Book IV The Montbryce Legacy
Like father, like son. Robert inherits the curse of the Montbryces.
Excerpt: Robert has been unjustly imprisoned.
Robert was wakened one night by the sound of an animal in distress. His back was cold. A shiver of dread trickled through his veins. Where was Espérance? He knelt and felt for her. She was lying in the corner. As soon as he put his hand on her, he knew what was happening. Kittens! How could he not have known?
He felt her belly contract. She licked his hand. He sat back on his haunches and sobbed, thinking of his wife and the son he prayed she still carried.
Espérance was stoic. It probably wasn’t the first litter of kittens she had borne. Robert could tell when each was about to be born—it was the only time the cat cried. He heard the rasp of her tongue licking each one dry and the gnawing sounds as she chewed the afterbirth, separating them from her body. Tears flowed as he thought of his little girls, Catherine and Marguerite. His obvious disappointment that they were not boys must have hurt his wife. Had he made her feel she was to blame?
When the four new arrivals were licked clean and suckling hungrily, he reached out slowly and scratched the cat’s ears. “Well done, Espérance. You must take good care of your family. Better care than I took of mine.”
She and the kittens purred.
He lay for hours watching her with her brood, until the gaoler brought his food. Panic seized him then when he remembered this was the day for his straw to be replaced. He had looked forward to it for days. What would happen to the kittens? How could Espérance protect four of them when the ice cold water was thrown into the cell?
By the time the mute returned with the straw and bucket, Robert had devised a plan. But he would try to communicate first with the giant.
“My cat,” he said, pointing to the kittens, slightly startled to hear his own voice.
The man looked at the cats, shrugged and motioned for the straw.
Robert was torn. What would happen if he refused? He desperately needed to feel clean. If he made a fuss, the mute might take the kittens and dispose of them. He removed his clothing and passed it to the guard, then gathered up the straw and pushed it out of the cell.
Espérance arched her back and hissed. She picked up one kitten by the scruff of its neck. Robert hoped she would understand what he was about to do. Carefully he picked up the remaining kittens. Espérance struck out and clawed his hand, but he persevered. He cradled the squirming newborns to his breast. As the gaoler doused him he turned his back. Espérance screeched and darted out of the cell. The three kittens struggled, but he held them firm, elated he had successfully protected them.
He shook his head when the lye soap was proffered. Water would have to be enough. The gaoler shrugged and shoved the fresh straw under the grate. Robert kicked some into a pile in the corner, knelt, and laid the mewling kittens atop it.
“There,” he sniffled, his arms across his chest, trying to hold on to the warmth he had derived from their little bodies. Then he turned to reach for the clothing the guard held out to him. It was the first time he had seen the mute smile. He smiled back.
Within minutes, Espérance had crept back into the cell, still carrying the kitten she had rescued. Her green eyes followed him as he dressed and hunkered down beside her, watching her suckle her brood once more.
“You’re welcome,” he whispered.