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|Tinkler Tam and the Body Snatchers||1|
|What the Cat Dragged In||13|
|Stitches in Time||29|
|The Cat and the Kinetophone||42|
|Tinseltown Follies of 1948||56|
|The Death Cat of Hester Street||66|
|St. Margaret's Kitten||83|
|Of Persephone, Poe, and the Whisperer||120|
|A Warm Nest||133|
|A Roman of No Importance||158|
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|Cloud Stalking Mice||249|
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|Cat on an Old School Roof||288|
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Tinkler Tam and
The Body Snatchers
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
The ginger laddie known to his paramours, other admirers, and enemies as Tinkler Tam Chattan was a juggler by trade. No one could flip a mouse in the air and catch it in his mouth with such dexterity, and it was said he could nab three birds on the wing in a single pounce. Of course, that wasn't why Tam was called a juggler. Juggler was just a common Scots way of saying the much grander and older term "jongleur." It was originally confined to tossin' balls in the air and such. A French word, which was fitting since Tam's real name (all tinklers had a called name and a real name so's not to give the gorgios power over them by the calling of their real names) was Jaques LeChat and he was of noble French ancestry. His noble great great grandpere had been a jongleur too--not just a tosser and catcher but an acrobat, poet comedian and musician as well, whose antics had pleased the likes of French kings and queens from way back. On his mither's side, Tam's people had taken tae the road durin' the terrible times in the Middle Ages when there were the witch hunts and, with them, the mass murdering of all cats the stupid peasants took to be agents of the devil. Only the quickest of wit and foot survived to follow the life of the rover.
On Tam's fither's side, so his mither tauld him, though his fither had lang since taken flight, his lineage came straight down from the favored chat jongleur of Queen Marie Antoinette. Queen MA, as his kind called her in cat cant, the gypsy cat's secret language, may have had her faults, like not realizing that people who didn't have bread wouldn't have any cake either, but that came from her abnormally sheltered upbringing and the fact that she could barely read. On the cat issue, she was rock solid. She loved cats and had a great collection of all sorts. His grandfather had been among her favorites, mum said, but he had declined to be shipped ahead to America when the others in the collection were sent and instead had taken to the road. He'd been watching from a rooftop when his former patroness lost her head, and it was said he was never quite right after that. But neither was he wrong enough to forget to squire several litters of kittens, hence, Jaques (Tam) LeChat (Chattan).
Even though he was so well bred and all, Tinkler Tam wasna one to gie himself airs, not a bit of it. He was common as the old shoe he had used as a bed when a mere kit, and he was a well-known figure to all sorts of Edinburgh folk. The kitchens of the pubs and restaurants were his favorite haunts, of course, and he was gey fond of cooks and chefs of all sorts, be they French or be they Scots or even Irish, like so many had come ower of late. But he also favored the students, many of whom were lonely for their craturs from the country, and for a bit of a purr and an ankle twine from himself could be counted on for a crumb or two or at least a kind word and a cuddle.
Homeless he might be but friendless he was not. Indeed, he considered the whole of Edinburgh his home, though never in his life would he think of himself as a settled cat. He was a cat about town, a supervisor of life, and knew beggars and nobles, lawyers and ladies of the night, doctors and dowried daughters of great families, soldiers, sailors and street urchins. He made his rounds as it pleased him, but made sure to put in an appearance at his best haunts at least two or three times a week, so's they wouldn't forget him, nor start givin' his bits to some other enterprising feline.
Natural enough then, for such a friendly cat about town, that he heard things, as a fellow will. Your flies on the wall, your wee mousies in their holes, well, all them was naethin' comparit tae Tinkler Tam when he chose tae play the cat in the corner. He'd be lyin' ever sae quiet, tail wrappit roond his wee pink nosie, but them tufty ginger ears would be prickit and pointy with listenin'. And fluffy as his tail was, it could nae keep him from peekin' ower it tae see who was talkin'. See, the thing was, if he listened close, he often heard things to his advantage. Like when deliveries was bein' made and what different ones who come in the pubs was havin' for their supper, that sort o' thing. He also listened for news that someone had grief--death or illness in the family or best of all, a Lost Love.
Tam was a great one for Lost Love. Like most males of his kind, he considered himself a great lover. And while perhaps he wisnae aware o' the finer romantic point of human courtship, he could feel a broken heart from three streets away and if there was a way to reach its owner and offer consolation--always providin', that is, that the brokenhearted individual could abide cats--why there he was, purrin' and rubbin' or simply sitting close up, offerin' of his warmth and the softness of his coat to be stroked, as if soothin' his fur might help the lovelorn to soothe away their ane misery.
He was very good with the young ones, was Tam, and knew whichuns were mean and that he should keep awa'. But mony of them were good enough folk, in frae the country and by theirsel's and the losin' of a lass was as if onybody who counted tae them at a' had turnt against them.
That was how it had been wi' the young medical student who was one o' Tam's latest patrons--a good hairted lad he was, the student, by the name of Cameron Cameron. Normally, Tam didna haud wi' the medical students. The infirmary where they studied smelt bad, o' chemicals that burnt Tam's nose and also of things ower deid for e'en a moggy tae fancy them. Things that cam' and went at night frae the doctor's classroom, brought in wheelbarrows by rough men and smellin' o' graveyard dirt. Weel, it wisnae the bodies theirsel's sae much as pu' Tam aff as the rough men who fetchit them. Sometimes, the bodies didnae smell a' that deid. They smelt o' fresh bluid and violent death. These were the bodies o' ither human bein's, and the students cut 'em up and lookit inside 'em and it was a fact that they used ony puir cratures that was handy tae study as weel. Even cats. Deid ones, true, but the human bodies were a' deid by the time they reached the infirmary. The doctors wouldna be sae picky where a cat was concerned.
But the students didnae live at the infirmary. They had lodgin's o' their ane and Cameron Cameron lived on Niddry's Wynd, near the infirmary, but no' sae near that Tam could smell the wicked place, but could tend tae Cameron Cameron's woes wi' a clear head and heart.
For Cameron Cameron, the puir sod, had the ill luck to fall for one Chantal la Chanteuse, late of Paris, France. Chanteuse wasna her real name and even a country lad like Cameron Cameron could see that she was brought up a lady, but she was a lady nae mair. She was a woman of aisy virtue and no fixed abode, and it was said of her that she was a French aristo whose family were a' deid, victims o' the guillotine. Had their heids cut off, like, for bein' richer than ither folk. Anely the darlin' dochter o' the family escapet, and the cruel captain o' the ship that brought her not anely took her passage money, but stole the family siller and jewels she carried in her clathes and then stole her woman's treasure as well, so that she arrived in Edinburgh broke in purse and spirit.
That was the story on the street and Tam had heard it often, as had Cameron Cameron, who like mony a tender-hairted laddie, didna look for a lass with as muckle wealth and lovin' family as had he himsel', but for some puir wounded bird he could tend. His tender hairt was why Cameron Cameron was sae set on bein' a doctor. His family had anely a little money and he had worked hard daein' extra wark for neighbors tae earn his chance tae medical school, and here he was. But books and studies didna satisfy the laddie, nor did carin' for sorry patients who cam' tae the infirmary. He needed tae care and cosset someone. The cats and dugs aroond toon benifited frae his needin' o' this for a while, and Cameron Cameron had been a favorite o' Tam's lang before the laddie lost his hairt. But when Cameron Cameron heard the sweet voice o' Chantal la Chanteuse singin' her wee sang and when he learned her tragical story--though no' frae her, as she never did tell it--maybe she tauld ane o' the ither girls an' they put it aboot--as soon as he saw her sweet heart-shaped face wi' its wan cheeks and its big broon een and the wee froon on its pretty curvit lips, nane wud suit him but hersel'. And she wouldna have him. Even when he saved his siller tae buy an hoor wi' her, nivver tae tak' advantage o' her, just tae talk like, she wouldna tak' his money. It was as if it were nae guid tae her.
Cameron Cameron had gone over and over it to Tam, how he had tried to force the money on her onyway, and she wouldna tak' it. How he had taken her gifts of food and she wouldna touch it till he left. "And she's no well, Tam. She grows aye thinner every day. I see it as she's shamed before me. I would marry her today if she'd bide wi' me, but instead she stays on the streets and soon she'll catch some awfy bad disease and die--or pass it on tae the mon she does accept. I know me parents wud care for her as I do." And on and on like that.
And whereas in the ordinary way o'things Tam woulda tauld him, "Move alang then, laddie. Find yersel' anither queen, ane canny enough tae care for a fine braw lad sich as yersel'," in the case of Chantal la Chanteuse he couldna think like that.
The truth was, see, that if his favorite lad tae beg a crumb from in a' the city was Cameron Cameron, his favorite lassie tae offer his comfort when she cried intae his saft gingery fur, as she did mony's the night, it was Chantal la Chanteuse. He himsel' brought her mice and birds, but she used them nae mair than she used the gifts o' Cameron Cameron. Truth was, she'd toss them aside and share Cameron's latest offerin' wi' Tam.
She did fair enough in the summertime but when winter cam', oh, but she was cauld and the winter cut through her raggedy dress and the rags she'd bound roond her bare feet.
Cameron Cameron took the blanket off his ane bed and foond her and lay it ower her in the doorway where she slept. Tam kenned this because he saw it aw' wi' his ane green een. But he saw too that ane o' the girls who didna like Chantal, Baubie the Beak, for her great nose, was watchin', and mockin', and when Cameron left, the poxy tart stole the blanket for hersel'. Tam hissed at her and would hae clawed her leg but he'd run afoul o' her before and she'd near kilt him, so he slunk awa' intae the shadows and then snuck after her tae see if he might find a way tae steal the blanket back again. He couldna though. Baubie the Beak had her a bed inside a proper building and the truth was, she didna need Cameron Cameron's blanket at all, she just didna want Chantal la Chanteuse tae have it.
The puir mite was freezin' and it was late and everythin' was closed. She didna move from her place in the door, even to warm hersel'. She was too cauld or too sad or too sick or maybe too afraid, Tam didnae ken. She kept her een closed as though she still slept but she petted him right enough. And the ony thing he could do that night was to lie doon beside her and gie her what little warmth he could. He figured she'd be deid by daylight.
Seems like he wisna the only body figured she'd die. An hoor passed, maybe twa, and two rough-lookin' men come oot o' the lodgin's where Baubie the Beak was.
Tam didnae like the look o' them at all and he scooted oot from beside Chantal and skittered roond the corner sae they wouldna spot him. He'd seen these anes before, wi'a wheelbarrow fu' o' graveyard prey between 'em, on their way doon tae the infirmary. And he'd heard 'em in his least favorite pub, where the grub was guid and the cook was kindly but the master was a hard, hard man and his clients e'en harder. Tam nivver stayed there lang, no' in sight onyway. This was less a pub than a den o' wolvesheads, murderin', thievin', angry men wha' drank harder and meaner than most and wisna a kind word or a bit o' charity tae a puir moggy in the lot o' 'em. The cook hersel' tauld Tam tae hide when men cam' in the kitchen. "Itherwise ye'll end up a spessymin for the medical students tae study," she tauld him. "Tha' means they'll cut ye op and they willna be careful aboot if ye're dead yet, me fine fellow."
These men was in a foul mood the night Tam saw them. "Wouldna pay up," one of them said. "Tauld us they already had a' the bits o' bone they needed. We warkit aw' the nicht diggin' on that grave, did we no', Bobby?"
"Aye, Davie, we did. 'Tis the ingratitude o' them tha' gits tae me ..."
The landlord had merely grunted, "Aye, ingratitude gits tae us aw', lads, and like yersel's, I dinna care tae gie my services nor my goods wi'oot gratitude," and he'd rubbed his thumb and forefingers together for money.
"I tauld ye, he wouldna pay us," Bobby said.
There was the sound of glass smashing. "Then ye'd best gae find him somethin' fresher if ye want a drap o' wha's mine to sell. Awa' wi' ye."
Since that time, the men looked to have grown prosperous, though no more kindly.
Bobby's belly, which aince curved in, now curved oot. Davie sported a new hat and boots and wore gloves with nae hauls in the fingers.
"Lookit her, ain't she a picture?" Bobby asked, lookin' doon at Chantal.
"Aye. Puir wee lassie. We seen when Baubie took awa' the blanket that fellow gie ye, dearie. Ye maun be terrible cauld. We coom tae tak' ye inside oor new lodgin' hoose wha' Bobby an' me bought. Ye can warm up there, inside, as lang as ye like."
His words were mockin' though, and carried in them nae goodness at aw'. Chantal struggled a wee bit between them but the puir thing was aw' in frae the cauld and the hopelessness she'd brung wi' her frae France. She hadnae sung in a lang time, and noo anely coughed and that she began tae do as she nearly hung betwixt the twa great oafs, who pretended tae escort her up inta the close where their place was.
Straightway Tam was at the windas, first ane and then the ither, tryin' tae see wha' they was doin'. And there was Baubie the Beak, gi'en orders like a queen. "Thraw her doon the cellar steps wi' the rest o' the corpses," Baubie says. "Tak' anither ane doon tae the doctors t'nicht and leave her there for the cauld tae finish."
"She cudda dan' that ootside," Davie complained.
"The she'd hae been onybody's, and she's mine. Her bonnie wee face and daft sang she sings cost me a pretty penny in wark lost and noo she'll mak' it up tae me."
A hateful wooman, Baubie the Beak.
The men took her doon the stairs and when they cam' back up again, they had some puir body slung between 'em, which they threw inta a barrow beside the door. Tam jumped doon jist in time tae no' be seen by 'em as they wheeled awa' doon the lane, but Baubie, she cam' oot wi' a saucer o' milk. "Here, kitty kitty," she ca'ed, sweet as onythin'. "Here, pussy, come gie some nice milk."
Weel, he'd nae mair gae tae that auld slag than he'd turn inta a dug, so he sat on his haunches, back in the shaddas, and stared at her, his green een tryin' their best tae catch her on fire.
She threw the milk onta the cobbles and snarled, "Aye, I see ye there, ye mangy sly thing. An' I'll catch ye for the doctors tae cut aboot an' hae mittens mad' o' yer fur, ye see if I don't."
Noo, it was bad enough, her tryin' tae freeze ane o' Tinkler Tam's friends and patrons tae death, no' tae mention the love o' Cameron Cameron's life. But noo she were gettin' pairsonal like, and it were more than a body cud bear.
Tam took off doon the wynd, shot across the Canongate and doon the back lane, past the Lawnmarket and the Grassmarket and doon Niddry's Lane tae the students' quarters.
Not that he had any idea what he was going tae do exactly, aince he got there. He cud howl and scratch and carry on until Cameron Cameron saw him, but then what? Have the man tae follow him ower tae where the body snatchers was makin' their delivery? And wha' would that prove onyway? This was no' Chantal's body they was bringin.' And he had nae wish tae wait until it would be Chantal in the barrow for then she'd be past savin' and what would be the point?
When he cam' tae Cameron Cameron's rooms, however, it was much aisier than he would hae guessed tae rouse the man. Puir Cameron Cameron hae'in' gie awa' his anely blanket tae his freezin' cauld true love was now freezin' cauld himsel', as he couldna afford the coal for the fire on a regular basis. He was sittin' up in a chair freezin' his arse off, despite the lateness of the hoor. He heard Tam's scritchin's right awa' and cam' oot o' the hoose like a shot.
Furthermore, and this was a great help tae Tam, the man was nae sae thick as most of mankind. Since Tam had never cam' tae call at sich a late hoor before, Cameron Cameron said immediately, "Wha's the matter then, Tam? Is it Chantal? Has she ta'en a turn for the worse?"
But he said it while he was movin', like.
Tam didna bother wi' gae'in tae the infirmary where the body snatchers was. He had a time keepin' up wi' young Cameron as it was, stridin' up the hill tae where Chantal usually plied her trade.
The puir boy looked confused when he didna see Chantal, but Tam, by layin' claws tae pant-leg, led him ower tae Baubie the Beak's place and scratched at the door aince, tae gie him the idea.
As luck would hae it, aboot then the twa laddies wi' the wheelbarrow between them cam' toolin' doon the lane again, their barrow empty noo.
Back inside, Baubie had a lamp lit for them. Cameron sat ootside the winda wi' Tam and listened while she tauld them that the next day they could tak' Chantal, who'd be frozen tae death by then.
Cameron could hae gan chargin' in there, but he wisnae thick, as Tam had noted before. He took himsel' off tae the polls and returned with twa constables.
Baubie, when she answered the door, you'd think she'd been woke up frae a guid nicht's sleep. She was rubbin' her een an' yawnin' and aw' that.
The constables looked hard at Cameron Cameron, but as soon as Baubie opened the door, in streaked Tam and began flyin' at the cellar door.
"What hae ye got in yer basement, Baubie ?" Cameron Cameron asked her.
"Nane o' yer business. A deid cat if ye don't tak' him awa'," she said, trying to catch Tam, who somersaulted over her head to land back by the door again. He was yowlin' his head off for aw' he was worth, too, and before you know it, somebody else was yowlin' too--poor Chantal from doon below started yellin', all hoarse, and coughin', and yellin' again tae let her oot o' there.
Cameron and the constables did, and Baubie and her buddies went off tae gaol. Chantal had to go to the infirmary.
It waren't as if Tam were gie'in' proper credit for his wark that nicht. He didnae see Chantal on the streets onymair at all. While she was in the infirmary, she watched Cameron Cameron at wark and fell in loo' wi' him as the daft cow shoulhae done tae begin wi' and saved them aw' the trouble. And she foond she was a dab hand at nursin' the sick hersel'. Cameron Cameron it was that tauld Tam this, while gie'in him a pettin' that was aw' too rare these days, wi' Cameron spendin' sae much mair time at the infirmary.
"I dinna ken wha' we'd hae done wi'oot yer help, Tam," Cameron said. "Well, I do, and that is that Chantal would be deid noo and I would hae seen her again on the dissection table."
That evenin' it was snowin' and Tam sat inside Cameron's winda sill. Cameron's brother had brought a nice salmon tae him frae the country, and Cameron was sharin' it wi' Tam, which was as big a thank you as a simple jongleur cat could handle.
"When Chantal and I are married, we plan tae gae back tae the country. Would you fancy bein' a farm cat, Tam?"
But Tam fancied nae sich of a thing, for if he went tae the country, then who would look after the toon folk and tak' care o' the mice an' rats, who would listen tae folk's problems and offer his fur tae be stroked?
He gave Cameron Cameron a last long rub and a throaty purr and accepted aye, anither bit o' fish, and then he was doon frae the sill and up the lane, ready tae mak' the roond o' the pub kitchens and listen for sad news where he might be able tae help oot, and gain a bit o' a handout in the bargain.
It wisna verra mony days until he was lyin' quiet on the kitchen floor o' his favorite pub and he heard a gentleman say tae anither, "There'll be a hangin' tamarra. Seems a couple o' fellas wanted tae sell bodies tae the doctors, but wisnae findin' fresh, so they killed folk tae sell. Unfortunate for them that ane o' the folk they tried tae kill was a lassie fancied by ane o' the medical students."
"And they're hangin' 'em tamarra, ye say?"
"Aye. There should be a rare crowd for that, or I miss my guess."
Tam didnae let on that he kent aught aboot it, o' course. He simply lay there on the hearth and kneaded his paws in and oot and purred and thought o' the possibilities a hangin' crowd might present tae an enterprisin' cat about town.
Pardon the heavy dialect please but I've been reading a lot of folk stories from the Scottish Travelling people, who tell stories of the "Burkers," or body snatchers, known by that name because of the most famous, Burke and Hare. Hence the Traveller cat who does not roam the countryside but makes the entire city his territory.