20 September, 2016 by katelaity
‘The light that afternoon was strange. Not like a patch of bad weather, but an eerie sort of colour that had the sailors spooked. Mathers muttered doom to anyone who would listen but by then it wasn’t many. Yet his glowering had a strange effect in concert with the odd changes in the sky.
‘Have you seen the Aurora Borealis? It wasn’t like that. Those bright ribbons in the sky provoke such a wonder whenever I see them, like dancing spirits who live only for joy. You can sense a divine hand at moments like that but it’s tempting to see the hand of a goddess at work, like the Greeks once believed. I cannot see the god of Abraham having such delight in dancing but perhaps I do not give him a fair hearing.
‘The sky that late afternoon had the look of something biblical about it—a punishment for the wicked Mathers warned. And enough of the other stout fellows were unnerved enough by its oddity to begin to mutter their own misgivings. It ought to have the second mate who helped calm their nerves instead of fanning flames of concern. The first mate and the captain did their best to keep the crew busy as they felt the level of tensions rise—repairs are always needed, ropes recoiled, sails mended. There was plenty to do.
‘If only it hadn’t have been for that absurd battle between Vinegar and Mathers, things might have been very different. The second mate was no end of trouble but for the first time the cat decided to change her tactics. Instead of trying to befriend the grumbling man she began to play with him, as she might with a mouse or rat.
‘He’d leap away when he felt the sudden touch of a paw on his leg. At first we thought she was merely attempting to cajole him into play. It soon became clear that she had her claws out and she was either deliberately inflicting pain or doing her best to impede his movements.
‘It was one thing when he was walking down the corridors amongst the others. They could also jump when the cat surprised Mathers and made him leap, curse her name and call for vengeance. But they noticed that she pursued him on deck, too, hiding until the moment was propitious then latching onto his leg until he shrieked.
‘The crew got so jumpy the captain finally asked me to keep Vinegar in the sick bay, out of the way of the others. There was only a small porthole for air so I kept the door latched. I admit even I was a bit unsettled by the fading light. I don’t quite know how to describe it. It was sort of pink and a little orange, like the flesh of a red salmon but there was a hint of green in it, too, all overlaid in a grey clouded sky. I’ll be happy never to see its like again.
‘Vinegar seemed content enough to lay on the unoccupied bunk even though the mate with the broken arm called to her for a cuddle because he was so bored with lying in his berth. Whenever I looked over at her I got the sense of her waiting for something. There was an uncanny intelligence in those eyes. She wrapped her long, long tail around her and then unwrapped it just as often.
‘I found myself as itchy as the rest of the crew, as if we were also waiting for something. I did my best to shake off the feeling, then I turned to look at Vinegar only to see her gone. I looked at the mate but he had nodded off. I looked under the bed and then I heard a scrabbling noise. Turning around I saw Vinegar pulling herself through the porthole. She would surely fall!
‘I ran to the window just as she disappeared and looked down into the waters below…
[Thanks to the British Library images cache!]