printed flyers, called our neighbors, drove around calling. Nothing. He was gone. There was only one logical conclusion to all this: coyotes.

No matter what Hank the Cowdog says, coyotes are NO fun, at all. They wake us at night with their infernal partying. They eat our pets, feline and avian. They creep us out at all hours of the day and night. They had to have eaten our big buddy and what a roast he would have made. We were heartbroken.

A year went by. I picked out another cat at the humane society, when I was there getting some free barn cats. Tony, all personality in a short-haired package. He fit right in.

Then one day, a friend mentioned that he had a big orange cat that had showed up in his barn and was scaring his half-grown kittens that lived there. These friends live about a mile away, straight west as the crow flies, but across a swift-flowing creek, and a lot of fields. He asked if we were missing any cats?!

"Well, we were, about a year ago," I told him. It was a big, orange male cat. He said this one was shy, and hard to catch. But, he said once he caught him, the cat was not agressive, seeming to like being petted. He said his neighbors had told him that the cat had been hanging out in their barn until they chased it off. I couldn't believe that it could be our guy. It'd been too long. But I agreed to come look at it, the next time he was able to catch it.

So, when he called early one morning, I went over. We had three cats in the house then, since we had acquired Tony. I did not need another cat. I knew better than to take #2 or #3. They would want to bring home any cat from anywhere. They didn't clean litter boxes. #1 wanted to go, and since she was beginning to show signs of adult behavior, I agreed.

When we got there, our friend Rob was standing at the far end of his barn holding this giant pumpkin-colored cat and I gasped. Mr. Bingley was a big bulky cat with very matte hair. It wasn't shiny or sleek. It was very unique, I thought. This guy had it. As I went closer, I didn't think it was Mr. B. The face seemed wider and the eyes were green. Mr. B. had gold eyes, almost exactly the color of his fur.

But everything else was the same. The size, the color, the hair. He was neutered. He was kind. He was heavy. We agreed to take him. Can eye color change? I didn't feel like I could say, "almost, but no." So home we came.

He never hissed at any of our other cats. They never hissed at him. He immediately took up residence on the foot of my bed, where he sleeps every single night. He goes out, wanders around and comes right in. He never skulked around the house. He was never intimidated by our tribe of very vocal dogs. But his eyes are definitely not gold.

We got out the scrapbook and looked at the old pictures of Mr. B. This guy has the same number of little stripes in the middle of his forehead. We couldn't bring ourselves to call him Mr. Bingley in the beginning. We were only about 85% sure it was him. But then, we couldn't not call him Mr. Bingley.

We avoided the issue for awhile and called him "the interloper", "the impostor", and "the stunt double". Then he just became Mr. Bingley again. If he is not the original, he is so precious a duplicate, that I feel blessed to know him. If he is the original, I am, of course, thankful that he was protected and generously returned to us.

And so to quote Spenser, through Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility: "For there is nothing lost, but may be found, if sought..."

No comments: