Adventures of a cat whis.., p.7

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, страница 7


Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl

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  "You summoned them," Chicken Nancy said.

  "How could I have summoned them? I never heard of them before."

  "It was instinct," Chicken Nancy said. "Dwergs have powers."

  "They do? The only power I noticed dwergs having when I was living at home was the power to stay on their feet after drinking lots of homemade Catskill Mountain gin."

  "Are you sure?" Chicken Nancy asked. "Have you never noticed any powers?"

  "You mean like knowing things about people before they tell me, and knowing what they are thinking?"

  "For example," Chicken Nancy said.

  "I thought that was just part of being crazy. Isn't it?"

  "What am I thinking right now?" Chicken Nancy asked.

  "You are thinking it's a pity I didn't come along sooner so you could set me straight."

  "I am. But it's not too late. And by the way, remember how you used to be crazy?"

  "Sure, until you cured me with that special tea."

  "That was Lipton's from the store. You were never really crazy to begin with. It's just that nobody ever explained things to you. You just needed to stop thinking you were crazy. I hope you will forgive my little deception."

  I have to admit, I felt a little jealous. Chicken Nancy was so nice to Molly. I wished I thought I was crazy or needed to have things explained to me too.

  "Oh, you're just as mixed up as I am," Molly said to me. "There's plenty you don't understand."

  "Oh, yes, the mind-reading thing," I said. "Well, I would like to know about that picture."

  "The one of you?" Molly asked.

  "The one of Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling," I said. "It's not me."

  "Well, there is a striking resemblance," Chicken Nancy said. She had gotten the picture out of the drawer, and we looked at it. In the candlelight, it looked real and alive, and exactly like me.

  "That's because it's you," Molly said.

  "I don't know why you keep saying that," I said.

  "Because it's a picture of you," Molly said.

  "Look, unless Chicken Nancy is playing an elaborate joke on me..."

  "Which I would never do," Chicken Nancy said.

  "...then it is a portrait of a girl who lived well over a century ago."

  "And yet you and she are one and the same," Molly said.

  "And you think this because?"

  "Because look at the evidence," Molly said. "Here is the picture, and here are you, right in front of me."

  "Besides my having absolutely no recollection of being Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling, how do you account for the fact that if I were she, I would be older than Chicken Nancy?"

  "How old are you, anyway?" Molly asked.

  "It's a funny thing," I said. "I don't exactly know. Fourteen, fifteen, somewhere in my teens. You see, Uncle Father Palabra, who raised me, is a retired monk, and even though he is retired he spends a fair amount of time in prayer or being silent, meditating and the like. I always assumed that was why he never told me a lot about my own history. He has various monkish ways about him. For example, we never celebrated our birthdays—instead, we would celebrate the birthdays of Saint Pussycat, who has nine per year."

  "Saint Pussycat?"

  "A saint Uncle Father likes especially. I'm not sure if she is an official saint. My earliest memory is of reading about Saint Pussycat in one of Uncle Father's books."

  Molly was grinning. "So you don't know your right age, and the first thing you can remember happened when you were already able to read."

  "I see where you're going with this," I said. "And while I don't know my exact age, I think it is pretty obvious that I am not over a hundred years old, so I am obviously not Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling."

  "It's not terribly likely," Chicken Nancy said. "But I wouldn't rule it out completely. It is more likely that you are her doppelganger."

  "What's a doppelganger?"

  "Person who is exactly like you," Chicken Nancy said. "Some people believe each of us has one. Maybe Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling is yours."

  "Who was she exactly?" Molly asked Chicken Nancy. "Tell us about her."


  Elizabeth's Story

  "Cups of tea, I think," Chicken Nancy said. "And then I will tell you what I know about Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling, and after that I think it will be time for us to sleep." Chicken Nancy poured out cups of tea. We sat at the table, sipping and listening, with Weer snoring at our feet.

  "First, Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling was not actually a member of the family. She just turned up at Spookhuizen under mysterious circumstances and wound up adopted."

  "What were the mysterious circumstances?"

  "It was said that she had come in a flying saucer."

  "They knew about the flying saucers back then?" I asked.

  "More so than now," Chicken Nancy said. "There was more flying saucer activity in the nineteenth century than there is today. People had a lot of theories about them, and there were books written and articles in the press. Even Mr. Lincoln used to tell a story about flying saucers."

  "Abraham Lincoln?"

  "Yes. He told a story about a flying saucer that landed in New York City and broke a wheel. The captain of the flying saucer went into the nearest open shop, which happened to be a bagel shop.

  "'Give me one of those flying saucer wheels,' the saucer captain said.

  "'Those are not wheels,' the shopkeeper said. 'They are bagels.'

  "'Bagels?' the saucer captain said. 'What are bagels? What do you do with them?'

  "'We eat them,' the shopkeeper said. 'Here, try one.' He handed the saucer captain a bagel.

  "The flying saucer captain took a bite of the bagel. 'Not bad,' the saucer captain said. 'You know what would go well with this?'

  "'What?' the shopkeeper asked.

  "'Lox, and cream cheese,' the space man said."

  "Abraham Lincoln told that story?"

  "Abraham Lincoln knew about lox and cream cheese?"

  "And flying saucers?"

  "Well, he told a lot of stories," Chicken Nancy said. "And he was president of the United States, so he knew about everything, lox and cream cheese included. As to knowing about flying saucers, some think he came from another planet himself."

  "I love history," Molly said. "It's my favorite subject. But what about Elizabeth? Do you know more about her?"

  "My mother said she was a nice girl, kind and pleasant, and aside from her special powers, normal in every way."

  "Her special powers?"

  "Yes, she seemed to know when the flying saucers were going to appear, and some thought she could communicate with them—but the really unusual thing about her was that she seemed to have some kind of relationship with the Wolluf."

  "The Wolluf?" I asked.

  Weer whimpered under the table.

  "The Wolluf is a rare animal," Chicken Nancy said. "Either it is the last great wolf here in the Hudson Valley, or it is supernatural—maybe a werewolf. It is almost never seen, and very large and wild. People were very much afraid of it."

  "You said it is—present tense," Molly said. "It doesn't still exist, does it?"

  "Some say it doesn't—those who remember it at all," Chicken Nancy said. "I say it does. There are a lot of stories about it, including the belief that anyone who sees it will go mad. Of course that is not true—I saw it once when I was a young girl, and nothing happened to me. I was frightened, of course, but it didn't cause me to lose my mind. Anyway, Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling was quite chummy with it, and for that reason people feared her and thought she was a witch."

  "You saw the Wolluf?" I asked. "What was it like?"

  "Well, let's say that compared to seeing the Wolluf, meeting the Muffin Man is like a birthday party," Chicken Nancy said. "I see you have finished your tea. Pass your cups to me and I will read the leaves."

  "Read the leaves?"

  "At the bottom of your cup, the little fragments of tea leaves will have made a pattern. I can tell what they mean."

sp; I looked into my cup. I didn't need Chicken Nancy to tell me what the pattern meant. It was more of a picture than a pattern—a shaggy, scary, four-footed picture. I passed her the cup and she looked into it.

  "Oh, my," she said. "What a coincidence. The Wolluf."

  "What do my tea leaves say?" Molly asked.

  "Another coincidence," Chicken Nancy said. "A castle."

  "Why is that a coincidence?"

  "Because the only castle around here is on Pollepel Island, and Pollepel Island is said to be the best place to run into the Wolluf."



  "What became of Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling?" I asked.

  "She disappeared one day," Chicken Nancy said. "Nobody knew where she went. Do you girls ever think about destiny?"

  "Never," Molly said.

  "I'm not sure I know what it is," I said.

  "Me neither," Molly said. "That's why I never think of it. What is it?"

  "One's fate," Chicken Nancy said. "A predetermined course of events over which one has no control. Something that is bound to happen to some purpose you know nothing about. For example, it is possible that the two of you were destined to meet in order that you carry out some task or participate in some happening, which is also destined."

  "I don't know about that," I said. "On an impulse, I took a bus from one plane of existence to this one. I wound up in Los Angeles, stayed there awhile, and then hitched a ride to New York with an eccentric movie actor named Marlon. He was handsome and pleasant, but it got so I couldn't stand his playing the bongo drums, and his boring conversation, so I got out in Poughkeepsie, also on an impulse. Then I happened to meet Professor Tag, went to visit him at the nuthouse, where I happened to meet Molly, and we became friends."

  "And I got away from my backward mountain-dwelling ancestors in the Catskill Mountains, made my way to Poughkeepsie, where I sort of lived in the streets, until I got picked up, diagnosed as crazy, and tossed in that same nuthouse. I don't remember a lot of the details, but that is because I myself thought I was crazy at the time, so I didn't bother to pay a lot of attention. I don't see how either of our stories sounds much like destiny," Molly said.

  "You may be right, of course," Chicken Nancy said. "Or it may be that all those random events were leading you to a point you are both destined to reach."

  "Do you think that is so because Audrey's tea leaves showed the Wolluf and mine showed the castle?" Molly asked.

  "Oh, I didn't say I thought so, or thought not-so," Chicken Nancy said. "I just asked if you girls ever thought about it. And now it is late."

  "It's not more than eight p.m.," Molly said.

  "We keep early hours in this house," Chicken Nancy said. "And you were only just cured of imaginary madness, and the two of you had an exciting encounter with the Muffin Man. You should rest. I will show you to your beds."

  Chicken Nancy opened the door to a neat little room with two neat little beds with pretty quilts on them. The beds looked so inviting that I instantly began to feel sleepy.

  "Go directly to sleep," Chicken Nancy said. "I will call you quite early in the morning, and tomorrow may be a strenuous day."

  Molly was yawning too. Chicken Nancy left us with a single candle for light, and we undressed and got into the beds, which were extremely comfortable.

  "I feel suddenly terribly tired," Molly said.

  "So do I," I said.

  "Blow out the candle."

  It seemed no more than a minute after blowing out the candle before I fell into a deep sleep—but just as I did, I heard Chicken Nancy's footsteps, the scratching of Weer's claws on the brick floor, and the sound of a door opening and closing. For some reason I had a mental image of Chicken Nancy wearing a cloak, carrying her stick, Weer beside her, leaving the little house.


  A Giant

  When we woke there was a smell of pancakes. We pulled on our clothes and hurried to the kitchen. Chicken Nancy was at the stove, making pancake after pancake, and sitting at the table, eating pancake after pancake, was a big shaggy thing. It had a huge head of greasy, matted hair, round shoulders, and big dirty hands with fingers thick like bananas, and it was wearing what might have been a coat and might have been a bathrobe—it was hard to tell through the grime. All I could make out of the face were two tiny bright eyes and a nose like a potato—the rest was beard.

  "This is Harold," Chicken Nancy said. "Harold, as you see, is a Catskill Mountain giant." Harold mumbled something into his pancakes. "Sit down, have some pancakes, and get to know him." Harold patted his lips with the end of his beard.

  "More pancakes," Harold said, and then, "Harold need to use toilet."

  "It's out back, Harold dear," Chicken Nancy said.

  When Harold stood up, I thought his head was going to brush the ceiling, but he was short! He was no taller than Professor Tag! "He's short!" I said to Chicken Nancy when he had left the room. "He's about five foot seven!"

  "It's impolite to mention people's physical characteristics," Chicken Nancy said. "It's true, Harold is small for a giant, but he is a giant nonetheless, and from an ancient race of giants. And think of this, girls." Chicken Nancy was smiling. "Harold has a boat!"

  "I see what you want!" I said. "You want us to go to that island!"

  "Pollepel Island," Chicken Nancy said.

  "Yes! Where the Wolluf is!" Molly said.

  "Well, it may or may not be," Chicken Nancy said. "As to wanting you to go, I can't say I actually want you to go—I just thought you might be curious to go. It's a very interesting place. The native people would never go there. They thought it was an evil place and haunted. And the Dutch thought so too. They thought it was where the wild things were. After the Civil War, a man named Bannerman bought up all the old soldier hats, and bayonets, and cannons, and tons of leftover gunpowder, and built a rather ornate castle on the island to keep it all in."

  "What did he do with it all?" Molly asked.

  "He sold it to small armies in other countries, and collectors, and theatrical companies putting on plays. Also, all those cannons you see on courthouse steps and town squares came from there. After a while he died and his sons moved their war-surplus business to Brooklyn and stopped using the island. It's been standing deserted for the past few years."

  "So you think we would be curious to go to an island that the Indians thought was haunted—and evil—that the Dutch thought was haunted, and that is full of explosives, and apparently go there in a boat with a giant who must be the smallest..."

  "Shhh!" Chicken Nancy put a finger to her lips.

  Harold was back. "Harold want more pancakes," he said.

  "I'm curious to go," Molly said.

  "What? You want to go?"

  "Well, yes. I think it would be interesting."

  "What about the Wolluf? You want to see the Wolluf?"

  "I especially want to see the Wolluf."

  "Chicken Nancy says it's fierce. She says after seeing the Wolluf, meeting the Muffin Man is like a birthday party!"

  "Are you scared?"

  "No, I am not scared," I said.

  "Then let's go, since you're not scared."

  "Fine," I said. "We'll go."

  "Harold take girls to island?" Harold asked.

  "Yes," Chicken Nancy said. "And bring them back when they're done."

  "Unless we get eaten by a Wolluf or something," I said.

  "Harold protect girls," Harold said. "Harold has cudgel. See?"

  Harold reached under Chicken Nancy's table and pulled out a big knotted club, which he waved about awkwardly.

  "He has a cudgel. How nice," I said.

  "You may as well get started," Chicken Nancy said. "I have packed you a picnic lunch." She produced a wicker picnic basket. "Harold will carry it. Do not eat the lunch all by yourself, Harold. Share it with the girls."

  "Sandwiches?" Harold asked.

  "Yes, lots of sandwiches," Chicken Nancy said. "Have a good time on the isl


  Oh, Hell

  "We go!" Harold said.

  We followed him out of the little house. He walked a little ahead, carrying the picnic basket and swinging his cudgel. From behind he looked a little like a haystack—and really like a giant, from the way he stomped along, as long as there was nothing to compare his height with.

  We passed through the woods, past the orchard and the Christmas tree farm, and along the road. We saw Diablo standing in his paddock, no doubt waiting for Jack to turn up with his morning hay. We passed little farms and houses, fields and bits of forest. After we crossed the road that led to the main entrance of the loony bin, our way began to slope downward toward the river.

  Near the bank of the river Harold led us into a thicket. It was dense, and we had to push our way through some heavy underbrush. Harold pushed some bushes aside and dragged out something large and black and round.

  "Oh, hell," I said. "It's a coracle."

  "What's a coracle?" Molly said, looking at it.

  "A coracle," I told Molly, "is the most primitive, and also worst, boat in the world. As you see, it is shaped like a bowl. It's made of branches with skins stretched over it, and it's waterproofed with a coating of tar."

  "Why is it round like that?" Molly asked.

  "As far as I know, it is because the people who invented it were not quite smart enough to figure out that a boat-shaped boat would work a lot better."

  "Is good boat," Harold said.

  "Prepare to be sick ... and wet ... if we have to go in that thing," I said.

  "How come you know all about coracles?" Molly asked me.

  "My uncle has one."

  "Is it safe? Will we drown? Will we die?"

  "Well, we won't drown, if Harold knows what he's doing. And even if he doesn't, I do. But if we're in the thing for very long you won't care if you drown. Harold, how far is it to this island?"

  "Not far," Harold said. "Get in boat. We go."

  Once we were in the coracle it all came back to me. I remembered how much I hated my uncle's one. Harold's was larger, and it bucketed and flipped and spun, also tilted wildly from side to side, and dipped forward and back. Harold stood and worked the oar, first on one side, then on the other. Each time he switched sides, the oar would drip water into the boat, so we were getting wet, being pitched about, and feeling sick.

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