11 October, 2016 by katelaity
‘I ran to the window just as she disappeared and looked down into the waters below. But I saw nothing. Then I heard an odd scratching sound and there was Vinegar! She actually clawed her way up the hull to the deck and was over the rail in a trice.
‘There was nothing for it but I had to bolt from the sick bay to see what on earth drew her to the deck. Undoubtedly it would be Mathers, but why precisely I could not hazard a guess. I passed almost no one on the way for the entire crew seemed to be on deck. Yet when I stepped out onto the boards the quiet was quite unsettling and the light, though muted, seemed even more eerie.
‘For a moment all seemed frozen when the sailors all turned at my arrival. It abashed me somewhat, as if I had intruded on a place where I was not welcome. The tension that filled the crew stretched tight as a rope strained against a rough gale’s force.
‘And then a single cry—a sound of such mournful pain that I could not at once say whether it was human or animal. Perhaps it was the two together, for of course it was Vinegar and Mathers, now locked in a wild battle. Such unholy noise! Both throats emitted some sound as they spun around one another.
‘I turned to the men. “For heaven’s sake, stop them!” They all stared at me, mute as the dead. I could not say if they were transfixed by the spectacle or just uncertain who they wanted to stop. I shuddered under that unnatural sky and found I could not bear the horror any longer.
‘Striding across the planks, I went toward the wrangling pair. No sooner had Mathers fought off the cat with rough blows but she sought to climb his limbs once more, a grim snarl of determination marking her features. The man’s face too appeared disjointed in its fury, as if some demon possessed him. I could well believe it then.
‘I had a vague thought to jump in and part them, but they swirled around so fast, I could not see where to grab one or the other. I gave a shudder as I heard a horrible sound. At first I thought it was the sailors moaning, yet when I turned to gape at them they all stood mute.
‘It was the wind. Just like the sky, it was a strangeness I had never glimpsed in all my days—and in none of them since, either. I see you shudder, too. I hope never to hear its like again, for while we may gaze in awe at a terrible sight, it is the sounds that haunt us in the dark of night and wake us from uneasy slumber. Sometimes in a windy night plagued by gales, I fear again to hear its fury and the hairs rise up on the back of my neck. Fretful then my sleep, lying half awake until dawn’s rosy fingers beckon me to safety once more.
‘So the wind played its part in that unholy day and like the rest of the crew I stood mute, appalled and helpless as the two enemies locked in combat. Blood scraped across Mathers’ furious face, a trio of red stripes from Vinegar’s claws. And I could see bits of her fur clutched in the second mate’s fists as he buffeted her between guarding his eyes from her sharp nails. How would it all end? Would they tear each other to pieces before our eyes?
‘The wind rose from a moan to a howl and something in the air changed. Perhaps it was just the light which seemed all too sudden to disappear, bringing on a crisp night that made the twinkling stars seem suddenly close. The combatants redoubled their fury as if they sensed the end was near. Once more I felt desirous of doing something to halt the violence and made a step in their direction for none was closer than I.
‘At that moment a bolt of lightning cracked the starry sky apart. I hadn’t seen a cloud since the sun set yet all at once the water danced with fractured lights. The air was galvanized with a smell of sulphur. As another peal of thunder rumbled over the ship and yet another bolt of lightning ripped across the sky too near by, the horrible battle froze for a moment as Vinegar succeeded in wrapping her long long tail about Mathers’ legs as she bit his thigh with a flash of teeth.
‘He screamed and grabbed at her with both hands. In so doing, however, he threw himself off balance. As we all gaped, Mathers began to fall. He was too close to the edge! I lunged forward, breaking the spell of terror that had gripped me and threw out my hands to grab something, anything, of either of them. I could not have said which I hoped to save for it was all a mad jumble.
‘And I was too late. My fingertips brushed Vinegar’s ginger hair and the fabric of Mather’s trousers as the two pitched over the side into the dark waters below, still locked in combat, yowling and clawing. They hit the water like an anchor, plunging beneath the surface.
‘We all waited for them to bob up again. But they did not reappear. By the next night some sailors were already claiming to have seen Mathers as a merman or the cat suddenly become a whale and dive deep. That night however we listened to the echoing thunder as it moved away, saw the stars blink on the wild waves, and waited in silence.
‘We never saw either again.’
[Thanks to the British Library images cache!]