Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, страница 14
Professor Tag showed up wearing the full regalia of the Royal Scottish Accountants. This consisted of a big kilt, a jacket with silver buttons, a ruffled shirt, shoes with silver buckles, a sort of plaid blanket over his shoulder, and a bonnet with a feather, also various buckles, ribbons, hunks of animal fur, leather, daggers, knives, and fountain pens tucked into his socks and cuffs, strapped around his waist, and variously attached to his costume.
"You ladies all look beautiful," the professor said. "And as you see, I too look beautiful. Now let us go out on the razzle-dazzle. It will be my honor to escort you to a fine dining establishment favored by the aristocracy."
We went to Angelina's Pizza and Pasta.
"I've always wanted to come here," Molly said.
"It's the eggplant festival," Professor Tag said.
"A six-course meal, every dish a celebration of the melanzana or aubergine, known to you as the noble eggplant, and each course served on a fresh paper plate," the proprietor said. He was a little bald guy with a mustache. "I will start you off with an individual miniature eggplant pizza."
"What is the second course?" Professor Tag asked.
"A full-size eggplant pizza, followed by spaghetti with eggplant bits, then eggplant parmigiana, the sautéed eggplant medley, and eggplant chips."
"Do you have eggplant sauce for the chips?" I asked.
"It's my grandmother's recipe."
"It all sounds so delicious," Chicken Nancy said.
"Please select cold beverages from the cooler," the little guy said. "Your waitress will bring you straws, and plastic knives and forks."
"This place had a very good write-up in the Poughkeepsie Journal," Professor Tag said. "We were lucky to get a reservation."
It was fun being all dressed up and dining in a fine restaurant. Our conversation was refined and entertaining. Professor Tag told the story about the dancing doll that did not work, which he told very well, and we enjoyed it even though we had heard it before. Molly told us jokes the dwergs like to tell. This is an example of a dwergish joke:
Dwerg (standing on the east bank of a river, and calling to a dwerg on the west bank of the river): Hey, dwerg! How do I get to the other side?
Other dwerg (standing on the west bank of the river): Silly dwerg! You're already on the other side!
We laughed politely.
Chicken Nancy told us many facts about the eggplant, or solanum melongena (melongena being its ancient name in Sanskrit). It is the only member of the deadly nightshade family to have originated in the Eastern Hemisphere, and it is related to the tomato. In Europe it was believed to cause insanity and was known as the "mad apple." Thomas Jefferson introduced it to North America.
I did not talk about what I planned to demonstrate at Spookhuizen when it got dark, because I didn't precisely know what I was going to do—but I knew I would know when the time came.
The Time Has Come
The sun was getting low as we finished our dessert, which had no eggplant—it was individual mini-cheesecakes that came wrapped in cellophane, and paper cups of delicious coffee.
"Let us be on our way," Professor Tag said. We said goodbye to John, the pizza and pasta proprietor, and went out into the street, wearing our party clothes, and me carrying my Sacred Snooker Stick.
Every thing was normal at the old stone barn. We saw the fritter lady through the window, bustling around her shop as usual, but instead of the usual apron, sticky with apple goo, she was wearing a nice gigantic orange dress.
"Even Clarinda Quackenboss is dressed up tonight," Chicken Nancy said.
We passed through the barn and onto the grounds of Spookhuizen. The tops of the beech trees were glowing golden in the last rays of the sun, and the old house was its ghostly self in the distance. The lawns looked freshly mowed, and there was a good cut-grass smell.
We strolled among the trees, feeling fine after our dinner and cutting a stylish figure in our fancy clothes. It was all very civilized and pleasant.
"I have a feeling the flying saucers ... uh, flying pussycats ... will be putting on a particularly good show," Professor Tag said.
"Depend on it," Chicken Nancy said. "This is just like so many nights I remember from when I was a girl no older than these two."
"Back in the old times, you said, Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling disappeared," Molly said. "How did she come to disappear, and what or who made her do that?"
"Can't you guess?" Chicken Nancy said.
"I can guess, but I thought instead I would just ask you," Molly said.
"Well, as Audrey here seems to have worked out, Elizabeth was quite an important person in certain ways," Chicken Nancy said. "And she was good, as opposed to bad. So someone quite bad disappeared her."
"And who would that have been?" Molly asked.
"Who do you think it was, Audrey?" Chicken Nancy asked me.
"Was it Matthias Krenzer, the old Dutch censor who stole the censer from the Old Dutch Church and was demoted to an old Dutch cleanser, and later opened a muffinery and became the Muffin Man, and is completely evil, and once menaced Molly and me, until Molly instinctively summoned the vicious Christmas tree spirits to chase him away?" I guessed.
"Maybe," Chicken Nancy said. "Look! It's nearly dark!"
I smelled something like pineapple and mint.
The Best Ever
This time the fuzzballs didn't appear a long way off and then come closer. This time they were right above our heads, all at once, and there were lots of them! They moved around among us, almost touching us. I could feel their warmth, and something else—it was like happiness, or love. And I could hear the sound they made—they were purring!
Up to now, I had sort of half known things, suspected them, had vague ideas and hunches. I knew I was getting closer to understanding something, but it was as though I could only see what I was getting at by glancing out of the corners of my eye—if I looked directly at it, it would elude me, be invisible. Now, suddenly, I understood everything. I couldn't have put it in words—it didn't have words—but I knew what I had to do.
I raised the Sacred Snooker Stick, held it up as high as I could, and stood on tiptoe. Instantly, the flying fuzzballs, the space-pussycat things, extended their light and touched the Sacred Snooker Stick with electricity, or space-pussycat lightning, or liquid fire, or ... I didn't know what it was, but it was powerful stuff. It ran down the Sacred Snooker Stick, lighting it up, and down my arm, and all around me—it got into my brain. And I felt my brain light up! Then I really knew everything. I don't mean just everything about me, and who I was and what I was supposed to do, and Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling, and the pussycats—I mean I knew everything about everything. And that was more than my brain could deal with, so it just sort of switched itself off. Part of me was still me, the me I usually was and always had been—that part was watching me. I saw myself walk up to the very biggest, most gnarled and twisted amazing old beech tree on the place and give it an enormous whack on the trunk with the Sacred Snooker Stick.
The whole tree shuddered and shook. It wiggled its branches. Leaves fluttered down. Sparks and flashes of light ran up and down the trunk. Then the mighty trunk split open and out stepped...
Of course, it wasn't me. I mean, it wasn't just me—it was her too. It was Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling! There I was, me, the me I had been all along, being watched by the part of me that had stepped outside of me when the pussycat-lightning hit me—and that me was partly Elizabeth, and was facing Elizabeth, who was partly me. I should have been a lot more confused than I was, but it actually all felt sort of normal in a completely abnormal way.
"Nice to see you," the me that was mostly Elizabeth said to the me that was mostly me. "I got sick of being stuck inside that tree at least a hundred years ago."
"Um. Glad I could be of service," I said.
She was even wearing the same sort of gown as the one I had on.
"No, I can honestly say this is a first," I said to my other self.
"I expect we'll get sorted out and separate into two people by and by," Elizabeth said.
I was becoming aware that the two of us were alone on the avenue of beech trees. Molly, Chicken Nancy, Professor Tag, and the flying fuzzball space-pussycats all had disappeared. I also noticed that the windows of Spookhuizen were glittering with light and the doors were open, and I could hear music playing.
"The ball," Elizabeth said.
"The ball. There's a ball going on. You're dressed for it, so you must have known. Shall we go in?"
The Ball at Spookhuizen
Almost everybody was a cat, more or less, or to some extent. Some were no different from regular pussycats one sees every day. Others were larger, ranging to almost the size of lions, and still others appeared to be partly or mostly human, or humanlike. Still others seemed to be a combination of cat and species I didn't recognize, and some were humans with a cat feature or two, like me. Like Elizabeth. Those who wore clothes were wearing fancy ones. There was a pussycat orchestra, lots of candles in crystal chandeliers, a long table with lots of cakes and desserts, and a fountain of some kind of wine or punch. There were also some humans, and others.
When Elizabeth and I came in, everyone turned toward us and applauded—it was a soft sort of applause, clapping paws together—and smiled and nodded to us.
"That's for you," Elizabeth said. "For finding me, and getting me out of the tree."
Apparently, Elizabeth was important—some kind of ambassador, or maybe a beacon for the space cats, or she was royalty or something. Anyway, they were all glad she had gotten loose from the tree, and they were all happy about me being the one who did it. Lots of cats, cat-people, and people, and things came up and talked to us, and brought me ice cream, and patted my head, and purred at me. It was a little embarrassing, and confusing—so many little conversations one after another, and sometimes two or three at once. I was able to pick up that the idea that Elizabeth and I were different editions of the same person, each belonging to a particular place and plane, was about right. She belonged to this one, the girl I had seen on the in-between Poughkeepsie plane belonged there, and I belonged to the one I came from.
I saw Chicken Nancy talking to some cats, and Professor Tag was dancing with one. Molly was with some dwergs—they appeared to be telling jokes and laughing. The Hudson River trolls were in a little room off the main room, playing cards. Harold the giant was there, and Alexandra Van Dood, and the Gleybners!
"Audrey dear!" Mrs. Gleybner said to me. "Isn't this a nice party? I think some of the guests may be extraterrestrials."
"The Wolluf is outside in the bushes," Elizabeth told me in answer to a question that had just occurred to me—not so much reading my mind as having one exactly like it. "He enjoys social occasions but doesn't want to come in and terrify and disgust everyone." So I knew he had gone back to his usual unbearable appearance. I thought Molly or I should take him some ice cream or a piece of cake.
I felt completely comfortable with Elizabeth, naturally, since we were the same person, but it also felt slightly weird to be with her. I was literally beside myself. We didn't speak much, not needing to. We both knew that we would have to sort ourselves out sooner or later. It would not do for both of us to stay in the same time and space. But there was no rush about it, we both thought. We'd get around to it. I was really here as a tourist, and presumably would be going back to from whence I had come, or someplace else, but not just yet.
The Grand Dance
"Everyone take your places for the grand dance!" someone shouted.
All of a sudden, I felt like dancing. I had never danced much, but now I wanted to. Everyone else apparently felt the same way, because they all began a very complicated dance that involved all the guests. This was no ordinary dance—it wasn't just having fun and moving to music.
I knew that bees have long and elaborate dances and by doing them they communicate lots of information about routes and distances, and how to get from place to place. The dance I now joined was something like that, but a thousand times more elaborate. As we moved around the ballroom, sometimes gliding, sometimes shuffling, sometimes jumping, and sometimes wiggling our bottoms, I could feel my brain being filled with knowledge.
I saw history. I experienced the story of the ancient space-faring pussycat race. Very ancient pussycats had discovered they could transform themselves into beings made entirely of light, traverse immense distances, and then reconstitute themselves into physical form. I learned the stories of the first journeys of exploration and the names of the great pussycat-voyagers, heard the ancient songs, and saw great cities on unheard-of worlds.
I did not learn just big things. I learned the history of my own family. I saw my own parents, of whom I had never had any memory. The sight of them was incredibly sweet, and at the same time I felt hot tears squirting. Then I learned how they had left me temporarily with Uncle Father Palabra and then were lost on a journey, and so far not found—and I learned where it would make sense to begin looking for them. At this precise point, Molly passed me in the dance and whispered, "I'll go with you."
Then, for I don't know how long, the dance was about higher mathematics. Well, better to say much higher mathematics. I couldn't believe I was understanding the stuff that was being loaded into my head—but I was. Then there was a lot of astro-navigation, and recipes, and poetry, and cookery. I was pretty sure not all of this would stay in my brain, at least anywhere in my brain where I could lay hands on it, when the dance was over.
And then ... the dance was over. Dawn was breaking and the guests had said goodbye to one another, and all of them to Elizabeth and me, and had departed. I was standing on the veranda of Spookhuizen with Molly and Elizabeth.
"Well, that was certainly fun, wasn't it?" Elizabeth said.
"It's funny talking to two of you," Molly said. "I mean, talking to one of you, twice. So what are you, individually and collectively, going to do now?"
"I don't know," I said.
"I don't know," Elizabeth said.
"I have to think about it," I said.
"I have to think about it," Elizabeth said.
"I bet I know," Molly said.
"We bet you do," we both said.
(To be continued in Escape to Dwerg Mountain, soon to be available at the Gleybners' bookstore, in Poughkeepsie, New York.)
Daniel Pinkwater, Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl