It is the longest day I have ever known. I cannot move. I cannot raise my head more than an inch or two. The darkness around me reminds me of that dreadful time in Lond—
No. I will not think about it. I must escape. I will escape. Before She comes.
I try to wriggle loose, but the cords are too tight, and the one across my neck almost strangles me. I lie panting for a while, then try again, straining at my bonds with all my heroic strength. I twist, I squirm. I throw myself from side to side. It makes no difference, but I will not give up. I will never give up! I will fight and fight until—
Urk. More strangling. I give up.
But as I lie there, unable even to clean my paws for comfort, I hear footsteps. They pass the cellar door, quick and light, heading towards the kitchen.
Is it Montagu?
No, his tread was heavier.
Is it Her?
No again. She will not come till nightfall, and it is only just past noon.
I wait until I hear the footsteps a second time, then I let out a plaintive cry. ‘Help!’ I wail. ‘Help! I have been imprisoned by dastardly villains!’
The footsteps pause, then turn towards the cellar door. It opens and a shaft of light crosses my face.
I hear a gasp. It sounds like a young woman. ‘Oh, poor puss!’ she cries.
A cat must maintain his dignity, even in painful circumstances. ‘I am not Puss,’ I reply, ‘any more than I am Stinky Tom. I am Harry-le-beau, the great hero and adventurer—’
She takes no notice. ‘Poor puss!’ she says again, as she hurries down the cellar steps.
I can see her more clearly now. She appears to be a maid, with a coarse cotton shift and shoes that are too big for her. Her paws are red raw from hard work.
‘Poor diddums,’ she says, kneeling beside me. ‘Has some nasty boy tied you up? Ooooh, poor little furry diddums.’
‘Madam,’ I say. ‘While I am grateful for your help—’ (she is untying the cord around my neck) ‘I must insist on a certain level of respect. I do not call you wench (now she is working on my hind legs), do I?’
‘Poor snookums,’ she murmurs.
‘Please address me as Sir. Or Your Honour. Or even Harry-le—’
‘You do stink, Snookums. Did you fall in the privy? Poor little Snookums, would you like some cream, after your terrible fright? A nice big bowl of cream, and maybe some roast lamb to follow?’
As she undoes the last cord and carries me up the cellar steps, cradling me carefully in her arms, I begin to purr.
Snookums, eh? It does have a certain ring to it …