Carol peeped over her easel. Mr Darcy was sitting on the fence again, in the shade of her neighbour’s holly tree. Carol ignored him and returned her attention to her painting. Although Mr Darcy was handsome, she had no intention of adding him. She wanted her painting to be a cat-free zone.
‘Mr Darcy is back.’
Carol glanced at her niece who was decorating her Christmas tree with festive glass baubles and shimmering, gold tinsel.
‘Yes, I had noticed,’ she replied, with a smile. ‘But let’s not encourage him.’
Grace attempted to wrap some tinsel around her ponytail. ‘Don’t you like cats, Auntie Carol?’ she asked.
‘It’s not that.’ Carol watched Mr Darcy gracefully walk along the top of the snow covered fence. ‘In fact I have had lots of cats in my life and each one has taught me something.’
Grace selected another decoration from the box. ‘Tell me about them.’
Carol thought for a moment. ‘Well, my first cat was called Blackie. She always seemed old, with a low hanging tummy and fur the colour of coal.’ Dear Blackie, thought Carol. An old soul who provided a comforting backdrop to her infant years, when time stretched and weeks seemed like months. Blackie was too serious to play and always seemed old.
‘What did Blackie teach you, Auntie Carol?
Carol smiled. ‘Backie’s passing taught me that nothing stays the same. That is quite a lesson to learn when you are very young.’
Mr Darcy landed silently on her side of the fence and began to saunter towards her, making a trail of paw prints in her snow covered lawn.
‘Then there was Josie. She was a silver blue tabby and very special.’ Dear Josie. She had watched her grow, from small, clumsy kitten with soft, needle sharp claws, to the elegant cat she became. Josie was the keeper of her secrets and her purr the soothing balm to her teenage anxieties.
‘What did Josie teach you?’ asked Grace.
‘She taught me that we are stronger with someone on our side than on our own.’
Mr Darcy sat down at the conservatory door, confident in his ability to charm. Grace giggled and let him in.
‘Then there was Lawrence. A friend was moving and could not take him with her, so I took him in two days before Christmas.’ Dear Lawrence. He had hijacked her busy single life and turned it upside down. A cat flap deformed her pretty front door and the vet became Carol’s second home.
‘And what did Lawrence teach you?’
Carol smiled. ‘Lawrence taught me that thinking and caring for others has its own special rewards.’
‘You should get another cat for Christmas, Auntie Carol, so you won’t be lonely when we move to Australia. You could keep Mr Darcy.’
‘Mr Darcy belongs to my neighbour,’ replied Carol. ‘Richard loves him very much, besides I have got used to being on my own now.’ Richard and Mr Darcy were well suited; both were calm, friendly and gentle.
Eventually it was time for Grace to leave and they said their goodbyes. Carol looked at her painting of Richard’s vibrant holly tree with a sleek black and white cat sitting at its base.
‘Well, Mr Darcy, you seem to have made an appearance in my painting after all,’ said Carol, tickling him behind one ear. ‘What do you say if I give this painting to your owner as an early Christmas gift?’
‘Hello, auntie. It’s Grace. Happy Christmas!’
Carol held the telephone tighter to her ear. ‘It’s lovely to hear from you. How is Australia?’
Grace’s enthusiastic chatter came loud and clear across the ocean.
‘We had Christmas dinner on the beach and I have made a new friend, but I miss you. How is Mr Darcy?’
Carol looked at the cat resting on her lap. ‘He is very well. In fact he is spending Christmas day with me.’
‘What has he taught you?’
Carol looked at Richard, who was roasting chestnuts on her open fire as snow fell silently outside. Richard lifted his gaze to hers and smiled. It tugged at something deep inside her and she respond with one of her own.
‘He taught me I am not too old to fall in love again, Grace and that was the most valuable lesson of them all.’