Catrick, a cat living in cat society, sets out to spread the message that animal species can and should live in harmony. All the while, the rodents are rising up against cat rule. Catrick and his friends encounter political agendas, prejudices, and countless other reasons for not doing the obvious.
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The Story of Saint Catarick
Maybe a bit like Wind in the Willows, except with a socio-political slant, it's about ethnic reconciliation, using animal species instead of human ethnic groups.
Catrick, a cat living in cat society, realises that the Maker didn't create animals to eat oneanother, but through the knowledge of the Maker animals will stop hurting each other. Catrick sets out to spread the knowledge of the Maker in the city of Catropolis where he lives, and begins to affect other cats, as well as rodents living in the various rodent ghettoes.
A species war is raging -- the rodents are fighting to free themselves from the shackles of cat-rule, and the cats generally assume they are the superior species. But as Catrick's message gains influence, it becomes a three way battle.
It seemed simple and straightforward at first, but neither Catrick nor his friend, David Mousecovitz realised what they are in for -- political agendas, prejudices, memories of past atrocities, fears, and countless reasons for not doing the obvious.
This might be about Northern Ireland, or it might be about Neo Nazis vs the Jews, or maybe blacks vs whites, or about Yugoslavia, Indonesia, or any one of countless focal points of cultural intolerance -- it's about what those who are truly committed to peace and reconciliation must be prepared to face.
- Chapter the First -
A Gentlecat and a Scholar
• early history • in which Catrick enrols in the School of Hard Knocks • Professor Catrick unwittingly starts a student movement •
Towards his latter days, people who knew him often referred to Catrick as a 'saint and a scholar'. After his passing, nobody contested the designation. Though there weren't any miracles attributed to him - except, perhaps, the opening of blind eyes (the inner ones, that is) - and no posthumous appearance (unless one counts the dubious claim by a hamster who happened to be drunk at the time) he did die a martyr's death, so the epithet stuck.
Earlier in his career, before anyone began to think of him as a saint, Catrick was simply called a 'gentlecat and a scholar'.
A gentlecat he was indeed, as he was of royal Siamese extraction, of the ancient Siswart clan, and was even said to know a few words of Siamese, taught him by his mother.
As for being a scholar, he had studied, as all young gentlecats do, at the Royal Feline University. He received his Ph.D. in Cultural Felidaeology (the study of feline social customs), and later, occupied the professor's chair in that department. This scholarship, of course, pertained to his gentlecatliness - hence the designation, 'a gentlecat and a scholar'.
But in reference to the later epithet, 'a saint and a scholar', that was from the School of Hard Knocks, which is the only institution that prepares one for sainthood.
Being of noble blood, Catrick was a citizen of the Kingdom of Catropolis. Royal Siamese cats all enjoyed a privileged position in Catropolitan society but Persians, even more so. The king of the realm was a Persian Cat, King Catticus III of the ancient Gorbeh clan, who tended to favour Persians over all other pedigrees. However, as Catrick's grandfather had distinguished himself in the Dog Wars and exhibited outstanding loyalty to the Crown, this was a mark in their favour whenever Siswart family issues came up in the royal court, so the family always received favourable treatment.
The Dog Wars were an important event in the history of Catropolis. In them the cats fought to establish their kingdom, and finally overthrew the Cocker Spaniel dynasty. Ever since, dogs tended to behave themselves, and either worked in their fields in the rural parts, or did jobs as beasts of burden or as saddle dogs. There were never enough of them allowed in any one place at a time to cause any trouble -- that is, except for the wild dogs packs that inhabited the frontier areas to the West. Every so often they made raids on the settlements near the frontier. Usually the victims were rodent communities, but whenever they threatened the feline populations, it was cause for a military campaign.
One such incident occurred when Catrick, just out of kittenhood, was of the age to perform his tour of military service. He had hardly been inducted and made a corporal (as cats of noble blood are), when his whole regiment marched right off to the frontier to fight the wild dogs. It was probably the events of this campaign that began to shape the thinking of young Catrick; or shall we say, it was his first lesson in the School of Hard Knocks. His regiment met with disaster, and Catrick had to flee for his life, wounded, until he finally lost consciousness somewhere in the pastures and hedges of County Mullen.
When he came to, he found himself in the home of a family of field mice. Still not in good health, and with a broken foreleg, he stayed with them for several months, until he had fully recovered, his foreleg had mended, and they thought it safe for a cat in military uniform to show his face outside. Despite being a cat, the mice treated him as a member of the family, and when it was time to go home, there were tears shed, both by the cat and the mice.
Catrick had been presumed dead, so it was with great joy that his family received him back again. The fighting then took another turn for the worse, and the mouse family that had befriended Catrick, were either killed or had to flee. All Catrick could find later were the ruins of their humble cottage.
The typical cat response would have been, 'What's one more family of mice?' so nobody understood Catrick's sorrow at not finding his friends. Catrick was forced to keep his sadness to himself, but something on the inside had changed forever.
One of the usual methods of training at the School of Hard Knocks is never quite knowing whether one is normal or not. Things that seem quite sensible to ones own mind, are nonsense to everyone else. Why a cat would place any value whatsoever on a family of mice was just the sort of issue that kept Catrick wavering on the edge of social self-confidence. Why, Catrick's own forefathers were mouse hunters! Even today, though the sport was officially banned, many cats accepted in polite cat-society were still known mousers.
Life was full of social exchanges with cats of every type. As Catrick began his studies at the university, he met them all. Sometimes, he would feel emboldened to speak up against the cruel sport of mouse-hunting, or the value of a mouse's life. He lost a few friends at the outset, and even made a few enemies. As time went on, however, Catrick wearied of losing friends, so he became quiet about his feelings so that, by the time he was a professor, he seemed just like any other cat. Later, when he was the head of the Felidaeology department, he even laughed along with the others when a colleague told a rodent joke, but something inside never felt right.
One day, he told his students the story of the mouse family that befriended him during the Wild Dog Campaigns. The fire that had once burned inside Catrick, suddenly started doing so once again, just for a few minutes. The kittens saw it, and the next day, they begged him to tell it again; and a day later, again; and again. Each time, the fire burned more intensly. Usually, that was in a class room, but sometimes, they were out on the campus grounds during breaks when the kittens were idly chatting and asking him questions. Then, the fire that lit his eyes would kindle the imaginations of his pupils.
The result was that Catrick soon found himself the unwitting leader of a small and growing group of students and junior professors who met for lunch to discuss the place of rodents in society. Now and then, the topic would turn toward equel justice, and the bigoted attitudes on the part of most cats. Some of the kittens began to develop strong opinions, and a few even began to foster friendships with their rodent neighbours.
Catrick wasn't a thoroughly willing leader for such a group. He did see his earlier self in some of the enthusiastic young cats whose opinions were taking shape, and some of this tugged on his heart strings so as to further fan the fires. He also had a wide circle of friends among the senior professors and aristocratic friends of the family who took exception to the unbridled free-thinking of the youth. Now and then, he tried to defend the youthful energy of his young friends while with the seniors, only to be rejoined 1.with a 'humph' or a sudden change of subject. Also, just knowing about the ifluence he was having would put some off.
Right about that time, the Rodents Revolt was beginning to pick up steam. Catrick's position began to look awkward indeed.