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Authors: George Selden

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BOOK: Harry Cat's Pet Puppy
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“Fresh life,” mused Harry. “I was thinking something like that myself as I looked all around that crowded living room. Then I heard it.”

“Heard what?”

“A voice.” Harry paused—not to tease, but reliving the eerie memory.

*   *   *

“Harry—if you wouldn't drive me crazy, please. Talk!”

“A voice.” Harry shook himself into the present. “From somewhere above me. It said, ‘Well, sir—and now that you've seen everything, might I ask what it is that you mean to steal?'”

“A ghost!” exclaimed Tucker. “The apartment is haunted!”

“It's haunted, all right. But not by the kind of ghost you think. I looked up, where the voice was coming from. Against one wall there's this secretary. That's a big old elaborate desk with a bookcase built on top of it, and glass doors to the bookcase. The top shelf of this particular secretary was full of china animals. There were birds, a monkey, a china collie—and a life-size china Siamese cat. Which was
not
made of china! In the dim light filtering in from the hall I saw the cat's eyes slowly close and open.”

“Oh, my gosh—”

“Oh, my gosh is right, Mousiekins. Mr. Smedley already
has
a pet—and her name is Miss Catherine. It was her that he was talking to, not himself. And it also was from her—I found out when she jumped down beside me—that that weak sweet smell in the air came from. Mr. Smedley puts a drop of perfume on her every now and then.”


Per
-fume!” gasped Tucker.

“To the desk, to the floor, right beside me she jumped. And repeated, ‘Well?' in an outraged voice. ‘If there's nothing to satisfy a thief here, there's some silver in the dining room!'”

“Harry—I wouldn't want to interrupt—but you didn't happen to take maybe a spoon—”

“I did
not
take a spoon!” Harry angrily said. “Or anything else. Since my mind, right then, wasn't on your collection!”

“Too bad. But okay.”

“I assured her that I was not a thief, and so naturally she demanded what I
was
doing there, in that case. And I told her.”

“The truth?”

“The whole truth. And don't make it sound like a red-hot iron. Sooner or later it would have to come out. I told her everything about Huppy—finding him, losing him, finding him again, his growing so fast—the works, ending up with Mr. Smedley being our only hope.”

“You told her about me, too?” said Tucker. “What did she say?”

“She said, ‘Hmm!' and sniffed.”

“Well, I say, ‘Hmm!' and sniff right back!”

“When I got to the part about Huppy living up there, she looked at me as if I was crazy. ‘What?' she said, aghast. ‘A
dog?
Residing here? With me and Horatio? It simply won't do!' She was going to go on, but just then Horatio himself got back with the milk. Miss Catherine said that if I wished ‘to pursue this nonsense,' I should hide in the music room while they had dinner. Mr. Smedley always goes to bed early. And when he
had
gone to bed, and she and I were pursuing the nonsense, I found out that she is thirteen years old.”

“That's old for a cat, isn't it?” asked Tucker.

“Pretty old,” admitted Harry, “but she's got grit. After all, I could really have been a burglar and beaten her up.” He paused. “On the other paw, I think she might have won a cat fight at that. Anyway, she's thirteen, she belonged to Mr. Smedley's mother, she likes her drop of perfume now and then—but she also likes to go out for an outing, even on winter afternoons. That's rare, because Siamese cats hate the cold. He takes her to Riverside Park. All that I found out after dinner. During dinner I found out something much more important. Mr. Smedley is not in charge of his own apartment. Miss Catherine Cat is! She's got the guy wrapped around one ear. You should have heard him. ‘Would Miss Catherine like—'”

“Wait a minute,” said Tucker. “She refers to him as Horatio and he calls her
Miss
Catherine?”

“That's the kind of cat she is,” said Harry. “But sometimes, in a gush of love, he also calls her Puss-puss.”


Puss
-puss!”

“‘Does Puss-puss crave more lovely cube steak? Does Puss-puss thirst for a bit more milk?'”

“Yich!”
Tucker Mouse grimaced disgust. “Sick-making! That's one guy who really needs a dog.”

“Sick-making or not, them's the facts.”

“Enough of facts! When does Huppy move up?”

“Are you crazy!” shouted Harry. “Haven't you heard a word I've said? She will not hear of it! I wheedled her all last night, and I wheedled her all today while Mr. Smedley and some very untalented little boys banged away at those pianos—and all I got was permission to come back again and talk. Pursue the nonsense! An hour ago she showed me the back door to ‘my apartment.' The door didn't close completely, and the two of us managed to pry it open. ‘The servants' entrance,' she explained. ‘In future please use this. I believe in the basement you'll find a window ajar. Good day.'”

“That's how she says goodbye?”

“That's how she doesn't say goodbye.”

Tucker sat a minute silently, except for some growling—which sounded, in his case, more like a squeak beneath the breath. “Well—I'm not sure I want Huppy living there anyway.”

“You have any better ideas?”

Tucker didn't. “This is great!” he said. “This is really great. On the one paw we have Max, with his pack of four-legged gangsters, and on the other, two old maids—Horatio Smedley and Catherine Cat.”


Miss
Catherine,” Harry sweetly corrected him.

SEVEN

Pursuing the Nonsense

A few weeks later Tucker Mouse was fuming, furious, and fit to be tied—a not unusual state for him these days. He was alone—he was almost always alone now—sitting in the deserted drainpipe, trying to patch up a paper flower with a bit of Scotch tape. Both flower and tape had been salvaged that very afternoon from the treasure trove that an overflowing trash basket can be.

“It's humiliating,” the mouse mumbled. (Among other strange practices like mending paper flowers, he had taken to talking to himself. Nowadays, it seemed to him, there was nobody else to talk to.) “Degrading!—that's what it is.” The Scotch tape got stuck to the fur on his chest. “The worst time in my life.” He yanked off the tape. Some fur came with it.

The worst time in Tucker Mouse's life began the day after Harry had made the acquaintance of Miss Catherine. He slept late the next morning, and when he woke up, after having a bite to eat—from Tucker's carefully hoarded food—he decided that he would visit her, take her up right away on her invitation. “Strike while the iron's hot,” he said.

“So go strike,” said Tucker.

But on the way out Harry saw something new. “What's that?”

“That,”
the mouse proclaimed proudly, “is a piece of carefully rolled-up pink ribbon. Rescued this morning from the Loft's Candy Shop. A salesgirl was wrapping up a box as a gift, and—”

“I'm taking it,” Harry announced.

“You're
what?

“When you visit, you're supposed to bring a gift.”

“Well, get your own gift!” said Tucker. “She's
your
friend.”

“No time.” He scooped up the neat roll with one paw. “Besides, I've got a feeling that she'll like this.” Then he thought better of it and popped the bundle into his mouth. That way he could carry it carefully and not get it dirty. Before the mouse could begin to moan, he was gone.

And that night, when he got back, there sat Tucker gloomily in the absence of his pretty pink ribbon. “I was right. She liked it.”

“Why shouldn't she like it?” demanded Tucker. “I would have you to understand, precious things like that don't grow on trees. No wonder she thought you were a thief.”

Harry ignored the fancy language—a sure sign of a mouse's displeasure—as well as the dig, and said, “She's got a hope chest.”

“What's a hope chest?”

“It's a kind of an old-fashioned habit.” Harry smiled. “And it's nice. A place where single ladies—lady cats, lady dogs, lady human beings—keep things that they like. And they hope.”

“So? What do they hope for?”

“What
would
they?”

“For an old bag like Miss Catherine—”

“She's not an old bag! She's a middle-aged cat.”

“—it's too late,” finished Tucker.

“I don't care,” said Harry. The same smile flickered. “I think it's nice. Miss Catherine's hope chest is the sewing basket of Mr. Smedley's mother. That's where she put the ribbon, along with her other favorite things. She told me all about them over a bowl of milk we shared.”

While Tucker grumbled on jealously—he was only jealous about the milk, of course, since he would have liked a sip himself—Harry Cat was getting some good ideas, which he wisely decided to keep to himself. The first was, how alike Miss Catherine and Tucker were in their passion for collecting things. The second—they had similar tastes, too: a fondness for buckles and beads and bright whatnots, although sometimes Tucker lost his head over crazy things like high heels. And the
third
idea was—!

“Now about this bead,” said the cat next morning.

“What about my
favorite green bead?
” Tucker snatched back his jewel. (It was only glass, but an emerald couldn't have been more precious.)

“Well, I was just thinking—”

“I know what you're thinking! You know what I'm thinking? Let her get out and scrounge for herself! I'm not about to donate my collection to an old maid's hope chest!”

“All right,” sighed Harry and looked away. A sad, distant expression came into his eyes. “I wonder if Huppy's learned to pick locks yet.”

A heavy minute passed. Then, “Take the bead,” said Tucker hopelessly. A terrible feeling of defeat overcame him. And the worst of it was, he felt that his misery was just beginning.

He was right. The cat's requests began with a ribbon, went on through beads, and were only brought to a screeching halt when he asked for a dime.
“No!”
shouted Tucker. “No loose change does she get! Not over my dead body!” Harry let the matter drop. He knew when a mouse had reached his limits. (But he still went on asking for—begging, if necessary, and grudgingly getting—some of Tucker's most choice possessions.)

In desperation the mouse took to ransacking all the trash baskets in the Times Square subway station while Harry was out. He found that most days he was able to dredge up satisfactory substitutes for his priceless junk. Such valuables as a pair of glasses with one lens still in, an automatic pencil
with
leads—to give that up almost broke his heart—and on this particular afternoon a ripped and laboriously repaired paper flower.

“There!” he said to the flower angrily. “And I hope she notices the fur under the Scotch tape.”

There was a whoosh of braking wings at the drainpipe opening and Lulu Pigeon waddled in. “Ooo, Tucker, that's
darling!
” she said. “Who's it for?”

“The Empress of the Upper West Side!” snapped the mouse. “As if you didn't know.”

“Oo! oo! oo!”
the pigeon gargled her falsetto laugh.

“And please, Lulu, you wouldn't make fun of another soul's unhappiness.”

Since he was alone so much lately, Tucker had gotten into the habit of complaining to Lulu about the sorrows of the world—and his own in particular. She wasn't exactly the most serious confidante he could think of, but in this pinch, he found, she would do. Any reasonably sympathetic ear was a help.

“Harry up paying court?” she asked.

“He is
not
paying court!” announced the mouse firmly. “I have told you repeatedly he is up there trying to con Miss Catherine into letting Huppy go live in Mr. Smedley's apartment.”

The reason Tucker was seeing so much of Lulu Pigeon was that, what with his recent pressing duties, he didn't have time to go down to Bryant Park every night. So Lulu came to him, with bulletins about the dog. And the bulletins were mostly bad, so bad that Tucker began to think of his friend as a bird of ill omen—a kookoo bird of ill omen, at that.

“How
is
Huppy, by the way?” he asked. “Did you tell him to take a bath, like I said?—but to stay somewhere warm till his fur dries out so he wouldn't catch—”

“I told him everything.”

“Did he do it?”

“No. He said, ‘Phooey!' and went off with the pack.”

Tucker shook his head. “He must be a mess.”

BOOK: Harry Cat's Pet Puppy
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