Chapter 4: His Magnificence
Only a month into the voyage Suleyman came looking for Salt. He and his family had apparently run out of fancy food, and they were desperate. One day Salt was napping on the warm surface of the ships anvil when he heard an imperious voice behind him.
“Might I have a word, young tom?” Suleyman said .
“Sure,” Salt said. He sprang down from the anvil and started his stretching routine. He extended each back leg out one-by-one as far as it would go and gave it a wriggle of satisfaction. Then he bowed his head down between his front legs and stuck his tail and his rear-end as far in the air as he could. He gave a little shudder of joy as the kinks worked out of his spine. Then he turned to Suleyman and tilted his head to the side in a questioning gesture.
“You see, our Mistress has suddenly run short of provisions. She was unaware of how rapidly things spoil on this ship, and as a result has had to abandon many of our fine things. As she is now entirely dependent on her ships ration for her own food, she feels that we cats should begin to provide for ourselves. Besides, Constantinople, has been craving fresh meat,” Suleyman said.
“Slink said I could start patrolling the bow of the hold. Toady has been feeling a bit peckish, and Three-toed Larry and Black Moll have their hands full in the stern. You’re welcome to join me,” Salt said.
“Into the bowels of the ship, you can’t be serious?” Suleyman said.
“That’s where the fattest rats are, down near the bread room,” Salt said.
“Very well, lead the way,” Suleyman said.
Salt skirted around the sandpit where they kept the cook-fire, dove under the johnboat and through the officer’s quarters. He didn’t stop to look at Suleyman’s females, huddled in the back of their baskets. He dodged around the whipstaff where the bosun was steering the ship. Then he plunged down both sets of steps to the hold. Now he had to make his way to the bow. He bounded over a hill of barrels lying on their side and tunneled under a pile of crates that went all the way to the ceiling. When he came out, he turned around and waited for Suleyman.
Small puddles seeped up from the ballast stones that kept the ship from tipping over. Suleyman gasped as he stepped into a deep puddle. He lifted one back and one front leg and shook them fiercely. Then he tried the same with the opposite feet. No matter where he stepped his feet were getting wet, and Salt thought he looked very funny doing his crazy dance.
Salt turned away impatiently and headed further forward. What kind of dumb cat would come on board a ship and not expect to get wet? Salt picked up a rat’s trail leading to a large pallet piled high with sacks of grain and dried Pease. He slunk around the perimeter of the pallet without making a sound. He smelled the pungent odor of rat urine and knew that the pests would be near-by.
Jumping silently onto a tower of boxes, Salt looked down on the pallet. Sure enough, he found a trail of grain that led to a small hole in one of the top sacks. He signaled Suleyman to stand-by. He would flush the rats out of their nest right into Suleyman’s waiting jaws.
Salt pounced down and saw rats scatter. One foolishly tried to escape up through the hole in the grain sack. Salt grabbed it by the neck and gave him a hard shake. Then he darted over the side to land next to Suleyman. To his dismay, the Angora stood there with is back arched, ears flat against his head, and his tail hanging down. The rats ran right around him. Salt was so stunned that he barely had time to grab one of the fleeing rats while the others got away.
“I drove them right to you. All you had to do was grab one. What happened?” Salt asked.
“Grab one? My dear tom, you cannot actually expect me to attack one of those hairy beasts myself do you? Have you seen the length of their teeth?” Suleyman said.
“No, I thought you could just ask them to join you for a cup of tea!” Salt said.
“Young tom, I’ll thank you to watch your tone. Of course, an aristocrat like me cannot be expected to engage in manual labor. I merely accompanied you to make sure you were properly supervised. It’s the duty of low-born individuals such as yourself to provide food for the upper classes,” Suleyman said.
“Fine,” Salt said. “I’ll hunt for you while your on-board ship, but once we get to the New World you’ll be on your own.”
“On the contrary, young tom, once we get to the New World my family and I will be kept in high-style by our Mistress,” Suleyman said.
Salt grabbed the two dead rats in his mouth and trotted hastily back the way he had come. He didn’t even bother to look behind him to make sure Suleyman was following him.
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