In a quiet corner of London, on the north side of the river, is a little street called Honeysuckle Street.
Don’t bother looking for it now—you won’t find it on any map. But once, before progress was the catchword of the day, Honeysuckle Street cut a treelined path between two main thoroughfares. The street itself could comfortably accommodate two carriages passing by one another. The residents spent their days in each other’s company, or spotted one another on walks, or attended balls and gatherings together. A few errant children played games, and the odd elderly neighbour watched from behind twitching curtains, muttering about young people these days.
An enterprising developer had purchased the entire row on the north side of the street, cleared it and erected in its place five terrace townhouses. Six stories high, modelled on the Belgrave style and as similar on the outside as they were on the inside, which is to say, apart from the inhabitants, they were identical. Five villas, each four or five stories high lined the opposite side of the street, mostly built at some stage during the reigns of the past kings named George.
And lord of it all was a grey cat with a white-tipped tail named Spencer.
Spencer lived at number 6, the house in the middle of the street on the south side. It was rumoured that the old lady who lived there had been a lover of the Russian Tsar. Others said she had made and lost several fortunes in the American West. Others said that she had scrimped every penny she earned as a washerwoman and made an investment during the last financial downturn. No one knew for sure. She didn’t receive callers. She didn’t make house calls. She spent her day in the company of her beloved cats. At the end of each day, she stood on the porch and called them in. ‘Mittens! Georgiana! Jimmy! Spencer! And no matter if they were curled up in the last ray of sun, or stalking along a limb, the little cats would run to her call.
All except Spencer.
When he didn’t return home, the old lady would wander the streets, calling, ‘Spencer! Spencer! Time for tea!’ Later, when her hearing faded, she took to banging a pot with a spoon, and when it suited him, Spencer would emerge, saunter his way to the house in the middle of the street, where the old lady would scald him but still let him sleep on her lap by the fire.
When the old lady died, and unable to locate an heir, the authorities boarded up the old house. The furniture was pilfered. The staff found alternative employment. After applying at kitchen doors, the kittens found new homes.
All except Spencer.
Spencer continued to patrol his street, hunting mice and chasing away noisier, bossier toms who might encroach on his territory. In return, the residents of Honeysuckle Street would find a scrap for him. Miss Delaney’s cook left him the joint from the roast on Sunday. Miss Hartright put out a saucer of cream each night after her aunt had turned in. Mr Babbage put out a slice of cold ham, and not to be outdone, Mr Hempel left out two. The Caplin housekeeper snuck him a biscuit, and in the evening, Miss Abberton left the downstairs window open a crack so that he could squeeze himself inside and curl up by the furnace, even though he always managed to get by cook and took the best chair in the parlour instead.
Each evening, Spencer sat on the decaying porch of the house in the middle of the street, silently surveying his charges. He kept watch on their comings and goings, their petty feuds and their longing looks over fences. He knew them all, sometimes better than they knew themselves.
Welcome to Honeysuckle Street.