That were not the life I’d wisht for, but one does what one can in this wicked world.
For our All Hallow Eve revel, I instructed Luvvie in the performance of my uncle’s verses that all cats love.
And I bethought me of a horrid tale my friend Nero used to tell. He had it from a cat of the west country who swore all was true. Here it is, with mine own embellishments.There was once a cat who loved his mistress right well. She was rich, and many lords came calling at her door. She chose the one most pleasing to her.
In winter they lived in her house in the town, and in summer they went to his house in the country.
Her cat, a black and handsome fellow, went with them. He followed on their country walks and liked all he saw.
Alas, the lady’s husband soon tired of her. He grew mad with thinking on how well he loved her money but how little he loved her.
One day they walked beside a stream. The cat watched the flies that danced above it, and the lady picked flowers growing by its side.
Her lord held her hand as she leaned over the water to pluck a gelder rose. He feigned to stumble, and pushed her in.
Oh, how she called to him for help! He was deaf to her pleas.
Then he ran to his house, his face all bedewed with tears scooped from the stream. “Alas, oh woe, my lady’s drowning!”
His servants came with implements to pull her out. The cat was waiting by the dam where her body lay. Some feared ill doings then. They spake of witchcraft, and the constable.
The lord seized the cat in his arms and cried, “No evil here. My dear lady loved this cat. ’Tis all of her that’s left to me. I shall love him for her sake.”
Though he planned to be rid of that cat as soon as he could.
The cat sayt, “I know what you did, and you shall have no peace in this world or the next.”
But none took his meaning.
His poor mistress was laid in a fine tomb. There was room enough for the lord as well, and he swore to join her for eternity.
“And I swear you will not rest there,” sayt the cat, but the lord did not hear him.
When the lord returned to town he took the cat, but would not have him in the house.
The cat was not troubled. He’d lived long in that house, and knew that below the leads was a broad-sill window with a broken latch.
So he began his haunting. What cat does not know how?
Flowers pulled from a vase, their water spilled. A curtain stirring where none was seen to pass. Lute strings plucked in an empty chamber; a riband left in a pool of moonlight. Cries in the night, like unto a woman’s when heard through sleep.
The lord grew afeared of creaks and shadows. His servants wearied of bringing lights, more lights, while he sat late, drinking wine, his sword beside his chair.
Seizing his sword he ran into the room, but found onlie a puddle on the chair and her glove dropped on the floor.
He fell down beside it and saw the cat in a dark corner. He tried to speak, but could not.
The cat sayt, “You swore to join my murdered mistress in her tomb. Now she has come for you.”
This time the lord heard his speech as clear as he’d heard the church bell toll for his lady.
The cat heard the last beat of his stricken heart.
“My work is half done,” sayt the cat.
A surgeon came to make the lord’s body fit for travel to the country. Three boxes were made – a long one of wood, and two of lead for his inners and his heart.
The surgeon put the heart on a platter, and went out to drink a cup of ale. He left his ’prentice to embalm the body with salt and spices.
The cat crept from his corner, begging the Queen Cat of Heaven’s forgiveness for what he meant to do.
It amounted to self-murder, but he knew his cause was just. He hooked the heart and ate it. Then sat bold-arst, a-cleansing of his whiskers.
Then he hid him in the corpse and wrapped all tight in cerecloth. He put a lump of coal in the box made ready for the heart, and sealed it shut.
When his master returned he praised his ’prentice for work well done.
Thus was the cat laid with the lord in the tomb that housed his mistress. Did his ghost bide quiet there? No.
By day he gave that lord no peace. He lay upon his face. He bit his toes. He sharped his ghostly claws upon their winding sheet. He wauled and clawed at the coffin lid before he issued out at night, and clawed and wauled again before he slipped back in.
By night he kept his mistress company. And any cat from those parts will tell you that their spirits may be seen dancing on the tomb to this very day.
This tale of a heart-eating cat might have originated among cats, but is now established in human lore. The version I heard is a macabre anecdote about the novelist Thomas Hardy’s heart, well-covered in this article.