what is the good of
putting stone reading ‘Here lies
The Cat in the Lifeboat
A feline named William got a job as copy cat on a daily paper and was surprised to learn that every other cat on the paper was named Tom, Dick, or Harry. He soon found out that he was the only cat named William in town. The fact of his singularity went to his head, and he began confusing it with distinction. It got so that whenever he saw or heard the name William, he thought it referred to him. His fantasies grew wilder and wilder, and he came to believe that he was the Will of Last Will and Testament, and the Willy of Willy Nilly, and the cat who put the cat in catnip. He finally became convinced that Cadillacs were Catillacs because of him.
William became so lost in his daydreams that he no longer heard the editor of the paper when he shouted, “Copy cat!” and he became not only a ne’er-do-well, but a ne’er-do-anything. “You’re fired,” the editor told him one morning when he showed up for dreams.
“God will provide,” said William jauntily.
“God has his eye on the sparrow,” said the editor.
“So’ve I,” said William smugly.
William went to live with a cat-crazy woman who had nineteen other cats, but they could not stand William’s egotism or the tall tales of his mythical exploits, honors, blue ribbons, silver cups, and medals, and so they all left the woman’s house and went to live happily in huts and hovels. The cat-crazy woman changed her will and made William her sole heir, which seemed only natural to him, since he believed that all wills were drawn in his favor. “I am eight feet tall,” William told her one day, and she smiled and said, “I should say you are, and I am going to take you on a trip around the world and show you off to everybody.”
William and his mistress sailed one bitter March day on the S.S. Forlorna, which ran into heavy weather, high seas, and hurricane. At midnight the cargo shifted in the towering seas, the ship listed menacingly, SOS calls were frantically sent out, rockets were fired into the sky, and the officers began running up and down companionways and corridors shouting, “Abandon ship!” And then another shout arose, which seemed only natural to the egotistical cat. It was, his vain ears told him, the loud repetition of “William and children first!” Since William figured no lifeboat would be launched until he was safe and sound, he dressed leisurely, putting on white tie and tails, and then sauntered out on deck. He leaped lightly into a lifeboat that was being lowered, and found himself in the company of a little boy named Johnny Green and another little boy named Tommy Trout, and their mothers, and other children and their mothers. “Toss that cat overboard!” cried the sailor in charge of the lifeboat, and Johnny Green threw him overboard, but Tommy Trout pulled him back in.
“Let me have that tomcat,” said the sailor, and he took William in his big right hand and threw him, like a long incompleted forward pass, about forty yards from the tossing lifeboat.
When William came to in the icy water, he had gone down for the twenty-fourth time, and had thus lost eight of his lives, so he only had one left. With his remaining life and strength he swam and swam until at last he reached the sullen shore of a sombre island inhabited by surly tigers, lions, and other great cats. As William lay drenched and panting on the shore, a jaguar and a lynx walked up to him and asked him who he was and where he came from. Alas, William’s dreadful experience in the lifeboat and the sea had produced traumatic amnesia, and he could not remember who he was or where he came from.
“We’ll call him Nobody,” said the jaguar.
“Nobody from Nowhere,” said the lynx.
And so William lived among the great cats on the island until he lost his ninth life in a barroom brawl with a young panther who had asked him what his name was and where he came from and got what he considered an uncivil answer.
The great cats buried William in an unmarked grave because, as the jaguar said, “What’s the good of putting up a stone reading ‘Here lies Nobody from Nowhere’?”
MORAL: O why should the spirit of mortal be proud, in this little voyage from swaddle to shroud?
From Further Fables for Our Time by James Thurber, Hamish Hamilton, Ltd. 90 Great Russell Street, London, W.C.1