The Priest, His Aunt and Her Cats
In a small northern village, there was once a priest whose mind was not always focused on matters spiritual. Now before I go any further I must make it clear that his single vice was money. He was zealous with his collections and always keen to encourage aging parishioners to remember he church in their wills.
This priest was the sole heir of an aunt who, apart from seven extremely pampered cats, lived alone in a large house within the parish. Now he fully expected to come into rather a lot of money when she received her heavenly reward and so his horror can only be imagined when the old woman told him that she had decided to leave her entire estate to her beloved …
The poor man was panic-stricken. He rushed to her house (where ecclesiastical duties had not made him the most frequent of visitors), keen to impress upon his aunt the measure of his love, how much good could be done with the money and, most importantly, that it was somehow sinful to leave such a fortune to dumb and soulless creatures. Not only that, he argued, but it was well known that cats were the Devil’s familiars, and did she really want to jeopardise her immortal soul in this way?
But his aunt was having none of it. The cats had been her best friends in all the world, they had always (with a knowing nod) been there for her and they had given her more love and joy than anything else in this life. It was therefore only right that they should be looked after when she moved onto the next one.
Realising that nothing he could say would make any difference, the priest went back to his church, where thoughts of how he could possibly change her mind (for the good of her immortal soul, of course) regularly interrupted his hours of devotion.
His chance came a few months later when the old woman contacted him to inform him of her desire to spend a fortnight with friends in the city of Rennes. Would he be so kind, she asked, to look after her house and, most of all, take care of her beautiful cats?
Of course, the priest jumped at the chance. So off the aunt went, and off he went to the house.
Opening the front door, the first thing he saw was seven cushions, each occupied by an extremely well-fed and contented cat. He walked up to the first, made the sign of the cross in front of it and then kicked it across the room. He repeated this action with the six other cats. Then he fed the animals. This he did twice a day for the whole fortnight.
When he met his aunt’s coach on her return, her first question was, of course, concerning the welfare of the cats. He was happy to tell her that the animals were fine, but less pleased to confirm that his suspicions were proven to be correct: they were indeed the Devil’s familiars.
The aunt was horrified to hear her nephew say this and dismissed his remarks as spite and envy. The priest raised his hands.
“Don’t just take my word for it, aunt”, he said. “See for yourself what happens when they are faced with the signs of holiness.”
They walked into the house. As the cats saw the priest, the fur went up on the backs of their necks and they crouched uneasily. For the first time the aunt feared that her nephew might indeed be correct.
“Don’t make up your mind yet, dear aunt”, said the priest, “for here is the ultimate proof”.
He raised his arm and started to make the sign of the cross. As his hand came down, the cats started to howl as if they were in pain , leapt from the cushions and fled the room.
“Didn’t I tell you they were the Devil’s familiars?” he said. “See how they flee before God’s blessing”.
The aunt was finally convinced and changed her will at once in favour of her nephew. The cats were thrown out of the house and, when she called to glory, the priest left his cold, draughty and leaking presbytery to live in a house that would not have shamed a bishop. He slept the sleep of the righteous, only occasionally disturbed by the plaintive mewing drifting across the nearby fields during rainy nights.