19. Merrily, Merrily.
They’ve carried her, in a laden basket, down the semi-palatial – not a lawn, that doesn’t do it justice. The expanse of green is more astutely characterized grounds.
The former address within the city walls had a pathetic strip of tillable land. When the Friefrau built new, she’d combined several parcels with a view to living an estate-like existence, with a large flower garden and a substantial vegetable patch and a buffer zone beyond that, protecting her privacy. There’d been no privacy in the city center; everybody knew your business.
Merrily has enjoyed herself extremely on the long descent, poking a nose into delicacy after delicacy. (She really loves the raspberry preserve.) They unpack her at the far end of the property, opening the hatch and standing clear. She pops her head up, her mouth smeared with jam.
“You see?” says Sly. “You are not a prisoner. Go. Bolt, here’s your chance. Or, stick with us, and wear pretty skirts and fancy hats and learn to glide on flying trapezes and be applauded and adored and make new friends and eat amazing things. Don’t you get tired of grain?”
“Damn right I do. How anyone stands it year after year, I can’t tell you.”1
“My dear, you are so bright. Don’t disappear back into your Ratropolis. Don’t hide your light under a bushel.”
“What, please, may that mean?”
“Don’t underestimate yourself, what you can do, what you can be. Don’t hold yourself in, lest you be labeled a stuck-up show-off.”
“I do my tumbles and they laugh at me.”
“Tumbles? Show me.” Merrily jumps onto a low rock, falls backward in a flip, and ends gracefully upright on her feet.
“You are a clever little dear,” cries the cat.
Tilly, who has been watching from a distance, can’t hang back any longer.
“That’s my baby there!” she squeals, rushing to embrace her daughter. “Isn’t she a marvel? She invented that herself.”
“Oh Mama, I didn’t. You know I didn’t. I watched the thug-boys roll-over,2 and I copied them best I could. Mama praises me for the least thing,”
“Evening to you, Ma’am.” Sly nods. “I am thrilled to have you back with us. So awfully sorry about the ruckus this morning. You were in no danger at any time, please-please believe it. Dare I to hope that you have spoken a word or two on my behalf?”
“I did, after I got over my fright. But we are a skeptical tribe, being so unreasonably harassed.”
“Can you gather your folks so I do not speak, unsure how many I have impacted? I will sit, not budge a smidge, and deliver fragments of the speech I plan to give tomorrow at the breakfast, the quality and quantity of which this enchanting child can, whole-heartedly I believe, attest to.”
“I can!” cries Merrily merrily.
Sly spots eyes gleaming in the green-growth. “Welcome, friends,” he calls, “welcome, with all my heart. May I introduce myself? I am Sylvester Boots, world traveler, consort of kings, a friend to every creature, committed to the rights of all. You all know Merrily. Merrily, give me a sweet smooch. You do not fear me. Prove it.” He lowers his head, touches noses with the rat-child. She assaults it with a barrage of kisses.
“The young lady on my left is Fraulein Drusilla, the daughter of the house yonder. Merrily, sweetheart, give our Dru a kiss also.”
Dru places the youngster on her shoulder. Merrily brushes her cheek, then her earlobe, then, climbing a braid, perches on the top of her head and does a little jog, chirping – you got it – merrily.
Reisig hunkers in the background.
“Well and fine – possibly – for two of three,” calls a skeptic. “What about that murdering monster behind you?” Reisig cringes, shrivels a bit, making himself as unassuming as a huge devilish-looking dog may do.
“None of that, now, son,” admonishes Sly. “None of that. You are an important member of our team, we do not hide you in the shadows. This sweet boy,” he blasts, so no one will miss it, “has had a rough time, and has been forced to do things he would not have done but for life-and-death necessity. Malice never played a part in his savagery, unlike with the humans, who enjoy inflicting pain. A former varlet has been taken into this grand house and is no longer a threat to you. He is a gentled ruffian, now and forevermore.”
“Yeah, sure,” sneers a skeptic.
“I’ll put myself at risk to make my point. Reisig, step forward, please. Impressive set of chompers there, eh, you doubters?”
“Dear God,” cries Dru. “I thought I’d talked you out of this. They’re going to think you a lunatic, scare off for good and all.
Sly ignores her.
“I now put my life on the line. Cats and dogs are bitterest enemies, is that not so? This one will take my head into his gaping mouth, I will continue to address you as easily as I do now, and I will emerge at some point, unscathed but for being soaked with slobber. Are you ready? Reisig, sir, I am yours to do with as you will. Fraulein, a fanfare, if you please.” Dru has brought her flute.
Sly bows right, left, and center. “Mesdames et Messieurs, I am here to present you with an opportunity the like of which you will never have again.” He motions for the dog to enclose his head into the cavern-mouth. It does not fit so very well in, but it’s a terrible sight none the less.
Reisig bares his teeth to show incisors clamped onto the cat’s forehead. It’s not easy for the dog to maintain his jaws maximum apart, it’s much like us going to the dentist. He’s breathing shallowly, concentrating on trying not to gag. He wants to spit the head out, but the cat is bloviating gaily, and he hates to spoil the performance.
“I’ve always been a civic-minded individual,” lectures the cat, “and I have a history of problem solving.” Reisig begins to hyperventilate. He’s starting to panic. Alarmed, Sly gives the signal to release the head-hold. He pulls free, and mops his brow with a napkin handed him by Dru. “There, there,” he tells the dog who, from the look in his eyes, fears he has botched his simple assignment, “you did fine, just fine.”
Sensing he’s making no headway with his serious attempt at engagement – this is not a high-brow crowd – Sly turns to shtick. He’s going to hook them any way he can. “Is this whacky, or what? I once played to crowned heads. I was big-time, folks. Here I am tonight, romancing, or trying to, a roomful of rodents.” He’s met with dead silence. No snorts, no titters, nothing.
“I’m dying here. I’m putting my heart and soul into this pitch. Show me a little love, eh? Or I’m gonna start crying. Look, everyone wants love, right? Love is the answer, so we hear. Do you find that to be so?”
“How the hell should we know, you ass? Who loves us? No one, never.”
“My point exactly. I have a plan to win you love and joy and peace and good eats, like what I got in abundance in that there hamper my darling assistant is currently seated on. Doll face! Don’t mangle those goodies like you did the treat last night, please!” She jumps up, flustered.
“Drusilla, ladies and germs, ain’t she a doll? Can I get a big hand for my other lovely assistant? The Hulk, we call him, affectionately, of course. He’s a good sport, putting up with my nonsense. Take a bow, big boy.” Reisig nods nervously. He is hissed.
“You’re going to be ashamed of yourselves,” Sly scolds them, “when you get to know this sweetheart. Who here is a sucker for a heart-warming story? I’ve got one for ya. Two days ago a certain sad soul was as down and out as it’s possible to be. Dru and I chanced upon him. Nothing-special looks, my darlings, but great-great-great personality.
“Dru has adopted him. From skid row to the home of the wealthiest woman in Hameln, a Cinderella story if there ever were one. Fairy tales can come true. The stars aligned for Reisig. He’s got to be one of the luckiest animals alive. Your world opening up in astonishing ways, it’s far from impossible, that’s all I’m saying. Let me put a flea in your ears, folks. Repeat after me, information is knowledge.” Silence, again. “I can’t hearrrr youuuu,” he sings, uh, merrily.
“Beat the knaves – not Drusie here, she’s one of the good ones, trust her with your life – beat the mankinds at their own game. They call it survival. Survival, when they massacre each other right and left. They’re bigger fools than you are.” He finally gets a round of applause. And, whistles of approval. He should be pleased. Nope, he’s irked. How does a rat whistle? Rats have no lips neither.2
“Know what? Screw the breakfast. We’re starting this party early. Dru! Unpack the nummies, please.” The rats crouch, ready to spring forward.
“Hold back,” he warns, “until I say the word. Wait till she lays it nice on the grass. I’m out to civilize you jerks. We commence a Herculean training tonight, starting with table manners. Don’t talk with your mouths full. No arguing. No shoving, there’s plenty for all.”
Dru arranges the offerings spaced so multiple diners might feed from the most enticing dishes comfortably, without trampling each other. Each sweet or savory is presented on its own lace-edged tablecloth. (She’d raided her hanky drawer.) The four kinds of jam remain in their pots, in case you’re concerned about that. I know I am.
The rats are working forward step by step. Surprise, surprise, three rabbits and a mole have infiltrated the assembly.
“I spot free-loaders in the crowd. Hey, you thievers, this feed ain’t for you. Just kidding, mouchers welcome too. Live and let live, that’s me all the way. Dru! Is the table set?”
“Set!” she confirms – one more time, just once more, okay? – merrily.
“Go to, you bums,” screeches the cat, “Par-teeeee!”
- Rats live about 1 – 2 years. A major factor in the longevity: a lot of natural predators. A community established in a space safe from owl, hawk, fox and coyote may have lived much longer.
- The boys somersault. Rats can’t somersault, but they can flip. I’ve seen it done on YouTube.
- Rats do have fingers, that they can insert into their mouths and whistle that way. Sly doesn’t have fingers either.