Once upon a time, in a little cottage on the edge of a peaceful glen, there lived a gentle, kind man named Robert. A river ran past Robert's cottage, and every morning, he went fishing. He caught fish to serve for breakfast to a group of friendly cats who also lived in the little glen. Well, some of the cats were not quite as friendly as the others, but Robert caught fish for them all, just the same.
The peaceful glen was surrounded by other cottages, and each morning, the gentle folk of this little glen would gather for breakfast, along with the cats. Some gathered, strictly to be fed, as they were elderly and could not prepare meals for themselves, but most gathered for companionship, and to listen to Robert.
You see, Robert was quite a storyteller. In his younger years, he had traveled the world and seen many wondrous things. The simple folk of the glen were always begging Robert, "Tell us another story, Robert. Tell us about your adventures in faraway lands."
However, after telling the same stories many times, Robert became restless and bored with retelling of his past life, and wished to be left alone with his simple existence in the glen. But his townsfolk still wished to be entertained.
Now, perhaps Robert, too, had become a little restless and bored with his existence and began to spend more and more time among the cats. He found their simple, spontaneous ways to be utterly charming, and he spent many hours frolicking among them, allowing them to make him laugh and laugh and lose himself in their simple pleasures.
He built a special door for the cats so that they could come in and out of his cottage as they pleased. Oh, they had so much fun! Robert built special shelves for them, which he padded with soft down and velvet. When they tired of running up and down the shelves, each cat staked out his (or her) own particular spot and fell fast asleep.
Robert created wonderful games for the cats. One of their favorites was batting a piece of crumpled paper up and down the cottage's long hallway - a sort of hockey game, if you will. Robert became frustrated with the cats that they seemed to be incapable, or unwilling, to play by the rules, however. He gently instructed them in the rules regarding foul balls and attacking other players, but the cats continued to disobey Robert, and he became more and more frustrated.
In an effort to simplify the rules of his homemade hockey game, Robert posted signs with the rules plainly written in many different languages, since he was not sure which language any particular cat might speak. He had signs in English, German, Russian, French, Italian and even Japanese, but the cats continued to disobey the rules. Robert's frustration grew.
Robert also noticed that the cats particularly liked to pounce and ruffle up his newly laundered clothes as they lay on his bed, waiting to be put away. They had taken to other bad habits, as well, such as sliding across his bathroom floor on his newly washed bath rugs. Grrr. Robert was becoming more and more frustrated with his new friends.
One day, Robert decided to build a playtime activity for the cats outside, so they would not continue to muss up his tidy little cottage. He thought and thought about what his little friends might like best. You see, even though Robert became frustrated with them from time to time, he still loved them very much - even though he was too shy to admit it to his fellow villagers.
Suddenly, the thought came to Robert - he would build a ferris wheel for his cat friends. Oh, how much joy he had! Building the little basket seats so the cats would be nice and comfortable and safe and secure, designing and building the small motor that would turn the wheel, but most of all, the decorating! He painted the ferris wheel in bright, beautiful colors - red and yellow and blue and green - and even painted pictures of the cats, laughing and playing, wearing their best Spring bonnets!
As the days came closer to the opening of the ferris wheel, Robert built a little booth from which to sell tickets. He decided the price would be a single penny per ticket. Since the cats wandered the streets of the village most of the day, he felt certain that they could easily come up with that small amount.
Finally, the day came for the grand opening of Robert's beautiful new ferris wheel. He put on his bowler hat and apron and entered the ticket booth, hoping the cats would line up in an orderly fashion to buy their tickets. Instead, mass bedlam ensued!
The cats completely disregarded their need to buy a ticket in order to ride the ferris wheel, and they jumped into the baskets, willy-nilly, with no sense of order whatsoever. Robert was terribly upset by their lack of decorum, and he was hurt that they refused to pay even a single penny for a ride in his wonderful machine. He had worked so hard, and had wanted to please them so much, yet they didn't even have the courtesy of paying the small pittance that he requested.
Well, Robert's big heart got the better of him, and he decided to let them all ride for free. He had so much been looking forward to seeing their smiling faces as they peacefully went round and round, up and down, swirling and twirling amidst the bright colors and lovely pictures he had painted.
But what did they do instead? Not a single one kept to his seat! Some hung over their baskets and batted at the cats in the lower seats. The cats in the lower seats stood up on hind legs and swatted at the cats in the higher baskets. Some of the cats simply jumped out altogether and ran off into the glen. Others, on the ground, swatted and smacked at the empty baskets as they went round and round.
It was awful! Robert was beside himself with grief! He had put so much effort and love into creating something wonderful for his cat friends, and they had shown no appreciation for it at all! Some of the townsfolk came out and laughed at Robert and his invention. He became so distraught that he ran home to his little cottage, climbed into bed and covered his head with his blankets. Tears welled up in his eyes - "Why?" he kept thinking. "Why didn't they follow my simple rules?" "Why didn't they pay me a single penny?" "Why did they make me look foolish in front of the townsfolk?" And, mostly, "Why don't they love me?"
Sometime, in the middle of the night, Robert started to feel the cats' soft, warm bodies snuggle up next to him. He felt the vibration of their purring against his skin. "How can this be?" he thought. "They must hate me, to have treated me so badly."
Just as he was pondering those questions, and many others, one of the cats - an unfriendly one - came and sat next to Robert's face, so that they could talk in private. The cat spoke in a strange tongue - one that Robert had never heard - but as if by magic, he understood every word.
The cat - his name was Herbert, he said - told Robert that many people do not understand cats very well. Many people mistake cats for being dumb, he said, because they do not appear to listen to rules very well. Others go even further, and say that cats are too dumb to be taught anything, which Herbert said really riled his whiskers! At this point, Herbert said that he would reveal the secret of cats to Robert, because, although he did not know it, Robert was known far and wide as being a true friend to cats. Herbert said that cats as far away as the distant seashore had heard of him and his kindness. This made Robert feel good inside.
Herbert said that cats were actually quite smart. He said that they could very easily be taught things that were of importance to them. However - and he cleared his throat a little here - cats could not be taught how to have fun. They had their own ways of doing things - cat ways - and they had survived for millennia by choosing their own paths. Oh, yes, Herbert said, they loved the company of people. They loved to be played with and petted, they loved to have games invented for them, and they loved to snuggle up and sleep close to the people who had shown them love. But they had their own ways, and things could not be otherwise.
So Robert and Herbert came to understand one another that night, in the stillness of the little cottage on the edge of the glen, near the banks of the mighty river. And as the sun began peeking through the windowpanes, Robert knew that he would never again try to force people rules on cats.