Nellie-Cat returned home this morning, three weeks to the day since his mysterious disappearance.
From the first I had a heavy feeling that we wouldn't see him again. He was so totally gone away.
The general opinion was that he had been snatched by a hawk--a coyote--a bobcat, even.
A part of my mind accepted this, a part of me railed in silent anger that such a young and healthy cat's life had apparently been taken.
Still, I couldn't stop looking for him--if not now combing the roadside, the edge of the woods, the bank of the brook--I continued to scan the area of gravel in front of the stable, visible from the kitchen window. I flicked on the porch light--one last time each night--hoping against all reason to see Nellie sitting on the step.
It was with a wary sense of disbelief that looking out from a task at the kitchen sink, I saw a pale shape sitting upright on a horizontal branch in the brush heap beyond the fence.
At different times during the past three weeks, I have taken a few steps toward the brush pile, only to realize that a light blur was merely the low slanting sun highlighting a bit of bleached wood.
The cat shape on the log didn't move as I walked quietly across the gravel. Part way across the expanse I could clearly see the grey 'mask' on the cat's face.
With a leap of my heart I called softly, "Nellie, Nellie-cat."
The cat didn't move but something in his stance became more alert.
"Nellie! Here kitty, kitty."
Nellie hopped down from the log, paced slowly toward me--so unlike his usual bouncing trot.
Nellie's 'meow'--like that of his brothers--is a tiny sound.
As he approached I could see his mouth opening as he answered my calls.
He fell against my ankles and I felt the purr begin.
I lifted him, noting how thin and weightless he had become.
I buried my face in his fur, wondering if his scent would offer a clue to his recent where-abouts.
His fur smelt cleanly of dry leaves, of the woods, of country air.
His purring rumbled through his lanky frame.
In the house, I tipped him onto the floor, hurried to get out cat dishes and open a tin of gourmet cat food. "Tea!" I announced.
The other cats invaded the kitchen, summoned by this very untimely announcement of a treat.
Faced with their returned companion, they refused to eat, marching stiffly about him while Nellie hoovered the contents of one bowl after another.
"Ello--is that you, bro? You smell funny!"
I trotted off to the lower house where Jim was working, located him in the upstairs hallway fitting an electrical outlet.
I told him simply, "Nellie has come home."
"After three weeks," Jim marveled. "I wouldn't have thought it!"
Nellie has been tired today, doubtless a bit weak from lack of food.
He wandered about the house, checked his favorite lounging spots, had trouble with his first attempt to leap to the foot of our high bed. I lifted him up and he stretched for awhile in the pool of sunshine.
His pattern for the remainder of the day has been to nap for about 20 minutes, then visit the kibble dispenser and the water bowl.
Whenever we have been in his vicinity he has nattered beseechingly, darted from one of us to the other, leaning against our legs, purring as though he might never have enough of our company.
Bobby sniffed him over, said 'Huh'--not a full-fledged 'hiss', but rather a huff of dismissal.
Bobby then besieged the front door as if to say, 'Alright, he's back, he wasn't eaten by a coyote or snatched by a hawk, now we can play outside again!'
In spite of Nellie's safe return, our questions aren't answered.
I suspect he may have gone up the ridge track, possibly across the area recently logged which backs on several houses along the next crossroad.
Did he wander into an outbuilding? Was he shut in for a time?
Surely he has gone without food.
Where was he during the several rainy nights and days, the chilly dark mornings when frost lay white on the ground and mist swirled damply above the houses?
Keeping the three boy cats inside means constant watchfulness; it means denying their obvious joy in exploration, their happy prowlings about the dooryard.
For now, we feel their security and our peace of mind suggests they should be indoor cats.
Tonight, after a good 'tea' Nellie is content to curl beside Jim on the couch.
He ate his tinned food with his old relish, pushing in to polish his brothers' bowls when
they were too slow.
I expect that he will follow us upstairs at bedtime to sprawl his long body between us.
I have missed his headlong hurtling descent of the stairs with me each morning.
He will need to learn that my first act of the day will no longer be to open the front door so that he can dash out.
Dear friends, who offered words of comfort when Nellie was lost, share now our happiness at his safe--though unexplainable--restoration to the family fold.