PURR-spectives "A Boy and his Cat"
by Bev F.
I know I should never have left the Lamb! Join the Navy and see the world
indeed! Why, here at the Lamb I had a nice big fireplace to curl up by when the fog and damp got into my bones. And those Naval types -- pushovers they were for a nice soft bit of fur rubbing around their legs; they fell all over themselves giving away choice tidbits of mutton and beef. And the cook! Well, I did such a superior job of keeping his kitchen free of those disgusting rats and mice, that he was not above giving me the odd dish of honest-to-goodness milk. Later, when I went looking for a comfy bed to lay my beautiful striped body, the tavern wenches were only too happy to accommodate me (when they weren't accommodating some of those Naval types instead!) And at night - I can assure you that a fine specimen of the feline species like myself had my pick of those scrappy dockyard queens!
Only one thing spoiled my life here at the Lamb. Old Falstaff . Even for a rat, he was a scruffy one, he was, with one ear half off , and raggedy patches of fur missing. He had a big scar running right down his face, through one eye, to his snout; looked like he was winking at me all the time. Now, I'm not one to run from a good scrap with a rat, but to tell the truth, the wee mice are more to my liking - easier to play with before I administer the coup de grace, if you know what I mean. Them rats - you want to dispatch them right away, because a big healthy rat in all its fury can get a few good licks in at you on the way. Dreadful diseased things some of them are too.
But old Falstaff, he had a twisted kind of humor about him. Liked to bait me, he did, and lead me some merry rambles through the dockyards. Then he'd scoot in some hidey hole and hiss and laugh at me -- in front of some of my lady friends too, more's the shame! Or he'd leave his henchmen in ambush, and I'll tell you, a dozen spitting rats would turn even a master hunter like myself running (though never with tail between my legs !)
So wouldn't you know it -- it was old Falstaff what changed my life forever, and made me give up all that comfort at the Lamb. I remember the day well -- it was kind of an unsettled day, with strange happenings (or stranger happenings -- let me tell you I've seen some strange happenings in the Lamb!) I could smell the blood in the common room as soon as I staggered in from a particularly strenuous night with my lady friends (never doubt that if I'd known my life at sea would have turned out celibate, my dears, you'd not be hearing this tale now!)
I knew who 'twas soon as I laid eyes on him -- that blackguard Jack Simpson -- it 'twere his blood I'd smelled and I wished every last drop of it would run out. No tidbits ever from that bugger -- only a good swift kick with the toe of his boot -- and lucky I was to escape with only that -- the last cat in residence at the Lamb was set on fire by him, or so I heard tell.
Time to go to ground in Betty's room so I started up the stairs. And bless everyone of my nine lives, if I wasn't near flung right to the bottom -- by another one of those Naval types rushing down with no thought to a poor creature like me. He near did me in with those blasted big boots of his and I turned and gave him a good hiss as he pounded down to the bottom. Unfamiliar, he looked, not one of the Lamb's regulars. Well, I knew I'd be remembering that laddie's face -- he was going to pay for his bad manners.
Now, I am a young cat yet, but no cat ever spent more time awake than sleeping, if he could help it. Just imagine my deuced bad temper when I found, going into Betty's room, a blasted body lying in that bed, and a dead body at that! Now I ain't too particular about my bedmates, but I draw the line at a dead body! This day grew worse as the sun rose higher in the sky!
Damn and blast, I could see the Lamb held no comfort for me on this day. So down the stairs I ran and out the door I went , to be fair run over by all the folks rushing round and fair deafened by all the shouting and bell-ringing going on.
A furry face poked out from behind a wagon wheel. "Thou paunchy tickle-brained coxcomb", he hissed, "Where be 'e goin' this time o'day! " Where the Devil Falstaff came up with his taunts, I'll never know, though I'd not be surprised to find they came from the Devil himself ; I only knew he had a snoutful of them. And this black day I had no need of a one of them.
I hissed back, fluffed up my elegant coat alarmingly and showed my fearful teeth but old Falstaff was in prime form on this dismal morning. "Thou art essentially a natural coward without instinct, " he said, and dashed near under my nose and down the street.
Well, what could I do? Shamble away to find a quiet bed for the day? Or give righteous chase! And give righteous chase I did. Skidding on icy patches (for it was a nasty cold snowy day), dodging boots (and more than one angry kick, as I tangled up in more than one pair of feet), but always keeping one eye on that mangy rat, I bounded over the cobblestones until finally I skidded to a stop, my sides heaving, and Falstaff nowhere in sight.
"Thou leathern-jerkin, crystal-button, knot-pated, agatering, puke-stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish pouch! " The jeer issured forth from round the next corner, and off I raced again. Ah yes, there a bit of tail -- enjoy your freedom, Falstaff, for today you breathe your last!
I ceased to have any knowledge of my whereabouts. My whole world lay just there ahead of me -- that bastard Falstaff. By God, he was a slippery devil. In and out 'midst horses hooves and cartwheels -- but I was a match for him, I was -- I'd not survived the dockyard all this time without learning a few tricks myself.
There! He was but a pawslength or two in front of me! One final effort, one final burst of speed and old Falstaff would breathe no more! On I went, my lungs bursting, and -- blast it all, over I went! Right by the dockside he was, and I, so intent on watching him, had forgot to watch where he was going! And over the dockside he went, and I right behind. They say your life passes in front of ye when death nears, and I'd lost one or two of my lives already and I can tell ye - not true! All I could think of as I flailed wildly to catch my footing in mid-air was -- the bugger, he's got me in the drink!
"Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!" Old Falstaff's words floated up at me, and then, in the next instant, ooof! I hit something hard -- on my feet of course, being a cat -- and being confused -- Falstaff having the right of it this one time at least, that I'd landed myself in -- well, in a boat, I supposed -- that being the only other thing that might be alongside the dock, 'cept water.
"I've got you now, you bleedin' rat," I howled, and scuttled off over the thwarts towards where I knew Falstaff must be cowering, and coming to terms with the fact that he'd finally made a mortal error.
Suddenly, the whole boat started moving about most alarmingly. A storm, here in Porstmouth harbor? But no! Worse! The whole friggin' British Navy was getting in my little boat! Boots and buckled shoes tramped loudly over the same thwarts I had so recently traveled so nimbly. Wildly I looked around! No hope for it -- I was trapped. In a pinch, I could have jumped, had the boat been empty but no -- the side was solidly lined with the dregs of sailordom, and God help me, here came that no-good officer from the Lamb -- I'd caught a look at him as he'd flown down the stairs, his cloak swirling round him like he was some kind of bat out of hell. And he had the nerve, he did, to set himself down right in front of my hidey hole. Pressed I was, pressed!
O misery! Already my little kitty tummy was starting to churn. Serve Mr. Boots right if I spewed up one great glorious hairball and sundry mouse parts over that nice shiny leather. For I blamed him as much as Falstaff for helping put me in such a vile mood that I let pique get the better of my usual good judgment, and chase that miserable rat into this purgatory! But I daren't let my animal nature overcome my sense of caution here -- for I entertained a very vivid picture of my beautiful striped body flying through the air and landing splat in the midst of Spithead, were I discovered.
"Thou villainous folly-fallen foot-licker!" drifted faintly from under a thwart a few feet away and I at least had the satisfaction to know that Falstaff was in the same boat - so to speak! - as I was.
Where the hell were we bound? The trip was interminable. My tummy heaved. I had an itch behind my ear I daren't scratch. I was missing my daily nap. I was going to end up in France, I just knew it. Well, I couldn't help it could I! I just had to nod off, and was just pleasantly entered on an amorous adventure with a particularly succulent French kitty when thump! - we've struck a rock, we're foundering -- every cat for himself! But no -- Mr. Boots was calmly standing up, and disembarking up -- way up -- why, this must be a ship -- those funny big floaty things I could see from Portsmouth dockside. More Mr. Boots followed.
"Better get off now!" Falstaff whispered , and nimbly started scrambling along the bottom of the boat.
"But I want to go home." I said, disgusted by the whiny tone of my voice.
"Boat ain't goin' 'ome," was his reply as he scrabbled up after the boots.
I hated Falstaff (and never more than right now) but I knew him for a smart bugger, and if Falstaff said the boat weren't going home, than it weren't.
"Blast!" I said and followed him up those funny steps, thankful I was a cat with claws.
Oh, purgatory indeed! No doubt that poor bastard lying dead in Betty's bed was less surprised to find himself thus then I did to be here. I should now be snuggled up in that very same bed, still warm from Betty's very generous body, not crouching here behind this great big gun, hoping, God forbid, that Falstaff would not leave me so! An old tom with tattered ears and tail that had hung 'round the dockyard for a few months had told me tales of his years at sea. Not so bad, he'd said -- lots of rats, and if ye got in good with the cook, ye might get some'at extry -- but times could be tough, and he'd had an ear tore off by a splinter during the heat of battle. Nothing he'd told me had encouraged me to take up the position of ship's cat but here I be nonetheless, and reduced to hoping for a glimpse of my vilest enemy, who, to my very intense disgust, now seemed to be my only friend in the world.
What an infernal racket! Bells ringing, men shouting, feet slapping against the deck. I cringed behind that great gun -- what do I do now? Falstaff, you misbegotten rascal! I curse you and your progeny for all eternity! So I slouched there, and felt sorry for myself and tried to nurse my hatred. But blast it all -- I'm a cat! And we cats are cursed with that curiosity that tends to use up lives. Where had Falstaff got to anyway?
I stuck my nose out and smelled the air. No other cats on board, or none that I could sniff out from here. I'd need every wit I possessed to survive -- at least till I could catch passage on a shore boat -- best I not be tramping on another tom's territory. And best I get myself down below, out of sight.
There -- Mr. Boots again. Looked like he was headed down below too. Well, I had my choice -- scoot cross the deck or skulk round the railing, squeezing past the guns. Oh hell, make the sprint there, you fine feline, and be done with it. I gathered my paws beneath me, brought all my thoughts to bear on that spot, and hurtled myself forward.
Ooof! Those bare feet and trousered legs came out of nowhere, and brought me up short.
"Whoa, there, kitty, where are ye goin' now?" I looked up, way up, past a striped shirt and into the face of a sailor. Oh damn and blast, what now!
"Don't be afraid; I won't hurt ye,kitty, but ye'd best be down below, a catchin' them rats."
Well, my jolly tar, where do you think I was heading, before you planted your bloody big feet in my way. And I nipped round him, and bounced down the stairs. He'd seemed a nice enough chap, but a sailor -- I knew now what I had to do. A sailor is all very well, but a sailor could not help me. Betty and Cook at the Lamb were kind, in their way, but I knew 'twas only by the leave of Mr. Murphy, proprietor, that I was allowed my little indulgences -- the warm fire, the bits of mutton, the abject begging from the patrons. And I'd been spoiled, I had, living at the Lamb. The rough and tumble of the Dockyard provided certain -- necessities -- but I'd grown soft, not used to scrapping for a living. So I needed Mr. Boots and his ilk, for it was easy to see the boots meant power, and bare feet did not.
Well, there I was, at the bottom of the stairs and no further ahead. Mr. Boots had disappeared, he had, and I was in a strange place, with strange noises and even stranger smells. The Lamb full of dead-drunk sailors never smelt so bad as this. A delicate nose can give a feller a whole new way to see the world, but I feared the stinks down here would do me in for good. And it got worse. Not knowing which way Mr. Boots went, well, I had to go exploring, for a good cat learns the lay of his territory and this ship looked to be my territory for the time being at least.
"Thou art a fool, a coward, one all of luxury, an ass, a madman." echoed faintly in the distance. Not again, you foul rat. I'll not waste my strength chasing you more this dark day. But I set it firmly in my mind that once my most immediate needs were looked too (like a decent meal, and a soft bed) then he'd best look out for his own skin.
Oh, I then passed through some dank, dismal, dark places -- Lamb, Lamb where are you? I weeped to myself. Course, now, as a sea-going cat of long experience I know and love all those places (always excepting the bilges of course) but then -- oh, soft landlubber that I was, nothing was to my liking. I found animals penned, bawling and mewling, their wonderful smells compounded threefold for being confined. I found bodies in hammocks, sick and puking. I found what passed for a kitchen and got a swift kick from the bastard tending the kettles. I found men sporting with women and I thought these ship things were made for war! I found great mounds of ropes, and wood, and cloth. And I found rats. Not old Falstaff. He was too smart to be taken that easy. I pounced on one old feller, due to die anyday, I'm sure, and made a miserable meal of him. But I still hadn't found Mr. Boots.
A ship seems huge to a small creature like myself, but even I eventually saw everything there was to see (and a lot I'd never no wish to see again). And bugger me, but wasn't that the very bloody staircase I'd come down! Gone in a full circle for sure, I had. And now what? I sat for a moment (very elegantly I might add and taking the opportunity to see to some grooming) at the foot of the stairs and considered my options. I'd come down and turned this way. The way my luck was running I knew I should have turned that way. So I did.
And so I should have. This room looked to have a real table and real chairs -- just like the Lamb. And, by God! there was Mr. Boots. Course, his boots didn't look no different from anyone else's, but I'd ne'er forget that face. Knock me down the stairs, will you? You will pay now, sir!
'Pon my sweet tummy, he had a plate of food. Mutton, smelled like. Real mutton, not old tough rat. I fair drooled in anticipation. But how to get to it?
Suddenly there was a great rush and clatter (seems like everything board ship is done with a great rush and clatter.) More Mr. Boots crowded in, talking and laughing. I saw my Mr. Boots look up at them, not too happy, neither, he looked, serve him right, I thought. Now - now I had my chance! I hopped up on the table and with typical feline rapidity and stealth, grabbed a chunk of that fine fine mutton and --
Well, I almost fled. But the bugger had eyes in the back of his head, he did, and one big hand descended unmercifully over me and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. O indignity! O embarrassment! Me, great tom that I am, hanging there like some pitiful kitten.
"Well, what fine bandit do we have here?" Mr. Boots said. "Helping yourself to my vittles, are you?"
What could I say? I did help myself to his vittles. And since I'd done so without permission I was indeed a bandit. Decision time, old tom, I told myself. Scratch and bite, and make him drop me, and escape. And be doomed to the life of a fugitive? Or call upon all of my feline wiles, and make them love me, even if I would never love them, and perhaps get to finish my mutton! Well, I may be a cat but I am not stupid!
So I hung limply, and whimpered a little, and looked sad, and Mr. Boots finally put me on the floor.
"Looks like the cat from the Lamb," a blonde Mr. Boots said.
"I believe you're right, Archie." So, blonde Mr. Boots was Archie. Hard to keep people straight when you have to call them all Mr. Boots. The bad Mr. Boots reached a hand down and rumpled the fur under my chin. "In fact," and I saw him eyeing me intently, " I think I may have knocked you over this morning. " Ha, you are right there, Mr. Boots. "I am sorry, puss, my mind was -- on other matters. "
"So what's to be done with him, Horatio?" Archie said. Horatio? I found it hard to keep my composure then. Horatio? What kind of a name was that? Well, I wanted to laugh, I can tell you, but I held it all in, with only the very tip of my tail giving me away.
"They say 'tis lucky to have a cat on board, " Horatio (hee, hee!) said. Of course, cats are lucky, except those black ones crossing your path. "How about it, puss, fancy a spell at sea? Mind you, a ship's cat's share of prize money is not much, but think of the adventure, eh?"
I fancied his mutton, not a spell at sea, but I'd do anything to get it. So I purred, and rubbed up against his hand, and kept eyeing his plate.
"Done then. What shall we rate you -- landcat?"
"Ordinary seacat, at least, " Archie said. "If he's lived at the Lamb he must have picked up some experience."
"Ordinary seacat it is then. But you must have a name. Archie, what did they call him at the Lamb?"
"Puss, Kitty --" Puss, Kitty -- those were my names, along with a few too salty for this polite sailor to mention, I'm sure. "Hether, Cleveland, did he have a name?"
Whoa, there, more names. Archie, Horatio (hee,hee!), Hether, Cleveland. There, got them. Carry on.
"Don't recollect a name, Mr. Hornblower" said Hether (I think, or was that Cleveland?)
Horatio Hornblower? What an infernal piece of bad luck! And he expects to make a career for himself in the British Navy? "So what shall it be?" Mr. H (I simply cannot call him Horatio Hornblower!) scratched behind my ears. "I know. Bandit. In remembrance of your bold attempt to steal my dinner. There you go. Bandit."
Oh, dear! He had given me a name. My very own name. Not Puss, or Kitty, or Damned Cat, shared by any mangy feline going. But my very own name! Not even Betty or Cook had given me a name! I looked way, way up. Oh, he was a dark one, he was, dark hair, dark eyes. But he looked every inch a naval officer, for I'd seen 'em all at the Lamb - the slatternly ones, and the drunkards, and the fops. And the gentlemen. I know he'd near kicked me tail over head down the stairs, but see, he'd admitted his mind was elsewhere -- with that dead body in Betty's bed, no doubt. And he'd given me a name -- my very own name -- and a right dashing name it was, too. That was a kindness no one else had ever thought to bestow on me. Even that blackguard of a rat Falstaff had a name! I was overcome, I was, and even licked his hand!
"Now, Bandit, if you are joining us here on Justinian, I must acquaint you with the Articles of War, as they might pertain to a cat." Well, I might have known there'd be rules.
"Think he's going to mutiny, Horatio? " said Cleveland (or was it Hether?) and snickered. Keep that up, matey, and I'll be striking a superior officer!
"You must listen carefully, Bandit, " Mr. H. said, leaning over and taking my paw in his big hand. "I've christened you Bandit, in honor of the way of our meeting. But you must mend your thieving ways. Stealing food on board one of his Britannic Majesty's ships will get you a hasty trial and a long swing from the yardarm. So no more pinching mutton, no skulking in the steward's locker. You must earn your keep honestly."
Oh bother! Rats! I just knew he were going to mention rats!
"Did you know, Bandit, that legend says cats were not among the animals entering the ark." Then how did I bloody well get here? " But the rats made such a nuisance of themselves that Noah passed his hand down the back of the lion, the lion sneezed, and a cat leapt out of his nose! " A strange birthing indeed, but at least from a mighty beast! " The cat immediately ate all the rats. So your duties, Bandit, will consist of keeping the ship clear of vermin. Do I make myself clear?"
Oh bother! Vermin! I swallowed hard, but 'twere difficult to keep that furball down, I can tell you! Vermin, of all things! But what was a cat to do? So I meowed faintly, and hung my head in subjection.
"However, " Mr. H. continued, "If any of the men wish to share their rations with you, you may of course accept. But no begging, now!"
Yes, sir! Was I not the master of begging without looking like I was begging? The men would be honored to share their rations with me, if my name wasn't -- well -- Bandit!
"Very well, Bandit, carry on! " So there I was, dismissed. And there was my piece of mutton, lying forgotten under Mr. H's boots. I'd already stolen it once -- did that mean it no longer came under my new rules? If I just nipped in -- no, better not. I wasn't too sure what a yardarm might be, but I'd no desire to swing from it, nonetheless. So I gave my paw a lick, wiped it across my face -- there, that was the best I could do for a salute -- and started to make my way past all those boots and back to my -- vermin.
"Here, Bandit, " Mr. H. called after me. "Might as well take this with you. I'll not be eating it now." And he tossed the piece of mutton to me, bless the lad! He might do very well yet.
But vermin! Rats and mice I knew, but what other monsters lurked in this dank, dark hole of a ship? And I was supposed to eat them! I stopped outside the cabin and tried to get my bearings. Chart my course. Navigate my way round. Oh, I was damned good with this nautical talk,alright. I'd move right smartly up the ranks. Vermin, he'd said. Well, I didn't have to eat the bloody things, did I? Catch 'em, and kill 'em, and hope the Justinians were cat-lovers to a man.
"Thou crusty botch of nature!" Oh blast that jackanapes! His voice seemed to come from nowheres, and everywhere. Old Falstaff could always find the smallest hideyhole, he could.
"I am Bandit!" I said in utter disdain. Surely his fancy invectives would not hurt me now, Ordinary Seacat Bandit. In charge of eradicating vermin -- like Falstaff, wherever the devil he was.
"Gettin' in good with the middies, is ye?" he squeaked in glee. "Careful they don't skin ye and have ye fer dinner!"
"They'll eat you first!" I hissed, "Though you're a tough old bastard!"
"They'll have to catch me first, Thou loathed issue of thy father's loins! " And he appeared like magic out of the wall, and streaked past my very nose. I was tempted, I can tell you, but I remembered my dignity, and my rank, and waited till he was out of sight, 'fore I moved.
There followed my second exploration of Justinian. The first time I'd been seeking Mr. Boots (Mr. H, as now was) so I'd not been in my usual cunning cat state . But this was my home now, and I needed to make the best of it. The smells I was getting used to. The heaving --well, 'twas not bad, though I hoped on the high seas I'd retain my dignity, and gain some sealegs, along with my sea stomach. The high seas! Oh my! Don't know whether I liked the sound of that , or not! The High Seas. Adventure. Danger. Storms. Pirates. Frenchies. Cannon. Swords. Oh dear! My old tummy flopped over. Now, Bandit, steady on. You don't want it noised around the Fleet that you were the Ordinary Seacat what got seasick in Spithead! That would never do!
I checked out the sick berth again, not that it were my favorite spot, but vermin were drawn to sickness, and I knew, were I lying there, with my leg off, or my guts heaving out, I'd not want to wake up and find the likes of Falstaff sitting on my chest. Why, I'd think I'd gone to the Devil for sure! And ye keep the devil from a sick man, why, were he to recover, he just might remember the kind deed you'd done for him, and share his rations!
The next spot I poked my nose into, were the galley. Now, I'd gotten a swift kick here before but I knew I had to better my relations with cook. When Mr. H put me in charge of vermin extermination, as it were, he'd not specified where I was to find 'em . So if I could get away with finding 'em in the sick berth, and the galley, and the middies' cabin, well then, there'd be no need to be skulking in the cable tier and the bilges. (Blimey, but I was picking up the lingo fast!) And I was a lucky dog (er, cat) in the galley, for just as Cook was getting on to throwing a ladle at me, I spied Vermin in the flesh ( a tatty rat, he were, not worth my efforts under better circumstances, and deucedly easy to catch.) After a short, sharp scuffle, I laid the dead rat at Cook's feet and well, what could he say?
"Well done," he said and tossed me a piece of -- something. One thing I learned right quick on board ship -- eats weren't always in familiar forms. But ye grabbed them when ye got 'em, and anything were better than vermin. At first I were afraid he'd make me eat that skinny body but instead, he picked it up by the tail and threw it in with the other slops. "Now off with 'ee."
So I'd found the sick berth and the galley - the next seagoing mystery I need explore was the crew's messing arrangements. Officers might be a mixed lot, but crew were crew, and a very mixed lot indeed. I'd seen 'em at the Lamb, come back from a long cruise, with a pittance of prize money in their pockets. And a rowdy bunch they were, too, even rowdier than the officers, and more willing to spend their pence on drink and Betty. I'd learned not to beg from them -- they were a closefisted bunch and never had no mind to share with a poor cat trying to make an honest living. But here on board ship, they might behave somewhat different -- at least in harbor, with fresh vittles to hand. That bloke I'd run into on deck seemed a decent sort -- I'd look for him first, as an introduction, like, to the rest of the men.
What ho! Here we be! And what in infernal racket they made, worse than a good cat fight in the middle of the night. How was I ever to find Stripey midst all these feet? I skulked near the door, not wanting to call attention to myself, until I could be sure of a proper introduction. Blimey, half of them wore striped shirts! And there were ladies here -- well, not ladies exactly, but women. Looked like sailors didn't have it so bad after all!
But cats have sharp hearing, they do, and I could hear Stripey's voice right near to me. "So the Frenchies took the 'ead off poor old Louis, " I caught his voice over the general din. "That means war, maties, and no more fresh rations, so eat hearty!"
I stuck my nose further in the door and looked to where I'd heard him. Well, there he was, with a motley crew if there ever was. A big rough looking fellow with -- well, they looked like rat bites to me, but why he'd have rat bites there, I could not fathom -- on his face, said "And no more female company, neither."
"Ow, love, don't say that," his companion screeched. I knew her, I did. Sally Martin, from the Lamb.
A red-haired seaman spoke next. "Reckon Justinian'll sit right here, nice as ye please. " He sounded pleased with that thought, I can tell you.
"And if she sits right 'ere, Oldroyd - " So Red was Oldroyed. -" we'll get no prize money" That was Stripey talking again. And he sounded less than pleased.
"And no prize money if she don't" Ratbite again. "Capt'n Keene'll run afore 'e'll fight, if the ship don't founder first. "
I pushed in closer. Founder. I didn't like the sounds of that. Sounded very wet, it did, and unpleasant.
"What's this then? " And once again I was scooped up and put on display, as it were. At least Stripey left me with some dignity, not dangling me from the scruff of the neck.
"A bloody cat!" Ratbite grumbled. He'd be the bloody one if he didn't mind his manners. "What's 'e doin' 'ere!"
"Looks like the pussy from the Lamb." Sally Martin chimed in.
Well, Sally, I could say the same 'bout you, but I won't, aristocat that I am.
"Pressed to catch rats, most likely, Styles, " Stripey said. So Ratbite was Styles. He'd bear watching, I could tell.
"Hey, mateys, we don't want none o' that now, do we?" Well, Ratbite Styles, if you'd had the services of a fine rat-catcher like myself before this, your face might look a sight better.
"Let's throw 'im from the fightin' top, see if 'e lands on 'is feet! " Thank you very much, Oldroyd, and the same to you too.
"I'll wager a small sum on that, Oldroyd" Styles answered.
"Now, boys, 'e looks 'ungry to me. " There was a fourth man at the table, a little man, with a pasty look and a shaven head. But his voice was friendly, which was more than I could say for Styles and Oldroyd.
"Let 'im eat cake!" Oldroyd roared, near choking on the mouth-watering, succulent piece of beef he was chewing on. Cake? I bloody well wanted his beef, not cake.
"Or rats!" Styles looked fit to explode too. I feared I had made a grave error in approaching this crew. Obviously female company had not improved their manners. "If 'e looks so 'ungry to you, Finch, then you feed 'im!" So Finch was the little pasty one.
"I can spare a bit ," Stripey said, and placed me down on the deck again. (I must remember to call it a deck, and not a floor.) A few measly shreds of beef joined me there, and Finch (that dear, dear man) added a rather more substantial morsel. It was deuced tough, I can tell you, but I was not about to complain -- anything furless tasted good to me. "Now don't you be makin' a 'abit of this, puss -- some o' the men 're not as kind as we." I got nothing from Styles and Oldroyd, though Sally looked like she might give in, but then she's not been over friendly to me at the Lamb, not like Betty; and I could tell from the look on Oldroyd's face he was still thinking of the fighting top, whatever that was. So I finished up as quick as I could, not taking the time to attend to my ablutions, and then casually nuzzled my forehead against Stripey's leg, so I'd know him again. I thought now might be a good time to take my departure, so I did.
Oh dear! All of a sudden I was feeling faint! Hunger, most like, though I'd had -- let's see -- a bit of mutton, a loathsome rat, and a few tidbits of beef. Or -- well, blimey! Of course! Here 'twas evening, and I'd not had a catnap all day! 'Twas a wonder I still had the strength to stand on my paws. Now where might a cat find a quiet place to rest his weary head, and tail too?
To clear my head, and delicate nose, I staggered up the stairs and near collapsed on deck. At least the air were a little fresher here, but some clumsy jacktar stepped on me and ne'er stopped to say he was sorry so I heaved myself up again and padded on. There -- another set of stairs ---
"[Thou] mountain of mad flesh! " Why was I not surprised to hear that voice again?
"For heaven's sake, what now!" In truth, I was too weary even to feint in Falstaff's direction.
"That be the quarterdeck, laddie!"
"That be for officers only --- catch a nap there and ye'll be flayed alive!"
Thrown from the fighting top, hung from the yardarm -- now flayed alive -- what dolorous ship of horror have I landed on? I looked up, and found myself near blinded by gold braid. Ordinary Seacat -- though I'd been promoted already, Ordinary Seacat had not the sound of an officer's rank about it.
But blimey, my eyes were heavy. "And where do you suggest I catch a nap?" I asked haughtily, but Falstaff had disappeared.
Well, there was nothing for it -- I dragged my miserable body back down the stairs, and crawled from cramped passageway to cramped storeroom to cramped cabin. I was at the end of my rope (and ready to hang from the yardarm just to get some rest) when -- what's this? What are these funny things hanging? And why are people lying in them? Beds, they must be, shipbeds. And they're hanging up so's no one'll step on 'em. And bless my ears and whiskers, there was Mr. H! Lucky he didn't have a lady friend on board, there didn't seem much room in that hammock (which was what them handing shipbeds were called, I learned later). But I judged that there just might be enough room for a fine fellow like myself.
Positioning my handsome body carefully underneath, I gave my rear a little wiggle for good measure, and sprung.
"What the devil!" Mr. H near sent me flying. I'd landed on his face -- a small matter of miscalculation on my launch (not taking into account the swaying of the ship of course) but he'd no need to react so violent like -- he must have been having a bad dream.
"Oh, it's you, Bandit."
Yes, it's me, Mr. H. Now if you'll just shift over a bit, so I can get comfortable --
"Well, if you insist on sleeping here, you must lie quiet." Lie quiet? With all this snoring round about and that infernal bell ringing at all hours? Seemed to me that I was the quietest thing aboard this ship!
Yes, Mr. H. I snuggled down as best I could, he being much skinnier than Betty, though that nightshirt felt nice and soft --
Then he started to stroke me. Ah, yes, here it comes, the big confession, or lamentation , or sigh. With Betty, it was always about some man -- that he hadn't looked at her, or he'd looked at her too well, and she feared she was in the family way -- though she never was. But what could Mr. H have to confess, or lament or sigh on?
"A good man died today, Bandit." Now his eyes were all shiny like Betty's got, just before she burst out bawling.
Ah, the body in the bed.
"And an evil man still lives."
Ah, that blackguard Simpson. I felt somewhat better now. Any man grieving a death and hating Simpson couldn't be all bad.
I pricked up my ears. This was for me, particular like, not for my soothing fur and purr.
"I am sorry about the stairs. I should have trod more carefully."
You are forgiven, Mr. H. And I lay my head down and -- passed out.
"Now, Bandit, you have a choice to make." I was sitting very grandly atop one of the cannon -- an excellent vantage point, as there didn't seem to be any shooting on board Justinian -- enjoying a wee bit of sunshine, though the air was still a tad nippy. I'd come to know Justinian very well in the last few days -- which of the middies liked cats and which didn't, and the same for the crew. I had the steward wrapped 'round my paw, I did, so prodigious was my catch of rats. 'Course, he was not to know that when he threw their butchered bodies aside, I had only to wait 'till his back was turned, and I routed them out again, inflicted another injury and sat smugly while he tossed me another choice morsel for my efforts. Life on board ship wouldn't be half bad if they were all so easy to fool as the Steward.
But what was this? A choice? Mr. H. was eyeing me very seriously and intently -- poor lad seemed to be mostly serious and intent -- and I didn't like the looks of that. We had reached some agreements -- I was not to jump on his face and he was not to kick me downstairs, so what was this now about a choice?
"You can stay here on Justinian with Captain Keene, or you may accompany Mr. Kennedy and myself to our new post on the Indefatigable . The Indefatigable is a frigate and a frigate is a ship of war -- always in the thick of things, and you won't be able to sit on the cannon there, because most likely those cannon will be firing. You'll probably be blasted to pieces during our first engagement -- I can just see it, fur flying everywhere, most unpleasant, I should think."
You should think, Mr. H? That's my fur you have set flying! I see you are trying to dissuade me from joining Indefatigable. And a right jolly job you are doing of it too!
"Or, you may return to the Lamb, in which case, I would be prepared to make sure you reached your destination safely."
The Lamb. Back to the Lamb! Could it be? Go back home? Now I truly had a decision to make. Stay here on Justinian, with its smells, and rowdiness, and Sally Martin leering at me. Or, blessed heaven, return to the Lamb, to Cook and Betty -- my dear dear Betty, and my dockyard lovelies and ...
Or, join Indefatigable. A fighting ship. Cannon firing. Fur flying. Splinters slicing. Blood flowing. Oh, I'd heard those middies, and the men, rant on about Indefatigable and some bloke named Pellew -- bloody saint he seemed to be, could make them all rich as Lords, they seemed to think.
"Well, Bandit, time you were away. Which is it to be?"
You have to ask, Mr. H? I was pressed, I was, and a pressed cat always wants to go home, he does. So...
He reached out one of those long fingers and very gently buffed the fur under my chin. "Bandit?" A dreadful thought came into my mind. Oh dear, back at the Lamb, they won't know my name! A name is a terrible thing to lose. And all the men what know my name are on their way to being Indys.
And you, Mr. H. I drew myself up to the limits of my catness. Don't think you are going to get around me with your awful stories. How are you going to manage on a frigate? Can't have those big dark eyes of yours fill up everytime a bloke passes over, like they did for that bloke in the Lamb. Why, I fancy I can see a little wetness right now. Pull yourself together, man! And I heard a dirty rumor, I did, sir, that, unlike me, you *were* sick in Spithead. In my humble opinion, you will need me to keep an eye on you.
Oh, very well, Mr. H. My duty is clear. I shall accompany you to Indefatigable and that paragon of virtues Captain Pellew, and make sure you don't embarrass yourself.
I jumped quite smartly onto his shoulder, knocking his hat off, but managing very nicely to keep my place as he danced a jig trying to catch it before it sailed over the railing. It was a silly hat anyway, and I simply could not understand why he was so concerned about losing it!
"Bandit, you must never jump an officer!" Mr. H was very stern looking, I can tell you that, and he was quick to pluck me off his shoulder and thump me down on the cannon again. "Now listen carefully: you must skulk behind one of the cannon until you see Mr. Kennedy and myself going over the side." I never skulk, Mr. H. I stalk stealthily, but I never skulk! "Then keep under my cloak, if you can. Captain Pellew may not have a favorable opinion about cats on board his ship. Best to prove your worth before he knows you're there."
So I skulked -- er, stalked stealthily -- until the time came, then over the side I went, very handily I thought, my claws firmly planted in Mr. H.'s leg.
"God damn you to hell, Bandit! You will put a run in my stocking!" he cursed under his breath as we went down, which I though was most uncivil of him, considering what might happen were he to be found smuggling a cat aboard Indefatigable. What did the Articles of War say about that, Mr. H! By hiding so cleverly, I'm saving you from hanging from the yardarm at least!
So we all were neatly in the jolly boat, though I had a bad seat, couldn't see a bloody thing, I couldn't. One day I want to ride up front, see the view , not skulking down here. Seems like I'd been spending too much time skulking lately. Oh well.
"Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch!" Oh no! That hateful voice, that hateful winking hairy face -- would I never be rid of that dirty rat? And who was that! Styles, and Oldroyd -- the fightin' top bloke!
Let me out, let me out! I scrabbled up the side -- secrecy be damned! But too late -- there was Justinian going away, and I didn't fancy a swim, I didn't. What I did get was a good swift kick with the toe of Mr. H's shoe.You do try my patience sorely, sir!
Falstaff's ratty titter seemed to echo round the jollyboat. I'm damned to hear that voice forever, I am. But as I sulked, and peeped out under Mr. H's cloak, I saw Archie -- who always gave me tidbits, and that nice man Finch and Stripey -- Mathews, I'd found out his name to be -- and I knew Mr. H. would apologize for kicking me again. Come on then, Indefatigable, and Captain Pellew -- give me your worst, for I am Ordinary Seacat Bandit and more than a match for the lot of you!
Well, this Indefatigable is certainly a different kettle of fish from Justinian. Right from the beginning I could see that. Captain Pellew gave a most rousing welcome -- "If you want to fight, you shall have your fill!" Bloodthirsty fellow, he seems. I skulked in earnest, I can tell you. I'd not want that booming voice directed at me!
Didn't like that fighting part. Fighting those nasty creatures in the bilges was fight enough for me. Certain sure I was too small to be a powder monkey. I was a cat after all, not a monkey. And I had Falstaff to worry about. Mr. H, can I change my mind?
Mr. H. wasn't looking too happy himself these days. Seems like he's been given that rabble from Justinian to look after. They led him a merry chase, they did. Snickering behind his back, especially that Styles. And I kept out of Oldroyd's way, I can tell you. The Indy had a fighting top too, and I'd no wish to fatten his purse . Of course I would have landed on my feet, but there was no need to prove it!
All in all, though, things was better here on Indefatigable. The Captain ran a right tight ship, the Steward gave me scraps without me having to provide bodies as proof I'm earning my passage and old Falstaff seemed to have disappeared.
But he hadn't. I might have known.
"What? Who's there? " The sun was shining and I was trying to catch a nap -- a catnap of course -- up on deck. Now that took some doing, I can tell you. That Pellew chap was a great one for all kinds of drills -- the cannons were always trundling in and out, and firing at nothing, the sails were lowered and raised -- well, how can a body be expected to relax with that infernal racket going on. And the bells, always the bells. I was heartily sick of those damn bells, I can tell you. So when I'd finally found a bit of deck that wasn't either being washed or run over, I made good use of it. And I didn't take kindly to anybody disturbing my sleep.
"O illiterate loiterer! Got a minute t'spend with a friend?"
"Seeing as how there's no friend of mine here, what does it matter? Go away!"
Falstaff poked his snout from behind a cannon ball. "I've a wee favor t'ask of ye ..."
"Then ask that cannon ball there. It'll do you a favor faster than I will."
I closed my one eye again, and tucked my nose under my tail.
"Ye might 'elp that Mr. H. yer so fond of."
No, he was not going to trick me. I'd do no favors for the blackguard what had landed me in this pickle in the first place. Even if he mentioned Mr. H. Now what would he know about him? And how could Falstaff think I could help my Mr. H by helping him. Talking out of the wrong side of his snout, he was. Trying to get me in trouble somehow, he was. But Mr. H?
Oh damn this cat curiosity! No wonder we felines have nine lives! We need every one! So I opened one eye again -- and one eye only , so as not to think I cared so much -- and said "Not that I'm interested, mind, but how could you help me help Mr. H?"
"I 'ear Oldroyd and Styles were after bettin' on ye landin' on yer feet were they to throw ye from the fightin' top."
"Not nice t'be the object of a bloody bet, is it, matey."
"Well indeed. So listen up, you scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe! Them Justinians 'ave brought an evil breath wi'em. And the foin rats o' the Indy 'as asked me te ask ye t'try an put a stop to it. "
"Put a stop to what? If you don't get on with it, Falstaff, you'll put me back to sleep!"
"Seems like them blokes your Mr. H is sposed to keep an eye on -- they play dirty games down in th'cable tier. They gather up rats live and set 'em free down there, 'n that jackanapes Styles tries t'catch 'em wi' 'is teeth! And they other blokes bet on 'ow many 'e gets!"
Aha! All was explained. The rat bites on Styles' face. His displeasure at an opponent in the rat catching game. "I catch rats, you blasted fool! Why should I care?"
"But it's the way o' it, thou craven onion-eyed mammet ! And 'ow would ye like t'be dispatched -- in the thick o'battle wi' some fightin' tom -- or endin' up a puddle on the deck, when Oldroyd throws ye from the fightin' top?"
"But sir, I am a cat and would land on my feet!" My words were bold, but that fighting top was a long way up, and I thought of the puddle, and shivered. "I do see your point, though, Jack. I would point out to you that I am a mere Ordinary Seacat and could do nothing." So go away, and let me sleep, before that bell goes off again.
"But ye could -- Bandit." Oh, the wiley devil! Called me by my rightful name, he did, with nary a whoreson, ass or varlet to be heard. Bandit, me, my name. Now he had my attention! This must be important, for him to give up his foul salutations, and call me by my true name.
"And what could I do?" I at least could give him the benefit of both my eyes open, and my ears swiveled to catch his squeaky voice.
"Ye could let yer Mr. H know. 'ed not be goin' along with such dirty tricks. 'ed be forced t'be a -- leader, fer a change!"
"My Mr. H. *is* a leader!" I sputtered, but in truth my heart was not in it. The brave lad might be trying, but that was a bloody-minded lot, that rabble he commanded, and I was getting sick of hearing the snickers behind his back. "And how would I let him know?"
"That's up t'ye. I'll let ye know when they're at it, and you get yer Mr. H. down there in th' cable tier. Then we'll both pray to whatever rat gods and cat gods there be, that 'e gits the job done!"
Sounded like tomfoolery to me. The best laid plans and so on. If Falstaff did alert me in time, and I did manage to lure Mr. H down to the cable tier -- then it was all up to him, wasn't it? The dear lad! Like as not he'd get all teary-eyed again -- oh the very thought of it was painful to contemplate. That scurvy crew'd have even me in tears, I can tell you. "Oh, very well, Black Jack. If you can alert me in time, and if I can alert Mr. H. in time and if ...." It'll never come to pass, just too many ifs. "Now, can I go back to sleep?"
Back to sleep? If only! I'd just got comfortably into a dream which I would be most embarrassed to relate here (and you think when we cats twitch in our sleep we are chasing mice!) when I felt a tug on my whiskers.
"Bandit, Bandit, out or down, out or down!" Well, I was already down, and pleasantly out --- who was taking on so? "Ye must come! Now's the time!" I opened my eyes to see old Falstaff , his sides heaving, his paws twitching. "They're gatherin' them up! Go get yer Mr. H. and meet me down i'the cable tier!" With this, he turned round, flicked me in the nose with his tail, and was gone.
Blast! I must admit, I had the most uncommon urge to roll over and go back to sleep. But I'd promised -- sort of -- old Falstaff, and even a promise made to a rat had to be kept. I did take a moment to stretch the front legs, then the back -- I'm sure it made no difference to the outcome -- I'm sure it didn't. And now to find Mr. H. Where the bloody hell would he be this time of day? If he were up there on the quarter-deck, then both Falstaff and myself would be scuppered, seeing as how I ain't allowed up there.
There was Captain Pellew, looking stern, and Archie looking -- well, looking like Archie - and Hether, or was it Cleveland -- or blast, I didn't have time to remeber all the names. I just knew my Mr. H. weren't up there. So down the companionway I scooted, and into the middies' cabin, but he weren't there neither. Oh blast again! So I turned and ran right into a big black boot.
"Bandit, not again! I say, I am sorry! " He'd only hurt my dignity this time, but quick-witted wily animal that I am, I made the best of the situation. I whimpered a little, and lifting my front paw daintily, walked away from him.
"Bandit, I've hurt you! You must let me see your paw!" And he was as easy to lead as a little lamb. I kept just out of his reach, all the time wailing as though that poor paw had been squashed flat by his big boot, and leading in as direct a manner as I could, toward the cable tier.
Well, Falstaff , between the two of us, we did it. As soon as Mr. H. saw what was transpiring down there in the cable tier, he quite forgot about me, and rightly so. I just stood back and watched the fur fly, so to speak. You're gambling ...other charges ... Articles of War ... flogging round the Fleet (aye, that sounded nasty!) .... disrated .... at the gratings ...I said it and I mean it! Even I jumped at that one! Mr H! I had no idea! That squared jaw! That steely gaze! That imperious voice! Blimey, I'd better watch my p's and q's too! The men were quick to obey him after that, I can tell you! And what was he going to do to me? I'd faked an injury -- he might think I'd rendered myself unfit for service -- flogged round the Fleet? Made being thrown from the fighting top sound like a nice picnic in the country. Mr. H, Mr. H, look, my paw's all right ....
"Hands to quarters, hands to quarters!" Archie came running in, a veritable whirlwind of energy for a change, and everybody left. Just like that.
Hands to quarters. Must remember that one. Magic words they be -- cleared the cable tier out in no time. But there was a dreadful thumping and banging up on deck -- best I stay right here. Horrible business this though -- Falstaff had the right of it. Glad I helped Mr. H. put an end to it.
At the very end, he'd said it was six. No wonder that Ratbite Styles looked the way he did. Terrible things, rat bites. I'd not put up with it. Had an abscess once from a ratbite. No bedding with Betty until that cleared up, I can tell you!
Sadly I looked over the field of battle. But what's this? Could it be? No! Never! Carefully I stepped round the dead bodies hoping this blasted dim light in the cable tier had me seeing ghosts. But no! Falstaff ! Not dead, not this way! They must have got him when he went back down. If I hadn't stopped for that stretch ....
"Sell your face for five pence and 'tis dear. But I be that glad t' see 'ee nonetheless." Oh, never was I so happy to hear one of his scurrilous insults. Falstaff, not dead indeed! His snout barely moved as he spoke, and his front paws waved feebly. I stuck my head down, gave him a good sniff and a quick look and I knew that while he still had a breath of life in him, he looked mortally wounded .
"Falstaff !" I licked him a little though I'd thought never to touch a rat in friendship that way. "Falstaff, you'll be all right!"
"Ah, no, I be done for, matey! [Thou art] the veriest varlet that ever chewed with a tooth -- but I'd be right thankful to 'e if ye'd take that tooth and nip me proper -- "
"I'll take you to the sick berth, have the surgeon fix you up --"
"Thou knotty-pated fool, I'm dead! But let me go at the 'and -- er, tooth, of a worthy foe. 'twould be a blessin', sir, indeed."
I be ashamed to admit this, but somehow something had got in my eye. Poor old Falstaff. He had the right of it, of course, he was done for. But I understood him -- he'd not want to go like this -- the object of some human's dirty game.
"Are you sure, old friend?"
"Sure, old friend. Just do it quick like, and beat that bastard ratbaiter." His voice was failing. I placed my teeth carefully, closed my eyes, and bit.
"Thankee kindly. " His voice just dwindled away; and I opened my eyes just in time to see the light fade from his.
I took a moment or two to compose myself. I'd dreamed of this moment ever since I first set eyes on old Falstaff. He'd never bait me again, with his strange taunts ('twas always an irritation to me that I could never match him ) But I wondered now -- did I always run just a little bit slower when I chased him, because deep down he'd brought some strange excitement to my life? A hard thing for a cat to admit, a hard thing indeed.
I looked down at his old body, his scarred eye still winking at me in death. Well, I couldn't leave him here now, could I? He at least deserved a proper burial at sea. I sat quietly with him until that infernal racket on deck had been replaced by an infernal cheering, which seemed to suggest that whatever that whole hands to quarters thing had been about, the outcome had been generally favorable. Then I picked his poor remains up in my mouth and carried them up on deck.
The men were beside themselves about something. There seemed to be plenty of blood about, so hands to quarters wasn't a peaceful event, a fact I would be careful to note in the future, so I assumed the general merriment was provided in thanksgiving by the men whose blood wasn't splashed around so liberally. I had to walk careful like, there were lots of odds and ends of the Indy laying about, but I reached one of the cannon and hopped up.
"I'm sad to see you go, Falstaff. " I said, opening my jaws and letting his little body tumble into the ocean. I'd have taken a few seconds there in remembrance but that bloody cannon was hot, and I was forced to hop down right quick before my tender pads were singed.
"Bandit, there you are!" Mr. H. swooped me up in his arms. He looked rather bloody himself, but he seemed all right. I'd used up most of my sympathy on Falstaff and what little I had left, I needed for myself.
"Now let's see that paw!" Oh dear! Do I pretend it still hurts, in which case I may be charged with rendering myself unfit for service, though it was his boot that done it (supposedly), or should I tell the truth, in which case I might be in greater trouble. "It does seem well now, Bandit." Damn! In my worry over truth or lies, I'd quite forgotten to notice that he'd taken the paw in question and given it a good squeeze, and I'd not let a peep out of me.
"Then why did ..."
He stopped for a moment, and so did my heart, and then he continued, "Bandit, did you know what the men were up to down in the cable tier?"
Well, what could I say? Aye, Sir, I did.
"I believe you lead me down there, so their filthy games could be stopped. I say, Bandit. Well done! And I do think I handled the situation in a rather masterly way, don't you? "
Yes, I did, Mr. H, but I wouldn't want it to go to your head! So I scrambled out of his arms and sitting quite primly on the deck, started to wash the filth of the cable tier out of my fur.
I was very lonely after that. Falstaff was gone and even Mr. H. was sent away in a boat. He took his men with him, so I had no fears of Oldroyd and the fighting top, but I began to worry. What was to become of me? What if Mr. H. never came back? Mr. Kennedy was kind, but in a distracted kind of way. I never dare jump in his hammock at night, or in anyone else's either. I was afraid Captain Pellew might see me and bellow at me as he seemed fond of doing, and I would have no one to speak up for me. Gloom descended. I had made a bad choice, that was sure!
But thank the Lord that Mr. H. showed up again! He seemed to have lost his boat somewhere and if you could believe Styles and that lot he'd even thrown a valuable piece of navigational equipment over the side: not a good thing, I would think. but everyone generally seemed happy to see him return, and his men fairly doted on him! Obviously, losing your boat was not against the Articles of War, for Mr. H. neither swung from the yardarm nor was flogged round the fleet and in fact he and Captain Pellew seemed very chummy up there on the quarter-deck.
I hoped he would tell me of his adventures when I hopped into his hammock that night, but all he said was, "Good to be back, Bandit."
Good to see you back, Mr. H. That floor was getting damned hard!
I wasn't completely happy though. Mr. H. had left me once; he might very well do it again. Of course he'd explained why I had not been asked to accompany him --- apparently Captain Pellew had accused him of dawdling as it was, just because he'd stopped to chat to Archie for a minute. That was no excuse, in my opinion, and I made up my mind that the next time Mr. H. looked ready to abandon me, I would come along nevertheless.
Especially since, the next time, Jack Simpson came too! I don't understand humans, I really don't. My own Mr. H. plucked him out of the sea and brought him on board the Indefatigable just so he could cause trouble again. Poor Archie looked fairly sick with worry, and I could not reassure him, because I was deathly afraid of the bugger too! Even Mr. H. pouted a bit, but it was his own fault and I could not feel sorry for him.
But you can be sure that when I saw the lot of them going over the side, I was down there quick as a wink. I made sure no one saw me, for this time I think I would have been either tossed back up on the Indy's deck if Mr. H. had seen me, or tossed into the drink if I had had the misfortune to catch Jack Simpson's eye. So I crouched down, and kept my mouth shut. Wherever they were going, was dangerous, for everyone had pistols, and swords and heaven knew what else nasty implements for killing. Then Archie started raving, and Mr. H. knocked him on the head, and I was completely perplexed. Seemed like the whole world had gone mad that night.
I need to get to the exciting bits here and my heroic part in 'em , so I need only say that we ended up on a Frenchie ship, of all places, and the Indy's knocked everybody about a lot, and Mr. H. must have earned a punishment somehow (perhaps because he had lost his other boat somewhere) and ended up climbing the mainmast and walking along the yardarm . The Lamb was often visited by groups of mummers, and sometimes they would entertain us by walking along a rope high over head, while we all watched in awe, in hopes that one of them might fall. Were Mr. H ever to truly irritate Captain Pellew and need to find some other occupation on land, he would be well suited to that line of work.
Oh, excuse me -- you were waiting for the exciting bits. Yes, of course. I kept my keen cat eye on Mr. Simpson; I had a bad feeling about him, but in the general excitement, he slipped my grasp for a moment. And when I did find him -- he had a pistol in his hand -- well, so did everyone --- but --- oh no, he was raising it -- oh, no, not Mr. H! I leapt up and hit his arm just as the pistol fired! Simpson cursed and tried to give me a good kick but I slipped away among the dead bodies. When I'd found a good snug place to hide, I looked up but --- no Mr. H! Oh no!
But someone was up there! Finch! It was Finch! And now Finch walked to the end of the yardarm and .... blimey, he dove into the sea! Finch is going to rescue Mr. H! Oh, that dear, dear man!
The deck beneath me paws tilted a little; I looked up and saw the sails begin to fill. Damn them all to hell! They were sailing away, and Mr. H and Finch were still in the drink! What to do? What to do? Such a hustle bustle everywhere -- no one noticed poor little me, not even when I sunk my claws into the nearest pair of tarry canvas pants. Oh, my ears and whiskers! Mr. H! Finch!
The quarter-deck! If I could reach the quarter-deck, run along the railing, look astern (you notice that even in my frenzy I used correct naval terminology, as an Ordinary Seacat should!) , I might catch sight of them. But the quarter-deck! Falstaff's words rang so in my ears I felt dizzy (dizzy, I say, not seasick!) Flayed alive! Oh dear! I took a deep breath and skulked up the companionway, and keeping to the edge of the deck, headed for the taffrail at the stern. Oh, Mr. H., if you could see the very excellence of my skulking ... but if you could see me, I needn't be doing it now, would I? Oh, never mind.
Up I hopped and my wee heart full of dread, I peered over the stern. 'Twas dark as spades out there, but I am a cat, and I can see in the dark, I can, and I could see -- I could see -- blimey, there they were! Blessed Finch had got aholt of a rope dangling from the ship, and Mr. H. too! But how long could he hold on? I had to tell someone! But blimey, I 'm a cat, and a few pitiful meows weren't going to go far this night!
But perhaps -- oh, Bandit, you are a veritable feline savant! I knew the very solution to this puzzling and dangerous situation.
I closed my eyes and pictured the Dockyard. And all the lovely ladies I knew --- calico and tabby and magpie and I pictured that old cross-eyed tom what tormented me so when I chased the ladies, and I opened my mouth and let that glorious tomcat howl pour right out of my mouth! Oh, I did myself proud I did, and in no time at all I got the results I be looking for.
"What the bloody hell!"
"There, on the taffrail! "
"Shoot it! "
Now, now , wait a minute ...
"You there, Mathews! Come up and get rid of that bloody animal!"
Oh, thank the Lord! Mathews! Over here, Mathews! Look , look ...
"Yer in big trouble now, Bandit!" Look, you idiot ...
"Blimey! Man overboard! Man overboard! "
And that was how I saved my Mr. H. And Finch too, of course. Mr. H was all over blood from Mr. Simpson's shooting of him, but he seemed more angry than hurt, and I don't blame him. Events got a little nasty after that, with the yardarm falling and bodies getting squashed , and Mr. H. yelling "Fiyah!" every chance he got. I was right in the midst of it all, I can tell you, and before I knew what happened, a big sliver of wood ended up in the midst of me. I woke up in the Indy's sick berth just in time to hear Dr. Hepplewhite speak some very unkind and scary words.
"I have heard, Mr. Hornblower, that a cat's body boiled in olive oil makes a good dressing for wounds." Oh my ears and whiskers! And this man ministers to the sick and wounded?
"You will save this gallant cat's life, just as he saved mine, or you will answer to me! " Thank the Lord Mr. H. was improving all the time as a fierce officer in his Majesty's Navy. " This cat keeps your sick bay cleansed of vermin, and as such, deserves your utmost effort to get him back on his feet." And thank you too, Mr. H. for your effort, but I do wish you had stayed a little longer. That bugger Hepplewhite yanked the splinter out of my poor body, without even sharing his rum to ease my pain! And then I was expected to lick the sore spot myself!
Despite Hepplewhite's callous treatment, I must admit I dogged it somewhat for the next day or so, laying about the sickberth, crying piteously when a friendly face showed up, and accepted graciously all the dainty morsels Finch and Mathhews smuggled down to me. So I was still there when Mr. H. was carried in.
My God, Mr. H., what trouble have you gotten yourself in now? I heard scattered bits of conversation -- a duel -- Jack Simpson -- Mr. H, you fought a duel with Jack Simpson? Why, you are becoming fiercer by the moment! I checked round the sickberth -- no Jackie boy, so either he'd got off scot free, or he was, praise the Lord, dead!
Dr. Hepplewhite prepared to remove the bullet from my dear Mr. H. so I hopped up on the table with him, and offered my silky coat for him to stroke, while the Doctor did his worst. I must say the stroking calmed him immensely, for he only cried out once or twice, at which time he gave me quite a strenuous squeeze, but both he and I survived (no thanks to Dr. Hepplewhite). In fact, the doctor inquired as to whether I might like to offer up my beautiful body to other patients during surgical procedures, but I assured him that my rat-catching duties left me with precious little spare time, but I thanked him for the offer nonetheless. I do believe he was hoping to save the medicinal spirits he might use for his patients, in order to consume them himself.
"I had him in my sights, Bandit." Mr. H. and I were resting comfortably in the sickberth, both of us feeling much better now . I offered to lick his wound to help in the healing, but he bade me tend to my own and not worry about him. What a considerate young man he is turning out to be! As he was absent-mindedly scratching me under my chin, just the way I liked it, he continued "There he was, quivering with fear, down on his knees in front of me."
A fine picture indeed! A shame that I missed it. "I did so want to trim the beach with his brains." So, come on, come on, Mr. H. My cat curiosity is threatening to snatch one of my lives again.
"But I couldn't." Oh, Mr. H, I am so disappointed! A teary eye blotted your vision, I suppose. "But I should have known not to trust Simpson," Oh, yes, indeed, Mr. H. you should have known that! "And if Captain Pellew had not been such an exceptionally fine shot, I would be lying here sewn in canvas. "
And I might be boiled in olive oil! Well, Mr. H., you have fought your duel. Never fight another, because you can't cart round Captain Pellew with you, to get you out of these messes. With that , I lay my head down (but you can keep on scratching, Mr. H., only down a little lower, no, over to the right, ah, yes, right there!) and fell asleep.
Oh, Falstaff, if you could see me now. Up here on the Quarter-deck, where you said no cat might go. I'm sitting tall and proud, and Mr. H. by my side (so 'twill be he and not me getting in trouble for this.) We still had our little aches and pains, but Mr. H. had assured me that the fine sea air up here in this rarefied location would soon put even those small discomforts to rest.
"Mr. Hornblower, what is the meaning of this!"
Oh dear, I recognized that voice! There is no might, and all that. That fearsome Captain Pellew himself. And here be I sitting on his quarter-deck, me, a mere Ordinary Seacat. Oh dear indeed! I had a horrible vision of myself, flayed alive, looking like some poor skinned rabbit. And then boiled in olive oil, no doubt.
"What is that mangy animal doing on my quarter-deck!"
Mangy? Myself, mangy? Never this side of hell ..... Mr. H. gave me a good swift kick with the toe of his boot and I will be forever in his debt. Flaying alive would be a heavenly mercy indeed next to the punishment sure to come had I given into my baser animal instincts . Mange indeed! I drew myself up, my nose in the air, my tail a graceful S-shape behind my back - and I looked every inch a seacat, I did indeed.
"It's a cat, sir."
"I know it's a cat, Mr. Hornblower, but what is he doing here?"
"He catches rats, sir."
"On my quarter-deck?"
"Mr. Bowles was complaining only the other day, sir ..."
Ah, I would never have taken you for a liar, Mr. H. but carry on, you are very good at it, especially when one of my nine lives is at stake.
"Hmmf! I don't see any rats up here!"
"If you don't mind my saying so, sir, he's an exceptionally fine ratcatcher."
There was a long silence. I would have licked Captain Pellew's boots if I felt that might have made a difference, but it wouldn't have, so I didn't. "Very well, Mr. Hornblower, but see he keeps to the cable tier during action -- I'll not have him tripping up the powder boys. And you must keep him out of my cabin. I'll not tolerate cat hair on my uneeform! I see you might be wise to consider your own!"
"Carry on, then, Mr. Hornblower."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Oh, thank the Lord! He was gone. And I'd been given leave to be on the quarter-deck! I say, things were looking up!
"He's right, Bandit."
"My uniform *is* full of cat hair."
But I'm a cat, sir, what else would your uniform be full of? Don't you feel it a small price to pay for the inestimable honor of my acquaintance?
"But I'm prepared to overlook that in thanks for saving my life."
I had to do it, Mr. H. I couldn't see myself sharing a hammock with that blackguard Simpson. And it was nothing really, just a little singing on the taffrail... Oh, yes, and Finch did help too...
"Come, Bandit, no false modesty now!" He cleared his throat a little. Some important words coming up here, I could just tell. " I see something in you, Bandit. If you continue in this service as you have begun, a great future awaits you. "
Oh dear! I couldn't help myself, I just had to purr!.
"I believe a small promotion might be in order, Bandit. I rate you Able Seacat from this day."
Thank you, Sir.
"Very good. Carry on, Bandit."
Aye aye, sir. The Lamb be damned -- this was the life for me!