The Mayflower: 7/10/1620
Morton and CB kept low to the dock and hurried to find a place to hide. A large pile of crates and barrels did not look at all appealing, but they managed to find the remnants of a small row boat to duck under.
The cats debated whether to search for food and water or try to find out what happened to their families. Morton had little hope that The Mayflower was still in Southampton, but he had to know for sure. They managed to liberate a small herring from a fishing net and gobble it down as fast as possible while searching the dock.
Neither Morton nor CB noticed the many hostile eyes following them on their hunt. The two cats paused at every craft, listening for any news that might tell them what had become of the Mayflower.
They were approaching the final ship when they heard a hiss coming from a nearby alley. CB charged over to find out who made the noise. Morton followed his new friend down the alley, even though he suspected the dock cats to surround them. Sure enough, they reached a dead end and found Fink waiting for them. Turning to go back the way they came, they found the way blocked by four more cats. Fink’s two gray companions, plus two mangy looking browns.
Fink stepped up, letting the fur on his back and tail stand on end. “I told Black Bart that we’d done away with you Separatists cats. So this time I’m going to keep my word.”
“Listen, all we want is to find out what happened to the Mayflower,” Morton said. “Then we’ll leave town for good.”
One of the brown cats said, “The Mayflower…” before Fink cut him off with a hiss.
“I demand that you clear the way,” CB said. “Remove yourselves or I promise you’ll regret it.”
“Oh is that so?” Fink arched his back even further.
Before he could say anything, CB jumped on him with the fury of a tempest. Within seconds, the small black cat had turned Fink into a bloody heap and had started on another one of the gray cats. One of the browns ran off and Morton faced off against the third gray. He was not fond of fighting, but since he had no choice, he decided to draw his opponent in. He laid on his side, with all four paws splayed out. When his opponent went for his middle, Morton sprung his trap, surrounding his opponents head with all four paws and his teeth. Grabbing an ear and holding tight, he wrestled the cat into submission.
CB had taken care of the other gray, and now had the remaining brown pinned down on his side in submission. “You said something about the Mayflower earlier?”
“I, um, well…” the cat's eyes darted over the forms of his companions. “The Mayflower is still here. It’s the last ship at the dock. But Black Bart won’t be happy about this.”
“Black Bart can go to the devil.” CB let the cat up.
Morton couldn’t believe their luck, they hadn’t missed the ship, after all. “Come on CB we need to get on that ship right now. They could be leaving any minute. Morton led the way and the two cats hurried aboard a small boat that would row them out to the ship. They went straight away to find their families, and found them huddled in the ‘tween decks of the vessel.
Giles jumped up as soon as he saw Morton. “There you are old boy. We thought you’d decided against coming to Virginia with us.”
Elizabeth rose more cautiously since she couldn’t stand upright in the shallow ‘tween deck. “Oh Morton, Stephen will be glad to see you. He was worried about how we’d settle the New World without our cat. Besides, the rats on this ship are about to take over.”
Demaris toddled over, grabbed Morton around his waist and said, “kitty.”
After she released him, Morton wandered around the small space the Hopkins family had carved out for themselves. Elizabeth had a small milking stool wedged between the trunk and the blankets they used to make sleeping pallets at night. Behind this was a support post so the stool wouldn’t slide around. Additional blankets hung from clotheslines to form a makeshift wall on one side. A broken down crate formed the other wall.
Elizabeth sat back in the stool and took Demaris onto her shrinking lap. Constance sat at her feet, knitting a stocking, but Giles could not be still.
“Mother, when are we going to leave? It’s been days and days, and we’re still right where we started.”
“Your father says the Separatists are still attempting to settle matters here and that their ship, is still undergoing repairs.”
“So if we’re going to be stuck here, can’t I at least go into town?”
“Absolutely not. It’s much too dangerous for you to go alone, and I can’t send Constance with you.” Elizabeth leaned forward and lowered her voice. “You know the Billington brothers have been teasing your sister. The only way to keep her safe is to keep her close to me. And before you ask, you know I can’t leave here either. Someone has to stay and guard our belongings from our neighbors.” She threw a significant look at the board partition separating the Hopkin’s small space from the one next to it.
“But I’m so bored.”
“Go up on deck then and walk around, but whatever you do, don’t leave this ship.”
Morton decided to follow the boy up on deck and make sure he didn’t get into trouble. He was alarmed to see the sailors glaring at the boy and muttering about him under their breath. Then he saw two older boys taunting Giles, calling him “Mama’s boy.” They finally left Giles alone and took the transport boat back to the wharf. There they would be free to run about unsupervised.
Giles was leaning against the port side railing watching the older boys wave and taunt him. Morton wound himself against the boy's ankles, purring to comfort him. Giles bent down and stroked his head. “I wish Mama would let me go with the Billington boys. I reckon I’m old enough to look after myself. She treats me the same as Demaris.”
A sailor came up and said, “Get back below you little Brownist. We don’t need no kiddies getting in the way of our work up here.”
Morton wondered why he’d called Giles, “Brownist.” He wasn’t familiar with the word, but the way he said it was the way humans usually mentioned something else that was brown. He followed the fleeing boy back down into the hold. Giles had flung himself onto the floor and was crying into his sister’s skirts. Morton decided to let the women folk deal with the boy until he was more settled.
He went in search of his friend CB. He expected to find him somewhere nearby since the boat was so small. But instead he found another cat. His coat was a dull powdery color that might have been gray, or just unwashed white. Morton shrank back from the fleas marching up and down his mangy coat. The creature opened one matted eye and peered at Morton. “Got anything to eat?” he asked.
The cat looked like he needed help. “I’ll try to find you something as soon as I have a chance to hunt.”
He found CB on the starboard side of the ship with Rose Standish, “helping her” organize their small shelter. He hopped off the beer barrel he’d been sitting on and dashed over to Morton.
“Quite cramped quarters aren’t they?” CB said.
“Yes,” Morton said. “It’s much more crowded than the last ship I sailed on. Why my people hardly have room to lay down, and who knows where Ned and Eddie will sleep.”
“Have you seen any other cats?” CB asked.
“Only one, some poor old tom that looked as if he could barely stand, let alone catch any supper. I told him I’d find him something to eat.”
“We better check out the cargo hold then, that’s where all the tasty rats will be hiding.”
Morton and CB found their way down to the lowest part of the ship. Barrels of beer and cider crammed the hold. They also packed enough crates of hard biscuits to last for a couple of months. There was also dried beef and salt pork, some bags of wheat, oats, and peas, and some bacon. The Mayflower had a smaller hold than the ship that had brought Morton to England, but already more passengers. They couldn’t afford to lose any of this precious food to rats.
The two cats started to police the area and turned up a rats nest, almost at once. They coordinated an attack from two sides and were able to each takedown two rats a piece.
Morton said, “I’m going to take one to that elderly cat I saw earlier. He looked like he could use a good meal.”
“Not so fast, boyo.” A cat growled from behind him.
Morton turned to see the wickedest looking cat he’d ever seen. At one time, he must have been mostly white, with only a black patch over one ear and eye. But both the ear and eye were missing. In their place, was a hideous pink scar, running across his nose, which was now deformed. Scars crisscrossed his fur, and his whiskers were broken and askew. The cat’s one remaining eye was the only beautiful thing about him, a piercing blue. But under the narrowed eyelid, the eye became menacing and sly.
The cat spat when he talked. “You two pets need to pay for yer passage. Now hand over half of that catch.”
CB plumed out his long feathery tail. “We will not, Sir. You should know that you are speaking to Captain Butler, owner of Captain Myles Standish. And this is Morton Hopkins, owner of the only man to have journeyed to Virginia before. Who do you think you are?”
“I’m top cat on this here vessel that’s who. The only Captain on this ship is Christopher Jones. You landlubbers are under our jurisdiction and that means you pay me half of what you catch.”
That was all it took for CB to jump on the older cat. They fought viciously as Morton watched in horror. He didn’t think it was right to pair up with CB, making it two against one. Then he realized the old cat might defeat his friend, and he jumped in to break them up.
When he finally had them separated, Morton said, “Stop it, both of you. We need to work together. This ship is small, but this food has to last at least two months. Do you know how hard it is to keep the rat population under control on a long voyage like this?”
Both cats shook their heads.
“Well, I do. Sailing to France or Holland is one thing, a matter of days or a week at most, but two months or more onboard ship. Why that’s time for rats to have great-grandchildren! And our people don’t have enough food to share with rats.”
“What do I care for your people anyway?” said the scarred cat. “I’d have at least three more of my boys with me if it weren’t for you lot. But I had to put Fink and his brothers off the ship to make room for you.”
So that was why Fink wanted Morton and CB out of the way.
“Now I’ve got to work with some lazy house-pets instead of honest sailing-cats.”
“I think you’ll find that Morton and I are hardly lazy.” CB nudged the four freshly caught rats with his nose.
“Maybe not, but what about that cat, Duffer? He’s too lazy to even wash away the flea eggs. Now the whole ship is infested.”
He must mean the sick cat Morton had seen earlier. “That cat is ill. He needs nourishment.”
“His only sickness is laziness,” the scarred cat said. “Look here, if I’m stuck with you two pets, here’s how it’s going to work. You give me two of them rats there as a down payment. Then I take a third of your catch for the rest of the voyage.”
“Agreed,” Morton said before CB could get in another fight. “What do we call you anyway?”
The scarred tom turned his back showing what was left of his tail. “Name’s Black Bart.”
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