‘Catspaw and Devil’ by Elizabeth Russell

Once upon a time, not too long ago, in the far distant hills of the continent, in a little nook surrounded by towering mountains, there was a quaint country village. Tucked right up against the base of one of the peaks, with a roof of living grass and a door of solid oak, sat a lovely, proud cottage. It was so terribly prideful of itself, with its engraved lintel, painted shutters, and drooping, scalloped eaves, that
even though it sat in the shadow of the mountain, it shone bright with the light of the sun. Without the house lived the pure-white sheep, speckled gray cow, prancing, prattling geese, and long, carefully-hewn rows of golden wheat. Within lived the hale farmer, his red-cheeked wife, his three rambunctious, healthy children, and finally, his red-eared, allegiant sheepdog. If the house was proud, the dog was ten times more so: he had the best home, the best family, and the best master in the world.

Though this home was a veritable paradise, the neighboring village was anything but. The tavern, the most respectable of the assorted, dubious joints that haunted the dark corners of the muddy streets, was home to unsavory costumers, often characterized by a drooping cigar dangling from a scraggly chin, or an eye-patch half-obscuring some questionable jagged mark of former ill-deeds.

On the night our tale began, many such miscreants decorated the smoky interior of this place when, much to their one-eyed consternation, the door kicked wide open to immerse the murky interior in rays of forbidden light.

“Close the blasted door!” cried a hoarse-voiced card player.

When there was no reply, all heads turned, squinting, toward the rectangular opening, to see perfectly outlined in the center, the silhouette of a standing cat.

Scratch, scratch went his paws upon the old wooden floor as he made his slow, deliberate way to the bar.

“No weapons allowed,” growled the bartender.

The strange feline slapped a bill on the counter. “Never ask me to retract my claws.”

In that den of thieves, outlaws, and vagabonds, everyone turned away to mind his own business. They knew who the stranger was: one note of his voice betrayed him. He was the notorious bounty hunter, Catspaw.

 

The farmer, parking his tractor in the last light of the calm, well-worked day, looked up in contentment at the distant peaks of the mountains. There the pink, orange, and purple sunset danced in a medley over the undulating, oceanic curves. He reached down to pet his red-eared dog Devil, the cuddly, frolicsome creature so named in a moment of mirth.

dog-2024644_1280“Come, my friend. Mother will have dinner on the table. I can smell it from here.” These were the fateful last words of the friendly farmer.

Right after he said them, two ruffians from the shadows leapt out upon him, encircled his arms and chest, and threw a sack over his head.

Leaping into action, Devil romped about, biting ankles and making a nuisance of himself, but the kidnappers merely kicked him away, threw his beloved master into the back of their beat-up pickup, and drove away, kicking up a far-off trail of dust.

The farmer’s red-cheeked wife answered Devil’s cries of “Yelp! Help!” by running outside and promptly bursting into tears.

Her neighbors heard the commotion and scampered over. After interpreting her hysterical words in much the same way you might translate a foreigner with a heavy accent, the neighbors were horrified. But one neighbor did not panic.

“I hear Catspaw is in town. He is staying at the tavern. Never fear, dear woman, he will save your husband.”

“No! No!”cried out Devil, as he had been doing unheeded for the past few minutes. “I will save Master. Never fear! Devil is here!”

But no one listened to the little red-eared sheepdog.

“Yes, yes, the brave bounty hunter Catspaw. He will save my man.”

The whole retinue of wife, children, and neighbors set off for the town, leaving a dejected Devil trailing his tail in the dust, whimpering and alone.

“No! A dog’s love is true! I will find my master: I don’t need any old bounty hunter!” He squared his chest, perked up his ears, and set off down the road after the truck’s trail of dust, tracking with his up-tilted nose the heavy odor of burned petrol.

 

After about half an hour, with his energy high, his hope sustaining, and his feet still bobbing briskly along the road, Devil saw a statue on a rock beside the dusty concrete shoulder, barely illumined in the last light of day.

It had two pointy ears, a gray concrete hide, a red pointy nose, two black eyes, and extended claws sharpened from real silver, so it seemed. Devil extended his tongue to test the material of this strange statue, only to receive a decided, furry whip slash across his snout.

“Yow!” he yelped in surprise and darted backward.

The statue, of course, was no statue, but Catspaw himself, patiently awaiting Devil’s arrival.

He leapt lightly to the ground, stirring furrows in the dirt with his claws.kipling_cat_who_walked_by_himself

“I was awaiting your arrival. You can turn back now. I will take it from here.”

His voice was like sophisticated gravel falling into a quarry, bouncing off boulders and rippling, scattering to the bottom.

“No!” barked the canine. “Devil is here! Never fear! I will rescue my Master. He is counting on me!”

Without disturbing a hair of his iron gray coat, the bounty hunter silently sized up Devil, who bravely threw out his chest.

“I can see I am not dealing with an amateur, who only follows his heart. You are a fearsome beast, bred for battle: your teeth made to tear a throat, your brawn to suffocate, your claws to sharpen themselves on bones. You will never back down in the face of death. And if you fail, you will walk into that unknown abyss, confident that you faced each trial with cunning, bravery, and fire.” All the time he spoke, he slowly paced about the dog, working his way in ever tightening circles until his stiff fur brushed right up against the other’s quivering hide. When he reached the last three words, he spat them in derisive scorn, and Devil whimpered at each.

Now the speaker sat back on his cool, confident haunches and looked the passionate pet in the eye. “Leave the rescuing to the professionals.”

For a moment, Devil stood in the dust, torn between his fear and his love. But “No!” he cried. “Dog’s are faithful! Never fear, master! Devil is here!”

Catspaw shrugged lightly. He was too sophisticated to argue, so he silently endured the other’s exuberant company, and they both set off down the road.

After an hour, when the moon was just peeking her head over the tips of the mountains, they saw a ramshackle hut in the distance.

“That, my friend, is the hut where your master is hid.”

Devil was very excited and wagged his tail so hard that his entire body shook. “Let’s go, let’s go!” he cried.

“Patience,” advised Catspaw. “We must make a plan before rushing in. I will take point, you will wait behind. If anyone attacks you, call out. That is the plan.”

“That’s a good plan!”

Devil waited while Catspaw disappeared into the barn. Quivering with impatience, he sniffed the ground and air to pass the time. But then he noticed something odd. He did not smell his master, only a strange, sinister presence. It was a trap!

Barking wildly, he raced into the barn. “Yelp, help, Catspaw! Catspaw, my master isn’t here!”

“You imbecilic canine!” cried Catspaw. “You’re ruining the plan!”

Then a net dropped from the ceiling right above him, but Devil, who was wagging his head all about, saw it and knocked the cat out of the way. The net dropped onto empty air.

Catspaw, with a dignified air, shook himself, and then coolly, with his sharp, extended claw, cut the rope that held the net, causing one of the kidnappers to plummet to the floor of the barn.

When the kidnapper opened his eyes, the notorious bounty-hunter stood over him and little birds faded in and out in circles around his pointy ears.

“All right, scoundrel.” Catspaw’s sword wavered inches from the kidnapper’s throat. “You will tell me immediately where you have stashed this hapless mutt’s master.”

“I-I don’t know! Honest. I don’t got no brains in this operation.”

Catspaw, his intelligent, sharp mind noting the pathetic emptiness behind the crook’s fleeting eyes, harnessed his sword and deftly tied the kidnapper to a chair.

“There you shall remain until we return with the authorities. I hope, for your sake, that our search does not take too long. Come, Devil of mine, you have, despite my best attempts to the contrary, proven yourself useful. You will take point, and your smellerific nose will guide us to the ill-starred farmer.”

Devil beamed and wagged in overawed rapture as he set off briskly down the continuing path, with Catspaw marching erect behind him.

The full moon’s radiance illumined everything in the darkness of night. The trees threw themselves against the speckled sky, only visible where they blotted out a group of stars. The dog and cat plodded patiently on.

“This is it! This is it!” cried Devil finally, pointing like a hunting dog toward a tall, abandoned grain silo. “My beloved master’s scent is most strong here.”gobleboots

Catspaw and his new companion went up to the door. “They are indeed inside, my friend; I can hear them. Let me take on the bandits: they are no match for your farmyard innocence. While I keep them occupied, you find your master.”

Catspaw burst into the silo like an avenging angel, his body a sleek blur of furry-osity, his blade – snick snick – sliced the air, and, most terrifying of all, his complete silence. Taken by surprise, the kidnappers scattered in fear, but there were more of them than the cat, and they soon rallied against him. No one of them was a fit match for his skill, but together, they made a formidable opponent. The silo was crumbling to pieces so that there were beams of moonlight spotlighting the floor and clouds of shifting dust blowing up in eddies all around.

Devil found his master, tied to a chair and hidden in a dark corner.

“Devil, you good dog!” cried the farmer, “Untie me boy, bite through the ropes: there you go. Oh, how I’ve missed you!”

“Good, ill-fated master of my new companion Devil,” cried out Catspaw through the mêlée. “You must retreat this vile granary of defalcators on the infinitesimal chance that I am overrun.”

“Never fear! Devil is here!” cried the faithful dog and threw himself into the fight, biting and barking, and getting in Catspaw’s way.

The farmer fled, but discovered the beat-up truck parked outside with the keys in the ignition. So he drove it through the silo door, knocking the whole crumbling tower over and causing much confusion. Catspaw, the only being alive capable of keeping his head in such turmoil, tied up all four of the villains before the dust of the fallen building had quite settled.

Then they dumped the kidnappers into the back of the pickup, the loner Catspaw sat up front in the passenger seat, the devoted Devil lay content across his master’s lap, and the fortunate farmer drove off down the road, back toward his village, his home, and his family.

 

The End

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Artwork courtesy of:

ArtPassions.net

Pixabay.com

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