In Which a Great Many Cats Express Opinions
Deep in the enchanted forest, in a neat gray house with a wide porch and a red roof, lived the witch Morwen and her nine cats. The cats were named Murgatroyd, Fiddlesticks, Miss Eliza Tudor, Scorn, Jasmine, Trouble, Jasper Darlington Higgins IV, Chaos, and Aunt Ophelia, and not one of them looked anything like a witch’s cat. They were tabby, gray, white, tortoiseshell, ginger, seal brown, and every other cat color in the world except a proper and witchy black.
Morwen didn’t look like a witch any more than her cats looked as if they should belong to one. For one thing, she was much too young—less than thirty—and she had neither wrinkles nor warts. In fact, if she hadn’t been a witch, people might have said she was quite pretty. Her hair was the same ginger color as Jasmine’s fur, and she had hazel eyes and a delicate, pointed chin. Because she was very short, she had to stand quite straight (instead of hunching over in correct witch fashion) if she wanted people to pay attention to her. And she was nearsighted, so she always had to wear glasses; hers had rectangular lenses. She refused even to put on the tall, pointed hats most witches wore, and she dressed in loose black robes because they were comfortable and practical, not because they were traditional.
All of this occasionally annoyed people who cared more about the propriety of her dress than the quality of her spells.
“You ought to turn him into a toad,” Trouble said, looking up from washing his right front paw. Trouble was a large, lean gray tomcat with a crooked tail and a recently acquired ragged ear. He had never told Morwen exactly how he had damaged either the tail or the ear, but from the way he acted she assumed he had won a fight with something.
“Who should I turn into a toad?” Morwen asked, looking an unusually long way down. She was sitting sideways on her broomstick, floating comfortably next to the top of the front door, with a can of gold paint in one hand and a small paintbrush in the other. Above the door, in black letters partly edged in gold, ran the message “NONE OF THIS NONSENSE, PLEASE,” which Morwen was engaged in repainting.
“That fellow who’s making all the fuss about pointy hats and respect for tradition,” Trouble replied. “The one you were grumbling about a minute ago—what’s his name?”
“Arona Michaelear Grinogion Vamist,” Morwen recited, putting the final gold line along the bottom of the “L” in “PLEASE.” “And it’s a tempting thought. But someone worse would probably replace him.”
“Turn them all into toads. I’ll help.”
“Toads?” purred a new voice. A small ginger cat slithered out the open window and arched her back, then stretched out along the window ledge, where she could watch the entire front yard without turning her head. “I’m tired of toads. Why don’t you turn somebody into a mouse for a change?” The ginger cat ran her tongue around her lips.
“Good morning, Jasmine,” Morwen said. “I’m not planning to turn anyone into anything, at the moment, but I’ll keep it in mind.”
“That means she won’t do it,” said Trouble. He looked at his right paw, decided it was clean enough for the time being, and began washing his left.
“Won’t do what?” said Fiddlesticks, poking his brown head out of the front door. “Who’s not doing it? Why shouldn’t he—or is that she? And who says so?”
“Turn someone into a mouse; Morwen; I certainly don’t see why not; and she does,” Jasmine said in a bored tone, and pointedly turned her head away.
“Mice are nice.” Fiddlesticks shouldered the door open another inch and trotted out onto the porch. “So are fish. I haven’t had any fish in a long time.” He paused underneath Morwen’s broom and looked up expectantly.
“You had fish for dinner yesterday,” Morwen said without looking down. “And you ate enough breakfast this morning to satisfy three ordinary cats, so don’t try to pretend you’re starving. It won’t work.”
“Someone’s coming,” Jasmine observed from the window.
Trouble stood up and ambled to the edge of the porch. “It’s the Chairwitch of the Deadly Nightshade Gardening Club. Wasn’t she just here last week?”
“It’s Archaniz? Oh, bother,” said Morwen, sticking her paintbrush into the can. “Has she got that idiot cat Grendel with her? I told her not to bring him anymore, but nine times out of ten she doesn’t listen.”
Fiddlesticks joined Trouble at the top of the porch steps. “I don’t see him. I don’t see anyone but her. I don’t want to see her, either. She doesn’t like me.”
“That’s because you talk too much,” Trouble told him.
“I’m going inside,” Fiddlesticks announced. “Then I won’t have to see her. Maybe someone’s dropped some fish on the floor,” he added hopefully as he trotted into the house.
Morwen landed her broomstick and stood up, just as the Chairwitch reached the porch steps. The Chairwitch looked exactly as a witch ought: tall, with a crooked black hat, stringy black hair, sharp black eyes, a long, bony nose, and a wide, thin-lipped mouth. She hunched over as she walked, leaning on her broom as if it were a cane.
Morwen put the paint can on the window ledge next to Jasmine, set her broom against the wall, and said, “Good morning, Archaniz.”
“Good morning, Morwen,” Chairwitch Archaniz croaked. “What’s this I hear about you growing lilacs in your garden?”
“Since I don’t know what you’ve heard, I can’t answer you,” Morwen replied. “Come in and have some cider.”
Archaniz pounded the end of her broom against the porch floor, breaking some of the twigs and scattering bits of dust and bark in all directions. “Don’t be provoking, Morwen. You’re a witch. You’re supposed to grow poison oak and snakeroot and wolfsbane, not lilacs. You’ll get thrown out of the Deadly Nightshade Gardening Club if you aren’t careful.”
“Nonsense. Where in the rules does it say that I can’t grow what I please in my own garden?”
“It doesn’t,” Archaniz admitted. “And I’ll tell you right away that you aren’t the only one who puts a few lilacs and daylilies in with the rampion and henbane. Why, I’ve got a perfectly ordinary patch of daisies in the corner myself.”
“Daisies.” Jasmine snorted softly. “She would.”
“But I’ve been getting complaints,” Archaniz continued, “and I have to do something about them.”