'The Cat and the Sea Captain' by Kate Gale
The Captain put his hands on his knees and pushed himself to his feet. He could feel his bones groan like old timbers. They’d do him a while yet, noisy though they were.
He picked up a comb from the dresser and pulled it in long strokes through his hair and his coarse grey beard that reached halfway down his chest. On with his knit woollen jumper and his waxed coat and hat.
Pausing by the window, he studied the sky and grunted.
“Well, we’ll see.” He glanced behind him. “Are you coming, then?”
Silence greeted him along with a slow, unimpressed blink of yellow eyes.
“As you like.”
The harbour was busy with preparation. Loud hollers filled the air and crashes echoes off the breakwater and the Good Millicent heaved under the constraints of ropes and anchor.
The Captain sat on a barrel and gave a few instructions to the men who were bustling about the ship.
He lit his pipe and waited.
It wasn’t long before he was joined by his companion. The sleek grey and black tabby leapt up onto some crates next to him and surveyed the scene like a queen looking down on his court, her whiskers twitching.
“Captain Edwards!” A slim young man, dressed in an impossibly neat black suit, hailed him.
“Matthews.” The Captain nodded but didn’t bother to rise. Not for this boy.
“Mr Wilkins just wanted me to remind you of his expectations of this venture.”
“Don’t need reminding.”
“I know my job Matthews. If you’ll excuse me.”
The Captain snuffed out his pipe and made his way towards the ship. He hesitated at the edge of the jetty and looked down. The tabby sat at his ankles.
He took one step onto the gangplank.
The cat remained where she was.
Still, the tabby was unmoving, except for her tail which flicked sharply.
“Alright, alright. You’ve made your point. Although now I have to deal with that idiot Matthews and I don’t thank you for that.”
And the Captain returned to land.
The next day, the Captain walked into the Red Lion, shook the rain off his coat and hung it up near the fire to dry.
“Eh, Captain.” The landlord sounded puzzled. “Why aren’t you on your ship?”
“Have you seen it outside? Who in their right mind would go to sea in that storm?”
“The Good Millicent left harbour yesterday. Didn’t you know?”
“No, lad.” The Captain scowled. “I didn’t. I told Wilkins it weren’t safe. Said I wouldn’t take her out.”
Except for the brutal clap of thunder overhead, there was hush as the men of the town considered this with creased brows.
The local newspaper reported the loss of the Good Millicent in grizzly detail. The townsfolk were quoted as astonished that Wilkins and Sonswould send out an inexperienced captain and lay blame squarely the company’s feet for the fifteen fresh but empty graves in the churchyard.