4 His Manservant
Bingley is a student of languages.
One sunny afternoon, when I was sitting here at my desk writing, I heard an odd sound. The window was open, and Bingley was sitting in the window box looking out through the screen. A small bird was hopping around on the ground just below, among the evergreens.
Bingley made a series of rapid clicking sounds, with a mini-mew in the middle. I think it was his attempt to communicate with the bird. I took him to mean, “Wouldn’t you like to come in for lunch?”
Once, when we had someone working out in our front lawn, Bingley began to pace the living room floor and growl, like a dog, then periodically jump on the back of the couch and stare out. He’d make an abrupt sound that sounded like a cross begin a “ruff” and a “mew.” He had watched the neighbor’s dog across the back yard do that (except for the mew): I had stood there with Bingley watching that dog.
The first time I heard Bingley say anything complicated, I was so startled that I didn’t quite believe what I had heard. Not the content: that was likely enough. The manner, though, surprised me. I was sitting on the couch reading, and Bingley was sitting on the floor not far away cleaning his paws. Then I heard this: “I say, Jeeves, can you just get me a couple of those nice chicken treats?”
The voice drew me from my reading, in which I was deeply engaged.
Bingley was the only other one in the room besides me, and the intent and expectant look on his face matched the request.
I had already come to realize that he thought of me partly as a friend, partly as a brother, and partly–maybe mostly–as his butler.
Most of the time I’m all right with that. And I remembered that on the lowest of the bookshelves in Bingley’s room among the novels and reference books sit copies of P. G. Wodehouse’s Carry On, Jeeves and Very Good, Jeeves.
I got Bingley his treats, and he seemed very happy with that. He finished his bath and jumped up in my lap, nudging my book over a little to make some room to sit down.
A couple times I’ve caught him, when I’d been writing and had got up to take a break, standing on my chair with his front paws up on the desk, looking at the screen where I’d been working. At first I’d thought he was just attracted to the light or wondering what I could have found so fascinating there. Once I asked him what he thought of what he’d seen on the screen. He shrugged, tipped his head once to the right, and once to the left, and returned to look out the window again.
Every now and then my wife and I will stop at one of the animal shelters to look at the inmates. We may pet a few or give them some treats or make a small donation of money or blankets. We often think about whether we should get Bingley a buddy, or if he would find having a new creature here troubling or even traumatic. Today I had to stop at the Petsmart to get him some food and litter, and so I looked in at the cats there.
One of the cats, jet black with brilliant yellow eyes, came walking toward the front of his cage looking right at me.
Then he hissed.
Then he put his head against the bars for petting. I went over and scratched his ears and petted his forehead for five or ten minutes.
I turned to go, and I was leaving, I looked back to see what the cat was doing. He hissed again, then began rubbing his head and shoulders against the bars.
So I went back and petted him some more.
Finally I had to go. I looked back one more time, and the cat made kind of a mini-hiss and began cleaning his paws. Then he scrunched his eyes at me and mewed as if to say, “Thank you. Please come by to visit again.”
Very nice cat, just, I think, with a bit of a language problem.
Or maybe I had the language problem: maybe hisses don’t always mean what you think they mean, any more than kisses do.
I’ll have to ask Bingley.