The Cat and
Cupid by Arnold
The secret history of the Ebag marriage is now printed for the first
time. The Ebag family, who prefer their name to be accented on the
first syllable, once almost ruled Oldcastle, which is a clean and
conceited borough, with long historical traditions, on the very edge of
the industrial, democratic and unclean Five Towns. The Ebag family
still lives in the grateful memory of Oldcastle, for no family ever did
more to preserve the celebrated Oldcastilian superiority in social,
moral and religious matters over the vulgar Five Towns. The episodes
leading to the Ebag marriage could only have happened in Oldcastle. By
which I mean merely that they could not have happened in any of the
Five Towns. In the Five Towns that sort of thing does not occur. I
don't know why, but it doesn't. The people are too deeply interested in
football, starting prices, rates, public parks, sliding scales,
excursions to Blackpool, and municipal shindies, to concern themselves
with organists as such. In the Five Towns an organist may be a sanitary
inspector or an auctioneer on Mondays. In Oldcastle an organist is an
organist, recognized as such in the streets. No one ever heard of an
organist in the Five Towns being taken up and petted by a couple of old
ladies. But this may occur at Oldcastle. It, in fact, did.
The scandalous circumstances which led to the disappearance from the
Oldcastle scene of Mr Skerritt, the original organist of St Placid,
have no relation to the present narrative, which opens when the ladies
Ebag began to seek for a new organist. The new church of St Placid owed
its magnificent existence to the Ebag family. The apse had been given
entirely by old Caiaphas Ebag (ex-M.P., now a paralytic sufferer) at a
cost of twelve thousand pounds; and his was the original idea of
building the church. When, owing to the decline of the working man's
interest in beer, and one or two other things, Caiaphas lost nearly the
whole of his fortune, which had been gained by honest labour in mighty
speculations, he rather regretted the church; he would have preferred
twelve thousand in cash to a view of the apse from his bedroom window;
but he was man enough never to complain. He lived, after his
misfortunes, in a comparatively small house with his two daughters, Mrs
Ebag and Miss Ebag. These two ladies are the heroines of the tale.
Mrs Ebag had married her cousin, who had died. She possessed about
six hundred a year of her own. She was two years older than her sister,
Miss Ebag, a spinster. Miss Ebag was two years younger than Mrs Ebag.
No further information as to their respective ages ever leaked out.
Miss Ebag had a little money of her own from her deceased mother, and
Caiaphas had the wreck of his riches. The total income of the household
was not far short of a thousand a year, but of this quite two hundred a
year was absorbed by young Edith Ebag, Mrs Ebag's step-daughter (for
Mrs Ebag had been her husband's second choice). Edith, who was
notorious as a silly chit and spent most of her time in London and
other absurd places, formed no part of the household, though she
visited it occasionally. The household consisted of old Caiaphas,
bedridden, and his two daughters and Goldie. Goldie was the tomcat, so
termed by reason of his splendid tawniness. Goldie had more to do with
the Ebag marriage than anyone or anything, except the weathercock on
the top of the house. This may sound queer, but is as naught to the
queerness about to be unfolded.
It cannot be considered unnatural that Mrs and Miss Ebag, with the
assistance of the vicar, should have managed the affairs of the church.
People nicknamed them “the churchwardens,” which was not quite nice,
having regard to the fact that their sole aim was the truest welfare of
the church. They and the vicar, in a friendly and effusive way, hated
each other. Sometimes they got the better of the vicar, and, less
often, he got the better of them. In the choice of a new organist they
won. Their candidate was Mr Carl Ullman, the artistic orphan.
Mr Carl Ullman is the hero of the tale. The son of one of those
German designers of earthenware who at intervals come and settle in the
Five Towns for the purpose of explaining fully to the inhabitants how
inferior England is to Germany, he had an English mother, and he
himself was violently English. He spoke English like an Englishman and
German like an Englishman. He could paint, model in clay, and play
three musical instruments, including the organ. His one failing was
that he could never earn enough to live on. It seemed as if he was
always being drawn by an invisible string towards the workhouse door.
Now and then he made half a sovereign extra by deputizing on the organ.
In such manner had he been introduced to the Ebag ladies. His romantic
and gloomy appearance had attracted them, with the result that they had
asked him to lunch after the service, and he had remained with them
till the evening service. During the visit they had learnt that his
grandfather had been Court Councillor in the Kingdom of Saxony.
Afterwards they often said to each other how ideal it would be if only
Mr Skerritt might be removed and Carl Ullman take his place. And when
Mr Skerritt actually was removed, by his own wickedness, they regarded
it as almost an answer to prayer, and successfully employed their
powerful interest on behalf of Carl. The salary was a hundred a year.
Not once in his life had Carl earned a hundred pounds in a single year.
For him the situation meant opulence. He accepted it, but calmly,
gloomily. Romantic gloom was his joy in life. He said with deep
melancholy that he was sure he could not find a convenient lodging in
Oldcastle. And the ladies Ebag then said that he must really come and
spend a few days with them and Goldie and papa until he was “suited.”
He said that he hated to plant himself on people, and yielded to the
request. The ladies Ebag fussed around his dark-eyed and tranquil
pessimism, and both of them instantly grew younger—a curious but
authentic phenomenon. They adored his playing, and they were enchanted
to discover that his notions about hymn tunes agreed with theirs, and
by consequence disagreed with the vicar's. In the first week or two
they scored off the vicar five times, and the advantage of having your
organist in your own house grew very apparent. They were also greatly
impressed by his gentleness with Goldie and by his intelligent interest
in serious questions.
One day Miss Ebag said timidly to her sister: “It's just six months
“What do you mean, sister?” asked Mrs Ebag, self-consciously.
“Since Mr Ullman came.”
“So it is!” said Mrs Ebag, who was just as well aware of the date as
the spinster was aware of it.
They said no more. The position was the least bit delicate. Carl had
found no lodging. He did not offer to go. They did not want him to go.
He did not offer to pay. And really he cost them nothing except
laundry, whisky and fussing. How could they suggest that he should pay?
He lived amidst them like a beautiful mystery, and all were seemingly
content. Carl was probably saving the whole of his salary, for he never
bought clothes and he did not smoke. The ladies Ebag simply did what
they liked about hymn-tunes.
You would have thought that no outsider would find a word to say,
and you would have been mistaken. The fact that Mrs Ebag was two years
older than Miss and Miss two years younger than Mrs Ebag; the fact that
old Caiaphas was, for strong reasons, always in the house; the fact
that the ladies were notorious cat-idolaters; the fact that the
reputation of the Ebag family was and had ever been spotless; the fact
that the Ebag family had given the apse and practically created the
entire church; all these facts added together did not prevent the
outsider from finding a word to say.
At first words were not said; but looks were looked, and coughs were
coughed. Then someone, strolling into the church of a morning while
Carl Ullman was practising, saw Miss Ebag sitting in silent ecstasy in
a corner. And a few mornings later the same someone, whose curiosity
had been excited, veritably saw Mrs Ebag in the organ-loft with Carl
Ullman, but no sign of Miss Ebag. It was at this juncture that words
began to be said.
Words! Not complete sentences! The sentences were never finished.
“Of course, it's no affair of mine, but—” “I wonder that people like
the Ebags should—” “Not that I should ever dream of hinting that—“
“First one and then the other—well!” “I'm sure that if either Mrs or
Miss Ebag had the slightest idea they'd at once—” And so on.
Intangible gossamer criticism, floating in the air!
One evening—it was precisely the first of June—when a thunderstorm
was blowing up from the south-west, and scattering the smoke of the
Five Towns to the four corners of the world, and making the weathercock
of the house of the Ebags creak, the ladies Ebag and Carl Ullman sat
together as usual in the drawing-room. The French window was open, but
banged to at intervals. Carl Ullman had played the piano and the ladies
Ebag—Mrs Ebag, somewhat comfortably stout and Miss Ebag spare—were
talking very well and sensibly about the influence of music on
character. They invariably chose such subjects for conversation. Carl
was chiefly silent, but now and then, after a sip of whisky, he would
say “Yes” with impressiveness and stare gloomily out of the darkening
window. The ladies Ebag had a remarkable example of the influence of
music on character in the person of Edith Ebag. It appeared that Edith
would never play anything but waltzes—Waldteufel's for choice—and
that the foolish frivolity of her flyaway character was a direct
consequence of this habit. Carl felt sadly glad, after hearing the
description of Edith's carryings-on, that Edith had chosen to live far
And then the conversation languished and died with the daylight, and
a certain self-consciousness obscured the social atmosphere. For a
vague rumour of the chatter of the town had penetrated the house, and
the ladies Ebag, though they scorned chatter, were affected by it; Carl
Ullman, too. It had the customary effect of such chatter; it fixed the
thoughts of those chatted about on matters which perhaps would not
otherwise have occupied their attention.
The ladies Ebag said to themselves: “We are no longer aged nineteen.
We are moreover living with our father. If he is bedridden, what then?
This gossip connecting our names with that of Mr Ullman is worse than
baseless; it is preposterous. We assert positively that we have no
designs of any kind on Mr Ullman.”
Nevertheless, by dint of thinking about that gossip, the naked idea
of a marriage with Mr Ullman soon ceased to shock them. They could gaze
at it without going into hysterics.
As for Carl, he often meditated upon his own age, which might have
been anything between thirty and forty-five, and upon the mysterious
ages of the ladies, and upon their goodness, their charm, their
seriousness, their intelligence and their sympathy with himself.
Hence the self-consciousness in the gloaming.
To create a diversion Miss Ebag walked primly to the window and
It was Goldie's bedtime. In summer he always strolled into the
garden after dinner, and he nearly always sensibly responded to the
call when his bed-hour sounded. No one would have dreamed of retiring
until Goldie was safely ensconced in his large basket under the stairs.
“Naughty Goldie!” Miss Ebag said, comprehensively, to the garden.
She went into the garden to search, and Mrs Ebag followed her, and
Carl Ullman followed Mrs Ebag. And they searched without result, until
it was black night and the threatening storm at last fell. The vision
of Goldie out in that storm desolated the ladies, and Carl Ullman
displayed the nicest feeling. At length the rain drove them in and they
stood in the drawing-room with anxious faces, while two servants, under
directions from Carl, searched the house for Goldie.
“If you please'm,” stammered the housemaid, rushing rather
unconventionally into the drawing-room, “cook says she thinks Goldie
must be on the roof, in the vane.”
“On the roof in the vane?” exclaimed Mrs Ebag, pale. “In the vane?”
“Whatever do you mean, Sarah?” asked Miss Ebag, even paler.
The ladies Ebag were utterly convinced that Goldie was not like
other cats, that he never went on the roof, that he never had any wish
to do anything that was not in the strictest sense gentlemanly and
correct. And if by chance he did go on the roof, it was merely to
examine the roof itself, or to enjoy the view therefrom out of
gentlemanly curiosity. So that this reference to the roof shocked them.
The night did not favour the theory of view-gazing.
“Cook says she heard the weather-vane creaking ever since she went
upstairs after dinner, and now it's stopped; and she can hear Goldie
a-myowling like anything.”
“Is cook in her attic?” asked Mrs Ebag.
“Ask her to come out. Mr Ullman, will you be so very good as to come
upstairs and investigate?”
Cook, enveloped in a cloak, stood out on the second landing, while
Mr Ullman and the ladies invaded her chamber. The noise of myowling was
terrible. Mr Ullman opened the dormer window, and the rain burst in,
together with a fury of myowling. But he did not care. It lightened and
thundered. But he did not care. He procured a chair of cook's and put
it under the window and stood on it, with his back to the window, and
twisted forth his body so that he could spy up the roof. The ladies
protested that he would be wet through, but he paid no heed to them.
Then his head, dripping, returned into the room. “I've just seen by
a flash of lightning,” he said in a voice of emotion. “The poor animal
has got his tail fast in the socket of the weather-vane. He must have
been whisking it about up there, and the vane turned and caught it. The
vane is jammed.”
“How dreadful!” said Mrs Ebag. “Whatever can be done?”
“He'll be dead before morning,” sobbed Miss Ebag.
“I shall climb up the roof and release him,” said Carl Ullman,
They forbade him to do so. Then they implored him to refrain. But he
was adamant. And in their supplications there was a note of
insincerity, for their hearts bled for Goldie, and, further, they were
not altogether unwilling that Carl should prove himself a hero. And so,
amid apprehensive feminine cries of the acuteness of his danger, Carl
crawled out of the window and faced the thunder, the lightning, the
rain, the slippery roof, and the maddened cat. A group of three
servants were huddled outside the attic door.
In the attic the ladies could hear his movements on the roof, moving
higher and higher. The suspense was extreme. Then there was silence;
even the myowling had ceased. Then a clap of thunder; and then, after
that, a terrific clatter on the roof, a bounding downwards as of a
great stone, a curse, a horrid pause, and finally a terrific smashing
of foliage and cracking of wood.
Mrs Ebag sprang to the window.
“It's all right,” came a calm, gloomy voice from below. “I fell into
the rhododendrons, and Goldie followed me. I'm not hurt, thank
goodness! Just my luck!”
A bell rang imperiously. It was the paralytic's bell. He had been
disturbed by these unaccustomed phenomena.
“Sister, do go to father at once,” said Mrs Ebag, as they both
hastened downstairs in a state of emotion, assuredly unique in their
Mrs Ebag met Carl and the cat as they dripped into the gas-lit
drawing-room. They presented a surprising spectacle, and they were
doing damage to the Persian carpet at the rate of about five shillings
a second; but that Carl, and the beloved creature for whom he had dared
so much, were equally unhurt appeared to be indubitable. Of course, it
was a miracle. It could not be regarded as other than a miracle. Mrs
Ebag gave vent to an exclamation in which were mingled pity, pride,
admiration and solicitude, and then remained, as it were, spellbound.
The cat escaped from those protecting arms and fled away. Instead of
following Goldie, Mrs Ebag continued to gaze at the hero.
“How can I thank you!” she whispered.
“What for?” asked Carl, with laconic gloom.
“For having saved my darling!” said Mrs Ebag. And there was passion
in her voice.
“Oh!” said Carl. “It was nothing!”
“Nothing?” Mrs Ebag repeated after him, with melting eyes, as if to
imply that, instead of being nothing, it was everything; as if to imply
that his deed must rank hereafter with the most splendid deeds of
antiquity; as if to imply that the whole affair was beyond words to
utter or gratitude to repay.
And in fact Carl himself was moved. You cannot fall from the roof of
a two-story house into a very high-class rhododendron bush, carrying a
prize cat in your arms, without being a bit shaken. And Carl was a bit
shaken, not merely physically, but morally and spiritually. He could
not deny to himself that he had after all done something rather
wondrous, which ought to be celebrated in sounding verse. He felt that
he was in an atmosphere far removed from the commonplace.
He dripped steadily on to the carpet.
“You know how dear my cat was to me,” proceeded Mrs Ebag. “And you
risked your life to spare me the pain of his suffering, perhaps his
death. How thankful I am that I insisted on having those rhododendrons
planted just where they are—fifteen years ago! I never anticipated—”
She stopped. Tears came into her dowager eyes. It was obvious that
she worshipped him. She was so absorbed in his heroism that she had no
thought even for his dampness. As Carl's eyes met hers she seemed to
him to grow younger. And there came into his mind all the rumour that
had vaguely reached him coupling their names together; and also his
early dreams of love and passion and a marriage that would be one long
honeymoon. And he saw how absurd had been those early dreams. He saw
that the best chance of a felicitous marriage lay in a union of mature
and serious persons, animated by grave interests and lofty ideals. Yes,
she was older than he. But not much, not much! Not more than—how many
years? And he remembered surprising her rapt glance that very evening
as she watched him playing the piano. What had romance to do with age?
Romance could occur at any age. It was occurring now. Her soft eyes,
her portly form, exuded romance. And had not the renowned Beaconsfield
espoused a lady appreciably older than himself, and did not those
espousals achieve the ideal of bliss? In the act of saving the cat he
had not been definitely aware that it was so particularly the cat of
the household. But now, influenced by her attitude and her shining
reverence, he actually did begin to persuade himself that an
uncontrollable instinctive desire to please her and win her for his own
had moved him to undertake the perilous passage of the sloping roof.
In short, the idle chatter of the town was about to be justified. In
another moment he might have dripped into her generous arms ... had not
Miss Ebag swept into the drawing-room!
“Gracious!” gasped Miss Ebag. “The poor dear thing will have
pneumonia. Sister, you know his chest is not strong. Dear Mr Ullman,
please, please, do go and—er—change.”
He did the discreet thing and went to bed, hot whisky following him
on a tray carried by the housemaid.
The next morning the slightly unusual happened. It was the custom
for Carl Ullman to breakfast alone, while reading The Staffordshire
Signal. The ladies Ebag breakfasted mysteriously in bed. But on
this morning Carl found Miss Ebag before him in the breakfast-room. She
prosecuted minute inquiries as to his health and nerves. She went out
with him to regard the rhododendron bushes, and shuddered at the sight
of the ruin which had saved him. She said, following famous
philosophers, that Chance was merely the name we give to the effect of
laws which we cannot understand. And, upon this high level of
conversation, she poured forth his coffee and passed his toast.
It was a lovely morning after the tempest.
Goldie, all newly combed, and looking as though he had never seen a
roof, strolled pompously into the room with tail unfurled. Miss Ebag
picked the animal up and kissed it passionately.
“Darling!” she murmured, not exactly to Mr Ullman, nor yet exactly
to the cat. Then she glanced effulgently at Carl and said, “When I
think that you risked your precious life, in that awful storm, to save
my poor Goldie?... You must have guessed how dear he was to me?... No,
really, Mr Ullman, I cannot thank you properly! I can't express my—”
Her eyes were moist.
Although not young, she was two years younger. Her age was two years
less. The touch of man had never profaned her. No masculine kiss had
ever rested on that cheek, that mouth. And Carl felt that he might be
the first to cull the flower that had so long waited. He did not see,
just then, the hollow beneath her chin, the two lines of sinew that,
bounding a depression, disappeared beneath her collarette. He saw only
her soul. He guessed that she would be more malleable than the widow,
and he was sure that she was not in a position, as the widow was, to
make comparisons between husbands. Certainly there appeared to be some
confusion as to the proprietorship of this cat. Certainly he could not
have saved the cat's life for love of two different persons. But that
was beside the point. The essential thing was that he began to be glad
that he had decided nothing definite about the widow on the previous
“Darling!” said she again, with a new access of passion, kissing
Goldie, but darting a glance at Carl.
He might have put to her the momentous question, between two bites
of buttered toast, had not Mrs Ebag, at the precise instant, swum amply
into the room.
“Sister! You up!” exclaimed Miss Ebag.
“And you, sister!” retorted Mrs Ebag.
It is impossible to divine what might have occurred for the
delectation of the very ancient borough of Oldcastle if that frivolous
piece of goods, Edith, had not taken it into her head to run down from
London for a few days, on the plea that London was too ridiculously
hot. She was a pretty girl, with fluffy honey-coloured hair and about
thirty white frocks. And she seemed to be quite as silly as her staid
stepmother and her prim step-aunt had said. She transformed the careful
order of the house into a wild disorder, and left a novel or so lying
on the drawing-room table between her stepmother's Contemporary
Review and her step-aunt's History of European Morals. Her
taste in music was candidly and brazenly bad. It was a fact, as her
elders had stated, that she played nothing but waltzes. What was worse,
she compelled Carl Ullman to perform waltzes. And one day she burst
into the drawing-room when Carl was alone there, with a roll under her
luscious arm, and said:
“What do you think I've found at Barrowfoot's?”
“I don't know,” said Carl, gloomily smiling, and then smiling
“Waldteufel's waltzes arranged for four hands. You must play them
with me at once.”
And he did. It was a sad spectacle to see the organist of St
Placid's galloping through a series of dances with the empty-headed
The worst was, he liked it. He knew that he ought to prefer the high
intellectual plane, the severe artistic tastes, of the elderly sisters.
But he did not. He was amazed to discover that frivolity appealed more
powerfully to his secret soul. He was also amazed to discover that his
gloom was leaving him. This vanishing of gloom gave him strange
sensations, akin to the sensations of a man who, after having worn
gaiters into middle-age, abandons them.
After the Waldteufel she began to tell him all about herself; how
she went slumming in the East End, and how jolly it was. And how she
helped in the Bloomsbury Settlement, and how jolly that was. And,
later, she said:
“You must have thought it very odd of me, Mr Ullman, not thanking
you for so bravely rescuing my poor cat; but the truth is I never heard
of it till to-day. I can't say how grateful I am. I should have loved
to see you doing it.”
“Is Goldie your cat?” he feebly inquired.
“Why, of course?” she said. “Didn't you know? Of course you did!
Goldie always belonged to me. Grandpa bought him for me. But I couldn't
do with him in London, so I always leave him here for them to take care
of. He adores me. He never forgets me. He'll come to me before anyone.
You must have noticed that. I can't say how grateful I am! It was
perfectly marvellous of you! I can't help laughing, though, whenever I
think what a state mother and auntie must have been in that night!”
Strictly speaking, they hadn't a cent between them, except his
hundred a year. But he married her hair and she married his melancholy
eyes; and she was content to settle in Oldcastle, where there are
almost no slums. And her stepmother was forced by Edith to make the
hundred up to four hundred. This was rather hard on Mrs Ebag. Thus it
fell out that Mrs Ebag remained a widow, and that Miss Ebag continues a
flower uncalled. However, gossip was stifled.
In his appointed time, and in the fulness of years, Goldie died, and
was mourned. And by none was he more sincerely mourned than by the aged
“I miss my cat, I can tell ye!” said old Caiaphas pettishly to Carl,
who was sitting by his couch. “He knew his master, Goldie did! Edith
did her best to steal him from me when you married and set up house. A
nice thing considering I bought him and he never belonged to anybody
but me! Ay! I shall never have another cat like that cat.”
And this is the whole truth of the affair.