he village of Pelicanham was a prosperous and attractive place, nestled upon the banks of the river Pel. It boasted broad avenues, raucous public houses, a grand cathedral with an even grander third mortgage and the longest single-span split-cantilever iron bridge in the land. It also enjoyed a complete absence of mice, credited in no small extent to the almost universal ownership of cats amongst its citizens. Virtually every inhabitant of Pelicanham kept at least one cat, and most had three or four. The squeaking of rubber cat toys could be heard well into the tiny hours of the morning in most quarters of the village.

This forge is Y2K compliant.

The only resident of Pelicanham to be without the blessings of a cat was its blacksmith. A resolute and hard-working fellow, the blacksmith of Pelicanham laboured many hours in his smithy, shoeing the horses of his fellow villagers, forging nails and hinges, tending to damaged pots and gates and performing all the many tasks that are the lot of a smith. It was noticed by all who chose to remark upon him, however, that the hammering at his anvil and the belching of his forge were not punctuated by the contented purring of a cat.

Dame Abercruple Stoatwater, who kept a small shop in the high street almost opposite the smithy, often had cause to commission the blacksmith to tinker her battered kettle back to a state of water- tightness, or to repair the iron tracery which held the panes of her shop windows in place. From time to time she would inquire of the blacksmith, "I can’t help noticing that you have never taken a cat to your home. It is a sad thing indeed that you cannot know the joy of cat ownership, the contented meowing of a soft, furry creature upon your lap, the pleasant rasping of claws across the upholstery of your priceless antique furniture."

The blacksmith would smile agreeably as he soldered the frame of Dame Abercruple Stoatwater’s shop window, and wondered to himself who would wish to shop in an establishment which had as its proprietress a ninety-one year old widow with a nervous tick and an ear trumpet, and sold erotic vegetables. "It is surely most kind of you to think of me, Lady," he would reply, "but I have no need of a cat. I don’t actually like them a great deal."

"I’m certain you’d feel differently if it were your cat," Dame Abercruple Stoatwater would say.

The blacksmith would usually smile agreeably once again and think to himself that if it were his cat, he would be free to accidentally drop it into his forge, something which politeness denied him doing with the cats of his neighbours.

One night the blacksmith was awakened by a knocking at his door. When he arrived at the door, he found his porch deserted save for a small wooden crate, in which played a tiny Siamese kitten, clearly chosen specifically for its endearing expression and particularly vile personality. The next day, the blacksmith was greeted in the high street by Dame Abercruple Stoatwater, who smiled knowingly and asked about the rumour of his having received a "little blessing in the night."

"Not I," replied the blacksmith. "The animal shelter out by the cesspits got one this morning, however."

Dame Abercruple Stoatwater was overcome with shock and dismay. "Please tell me it is not so, good sir," she protested. "I cannot conceive of the sort of monster who would abandon such a charming creature to so cruel and uncertain a fate."

It's very nice, but I wanted a Mercedes for my birthday...

"It would no doubt be of much the same sort as the one who abandoned the spitting, hissing little vermin on my doorstep at four in the morning," the blacksmith suggested, and he bade her a good day.

Dame Abercruple Stoatwater was very careful of her kettle, her window frames and all her other metal fixtures for several weeks thereafter, that she might not have cause to encounter the blacksmith.

Some of the other inhabitants of Pelicanham were not as considerate of the sensibilities of the blacksmith. While they would consult him for advice about mending their carriages, repointing the ornamental disembowelling spikes atop their garden walls and fixing their false teeth, rarely would they stop him in the high street to inquire of his health, or drink with him at the Randy Nun, his favourite pub.

Children playing outside the smithy could often be heard to recite a rhyme popular in Pelicanham at the time, "Cat hater, cat hater, crush his ‘nads in a cheese grater." It was not an image calculated to bring comfort to the increasingly embittered blacksmith.

The local broadsheet, the Pelicanham Times Gazette Sentinel Tribune Herald Inquisition, published a number of thinly-disguised articles attacking the blacksmith, including one, "Catless by Choice: Confessions of a Godless Sociopathic Malcontented Bastard," which was reproduced as a poster and periodically nailed to the door of the smithy.

Sir Cedric Blunt, the village’s pre-eminent barrister, began to gather supporters for a class action suit against the blacksmith on the grounds that his rejection of the lofty and decent values of cat ownership espoused by the worthy citizens of Pelicanham had so distressed his clients as to demand substantial compensatory and punitive damages, plus their attendant legal fees.

All this was as naught, however, compared to the events of the summer’s evening when the blacksmith of Pelicanham found himself confronted by three dozen hastily-deputized sheriffs when he opened the door of his house in response to a gentle knocking and soft mutterings of "dig out his eyes with a spoon" from the street beyond. Several much-loved cats of the village had died unexpectedly, and he was to be tried for their poisonings. He was dragged from his home, still in his night-clothes, and brought before a magistrate with a seal-point Persian tom resting next to his gavel.

The trial of the blacksmith took twelve minutes and forty-one seconds, a record not subsequently broken in Pelicanham for over two hundred years. He was found guilty and sentenced to five consecutive life terms in prison. The judge sent him away with the customary injunction of "may God have mercy on your soul," but paused in mid-sentence and corrected himself, suggesting instead that God add an extra helping of dung-maggots to the gruel the blacksmith would subsist on in prison for the remainder of his natural life. He’d escaped the hangman on a technicality.

It was only after three months of imprisonment and the poisoning of a dozen more cats in Pelicanham that the judge agreed that he might have been the slightest bit precipitous in sentencing the blacksmith. Released from jail, the blacksmith packed up his smithy and moved his business fifteen miles away to the hamlet of Crowbar-upon-Pong, where he bought a Rottweiller, married a local girl and eventually came to regard his former life in Pelicanham as a dream brought about by eating the wrong kind of mushrooms.

Extra! Extra! All printers in England run out of ink at same time.

The good citizens of Pelicanham were much relieved by the departure of their blacksmith, as much as they would have enjoyed greater comfort still had they known him to be rotting like a heap of raw sewage in jail for the rest of his wretched existence. Dame Abercruple Stoatwater herself organized a celebratory dinner in the courtyard behind her shop, where all the most refined people of the village came with their cats to discuss their views of the blacksmith and the inventive methods they would have employed in executing him.

The dinner was almost complete when the great table upon which it was served collapsed. Dame Abercruple Stoatwater dispatched one of her domestics to fetch some nails to mend it, but none could be found. The good lady was much put out by this, and she cracked the hapless servant across his head with her ear trumpet.

Several days later the mayor of Pelicanham noticed that his horse had thrown a shoe. He sent one of his assistants to have it attended to, and was greatly irked when the man returned with the news that the smithy was locked, and that no one else in the village could tell a horse shoe from a horse chestnut.

A week later the village of Pelicanham was struck by an unseasonable storm, which rattled its many windows and shook its many gates. The mayor, once again instinctively sending for the blacksmith without recalling that he had long since departed, was informed that a queue had formed outside the deserted smithy which stretched fully the length of the high street, twice around the cathedral and into the taproom of the Randy Nun. The mayor was still attempting to calculate the number of citizens represented by such a gathering when his attention was disturbed by an official messenger, who told him that his presence was required upon the banks of the river Pel.

When the mayor of Pelicanham reached the banks of the river, he found the keeper of roads and bridges for the village of Pelicanham standing at the near end of the longest single-span split-cantilever iron bridge in the land, holding a particularly overfed tortoise-shell tabby in his arms. The keeper of roads and bridges informed the mayor in dark, foreboding tones that the storm of the previous night had sprung a number of the iron rivets which held the great span together, threatening the structural stability of the bridge. The mayor waved dismissingly, ordering the keeper of roads and bridges to take some money out of petty cash and have the bridged fixed immediately, and furthermore not to trouble the mayor with fiddly little problems when there were issues of greater moment to be seen to.

The keeper of roads and bridges sent for the blacksmith to mend the bridge, and then sat himself down on one of its mighty iron girders to stroke his cat and puff on his pipe. He was still waiting for the arrival of the blacksmith when he heard the agonized crackling of collapsing iron. He sprinted for the shore just in time to see the bridge collapse into the river Pel behind him, effectively damming it with twisted iron wreckage.

It was soon realized by the good citizens of Pelicanham that the loss of the longest single-span split- cantilever iron bridge in the land constituted more than a vanished tourist attraction. The bridge had connected the village to the road to Crowbar-upon-Pong - the only other avenue out of Pelicanham was a disused goat track which hadn’t seen so much as the hoof of a single goat since the construction of the bridge fifty years earlier.

A journey which once took a few hours along the broad road to Crowbar-upon-Pong would now take at least a week. Furthermore, by the time the citizens of Pelicanham realized that they must undertake such a journey, despite its lengths and hardships, most of the horses of the village needed shoeing and most of its carriages and wagons had cracked an axle or split a wheel. Had any of the citizens of Pelicanham entertained the luxury of climbing the hill behind the town, to laze in the flowing grasses and gaze down upon their community, they would have observed that the queue outside the doors of the abandoned smithy had grown to a length of several miles.

The mayor sent a messenger to swim the turbulent flow of the mighty river Pel and bring back much- needed supplies from Crowbar-upon-Pong. The messenger returned several days later, almost dead with exhaustion, to convey the regrets of the people of Crowbar-upon-Pong that they were unable to navigate a supply barge down the river due to the wreckage of the collapsed bridge.

The dwindling food and drink of the citizens of Pelicanham grew increasingly dire. One grey, threatening afternoon, when the price of a pot of marmalade had exceeded that of a four-bedroom house in the high street of the village, the mayor emerged onto the balcony of the village offices and addressed his constituents.

"Good people of Pelicanham," he began in a deep, troubled voice, "dark days are indeed upon us. We are short of supplies, we cannot mend our carriages, it has been weeks since anyone with false teeth was able to do more than mumble. Many of your neighbours have already left along the old road through the forest for other villages. We shall shortly starve to death. There can be only one salvation left to us." He paused, as if unable to continue for a time.

"We can only hope to survive if we eat our beloved cats," he said at last, his words little more than a whisper. "I’m told that they taste a lot like chicken."

None of the people of the village spoke, and in time they drifted back to their homes. That evening, a single enraged howl was heard from the numerous cats of the village, and thereafter, the squeaking of rubber cat toys was heard no more.

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