Pink is secretly glad that Alleycat’s gone because she gets more attention in his absence and she often stands in the places where he put his feet, or where he sat, and claims them as her own (although they aren’t hers at all and never can be). By contrast Bamber stays close to the ground and feels for the thunder and listens to the wind and he doesn’t need to pretend he’s Alleycat or anyone except himself. He’s in charge and that’s why he’s down there, low to the ground, with a cat’s purpose, while Pink’s on high trying to be a monster. Bamber keeps marauders at bay, walks the limits, patrols the pathways, and any intruders are beaten back by him alone. Alleycat can’t help him because Alleycat’s far away; and if we see Alleycat crossing the railway line from a distance, or jumping the fences between the station and the tracks, that doesn’t mean that he sees us or needs to show himself; on the contrary, he’s on a mission all his own, a secret charge that doesn’t involve any of us. We know almost nothing of his new life, except that we know what he left behind, or think we do, and Bamber can never forget that once (not long ago at all) it was Alleycat who sat listening to the wind and Alleycat who felt the onset of the storm.
Alleycat’s gone but he’s not forgotten. In Bugle Street they’re saying he drives his train too fast and overtakes on hills, ignores red lights and so on. Pink hopes it’s true. She’d like to sit next to him and hang out of the window while the fields rush by. Imagine that, the wind in her whiskers. Unfortunately, she’s fated to stay where she is and wait for Alleycat’s return, and while she sits on her strange, carved table and stares across the Six Foot, she invents all sorts of rumours and if you can believe it, she’s the source of all the Alleycat stories, even the slanders. As soon as she’s got a new one, she runs to tell Bertie and afterwards Bertie sits by the back door and waits for Alleycat to confirm it.
Alleycat’s been away for a long while, driving trains, but he pops home occasionally, to prove he still exists. The last time he showed his face he had a little friend with him.
He found Bertie in the overhead luggage racks on the eight oh five to Paddington and whiskered her to us in Six Foot way in a few shakes of his tail.
No one knows where Bertie’s from, but she’s settled in perfectly, just as Alleycat anticipated.
Pink’s taken over her education, which means she’s clear that cats are the most important beings on the planet and much the best role models for a small but promising little spaniel dog.
It’s business as usual in the Six Foot. Or is it? Pink’s retreated indoors, and the dogs are looking after her. Most of the time Alleycat’s glued to his gentleman’s chair in the garden, but Bamber’s decided he’s got to increase his patrols, and he’s also delved a lair for himself in the jasmine, overlooking the Six Foot itself. That’s his chosen spot.Indoors, the bears are reproducing. Don’t ask me why. They’re spreading over the furniture and generally taking over the house, whilst out in the world the black and white cats increase numerically, though sheer numbers aren’t the same as strength of arms and that’s why Alleycat isn’t worried and seldom moves from his easy chair. Bamber must be worried a bit though, or else he wouldn’t have built his look-out post above the garden gate, so he can watch for all-comers and cry to Alleycat if hostiles approach or seem to threaten. No one’s dared to encroach so far, and if they do Alleycat has plans. One thing I’ve noticed is that he’s getting fatter. Years ago he was poisoned and almost died (lots of local cats perished) but Alleycat survived. He lost a lot of weight back then, but his power and wisdom were so great that he lived through it all and learned to be even lazier (and wiser). Now he’s rebuilding his fat reserves in anticipation of a hard winter (or something like that) and being lazy is his secret weapon. So really, now that I think of it there’s quite a bit happening in the Six Foot after all.
The encroachers have affected Pink badly. She can’t sleep at night, or in the day, without worrying they’ll come and get her. She spends her whole time watching, or she would, except that I’m taking her under my wing in the day and letting her sleep in our bedroom at night. This has given her increased confidence, but that brings its own problems because it means that now she doesn’t cower indoors and look for protection from Alleycat and Bamber – instead she swaggers out of doors alone and shows off and acts like she’s invulnerable. Of course, in a way she is invulnerable because she’s got Alleycat and Bamber to look after her. But they can’t be with her all the time and basically I’m worried she’s going to get into trouble she can’t deal with on her own. Alleycat’s been talking to her about it, but I don’t think she’s listening.
This morning Alleycat was nowhere to be seen and even Bamber was a bit worried and kept going in and out to look for him. It’s so cold at the moment that the cats barely go out at all unless they have to, but there was no sign of Alleycat anywhere and that wasn’t right. It was a horrible feeling, to think he might be lost or in danger and all on his own. He doesn’t have any particular hiding places, he’s always exactly where he wants to be, and yet this morning he wasn’t anywhere to be found. I fetched a flashlight and looked under all the chairs. I lifted the cushions. I opened the cupboards and the wardrobes. I unrolled all the blankets and I looked under all the beds. No sign of him anywhere! To cut a long story short, when the clock struck one I called for Bernie and Lucy and said we’d better mount a search of the nearby gardens. Bamber was already out looking, but I knew that if anyone could pick up Alleycat’s trail it would be my cocker spaniels. I don’t mind telling you I was terribly worried, but Bernie gave a sharp little bark, to tell me none of that would be necessary, and I ran into the sitting room and there he was, Alleycat as ever was, stretching and yawning on the hearthrug. From the way he acted I knew he’d just woken up and I’m sure he’d been in the house all the time, invisible and secure. Going invisible is one of Alleycat’s special talents and he can do it at the drop of a hat and stay that way for hours, even days, so I guess that explains what happened this morning. He must have wanted a bit of privacy, so obviously he made himself look like the air and he slept all night and all the morning and no one knew anything about it. He likes to pretend he’s just an ordinary cat, but it’s pretty clear from this little episode there’s more to him than meets the eye, even when he’s invisible. Of course Pink snored through the whole thing. She knew it was all a lot of fuss about nothing and yet I don’t mind telling you that when Alleycat showed himself the whole day changed for me and the dark clouds lifted and everyone’s mood lightened just like casting a spell.