Autumn's here—Happy New Year!
Not for me, that pallid substitute in January with its noisemakers and forgotten resolutions. My calendar resets annually with the opening of classroom doors, no ... [+]
In a small cottage in a deep valley, an old woman lived with her goats and sheep, chickens and dog, a sway-backed horse and one ginger cat.
Each morning, she collected eggs while the dog led the sheep and goats to pasture. Each afternoon, she stirred cheese and spun wool. Each night, she knitted scarves by the fire.
On market day she drove her cart to the village to sell cheese and eggs and soft woolen scarves the colors of moss and dandelions.
At the end of the day, the animals gathered in the barn.
"My fleece will give her warm wool this winter," bragged the old ewe.
"Did you see the egg I laid?" cackled the speckled hen. "Big as a turkey's! Maybe a goose!"
"Very nice," said a goat. "But the villagers bought all the cheese made from my milk."
"That's because I'm on guard," ruffed the dog, "so you can graze safely."
"The old woman is lucky to have us," nickered the horse.
"She is," agreed the cat, strolling into the barn.
"Youuuu?!?" baaed the sheep.
"What do you do besides scare our chicks?"
"And drink my milk?"
"And steal my bones?"
"I'm as important to the old woman as you," the cat protested.
The other animals laughed so hard the speckled hen laid an egg.
"I'm soft to pet," said the cat.
"Feel my muzzle," the horse neighed, "softer than velvet."
"I keep her company," yawned the cat.
"I come as soon as she calls," snapped the dog.
"On cold nights I curl up in her lap," the cat said.
"You squash her!" snorted the goat.
The cat's eyes narrowed.
"I purrrrrr," he said and began to rumble in a deep buzz that vibrated through the barn walls and up the animals' legs till beams creaked and teeth chattered and the speckled hen's new egg cracked wide open and trickled away.
"STOP!" the animals yelled.
"The old woman is lucky you haven't bounced her out of bed,"
"Or curdled the milk,"
"Or shaken down the ceiling."
Hissing, the cat stalked away.
Winter brought storms so fierce the old woman could not drive her cart to market for three long weeks. Cheese and eggs stacked up against the cottage walls while she knitted piles of scarves.
On the coldest night of all, the cat wound round the old woman's ankles, purring for his dinner. Eggs cracked, plates tumbled and the fire collapsed in a whoosh of sparks. The old woman clapped her hands over her ears.
"STOP!" she yelled.
The cat slinked beneath the bed.
Sunlight streamed through the windows the next morning, and the old woman loaded the cart for market. The animals followed her to the pass out of the valley.
A boulder had rolled down the mountain during the storms and blocked the road. How could she drive to market?
The goats scrambled up one side and down the other but found no way for the horse and cart to follow.
The dog herded the sheep into a wooly wedge. They pushed as hard as they could, but the stone did not budge.
The chickens pecked but could not make a dent.
The cat climbed on top to lie in the sunshine and began to rumble.
The boulder vibrated.
and the boulder shattered in one mighty BOOM!
On top of the rubble sat the ginger cat.
At the end of the day, the animals gathered.
"I pulled a heavy load to market," said the horse.
"My head's sore from pushing so much rock," grumbled a sheep.
"We all worked hard," said the dog.
The cat strolled into the barn, and all the animals fell silent. He licked his paws, curled his tail and said, "But no one would have gone anywhere if I hadn't purred."
And he did. As loudly as ever.