“Tobermory” by Saki
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adapted by Marek Vít
It was a cold rainy afternoon of a late August day. In Lady Blemley's house, a group of guests were sitting around her tea-table, listening to Mr. Cornelius Appin. He was saying that he had made a discovery much greater than gunpowder, the printing-press or even steam power.
“Do you really ask us to believe,” Sir Wilfrid said, “that you have discovered a way to teach animals to speak like people, and that dear old Tobermory is your first successful student?”
“It is a problem I have worked on for the last seventeen years,” said Mr. Appin. “I have been successful only during the last eight or nine months. I have experimented with thousands of animals, but recently only with cats. They are wonderful, intelligent creatures which have learned to live so well with our civilization and, at the same time, keep their natural instincts. When I met Tobermory, as you call him, I saw that he is a cat with extraordinary intelligence. And with him I have achieved my goal.”
Nobody said a word of disbelief. Only Clovis silently formed the word ‘rubbish’ with his lips.
“And do you mean to say,” asked Miss Resker, “that you have taught Tobermory to say and understand short words and easy sentences?”
“Dear Miss Resker,” said Mr. Appin. “We teach little children and stupid people to speak in this way. No, Tobermory can speak our language perfectly.”
“That's rubbish,” Clovis said this time. Sir Wilfrid was more polite but just as skeptical.
“Why don't we bring the cat here,” said Lady Blemley, “and see for ourselves if Mr. Appin is telling the truth?”
Sir Wilfrid went to look for the animal. In a minute he was back in the room, with a white face and eyes full of excitement.
“Oh my God, it's true!” he said in a tone that immediately awakened the other guests' interest. He sat down and continued: “I found him sleeping in the smoking-room and called out to him to come and have his tea. And he spoke to me in a perfectly natural voice!”
The shock and excitement of the guests made Appin very happy, it was the first fruit of his wonderful discovery.
In the middle of this Tobermory entered the room and walked slowly to the tea-table.
“Will you have some milk, Tobermory?” asked Lady Blemley.
“I don't mind if I do,” answered Tobermory indifferently. A wave of silent excitement went through the guests. Lady Blemley poured the milk in a rather unsteady way.
“I'm afraid I have spilt some,” she apologized.
“It's not my carpet, after all,” said Tobermory.
Another silence fell on the group, and then Miss Resker asked if the human language had been difficult to learn. Tobermory looked at her for a moment and said nothing. Obviously, he thought that stupid questions were a waste of time."
“What do you think of human intelligence?” asked Mavis Pellington.
“Whose intelligence do you mean?” asked Tobermory coldly.
“Oh, well, mine for example,” said Mavis with a little laugh.
“You put me in an embarrassing position,” said Tobermory, but there was no embarrassment in his tone. “Sir Wilfrid did not want you to be invited because you are, as he said, the most stupid woman he knows. Lady Blemley replied to this that it is exactly why she wanted you to come, because you were the only person idiotic enough to buy her old car.”
Lady Blemley's protest would have been more effective if she hadn't told Mavis earlier that morning that the car was just perfect for her.
Major Barfield tried to change the subject and asked: “How are you getting on with that brown cat from the stables?”
The moment he said it, everyone realized the mistake.
“One does not usually discuss these things in public,” said Tobermory coldly. “And from what I have seen since you've been in the house, I think you wouldn't like me to discuss your own little affairs here.”
Everyone, not only the Major, was starting to panic now.
“Would you like to go and see if the cook has got your dinner ready?” said Lady Blemley hurriedly, even though it was still about two hours before Tobermory's usual dinner-time.
“No, thanks,” said Tobermory. “It's too soon after my tea. I don't want to die of indigestion.”
“Cats have nine lives, you know,” said Sir Wilfrid.
“Possibly,” answered Tobermory, “but only one liver.”
“Don't let the cat go out and talk about us in the hall!” said Mrs. Cornett.
The panic was now obvious. Tobermory had been able to walk freely around all the bedroom windows at all hours. All the guests had things that they didn't want other people to know.
“Why did I ever come down here?” Agnes Resker asked.
Tobermory answered her question immediately.
“According to what you said to Mrs. Cornett yesterday, you had no food. You said ‘The Blemleys are the most boring people I know, but they have an excellent cook.’”
“That's not true!” Agnes cried.
“Mrs. Cornet repeated your words to Bertie van Tahn,” continued Tobermory, “and said, ‘That woman would go anywhere for four meals a day’ and Bertie said-”
Luckily, at this point Tobermory noticed the big yellow tomcat from the Rectory walking towards the stables and disappeared through the open French window.
When Appin's brilliant student was gone, everyone looked at him angrily. He was responsible for everything and it was his job to stop it from becoming worse.
“Could Tobermory go and teach other cats to speak?” was the first question he had to answer.
“It's possible,” he said, “Maybe he taught his intimate friend from the stables, but he can't have taught her much in such a short period of time.”
“Then,” said Mrs. Cornett, “you will all agree that we must get rid of Tobermory and the stable cat immediately.”
“My husband and I are very fond of Tobermory,” said Lady Blemley, “but now, of course, we must destroy him as soon as possible.”
“We can put poison in his food,” said Sir Wilfrid, “and I will go and drown the stable cat myself. Of course, her owner will be very angry, but we'll say that both cats were sick and we were trying to stop the illness from spreading.”
“But what about my discovery!” cried Mr. Appin. “All those years of experiments and hard work!”
“You can go and experiment on cows at the farm or elephants at the zoo,” said Mrs. Cornett. “They are very intelligent but they don't come moving quietly about our bedrooms and under chairs.”
Mr. Appin was feeling miserable but the public opinion was against him. If he were to protest, a few of the guests would probably agree to put poison in his food, too.
Dinner that evening was not a great success. Sir Wilfrid had had a hard time with the stable cat and then with the cat's owner. Agnes Resker looked at the food as if it was her personal enemy and Mavis Pellington was completely silent. Mrs. Blemley was trying to keep conversation flowing, but her eyes were always on the doorway. A plate of food was carefully prepared for Tobermory by the door, but Tobermory did not come.
When the terrible dinner was over, they all waited nervously in the smoking-room. At eleven the servants went to bed, leaving the small window in the pantry open for Tobermory. Lady Blemley visited the pantry regularly, but each time she returned with an unhappy look on her face.
At two o'clock Clovis broke the silence.
“He won't come tonight,” he said. “He's probably in the local newspaper office right now, telling them everything he knows.”
Clovis went to bed and slowly, one by one, the others followed his example.
In the morning the servants said that Tobermory had not returned.
Breakfast that morning was even worse than the dinner had been. Finally, Tobermory's dead body was brought in. The gardener had found it in the bushes. From the bites on his throat and the yellow hair on his claws it was clear, that he had been fighting with the big tomcat from the Rectory. The bigger cat had won.
By midday, most guests had left. After lunch, Lady Blemley sat down and wrote a very angry letter to the Rectory about the loss of her valuable pet.
Tobermory was Mr. Appin's only successful pupil. A few weeks later there was a story in the newspapers about an elephant which had escaped from the Dresden zoo and killed an Englishman, who had obviously made it upset. The name of the Englishman, as the different newspapers said, was Oppin or Eppelin. But the first name was Cornelius.
“I am not surprised it killed him,” said Clovis. “If he was trying to teach the poor elephant German irregular verbs, he got what he deserved.”
Autor povídky: Saki, 1870–1916, britský spisovatel proslulý především svými satirickými povídkami
Autorka ilustrace: Markéta Vydrová, výtvarnice, ilustrátorka knih především pro děti a mládež.
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Okruhy slovní zásoby: Tobermory (vocabulary)
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Saki: Tobermory (full)