HOW THE BENGAL GOT HIS SPOTS

Long, long ago, in a small kingdom whose name doesn't matter because we couldn't pronounce it anyway, lived a powerful king, the King of Beasts. Huge, tawny and regal, he ruled over the mighty elephant, the magnificent hippo, the powerful rhino, the towering giraffe and other splendid animals too many to readily mention. And the least in his kingdom was a rather plain looking...well...cat.

They lived in peace in their small kingdom...no one knew they were there and they had no desire to leave.

One night as they were preparing for sleep, the giraffe looked over the top of a tall baobob tree and saw a bright star on the horizon, one he had never noticed before.

He spoke of this to the elephant, who stood on his tippy-toes and also saw it. The python, from the top of the tree, saw it. The hippo from the river just snorted and went to sleep.

"What can it be? What does it portend?" The animals discussed it at length. Night after night it rose higher in the sky and finally came to rest over a spot in the far distance, beyond the snowy mountains and the fertile plains.

They went to their king, the regal lion. "Oh wise and mighty lion...What means this star, this new light in the sky?"

He stroke his beard thoughtfully, "I do not know for I have never seen the like of it before. Perhaps we should send an emissary to seek and learn and to return and tell us of it."

"I could never climb those mountains", said the Elephant.

"It's much too far for me", hissed the Snake.

"I'm much too busy", said the Rhino.

One by one the animals found excuses until the only one left standing before the monarch was the cat. "Well", he said, "I will gladly go and see what it is, for I am curious."

So off he set with a small pack of food and a cheerful spirit.

He crossed the vast plains. He climbed the snowy peaks, buffeted by gales and peppered by sleet and snow. He climbed until his feet were numb and his ears were frozen and still he pushed onward. Finally, when he felt he could go no further, the path started downward and the air warmed and he found himself at the crest of a small hill with a village below. The bright star, which he had been following, seemed right overhead.

Dodging a pack of dogs and slipping in and out and around the feet of men and horses in the street, he pressed onward until he came to a small stable just past the edge of town. Because he was a cat, he could see things that sometimes go hidden from the rest of us and he saw a troupe of angelic beings surrounding the stable. There were a couple of seraphins, hundreds of feet tall...Archangels, twice as tall as the tallest tree, and other angels of various sizes...they flickered in and out of his vision...if you look right at one, it disappears. He could hear strains of "Alleluia!" as he neared. None of the angels paid any attention to him...they were fixed on the stable and what it contained...except for one...the littlest angel.

"Look! A kitty!", she squealed and was instantly shushed by a dozen or so of the nearest other angels. "Hush! the baby sleeps!"

She turned to the stable and straightened her halo (it had a way of falling off to the side) but she watched the cat nevertheless.

He passed three gloriously attired steeds, the mounts of kings (or at least, very important people). They looked straight ahead, having no time for anything as insignificant as a cat.

He crept into the stable and found a place in the loft, hidden in some straw. In the flickering light of a dusty lantern he saw a pretty lady kneeling in front of a straw filled manger. In the manger, wrapped in bits of old sacking, was a Child. The Child was the most beautiful person the cat had ever seen and surrounding him was three rich and powerful kings. They were giving him gifts of Gold, of rare and aromatic perfumes and other expensive gifts. Feeling quite pleased with themselves, they retired to the inn, because they had money to pay for a room.

The baby shivered and the pretty woman tucked the sacks and rags closer around him.

Overcome with compassion, the cat thought, "I have no gold or no riches, but I do have my warm coat", and quick as the thought, he took it off and gently laid it over the babe. (Note: Children...do not try this at home with your own cats!)

Now warm, the babe slept.

The cat now knew the reason for the star and knew he now had to go home and tell the other animals so they could come and worship the babe, also. Without his warm coat, he left the stable and went out into the wind and snow to return to his kingdom by the mountain. (Note: Some have said that this is where the Sphinxes came from, but that's not so...The Sphinxes lost their coats as a result some poorly played hands in a Mexican casino.)

Onward he trudged, into the gale, with his nose and ears getting colder and colder and his poor feet freezing until he left little pink paw prints in the snow...still he pressed on...

The mountain seemed higher and higher and impossible to cross and without his warm coat he became weaker and weaker, until, finally, beneath a large boulder, he slipped and fell for the last time and didn't have the strength to rise again. As everything became dark around him, his last thoughts was of the Child and how he hoped that the Child was warm.

Even though the other angels watched the stable and kept their watch by night, the littlest angel knew what was happening with the cat. When it became too much to bear, she pulled away from the others, and ran pell-mell for the mountain where the cat lay. (Possibly this recklessness had something to do with her becoming an angel in the first place) The other angels tried to stop her, but she dodged and hid and ran and flew until at last, she found the cold, still body of the cat...the one who gave his all for the Child.

Fearing she was too late she picked up the cat and held him close. In her gentle embrace he slowly warmed and started to purr. By this time, some of the other angels had appeared and they understood the cat's love and his gift to the Child. One of them took a bit of the gold and wove him a wonderfully beautiful coat. The littlest angel was so happy that the cat was going to be ok that she cried tears of joy. Everywhere a tear fell, the cat got a spot, until he was magnificently spotted, just like the leopard.

"I must go on," he told the littlest angel, "I must go tell my king and friends of the wonderful things I have seen".

She bent over and gave him a big hug and a kiss and her halo fell off one more time. Just a bit of angel dust sprinkled on him from the halo and he glittered and sparkled.

They watched him as he disappeared over the top of the mountain, and went onward to his kingdom below.

I have it on the best of authority that that is how the Bengal got his spots.

Merry Christmas,

Jim