After I had done with Linkin, I remained in the stable. I did not conceal myself, but sat bold-arst in the straw.
’Twas not long before little dog Wattie frisked in, and saw me.
I lay on my side and stretched myself to show my belly.
He sprang towards me. I did not move. The nearer he drew, the shorter and higher he must leap, because he did not wish to fall on me.
Next he gambolled around me. I gazed at the roof-beams.
He grew bold and nosed my belly. This familiarity troubled me, and I was tempted to strike him a blow, but I forbore.
That set him about. He ceased snorting and snuffling in my fur, and crept behind me.
I lay fast, but my tail twitched of itself. The young imp took the tip between his teeth and pulled.
The horses were joyed to see me so discomforted. “Say, do we not think that cat is fool?” arrkst one.
“Yea,” came the answer. “That cat is fool.”
Then Wattie tugged my tail so fierce he shifted me in the straw. Twice.
The horses marvelled at my forbearance.
“Were that dog to use us in like manner,” sayt one, “would we not kick him?”
“In sooth, we would,” came the reply.
But Wattie understood the lesson. Viz, I would run from him only when I chose.
So he returned to my belly, thrust his nose deep into my fur, and spake a word that was full of sound and fury but signified nothing. Then he went in search of better sport.
Why did I not spare myself this strange usage by telling Wattie I hoped to travel with him?
No dog can keep a secret. They blab others’ secrets with their noses, and their own with their eyes and tails. All I desired from Wattie was his silence.
That evening I went forth and caught a rabbit. I ate all for my supper, because I knew I might not eat for many days.
The servants came before dawn, and set down their bundles, bags, and baskets in the yard. I walked among them in broad view.
The horses were brought forth.
Linkin sat in a large basket, lamenting aloud. The lid had been made fast. He could do no more than thrust out a paw.
“Be of good cheer,” sayt I, and continued my inspections.
Other baskets held favourite hens, lest London eggs prove unwholesome, and bottles of wine, and choice pasties. Gifts for the friends Linkin’s mistress would lodge with on the way.
Then I nosed a basket scented with fresh soil. Its lid was loose, and I raised it. This basket was lined with damp mosses, and held many little plants in pots packed close together.
I guessed these were the herbs that Linkin’s mistress brewed to make her broths and oyntments.
Her servants were busy with the saddles, or the harness for the pair that were to bear the baggage. None was watching me.
I slipped in, and settled myself on the pots. Some plants were tied to little sticks that shifted readily. Others were no more than slips or twigs that broke beneath my weight.
I alone heard that. The servants were loud in their talk of balancing the loads, bring me that bundle, truss these two together, hang that from here, etcetera.
The boy who lifted my basket sayt, “That’s heavier than I thought ’twould be.”
A man came to help him, saying, “The pots are full of good soil, and all have been well-watered.”
None looked in on me.
Then came Linkin’s mistress with Wattie, too intoxicate with his own excitations to pay me any heed.
The mistress was handed to her horse. A man helped her maidservant onto his, and she held the leading rein of the horse that bore me. Another manservant was mounted with the boy. They led the other horse.
As we crossed the bridge I looked back through my basket at our Earl’s great house, and glimpsed Nero lying low atop a wall, watching all.
He did not seem grieved to see us go, but I’d known him since I learnt one cat’s scent from another’s. I could not believe I might never see him more.
Wattie had wished to run behind us until his legs tired. Then I guessed he would ride with the mistress or on the luggage.
I prayed the horses would not think he meant to seize their tails, and take pleasure in kicking him. I was sure I could find a use for Wattie.
I well recall how sweet the air smelled that spring morn. And the herbs that lay crushed beneath me.
I could scarce believe what I had done.