Cover of an eBook edition of Saki's stories including "Tobermory."

"Tobermory" is a short story by the British author Hector Hugh Munro who wrote under the pseudonym of Saki. It was first published in the Westminster Gazette on November 27, 1909. The story was collected in the 1911 anthology The Chronicles of Clovis.

The story takes place at Lady Blemley's house party. One of the guests claims to have discovered a way to teach animals to talk. No one believes him when he announces that he has successfully instructed Tobermory, the Blemleys' cat. To everyone's surprise, Tobermory indeed turns out to speak perfect English. Astonishment quickly turns into panic, however, when everyone realizes that the cat has overheard their private conversations and witnessed their small indiscretions – and is perfectly happy to discuss them openly.

"Tobermory" is one of the most anthologized works by Saki along with "The Open Window" and "Sredni Vashtar".

Plot

It is tea time at Lady Blemley's house party, and everyone's attention is fixed on Mr. Cornelius Appin. Appin is speaking about his great discovery; a means for teaching animals to talk. Furthermore, he claims to have succeeded in teaching Tobermory, the cat belonging to Lady Blemley and Sir Wilfrid. Everyone is understandably skeptical when Appin says Tobermory can speak perfectly correct English. Lady Blemley suggests bringing the cat in so they can see for themselves. Sir Wilfrid goes looking for Tobermory as the guests wait in anticipation, hoping Appin would entertain them with a little ventriloquism.

Sir Wilfrid returns shortly looking quite excited. He exclaims "By Gad, it's true!" and tells everyone that he found the cat napping and told him to come to tea. To his surprise, the cat replied that he would come "when he dashed well pleased." It is obvious that Sir Wilfrid's reactions are genuine, and everyone begins to talk at once. Just then, Tobermory saunters into the room. A sudden silence falls. Lady Blemley awkwardly offers some milk and Tobermory indifferently responds "I don't mind if I do." Miss Resker asks if the language was difficult to learn. Tobermory stares at her then deliberately ignores her boring question. Mavis Pellington asks his opinion on human intelligence, and Tobermory replies "Of whose intelligence in particular?" Mavis says "Oh, well, mine for instance," which turns out to be a mistake. Tobermory tells her that Sir Wilfrid called her a brainless woman when he learned she was invited to the party. The cat then adds that Lady Blemley told her husband that was the reason why Mavis was invited – because she may be idiotic enough to buy their old clunky car.

Major Barfield's attempt at changing the subject also results in awkwardness. The Major comments on Tobermory's attentions on the tortoiseshell stable cat, and Tobermory mentions the Major's own indiscretions. As others try to steer the conversation away from embarrassing topics, it quickly becomes clear that Tobermory has seen and overheard everything and he is perfectly happy to talk openly about anything. Panic spreads quickly. Some of the guests look uneasy or irritated while others turn white. One of them even runs out of the room. Clovis considers procuring a box of fancy mice as "hush money." Miss Resker laments "Why did I come down here?" and Tobermory promptly points out she came for the food. He heard her tell Mrs. Cornett that the Blemleys were the dullest people but their cook was first-rate. Tobermory is repeating what Mrs. Cornett said to Bertie van Tahn afterwards about Miss Resker when his attention is distracted by a big yellow tom cat from the Rectory walking toward the stables. Tobermory dashes out the French window after his rival.

As soon as Tobermory is gone, everyone begins to question Appin. Their first concern is whether Tobermory can teach others. Appin says it is possible Tobermory may have begun teaching the stable cat. Everyone agrees that both cats must be destroyed as soon as possible. Sir Wilfrid volunteers to poison Tobermory and drown the stable cat. Appin objects, but Mrs. Cornett suggests he experiments on farm animals or zoo elephants instead, since they do not go creeping around the house.

Dinner that evening is quite strained. Sir Wilfrid is unsociable, having had a difficult time with the stable cat and the coachman earlier. Miss Resker limits herself to eating only a morsel of toast. Mavis remains vindictively silent, and Lady Blemley keeps looking over at the doorway. A plate of fish scraps laced with poison is laid out for Tobermory, but the cat never appears. After dinner, the evening passes dreadfully with still no sign of Tobermory. At two o'clock, Clovis declares that the cat must be too busy telling his stories at the local newspaper office to come home, and the guests finally retire to their rooms.

The following morning, Tobermory's corpse is discovered by the gardener in the shrubbery. Judging by his injuries and the yellow fur on his claws, Tobermory was killed in a fight with the big Rectory cat. The relieved guests depart, and Lady Blemley, having recovered herself, writes a letter of complaint to the Rectory about the loss of her beloved pet.

A few weeks later, it is reported in the newspapers that Cornelius Appin was killed by an elephant in the Dresden Zoological Garden. Clovis, upon hearing the news, remarks that Appin got what he deserved "if he was trying German irregular verbs on the poor beast."

See also

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