"...and so I got the letter yesterday. I've got a space in Kittie Camp for the first week in August."
"Brilliant!" enthused Brendan. "You'll like it, won't he, Nolly?"
Nolly nodded rapidly. "I'm a better cat for it."
Brendan poked him with his paw. "I suppose that makes me a better cat too. Miaow miaow!"
They went into peals of laughter. Merlin and Eliza looked at each other, smiling, and then my brother caught sight of me.
"Oh, hello Jackson. Looking for this lot?"
"I just wondered where they were. Don't let me interrupt."
Merlin indicated an empty chair. "Sit yourself down. Do you want a drink?"
I raised a restraining paw. "No thanks. I had a mint tea half an hour ago. As I said, I don't want to interrupt." I sat down. "What are we talking about?"
Brendan pointed at Lucky. "He's going to Kittie Camp."
Lucky twisted to look at me. "Yes, Mister Butterglove. It should be a worthwhile experience."
I tried not to smile. Lucky's continual attempts to be extra polite with his elders sometimes gave him a vocabulary that seemed at odds with his age. And yet that was part of his charm.
"I'm sure you'll benefit immensely, Lucky." There. The politeness was rubbing off on me.
"I learned lots," said Nolly. "There are cat skills I should know, things I should've known from birth if I'd lived in Catsholme."
When I was a child, there were no cats in Mellowdene other than those visiting from the hill cat community. In the ensuing years as some families moved here from Catsholme, there was an increasing generation who were unaware of their heritage. Nolly was one such kitten. It was lovely to see his excitement as he relived his experiences from last year's Kittie Camp.
"There's plenty more to learn about Catsholme and its relationship to Mellowdene. No doubt your school will teach you about it next year."
I turned to see the source of this comment. Merlin had inherited his interest in local history from our father. Although he and Eliza had been acting as surrogate parents to Orton for a few months, there were things he still needed to learn himself. And here it came.
"Can't you tell us now, uncle?" said Orton.
"I'd like to know," said Nolly.
"It might be most useful, Mister Merlin," said Lucky.
Brendan curled his lip.
"Oh I don't know about that," said Merlin. "You wouldn't want an unfair advantage over your schoolmates."
Brendan appeared to consider this, and then he smiled. "Miss Wildwood says we should always grasp the opportunity to learn."
The other three boys nodded earnestly.
Merlin looked at each of them in turn. "Well, I don't suppose it can do any harm."
He leaned forward to begin his tale.
"Catsholme wasn't always called Catsholme..."
o 0 O 0 o
Before the people of Mellowdene were even aware of any cats living in the hills, the community called itself Hawkshade. Yes, I know that's an odd name, Brendan. It's because the cats had built their homes in the shade of an odd-shaped rock. It had an overhang that stuck out like a curved beak. Against the sky, the rock looked like a hawk's head. They called it Hawkstone. Further back, a small waterfall spread out like a bird's wing, adding to the illusion. The rock provided protection from the north wind and as it was close to the water supply it was an ideal place to settle.
When Mellowdene found out about Hawkshade, a few crittizens went to introduce themselves. The cats were polite but it was clear they were not fond of visitors. As a consequence, contact was limited and remained so for years.
Then, one year, a traveller on his way back to Mellowdene from Mosswood Fells had a bad accident. What's that, Orton? Who was it? I don't believe it's fully documented. A grey rabbit I think it says. Brighteyes, Babblebrook, Cottontail - it could be any of them. The point is, the traveller was too far away from Mellowdene. It could have been bad but he was discovered by some cats from Hawkshade.
They took him back there to be treated and cared for, and when he was well enough, they helped him back to Mellowdene.
This was the first time any cats from Hawkshade had set paw in Mellowdene. They were welcomed as heroes. Ah, now I remember. It was a Cottontail. They treated the cats to a slap up meal at one of their houses and then presented them with gifts for their community. They must have given a good impression. It led to an agreement to have limited trade. A cabin was put aside in Hawkshade so that the Mellowdene traders could stay overnight if need be.
We didn't have a proper canal back then. There was a shallow ditch which people called "The Ditch"... Yes, Brendan, we know it's not very imaginative, but they didn't have you, did they? Now where was I? The Ditch. Thank you, Lucky. The Ditch had a little water, but not enough for a boat. They managed to use a raft that they could pull along using ropes from each bank. It was able to transport a few goods provided they didn't overload it.
It continued this way until after I was born. When I was about two years of age there was a terrible rainstorm. Much, much worse than today before anyone asks. It was almost winter but nobody really expected frost that early. But it came. A sudden severe frost. It probably lasted for less than an hour - the Ditch only froze over temporarily - but that was incidental. The damage was done. Rainwater had driven deep into cracks within Hawkstone. It turned into ice and expanded. The cracks widened and Hawkstone fell.
Fell and rolled onto Hawkshade.
o 0 O 0 o
Nolly started to cry. Eliza dropped her knitting and ran to the young cat, but Brendan was already hugging him. Orton's eyes were round, staring at Merlin and Nolly by turns. Lucky's mouth was open.
I was on my feet, ready to take the children away. Eliza hissed, "Merlin, what were you thinking? Now we know why the school were waiting until they were older..."
Nolly pulled away from Brendan, giving him a weak smile. "No, it's alright, Mrs Butterglove. It was just that I wasn't expecting... Go on Mister Butterglove. I want to know what happened."
Brendan reached out a paw and lifted Lucky's chin so that his mouth audibly closed.
Merlin looked shocked. He hadn't intended to create such a reaction. He had been telling the story with an academic approach, forgetting the age of his audience.
"Go on, please, Mister Merlin," said Lucky.
Eliza rolled her eyes. "Just think about what you're saying, Merle." She returned to her seat, but took Nolly with her.
Merlin sighed. "Okay. There's a bit more bad news but it does get better."
I sat down again as Merlin continued the story.
o 0 O 0 o
Many homes were damaged. A lot of cats were injured, and terribly, nine of them didn't survive.
The traders' cabin was separate from the rest of Hawkshade so was undamaged. There were three traders staying there and they witnessed the devast... what had happened. They decided to go to Mellowdene to get help.
They made good time. The alarm having been raised, one rabbit took charge immediately. He was only in Mellowdene because he was visiting his brother, and was in fact planning to leave the next day to rejoin his wife and child elsewhere in Sylvania. With Hawkshade in dire need, he postponed his plans and organised a rescue team of several dozen residents, including my dad and uncle. Within an hour they were following the course of The Ditch towards Hawkshade.
Once there, they provided what first aid and comfort they could, then brought back the injured to Mellowdene. The hospital, whilst not as advanced as it is today, was more capable than the facilities they used to have in the cat community.
Over the next couple of days, all the remaining cats moved to Mellowdene. People shared their houses, their food, and their friendship.
One of my earliest memories was sharing my room with baby Jackson, baby Newton and two kittens.
It was a time when Mellowdene and Hawkshade were one. I say Hawkshade. The name was no longer appropriate. And keeping the name would only hold on to bad memories. As weeks passed the decision was made to build a small cat village anew. We didn't fool ourselves. We had different cultures. Despite the friendships that had been forged, many cats wanted their old comfortable way of life in the hills. When spring came, cats and Mellowdenians worked together to build a new hill community.
Later, they would work together again to make The Ditch into a proper canal. But at the time they had but one purpose. To build Catsholme.
o 0 O 0 o
Orton sighed. "That's great. All those people caring for each other."
Merlin looked at Eliza. "I think so." He returned his attention to Orton. "And telling that story reminded me of something I'd forgotten."
I'd forgotten too, but having remembered, I watched Orton as Merlin continued.
"That bunny that led the rescue, the one that postponed leaving so that he could help? That was Hubert Butterglove."
"What? My dadda's granddad?"
"The very same."
"Wow," said Brendan.
o 0 O 0 o
Outside, the rain had abated. Cecile's voice echoed into the room.
"If Lucky and Nolly want to avoid getting wet, now might be a good time for them to go home for their lunches. Hopefully my daughter has the same idea."
Lucky scrambled up onto his feet. "Thank you most greatly, Mister Merlin. That was most educational."
Merlin smiled at the polite white rabbit. "My pleasure, young Mister Snow-Warren. I hope the story wasn't too shocking."
"Hmm," said Eliza, stroking Nolly on his head before sending him on his way.
The young cat went straight up to Merlin. "I'm sorry I cried but I'm glad you told us. Now I can be proud I'm a cat from Mellowdene."
"Thank you, Nolly. If the story did that, I needn't feel quite so bad about it."
The children moved towards the door, Brendan and Lucky leading the way. I traipsed behind them, and a glance over my shoulder showed Eliza moving towards Merlin whilst Snorker made quiet kissing noises.
Nolly leaned towards Orton and whispered. Maybe it's because of my musical leanings - I've been told I have a good ear - that I overheard.
"Mister Merlin Butterglove. A clever dad, eh?"
Orton looked at him strangely before replying.
"Yes, I suppose he is."
o 0 O 0 o