PURR-spectives IV: Cats and Chickens
By Bev F.
What? What! What in heaven's name..... I was lying on deck. Not the quarterdeck, mind. I may only be a cat, but I'm smarter than that. Of course, I am a midshipcat now, and am allowed the quarterdeck, but only fully alert. I'm not stupid -- Captain Pellew would have me swinging from the yardarm in a flash, were he to trip over me and appear foolish in front of the men. As I said, I was lying on deck, in the sun, trying to get some sleep. I needed to be in the sun, you see, so the sunlight could glint off the beautiful silver plate on my new collar. Bandit -- my name -- was engraved right on it. Why, I'd never had anything so lovely and expensive in my life. Mind you, my joy of it had been a little tarnished by Mr. H's miserly attitude. I don't know why he was so upset just because he had to settle for pinchbeck buckles on his shoes, so I could have my beautiful collar. After all, I'm a cat and have my own very elegant fur uneeform, and didn't need to get all togged out in stockings (and Mr. Bracegirdle and I do hope he remembered to purchase an extra pair) and knee britches, and shirt, and neckcloth and coat and that ridiculous hat. Oh, and a sword, which he'll probably trip over at the first opportunity. The least he could do was be a little more gracious to his dear companion. Indeed, if he didn't go round losing his prize ships all the time, he might have a few more shillings for his damned silver buckles! And he's likely to get into some dreadful scrape and lose his shoes anyway!
After leaving Mr. Collins, we went off to pick up Captain Pellew, and I must say he had a very vexed look on his face as he came out of the Admiralty. I made very sure I stayed out of his way, I can tell you, but he was so vexed , he even forgot to mutter "Bullocks!" when he saw me. I have no idea what goes on in the Admiralty, but judging from the good Captain's evil temperament after his visit there, I have no wish to find out. I'm sure Mr. H. was quite put out when the Captain mentioned nothing about his new uneeform, and after he'd gone and spent a whole eleven pounds on it.
Hm. Where was I? Oh yes! "Cluck!" I opened one eye warily -- praying to whatever cat gods there be, that I would not see another rat -- I'd had quite enough of them, thank you very much -- and found my view blocked by a ruffled mass of red feathers. Feathers?
"Who are you?" I opened the other eye just in time to see the feathers plump up even more. Why, damn me, if it weren't a chicken! They'd had chickens out back at the Lamb -- and a fine time I'd had chasing them round, making them squawk, and their feathers fly. I'd always felt a little sorry for them, though, cause I'd seen what happened when Cook came out with his little hatchet. Not a pretty sight, I must say.
"I am Mrs. Chicken!" the chicken said, looking down her beak at me in a very supercilious and haughty manner. "In point of fact, I am the officers' chicken. And who might you be?"
I didn't see as how I had to answer to a chicken, officers' or no. After all, I was a midshipcat now, and somehow that had to outrank a Mrs. In fact, I was damned sure it did outrank a Mrs. and how dare she speak to me in such an insolent manner!
I sprang to my feet, and waving my nose even higher in the air than her beak, said: "I am Midshipcat Bandit, and you may call me sir!"
I must say, for a mere chicken, she was a feisty little creature. "I don't see how you can be a midshipman, " she twittered, "for you look like a mere cat to me. While I am the officers' chicken." A mere cat? A mere cat! Well, I never.... "And if you don't watch out, the frogs will get you." she continued.
Frogs? Frogs! I'd tried to eat a frog once. Nasty creature it was. But I'd never seen a frog on the Indy, not even down in the cable tier or in the bilges, though I'd seen other things down there I'd not want to talk about, I can tell you.
"The frogs almost got me, " she went on. She liked to cackle , she did, though at least she used good plain English -- and didn't go on gibbering in that Master Shakespeare's words, like Falstaff and Juliet had, or speak even more strangely like my dear dear Dona Dulcinea -- no, she was a downright ordinary lower-class British chicken indeed. "But that nice young man saved me -- you know, the nice young man with those beautiful curls and that nice new uniform--" She sighed. Well thank the Lord! At least, she was in love with Mr. H, and not myself. "But of course I am the officers' chicken, and it was his duty to save me. "
Ha! His duty to save you? Given a choice, Mrs. Chicken, he would save me -- his dear Bandit, his comrade in arms, who saved him when he fell from the Papillon, who saved him from the plague, who saved his bloody dispatches.... Well, I wasn't going to argue with a chicken. So I turned my back on her, lay down on the deck again, and fell asleep once more.
That wasn't the first time my rest was broken, I can tell you. The Indy was very much over laden, if you ask me. There were men in strange uneeforms all over the deck, and half of them didn't look where they put their big feet! I didn't see any frogs, though, so I don't know what that silly Mrs Chicken was going on about.
"Bandit, there you are! I've been looking all over for you."
Yes, Mr. H, here I am. And I'm sure yours are the only pair of feet that hasn't found me already.
"Here, I've brought you a treat!" He started rummaging round in his pocket. "Hell, now I've got a big grease stain on my new uneeform! You'd better appreciate all the trouble I've gone to for you." He laid a little something on the decking in front of me. "There!"
I sniffed round it gingerly. Oh, but it did smell tasty, it did. Better than those disgusting bilge rats, I must say. Of course, I wished to show my good manners and bit into it delicately, but the heavenly flavor quite overcame me, and I am ashamed to admit I rather wolfed down the rest of it. Don't think though, that I compounded my error by forgetting to wash.
It was as I was giving my face a tidy once over, that Mr. H. presented me with some information which I did not really need to know.
"I'm happy you enjoyed that, " he said, "It was our last chicken......"
"Feeling better, Bandit?"
Oh, yes, Mr. H. Do forgive me for not reaching the scuppers in time -- it was the suddenness of it, you see...
"Fancy a bit of shore leave, then?"
Shore leave. I mewed sadly. What good had shore leave done me in the past, I ask you. I went to Oran and met only plague rats. I went to Spain, and was smitten with an unnatural love for an alien species. And while in London -- well, after all the time we spent with Mr. Collins -- I had my collar picked out in very good time, but thanks to your dawdling, Mr. H.... I could at least have waited outside, and who knows what might have happened. I'm sure you did not need my advice as to how many frills you should have on your shirt, and whether that gold tassel on your sword was just a touch ostentatious (I certainly thought it was , but you never listened to me, so why did you ask in the first place?) I did catch sight of a tasty morsel of cat beauty ( I was quite prepared to overlook the missing eye and mange, for by that time I was quite desperate, I can tell you!) while waiting for Captain Pellew outside the Admiralty but oh my ears and whiskers, to have the good Captain catch me in a compromising position was more than my poor cat brain could comprehend.
After that, there was so much to-ing and fro-ing that my poor little head almost spun right round. I had reason to feel some optimism when we landed on a dock somewhere or other, but there were so many men marching here and men marching there that any felines had been quite chased away. I must say though, that I was most impressed by the gentleman on the horse (not that I was happy to see a horse -- I'd had more than my fair share of kicks from those bloody hooves when I lived at the Lamb. In fact, I have come to believe that someone must have fastened a sign on my back saying Kick Me -- the horses, Mr. Simpson, de Vergesse, why, even my own Mr. H -- I despair, I really do!) Oh, I'm sorry. I do beg your forgiveness when I wander off like that.
Where was I? Oh, the gentleman on the horse. Well, the first thing was -- he insulted Mr. H's men. Said they could be better groomed. I must say, take a good look at them, Mr. H. They are fine men, loyal, brave, and true, but .... Then, in no uncertain terms, he insisted Mr. H. call him MY LORD. Then, why then -- he turned a haughty eye on me! I never wavered, I can tell you, looked him straight back with my unblinking cat stare, and aha! he looked away first! But then -- ah, then -- he said (of course it was no more than the truth) "Though I see that at least one of your crew is well-turned out!" There, Mr. H! All those hours of licking do pay off! (even if, as you so rudely reminded me on an occasion which I prefer to forget, that as a consequence I go round covered in catspit! )
I was not so taken with the other gentleman. Said his name was M-something de M-something. Sounded like he was speaking in a foreign language, like. But I judge a man by what he does, not by how he says his name, so in a very friendly manner I brushed up against his leg and was rewarded for my troubles by a kick! And then -- he sneezed so violently I was near blown into the water!
All this excitement, but none of the type I was looking for! By the time I was back on the Indy, even Mrs. Chicken looked good. She certainly tasted good! OOOO....gulp! There, I am perfectly fine now, Mr. H.
"Well, I must say, Bandit, I had not expected my news of possible shoreleave would be met with such disgust! We are headed for France, after all. That should put some stiffness in your tail."
Don't you try to get on my good side, Mr. H. I won't be bribed. After all, you have practically turned me into a cannibal -- France? Was that France, you said, Mr. H? Oh my. French kitties! Parisian pussies! Surely now -- please, I pray to whatever cat gods there are -- look kindly upon my poor miserable frustrated cat body!
"But you must know, Bandit..."
Bloody hell, why is there always a but!
"We are embarked upon serious business, and you must look lively, and take care of yourself. Both Major Edrington and myself will be much too busy to have a care for you!"
Oh well, in that case -- if Major -- oops, MY LORD (you had better watch yourself, Mr. H. or MY LORD will have you in the brig for insubordination), is along, then we shall all be safe. Certain sure, no one would have the impertinence to cross him. I hate to say this, Mr. H, but MY LORD looks like a man who knows whats what, and if I may make a small suggestion, out of place as it may be from only a Midshipcat, you might learn a thing or two from him.
"And you must stay away from M de M " ... (of course, Mr. H. said the name exactly as that funny little man had said it, but my poor cat ears make no more of it than M de M. Sorry.) "He does seem to be taken with the most violent sneezing fits when you come near."
That's not all, Mr. H. He keeps muttering 'guillotine, guillotine' under his breath, just like Captain Pellew keeps muttering 'bullock, bullock'.
"If you don't watch out, he'll be trying that guillotine of his on you."
Bloody hell, as if I don't have better things to do with my time, now I've got to watch that I'm not followed by a guillotine. This French shore leave had damn well better be worth it, Mr. H.
We stood there, he and I , on the quarterdeck (where , as I have already mentioned, I now was allowed with no consequences, being a midshipcat, though I had observed during action in the past, that it was not perhaps the best place to be during battle, and I was quite agreeable to scampering down to the sickberth, ready to take up my duties). When he wasn't looking, I gave him a good perusal up and down. Bless my ears and whiskers, but he did look very fine in his new uneeform (despite the stain on the pocket). He'd come a long way, I can tell you, from when I'd first had the care of him, back there on Justinian. He'd be feeding the fishes by now, were it not for me. All in all, he wasn't a bad sort. He did try to cheer me up, with his tidbit of chicken (for how was he to know?) and his promise of shore leave in France (ah, now I see! M de M obviously was M(something in French) de M(something in French). I just hoped that his sneezings on my appearance were peculiar to him, and not common to the French in general! ) So Mr. H. stood, his hands behind his back, and I sat, my two front paws very neatly together, and we waited for France to appear.
Ah, France! Nice beach! I'd traveled in the boat with M de M which was a big mistake. Why, he sneezed all the way in, and made everyone very uncomfortable, especially when he started to shout in French, not that I knew what he was saying, but I could guess, from the redness of Mr. H's face. I crouched down very low behind Mr. H's boots, and watched for the guillotine, but as I didn't know what I was looking for, I didn't know if I was safe or not.
Some of the French soldiers went for a little dip in the water, which I didn't blame them for, because it was a bloody hot day, but MY LORD was quite put out by it, so I guess having a swim was a bad thing. Not that I had any notion to do likewise. I'm a cat, not a silly dog, and I don't go near the water if I can help it.
I wasted no time in sniffing around, hoping to pick up that elusive, delightful aroma du chat (see, M de M, I do know some French!) but my delicate nose was quite overwhelmed by an odor quite disgusting.
"I'm to command a dungcart, Bandit," Archie said. After that cell in Spain, I would have thought he'd be quite used to stinks, but I suppose a dung cart is rather a step down from commanding a ship, and I had a quiet little moment of chuckling at his expense.
But I positively howled when I saw poor Mr. H. try to mount a horse. I'm sorry, Mr. H., I shouldn't laugh, I know I shouldn't, but I can't help it, oh dear! Oh my! Oh heavens! Everyone's leaving without me! Even the dungcart!
"Come, Bandit" MY LORD was waiting, a hand outstretched. I hopped nimbly up, and settled in front of him.
"You are a very fine cat indeed." MY LORD said.
I purred. Everything was going to be all right.
What! Mrs. Chicken? Oh dear! Please accept my humble apology! I didn't mean to eat you! 'Twas that Mr. H, he led me on, he did If I'd known...
"Monsieur le chat..."
Oh. Well, it couldn't be Mrs. Chicken after all, could it? I'd eaten her, hadn't I? Who then was this very feathery creature looking at me? And where the devil was I?
Ah, yes. France. I was in France. In Music-something-or-other. I remembered everything then. The day had started so well. There I was, up on MY LORD's horse, trying not to laugh at Archie in his dungcart, and Horatio on *his* horse -- oh dear, despite everything since, I still felt some merriment at that thought, if nothing else. Bless my ears and whiskers, but it was a damned good thing he'd gone into the navy, despite everything, than join the army! Anyway, we traveled to Music in great pomp and splendor, and I had only to sit back and wait for all those lovely furry pretties to gather round. MY LORD and myself -- well, I don't think this little French village had ever seen a finer sight!
I was very patient, I can tell you, but I very quickly realized that the feline population must have been so overcome by our glorious entry, that they had hidden from our view, under the mistaken notion, no doubt, that we wished them harm. Now I was sure that MY LORD and Mr. H. must have wished somebody harm, with all those soldiers, and those bloody big cannon from the Indy, but I felt it was my duty to assure the local chats that the British Government had no quarrel to pick with *them*. MY LORD was quite willing to set me down, and let me be about my diplomatic duties, and I, in turn, was most eager to begin.
In very short order indeed, I realized that I should have stayed on the Indy. At least there, I would have had a nice cot for my naps, and good British oak under my feet, not the interminable dust of this Music place. For there was nary a cat to be found. Not one! Not even another tom! I ask you, how could that be! We are such useful animals -- we catch rats, we provide nice soft fur coats for stroking , we are such faithful companions (yes, yes, Mr. H, I know you might disagree on that one -- and all because I refused to return to Spain and gaol, and chose to stay with Duchess Kitty! You had your chance there, me boy, and I do think there's something a little off about you, that you would make the decision you did! )
I was inconsolable! I wanted to sit right there in the village street and howl my frustrations to the world! Well, I didn't do that, of course. The place was overrun with those Frenchie soldiers from the Indy, and the villagers, and I even heard that M de M had taken his pistol and shot the mayor! Now, I ask you , what had the mayor ever done to him? Except maybe he'd made him sneeze too, and perhaps I'd better cry alone, and stay out of M de M's sight.
So I found myself a spot out of the way, and tried to forget all my sorrows with a little nap. Damn and blast, but it did no good, as my sleep was filled with titillating sights that I will not describe, as I always have in mind the delicate sensibilities of those listening to my tale of woe. And now -- more indignity -- I have been set upon by another damn chicken!
"Who are you?" I did try to sound disdainful, as I *was* part of an occupying force, but I'm afraid I only sounded whiny .
"Je m'appelle Madame Poulet" cluqued the chicken.
"Damn it, man -- er -- madame, speak English!"
"Ah, vous etes un Eeenglish chat!"
"Si -- er -- oui! I am Midshipcat Bandit of His Britannic Majesty's Frigate Indefatigable!" I drew myself up very haughtily indeed.
"And why are you 'ere, in our little village, Monsieur?"
"I am here to do my duty, Madame. I will find a French kitty at all costs!"
I'm sure I don't know what I said that was so amusing -- perhaps Madame Poulet did not understand my English, as I clearly did not understand her French. But she cluqued so long and loudly and even went so far as to roll around in the dust, that I quite feared for her sanity. And for her safety too. If poor Mrs. Chicken on the Indy had kept her beak shut, and found a nice quiet place to hide, she might still have been the officer's chicken, and not the officer's chicken fricassee!
"Madame Poulet -- " I said, having no bloody idea what to do, when she gradually came to her senses, stood up, gave a quick preen to her feathers, and leaned her head very close to mine.
"'ave you 'eard, Monsieur, of the Great Chat Massacre?"
"The Great Cat Massacre -- oh dear!" Massacre! This did not sound good! I looked furtively behind me, but no one seemed to be advancing with murder in their eyes, so I turned back to my new acquaintance. I was afraid to learn more -- and afraid not to! "Very well, tell me about this Massacre."
"The printers in Paris -- 'anged tout les chat, Monsieur!"
"Ah, but we're not in Paris, are we, Mrs. er Madame Poulet. We're in Music - whatever!" I felt better now, I can tell you!
"Aha! Non, non, Monsieur -- er -- Banditte, les Francais have no love of les chat! " She lowered her chirpy voice, and I felt very bad indeed. For it seems to me, bad news is always given in that hushy kind of voice. But what could be worse than being hung? (Well, flogging round the fleet, I suppose!) "When they build a 'ouse, they wall up a cat. Alive! For the luck! "
Oh my ears and whiskers! Much worse than flogging round the fleet! I took a quick look around. No building going on -- perhaps I could forget that dreadful piece of news for now.
"And -- " Oh damn! She wasn't finished! " 'ere, en Bretagne they bury les chats to make the sick trees give fruit! And nevair, nevair, cross the path of a pecheur -- er -- the man who fishes -- you will spoil the catch! And if man wants to be -- how you say -- not seen ...."
"Invisible?" I said helpfully.
"Mais oui -- aha, manger the brain of a cat! And les femmes , when they want a bebe -- they eat un chat!"
Oh dear! My poor cat brain (not ready to be consumed just yet, thank you!) was spinning! I made very sure Madame Poulet was between me and all those terrible Frenchies out there!
"And -- and that's why there are no cats?" I mewed piteously.
"If you were a chat -- ah, excusez moi -- mais oui, you are, n'est-ce pas? -- would you stay? "
What to do, what to do! The Indy was gone! I was stranded ! Oh, Mr. H., you bastard, you never told me about -- massacres and such! I never expected to spend my shore leave skulking in the shadows. As a midshipcat, I had quite left my skulking days behind me. I needed help! I needed -- hm, Madame Poulet. Indeed, she looked quite down in the beak telling me all these tales of woe, as though she took no pleasure from them. Perhaps she was a friend, Frenchie or no. Perhaps she could give me some advice.
"What am I to do, Madame Poulet." There, you see, I spoke to her very civilly, because a lady likes that. "Will they -- er, eat my brains, do you think?"
"Hm." She took a moment. "Perhaps non. Les peasantes, they are all verrrry excited -- that Marquis -- 'e 'as come back -- they are all worried -- perhaps they will not notice you. Moi, I 'ave lost my 'ome -- 'e and 'is amis 'ave chased us out of 'is chateau."
"You live in a chateau?"
"Ah, mais oui! The coops -- ah, tres cold and damp! in la nouvelle France, even un poulet can live like a king! I must say, Monsieur Banditte -- le Chateau -- verrrry nice! "
Well, too bad, Madame Poulet, but I have my own concerns now, you see. " Is there nothing -- nothing good about being a cat in France?"
"Hm. " She fluffed her feathers a little, and ruffled her wings. "Aha, I know! The man -- if 'e pets un chat, 'e is verrrry lucky with les femmes -- the ladies! "
Well, that's bloody lovely, isn't it! I thought back to all my sick berth duties -- and all the officers and men who had petted my beautiful striped body. Here I was, pining away -- no doubt dying -- from lack of a feminine feline companion -- and all I'd damned well done, was make all those officers and men lucky with the ladies! Not that it did them much good -- as I'd never seen any ladies on the Indy -- well, except for Duchess K. of course.
Suddenly I heard a great big thwack! Now what the devil -- it sounded very much like Cook when he took a hatchet to those chickens at the Lamb, and I cast an eye to my new-found friend. Well, I must admit, she looked most unhappy, though she still did have her head.
"And what's that!" I asked, for it surely sounded much louder than Cook's hatchet.
"C'est --- " and she lowered her voice so low now I could barely catch her words "La guillotine!"
Oh dear. My day was getting worse and worse. Why had I ever left the Lamb? I could be snuggling down with Betty (knowing she'd never eat me, as she had no wish to be in the family way!) Instead, here I was, in a country lacking cats, but not lacking fiendish ways of doing away with cats. (In fact, I thought for a moment of Mr. Hunter, and his horrible joke about mincing cats, and if he'd not gone for that swim, he'd find himself right at home here among the Frenchies, he would!) And looking around me for the guillotine.
"What -- " I barely had the nerve to ask " What is --- the guillotine!"
"Come!" she ordered, and the two of us skulked along the walls of the houses until we came to a strange towering contraption. Just then, a great big hatchet fell -- with that horrible thwacking sound I'd heard earlier, and a big watermelon split in two. My, what a wonderful contraption! A fruit slicer! (Mr. Hunter would love it here, indeed!) Even my poor little cat brain could see how useful a guillotine could be, and I wondered at Mr. H. and Madame Poulet, for being so against them!
"Why, Madame Poulet, I find this most interesting. Though I am no fruit lover ..."
"Alors -- are you crazee? "
"No, of course not...."
"You 'ave nevaire ... ah, of course not. You are only un chat, mon ami!"
"Only a cat! Well, I never...." But she gave me no chance to argue with her.
"It is not watermelons le Marquis brought his guillotine for! Non, 'e will use it for les peasantes. They lay with la tete there -- " and she pointed with her beak, " The blade comes down, and zut alors -- la tete falls into the basket!"
Oh dear! Oh dear dear! Oh dear dear dear ! Mr. H. was right. This was very bad! And M de M -- I made him sneeze! Would he punish me by -- oh, no, it could never be! Oh, Mr. H, save me, save me! I'll never ask for shore leave again! I'll never complain about my frustrations again! In fact, I shall solemnly promise never to *be* frustrated again! Oh, please Mr.H! Please! It's all your fault anyway -- leading me on --
What? Well, bless my ears and whiskers ! There was Mr. H now! Just strolling along with -- oh no, with a lady! Whatever are you thinking of, Mr. H! Remember your duty! Your Duty! What will MY LORD think!
But wait! This was all my fault! Mr. H. had petted me so much during the time I had had the pleasure to be a member of the Indy's crew, that finally he was lucky with the ladies! But why now! Why not in Spain, with the Duchess!
"Madame Poulet, I must go, " I said, even in my haste, not forgetting my manners. "Thank you -- uh, mercy buckets -- " (Bet you thought I was uncivilized and knew no French, eh!)
"Bon chance, mon amis. A tout a l'heure!"
I skulked along behind them. Mr. H. had his hands behind his back, but not clasped tightly like a proper Naval officer. Oh no! He was most fidgety indeed! Couldn't believe his luck, no doubt. Never knew he had his loyal shipmate Bandit to thank for it, did he? Well, maybe the poor boy deserves...
What! What! Bloody hell! He was telling her about his duty, and holding the bridge and .... Oh, Mr. H! For shame! One look from a pretty face, and you spill your guts! I am ashamed! I truly am. Well, that's it for you, Mr. H. I had thought to leave you in peace, but though you may have forgotten your duty, I certainly have not! Now, what to do, what to do!
All the while my clever cat brain was working on a plan, I followed Mr. H. and his little Frenchie. I had no desire for him to spy me before my plan was in place but I soon realized that he was so -- well, besotted! -- that he had no eye for me. In fact, even if the whole of this Music place were full of the frogs Mrs. Chicken (rest her soul!) had gone on about, I don't think he would have noticed. So I kept as close on his heels as I could, and when he had the nerve to follow Miss Frenchie inside, I slipped in without being seen.
I must admit, there was no more talk of duty and the bridge -- worse, they were -- oh, my, I almost had to cover my eyes with my paws -- they were kissing! Mr. H, I am shocked that you even know how! (Perhaps he did learn a little something from Duchess K. on those long walks!) What if MY LORD were to come in now! Shouldn't you be at the bridge, Mr. H, with your little pal, Archie? And how do you have the nerve -- after all, you went on so about my shore leave! You as much as promised -- well, you know! And here you are -- with Miss Frenchie -- and all I got was -- well, a blasted chicken! (Very friendly, and helpful, and may have saved one of my nine lives by putting me on my guard, like, but damn it all, a chicken nevertheless!)
"I will protect you."
Oh, Mr. H. what are you saying ! And now, oh no, Miss Frenchie -- Mr. H., Miss Frenchie is unbuttoning your jacket! I don't like the looks of that at all, no, I don't!
Well, I just couldn't watch, could I? I had to do something, didn't I? Bandit, think of the Lamb. Betty only got in trouble when she ended up - in Bed! Of course. So off I went, quiet-like, to look for the Bed. In here? No, looks like some kind of kitchen. How about up here? Aha! The Bed. Didn't look big enough for two, but then Betty's bed weren't very big, and she managed to fit two in it very neatly. Quick as a wink, up I hopped. Now, Bandit, think some more. What to do?
I had to consider my options, and damn quick, too! I could roll around, spread some cat hair. I could sharpen my claws on the pillow -- oops, here they came! Oh no, Mr. H, she's got your jacket off entirely now! Oh no, now she is playing with your frilly shirt! That don't look good at all, sir, and you an officer too! Then I had an inspired thought, one worthy of the smartest of felines, which I modestly assert that I am. Quickly I arranged myself in the middle of the bed, threw one leg over my shoulder, and started licking my unmentionables.
"Sacre bleu! " Oh what a screech came out of that mousy Miss Frenchie! " What is that miserable creeture doing sur mon lit! Mon dieu, the hair, the fleas -- verrry bad! 'Oratio, pleeze, you must defend moi!"
I finished my ablutions, and curled up tidily, keeping one eye open to observe proceedings. I could see Mr. H starting to smile.
"Why, Mam'selle, that is my cat! Hullo, there Bandit, old fellow! Enjoying your shore leave?"
"Your chat, Monsieur? And what kind of a soldier brings 'is chat with 'im to war?"
Ah, I could see it now - those great broad shoulders (even though he never let me sit on 'em) stiffening, that jaw jutting out! You're in for it now, Miss Frenchie!
"Mam'selle, I am no soldier. I am Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, of his Majesty's Frigate Indefatigable ..."
"If you want moi, Monsieur, than this chat must go!" And she stamped her foot.
"Then, Mam'zelle, I will still protect you, but you sleep alone!"
And that was that. One of my finer efforts, if I do say so. Miss Frenchie ended up in bed by herself, and my Mr. H, ended up on the chair. I ended up on the floor, which wasn't what I'd had in mind but I didn't dare curl up on Mr. H.'s lap, as he held that mighty big pistol and I didn't trust it not to go off in the middle of the night and do irreparable harm to my beautiful striped body. But I was happy enough .
Mr. H. went off very quickly -- I could tell by his snoring -- for someone on watch. Good thing Captain Pellew were not here to see it, or he'd be in the bloody rigging, for sure! Miss Frenchie and I took turns glaring at each other, but then she went to sleep too. I don't have to tell all you fine folks that I am a cat, and cats like to wander in the night. So there I was, wide awake, with a difficult decision for my little feline brain to make. Should I stay here, protect Mr. H. from Frenchie, or go a-wandering?
Well, damn and blast, Mr. H. If I can't trust you by now ---
So off I went.
Truth to tell, I must admit that I held out one final forlorn hope that there were in actual fact, cats in Music-whatever, but due to the horrible fates lying in wait for them, they simply kept themselves hidden in the daytime. So I wandered up and down the streets (keeping well away from the guillotine, in case the soldiers tired of using fruit for practice and decided a handsome kitty head would fit nicely in their basket ). But damn and blast, there *were* no cats. No cats whatsoever. No ancient toms. No queens. No kittens.
There were lots of frogs though. I could hear them peeping -- over there, in the direction of the river. But I'd never heard that sound on the Indy, so I could only conclude, that Mrs. Chicken's thinking had become unhinged at the certain prospect of her ultimate end (even if she was the officer's chicken.) The river. Why, I'd go down to the river, check out the placement of the cannons, share a word or two with Archie -- since Mr. H. seemed to have forgotten all about his men. So off I went.
"Who's there! Who's there! Give me the password, or I'll shoot!"
No, no, Archie! Don't shoot! It's only me, Midshipcat Bandit. I can't bloody well give you the password ......OW!
I was blinded, I was deafened, and I fancied a little bit of the end of my tail had disappeared. But thank whatever cat gods there be, Archie was a very poor shot!
"Oh, Bandit, it's you -- oh dear, are you hurt?" He immediately felt all over my body.
My pride, mostly, Archie, thank you very much. I don't know why they let you naval types play with those beastly guns. Though, on second thought, if you'd had your cannon with you instead, I'd be spread out in a bloody mess all over.
"I panicked!" Archie started blubbering , and started petting me very hard indeed. At that, I took a very quick look around to make sure no ladies were lurking nearby. Bad enough Horatio had fallen victim to the dreaded Lucky with the Ladies disease -- His Majesty could ill afford to have another of his officers so afflicted. But I only could make out Mr. H's men from the Indy and some of the Frenchie soldiers -- and all of them very annoyed, I can tell you, that Archie had woken them up. So I let him continue, as I did rather enjoy it myself, especially after the horrible day I had had, what with M de M and his sneezes, and Madame Poulet's terrible news, and that guillotine thing. All right, then, Archie, you said you panicked?
"It was the suddenness of it" he went on.
Yes, well, I suppose I rather did sneak up on you. Good thing I wasn't the enemy, eh?
"What if I panic tomorrow, Bandit? A Lieutenant in his Majesty's Navy ..."
Or even an Acting Lieutenant, Archie. There, just keep on petting me. You'll feel much better. Because I could tell you a few things about your superior officer -- yes, your dear friend Mr. H. You may have to hold the bridge all by yourself. There. There. Feeling better? Archie? Archie? Now he was snoring too. In fact the whole lot of 'em were snoring, and the enemy could have crossed the bridge in a wink and that would be the end of us all. No wonder MY LORD ...... Wait! I'll just go along and see MY LORD!
As soon as I was challenged quite properly by the sentry, I knew MY LORD had his part of the whole excursion done up in quite a ship-shape fashion, even if he was in the Army -- ha ha!. Mind you, after the fifth challenge, I began to wonder if the whole bloody regiment were on watch, and would they all fall asleep in the middle of the battle tomorrow! Eventually I reached MY LORD's little house (another great improvement over the sorry bunch at the bridge -- everyone seemed to have a nice little house -- felt like they'd been made from sails, so you'd think the seamen would have thought of that, rather than the soldiers.) I stuck my head in , quite forgetting that MY LORD might have the same answer to that as Archie, and I'm sure his being the superior shot, the outcome might be far less pleasing to me.
I might have known! MY LORD was not about to arouse his whole encampment (at least those few not on sentry duty.) He knew right off who I was.
"Why, Bandit, there you are. I've been expecting you."
Oh my. MY LORD, I'm -- well, I'm --
"This tent is quite big enough for the two of us, but I did notice after giving you a lift on my horse, that you left quite a large amount of hair on my uniform. Now, it may be good enough for Mr. H. to go around like that, I would expect nothing less of -- the Navy -- but this is the Army, and we have certain standards. So, dear fellow, if you would be so good as to just keep a little distance there ..."
MY LORD, of course. So I lay down a little ways away from him, and stretched out my paw in friendship. And then -- oh my ears and whiskers -- he reached out too, and started to massage my paw! What a wonderful feeling! Perhaps I had made a grave error in choosing a career in the Navy.
"So, Bandit, your affairs in the village, were they concluded satisfactorily?"
MY LORD, what can I say?
"You do look very down-in-the-mouth, and I must say, I myself saw no cats. But tomorrow is another day."
Ah yes. Now how about this paw. Yes! Oh my, MY LORD. And then I fell asleep.
Boom! BOOM! What the devil...
"Up you get, Bandit." MY LORD was already running
out of his little house. I stretched, and scratched, and stretched
some more. No need for me to worry my little cat brain -- I was
quite sure MY LORD would very quickly have everything under control.
Now, Mr. H on the other hand...
Oh damn! I'd left Mr. H, snoozing in the bedroom of that Miss Frenchie! He'd be hung from the rigging, flogged round the fleet -- oh dear! I stuck my head out of MY LORD's little house in time to see him set off on his horse, while his men stood in neat little lines and fired their guns across the river. My duty was clear -- I had to run back to the village, and wake up Mr. H, and hope no one noticed he'd been away all night.
Oh my! Oh dear! The Frenchies were shooting back. I felt like I was running the Gauntlet . The bullets zipped and zinged around me -- but of course I had to saunter casually, as befitted a Midshipcat in his Majesty's Navy -- I could not let these Army types see a Navy man -- er, cat -- running away in fear. There. I'd reached the woods and then I did run like hell, I can tell you!
Ooomph! What the devil! Oh, it's you, Mr. H. Finally woke up, did you? I know you're in a hurry, but there was no need to knock me down like that! Bless my ears and whiskers, whatever am I to do with you, sir! Mr. H! Mr. H?
I did hope he would slow down, and put his jacket on properly, and strap on his sword. The men were going to wonder where he'd been all night. There they were, sleeping on the hard ground , and there was their commanding officer, all nice and fresh from a night in the village. They'd never believe that he'd slept in the bloody chair . I knew how those sailors thought.
The village was a bloody shambles too. Such wailings going on, and I heard the snick snack of that guillotine thing, so I skulked in the corners and alleyways, not forgetting the lessons Madame Poulet had taught me yesterday. Aha, Madame Poulet! I would look for Madame Poulet. She seemed like a pretty slick chick, and would know what I should do next.
"Ah, Monsiur Banditte!"
"Ah, Madame Poulet!"
"Quel excitement, n'est-ce pas?"
"Oh, indeed, Madame Poulet."
"So, 'ow long you Engleesh stay here, eh?"
"You'll have to ask Mr. H. about that. He is here to defend the bridge at all cost. " If Mr. H. could tell Miss Frenchie all about his business, then damn me, but I could pass the same information on to Madame Poulet, who seemed a much more reliable type of person to me, even if she was a Frenchie.
"But, monsieur, why they put their guns on this side?"
I sighed. It seemed to me a waste of time to explain complicated Naval tactics and political manoevres to a mere chicken. I'm sure Captain Pellew knew what he was doing when he gave Mr. H. his orders. And I knew for damn sure that MY LORD would not sit idly by, and allow Mr. H. to shoot his cannon from the wrong side of the bridge. I mean, there did seem to be someone over there shooting back, and perhaps if Madame Poulet would take a little stroll down that way, she'd have the answer to her own question. These weighty matters are all decided by people with quite a few more brains (though I do hate to admit it) than cats and chickens. Though I'm sure were I to take the time, and bring the superior power of my cat brain to bear on the problem, the whole plan would be revealed to me also.
"Because the Frenchies are on the other side!" I said, with, I must admit, to my later chagrin, a very superior tone of voice. I knew I was doing it, but I couldn't help myself! I mean, Madame Poulet had been most kind to me -- well, all right, she'd probably saved my life -- or at least, saved my brains from being eaten, which rather amounts to the same thing, and here I was , trying to lord it over her, because I was a Midshipcat and she was -- well, only a chicken -- but......
What? What was that? Hmm?
"Ah, you Engleesh! You never listen!"
She'd said something very important. I just knew it! And there she was, scratching in the dirt, like some -- like some damn chicken -- and I -- was reduced to begging.
"Please, Madame Poulet! I have a duty to Mr. H -- I've saved his miserable life several times now, and I wouldn't like to see all my hard work come to naught here -- so if you would be so kind -- my dear Madame Poulet -- my beautiful Madame Poulet -- never in my life have I seen a chicken so elegant -- so perspicacious ...." (oh, my, I never knew I had that marvelous word in my little cat brain)--
"Oh, verrrrry well!" She stopped scratching, and lowered her voice again, to the same level she'd used to cheer me up with all those horrid cat nightmares, and I knew she was about to impart some very bad news to me indeed.
"The soldiers -- they are north of the village, Monsieur . " North. I looked around . North. Hm.
"Um, north? " I'm sure I sounded very sure of myself. North? Damn, but I didn't know if I should be worried or not. Quickly I gave myself a quick lick, which gave me time to regain a little of my composure. "Perhaps, Madame Poulet, you could show me!" There! Now she'd never know that I had absolutely no idea where the hell north was; the fact that a chicken -- and an enemy chicken at that--- knew even more important facts than I did, was quite a blow to my feline dignity, I can tell you! Of course, it wasn't my fault I was unfamiliar with north -- after all, when I wasn't down in the sickberth tending the wounded, or in the cable tiers and orlop, catching rats, I had to catch up on my sleep, and had no time at all to attend those beastly navigation lectures. I thought that at least someone else could sail the damn ship, and I wouldn't need to bother with all that north and south and latitude and longitude nonsense. I could see now, though, that perhaps I should have attended at least the north and south lecture; having learned my lesson, I promised myself to look the matter up in Norrie's Seamanship when (or if!) I every got back to the bloody Indy!
So off we went, Madame Poulet leading, and Midshipcat Bandit following. I did try to appear rather inconspicuous, praying that I didn't cross the path of a fisherman, or meet a young lady wishing to have a baby. All was well, until we strayed too close to that bastard M. de M. , whereupon he gave a huge sneeze, and upset his ink all over his papers, and what was he doing writing his letters out there in the open anyway, but I didn't like the way he started bellowing "You have been found guilty..." and I'm afraid I quite forgot myself.
By the time we reached the outskirts of the village we were both a little short of breath.
"Please, Madame Poulet", I gasped, "Please accept my humble apologies. I truly did not mean to run you over. Truly, I did not!"
Madame Poulet sniffed, and took a few minutes to smooth her
ruffled feathers. I tried to help too -- but ptui! Those damn
feathers! My tongue stuck and then we both looked ridiculous,
I must say. Perhaps it was just as well, I thought sadly, that
there *were* no other cats around to see how foolish I looked.
"Follow moi!" she said, and off we went again. Well, bloody hell! If this was north, Madame Poulet was right! The soldiers were here. With their own bloody big cannon too. And guns. And even sillier hats than Mr. H. wore. Oh, this was verrrrry bad (oh dear, now she had me saying it too!) Mr. H *was* on the wrong side of the river! How had MY LORD allowed this to happen?
"I must go, Madame Poulet. I must warn Mr. H! Oh the poor dear boy, he will look so foolish, with his guns all in the wrong place. I can never thank you enough...." Then I had an odd thought. Cats do have odd thoughts, once in a while. "Why are you, Madame, a Frenchie chicken, helping me, a Englishy cat.?" A trap. Oh dear, had she led me into a trap?
"Oh, mon cher chat!" She sighed a great sigh and a tear rolled down the feathers on her face. "Francois, Anglais, Royaliste, Republique - ca ne fait rien! First they always take my eggs and I 'ave no bebes. Then they will wring my neck -- zut! into the pot I will go! Life est tres difficile, Monsiur Bandit, pour un poulet. So, if I can 'elp some other poor creature..."
Oh damn! Now she had me blubbering too! And I thought of poor Mrs. Chicken of Officer fame, and wailed even more! Well, Bandit, old boy, you've learned a fine lesson here. My concerns seemed -- well, the word pathetic came to mind. I was a miserable specimen of the species felis catus indeed, thinking only of my own despicable needs. I was unworthy to have such a great benefactor as Madame Poulet , I was.....
"You must 'urry and tell your young man..."
"Oh, dear. Oh, yes, Madame Poulet, you are right!" So off I raced, back to Music-whatever, and there he was, ready to knock on Miss Frenchie's door.
"Oh, hello, Bandit. Where the devil have you been? I don't have time to keep you out of trouble, you know."
But Mr. H, I'm here to keep you out of trouble.
I jumped up, and sank my claws into his trousers. I think I must have judged my distance a little wrongly, for he gave the most awful screech and grabbed me -- me, Midshipcat Bandit! -- by the scruff of my neck, and threw me most forcefully on the ground.
Your life is at stake, Mr. H. Damn, but you will listen to me, man.
Whereupon I jumped up again.
"Bandit, pull yourself together! I don't have time for your nonsense -- I've been terribly wrong to a very pretty young French lady, and I have to beg her forgiveness, and the Marquis is lopping heads off right and left, and Archie is down at the bridge panicking, and I just know Major Edrington is looking down his damned aristocratic nose at us. So you can see how very busy I am.... oh hell!"
I'd jumped up again, and again found myself on the ground. I was sorely tried by this time, and for a moment the words mutiny and desertion wormed their way into my little cat brain, but I believe myself capable of rising above such baser emotions. So I ran off a little and then ran back, and started to howl (praying all the while that no one had ailing fruit trees or needed to suddenly become invisible.)
I saw the boot start to move -- damn your eyes, Mr. H! But then, it stopped, and finally I saw a small hint that Mr. H. did indeed have a brain in his head.
"Why, Bandit, I believe you are trying to tell me something!"
Oh, very clever, Mr. H.
"I believe you wish me to follow you!"
Oh, Mr. H, you are a veritable fountain of perspicacity (now that I'd discovered I knew that fine word, why I had to use it in all its various shapes and forms, didn't I?)
"Very well then, carry on!"
So I did. Mr. H. looked very sick indeed when he saw all those Frenchie soldiers in the wrong place. Well, I guess they thought they were in the right place, and it were Mr. H's men in the wrong place. But once he saw the way the wind blew, he smartened up immediately and became a veritable whirlwind of activity.
"I must go and see Miss..."
Don't say it -- you must go and see Miss Frenchie! I thought better of you, Mr. H. I've surely forgotten my petty frustrations in the midst of this very serious situation, and I would think you could do the same.
"I do believe she's played me false.I'll have the truth out of her, I will! "
Oh. Of course I never doubted your devotion to duty.
"So off to the river with you, Bandit. I'll check in with Major Edrington..."
That's MY LORD to you, sir!
".... and we'll be on our way, then."
I know I should have stayed with the lad. He'd been so -- well, what can I say -- not quite himself since we came to France. But damn it all, I had to trust him sometime to keep out of trouble. So off I started to the river.
But wait! How could I have even thought of leaving without saying good-bye to my dear friend.
"Madame Poulet!" I called out, poking my nose in every doorway, and alley. "Madame Poulet!"
"Oui, mon ami!" Ah, there she was!
"I must be leaving, Madame Poulet. But before I go, do you have any other bad news for me?"
She clucked. "Perhaps you are a witch, Monsieur Banditte."
"A witch? I'm an officer in His Majesty's Navy, not a witch."
"Les peasants -- they think a witch can turn into a chat. So they maim les chats -- to protect from the sorcery."
Maim! Oh dear!
"But I think I 'ave give you enough bad news, Monsiur Chat. Now -- you must think of yourself!"
"I wonder -- could you keep an eye on Mr. H? He's gone off to see --"
"Mais oui, la jeune fille. She likes verrrry much a young man in uneeform -- perhaps you must tell votre ami....."
Oh blast and damn! I was quite tired, I can tell you, with Mr. H. and his young lady. If he wished to dally away his time with her, while the enemy is at the gates, well, I for one, was content to let him. I mean, how many times can I save not only his miserable life, but recall him to his duty also. No, Mr. H -- this time you are on your own.
"You must run -- vite!" Madame Poulet said, and gave me a very nice little gentle peck on the top of my head with her beak.
Oh dear! I was quite undone for the moment. If I hadn't been covered with fur, Madame Poulet would have seen my skin turn red, I am sure! As it was, I had the greatest desire to stop for a calming wash, but I resisted, as my life was no doubt in danger -- though I did give her a little head butt before I ran out of the village.
My, but it was a lovely day. Much too lovely to be running so fast through the Frenchie countryside. Why, I could be sleeping in some nice shady nook, dreaming of amorous adventures -- well, dreaming seemed to be the only way I was every to enjoy an amorous adventure -- and, somehow, I'm sure it's all your fault, Mr. H! Anyway, as no one seemed to be following me, I slowed down to enjoy the sights (and look out for all those frogs, but I saw nary a one!) And finally, there was the river. All that running had made me thirsty, it had, so I stopped down at the water's edge, and took a good long satisfying drink.
There did seem to be a lot of excitement at the bridge. Everyone was scurrying around, tying some barrels together -- though why they would want to tie barrels together was beyond me, or why they would put barrels on the bridge in the first place. If there were vittles in those barrels -- then why would they leave them on the bridge, even if they were tied together? It seemed to me, that in my time as a cat in His Majesty's Navy, I'd seen a deal of strange sights, and wondered how Mr. H. and the good Captain Pellew ever managed to keep their Indy afloat, or even how England managed to keep going at all! If only they listened to me, once in a while, why, we'd have had the Frenchies beaten in no time, and I could go back to the Lamb, and not have to only dream about amorous adventures!
Mathews was playing with those bloody big cannon, and I wondered at that too! I could see MY LORD across the river ( in my opinion, MY LORD was the only one of the whole blasted bunch who had any idea at all of the proper way to conduct an invasion, but perhaps this high opinion might be a little misplaced, as I could see him very clearly all the way from here because of his bloody red coat and I'm sure the enemy could see him very clearly too -- and all of his men -- but of course this was not the time to point out the shortcomings of his uneeform) and -- oh, were was I? -- oh, yes, MY LORD did not seem concerned with the cannon situation so he obviously knew something I didn't --
Damn and blast! I was near bowled over by Mathews running across the bridge. And then damn -- I *was* blasted! He'd blown the bloody cannon up, it seemed like, and the least he could have done was warn me! I was not pleased, I can tell you, as I limped the rest of the way across the bridge, and glared at Mathews, and Archie and MY LORD, as only a cat can glare.
"Well, Bandit, it's about time you showed up, " Archie said. "We're going to blow up the bridge!"
Blow up the bridge? But -- but what about Mr. H! I know he's annoying at times, and always ends up looking better than the rest of you, and never panics -- well, you know what I mean -- but you just can't go and leave him behind! Why, if M de M doesn't chop off his head, or those Frenchie soldiers shoot him, he'll end up with Miss Frenchie, and we can't have that! MY LORD, MY LORD ....
"I think Mr. Hornblower may surprise us yet."
Well, I don't doubt that, MY LORD. He surprises me all the time. But dammit, he didn't look like he was going to surprise us this time. Mr. H, this is no time for dawdling!
So we stood around, and I lay down, for if we were all going to dawdle waiting, I decided I might as well have a little -- well, you know -- catnap. But wait, what's this? What's that burning thing you're holding, Archie? I must say you don't look too happy about something. Oh, good, you've given it away. Now Mathews had it. Oh dear, where had I seen that burning thing before? On the Indy -- oh blast, what was it for -- Damn! Now I remembered! The men touched the cannon with that burning thing, just before the cannon blew out that bloody big cannon ball. Oh no! They were going to blow up the bridge!
Yes, Mathews bent down and lit that string in the sand, that string that tied all those barrels together. Well, he wouldn't be doing that if those barrels did contain vittles. But he would if -- if the barrels were going to blow up the bridge. But you can't, Mathews! Mr. H -- why, he's been a good officer to you -- I'm sure he has -- you just can't go and leave him with all those Frenchies!
What to do, what to do! The smoke was moving, moving towards those barrels. I had to stop it! I had to save Mr. H! So I ran at the smoking string and scuffed the sand over it, and heaved a great big sigh of relief when the smoke disappeared.
"Light it again, Mathews" Archie said.
So he did. Oh, I had to think fast, I did. And I was quite pleased with my course of action. I had visions of being put on Fire Duty back on the Indy! I kind of skulked along beside that wisp of smoke, than quick as only a cat can be, I turned tail end on and let go. What exceptional aim! That little bit of fire just went right out with a great big sizzle! Oh I thanked what cat gods there be, that I'd had the uncommon foresight to load up at the river before coming along.
"MR. BANDIT, SIR!!!"
Oh dear. MY LORD did not sound at all happy. In fact, he sounded -- well, rather unhappy. But Mr. H is my commanding officer, MY LORD. It's my duty to try and save his life -- yet again, I must add.
I should have run away. But Archie was too quick -- he caught me by the scruff of the neck (Oh, the indignity of that!) and handed me off to MY LORD, up on his big horse.
"Now, Mathews, if you please...." he said.
Bloody hell! There was that little bit of smoke again, and there was no way, no way I could stop it! Mr. H. was doomed! Captain Pellew would not be happy, I can tell you.Why, sometimes you'd think Mr. H. was his son, the good captain so relishes giving him a hard time. But being on MY LORD's horse, had one advantage at least. I could see a lot farther, and I looked very hard with my superior cat eyes, over the bridge.
Wait! Was -- was that Mr. H? By God, it was! And I might have known! There was Miss Frenchie too, hobbling along. Some ruse no doubt, pretending to be hurt, so Mr. H. would bring her away with him. I wiggled out of MY LORD's arms and took off across the bridge. If Mr. H. were going to be left behind, then I would join him! Mind you, I was across the bridge before I remembered all the horrible things Madame Poulet had told me, and if I'd thought of them sooner, I might not have been so eager to start my heroic dash.
Well, I must say, everything became a muddle after that! So many sounds! Archie calling out "Bandit!" to me, and pounding along behind. Lots of shooting, and that Miss Frenchie -- she might have loved those men in uneeform, but I guess they didn't feel the same, 'cause they shot her, and even if she didn't like cats, not even me, I was not happy to see her die like that. And then Mr. H. had to go on and on, like he'd known her for as long as -- well, as long as he'd known me. And then Archie came up and said. "Bandit, come on, the bridge is going to blow -- oh, hullo, Horatio, you'd better come too..." and we all ran like the devil (except Miss Frenchie of course) and the bridge started to blow up, and we all arrived over on the other side rather the worse for wear.
Oh my! What I wouldn't have given for a good rest after that. But no, MY LORD made us all get moving, cause those Frenchie soldiers were still coming and what good did it do to blow up the bridge, if you ask me, if you could still cross the river, and why were we all so worried about Mr. H. when he could have crossed the river too, but what do I know, being just a cat? All I can say is, there'd been a dreadful amount of to-ing and fro-ing on this little adventure and I was getting very tired. I looked up at MY LORD in what I was sure was a very appealing and respectful manner, in hopes that he might carry me along on his splendid big horse, but he looked quite sternly at me, and bade me look after Mr. H.
So back to the beach we went, for what good it was going to do us, as I didn't fancy a swim, and the Indy was no where in sight. Styles seemed to think there were frogs about -- truly I don't understand why everyone seemed to be seeing frogs -- all I saw was Mr. Bowles, on a horse, of all things -- and could only conclude that our whole party were the victims of a very bad batch of grog, and were seeing things -- or frogs -- that weren't there.
Thank the Lord MY LORD was not the only competent individual connected with this whole miserable venture, for Captain Pellew showed up just in time, and managed to shoot his cannons right at the Frenchies his first try. Well done, Captain Pellew!
I took very seriously MY LORD's orders to care for Mr. H, and I curled up on his lap as we were rowed back to the Indy. He did look very weepy indeed , though I hardly think it due to the untimely death of that Miss Frenchie (and how would he have ever explained her to Captain Pellew, I ask!) I could just imagine he was feeling very out of sorts because he did not come out looking the hero this time round; and his locating the Frenchie cannon was entirely due to the efforts of Madame Poulet and Midshipcat Bandit, and had nothing to do with him whatsoever. But I did let him pet me ( I know now that I have to ration such soothing actions, due to their alarming effect on young men, though now we're back on board the Indy with no ladies in sight, I suppose I can relax a little -- unless the effect lingers, in which case I must be prepared to prevent Mr. H. from ever going ashore again, as he is liable to marry the first lady who is any bit kind to him, no matter who she is.)
So there we were, back in Captain Pellew's cabin. I'd not wanted to go in with Mr. H., because I've had some very unpleasant experiences in Captain Pellew's cabin, but I daren't let him go in alone, for fear he would make a bloody blubbering idiot of himself.
At first all was well -- he gave his report, very snappy like -- we'd lost six men and two cannon -- and I heaved a sigh of relief, but no, Mr. H. you had to spoil it, and you did make a bloody blubbering idiot of yourself, though you did buck up a bit after Captain Pellew gave one of his rousing speeches. Why, if I wasn't already a proud Midshipcat in His Majesty's Navy, I'd volunteer all over again! And I must say, Mr. H., that I wanted to know why we were there too -- especially as things turned out as regards my romantic hopes.
And now I come to the proudest moment of that whole miserable day. And Mr. H., I give you credit, you could have taken all the glory yourself, but you didn't.
"I must advise you, sir, that Mr. Bandit was most instrumental in our safe withdrawal."
Oh, my ears pricked up at that!
"How so, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Due to his fine scouting abilities, he was able to determine the position of the Republican artillery and passed that information on to me."
Madame Poulet helped -- a little.
"Did he indeed? I understand from Major Edrington that he may also have saved your life at the bridge."
Once again, Mr. H., once again!
"Hmmf!" Captain Pellew paced back and forth , his hands clasped behind his back. A neat trick that - I have spent many a long hour trying to twist my paws behind me but I always seem to fall flat on my furry face. "I believe a promotion is in order here. Mr. Bandit?"
"I realize you have not taken the exam but in light of your exceptional bravery, and especially since you have saved the life of Mr. Hornblower here, so that I may always have someone to torment, I now promote you to the rank of Lieutenant!"
Oh sir. I swallowed hard. Oh dear. Oh my. I was so nervous I felt my fur getting ready to shed, but I held on to it for dear life, remembering what the good Captain once said about uneeforms and cat hair. And I was very thankful that I need not take the exam, because I'm sure they would ask me where north was, and then where would I be? Still a midshipcat for sure!
"And Mr. Hornblower, sir, if I were you, I would be very concerned?"
"Judging by the speed in which Mr. Bandit has risen in the ranks, and from an Ordinary Seacat, no less, I fear he will have command of a ship before you do!"
"Oh, um, er, sir, it will be well-deserved, I am sure." Well, you aren't sure, are you, Mr. H? In fact, you look so miserable, I'm afraid you are going to burst into tears again. How you ever got your lieutenant's commission in the first place is beyond me!
"Help me, Bandit!"
Oh, for heaven's sake, Mr. H! Look, even Archie is already on the yardarm! The sun's shining, it's a glorious day, you've had a good cry on Captain Pellew's shoulder (more or less!) , I've been made a Lieutenant, (but still junior to you, so you've nothing to fear there), and here you are, stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, ha, ha! Think of the men, sir! There's Mathews, and Styles, and Oldroyd, up on the other mast. Everyone's looking at you, Mr. H! MY LORD is shaking his head! Captain Pellew is turning away in shame! You must go on!
He was wearing his bloody boots, he was, the same he'd been wearing the day we'd met. Better he had his shoes on -- then I could threaten to ruin his stockings, and he'd be up the ratlines quick as a wink. Oh, dear, what to do! For damn sure, I couldn't help him -- I'm only a cat after all, but perhaps--
"Yes, Bandit, you go on. Leave me behind and go on." I knew he was trying to be brave, but he did still sound a little petulant, as I climbed up his pantlegs, and his jacket, and finally standing on his head, started climbing ahead of him. I had to judge it just right, for I didn't want Archie to spoil it all by rescuing me. As I got nearly to the yardarm, I looked very hard at Archie, and thought very hard and gave him a very clever wink.I don't know if all this got through to him, or he just didn't care, or he was afraid he'd lose his balance, but he stayed right where he was (hanging on for dear life, too, I might add.) You'd think these Naval types would be used to skylarking in the rigging, but I guess when you're an officer, you can just order the men to go aloft and spend all your time loafing around the quarterdeck
Holding on very tight with one paw, I let my self go, and hung there, mewling piteously. Help me, Mr. H, help me!
"Oh God, no!" Well, he still had his voice, I can say that! But a good shout is not going to be enough to do it. Come on, Mr. H! Not much further now! You can do it!
Oh, bloody hell! My paw started to slip! Oh, no! Now, only one claw lay between me and -- well, cats land on their feet, don't they? Oldroyd, you'll be happy now! Always wanting to throw me from the fighting top, see if I would land on my feet! Well, this is worse than the fighting top! How many lives do I have left? Oh, God, I can't remember! Help, Mr. H! Help, I'm falling.................
"There, Bandit, I have you now!"
Oh, thank the Lord! Oh, Mr. H! Oh dear! The sweet boy had trotted up those ratlines nice as you please , and now had me in his arms.
Before I knew it, we were both up there with Archie, and the whole world seemed spread below us. Mr. H. took a deep breath (trying to calm down after his terrible fright, no doubt), and then smiled. Oh, Mr. H, you should do that more often! You look quite handsome when you smile, I must say! Why, a nice English girl might even look at you and you wouldn't have to fool around with those damn Frenchies! I'm sure Archie is quite popular with the ladies back home and might be able to give you some advice. And of course, after all the petting of me you've done, you should be all set.
And as for myself! Well, glorious as I felt, up here with my friends, I still was a frustrated tom. But I'd learned a few lessons, in my time on the Indy. I'd been hated by a rat, and been loved by a rat, and loved a rat myself (oh, the shame!). But with Madame Poulet, and Mr. H. here, and Archie, and MY LORD and Kitty, and even Captain Pellew, and all the fine men of the Indefatigable, I'd found something lasting and fine -- true comradeship.
Oh dear! Was I, hard-as-nails Lieutenant Bandit, becoming well, sentimental? Only until I reached the deck, and that's for damn sure!
I do have two more comments to make, to finish up my chronicle. Of course, I was never in danger on the ratlines. I mean, I had to make it realistic, or Mr. H. would never have moved! I could have reached the yardarm at any time, I do assure you!
And -- even from here -- I still can't see any frogs!
Author's note: The French folklore concerning cats came from a book titled :"The Great Cat Massacre, and other episodes in French cultural history " by Robert Darnton