(This is a ficlet I wrote for the release of “Suffer the Little Children.” Enjoy)
“Bessie, you look worried.”
The maidservant shrugged. “I don’t expect it’s anything, only… well, Hildy’s not been home in a fortnight.” Hildy being more properly Brunhilda, our landlady’s haughty cat.
“Oh of course,” Rom announced lowering the newspaper he’d been reading. “I haven’t been snubbed in days. I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing. A fortnight, you say?”
“Nearly, yessir. Mrs. Mac says she’s sure Hildy will come home soon, but I can tell she’s worried. It’s not like Hildy to miss meals. Mrs. Mac has been putting food outside for her, just in case and someone’s been eating it, but there’s no sign of Hildy anywhere.”
I couldn’t find it in my heart to feel too desolate at the thought of Madame Brunhilda having left home, as she’d scratched me on several occasions when I’d tried to pet her. Still, Mrs MacMurdo seemed fond of her and I was fond of Mrs. MacMurdo, and so was sad on her account.
Rom’s brow was furrowed. “I think it’s time we applied modern detective skills to this mystery. What say you, Fitz, shall we go on a moggie hunt?”
“Do we have to?” I asked. “It’s cold out. There’s snow on the ground.” Our parlor was warm and dry, and I had work I wanted to do.
“We owe it to Mrs. Mac. Get me a scarf and a magnifying glass.”
“It’s cold out,” he replied. “You just said so.”
Rom grinned. “I don’t know. Seemed like a good idea.”
I grumbled about it but I followed Rom’s lead, as always. With our scarves wrapped snugly around our throats we ventured outside where Rom first examined the area behind the house where Mrs. MacMurdo had left bowls of food and water, then around to the street where he became very interested in the pavement. “A test for you, Fitz. What do you see here?”
“Don’t be difficult.”
“Snow. Slush really.” The bit of snow that had stuck was turning mushy. “Ice where it’s gotten tamped down.”
“I don’t know… dirt?” He gave me a look. “I’m cold!” I said.
“What’s in the snow?”
“Oh, all right, footprints. Happy?”
“Ecstatic. Or will be when you stop acting such a glock and take a good look. What do you see?”
I knew there would be no getting ‘round him when he was engaged in dealing with a mystery, even a frivolous one like this, so I looked more closely. “Most of the footprints are all muddled together. People have been walking along here all day. What am I supposed to glean from that?”
“Nothing, but if you look close to the buildings you might see some different prints.”
Sure enough, I saw trails of paw prints quite close to the house. They went in both directions, and were nearly as muddled as the human prints, but clearly had been made by cat feet. “It could be any cat,” I pointed out.
“True, but as Madame Brunhilda has always been a highly territorial cat, I’m going to assume for a moment that these are her prints. In case you hadn’t noticed, I followed them here from the food bowl.”
“So you believe she’s been coming back to eat her food and then leaving again?”
“I do. Let’s follow the prints.” Rom continued on up the street, I trailed behind. Both Rom and the prints stopped two doors down. “I believe we have found Brunhilda’s lair.” He strode up to the door and rang the bell. It was answered by a youngish maidservant. “Mr. Nicholas Romney and Mr. David Malvern to see Miss Gemma and Fluffy,” he announced.
“Miss Gemma’s in the parlor.”
“Come along, Fitz; we are close to a solution.”
I followed him into the parlor and there found Brunhilda being quite thoroughly brushed by a small, red-haired girl of about seven.
“Hullo, Gemma. Hullo Fluffy.” The cat gave a half-hearted hiss.
“Gemma, this is my friend, Davy.”
“Mrs MacMurdo is worried about Fluffy, Gemma. I thought you told me you were going to speak to her about keeping the cat.”
Gemma looked guilty. “I was afraid she’d say ‘no,’” she admitted. “Only I do love my Fluffy so…” Her little face scrunched up unhappily.
“Wouldn’t you worry if Fluffy went away?”
“Well then, let’s all go and speak with her about this and get it settled. It’s best, you know.”
Gemma’s mother, upon finding that her daughter had not asked permission to keep the cat, decided to come along, and so we all trooped back to the house — Rom and I, Gemma, her mother, and Fluffy-Brunhilda — to present the case to our landlady.
Mrs. MacMurdo was overjoyed to see the cat again, but when she heard Gemma’s story, she laughed and said she guessed that Brunhilda had found a home and family she preferred. Once she was assured that Gemma’s mother had no objections to Brunhilda living with them, she said she thought that the relationship between the child and the cat was perfect and should not be interfered with. Then we all had tea together. Brunhilda-Fluffy begged me for a bit of buttered scone, but when I tried to pat her head she hissed at me.
“She doesn’t seem to like men much,” Gemma’s mother observed.
Mrs. MacMurdo laughed. “She hated my late husband. Poor man never knew why.”
Later, when Gemma, her mother and the cat were gone, and we were back upstairs in our warm little parlor, I said “You knew all the time.”
“What gave me away?” Rom asked, clearly trying not to grin. “Oh all right, I thought we could use some fresh air. We’d been shut up inside for days. You enjoyed it.”
“I did not.”
“Yes, you did. I could tell. Ah, the thrill of the hunt.”
“Shut up. How did you know?”
“I saw the cat in the window whenever we walked by. If you’d been paying attention, you’d have noticed, too.”
“You could just have said something.”
“It wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun,” he insisted.
I grumbled a bit more, and then sat back and stared into the fire. He was right. It wouldn’t have been as much fun.