is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill
a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring
before the fire. For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which
men cannot see. He is the soul of antique Aegyptus, and bearer of
tales from forgotten cities in Meroe and Ophir. He is the kin of
the jungle's lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa.
The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient
than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.
before ever the burgesses forbade the killing of cats, there dwelt an old
cotter and his wife who delighted to trap and slay the cats of their neighbors.
Why they did this I know not; save that many hate the voice of the cat
in the night, and take it ill that cats should run stealthily about yards
and gardens at twilight. But whatever the reason, this old man and
woman took pleasure in trapping and slaying every cat which came near to
their hovel; and from some of the sounds heard after dark, many villagers
fancied that the manner of slaying was exceedingly peculiar. But
the villagers did not discuss such things with the old man and his wife;
because of the habitual expression on the withered faces of the two, and
because their cottage was so small and so darkly hidden under spreading
oaks at the back of a neglected yard. In truth, much as the owners
of cats hated these odd folk, they feared them more; and instead of berating
them as brutal assassins, merely took care that no cherished pet or mouser
should stray toward the remote hovel under the dark trees. When through
some unavoidable oversight a cat was missed, and sounds heard after dark,
the loser would lament impotently; or console himself by thanking Fate
that it was not one of his children who had thus vanished. For the
people of Ulthar were simple, and knew not whence it is all cats first
day a caravan of strange wanderers from the South entered the narrow cobbled
streets of Ulthar. Dark wanderers they were, and unlike the other
roving folk who passed through the village twice every year. In the
market-place they told fortunes for silver, and bought gay beads from the
merchants. What was the land of these wanderers none could tell;
but it was seen that they were given to strange prayers, and that they
had painted on the sides of their wagons strange figures with human bodies
and the heads of cats, hawks, rams and lions. And the leader of the
caravan wore a headdress with two horns and a curious disk betwixt the
was in this singular caravan a little boy with no father or mother, but
only a tiny black kitten to cherish. The plague had not been kind
to him, yet had left him this small furry thing to mitigate his sorrow;
and when one is very young, one can find great relief in the lively antics
of a black kitten. So the boy whom the dark people called Menes smiled
more often than he wept as he sat playing with his graceful kitten on the
steps of an oddly painted wagon.
third morning of the wanderers' stay in Ulthar, Menes could not find his
kitten; and as he sobbed aloud in the market-place certain villagers told
him of the old man and his wife, and of sounds heard in the night.
And when he heard these things his sobbing gave place to meditation, and
finally to prayer. He stretched out his arms toward the sun and prayed
in a tongue no villager could understand; though indeed the villagers did
not try very hard to understand, since their attention was mostly taken
up by the sky and the odd shapes the clouds were assuming. It was
very peculiar, but as the little boy uttered his petition there seemed
to form overhead the shadowy, nebulous figures of exotic things; of hybrid
creatures crowned with horn-flanked disks. Nature is full of such
illusions to impress the imaginative.
night the wanderers left Ulthar, and were never seen again. And the
householders were troubled when they noticed that in all the village there
was not a cat to be found. From each hearth the familiar cat had
vanished; cats large and small, black, grey, striped, yellow and white.
Old Kranon, the burgomaster, swore that the dark folk had taken the cats
away in revenge for the killing of Menes' kitten; and cursed the caravan
and the little boy. But Nith, the lean notary, declared that the
old cotter and his wife were more likely persons to suspect; for their
hatred of cats was notorious and increasingly bold. Still, no one
durst complain to the sinister couple; even when little Atal, the innkeeper's
son, vowed that he had at twilight seen all the cats of Ulthar in that
accursed yard under the trees, pacing very slowly and solemnly in a circle
around the cottage, two abreast, as if in performance of some unheard-of
rite of beasts. The villagers did not know how much to believe from
so small a boy; and though they feared that the evil pair had charmed the
cats to their death, they preferred not to chide the old cotter till they
met him outside his dark and repellent yard.
went to sleep in vain anger; and when the people awakened at dawn - behold!
every cat was back at his accustomed hearth! Large and small, black, grey,
striped, yellow and white, none was missing. Very sleek and fat did
the cats appear, and sonorous with purring content. The citizens
talked with one another of the affair, and marveled not a little.
Old Kranon again insisted that it was the dark folk who had taken them,
since cats did not return alive from the cottage of the ancient man and
his wife. But all agreed on one thing: that the refusal of all the
cats to eat their portions of meat or drink their saucers of milk was exceedingly
curious. And for two whole days the sleek, lazy cats of Ulthar would
touch no food, but only doze by the fire or in the sun.
fully a week before the villagers noticed that no lights were appearing
at dusk in the windows of the cottage under the trees. Then the lean
Nith remarked that no one had seen the old man or his wife since the night
the cats were away. In another week the burgomaster decided to overcome
his fears and call at the strangely silent dwelling as a matter of duty,
though in so doing he was careful to take with him Shang the blacksmith
and Thul the cutter of stone as witnesses. And when they had broken
down the frail door they found only this: two cleanly picked human skeletons
on the earthen floor, and a number of singular beetles crawling in the
was subsequently much talk among the burgesses of Ulthar. Zath, the
coroner, disputed at length with Nith, the lean notary; and Kranon and
Shang and Thul were overwhelmed with questions. Even little Atal,
the innkeeper's son, was closely questioned and given a sweetmeat as reward.
They talked of the old cotter and his wife, of the caravan of dark wanderers,
of small Menes and his black kitten, of the prayer of Menes and of the
sky during that prayer, of the doings of the cats on the night the caravan
left, and of what was later found in the cottage under the dark trees in
the repellent yard.
in the end the burgesses passed that remarkable law which is told of by
traders in Hatheg and discussed by travelers in Nir; namely, that in Ulthar
no man may kill a cat.