Alexander the Caracal's Christmas
On the Smith Estate, Old Mr. Kull Smith had a few beasts: his black wolf Cnut, his white shepherd Emma and then there were his caracals. There was the female Roxana and then there was the male Alexander. It was the first Christmas after the passing of Mrs. Smith and Mr. Smith merely sat in his armchair in the library, staring at the empty fireplace. Cnut lay on one side while his mate Emma lay on the other. As for Alexander and Roxana, they were cleaning each other by the window. Their relationship had much improved.
Looking at his watch, Mr. Smith noticed that the parents and guardians of the students who attended boarding school on his estate would be arriving soon, as would former students. The snow was falling outside, a fine thing for Christmas.
No sooner did Mr. Smith look away from his watch then his firstborn daughter Hippolyta, born of his first wife, entered the library. To her father did she say: “Herod crashed into the dinning room wall again.”
Giving a resigned sigh, Mr. Smith stood up and asked: “Alright, who let him out of his box indoors this time?”
“Augustus.” Hippolyta answered. The younger of her two-half-brothers never learned.
Standing up, Mr. Smith sighed. It always happened. Someone brought the male of the two great horned owls he owned for falconry purposes out of his box and always excited Herod managed to crash into a wall. Cleopatra, the female, never had this sort of problem. This was the reason he always let Herod outside of his box outside even if it was to have him showed to guests inside.
Alexander watched as the Master left the library. Roxana ceased cleaning her mate and the two both went their separate ways throughout the country house. Alexander first went to visit Alan Carter, son of the Master’s sister’s daughter.
Alan was in his room, tying a ribbon or some such thing around a festive looking box. Seeing the sixteen-year-old boy sitting on his bed, Alexander meowed in greeting. Alan looked up from the gift he was preparing and gave Alexander a smile. He then tapped on his bed and Alexander walked on over and the reddish-tan cat with black tufted ears and a shoulder height of twenty inches jumped up.
Sniffing the box, Alexander then looked at Alan. The Master’s great-nephew asked: “Can you guess what it is?” Alexander meowed in a response to which Alan laughed and gave Alexander a pat on the head. Alexander sniffed the git and then rubbed his face against it. Alan’s response? “Alexander, this isn’t for you.” Alexander meowed again. Alan smiled and scratched Alexander’s chin. “This is for Eleanor.”
Eleanor, daughter of the groundskeeper Robert Cook. Alan liked her and she liked him, Alexander wondered if they would become mates just as he and Roxana were.
The sound of Emma, the white shepherd, barking down in the entrance way caused Alexander to turn his head. What was down there he wondered? To the entrance hall did Alexander make his way and there found the first of the parents arriving. It was the Greek ambassador and his wife, Cadmus’ parents. Already the teachers Ms. Coca and Mr. Walters were speaking with them as they took their coats.
“How was Ireland?” Ms. Coca asked the Ambassador, her voice deep and husky.
“Splendid, I just wish I hadn’t been visiting to fill in for my recently deceased colleague until a successor could be assigned.” Replied the Ambassador. “And I must say that Sean T. O’Kelly is a most disagreeable fellow. All in all, my only real regret is that I got to miss the children’s soccer season and so was not able to coach them like I usually do.” The Greek Ambassador, looked up at the stairs that Alexander was sitting upon and then asked Ms. Coca: “I heard about Alexander’s fight with the lynx through Kull’s weekly letters to the parents and guardians, is he alright?”
“Alexander has made a perfect recovery.” Ms. Coca assured him.
“I’m glad to hear.” Commented the Greek Ambassador. He kept his eyes on Alexander before asking: “Any improvement on his relationship with Roxana?”
“Their relationship is much improved.” Mr. Walters said, looking up at Alexander.
The Greek Ambassador then looked over to one of the Egyptian sarcophagi that lined the walls and asked: “How is Kull since Livia’s passing?” Neither Ms. Coca or Mr. Walters said anything. “Has he not been well?”
“He… Has had a bit of a relapse since December arrived.” Ms. Coca said. “This is the first Christmas since her passing after all.”
“That poor man.” Said the Ambassador’s wife, placing a hand upon her cheek.
“Speaking of somebody I know?” Alexander turned his head to look behind him. Mr. Smith was coming down the stairs with Herod perched upon his right hand. Mr. Smith looked down at Alexander and said: “Hey, you.” To which Alexander replied with a meow. Mr. Smith then walked down the stairs, saying: “You need not worry about me, I will be fine. I have good days I have bad days and I do miss Livia but she wouldn’t want me to break down and so I carry on for her. It will be tough but still I carry on.”
Rubbing his face against a corner of the stairway, Alexander walked on down and then made his way to the kitchen. There did cooks Helene Neuwirth and Andrew Barnett work. Twelve of the twenty-eight students were vegetarian and so not all of the meals at the school included meat. Against the legs of Mrs. Neuwirth and Mr. Barnett did Alexander rub only to hear the voices of Mr. Smith and the Greek Ambassador approaching from outside. He looked to the kitchen door as the two entered, the Greek Ambassador rubbing his walking stick against Alexander’s back once he approached the caracal.
“So, tell me, Kull, any overseas trips planned for the students?” asked the Greek Ambassador.
“Maybe.” Mr. Smith answered. “Ireland, England, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Africa, maybe the Arctic.”
“Africa?” asked the Greek Ambassador. “Going in search of the Elephants’ Graveyard, are you?”
“The Elephants’ Graveyard is a myth that belongs in trash like the Tarzan movies that Johnny Weissmuller appeared in.” replied Mr. Smith. “And in the mind of my former partner Theodore Bytes.”
“How is Roxana since you rescued her from his circus?”
“Much better, didn’t I say that in one of my letters?”
“No, you did not.”
Alexander made his way from the kitchen and to the ballroom. It was a room that did not see much use but tonight it would. There was a great fake tree in the middle of it, a strange thing that looked real but yet was not. The tree was decorated beautifully as was much of the house, with a strange plant called “mistletoe” hung from the archway of one room. The Master intended for there to be a Christmas that had not been seen on the estate in forty-nine years, whatever that meant.
Walking over to the tree, Alexander then proceeded to rub his face against several gift boxes that were located under it. Why were those gift boxes there? He did not know. What was Christmas? Was it someone’s birthday? Humans were strange.
As a caracal, Alexander could not read. If he could he would have been aware he was rubbing his face against a gift that was marked: “To Alan, from Eleanor.” Once he was finished rubbing his face against presents, Alexander lied down beneath the tree. He looked to the left, then to the right and finally lowered his head to sleep for a bit.
An awakening can either be peaceful or shocking. For Alexander, it was the latter. He jolted up to suddenly hear a violin playing. He walked out from under the tree and saw that there were more people in the country house than he had ever seen. There were children, adults, there was just so many people, he didn’t like it.
With ears fully erect, Alexander looked back and forth for until he saw his Master. Running towards him, Alexander quickly stretched up onto his hind legs, stretched out his forepaws and began to paw at Mr. Smith gently.
“Is he alright?” asked Mr. Gillespie, paternal uncle and guardian of Madeleine.
“Probably wondering why there are so many people here.” Mr. Smith knelt down and picked up Alexander in his arms and held the cat with a shoulder height of twenty inches in his arms. “You are alright, Alexander. No need to be frightened.”
“Is he heavy?” asked Mrs. Marx, mother of twins Burton and Adolph.
“Oh, no.” Mr. Smith said. “He only weighs fifteen kilograms.”
“And Roxana?” asked Lou Covington, a member of first batch of students.
“Ten. Caracals exhibit sexual dimorphism males are larger than the females.” Mr. Smith answered, gently petting Alexander. “He is four inches taller at the shoulder and two inches longer in head-and-body length.” Alexander looked around at the faces of the everyone. Mr. Covington, he knew, he visited often but these others were strangers to him. Mr. Smith put him down closer to the legs of the others and immediately Alexander backed away.
“Perhaps he is bothered by being surrounded.” Suggested Mr. Covington.
“Quite right, Lou.” Agreed Mr. Smith. “Spread out everyone, give him some space.”
The people did as they were instructed, and so Alexander looked up at all of them. There were those whose facial features recalled that of some of the students’, some whose faces he had never seen before and then a few he was familiar with. Looking at Mr. Covington, Alexander then sniffed the air. Mr. Covington owned one of Cnut and Emma’s offspring, Harold. Was Harold here now? Looking back and forth, Alexander made his way out of the ballroom, walking past Alan and Eleanor who were exchanging gifts.
Where was Harold, grey wolfdog offspring of Cnut and Emma? Alexander could smell him he recognized his scent. He just didn’t know where he was.
As two of the students ran past him, Alexander walked followed the scent of Harold into the library. There did he find Cnut, Emma and Harold all asleep by the fire. Roxana was there as well. Seeing her mate, she meowed at him and Alexander responded in kind. He walked over to her and the two rubbed their heads together.
Roxana’s greeting to her mate had not gone unheard among the canines. Cnut lifted his head for a moment before going back to sleep while Emma stared at Roxana for a moment, scratched an itch and then once more went back to sleep. Harold however wagged his tail, got up and walked over to Alexander to lick his friend. Alexander remembered how he initially felt when Harold did this. Alexander had been nervous, he had crouched down with wide eyes, unsure of what was going on while Harold licked away affectionately at his new friend. Now, Alexander rubbed his head against Harold’s chest and then lied down next to Roxana.
Harold was fully grown, between his parents in shoulder height at twenty-seven inches. He was not very old, only a year like Alexander and Roxana and so there was a lot of puppy left in him. Yet at the moment he did not feel like playing. He simply lay down next to his friend Alexander, which ended up putting him between his friend and his father. With his son suddenly laying next to him, Cnut once more awoke and stared at Harold. The black wolf licked his son’s forehead and then returned to his slumber. Emma then got up and walked closer to the four, laying with them. The white shepherd touched noses with her son and then she touched noses with her mate. Alexander was grooming Roxana a bit while she slept and this was exactly the scene that Alan and Eleanor came in to see.
Alan was holding a copy of Ernest Hemmingway’s new book “The Old Man and the Sea”, Eleanor’s gift to him. Mr. Smith had a tense relationship with Mr. Hemmingway, a man twelve years his junior, with their last meeting having ended with a fistfight between the two but otherwise the two men had a grudging respect for one another and Alan was a fan of Mr. Hemmingway’s work. Eleanor was wearing the necklace that Alan had gotten her, a golden heart on a chain. The two had come into the library to read “The Old Man and the Sea” but seeing the scene before them the two paused for a moment.
Alexander ceased grooming Roxana and stared at the two. He meowed at them as I to ask: “Are you two going to just stand there or are you going to sit down?”
Giving a small chuckle, Alan held onto Eleanor’s hand and together the two walked on over to the couch closest to the fire. The two sat down close together and Eleanor grabbed the blanket at the far end of the couch. Alexander’s eyes widened as he saw Eleanor grab the blanket. Anytime anyone grabbed a blanket, he wanted to be on it and as Alan and Eleanor placed the blanket over their legs, Alexander jumped up onto the couch and lay upon the blanket and thus upon their legs.
“Oh, Alexander, whatever are we to do with you?” Eleanor asked with a giggle.
Alexander meowed at Eleanor and then looked down at Roxana, Cnut, Emma and Harold. He then looked down at the blanket. Immediately, he jumped down and returned to his mate and their friends.
Seeing the scene before them, Alan asked: “Should we join our four-legged friends, Eleanor?”
Eleanor answered: “Of course, Alan.”
Mr. Smith’s sixteen-year old great-nephew and his groundskeeper’s sixteen-year old daughter both sat on the floor with the caracals and the canines, bringing the blanket with them. Soon, Alexander and Roxana both had the front halves of their bodies upon the legs of one of the two redheads, Alexander upon Alan and Roxana upon Eleanor. Harold quickly took to laying at their feet, his father and mother still nearby.
With everyone settled, Alan opened the book and read as Mr. Hemingway had wrote: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”
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