Life in the cottage on the hill following Pushkin’s death followed its usual routines but the humans missed him mightily. And, sadly, so did the three cats in their own ways. Fannie showed the least open signs of missing him but Gilly kept herself more and more to herself than ever she had when Pushkin was alive, with no attempts at friendly interaction with either Titus or Fannie. But now she also increased the number of times she attacked the other two cats and was just as likely to pick on Titus as on Fannie which she would never have done while Pushkin lived. Titus too displayed abject sorrow. She sat on the edge of the woman’s desk, leaning her sad face over the keyboard barrier, and depressingly often she just sat hunched up with her nose touching the blanket on which she was lying. It continued that way for week after week. The woman would type and Titus would sigh – enormous heartbreaking sighs. Titus missed her boy enormously.

The humans looked back on Pushkin and his gentle loyal presence with deep longing in their hearts. He had always been the least troublesome and most beautiful of the four cats. He had been graceful to a fault in his sleek shiny silver-blue double-pelted livery with his militaristic sea-lion whisker pads and his emerald green eyes. And, they realised, in his calm tranquil way he had been the all-important go-between.  He had been the PEACEMAKER.  Every household should surely have one? He had allowed Gilly’s bad behaviour only up to a point and then, playfully and with friendliness, he had admonished her by cuffing her into non-violence. This she had understood and for him she would desist. Now the peacemaker was gone and nothing would be the same ever again.  Pushkin had given ten years of supreme happiness to those he had lived amongst.

Time passed and the dynamic force within the cottage remained disturbed. Fannie as a matter of course would hiss on merely seeing Gilly, even if Gilly showed no inclination to bully her and Titus maintained what can only be called “a low profile”, sometimes crouching under the coffee table in the sitting room for hours. Gilly was clearly unsettled and started to spray. Previously she had only done this (before she was neutered) when she was on heat, but now this was new. Mainly she sprayed near the French windows and on the chair cushions in the conservatory.  And this continued on and off for days on end.

The woman consulted  her vet and also a highly regarded animal behaviourist on the best way of coping with the problem. Her initial instinct, as Gilly tended to show a preference for certain dogs, was to consider getting a rescue dog who was used to living with cats and see if that improved the dynamics, but both her vet and the behaviourist urged her not to go that route. With some hesitation they both felt it was worth trying a male kitten as that is what had worked before and Gilly had responded to a male presence. As luck would have it at that time the wonderful illustrator of the book the woman had just finished writing, White Chin, had just had a litter of kittens, three of whom had already been promised to other people, but the fourth, a male, was yet to be found a home.

When the woman first saw a photograph of the fourth kitten, lying on his side she couldn’t believe how utterly adorable he was.  He had the same puffed out whisker pads that Pushkin had had and although he was darkly tabby patterned he was charcoal grey in colouring. When he was very young he looked just like a baby otter and so Tarka was the name she called him. She had a really good feeling that this was going to be a wonderful answer to all their problems. Here is the adorable Tarka  (left) and on the right  Pushkin as a young nipper.





The woman’s book illustrator was delighted so it was confirmed that Tarka would make the long journey from Bristol to Cumbria and emails flew back and forth as they both got excited about the new home for the kitten. Laila, Tarka’s mother, was in fact the physical model for the central cat in the new book called Magnificat, so there was something wonderfully satisfying about all the loose ends coming together in this way.   The illustrator continued to send wonderful pictures of the kitten as he grew, ever whetting the appetite of the woman and man in the cottage on the hill in Cumbria.

And so the great day arrived and the woman drove the hundreds of miles south to collect her little charge and they returned in a ferocious thunder storm through floods and all manner of hold ups and the poor little mite in his cat carrier squawked and cried as well he might, being dragged away brutally from his home and his siblings and his mother.

On his arrival at the Coach House on 2nd July Tarka was released for his first run in hours and he gleefully bounced around with the carefree happiness of the young and innocent. But the woman and the man knew full well things might not be altogether smooth and so for the first week his introductions to the other feline residents were slow and painstaking. It was clear from the reactions of Fannie and Titus that although his presence was not completely welcome neither would they bear him any malice.

To begin with, as is always the way with adult cats when a new youngster is introduced into their ranks there was much hissing and sighing and skirting around the problem.  Titus didn’t so much hiss at him as take seriously avoiding action. She turned “skirting round it ” into an art form, so wherever Tarka bounced, then Titus would be seen sidling away in the other direction. Fannie responded to him more noisily with her hissing at the beginning but soon she gave him a cursory lick and then her maternal instincts rose to the fore and she would groom him if she was in the right mood, and soon after this Titus too would groom him as long as he was in a gentle mood and not being bouncy.

But from the outset it was clear that Gilly saw him as a total threat. Gilly’s first response was to stare in horror and then give a deep throat wrenching growl of hostility. Tarka, as far as she was concerned, was a usurper and there was the beginning and the end of it. At the beginning the people allowed Gilly and Tarka access to each other but Gilly went for Tarka three times and she was growling deep in her throat, no hissing, but full on cat fight threats. Tarka was terrified of course and on each occasion the people rescued him before he was hurt, but it meant that slowly and perniciously an apartheid system was developing in the house where Tarka could be free with Titus and Fannie but never if Gilly was anywhere near.

The woman went back to the Animal Behaviour expert and as well as putting in Feliway plug-ins all around the house a regime of Bach Flower Remedy was introduced. It helped a bit.  Gilly was better on the days when she had ingested Bach Flower remedy but it was administering it that was the problem. But her feeling of being usurped by this small new creature continued to appear to be more powerful than the healing powers of any of these remedies.  One of the many problems that had now manifested itself was that Gilly was spraying around the house and it was very difficult to discourage her. She was extremely disturbed by the presence of this young feline on her territory.  The woman even went to the vet and they administered a very, very low dose of Valium, but that had disastrous effects on Gilly, who fell down the stairs in a drunken manner, so that recourse was abandoned immediately.

Tarka was reintroduced to Gilly while in a large puppy cage but it went from bad to worse. The woman kept convincing herself that it would be all right in the end because she desperately wanted it to be, but the man was increasingly doubtful until one day, when the woman was in the vet’s waiting room with Tarka in a cage, waiting for his second injection, a gentle long-haired vet nurse came in and immediately fell in love with him. The woman jokingly but with despair in her voice said to the vet nurse

          “Don’t suppose you are wanting a beautiful adorable unspoilt and totally irresistible kitten are you?” and the vet nurse laughed and said no, not at this precise moment, but she hesitated and the woman registered her hesitation. Maybe maybe this could be the answer to a prayer. The vet nurse bent down and looked again at Tarka.

          “He is very very beautiful, this one, he really is quite special”, she said. The woman agreed and sighed sadly.

The state of apartheid continued and by this time between six and seven weeks had gone and it was now the middle of August. Tarka had been living this strange life, sometimes being allowed full freedom of the house if Gilly was outside and sometimes being confined to one room.  The woman had bought him endless supplied of toys and he had taken over the whole of their spare bedroom as his playroom.  But his semi solitary existence was no good for a growing kitten.

The woman became frustrated. She felt that if it was going to work between the cats they had to be given a chance to be free with each other. She talked to the man and he agreed so they decided to try an experiment where they would just leave Tarka loose when Gilly was away and wait and see how it was when Gilly came back into the room. Gilly came into the room and to begin with was fine and then suddenly – as if possessed by a demon - her fur went erect all over her body and she growled as they had never heard her before. She chased Tarka into the bathroom and caught him by the throat underneath the washbasin and there she started to strangle him shaking him ever more violently. The man and the woman finally stopped her by throwing towels over them both and spraying Gilly with water. The large cat, now drenched and frightened herself released her hold on the kitten, who was by this time screaming in fear. Gilly was ejected outside and Tarka was put back into his room after being comforted.

The woman, in tears, phoned the vet nurse whose home telephone number she had requested “just in case, you never know!” and who was by good chance at home when she rang.   She explained all that had happened and the vet nurse turned into an angel answering a prayer and just said, very quietly, “bring him round to our house and we will give him a home.” By this time Tarka was growing up and it was time for him to find his for ever home. He deserved more love and life than he was getting in the cottage.

The man and the woman took Tarka to his new home and the woman sobbed her heart out, for by now Tarka had possession of her heart and she didn’t want to give him up. The man too was very sad but he knew that Tarka was in mortal danger in their own house, so something had to be done. The man however was also worried in case it didn’t work out with the vet nurse. In her house she had two lurchers and a very beloved male cat who, if he didn’t take to Tarka, would naturally get priority.

But joy of joys, after the initial introductory period it did work out and the dogs and the cats became the best of friends and Tarka, who now changed his name and became Willow integrated himself thoroughly into life with the vet nurse and her partner who also ended up loving Willow as the woman had loved him as Tarka.

Meanwhile back in the cottage all was not happy, but it was less bad than it had been. Gilly continued to spray, and the woman continued to use Bach Flower Remedies but it didn’t stop the spraying and then one day Gilly stopped and the man and the woman thought all was well.

But now, as this article draws to a close, Gilly has yet again started spraying everywhere and still continues to beat up Titus as well as Fannie and we simply cannot find out what is making her so unhappy. The vet thinks it might be visiting feral cats which are contributing, certainly when Gilly goes out into the garden there is this prowling look on her face as she shuffles round, scenting and scent marking her territory.

But there, it was ever thus with cats, they remain inscrutable.

© Marilyn Edwards (April 2013) 



“drawing of Gilly by France Bauduin” 

Marilyn Edwards has written four adult books about her cats called The Cats of Moon Cottage, More Cat Tales from Moon Cottage, The Cats on Hutton Roof and The Coach House Cats and since then she has written the highly regarded children’s novel, White Chin and her new companion children’s book, Magnificat will be published on 1st June.  More information about her, and her cats and her books can be found on her website and she can be contacted via her website.

Marilyn is happy to send her books out internationally so do visit her website and buy her books! (Ed)


Please come to the official publication launch of


Marilyn Edwards will sign copies of her beautifully illustrated children's book on publication day

Saturday 1st June from 12 noon to 4pm

at the

Country Harvest

on the A65 at Ingleton, LA6 3PE - Telephone: 015242 42223

From the instant his fingers touched her back the little cat knew. The boy was someone she would trust. Homeless and hungry Magnificat is desperate for someone to take her in, so when she sees a kindness in local boy Ben, she is happy to give herself over to him. But a cat isn’t something Ben wants. He has his own problems and besides he’s a dog person. Everyone knows that…

And so unravels a tale of passion and loyalty and love and loss set between the Yorkshire Dales and the Cumbrian Fells for those Years Five & Six followers of Marilyn’s books and all other cat-lovers of every age.

Magnificat £6.99 published by Catnip on 1st June 2013

“Marilyn Edwards is the Queen of Cat Stories. Magnificat is her best book yet, a truthful and touching story of a boy and a cat. It’s a real page-turner and totally heart-warming” Jacqueline Wilson

“A smashing story, sure to inspire today’s readers to become tomorrow’s cat rescuers”  





In the Middle of a World...

"In the middle of a world that has always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence."

Roseanne Anderson

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