A TALE OF THE CAT AT DOWNING STREET

By: Melissa Garrett

 

In large cities and small villages live many cats, as they do in England’s capital. One of these cats lived at number ten downing street with the Prime Minister. This cat’s name was Billy.

Billy, like any cat, spent time scratching behind his head, sending fur balls flying all over the door mat. It was one of those days, with a clear blue sky and a keen English breeze. But scratching didn’t seem to please him as much as it normally did. He could only feel what was missing, his collar.

Billy had always had his blue collar. He assumed it was a gift from his birth mother, who he had never been able to remember. And without it, he felt that a part of himself was stray with it. Billy sat up straight and looked up at the number on the door.

“I’ve checked all of number ten, even number eleven and nine too.” Billy gazed at the windows. “Where is it?”

As Billy was looking he heard fluttering wings coming from the sky. He knew those wings to be his friend, Peter Pigeon, who landed on the railing by the door. Peter Pigeon said to Billy, “good day, old chap!”

“Hello, Peter Pigeon!” Billy said to him. “How’s the weather up at Nelson’s column?”

Peter Pigeon cooed. “Truthfully, old chap, it’s much windier than it is down here.”

Billy nodded. “I thought so. It’s always cold at number ten too. I think our visitors bring it with them.”

“That’s a shame, old chap. Hetti Horse says much the same.”

Billy’s eyes widened. “Oh really?” he asked. Surely a police horse with a coat shouldn’t get cold.

“She passed through on her way to Leicester Square, and she said that there was a real nip in the air last night.”

“Her officer should give her a thicker coat.”

“True indeed, old chap. I have a message for you from her. She says that she saw something of yours yesterday.”

Billy’s ears rose. “Did she say what?”

“I’m afraid not, old chap. You’d better hurry along to her.”

“I can’t. The Prime Minister should be back soon, and after a long day at Parliament, I’ll be needed.”

Peter Pigeon frowned and asked Billy, “is the Prime Minister still there?”

“Yes. It seems there are many talks to be had these days.”

“That’s a pity. Still, I suppose it doesn’t affect the birds in the sky,” Peter Pigeon said as he flapped a loose feather from his wing.

“But what about the street cats, the ones on the ground? What about them?”

“Admiral Nelson had a keen saying before the battle of Trafalgar.”

Billy turned his head. “What’s that?”

“’Something must be left to chance; nothing is sure in a sea fight above all.’”

“That’s a curious saying.”

“It doesn’t seem so curious to me. Now hurry along to Hetti Horse, Billy, or you’ll miss her!”

“Thank you, Peter Pigeon,” Billy said to him as he flew over number ten, back to Nelson’s column.

Billy stood on all fours and thought hard. He liked to stand when thinking.

He knew he would have to go along Whitehall, then through a busy Trafalgar Square to reach Hetti Horse at Leicester Square. It wouldn’t be easy with all the people, but to him it seemed a risk worth taking if it meant getting his collar back.

Billy shook his body, stretched his back legs and ran towards the gates of Downing Street.

Tourists cameras’ flashed at him as he climbed the gates. The officers on guard smiled, saying, “it’s that cat again.” Billy could never understand why they said that. After all, he had always been there.

Billy jumped down from the gates and ran past the clean white buildings of Whitehall, which always looked like palaces to him. Then he came to Trafalgar Square and sat at the lights, waiting for the man to turn green. A tall lady next to him bent down and rubbed Billy’s head, which made him purr. She looked in her bag for something to give to Billy, which he thought was kind of her, but the man turned green, so he had to run across the road.

People swarmed in Trafalgar Square. Billy ran beneath their feet, and he heard Peter Pigeon give a coo from Nelson’s column. He called down to Billy, “be careful, old chap!”

“I will, Peter Pigeon. Say hello to the Admiral for me!”

Billy ran along to Leicester Square, which too was full of big feet, and found Hetti Horse in the centre. Her officer stood in a group nearby.

“Hetti Horse!” Billy called to her.

Hetti Horse turned to Billy. “Hey, Billy,” she said to him, sounding rather bunged up.

“Are you alright, Hetti Horse?”

“It’s nothing. Only a sniffle.”

“Oh dear. Is it because of your coat?”

“Well it doesn’t make winter any easier. We’ve all been working long hours too, so I’m rather tired, and a tad hungry, and my mouth is very dry from walking all day…”

Billy said, “Well, Hetti, I’m sorry-”

He tried to finish his sentence, but Hetti Horse blindly carried on talking.

“…And I do get cold a lot, and I would like a nice sit down, and to breathe in some fresh air, like the air in Newmarket. And maybe some crisp hay too. That would be lovely. But other than that, I’m fine. Did Peter Pigeon talk to you?”

“Yes,” Billy said with bright eyes. “Did you find my collar?”

“Well, Billy… I’m afraid that…” Hetti Horse sneezed.

“Bless you,”

“Thank you.” She looked down to the pavement.

This worried Billy. “My collar?”

“Yes… well… when I was in Trafalgar Square earlier, I’m afraid that…”

“Yes, Hetti Horse?”

Hetti Horse sniffed and said, “…someone threw it into the fountain. I’m sorry, Billy.”

His ears fell down. He knew he couldn’t get it back now.

Hetti Horse lowered her neck down to Billy and rubbed her nose against his head.

“You might get my sniffle now,” she said to him.

“That’s okay, Hetti.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

He looked at her big brown eyes. He didn’t want her to see he was sad, so he shook his head, missing the sound of his collar rattling. “Thank you for telling me.”

Billy walked slowly along to Charing Cross Road. People tried to pet him, which he would never refuse, but knowing that his collar was gone, he didn’t feel like revelling in it.

And then he came to that fountain. Knowing that his collar was in there, but that the water was far too deep and frightening for him to get made his heart sink. Then above noisy chatter, Billy heard hooves.

“Hetti Horse, what are you doing away from your officer?”

She breathed deeply, and sneezed once more. “You looked so blue, Billy. So I thought I could help you get your collar.”

“But it’s lost in the water.”

“Perhaps if it’s close to the edge, then…” Hetti raised her head, waiting for another sneeze to fly out.

Billy’s ears rose. He said to Hetti Horse, “then perhaps we could reach it!”

Hetti Horse sniffed and said, “that’s what I was…” the sneeze was still trying to come out.

“Tip your head back,” Billy suggested. She did so, and an enormous sneeze blew out of her nose.

Her eyes watered and she sniffed some more, “ah, thank you.”

“Now let’s go!”

So Billy and Hetti Horse ran down the steps to fountain in Trafalgar Square.

People stared at them with shocked mouths and ready cameras.

Billy asked her, “where is your officer?”

“Never mind that. We have a collar to find.”

Hetti Horse reached the fountain before Billy. When he caught up with her he jumped up on to the edge, and they looked into the water. There were coins from all over the world, and someone had clearly tried to write on the ‘No Entry’ sign. Against the coins, a shiny gold ball stood out. It was the bell of Billy’s collar.

“There it is!” Billy said. “My collar!”

But it was near the middle. Hetti Horse had a long neck, but Billy knew she would not be able to reach.

She leaned as far as she could, stretching her neck and her head and even her tongue. Flashes from cameras and laughter surrounded them. Then came a whistle, but it was not one of Peter Pigeon’s.

Billy turned and saw Hetti Horse’s officer running towards them, but she paid no attention as she carried on reaching for the collar.

“Your officer is coming,” Billy told her.

She held back another sneeze and raised her front legs. Then, to everyone’s shock, especially Billy’s, she climbed in the fountain, and put her head under the water. Billy called for her to come out, but she didn’t listen.

Seeing Hetti Horse like this pulled on Billy’s heart strings. So, ignoring his fear, he jumped in after her.

She raised her head. “Billy, what are you doing?”

“Going for a dip, Hetti Horse. What do you think?!”

“Get out of the water!”

But then the whistles got louder, and a horrified officer stepped into the fountain after Hetti Horse. She put her head under Billy’s body and lifted him up. All he could do was look down at his collar.

They both sat by the fountain. The sun was going down over Trafalgar Square.

“I’m sorry, Billy.”

He looked up at a shaking Hetti Horse. “Your cold will get worse now.”

“I don’t mind. My officer will find me a dry coat.”

“Thank you for trying,” Billy said to her. Even though his collar was gone, a part of him smiled on the inside. It came from knowing that he said such true friends in Hetti Horse and dear old Peter Pigeon, who had flown away to visit friends in Hyde Park.

Hetti Horse’s rider pulled on her reins.

“Will you be alright, Billy?”

“I will. Thank you again.”

She smiled at Billy and walked away with her officer. Before he left, Billy sat by the fountain for a moment. He thought that at least he had somewhere to visit the collar, or more, somewhere to visit the memory of it. It wasn’t really gone at all.

He waited at the lights again, where he was nearly stood on and then apologised to. He ran past his palaces at Whitehall and came to Downing Street’s gates. At least he still had his home. He climbed them and ran to number ten.

After some visitors left, he walked through the door and up the stairs. Then he saw, the Prime Minister was back!

The Prime Minister gleamed. “Billy! Come to me.”

Billy ran to the Prime Minister, who knelt before him and rubbed behind his ears.

The Prime Minister pulled Billy close. “Hey there. I think you’re missing something.”

Over the Prime Minister’s wrist was a new collar. It was blue, like the old one, and had a gold bell. But this one had a tag on it. The tag had ‘Billy’ with the number ‘10’ on it.

The Prime Minister put the collar on Billy, not too loosely and not too tightly, just as he liked it. He rubbed his nose against the Prime Minister’s cheek. The number on it meant that no one could ever question it. Billy was the cat at Downing Street.

 

 

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