This is an old British tale about the King of Cats. It’s somewhat different from the Irish story of the King of Cats, which can be found here.
Once upon a time, a man had a calf to sell and decided to go to the November fair in Macroom. He borrowed a horse and cart from a neighbour and was to set off for the fair at about one o’clock in the morning to be sure of arriving nice an early and getting a good price. At one o’clock, he got up and looked outside. The night was too black to see anything, so he stirred the fire into life and put on a kettle for a cup of tea while he harnessed the horse.
There was a heavy mist coming down and the man was wet through by the time he had harnessed the horse and was ready for a hot cup of tea. He thought it was a foolish thing to be doing – going out on a cold, wet night to travel twenty miles in the dark, with only the lanterns on the sides of his cart to show him the way. Still, it had to be done, so he put on a thick coat and set off. The horse was just as unwilling to travel on that cold, wet night and would far rather be sleeping in its stable. Barely and hour had passed and both man and horse were wet through and miserable.
As they drew nearer to the town, the man could see the lights in the farms by the roadside, where the people were getting up for the fair – people who lived close enough to Macroom that they did not have to travel in the middle of the night. Soon there was quite a procession of people on the road with calves and cattle being driven to the fair. It was still dark and the daylight was only just coming.
The man took his place in the fair, and no one made him an offer for the calf for a long time. A few made offers of poor prices and other farmers told him that the prices were low anyway. In the end, cold and dejected and tired from lack of sleep, he accepted an offer, though the price was not a good one, rather than be left to take the calf home again which would have meant a wasted journey.
Cold, wet and hungry, he made a few purchases and then met with some friends for some bread, cheese and ale before they all set off for their homes. He was not looking forward to the long journey home, but at least a full stomach and a quaff of ale raised his spirits a little.
He let the horse go at her own pace and though the rain came down again, the man fell asleep wrapped in his greatcoat and huddled on the driver’s seat of the cart. Dozing fitfully, he barely heard the other travelers passing him, but he began to have strange dreams that could scarcely be told from reality.
As he was passing the graveyard of Inchigeela, a cat put his head through the railings and said to the man, “Tell Balgeary that Balgury is dead.” The man paid little heed to that, for he was too tired to know if it was real or just the product of his exhaustion. At last he arrived home and settled the horse in the stable with hay and water and went into the house to change out of his wet clothes.
His wife immediately began to ask about the fair – how many were there, whether he got a good price for the calf and whether he had heard any news while in town. After replying to questions, the farmer told her to be quiet a while and fetch him some tea to warm him through.
His wife fetched the tea and asked again if there was any news from town – people that had died, babies that had been born, people that had moved into or out of the area and people that had married since last time the farmer had been to town. Her husband told her he had been too wet and tired to stand around gossiping at the fair.
“Fancy going in all that way and hearing nothing at all,” complained his wife, “And not getting a good price for the calf either. You might as well have stayed at home for all the good that you get out of a fair.”
Finally, the man remembered the strange thing at Inchigeela and said “The only news, if you can call it that and not a dream, was when I was passing the graveyard of Inchigeela. A cat stuck his head out of the railings and said ‘tell Balgeary that Balguny is dead’.”
At that, their cat, sitting before the fine, jumped up and glared at the man. “The Devil fire you!” said the cat, “why didn’t you tell me before? I’ll be late for the funeral. It does no good for the heir to be late.”
And with that, the cat leapt through the cracked open window and was gone like the wind. From that day on, the farmer and his wife saw no sign of him.
Here’s a great cat story from Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland, by Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde, published in 1887.
A most important personage in feline history is the King of the Cats. He may be in your house a common looking fellow enough, with no distinguishing mark of exalted rank about him, so that it is very difficult to verify his genuine claims to royalty. Therefore the best way is to cut off a tiny little bit of his ear. If he is really the royal personage, he will immediately speak out and declare who he is; and perhaps, at the same the, tell you some very disagreeable truths about yourself, not at all pleasant to have discussed by the house cat.
A man once, in a fit of passion, cut off the head of the domestic pussy, and threw it on the fire. On which the head exclaimed, in a fierce voice, “Go tell your wife that you have cut off the head of the King of the Cats; but wait! I shall come back and be avenged for this insult,” and the eyes of the cat glared at him horribly from the fire.
And so it happened; for that day year, while the master of the house was playing with a pet kitten, it suddenly flew at his throat and bit him so severely that he died soon after.
A story is current also, that one night an old woman was sitting up very late spinning, when a knocking came to the door. “Who is there?” she asked. No answer; but still the knocking went on. “‘Who is there?” she asked a second the. No answer; and the knocking continued. “Who is there?” she asked the third time, in a very angry passion.
Then there came a small voice–“Ah, Judy, agrah, let me in,–for I am cold and hungry; open the door, Judy, agrah, and let me sit by the fire, for the night is cold out here. Judy, agrah, let me in, let me in!”
The heart of Judy was touched, for she thought it was some small child that had lost its way, and she rose up from her spinning, and went and opened the door–when in walked a large black cat with a white breast, and two white kittens after her.
They all made over to the fire and began to warm and dry themselves, purring all the time very loudly; but Judy said never a word, only went on spinning.
Then the black cat spoke at last–“Judy, agrah, don’t stay up so late again, for the fairies wanted to hold a council here tonight, and to have some supper, but you have prevented them; so they were very angry and determined to kill you, and only for myself and my two daughters here you would be dead by this time. So take my advice, don’t interfere with the fairy hours again, for the night is theirs, and they hate to look on the face of a mortal when they are out for pleasure or business. So I ran on to tell you, and now give me a drink of milk, for I must be off.”
And after the milk was finished the cat stood up, and called her daughters to come away.
“Good-night, Judy, agrah,” she said. “You have been very civil to me, and I’ll not forget it to you. Good-night, good night.”
With that the black cat and the two kittens whisked up the chimney; but Judy looking down saw something glittering on the hearth, and taking it up she found it was a piece of silver, more than she ever could make in a month by her spinning, and she was glad in her heart, and never again sat up so late to interfere with the fairy hours, but the black cat and her daughters came no more again to the house.
Borrowed from: Widdershins
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