The kidnapped cook's cat looked as brilliant as his reputation: green eyes, fine gray stripes, white paws, a lively tail. Plus, he was so inquisitive. Who could ask for a better oracle? Justine reached into her pocket for the stolen slice of salmon, loosened the parchment wrapper, and set it on the stone floor. Mr. Whiskers sniffed at the fish. He tested it with his paw, started purring, and devoured it, exactly as the cook described his usual manner.
The feline licked the parchment clean, batted it away, and meowed, looking into Justine's eyes. She said, "Answer my question truly, and you shall have more." Mr. Whiskers purred and rubbed against her ankle.
The maid felt giddy enough to dance. In a moment she would know the truth about her heart's desire. She used her best Latin to bless the basketful of knotted silk ribbons with a whispered Ave Maria and emptied it, tossing stolen ribbons toward the roof as she called the question, "Does my Lord James love me?" The knots fell silently and lay scattered across the nave. Justine stood with her back against a column, hands clasped as if in prayer, hardly daring to breathe as she waited for Mr. Whiskers to choose the ribbon that would tell her fortune.
Mr. Whiskers looked at the ribbons on the floor. Then he flopped onto his side and looked up at Justine with half-closed eyes.
"Now look here, Mr. Whiskers," Justine murmured menacingly. "You will tell me what lies in the heart of my Lord, or it's back to Meow Mix for you."
Mr. Whiskers looked up at Justine blankly. Then he sat up and stuck his leg out to lick the white fur on his belly.
"A pity," Justine mused. "Perhaps Mr. Whiskers will change his tune when he joins the cook and my Lord James in that small, dark closet in the scullery."
Opening: Susan Brown.....Continuation: Tamara Marnell