18 October, 2016 by katelaity
‘Good heavens!’ I could not stop myself from exclaiming. ‘That poor cat.’
Rae and Tansy both broke out in laughter. ‘And the man who went overboard with her?’ the doctor asked at last.
I flushed warmly but I had every feeling I was right. ‘He was a most objectionable man and I don’t feel much of any sympathy for him. The whole matter was his fault.’
‘I didn’t realise you had such a soft place in your heart for moggies,’ Tansy said with a smile that was not without kindness. ‘It rather makes me think differently of you.’
‘I have never claimed to be a tough-minded fellow,’ I said, somewhat stung by the implication. ‘But surely we must have compassion for our poor mute creatures whom we bring into our lives. A cat on a boat? It is certainly not its natural habitat.’
‘No,’ Rae agreed. ‘We bring them for our convenience, it’s true. And poor Vinegar was much mourned by the crew who missed her comforting. Mathers was not much missed, but he had left an unfortunate legacy behind him and many of the sailors considered the ship to be cursed—or at least our voyage. They saw portents in the sky—though not the curious light that had made that terrible day even more disturbing.’
‘Was the passage a rough one?’ Tansy asked.
‘There were an abundance of storms, but we arrived in a reasonable amount of time in the Hudson Bay. I had only a year to spend there—or so I imagined—but many of the sailors had been going back and forth for years by that time, so the fact that they refused to ever board the Prince of Wales again seemed significant.’
‘Sailors are a superstitious lot,’ I said, once again relying on my learned prejudices, but feeling entirely justified in this pronouncement.
‘They have reason to be,’ Rae tutted at me. ‘The ocean is unknowable, vast and mysterious.’ As if on cue the winds around the little house wailed and sighed. I took a quick sip of the fiery whisky. ‘When men feel powerless, they seek for any illusion of control: when logic fails, superstition takes over.’
‘Do you not carry a lucky clover?’ Tansy asked me.
I bristled. ‘It’s a remembrance of my grandmother.’
‘You could keep it on your desk in your study.’
‘Oh, all right. I admit to feeling safer with it on me. We are not as rational as we like to believe, I suppose.’
Rae laughed. ‘After my years in the frozen north, I am quite happy to think of rationality as a tool that must be discarded when it has no application to the task, just as I would not use a handsaw to open a bottle.’
‘Did you see many things that defied rational answers in your years in Hudson Bay?’ Tansy asked, eyes sparking. My friend had an entirely unhealthy interest in wild adventure.
‘Often. The Moose Factory proved to be a much more interesting and bizarre place than I had expected. Of course my plan was only to spend a season there, but the ice came early and trapped me for the winter. By the time it was through, I decided to stay a bit longer—I stayed ten years!’