It was November 1st, that day of blithe spirits, in the year 1897. I was at home with my lady, Martha, and she was informing me of a recent calamity.
“Where, oh where is my ginger?!” She crowed.
“Ginger? You’re going to prepare an Indian curry?” I slyly responded.
“You know what I am discussing, Horatio!” Martha was full of acid at times like this, and it made me sick to be brewed overmuch in it.
“Yes, yes. You’ve lost your ginger cat. Is that so, my love?”
“He’s not anywhere! That devilish rogue, I must dress him and give him his duck pâté!”
“Perhaps ‘twas the pâté that ran him off,” I rumbled, “or possibly the pink bonnet.” I added more audibly.
“The ginger,” she replied, “is mine to do with as I please… my love.” Martha’s use of the endearing phrase carried no tone of its meaning so that one might easily exchange it for any number of harsher descriptors.
“Well, Martha,” I began, “what do you expect me to do about your ginger vagabond?”
“Find him, of course!” Martha exploded. “He must be found and you are the one to do it!”
“Because you are my husband! For the love of our father who arte in heaven! Have you lost all sense of self, Horatio?”
“I’ve plenty sense of my own self, it’s your self whose logic is unsensible to me.”
Martha burst into tears and collapsed dramatically into an overstuffed chair. “You awful, awful man!” She cried. “Why have I made such a mistake? My father was correct, ‘A clever tongue matches not an obedient wit and strong back’!”
I crumpled slightly, “You’re father really said that? Well he’s a perfect example for me to base myself on I suppose. I’ve never seen a more obedient man. Certainly, if I confronted him on this insult and demanded satisfaction, I would not be surprised if he pointed his pistol at himself in our duel.” I chuckled at my own humour. I was quite the comicist in my youth.
Martha stood up and tiptoed over to me. When she had come closer she bent down to be level with my eyes while I remained in my seat. On this particular morning her corsets seemed to be particularly well trussed, and her dress was flattering, if not scandalous. As any proper husband would, I enjoyed the view. “You pitiful man,” she accused as she stood up straight. “Well, if you ever want to be sharing my bed again you will go out into those woods and you will find my ginger!” With that, Martha stormed off to what had just become her bedroom.
I sulked for a few moments, and drank a tumbler of brandy before changing from my house coat and pants into the simple clothes of a laborer. I recalled that Martha often carried a bit of her perfume and some of her ginger’s delicacy, the revolting pâté, in her bag. With the thought of baiting the ginger out of hiding, I took her bag with me and set off out the servants’ entrance towards the misty woods beyond.
The air was crisp and dripping. My hair was damp by the time I had crossed the yard and reached the edge of our woods. There was a high stone wall with an open gate of iron that I crossed through. The path was littered with dead leaves, small weeds and shrubs, and the occasional sapling, though most of the trees were quite large. The pale, late autumn sky would have been completely blotted out by deciduous leaves earlier in the year, but at this point the air above was wild with a spider web of thick and thin branches embracing and tickling one another. There was a small pond in the middle of the woods that burbled in muddy repose. During the warm months it is often surrounded by skunk cabbage and cowslip, and the surface murky with algae. Presently it was murky all on its own.
I stepped lightly through the dank humus of the path, for any harder steps would have sucked my boots in a muddy embrace. It had rained on all hallow’s eve and everything was still wet; the wood, yard, and me. Each step through those old, foggy woods brought a “squelch, squelch, squelch” to my ears. It was disgusting. Toads chirped near the pond as I veered round its south bank. The dogs barked and crooned in the hills to the east. The woods were alive.
I found that as I walked, the execrable odour of the cat’s pâté began wafting out of Martha’s bag quite pungently. I grew more and more certain that I would find him soon enough. In a flash I felt a terrible dragging at the bag in my hand as if it had been nabbed by a rosebush in my carelessness. It was in fact my dear Martha’s ginger cat who clung to the bottom of her bag and whose eyes were milky white and strange to me. He dragged at the bag as I attempted to wrest him from it, and in the end he turned his fury upon me. The ginger was filthy from frolicking in the muddy swamp and I was filled with the fear of the pox when his claws were brought to bear. I dropped the bag in my haste to escape him, and the vile devil made off with it and the duck pâté.
Bewildered, and knowing that I now required two things if my wife were ever again to allow me beside her, I cast about myself in the mucky bole for a stick of wood to threaten the cat with. I brought a thin cudgel up from the mess of leaves and dirt and began sneaking about, wraith like, in search of the ginger cat once more. I assumed that he would soon stop with her bag and dig around for the pâté. It would take time for the ginger to fully consume it, and he would be nauseously satisfied with the amount I had brought.
Suddenly, I spied an orangish lump a ways before me. I made for it carefully like a rogue dodger, and found it to be quite fuzzy when I went down and lifted it up. However said orangish lump was in fact a strange sweater that bore a striking resemblance to one that I had left at home in the dresser. On it was writing in a bright, complimentary blue that read, “Don’t be daft!” I deemed it good advice, but the writing ruined the sweater, and I had no idea how the sweater or the writing could have appeared at this location, at this time, without another soul in the woods but my ginger quarry.
Then I grew truly put out with the festersome feline. I brought the stick heavy in my hands, gripped with white knuckles, and went again with the ruined sweater dangled over one shoulder. I thought for a moment I had heard the hungry noise of my prey and so I paused against a tree and spied around for him. Just as I was ready to call it a false alarum and press on, I was startled to the possibility of stroke when the ginger’s melancholic “Merow!” came to my ears from directly behind me. I whirled and raised the bludgeon over my head as if to smite him, but my blow was stopped before I made it by the earth shattering shock of what came next.
There I stood, stick of wood in my hands, facing down a minuscule, orange cat who opened his mouth and in a squeaky, pompous, little voice he began shooting words out at me from the pit of his larynx. The ginger cat was just as tiny and filthy as before, but now he carried a disturbing and magical quality as he expounded and obfuscated. As he was crouching there before me, and I stood stock still with the cudgel held limply in my hands, his words were drilled permanently into my mind. I call them back in perfect detail now: “Mr. Roth. I want to thank you for the delicious pâté that you so generously brought to me. The aroma was breathtaking. The flavor made my coarse tongue sizzle with delight. The texture held allusions to the heart and liver of a rabbit after one allows it to rot appropriately for three days. I say bravo, Mr. Roth, bravo! You don’t happen to have any more do you?”
I was dumb to his question, but my stupefied stuttering was quickly cut off by his resumed monologue.
“It matters not, for I doubt that I could stomach another morsel of the magnificent concoction. In the meantime, what would you say to continuing our little game of cat and man? I was finding it so delightful that I can barely contain my glee at this very moment. All I truly desire presently is to leap upon you and have you hide away once more as you so deliberately did the first time I showed my teeth!” The cat laughed abominably at this juncture. Then he went on, “You are such a canny adversary, Mr. Roth, although I do say that I have quite soiled myself with all of this frolicking. My fur is filthy beyond measure! Particularly this blue paint. I do say that bit of wordsmithing on your sweater took a great deal of effort and has charged me a certain bath in exchange, though truly I do delight in my baths with your wife. She is such a lovely woman, and a magnificent bather.” Then the cat dropped off into nostalgic mewling.
Obviously, I was appalled and disturbed beyond reference by the time the ginger had finished his pontification, and assuming the ginger to in fact be the familiar of a witch who one would assume is undoubtedly my wife, though I doubted that, I resumed my former posture and smote him with the stick. However what I had not realized before was that the piece of wood was truly coated with mushrooms and was naught but punky rot within. It disintegrated in my hands from the force of air pushing against it and nothing at all struck the ginger cat when I had come to the end of my swing. He cackled good-naturedly and stated, “Oh my, that was an auspicious occurrence for me, Mr. Roth. What do you say we simply head back to the home? I would quite like a nuzzling from Mrs. Roth about now.”
“I certainly am ready to call this off and head home, you truly fair, and kind Samaritan of a ginger cat.” I had wanted to call him a number of other things, but my clearest desire was to simply get him into my home, get my wife into bed one last time, collect my effects and escape that daft witch and her felinis familiarus. I scooped the cat up and wrapped my ruined sweater around him, which served to get more blue paint on his fur than there had been already.
As I walked back through the mucky woods the mist was beginning to clear, and a white November sky shown brightly through the net of skeleton branches up above. The dirt was a bit drier than I had first found it, and my steps no longer spoke of, “squelch, squelch, squelch,” but simply, “Tap, tap, tap, shuffle, tap, tap, tap.” The cat would occasionally attempt to strike up a conversation with me, but I simply pressed the sweater down harder each time and pretended that it was only the muffled calls of dogs in the distance.
When I finally saw the iron gate ahead my heart felt lighter than ever before, I would return this demonic beast to his rightful owner, she would shower me with her affections one last time, and I would steal away in the night after battering her with a rock. The grass was finally dry enough that it did not soak into my socks and pants legs, though it did brush a bit of the mud off, and my house looked the same going in as it had going out. When I came to the door I rapped on it, and Martha came to the door; her hair a mess and her face distressed.
“Did you find him?!”
“I did. I found him and more.” I replied as I scooped him out of my defiled sweater. “Apparently the garish little rogue had stolen away my sweater and written a bit of good advice on it for me. Luckily I didn’t need the advice and, um… Darling?”
Martha had taken the ginger from my hands and was indeed holding his face up to her mouth and kissing him full on the… well, um, whiskers I suppose. Cats don’t have proper lips so it’s hard to describe, but I sensed a distinct romantic quality to her gesture that I thought was more due to me, than to a rubbish ginger who had stolen away again.
I tramped in, pushing past their lovers’ embrace, dropped her bag on the ground beside them, and went upstairs. I changed into proper travel clothes and began assorting my necessary belongings within a suitcase. As diabolous noises of repugnant debauch came to my ears from below, I uttered a cruel oath, and described my wife Martha, “vile woman.”
I began ranting aloud in my chamber, for there was no one around. “What a filthy, vile woman. I can barely describe her as a woman! To love a ginger cat, not just emotionally more than myself, but physically! She’s a demon! A witch! She invokes Him to me when manipulating me merely to capture her… lover. She disgusts me! Honestly Horatio what have you done? Why would you ever marry such a vile woman? A vile woman!!!!”
I latched up the suitcase and collected my rapier and pistol. When I had properly appropriated them I went down stairs with the case’s handle gripped firmly in my left hand. My pistol was holstered on my left side so that by reaching across myself I could easily go to draw it with my right hand. Down in the den Martha was playfully caressing the ginger cat on our sofa and he purred suggestively to her. I scowled at them and faced Martha head on.
“Martha,” I said, “I’m leaving for an extended trip. I’m taking my money with me, and all that I will need. I hope that your feline comrade can perhaps go and hunt you some food, or perhaps you would conjure your sustenance out of a heretical blood fire.”
Her gay laughter stopped and Martha faced me, “Horatio, what in God’s name are you talking about?”
“Do not speak of His name! I know what you are, witch. Your ginger spoke to me in conversational tones!”
“Spoke, Horatio?” She asked. “That’s preposterous, Horatio, why would a cat ever do that?”
My eyes narrowed as I looked on my wife playing with her delicate little Beelzebub. He smirked up at me, and his white eyes winked playfully.
“Martha,” I addressed her, “It matters not whether you are willing to admit to your vileness now, or ever. I know what I experienced, and I take my leave now. Good day!” I ended the little speech as firmly as I could. She looked back at me as I stepped out of the den and towards my stables, but soon I knew that she was back to doing unclean things with her ginger. I unhitched my strongest horse, and rode hard for the city. I am happy here.
Though as I complete this telling of scorn and strange tidings on that blithe day, I find I am still rich in wondering of what was happening there in my home. Whether my wife deserves a burning stake or not, I stand by my recording of her ginger’s uncouth, familiar speech, and though I wonder still on their relationship, I would not return to that property without a legion at my back.