“The trick to pastry is not to over-work it,” Mrs. Patmore was saying. “That makes it tough. Just mix in the water until it’ll come together in a ball, and then turn it—” She looked toward the kitchen door, behind Peter. “What do you want?”
He turned and saw Harold, the hall-boy. “There’s a man here looking for Mr. Barrow,” Harold reported. “I thought Mr. Fitzroy would know where he is.”
Peter wiped his floury hand on a dishtowel and untied his apron. Thomas might be back from taking her ladyship to Ripon, or he might not, but either way, Peter thought he’d find out who this man was and what he wanted, before giving out any information on the subject. “Where is he?”
“Outside,” Harold said. “He didn’t want to come in.”
“I’ll take it from here,” Peter told him.
The man was tall, gawky, and sort of gormless looking—not a likely sort of friend for Thomas, but he didn’t look dangerous, either. There was a covered basket by his feet, the lid tied shut with a frayed bit of twine.
“I’m Mr. Barrow’s brother,” Peter said.
“Oh,” the man said. He appeared to think for a moment. “He didn’t die, did he? Rawlins said he was alive.”
A war chum, then. Peter didn’t actually know the names of any of them other than Rawlins, but he said, “He is. I’m Peter.”
“Simon.” He looked down at the basket, which had begun to…wobble, slightly.
“Is that,” Peter began.
He’d been about to say alive, but Simon assumed greater knowledge than Peter, in fact, had. He nodded enthusiastically. “I brought him back to England in my rucksack. I had to give him a little piece of a morphine tablet to get him in there, and then he slept through the whole crossing.”
“Ah,” Peter said, beginning to get an inkling of what—or whom—the basket might contain. They couldn’t be fresh off the Channel crossing—Simon was dressed in civilian clothes, and the cat was no longer in a rucksack—and as Peter started toward the garage, Simon supplied the rest of the story.
“Only he and my Nan’s cat don’t get along,” he explained. “So Nan says he can’t stay. And he likes Barrow best of anyone. Better than me, really.” The basket gave a lurch, and Simon paused to adjust his grip on it. “Rawlins told me how to find this place.”
“I see.” Peter eyed the basket.
“It sure is big,” Simon added, looking back over his shoulder at the house.
Peter was about to tell him that their cottage was much smaller, when the twine holding the basket shut gave way.
Thomas was under the bonnet of the landaulet, removing its spark plugs, when a substantial weight landed on his shoulder.
A large, noisy weight. It was heavier than he remembered, but the purrs and trills it made were familiar. Carefully straightening up, Thomas turned his head and found himself face-to-face with What’s-his-name, the cat. He trilled again, and rubbed his jaw against Thomas’s. “What the bloody hell are you doing here?”
The cat responded by stamping his front paws on Thomas’s neck.
There were really only a couple of possible explanations for this, and Thomas headed out of the garage to find out which of them was responsible.
At Thomas’s bellow, Simon gulped and reached for his shirt-collar, which was unbuttoned. “Corp?” he said.
“Sarge, actually,” Thomas answered. He was standing in front of the garage, with an absolutely enormous ginger cat on his shoulder.
It had been a great deal smaller, in the picture Peter had seen of it doing the same thing.
“Explain,” Thomas suggested.
Simon—or Plank—repeated what he’d told Peter about the rucksack and the morphine tablet and his Nan’s cat. “So I thought….”
“You thought you’d bring the world’s most spoiled cat here to eat us out of house and home,” Thomas finished for him.
“He likes you best,” Simon pointed out.
Thomas turned his head to look at the cat, who responded by shoving his head against Thomas’s.
“Well,” Peter said, realizing that they had just become a three-person—or three-being, anyway—household. “We won’t have to worry about mice.”
Thomas scoffed. “You think this cat catches mice? All he does is wait for sardines to fall into his mouth.”
The cat trilled in answer.
“I’ll put the kettle on,” Peter decided.
“Better see if we still have that tin of sardines, too,” Thomas said.