|Painting by Dutch artist Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, c.1550,|
The Holy Family By The Fire
The Legend of the Tabby by Pam Williams
Hearing the scratching again, the tabby became instantly alert. She recognized the sound of a rat, come to steal the grain stored there for the few cattle and donkeys housed in the stable. With the foraging creature never out of her sight, the tabby inched her way down the hay stack to the stable floor.
Intent upon its exploration of the area, the rat did not hear the cat's approach. It scurried over to the sleeping child and sniffed the edge of the manger where a small hand rested. Just as the rat opened its mouth to bite one of the tiny fingers, the cat leaped. With one snap of the feline‘s powerful jaws, the rodent's body went limp and the cat carried it from the stable.
None of the weary humans even stirred.
Returning later, the tabby heard a faint sound and noticed a wee fist waving in the air above the manger. Checking cautiously to be sure the man and woman still slept, she crept hesitantly over to the makeshift crib, sniffing the air for danger as she went.
Placing her front paws on the edge of the feeding trough, she stood on her back feet and peered in. The newborn looked helpless and unprotected. As the child waved his hands erratically in the air, tiny fingers brushed the curious cat's forehead causing her to flee.
Leaping quickly to her favorite resting place, she spent several minutes grooming her shiny coat. The fur above her eyes felt particularly out of place. She repeatedly licked her front paws and rubbed the spot where the child had touched her.
The infant began to fuss. His insistent cries woke the young woman and she took him in her arms to feed him. The man awakened, too, and brought the woman some breakfast. Satisfied that all was being taken care of, once again the tabby rested her head upon her front paws, curled her tail around her nose, and, with a great sigh, drifted into a deep sleep.
©2011 Pamela D. Williams
Earlier version published in CATS magazine, December 1994