PURR-spectives III - "The Duchess, the Devil and the Cat"
By Bev F.



Note: Remember: When Bandit's words are in quotes, the person he
addresses can hear him. If not, they can't.



Mr H., there's a woman coming on board. Nice dress.

"Don't froth at the mouth, Bandit. You've seen a woman before!"

Well, of course I have, Mr. H. And I am *not* frothing at the mouth.
Now a lovely lady cat would make me froth at the mouth, but from
here I see no sign of that! For a few tender moments, I thought back
to Betty at the Lamb, and bless my ears and whiskers, I'd not mind a
nice soft curvy body to curl up with at night, no offense to you, Mr.
H.

"Our passenger is the Duchess of Wharfedale, Bandit, and you must
be on your best behavior, as she is titled. "

Titled, is she? I'll have you know, Mr. H., that I am well acquainted
with duchesses. Why, I'll never forget the day Betty and Cook were
all of a tizzy at the Lamb. Sir Horace and Lady Letitia Bumpkin
came to stay on their way to London, bringing their dear, the apple
of their eye -- The Duchess of Katmandu. Oh, the silken fur! Oh, the
deep blue eyes! Oh, the magnificent tail! She was brushed, and
petted, and given the finest dishes from the kitchen. Cook was fair
tongue-lashed by Lady Letitia when a particular dish of liver did not
pass the Duchess' delicate palate, and occasioned a very nasty and
embarrassing accident on Lady Letitia's bed cover.

You can imagine, I was all a-tremble over the Duchess. She,
however, cast a very haughty eye at me. Make no mistake, I am a
handsome cat. I am the very model of a handsome cat, with my
beautiful brown stripes, my strong masculine body, my long
expressive tail. But bloody hell, she hissed at me, she turned her
back to me, she disdained to share her gourmet meals with me. I, on
the other hand, was patient, I can tell you. I've been up and down
the dock a few times, I have, and I know what a lady wants. Even
Duchesses have a baser nature, and as night overtook us, she was
forced to give in to that baser nature, and I, of course , I, was
there to oblige her! At night, all cats are gray!

I survived till morning, but barely! What a queen she was! No
dockyard doxie could have done better! So I know all about
Duchesses, I bloody well do! (I have often wondered, in an idle
moment, how the Duchess of Katmandu faired when she popped out
a litter of brown striped kittens! Lady Letitia most probably went
into a decline from which she never recovered. )

Oh, where was I? The Duchess of Wharfedale! I jumped up on the
railing and awaited her arrival eagerly. Mr. H. was less than eager --
he bloody well looked miserable. Can handle cannon fire and plague,
but not a lady in a nice dress? Need some advice, dear boy? In my
time at the Lamb, I came to know many ladies -- well, all right, I
suppose one or two of 'em weren't ladies, as such. Anyway, I'd
picked up a notion or two as to how a lady likes to be treated, but
I'd yet to decide whether to share this valuable knowledge with Mr.
H. or no. Serve you right for your 'cats on board' lecture, which,
though I may have forgiven you for, I have never forgot!

Oh bloody hell. Captain Pellew was in the damned boat too!
Thought I'd got out from under his feet for a few weeks, at least.
Ever since the Oran disaster, he'd gone around mumbling ," A
bullock? A bullock!" under his breath every time he set his eye on
me. 'Twas your sailors ate the most of it, and your Acting Lieutenant
what had it slaughtered, so don't you go blaming me!

The Duchess was hauled on board by some strange contraption and
looked very handsome indeed -- a mature lady she was, not likely
given to fits of hysteria were Mr. H to let the ship sink -- which
he's been known to do! Captain Pellew followed, and I hid behind the
Duchess' nice skirt before he started on about those bloody bullocks
again! The three of 'em all seemed nice and friendly together (though
nobody saw fit to introduce me!) and I could see that the dinner Mr.
H. attended last night seemed to have had some far-reaching results!

Ah, the dinner! That Mr. H. gets all the prizes, he does. Mind, I
don't say he is not deserving. I have seen him at his worst, I have,
and could put a few folks straight, if I had a baser nature, but I
must admit a certain fondness for the lad. He did come off well in the
capture of Le Reve and without my help too, I must say! For some
strange reason the good Captain Pellew up and abandoned him on
shore, him and his men. I had no idea what he had done to be
punished so, and though I would miss him I had no intention of
joining him in banishment. I was lonely though after he'd gone and I
even took to lurking round the cable tier, hoping against hope to hear
another 'Psst!" -- a great-great-grandchild perhaps of Falstaff. But
the cable tier remained empty -- nary a 'sweet sir' or 'veriest
varlet' to be heard.

So imagine my extreme pleasure to see Mr. H come sailing along in a
ship! Whatever he'd been punished for, surely Captain Pellew would
forgive him now! I was so beside myself with pleasure seeing Mr. H.
come over the side of the Indy that I clawed my way all the way up
his uniform and gave him a good big lick on the face. I know he was
extremely pleased to be welcomed home in that fashion, though he
did have a very funny way of showing it. In fact, he plucked me from
his uniform in a very brusque manner, held me at arms length in front
of him and whispered very uncivilly under his breath, "Not in front of
the men, Bandit!" I rather thought that had I waited a day or so to
welcome the bugger home, the effect would have been somewhat
lacking.

And he was still in a rather bad mood later on. Seemed to blame me
because he had no stockings to wear to dinner. He was the silly fool
who hopped on that fireship and ruined his last pair, not me! But I
get blamed for everything round here, even the bullock. Thank God
for Mr. Bracegirdle, is all I can say -- that man always has the right
garb for the occasion, and willing to lend it too -- stockings,
shirts, whatever Mr. H. seems to be lacking. I do think on his next visit to
London, Mr. H. should see a good tailor!

Then Mr. H. got all in a tizzy for fear he'd be asked to carve. Don't
know as how anyone'd ask him to carve, as he seemed always at
sixes and sevens when he wasn't busy yelling "Fiyah!" There was
Mr. Bracegirdle to the rescue again, with a very nice little lesson in
carving. But oh my ears and whiskers! What was this! What vile
words was I now hearing!

"And then there's cat." What? What did he mean -- and then there's
cat! That was Mr. Hunter speaking -- and the devil knew where Mr.
Hunter came from. Just seemed like all of a sudden he was on the
Indy -- more than bloody likely some other captain wanted well rid
of him -- sour bastard that he was! Even while Mr. H. was being
greeted soundly with loud huzza's from the crew on returning with Le
Reve, Mr. Hunter went round mumbling "He cheated to win, he
cheated to win" over and over, in an annoying whiney voice, even
more annoying than Mr. H. can be at times (even when he's going
on about his stockings.) Well, Mr. Hunter, this is war, not a game of
whist, and it seems from the lowly viewpoint of the ship's cat, who's
a Petty Officer by the way, better to cheat and win, then play fair
and die! Just my opinion, of course.

Oh -- back to 'and then there's cat' . My ears near fell off my head
when I heard what next sprang out of that whoreson's mouth, " Cat
you mince with a sort of chopping motion --" Enough, I say! I
sprang for his face, ready to mince that and see how he liked it, but
Mr. H. managed to catch me by the tail and pull me back.

"Very funny, Mr. Hunter, " he said, and by the tone of his voice, I
don't think he liked him very much either.

Well, that's quite enough about Mr. Hunter and minced cats. Mr. H.
was still going on about the stockings. "This will never do," he
pouted, and stared quite dejectedly at Mr Bracegirdle's baggy saggy
stockings. That's what you get for having such skinny legs, Mr. H.
The ladies will never go for that, though if a lady went for him, I'm
sure he'd have no idea what to do. I wouldn't be one bit surprised to
hear that his mother'd up and died, and not had time to acquaint him
with the mating habits of humans, leaving him in as wretched a state
as poor Juliet. Juliet had gone and fallen in love with a cat --
myself, of course, though if she simply had to adore a cat, I can think of no
cat more adorable -- and who or what Mr. H. might fall in love with
has me very worried indeed.

Now where was I? I do apologize for ending up so often far from
my story, but I strongly feel you need to hear these tasty little
tidbits to appreciate my grand tales! Ah, the baggy stockings. Mr. H. did
tend to be somewhat resourceful, I must say, and he hit upon the
idea of padding out his matchstick legs with oakum. I might have
suggested that he stick me in his stocking, so I could share some of
that venison, beef and chicken (only they wouldn't have venison,
would they?) that he now was expert in carving. But there was only
one of me, and Mr. H.I might appear somewhat unbalanced to the
other dinner guests, so I contented myself with carefully observing
him to make sure that he got it right.

"So what are you staring at, Bandit?" he said, as he attached the
oakum to his leg with sticking plaster. (That's going to hurt a little
when you pull it off, Mr. H. Oh, the vanity of fashion!)

I am just happy that I am blessed with a beautiful coat of fur which
always fits.

"Just think of this, Bandit, I don't have to go round all day covered
in catspit!"

What! Covered in catspit! Why the nerve...

"Well, you are, you know. Covered in catspit, that is. You insist on
licking yourself all over, so you have no one to blame but yourself."

Sigh. He was right. I *was* covered in catspit. You know, I'd never
thought of it like that. And I would now damn him for saying it
everytime I sat down to have a bit of a wash. .

"Anyway, Bandit, how do I look?"

I had to admit -- other than the oakum in his stockings, he did indeed
look every inch the officer. I purred to show him just how fine he
looked, and I believe he might actually have smiled!

"I'll try and bring you back a little something, Bandit, " he said,
as he started up the companionway -- on his way at last.

I must say, he did manage to bring me back a little something --
pork, I think it was, but dreadfully mangled, and I realized that Mr.
Bracegirdle had neglected pork in his carving lectures. It was tasty,
though, very tasty indeed. But Mr. H. seemed very troubled, and
spent the night tossing and turning, to the extreme detriment of my
sleep, I can tell you.

Now all the tossing and turning was explained! The Duchess was a
pretty lady, not as buxom as Betty, but I had a feeling we would
become fast friends. I was quite embarrassed by the crew though, I
can tell you -- ogling and falling over their feet -- just because a
lady was present. I knew then that it was my duty to be her boon
companion on the trip back to England.

"Oh, Mr. 'Aitch, you have a kitty on board!" Why bless my ears and
whiskers, but didn't she sound just like Betty! Kind of caught me
unawares, it did, she being a Duchess and all. Didn't sound like Lady
Letitia at all, she didn't. Now that was strange. She bent over and
picking me up, held me close to her bosom, and gave me a gentle
tickle under the chin. There, Mr. H, or should I call you Mr. 'Aitch
from now on, hee hee! I see I am going to have the last laugh here!

"That is Mr. Bandit, Your Grace, our ship's cat"

Well, go on, Mr. H. Ship's cat? Not hardly!

"In fact, he has attained the ranking of Petty Officer, having
performed in an exemplary manner during his time in the Navy."

Exemplary manner, indeed! I should think, Mr. H.! I've saved your
life and the lives of every man-jack of you! What other ship's cat can
boast of that!

"A true naval hero! Well done Bandit! " And that wonderful, lovely
lady just swooped me off to her (well, Mr. H's) cabin, and bless my
ears and whiskers, well, I just couldn't help my self -- I just had to
took back over her shoulder in my most catty manner, and was well-
rewarded by seeing that dear boy's jaw drop! Whatever did you
think would happen, Mr. H.? Do you think I would choose to --
well, sleep with you, when there's a lady present? And this lady is
very taken with me, I can tell!

Neither the Duchess nor myself were taken with Mr. H's cabin. This
was most definitely not the Indefatigable. Damn and blast! I could
see this voyage was going to be long! I must admit -- my easy life
with Acting Lieutenant Hornblower had made me soft; and now I
(and the Duchess of course) were sentenced to a hammock once
again! (Though sharing a hammock with the Duchess was so much
more appealing than sharing a cot with -- well, with a man!) The
Duchess didn't look overly happy neither.

"Well, Bandit, " she said, "Here we are. It's not a bed, but what's
in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as
sweet...."

Bloody hell! I was all over in a tizzy. My paws started to sweat. My
hair started to fall out. I almost barfed a hairball right there! By
cat standards, my brain is prodigious, but by other standards -- well, the
odd time, not too often mind you, circumstances are just a little
too - - complicated -- and my cat brain flounders a little. (In all
modesty, I must say I am quite sure this does not happen to me nearly as often
as it happens to Mr. H! ) The Duchess didn't sound like the Duchess
anymore! The Duchess didn't sound like Betty anymore! She
sounded like -- bloody hell again! -- she sounded like Juliet, only
what Juliet would have sounded like, if she'd gone to rat school, and
learned to talk like a lady!

"Bandit, whatever is the matter you?" The Duchess scooped me up
in her arms once more (oh what a lovely lady, whoever she is!) "Did
my Shakespeare surprise you?"

Shakespeare?

"I have a secret for you , Bandit, " she whispered in my ear. "I too
am a Kitty!"

A woman who calls herself both a Duchess and a kitty, and talks like
a rat? Oh dear! My poor cat brain was now quite overcome! What
to do, what to do! And then -- whoever she was -- gave me, me! a
big kiss! I went all over weak, I did!

"And do you know, Bandit, that Master Shakespeare has made
many a mention of cats -- just let me see -- " She placed me down
on the decking (and I almost lost all my feline dignity by falling
over bump! I was still so faint, but I very quickly gave a stretch and
played with my tail for a moment, and I do believe that I had her
fooled, that I'd meant to lie down all along!)

" I know -- 'They'll take suggestion as a cat laps milk', from The
Tempest , I believe. And... " Now she looked so sad, it ne'er broke
my heart as she said, "Let Hercules himself do what he may, the cat
will mew and dog will have his day." Dog, what dog? I looked
nervously over my shoulder just to make sure we were quite alone.

"A harmless necessary cat!" Harmless? Oh bless my ears and
whiskers, Duchess Kitty, you have not seen me at my finest! But
necessary? Indubitably!

"A part to tear a cat in, to make all split!" Oh, didn't like that
one, tearing and splitting, bloody hell!

"Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would', like the poor cat i' the
adage." Adage, what in hell is an adage? Is that like an attic? But I
was sitting up now, having regained my strength with my curiosity.
She spoke these lines so prettily, and a tiny memory came to me
from the Lamb. Music. Voices. Costumes. Plays. PLAYS! That was
it! Ah, Bandit, what a brilliant example of the feline species you
are! All those funny sayings of Juliet, and Falstaff, I see now, must be
from a PLAY! And Shakespeare must be the fellow that wrote the
PLAYS. And Duchess Kitty was a PLAYER! Astonishin'!

"I'm an actress, Bandit, and I want to go home! You won't think the
less of me, will you?"

My lips are sealed, Duchess Kitty! We Kitties have to stick
together! And I casually walked over and brushed around her skirts,
and purred and hoped she would pick me up again, and kiss me.
And bless my ears and whiskers, she did!

Ah, this trip to England -- what a bloody delightful trip it was going
to be! Mind you, Duchess Kitty didn't appear to be a good sailor --
not like myself -- and I was quite annoyed with Mr. H. for making
her feel even worse by mentioning dinner -- bugger dinner, indeed,
Mr. H., and I do hope Duchess Kitty will learn how badly you
disgraced yourself, and in Spithead of all places! And no, I won't
join you for dinner either, I have a patient here and must do my
duty! So after Duchess K. rid herself of all her hairballs, I hopped
up into the hammock with her (you just never lose the knack of hopping
up into a hammock!) and settled down for the night.

Mr. H., I must say that lovely and soft as your frilly nightshirt is,
it just cannot compare with nice lady-like curves! And I was so comfy
I just dropped right off. I don't know how long I slept but I awoke
with quite a start. What a strange dream! No rats running. No
naughty kitties. Just squeaks and rustles and faint shouts. But wait!
What the devil! I could still hear 'em. Oh no! Something must be
wrong!

So I gave my dear sleeping Duchess.K. a quick nuzzle, and hopping
out of the hammock, wiggled the door open with my nose and
bounded up the companionway.

Oh dear! Look at all the damp and fog! Were we in England
already? But no! Ships! We were surrounded by ships! And men
speaking a foreign language! This is bad! Mr. H, what have you
done! We're all doomed! We'll be hung from the yardarm! We'll
have to walk the plank! And now, I must admit something that as
Petty Officer Bandit I am ashamed to admit! I panicked! An officer -
- even a petty officer -- shouldn't panic, but I did!

So I turned tail -- and ran! Hide, I had to hide! If I couldn't see
them, they couldn't see me. I dove into a pile of clothes that just
seemed to be left in a pile -- oh, those Frenchies, can't they keep
their laundry done up? -- and wiggled and wiggled until I was
completely covered. Ah, safe at last!

Well, I am quite happy to relate that my panic was but a moment's
madness. After lying in those smelly clothes for a bit, I decided I'd
rather take my chances with the enemy! So I wriggled and wriggled
my way out again only -- God damn it all to hell -- somehow I'd
been blinded -- I couldn't see! I panicked again -- wouldn't you?
Mr. H., Mr. H., where are you when I need you! I can't see! I can't
see! I blundered round and round until I finally felt a stair under my
paw and managed to stagger up on deck.

"Bloody hell, what's that!" Thank you, Mr. H., it's your Petty Officer
Bandit. Just because I can't see you doesn't mean you can't see me!

"It's Bandit, sir. 'E's got a bloody sock on 'is 'ead!"

Sock on my 'ead, Mathews?

Someone lifted me up and tugged very hard on my head, and then,
oh thank the Lord, I could see, I could see! Mr. H. looked at me
very strangely, and then looked at the very strange thing he held in
his hand.

"It's not a sock, Mathews, it's a toque." he stared at the toque,
which did look like a sock to me, and then stared at me. "What a
brilliant idea, Bandit!"

Well, of course it's a brilliant idea, Mr. H. What idea?

"Go below, find what French clothes you can, and pass them round
the crew!" Mr. H ordered decisively. That dear boy. He can be
decisive, he can, I must admit. I just won't mention that he somewhat
spoiled the effect by letting Duchess K. help him on with his French
jacket and even do it up for him. I say, even I managed to get my
toque on by myself. He looked very unhappy about the whole
situation and so he should!

In the end though, it was a poor ruse. Mr. H. even spoke French to
those bastards (Mr. H., I never knew! I am impressed! Now if only
you could speak cat, just a little, we would get on much better!) And
Mr. Hunter wanted to blast 'em with those teeny little guns. I do have
to wonder about Mr. Hunter. I am a brave cat, myself, but I am not
stupid, and even I could see it would take them about a minute to
sink us! As it was, the yardarm came crashing down, and poor
Duchess.K. was quite beside herself. I stayed valiantly by her side,
ready to risk my life for her, but I must say I was quite happy to see
Mr. H. toss his hat overboard (now that must have given him great
satisfaction, because it was the enemy's hat after all, and he needn't
worry about replacing it later out of his prize money -- and seeing as
how he wasn't going to be sailing Le Reve back to England and earn
any prize money, was just as well! )

"We must follow Mr.'Aitch below," Kitty whispered to me. I have to
admit, in contemplating this episode of my life in later years, I was
quite taken aback at how easily I had transferred my loyalties from
Mr. 'Aitch to Duchess K. Did that make me a bad cat? A fair-
weather feline? A -- gasp! -- traitor? Mind you, this unsettling
thought stayed with me no more than the time it took to realize that I
was no dog! and as a cat was expected to have loyalty to none! I
did just think to enter these contemplations here so you would not
think badly of me. Anyway, where was I...

Ah, yes! I don't know what Mr. 'Aitch was up to down there in the
cabin -- he was quite flustered and nervous. And when he saw me,
he was even more flustered. You'd think, after all this time at sea,
he'd be more in command of himself, but there you are!

"Bandit! I had quite forgotten about you! "

Well, thank you very much, Mr. H., and I'll be sure and do the same
for you! And I must say, he very promptly forgot about me again!
Seems like he was all in a dither about some silly dispatches!
Dispatches, of all things! Whyever Captain Pellew had entrusted
official naval dispatches to a boy who always got in trouble when he
left his ship I'll never understand. Of course, he may have felt
easier because I was along, but sorry there, Mr. H., even I cannot fight the
whole Spanish fleet by myself!

Right now, I was more concerned for my own skin! How many lives
did I have left? Bloody hell, I never could keep that straight! And
those Dagos -- how did they feel about cats? What was going to
happen to me? What was going to happen to Mr. H? Well, bless my
ears and whiskers, I'd guess he was headed for prison. What was
going to happen to Duchess K.? Transferred to a neutral ship, no
doubt. What to do, what to do! Lots of rats in prison -- but I was
bloody sick of rats. A neutral ship -- England, the Lamb, my
dockyard beauties -- I do believe I took all of one second to make
my decision.

Sorry, Mr. H., but I'm sure you'll understand. I purred and nuzzled
my way under Duchess K.'s skirts -- now was the time to take
advantage of all my experience in skulking; I'd just skulk under here
all the way home.

"Give them to me!"

"I canna do that! Where will you hide them?" I stuck my head out.
Still talking about those damn dispatches! You'd better do something
fast, Mr. 'Aitch, those Dagos are coming on board now.

"It's all Bandit's idea, Mr. 'Aitch!" She looked down at me. " I'll
hide them in my skirts! Who'd dare look there! " And she grabbed the
dispatches out of Mr. H.s hands and quick as a wink, had her skirt
up and the packet tucked in her stocking. In all fairness, Mr. H. spun
round very speedily, gentleman that he was, but oh you naughty boy
-- when he turned round again, he gave a good look up and down
and I knew the way his mind was working. Good thing you're off to
prison, young man, and Duchess K. is off to England. You are much
too young to handle as fine a woman as that!

I must say she was a fine woman indeed! I'd thought to skulk neath
her skirts (and wouldn't you have envied me that, Mr. H!) but she
picked me right up, bold as brass, and said some very pretty words
in Spanish to the Dago officer (Mr. H. looked sick at that -- jealous
no doubt that she'd not said such pretty words to him! Well, you've
just got to speak up for yourself, Mr. H. The ladies will never know
how you feel if you don't.)

****************************

Now, at this point in my story, I so would like to tell you that all
went as planned -- after a nice journey home, I was able to once more
take up my dockside life, but war is hell and the Duchess and I never
even reached Oporto. To be honest, the Dagos were a nice bunch of
fellows -- the ship was fair overrun with rats, and so cocky had they
become, they were easy prey for my swift pounces -- and I was
petted and cosseted much more than I had ever been on the Indy. I
slept every night with Duchess K. to add to my happiness. Life was
quite tolerable on board that Dago ship, or as tolerable as life
aboard ship without benefit of real duchess kitties could be, I suppose.

I have observed in all of my lives that the good things always come
to an end and our happy little cruise came to an end also.Duchess K.
and I were unceremoniously dumped in a little place in Spain, to
await -- well, the next ship to come along, I guess. I was ever
cheerful though, having given my parole not to escape, and looked
forward to meeting some Senorita kitties -- in fact, looking very
much forward to meeting some Senorita kitties! How could they
resist a great naval hero like myself! I would regale them with all my
adventures and they would simply fall at my feet! Oh, I could hardly
wait.

So, as soon as Duchess K. was settled in her room, I dashed out
and started sniffing round. The place looked rather dry and dusty,
and the air proved entirely empty of the type of smells I was hoping
for. Why, this might prove to be Oran all over again. I'd had enough
of diseased rats and bawling bullocks (even if one was slaughtered
for me). Bad enough to be pressed and end up on a British frigate,
but even the lowliest loblolly boy got to spend his shore leave in
more enticing locales than this! I would go on strike, I would. I
would simply stop catching those rats until I got a decent shore
leave, with decent smells, and decent kitties ........

Oh, my ears and whiskers! What was that in front of me? A vision
in brown fur! A dream with a divine long tail, and bright eyes! A
miracle with delicate paws and neat little ears! Oh bloody hell! I was
lost ! I was undone! All these miles across sea and land to come to
this ignominy! Oh, Juliet, how I understand now your pain, your
grief, your hopelessness! For there, in a dusty courtyard in an enemy
country stood the object of all my love and feline lust -- a cruel
jest of nature -- for the object of all my love and feline lust was -- I
bow my head in shame - a - a - oh dear, a -- RAT!

What can I say? Had all those months of celibacy so unhinged my
hormones that I was reduced to lusting after a -- RAT? I had
warned Juliet of the perverted mating habits of foreign rats. Was I
now an example of the perverted mating habits of frustrated cats?
Oh, she was lovely! The sun glinted off her lustrous coat, and I
imagined my tongue licking it -- oh dear -- what to do, what to do! If
only I had stayed with Mr. H., locked in a prison cell, where the rats
would be disgusting disease-ridden things, not this -- this vision of
loveliness! Oh, the shame -- the shame...

I couldn't help myself. Full of disgust and loathing for the miserable
specimen of felis catus I had become I -- well, I should have run
away but I didn't. I walked right up to her -- assuming of course that
she would run away and I would be saved -- but the minx, I think
she knew I was besotted, and that I would not harm one long long
whisker of her. She just sat there grooming herself, drawing her
eloquent paws through her elegant pelt, trying to perfect perfection.

"Hello," I said. My voice squeaked -- squeaked of all things! But
stupid mewling lovesick tom that I was, I kept on. "My -- my name
is Bandit. I think I'm in love with you!" Oh bloody hell! I can't
believe I said that!

That angel, that vision of loveliness, that riveting rodent paused in
her ablutions and opened her mouth and spoke: "Spare your breath to
cool your porridge."

Curses! Did all these rats quote from the works of Master
Shakespeare? But her dulcet tones and sweet Spanish accent
soothed my ears so gently, that she could have matched Falstaff
curse for curse and I would still be groveling at her feet.

"May I... " I purred. "May I inquire -- whom do I have the pleasure
of addressing? "

She stopped, and nailed me with her beautiful beady black eye.
"Dona Dulcinea," she said haughtily, turned her back on me, and fell
silent.

Dona Dulcinea. Oh, the dulcet tones of that name! Dona Dulcinea!
Dear delightful delicious dainty dandy dauntless dashing debonair
decorative decorous delectable desirable dignified Dona Dulcinea! I
am undone. I am your servant. I threw myself to the ground and
bared my tummy, my unprotected tender tummy. Do with me as you
will, Dona Dulcinea. "Do with me as you will, Dona Dulcinea," I
pleaded.

"He is mad as a March hare." Slyly she turned her head a little, so I
could enjoy fully the disdain on her pointy face.

"But I'm not a hare, I'm a cat ," I cried, and lay there, my eyes
closed, waiting, oh waiting! Surely Dona Dulcinea will reward my
devotion, surely ...

"Whatever are you doing, Bandit?" Bloody hell, that was Duchess
K.'s voice.

I scrambled to my feet and looked around. Dona Dulcinea had
disappeared.

"Catching some sun perhaps?"

Catching some sun. Yes, of course, Duchess K. That's it. I'm
catching some sun. On the old tummy, don't you know. That's it.
Yes. Hmm.

"Well, come along with me. I have a surprise for you." The only
surprise I could think of right now involved a certain rat, and --
well, I'd rather not discuss this right now, if you don't mind. I felt so
trembly and -- and hot, that I just blundered along behind her.

I may be a cat, but I am not stupid, even in the throes of the
greatest
passion of my life, and I very quickly noticed that Duchess K. was
escorted by two soldiers and we were headed towards the jail. Oh
dear. The dispatches have been discovered! Duchess K. has been
arrested as a spy! She was headed for the dungeon! And I -- I was
her accomplice! Fairwell, cruel world. Fairwell, soft beds. Fairwell,
tasty table scraps. I'll go bravely! I'll stand by your side, Duchess
K. I'll be with you to the end -- hanging from the yardarm, flogged
round the fleet -- oh, but we're not at sea now are we? Duchess K. -
- if they attempt to starve you to death you have my permission to --
to, well, eat me!

"Come, Bandit! Why are you skulking back there?" Well -- I'm only
a cat. What do cats know of the affairs of men, and actresses posing
as Duchesses, and hidden dispatches? What good would it do for
me to go to jail? I'm only a little cat, and if you have to eat me,
why, I would hardly prolong your life a day --

"Bandit!" She darted towards me and swooped me up in her arms.
To tell the truth, I've never met a woman who so liked to carry me
around. No hope for it now. Back to scenario one. Farewell, cruel
world. Farewell, Dona Dulcinea --

Dimly I heard the jail door crash open ; then not so dimly something
wafted across my poor wee sensitive nose. Eew, stinks in here! How
can I bear...

"Bandit!"

Mr. H! Well, bless my ears and whiskers! In a rather embarrassing
display of male bonding he gave me a big hug and kiss and never
complained once about getting cat hairs on his uniform, though by
now his uniform was in very bad shape indeed and a few cat hairs
might indeed be an improvement -- and I must say, he obviously
didn't have a razor neither because he very definitely had stubble
and gave me a whisker burn when he kissed me ( I hope that never
gets around among my cat friends -- if I ever have any! Though now
that I come to think on it, a whisker burn from a fellow Naval officer
pales in comparison to a cat falling head over tip of tail in love
with a rat!) I must admit, that finding Mr. H. made the thought of my
upcoming incarceration a little easier to bear but ...

"Come!" Duchess K. ordered. Come? The guards stood aside, and
she walked out bold as brass, with Mr. H. and myself at her side --
oh thank the Lord! Now I am very seldom wrong -- with my incisive
cat brain I size situations up quickly and take action. This time I
must admit -- I was wrong -- and bloody well glad of it.

We weren't about to be thrown in jail! We were going to promenade
on cliffs and have conversations! Well, Duchess K. had
conversations. Poor Mr. H. just seemed to trip all over his tongue. I
know you are somewhat comfortable with the men, Mr. H., most of
the time at least, but you have much to learn about women! I tagged
along at first, fearful that Mr. H. might find himself in the same sad
sorry state that I have endured since coming on board first Justinian
and then Indefatigable (where do they get these impossible tongue-
twisting names for these ships!) , ready to come to Duchess K.'s
defense if he could not control the tom in him but I very quickly saw
that Mr. H. himself was no match for the indomitable (another good
name for a ship if I ever heard one -- Admiralty, are you listening?)
Duchess K. So there, Mr. H, you are on your own, and I -- I am
free to pursue my heart's desire!

I admit that I found the days interminable. I lived only for a glimpse
of Dona Dulcinea . I hung around the courtyard shamelessly, playing
with pebbles, chasing my tail, chewing idly on blades of grass. And
Mr. H. did my cause no good, I can tell you that! I know you say I
had no cause -- I was a cat, Dona Dulcinea a rat -- we lived on
different sides of the courtyard.... Nevertheless, that infernal Mr.
H.!

There she was, lighting up the very patch of dusty ground she sat on!
I sidled up to her, my eyes downcast, my tail downcast, spare me a
glance, a flash of your pearly pointy teeth, anything, Dona
Dulcinea....

She stopped her everlasting grooming (you are perfection, Dona D.,
no need to groom!) and stared at me. Well, she hadn't run away.
Dare I dream...

"Dona Dulcinea, I know I am a cat and you a rat...."

"Plain as the nose on a man's face." An answer! Well, it's a start, I
suppose.

"Dona Dulcinea, how do you look upon my miserable self..."

"I find my familiarity with thee has bred contempt." Oh dear,
already?

"Dona Dulcinea, are you saying there is no chance...."

"Sure as a gun." A gun? Did rats have guns? Where would she hide
it? Was I in danger?

"Dona Dulcinea, my life is in your paws..."

"Thank you for nothing." This was not going well. Though she hadn't
yet pulled out her gun.

"Dona Dulcinea, I will die, I will surely die...."

"Let the worst come to the worst." The worst is, Dona Dulcinea, I
will die right here, and you will carry that on your conscience
forever...

"Bandit, Bandit!" Damn, Mr. H., what now! My beloved
disappeared without a sound. I might have made some progress,
surely I had heard a touch more tenderness in her lovely voice.
Quickly I changed my submissive posture for my dominant stance
and waited patiently.

"Come, you must come! I have something to show you!" Bless my
ears and whiskers, what could Mr. H. possibly have to show me, in
prison, of all places! Oh very well, you have chased away my lady
love ; I might as well see what foolery you have come up with.

So I followed him along, as he went into the prison, and up to his
cell door. Dutifully I sat down and waited. I've seen a cell door before,
Mr. H.

"Don Masserado has graciously allowed his carpenter to install a
catflap for you."

A catflap? To put matters impolitely, Mr. H, what the hell is a
catflap?

"Look..." He reached over and pushed at a small panel set into the
bottom of the cell door. It moved as he pushed it, and I must say he
looked very pleased with himself. " Did you know that Sir Isaac
Newton invented the catflap? You must feel very proud!"

Proud. You have a very strange sense of humor, Mr. H.

"Come on then, give it a try." He pushed the flap harder. I looked up
at him. Give it a try?

"Look, Bandit, you can go in and out of my cell, whenever you like."

And why would I want to go into your cell, Mr. H? Bet you don't
have a good answer for that , do you? My guess is that you don't
even have your frilly nightshirt with you.

"Oh, come on, Bandit. Don Masserado went to great trouble for you
-- the least you can do is give it a try..."

Oh, very well, Mr. H. Cautiously, I butted my head against the flap,
and as it rose up I skulked underneath. The thing worked well
enough, I suppose, and I soon found myself inside Horatio's cell. I
know -- it was all a ploy for Mr. H to escape, though he'd have to
lose quite a few pounds to squeeze through as I had...

"Bandit, is that you?" The whisper was so low that even with my
sharp feline sense of hearing, I almost missed it.

Who could it be? I shuffled a few feet farther into the cell and
listened.

"Over here, Bandit." The voice was coming from one of the cots in
the cell. My God, it was Archie! How, when, why -- oh dear,
Archie, here, of all places. He trailed a hand down over the side of
the cot, and I nuzzled it with my nose. "Did the Dagos capture you
too, Bandit?"

I hopped up onto the cot. Archie looked pretty miserable, I can tell
you that, kind of pasty looking, in fact. Archie was -- well, Archie
was sick -- and I knew that my days of idleness in captivity were
over! I saw my duty clearly -- to nurse Archie back to good health
so he could help Mr. H. think up an escape plan and we all could
leave. .

"Bandit, where are you?" A plaintive voice called from the other side
of the cell door. Too bad , Mr. H. Archie needs me more than you
do.

****************

There she was, bold as brass, sitting on a great pile of very
squashed fruit, and making a fine meal of it indeed. (Now you don't
think that duty notwithstanding, I would spend all my days in that
infernal cell, do you! Archie might be suffering, but I was suffering
more.) I casually sauntered over to that disgusting mess with the
beauteous pearl in its midst.

That epitome of rodent beauty took no notice of me, being so busy
stuffing little bits of peaches and pears and grapes into her mouth.
Her fur was quite a mess, I must say, covered with slimy fruit bits,
but even in such dishabille, she was devastating. I quivered with
indecision.

"Dona Dulcinea, miserable beast that I am, unworthy to touch your
tail..."

"Remember the old saying, 'Faint heart never won fair lady.'" Oh my
ears and whiskers, this does sound promising! I have never been
accused of having a faint heart, but my darling Dulcinea has had a
most alarming effect on my courage.

"Dona Dulcinea, do I have a chance, dare I hope...."

"The brave man carves out his fortune, and every man is the son of
his own works" Well said, Dona D., well said! Now you must be
patient until my little cat brain deduces the meaning of your wondrous
words -- carves out his fortune -- aha! I must grab the rat by the
tail, as it were -- heh, heh!

"Dona Dulcinea, I have been told by my feline peers that I have a
honeyed tongue..."

"Don't put too fine a point to your wit for fear it should get
blunted." She stopped eating and started delicately to clean the fruit pulp from
her fur. Hmm. I tried again.

"Dona Dulcinea, do you not see what a fine figure of a cat I am ...."

"In the night all cats are gray." Dona D., that was my line! Had I
been quoting Shakespeare unbeknownst to myself? I searched my
prodigious cat memory for some of Juliet's lines (well, I couldn't use
Falstaff's, could I?) when .....

"Bandit, Bandit!" God damn you to hell, Mr. H! My darling Dona
had disappeared the moment he uttered my name. I was most put
out, I can tell you, especially when he swooped me up and set me on
a little table. Then he tickled me under the chin -- oh damn and
blast, I am a sucker for a tickle under the chin, so I gave him the benefit
of my attention for a moment.

"Her Grace says that I must practice my quips and sallies -- oh, and
anecdotes, for when I'm an admiral and out in society."

I hardly think it likely *you* shall be an Admiral, Mr. H. Why here
you are stuck in prison, and likely to remain so, if you ask me. I
don't
think you'll get promoted to Lieutenant, much less Admiral, for that!

"We'll start on quips, shall we?" He paced up and down in front of
me, his hands behind his back. "Quips, quips -- oh dear, I can't think
of any quips -- I don't think "Fish for it" or "I said it and I mean
it" will do."

I do agree with you there, Mr. H. They'll think you escaped from
Bedlam if you go on like that.

"And sallies. What are sallies, anyway, Bandit? Are they like thrusts
or parries or .... damn!"

Well, Mr. H, I know Sally Martin from the Lamb but I don't think
you'll find the likes of her in the fine company of Admirals, unless
it be behind closed doors, if you get my meaning.

Mr. H. paced faster, and looked more and more miserable. Are we
finished yet? I do have poor Archie to attend to, you know.

"Anecdotes!" he blurted out. "Ah, anecdotes. I shall forget quips and
sallies, and excel at anecdotes. You must agree with me, Bandit, I
have many anecdotes to relate. Why, there was the time poor
Clayton lost his life in a duel I had instigated -- and the Caroline,
sinking because of the rice -- and my having to shoot Bunting -- and
being saved from failing my exam....." His voice kind of died away
then, as well it should have. Anecdotes indeed -- even a cat-brained
person like myself recognized a catastrophe when I heard it.

"Oh dear!" Mr. H. sighed. Oh dear indeed! Duchess K, you have
much work to do.

***********************

Every time I ventured forth into the courtyard, I took a moment or
two to see if the love of my miserable life had graced that dusty hot
piece of ground with her presence. I feared I would not see her, and
I feared the rejection I knew would come if I did see her. This day
the men huddled in groups, and Mr. Hunter huddled in the larger
group. I'd never forgiven Mr. Hunter for his cruel remark about
minced cat, and I must say, my first impression was fully borne out
on closer acquaintance with the bugger. He made a great show of
sneezing and sniffling whenever I visited poor Archie in his cell (I
had now become proficient enough in negotiating that damn catflap that
my tail was no longer nipped as it snapped shut.) And I do believe
he was eating Archie's food. I don't know why Mr. H. doesn't put
the man in his place.

But this day, I was more concerned for the love of my life. Surely
the men would see her, surely Hunter would see her -- and, oh dear,
perhaps catch her and eat her! She sat in the middle of the
courtyard, in the middle of a square drawn in the dirt, and decorated
with stones. Oh Dona D! I never knew! You are an artist!

What more could I do to abase myself, show her how much in her
power I was! How disgusted I was with myself . Trembling from
whiskers to tail, I approached my goddess of love, my garden of
earthly delight (making sure my catly body stood between her and
the men, protecting her from Hunter's evil eye). How dare she risk
her life (and my sanity!) this way! My fear for her safety gave me the
courage to attempt a little perhaps life-saving advice regarding her
visibility in the midst of that beautiful picture (full I am sure of
great rat meaning) in full view of the men huddling about in the courtyard.

"Dona Dulcinea, let me give you some advice..."

"I know what 's what, and have always taken care of the main
chance." That may well be, Dona D., but you are very easy to see
out here in the middle of the courtyard.

"Dona Dulcinea, a moment only, a moment of your time is all I
ask...."

"I have other fish to fry." She scuffled a little in the dirt. Your
picture (whatever it is about) is like yourself, Dona D., perfection, and
impossible to improve upon.

"Dona Dulcinea, I must tell you..."

"A close mouth catches no flies." I knew that; I wasn't here to catch
flies, though there did seem to be a lot about....

"Bandit, Bandit!" I was dreaming that voice in my sleep, I can tell
you! Mr. H., can you not find something to do yourself? Why
already you walk with Duchess K., which is more than the men can
say and you don't see them bothering me every hour of the day and
night! Dona D. of course had run off again, though in this case I
suppose it was best. Quickly I rolled around in the dirt, destroying
the evidence my dear Dona D. had so carelessly left behind.

What now, Mr. H?

"I don't know what to do, Bandit!" He ran his fingers through his
hair, which certainly did not improve his appearance, I can tell you!
Imprisonment had played hell with Mr. H's appearance; why, he's
had the same pair of dirty pants on forever!

"I'm the ranking officer here, " he went on, pacing worse than before,
and wringing his hands ."It's my duty to attempt to escape. That's
what prisoners do you know, try to escape. "

If you think so, Mr. H.

"But the truth is, Bandit," and he furtively looked around the
courtyard at the huddles of men, and lowered his voice. "I have
absolutely no bloody idea how to do it!"

Well, what do you expect me to say? I can slip between the bars
anytime I want. And to be honest, I feel much safer here, than on the
good old Indy where blokes shoot cannon at us all the time. Why,
you get to go on promenades with Duchess K. and I get to pine after
Dona D. Seems like a good setup to me.

"It's Hunter I'm worried about." His voice sank ever lower, and I had
to concentrate very hard to catch his words. "I just know he'll come
up with a plan before I do, and get all the credit when we do
escape!"

I tried to escape myself just then; Mr. H. was becoming very
tedious. He needed to go off somewhere by himself and yell "Fiyah"
a few times to shake himself out of this whiny mood.

"And Archie! Well, he just lies there. You'd think a fellow officer
who'd escaped five times would have some idea..."

Thank you, Mr. H. You have recalled me to my duty. Archie awaits.
And as ranking officer I do think you should take notice of how sick
your little pal really is!

************

Dona D. was becoming very bold indeed. Now she was up on the table
cleaning up the crumbs left by Mr. H. Well, damn and blast, the time
had come for me to become bold myself. I leapt up onto the table and
landed beside her. She skewered me with her beautiful beady eyes and
kept on nibbling.

"Dona Dulcinea, I am driven mad by passion, I cannot control
myself...."

"I am almost frighted out of my seven senses. " Truly, she did not
sound frighted. In fact she sounded quite bored. I tried again.

"Dona Dulcinea, I will die, I will surely die....'

"Let the worst come to the worst." Oh, for heaven's sake, stop that
infernal eating!

"Dulcinea, give me a kind word, I beg, even if you must lie....."

"Honesty is the best policy." Well, a lie won't bother me, so why
should it bother you.

"Dona Dulcinea, you are being unreasonable..."

"The pot calls the kettle black." I am being unreasonable! I -- well,
I -- oh damn and blast, I suppose I was being unreasonable. I
certainly considered poor Juliet to be unreasonable when she was
besotted with me!

"Bandit, Bandit!" Mr. H, your timing is impeccable -- do you hang
about waiting to spoil my love life, pathetic as it is? Quickly I
shouldered Dona D. (oh delicious -- the feel of her delicate body
against mine!) aside and casually batted around the few crumbs she had left.

Mr. H. might be spoiling my love life, but this time it was his own
he was concerned about.

"Bandit, I need your advice," he said, sitting down. Thank the Lord
Dona D. had effected her escape. "Do you -- do you think the Duchess
likes me?" He scratched me behind the ear.

Perhaps if you scratched *her* behind the ear...

"I know she asked specifically for me to accompany her on her
walks..."

Well, who else was there to ask, Mr. H. Archie's flat on his back,
and Hunter...

"I mean, does she expect me to -- well, do something?"

Do something?

"You know, Bandit. You're a -- well, a -- man, as it were..." Oh
dear, Mr. H., I do believe you are blushing! Ha!

You might try a good, sharp bite to the back of the neck, see how she
responds...

"And why do you not sleep with me anymore? I quite miss that, you
know."

Mr. H, really! I have a patient to look after, and a Duchess to
please, and you do not even have your frilly nightshirt to recommend
you. Pull yourself together, man! Besides, my heart is broken and I
have no energy left for your sniveling!

******************************

Ah, how quickly our situation changes. I looked back on those days
with envy. Mr. H's pouty problems and my obsession with another
species looked quite pathetic as I lay with Duchess K., listening to
her crying. Horrible horrible things had been happening -- and it all started
with Archie.

Mr. H. was mooning about, staring out at the rain, thinking of Her
Grace, no doubt. Well, that was all he seemed to do anymore, walk
with Duchess K., and pace up and down the courtyard, and -- chase
Dona D. away just as I thought she was looking on me with a more favorable
beady black eye, so he could come and whine to me. He was not quite
the proper Naval officer I had come to know.

I butted Archie's hand with my head, waiting for the faint petting
which was all he seemed able to do, but got no response. So I leaped
up on his chest, and put my cold nose up against his cheek. Nothing!
Oh dear, Archie, are you alive? Are you dead! Oh no, Archie , no, you can't
die! My reputation will be ruined! Surely somewhere you have a
sweetheart waiting...

Jumping down, I ran over to Mr. H. and clawed at his leg.

"Bandit, what the hell..."

Archie's dying, you fool! Can't you see?

Well, he was pretty quick to see what was happening to his friend, I
can say that much. "Why didn't you tell me!" he shouted.

Well, Mr. H., I thought you knew!

Things happened pretty quickly after that. Mr. H. managed to lug Mr.
Archie all the way to Don M.'s house, in the rain even, but he was
huffing and puffing and I was afraid he'd dump poor Archie in the mud
before he was done. Now, that Don M. was a real gentleman and didn't
hesitate to give Archie a nice comfy bed in a room with a roaring
great fire in it, and I though -- well, things were looking up for me
too!

I must say that after Mr. H. got off his duff and finally did
something for a change, he was a very devoted nurse -- why, he hardly
gave me a chance to help at all! I stuck around though, in case
someone wanted to pet me, and so I was there the next morning when Archie -- oh my ears and
whiskers! Oh damn and blast! Archie knew! Archie knew about my dear
Duchess K! I had no choice! I hopped up on the bed and lay on
Archie's face.

"Bandit!" Oh my! Mr. H. used his very best "Fiyah" voice on me and
catching me by the scruff of the neck, flung me on the floor and
kicked me out the door! Me! Petty Officer Bandit! And he could do it,
too, the bugger, because he was an Acting Lieutenant, and outranked me.

Mr. H. looked positively grim the rest of the day, and only said one
word to me "You knew!" Well, two words. And what if I did know? I'm a
very small animal. I need advantages to get ahead in the world. If
pretty ladies wish to confide in me, then who am I to close my ears, or
worse yet, betray those confidences. He tried to kick me again, the
bugger, but I was expecting it, and hopped nimbly out of the way.

It was my day to be kicked at it seems: later I was crossing the
courtyard, minding my own business, I can assure you, when I *did*
get kicked too, much harder than any such attentions I had received
from Mr. H. (and I realized that even in the heat of his temper, Mr. H. was a
very gentle kicker) The owner of that very hard boot was a foreign
chap; dressed in some kind of foreign uniform, and he said a few very
unkind words to me ( in a foreign language, but I just knew they were unkind --
cats can tell that kind of thing.) The hair on the back of my neck
rose up -- I had a very bad feeling about this! So I skulked along
behind him (hoping I'd not lost my talent for skulking) and followed him into Don M.'s
house.

Things got very complicated after that. There was a dinner, with Mr.
H. looking very cranky, and Duchess K. looking -- well, worried and I
didn't like the looks of that foreign chap at all. Then they all
ended up in Duchess K.'s room -- and Mr. H. had to leave -- and -- oh, Duchess K,
what is that foreign chap doing -- I have to rescue you and the hard
boots be damned!

But wait! What? Duchess K. kept tipping her head so I looked and --
oh dear, there were the dispatches, somehow fallen on the floor! I
had to do something -- I knew the foreign chap mustn't find them, and
Duchess K. was distracting him, so I -- well, I just went and lay on
top of them. I lay on top of them and closed my eyes, because I
didn't want to think about Duchess K. and the foreign chap, and I
kept them closed and never moved, even when the foreign chap kicked me on the way out.
Then I heard -- oh dear! The Duchess was crying!

"I -- I'm all right, Bandit," she said, as I snuggled up to her, and
licked the tears on her cheek. Well, she wasn't, and I didn't know
what else to do, so I just stayed there.

"You were a brave cat, " she said later, "A very brave cat, and the
dispatches are safe. I just hope Mr. 'Aitch understands..." And you,
my dear Duchess Kitty, were a very brave lady, and if Mr. H. doesn't
understand, I have very sharp claws and teeth that will make him
understand.

*******************

The next morning I almost had to use 'em too, but then he gave a big
smile, and Duchess K. looked much happier, so I think all was well
between them. I never saw the foreign chap again, and just as well,
as I would have clawed his eyes out, I would have.

Then I went and did a very stupid thing. I'd thought myself quite
over my ridiculous infatuation with Dona D. after all the horrible
things that had happened -- just imagine a cat falling in love with a
rat! I hope that never gets around the dockyard back home! But then I caught a glimpse of
that sinuous tail whipping round the edge of Don M's house and I
sidled up to the corner, peeked round and saw Dona D. scampering
across the meadow. What could I do! I followed. I mean, when rats run, cats
chase, don't they? Perhaps, if we could be out in the country, away
from humans, we might talk without Mr. H. coming along and spoiling
everything. She led me a merry chase, I can tell you, and just when I
thought I was catching up, she disappeared inside a most peculiar
building. It was round at the bottom and pointy at the top, and had
four big sails that whirled around. Most peculiar indeed! The hole Dona D had
squeezed through was much too small for me, and I didn't like the
looks of that place nor the sounds -- clanking and banging -- so I
very quickly came to my senses and started back.

When I returned -- oh dear, I found that Duchess K. had left! Left
without me! Gone on back to England no doubt and left me behind! Now
I was stuck with Mr. H -- but Archie was up and about and Mr. H.
seemed much happier (not having to worry whether he should 'do
something' on his walks, no doubt.) They kept quite busy reading in
books, and I got quite a shock, I can tell you! I was walking by them
when I heard Archie say, "That means 'In the night all cats are gray'" Wait,
I'd heard that before. Dona D. They must be reading from Mr.
Shakespeare -- going to put on a play perhaps...

"There, Bandit," Mr. H. said, "You're in Cervantes' book. " I must
have looked quite puzzled for he went on, "I know you're brown, but
at night -- well, all cats are gray!" He laughed though I didn't
quite get the joke. (If you are going to be out in society as Admiral -- quips, sallies,
anecdotes be damned! It's your jokes that have to improve. Duchess K.
would be ashamed of you!) Cervantes? Who the hell was Cervantes? Had
Dona D. mislead me all the time -- letting me think she was quoting
Shakespeare? I felt quite put out, I can tell you!

"Have you jousted at any windmills lately, like Don Quixote?" Archie
said, and I thought back to that funny building with those funny
sails spinning -- oh, in the wind! Was that a windmill? And who was
Don Quixote? At least Mr. H. hadn't mentioned Dona Dulcinea! So I went on, and
left them about their business.

As it turned out, Mr. H. might better have been reading the men,
rather than that damned book. Because Mr. Hunter -- I might have
known! -- had an escape all planned, but no better than you would
have expected from such a sawdust for brains bastard at that. Of course it came to
nothing -- Mr. Hunter and one of the other men ended up being shot
and Mr. H ...

Oh, Mr. H! I complained about your whining! I blamed you for letting
Archie get as sick as he did! I thought you had lost what small
leadership ability you seemed to have. But now I witnessed such a
fine example of bravery that I was left quite speechless! To stand in front of Don
M., using your own body as a shield! To take the blame for the whole
stupid escape attempt! (Now that took real courage -- I know I would
never have admitted to being the brains behind such a very stupid indeed
escape! And if you'd been paying more attention to Hunter, and less
attention to cat flaps and anecdotes, you'd have either come up with
a better plan yourself, or stifled Hunter! So maybe you just should take the
blame, don't you think? )

Now, I don't blame Don M. for punishing you. You're a prisoner, after
all, Mr. H., and prisoners don't go round injuring and killing guards
without expecting some kind of reaction. (I know, I know, you didn't
do it yourself. But you set yourself up as a saint of sorts, and saints
become martyrs, don't they?) But the hole? Oh dear, that did not
sound good! Why, look what it did to Archie -- and Archie's shorter
than you -- you would be bent in two for sure!

*************

I sat miserably in the courtyard, staring down at the grating
covering the Hole. The rain pelted down, and I felt very water-logged
indeed. I'd tried and tried to reach my paw through the iron grate,
but I only succeeded in getting stuck , and freeing myself only after great
trials and tribulations, which left my front leg very scraped and
sore indeed.

"Bandit?"

I'm right here, Mr. H.

"I'm cold, and wet, and very stiff in here, Bandit. If only you were
with me ..."

If you'd thought to have a cat flap made in the grating, there'd be
no problem.

"Could you try again...."

I licked the sore patch on my leg, and mewed miserably. My Mr. H.
needed my superior sickberth experience and I was failing him! (But
you would be proud of me, Mr. H. I have set aside any enmity I felt
towards Mr. Hunter, and am attending him as a good impartial medical cat
should. You will be quite happy to learn that he is completely
miserable, and refuses to improve his condition by stroking me as I
lie beside him. He's still a sour bastard, and I must say I think I preferred him ill-
tempered, rather than blubbering, the way he is now.) Anyway -- where
was I ? Oh, yes -- how was I to aid Mr. H. in his hour of need.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a small movement under the
little table. Hold on, Mr. H, I must check this out. I knew who it
was of course -- Dona D. I'd rather gotten over my infatuation, after
learning that she was no Shakespearean rat after all, and now her glossy fur and svelte
tail had no effect on me whatsoever (well, nearly whatsoever. I mean,
I can still admire beauty, can't I , even if she's just a rat.) Wait
a moment -- glossy fur -- soft fur no doubt -- warm soft fur no doubt -- aha! At
that moment I was struck with the most original and excellent thought
my little cat brain had ever entertained. Now I had only to convince
Dona D ...

I sidled up to her, but not too close (though it would have been
pleasant to join her under the table and out of this infernal rain.)

"Dona Dulcinea, a moment only, a moment of your time is all I ask...."

"I have other fish to fry. " Aha! Not only are you not a
Shakespearean rat, but you are staring to repeat yourself! I had the
greatest urge to inform her that I knew all about her, and the
windmill, and that Don Quixote -- quite scandalous, I must say! -- but I bit my tongue -- ouch! and
wondered how I might persuade her to help. Aha! (Ah, quite a night
for aha's, I must say!)

"Dona Dulcinea, if you would but do me one favor, I'll never bother
you again. "

That caught her attention, I can tell you!

"Can we ever have too much of a good thing?" Now, did that mean yea
or nay? Dona D. may not have spouted Shakespeare, but she baffled me
all the same. So I assumed it meant yea and continued.

"Now, my dear Mr. H. is stuck down that dreadful hole, with no
comforts whatsoever. If you would do me the very small service of
visiting my dear Mr. H. -- letting him pet you, and such -- calming
him down, as it were, for I fear he's quite losing it down there -- just for a few
minutes -- why, I would be forever in your debt, and I promise never,
ever, to speak to you again!"

Her whiskers quivered, and her beady eyes blinked. I could see she
was thinking very hard -- if rats thought very hard, which I had my
doubts about, judging from rats I have known. But finally she gave
her head a little shake, stuck her nose hesitantly out into the rain, and
scampered across the courtyard to the hole.

Praise the Lord! I knew this idea was excellent. I watched until
she'd disappeared down the grating (I didn't want her to get stuck,
like my paw did.) Now, having looked after Mr. H., I took a few
minutes to check on my other patient, Mr. Hunter. He was still wailing, "Let me die!"
and I almost did, and I'm sure Archie wanted to, having to listen to
that infernal racket all night. So I only stayed long enough to show
that I knew where my duty lay, and then I escaped. (And I dearly thank Mr. Newton
for his fine invention of the catflap!)

But what is this -- this snarling spitting figure of a drowned rat!
Why, it was Dona D., I do declare! But a more miserable specimen of
ratdom I'd never seen (except for Juliet of course).

"Why, Dona Dulcinea, what --"

Now, I am a British cat, and being a British cat, I speak British,
and nothing else. During my pleasant stay here with Don M., I'd
thought perhaps I should learn Spanish, the better to eavesdrop on
the idle chatter of the guards, and perhaps help Mr. H. with his nonexistent escape plan.
I'm not saying that learning a foreign language is beyond my little
cat brain, but -- well, I just hadn't gotten around to it. All Dona
D.'s fault of course. Had she not spoken her beautiful accented English, I might
have been forced to learn her language. I must say, though, that I
was now quite happy to be completely ignorant of the Spanish tongue.

For Donna D. let forth with such a tirade that even though I
understood not a word, my ears shriveled to hear it! Being an
acclaimed denizen of the dockyard, I can assure you I have heard
every foul word in the English language (and those I missed, old Falstaff cheerfully
supplied.) But bless my ears (shriveled) and whiskers (curled) I
blushed to even guess at some of the choice phrases she screeched at
me, out there in the rain! Whatever could have happened? I had no idea! Oh dear!

************

Mr. H. really must learn to be more original. The only words he could
bring forth after collapsing disgracefully on the floor was "Oh
dear." Those are my words, Mr. H. Next time I'll thank you to come up
with your
own.

Mr. H. recovered quite quickly from his time in the hole (in no small
thanks, I modestly assert, to my devoted nursing.) I think he was
almost happy to have served his punishment, just so I would sleep
with him again. I have no idea what might have happened between him and Dona D. He
kept muttering in his sleep about filthy rodents -- now, she might
have been rather damp by the time she joined him in the hole, but
filthy -- never! I would think that a person wouldn't be so picky, in those
circumstances.

Mr. Hunter also made steady progress, and started limping about the
courtyard, sniveling all the while. Mr. H., missing the Duchess no
doubt, took to walking along the shore, and Myself, missing the
Duchess also, and now completely cured of my rodent infatuation, walked along with
him. Obviously, he'd been thinking a lot more about escape now than
he'd done before (I can only think that I was not nearly as
distracting as Duchess K.), for he came up with the most marvelous plan to whisk us
all away.

I'm not sure how he arranged for a ship to wreck itself on those
rocks, and I'd much rather the weather had been better, and that he
hadn't put the Duchess in such danger, by having her on the ship, but
we did manage to pick her up on the way by (along with a few others, and
somehow in the excitement, Mr. Hunter slipped away -- perhaps he had
plans to settle in Spain.) We all ended up cold and shivering in Mr.
H's little boat, and I must say, the three of us made a very nice little family
all snug together as Mr. H steered. Duchess K. looked quite
comfortable cuddled up to Mr. H. and it's rather a good thing I was
there to make sure
Mr. H. behaved!

The Indy turned up right on time -- oh, well executed, Mr. H! The
crew were overjoyed to see us, though Captain Pellew looked very
strangely at Duchess K. and myself, so we both fainted and got
carried down to a nice warm cabin.

***********************************

Now for the best part! After we'd fluffed up our hair a bit, Duchess
K. and I went along to the Captain's cabin, to find Mr. H. already
there.

"I have something for you, " Duchess K. said, and pulled out the
dispatches. Oh, those damned dispatches! She must have been very
happy to get rid of them. "And Captain Pellew, were it not for
Bandit, the Dons would have them in their hands this very moment!"

"How so, your Grace?" (Ha, it seems Mr. H. and I are privy to
information which the Captain does not know! )

"The dispatches were left in the open during the visit of a French
officer ," (oh, that blackguard foreign chap -- if I'd not been so
busy doing my duty in regards to the dispatches, I would have given
him a good nip, I can tell you!) "and Bandit, entirely on his own initiative, contrived
to lie on them and hide them until the danger was past.'

"Mr. Bandit, I am most impressed! " He turned to Mr. H. "What is Mr.
Bandit's rating, Mr. H?"

"Petty Officer, sir."

"Ah, petty officer. I do believe a small promotion is in order. I
now rate you Midshipman, Mr. Bandit."

Oh my! Bless my ears and whiskers! Midshipman Bandit! I scratched my
head with my paw, and almost -- almost rubbed against his leg, but he
gave me one of his very stern glowering looks, and I recollected
myself just in time.

I might have known, though, that Mr. H. would steal my thunder! Here,
he'd blundered his exam, and he got to be Lieutenant anyway! And
Captain Pellew, I think it highly unfair of you to arrange that shaft
of sunlight to shine on Mr. H., and not do the same for me! After all, I stayed
on the Indy and Mr. H. for some strange reason decided to return to
Spain!

***************

Go on, Mr. H! You know you want to kiss her! I kept nudging him as he
stood there on deck, saying his good-byes to the Duchess. Now the boy
is brave, I have to admit that, but I guess when it comes to women, I
have a few lessons to teach him. He did give her a nice smile, as he
went over the side, and he doesn't give away too many of those, I can
tell you!

I guess Mr. H. going back to Spain was a good thing -- for he managed
to convince everyone to go back with him, though Archie didn't look
too happy about it. Captain Pellew fired the cannons, which worried
me a lot, because the cannons were very big and Mr. H.'s little boat was
very little, but Duchess K. assured me that it was a 'mark
of 'respect', which I didn't quite understand, but there you go.

So, now I'm sure you are all holding your breath! Did I stay with the
dear lad, share his noble gesture, return to a Spanish prison cell
complete with cat flap? Not bloody likely! I must admit though, when
Duchess K. informed me that Mr. H. was a hero for honoring his parole, I had a
very momentary twinge of conscious that I hadn't gone with him. Very
momentary, I might add. Captain Pellew loaned Duchess K. one of his
frilly
nightshirts (and a very nice robe too!) and I wouldn't have missed
out on sharing a cot with my very own Duchess all the way to England
just to be a hero in a smelly prison cell. (I had been a hero several
times over in my eventful time of service in His Majesty's Navy and could afford
to pass on this opportunity.)

*************

That Spanish sun must have been so strong that it fried my brains.
How else could I explain my demented worship of a rodent? And how
else explain my answer to my dear Duchess K. when she made me the most
astonishing offer.

"My rooms are small, and I travel frequently, but because you,
Bandit, are such an excellent cat, I will gladly share my straitened
circumstances with you. " She paused. "If that's what you want."

Oh my! To feel solid ground beneath my paws again! To spend the night
happily chasing those fine British queens, whose equal I had yet to
meet (oh all right -- I admit, in my travels I've met no other
kitties of the female persuasion to compare them too -- but I know if I had...) To
snuggle up to Duchess K. whenever I had the urge! To learn
Shakespeare! (perhaps I could be the cat in the adage!) How could I
even entertain the idea of turning down such a magnanimous offer!

Damn it all to hell, that's just what I did! I was a Midshipman now.
Never would they put 'R' beside my name in the ship's muster! England
expects every cat to do his duty -- and I intended to do mine!
Farewell, dear Kitty! Say hello to Master Shakespeare for me, and let him know that
he is very popular amongst the rats of the Indefatigable.

So here I lie on Mr. Hornblower's cot, keeping it warm for his
return. And I must apologize, Mr. H. I never meant to do it. But
finding that frilly nightshirt lying on your sea chest just excited
me so much I admit to letting my passions overcome me. It just has a few little tears in
it -- I'm sure you'll be so happy to be back that you won't notice!


Author's note: Every word Dona D. utters is from 'Don Quixote' which
seems to be as full of cliches as 'Hamlet'.


Bev F.