Saturday, 22 February 2014

Cats

These are notes for a children's book - the final which in the course of being illustrated.  These notes now have little resemblance to the final - they are here as I jotted them down one frozen Massachusetts day.





Chapter 1
In which Tiger summons help.  Rowdy and Nigel come, Nigel accidentally. 
   

The mists rise and in the distance an owl calls.  

In the distance the monks are singing their early service against the dark. 

But the mouser Tiger stands frozen, waiting the approaching storm.  

She cannot face the approaching shambles alone – but still she hesitates.

Soft light falls through the window onto the open book.  

The calf skin covering it has dried and begun to crack, scattering browning at the outer edges of the boards.  

The title on the spine is fading – a translation of the letters of the younger Pliny.  

A small piece of shot from a past accident is lodged below the title, buried just below the surface.  

The pages are lightly browned, delicate tracery from a long dead worm is in a lower margin avoiding the printed words, which dance on the page, as sharp and distinct as the day the book was printed. 

Tiger shimmers in the light, alone.  

Low thunder rumbles in the distance and she steps from cat to human form and reaches out to the book. 

She whispers:

Come, travel to my home.  If you do, you will understand why I am infatuated with this place: the old house, the site and the view.  It is only 40 miles to Boston - you can come and stay here after work without interference with your daily schedule.  You can travel here a couple of different ways.  The roads to Ware and New York lead in the same direction.  Both these roads are suitable and the scenery is varied.  The old road to Ware runs to the bottom of my hill and is the more direct route – but because it travels for the most part through towns and villages it can be a slow journey.  The Turn Pike to New York is also quite close, cutting a broad path through wild areas, with woods running down to both sides of the road.  Once there were farms here, but the fields have been retaken by the forests or and the buildings are melting into the towns. 

While old, the house will meet all our needs.  It is at the top of a steep drive.  The house faces south and has an extravagantly high steepled slate roof – similar to those you see in old medieval Bavarian villages.  The entrance portico is framed between pediments and bay windows.  To enter you must enter an enclosed porch which partly circles and shades the house, decorated on the exterior with gothic finery – bargeboards carved in a fanciful trefoil pattern.  A sufficient refuge from winter winds and snow, it remains warm as it catches the sun on two sides in winter and its windows can be opened to allow warm spring air to circulate.  Interior doors lead to a handsome room for entertaining guests.  I have had shelves placed here to hold my books.  This room opens to an inner dining room furnished with a large dining table and an old grandfather clock.  Warmed by a fire place, the windows of the dining room look out to a small court yard at the back of the house, and looking north one may see the small forest at the back of the house.  Sitting before the fireplace, you may look through the other rooms of the house and portico to the road and forests on the distant hills to the south, east and west.  To the left is a chamber that holds my study, my computers.  To the right are the kitchens, a small bay for eating breakfast and a bathroom. 

Above the ground floor staircases will take you to bedchambers and the main bathroom.  Each of these rooms look out on different views of the distant hills, the main bed chamber catches the first morning light.  From there, up hidden stairs in the spaces under the high roofs, are spacious areas for relaxation, hobbies or storage, where one may rest contemplating the steeples of the distant town or escape to listen to the soft drumming of rain and hail on the surrounding roofs.  From the upper stories you may look through high windows sheltered by openwork rondels and carved truss work down to the courtyards and surrounding gardens.

Soft New England grasses border the gardens, with vines on the east of the house a rockery to the south and ancient trees at the bottom of the hill.  In the trees flit birds of every color and size, the blue jays and the great owls.  In the wilds at the back, beyond the old wood pile, live the wild animals of the region, mainly woodchucks and squirrels, but bobcats, deer and brown bears have been reported in nearby woods.  On a calm day you may hear the cry of the hawk that makes a home on the edge of the forest – or watch his battles with the blackbirds which oppose his domain.  Here one may walk shaded by the trees in spring and summer or in the direct sunlight of winter, along long winding trails to one of the ponds or lakes nearby.  Here you may find the indefinite traces of the old orchard serving the house, but of the rest of the original agricultural purposes have disappeared – except for the basement. 

Below the earth in the cavernous basement under the house, are the old stowage bins for produce - apples and quinces - while next to them are concrete and brick walls for keeping sheep and horses from the cruel winters.  The furnaces that heat the house are situated in the basement, fed by tanks of diesel; the southerly aspect of the house and the aspect of the portico minimize heating during the day.  On a winter’s night, one may feel the sudden rush as the furnaces ignite below to burn away the biting cold of the New England winters. 

Inside, the house remains a fairly constant temperature, regardless of the season.  According to the time of day, I may sit and read on the portico, or resort to my study or even the dining room to research an issue.  For this house was build for contemplation.  Built to last, it has served other writers and dreamers in its time.  And the ghosts of the past still cling to its soul.

The convenience and charm of the house has only some small drawbacks – because of its elevation, water pressure is not great and the sound of travelers on the road at the bottom of the hill can find its way into the house. But apart from these minor problems, these small drawbacks are amply overcome by the situation of the house.  For it is also close to the town of Spencer, which supplies all my ordinary needs and which boasts an excellent library only 15 minutes walk from my door. 

Well have I persuaded you why I choose to tarry here? And why you should leave the confines of Boston and travel westward to this quiet retreat?

Lightning crackled, light sweeping into the house, illuminating the darkest recesses.  

The mouser Rowdy answered her call – bounding across space towards Tiger, and as he came, he grew, filling his human form.

Such a summons is not free from risk, and in the dark a dozen eyes turned to make the same journey. 

Whipped by sea spray off the coast of Lisbon, William Jarvis turned to return to his cramped cabin on the packet ship Mary, his eyes clamped firmly shut, blinded by the salt and the wind.  

Feeling his way by hand to his door, he almost sighed as entered the silence of the cabin – so warm – almost like home.  

There in front of him he could make out the rough outlines of his book.  

He reached for it. 

As he touched, a small shock.  

His hand became a paw.  

He screamed and scrabbled with four new legs to leave the light.




Chapter 2
In which Tiger, Rowdy and Nigel survey the battleground.  Tiger outlines her expectations and expresses her disappointment with Nigel.




Chapter 3
In which Tiger, Rowdy and Nigel prepare for the coming battle, in their own way. 
   

The old house sits in a forgotten orchard, close to the woods and the little town.

Rowdy and Tiger live at the farm but they seldom leave the house to go to the woods or the town.  

They are not outdoor cats.  

They are the finest purebred Maine Coon Cats –much bigger than ordinary dogs. 

Coming from Boston, Rowdy and Tiger know that they are much better educated than the other animals that live in the area.  

They have cultivated and refined tastes – enjoying the benefits of country living with few of the disadvantages of country life.  

In fact, they do not work the farm at all – they preserve the farm as a retreat from the complications and chaos of modern city life.  

That was, until the war changed everything.

Despite his name, Rowdy, is a gentle giant.  

Rowdy claims to have descended from the original Norwegian war cats.  

The Vikings brought these cats –called Skogkatts – to Massachusetts 1000 years ago.  

He spends much of his time lost deep in thought in his study, eyes half shut.  

To keep up his strength, he eats regularly and well.  

He undertakes a patrol around the farm.  

His comfortable disposition and philosophical bent can be deceiving, although some of the vermin engaged in the war against the farm call him lazy and fat. 

Tiger devotes her waking time to overseeing the work of the less fortunate around the farm.  

Tiger counts amongst her descendants the cats that once lived in Queen Marie Antoinette’s court. 

At the height of the French revolution, the Queen entrusted her beloved cat friends to Captain Clough, to smuggle them out of France on the ship Sally.  

Alas, Marie Antoinette was beheaded, but Captain Clough escaped to America.  

Today her soft meows, trills and chirps (some lightly touched by a French accent) can be heard quietly encouraging someone to try harder. 

The vermin fear Tiger far more than Rowdy – and blame her for starting and continuing the war.

Nigel also lives at the farm, although some call him Austin.  

Nigel/Austin has issues.  

Another purebred, Austin is in a perpetual state of anxiety.  

While the cause of this is unclear, and may be no more complicated than him being unsociable as a teen, the war is, no doubt, a contributing factor.  

Austin spends much of each day finding new places to hide, against the day when the farm’s defenses are overrun and the vermin impose a new order on the farm.  

Tiger, in her gentle manner, has tried to encourage Austin with stirring stories about the old days before the war, while Rowdy has occasionally boxed his ears.  

Neither helped much.

Life in the old farm house proceeds at a slow deliberate pace – in accordance with Tiger and Rowdy’s wish.  

Their every need is heeded, although they sometimes have to whip the servants out of bed in the cold morning of winter.  

Despite the war, life goes on.

Chapter 4
Quappala and the War. Accounts differ about how the war commenced. 


Quappala, the white cat who lives near to the farm blames Tiger for the war.  

Quappala is a trapper.  

Like his ancestors, the dogs and cats of the Nimacook Indians, he hunts squirrels and woodchucks through the shadows of the leaf litter of the forest floor.  

He refuses to learn the language of the Boston cats, calling them “Chewatch” (in the language once understood by bobcat and raccoon – “those that blew in from the East”).  

Like the Nimacook, he can speak a little French, and so can talk to Tiger, in a fashion. 

The vermin also blame the Maine Coon Cats, but the reason given depends on where the animal is on the food chain. 

The ants and mice fear Austin the most.  

These timid creatures assail the farm in the most inaccessible places, which unfortunately also seem to be those very places Austin tries hiding.  

Austin does not hurt either ant or mouse out of any wish to be cruel – the deaths that inevitably accompany the occasional meeting of mouse and cat can be attributable to his anxious state.

The rats, squirrels and chipmunks fear Rowdy and Tiger.  

As educated cats, they insist on trial before punishment – albeit in the form of a military tribunal.  

These trials are often accompanied by pricking and taking of confessions.  

They can often take some time to complete, and seldom end in an acquittal. 

Trapper Quappala thinks the war is all in Tiger’s head.  

He says that she has confused the stories of the French revolution with her present circumstances – and that the vermin assailing the house are only seeking temporary refuge from the winter.  

While the Boston cats seldom come out of the house, 

Quappala is worried that if the vermin are denied sanctuary, this may have ramifications for his own food supply in the Spring.

Chapter 6
 The War and how it ends, accidentally.


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