Many amazing animals make their temporary homes at animal shelters. This is the story of Lewis, a cat who came to a shelter after a thrilling adventure on the high seas.
You can be part of the next adventure of an animal in need of a home by becoming their adoptive family.
Tales from the Shelter is a recurring series that is intended for children of all ages.
Tales from the Shelter # 1: Lewis The Pirate Cat
Lewis the cat had not intended to be a pirate. He’d planned quite a different life, actually, a life on a farm in beautiful southeast Iowa. Living in Iowa was better than a life at sea in many ways. For example, in Iowa there weren’t sailing ships that creaked and cracked dreadfully in the middle of the open ocean. Ships were supposed to keep the water out, not to open up holes in themselves and welcome the sea inside. And yet, the ship that Lewis found himself on right at this moment, the Dick Whittington, was not exactly following those rules.
It was the storm, of course. They were in the middle of a terrible blow, which battered the poor ship mercilessly. From the skies came torrential rain that made it difficult to even see past one’s own whiskers. And the wind was so loud, so crazed. Honestly, there couldn’t be much difference, Lewis thought, between being soaked by this much rain and simply being dropped into the open ocean. And was that going to be his fate? he wondered. Was the Whittington going to deliver them all into a watery grave?
It all came from having dreams that were too big, Lewis admitted to himself now. His life in Iowa had been pleasant, even through the harsh winters that froze the pads on his paws as he traipsed through the laneways of the farm. Winter nights had been spent by the soothing warmth of a fireplace, curled up on a cotton pillow. Lewis missed that pillow now, more than he’d ever thought he could. Why had he gone to sea? Why had he sat on the fence by the cow pasture, looking out at the fields until he could imagine that the gently sloping hills were not made of dark green mint, but of sparkling blue ocean waves?
That steady fence had been by far a safer place than this poor wooden ship where he now found himself. And gentle waves? Those were a false promise that lured naive cats away from the security of solid ground. When it stormed on the farm, there was always shelter, for the cats and for the cows. A blizzard could howl and Lewis would still have been curled up by the fireplace enjoying a dignified, pleasant tongue-bath, not the sideways flood of salt water and rain that were soaking his black and white fur now. Oh why had he ever gone to sea?
Lewis stood silently on the deck of the Whittington. There was no reason to make any noise now, no cause to cry. The wind shrieked loudly enough to express the regret that was in Lewis’s heart. The rigging of the ship groaned with such melancholy that it spoke for Lewis’s grieving soul. And the shrill, terrified crying of the–
Lewis broke out of his self-pitying reverie with a start. What on the ship could make such a noise as that, a shrill crying? It sounded like tiny voices.
It was tiny voices.
Here and there, in the snatches of wind that blew past Lewis’s ears, he could make it out. It was not the ship. It was the kittens! Captain Rogers’ three grandchildren!
Lewis let go of the railing he’d been clinging to and bounded across the deck of the ship. He passed by a couple of other cats. It was hard to even see who they were as the ship pitched beneath them, and as the wind blew hard enough into Lewis’s face that he had to half close his eyes. Fortunately, his ears were more reliable. Lewis had the best hearing on the whole ship. He’d been quite proud of that. Maybe it had come from years of work on the farm, where he’d had to learn to track the cows across the wide fields by the sound of their lowing. In any case, at this moment his hearing was proving itself more useful than ever before. As he crossed the deck, the tiny cries of the kittens grew louder. But suddenly Lewis found himself at the very edge of the ship. The kittens–he could still hear them–out beyond the ship! The kittens were in the water! They had been swept into the sea!
Lewis sprang across the deck to the lifeboat that was lashed against the wheelhouse. He sank the claws of his back feet into the wooden decking and with the claws on his front feet he slashed through the ropes that held the lifeboat down. The heavy boat started to move immediately, sliding across the deck as the ship pitched in the waves. It was all Lewis could do to follow the boat’s path as it crashed across the deck and into the sea below. It landed upright and Lewis stopped once more at the railing. For a moment, he turned back to the decks of the Whittington, and he screamed at the top of his lungs. “Lifeboat away! Come and join us, lads! Captain Rogers! Sailors!”
There was no answer that even Lewis’s ears could pick out, and so there was only one thing left for him to do. Lewis leaped out into the storm, leaving behind, perhaps forever, the reassuring bulk of the ship that had become his home. The wind shoved him violently as he fell, but by some miracle, Lewis’s outstretched claws found purchase in the hard wood of the lifeboat that was waiting for him. And he immediately realized that he was not alone. A tiny soaked bundle of fur was curled into the lowest part of the boat, still crying as loudly as before. It was Blackie, one of the kittens!
Lewis yelled to him over the wind. “Blackie! Thank heavens! Where are your brother and sister?”
Blackie must have too exhausted to answer, all his strength spent in his desperate climb into the lifeboat by himself. But at least he stopped his weeping, reassured by Lewis’s presence. Lewis peered over the edge of the lifeboat into the rain and wind, twitching his ears from back to front. The little boat bounced violently in the waves, making it hard to even look for the other two tiny creatures that were out there somewhere. And then a flash of white–Lewis didn’t dare hesitate and risk losing sight of the little soul. He leaped into the storm once again, but this time, he crashed down into open ocean. Water immediately went into Lewis’s mouth and up his nose. He coughed and sputtered it back out again. Where was she? And then, a miracle–he caught sight once more of that tiny white speck. Lewis lunged forward, paddling as best he could in the crazed waves until he’d reached Snow and managed to gently grasp her by the nape of her neck. And then, a second miracle–Snow was not alone. She and her brother Grey had managed to stay together through the storm. Lewis hooked a paw around Grey and started paddling 3-footed for the lifeboat. It seemed ages before he could get close, but surely enough, his frantic swimming made some headway and at last he reached the relative safety of a tiny boat in the wide, stormy ocean. With nearly his last strength, Lewis tossed the two kittens aboard and then climbed in himself. The three bedraggled fuzz-balls in the boat crawled together for comfort and warmth, and Lewis settled himself against them. He was no drier than they were, but at least he could provide some heat and protection from the wind.
The little boat bounced along in the waves and Lewis peered out into the storm as best he could, searching once more. But this time, he couldn’t find what he was looking for. The Dick Whittington had gone, lost below the waves. All that remained now was the tiny lifeboat with four souls aboard.
By the next morning, the storm had abated. Wreckage from the Dick Whittington floated around them, and Lewis was able to jump from board to board, retrieving some food, and luckily, a small cask of fresh water. He and the kittens were bedraggled from the storm, but Lewis was strict in not allowing the kittens to wash themselves with their tongues. As the sea water dried away, they had all been left covered in white salt crystals. It was sticky and uncomfortable, but Lewis knew that if the kittens started licking at the salt, they would soon become dehydrated and grow ill. And he was careful to ration what food and drink he’d found packed into the compartments of the life boat, even on that first day, because the grim reality was that he did not know how long it would be before they sighted a ship that could rescue them. Of course, it was possible that they never would.
Little Snow took it the best. She remained cheerful, somehow, remarking on the good fortune that could be found even in the direst of situations. They were alive. She and her brothers had lost their grandfather, which was a terrible sadness, but they were not alone, as they had been when they’d been swept from the ship in the storm. They had some food and water, and Lewis was strong enough to row the boat, if they sighted a ship or island on the horizon. Lewis tried to take her hopeful thoughts inside of him, but truthfully, he was scared.
The first night passed quietly. It was beautiful to lie in the boat and look up at the stars. Blackie spoke up with the thought that surely cats on land were looking up at the same sky and seeing the same stars. How far away could they really be if they were all under the same sky?
The second day was hot. Lewis tried to use some wooden pieces of wreckage to build a little roof over part of the boat, so that the kittens could take refuge in the shade. He was impressed by how little they complained.
A couple of curious fish neared the little craft and Lewis was able to catch one of them with a swift claw. He served the fish for dinner along with half a cup of kibble from their food stores. It was all they ate the whole day. Fortunately, that night the kittens were able to get some sleep despite their discomfort. Lewis was again awake almost the whole night, searching constantly across the dark open sea for the faintest glimmer from a ship’s lights.
He found his thoughts ranging widely out over the empty expanse of the sea at night. He recalled the faces of his mates from the ship–Peanut, Oreo, and Whiskers. Good kitties all, and now gone from his sight forever. They’d served together a year, since Lewis had signed onto the Whittington in the port of New York. And now those living, breathing cats were merely memories.
By the third day, Grey, the tiniest of the kittens, had developed a bit of a cough. Lewis gave him an extra ration of fresh water and that seemed to help. Snow had the idea that they might gently comb each other’s fur with their claws and untangle some of the salt-encrusted clumps. Lewis spent quite a pleasant hour lying in the boat, feeling the tickle of three little sets of claws as they cleaned. And though the four cats certainly did not look their best after they were done, at least their fur did not pull quite so harshly against their skin.
Lewis spent the rest of the day watching for a ship. In the evening, darkness stole down from the top of the sky until it finally met the shadowed sea below it, and then the whole world was nothing but a black sphere around them. The kittens curled up together, having eaten for dinner only half a dried mouse each, certainly not enough food to satisfy their hunger. Lewis looked out at the empty sea and felt a despair that was bigger than his whole body.
And then he heard it. It was faint, not enough noise to wake the kittens. Lewis got to his feet and traced the length of the lifeboat, searching for the source of the sound. It came again. Voices. And then there was a light, the light of a ship. Overwhelming relief stilled Lewis’s own voice in his throat, but he pawed at the kittens and they awoke. “A ship!” cried Blackie. And then Lewis was able to join him in crying out. “Hello! Help us! Please! We are shipwrecked!”
The ship was coming closer, and he could begin to make out details of its rigging and sails. It was a large ship, well-lighted, and in good repair. He heard voices from the deck. “Survivors! After all that wreckage! Hold on, cats, we are coming for you!”
Lewis nearly cried with gratitude. He pulled the kittens in close and felt a beautiful purring running through their hungry little bodies. “Please!” he cried. “I have children here!”
“We’re coming!” answered the sailors again, and Lewis heard the splash of a small boat hitting the water. In a moment, he could see a little lifeboat like their own, with a light in the bow, rowing across the waves to them. It was a wondrous sight. Rescue! He sent up prayers of thanks to the dark heavens above them.
The sailors in the boat had kind, friendly faces. They spoke gently to the kittens as they lifted them aboard, and made room for Lewis to sit beside his little charges in a sheltered spot in the boat. Then in a flash they had turned and were heading back for the ship.
As they got nearer, Lewis could see a great many cats standing on the deck of the grand vessel, their ears pricked up and their tails high above their heads. The sails were furled as the ship paused on its journey to await the return of its little lifeboat. They were almost alongside the ship before the lifeboat’s light cast itself over the name of the ship painted on the bow, and as it did, Lewis’s heart nearly stopped with an icy shock of fear. He felt his tail bristle and his ears flatten on his head. It was the Puss in Boots! A name that had struck terror in the hearts of Lewis’s fellow sailors who had perished on the Dick Whittington. Lewis gathered the kittens close. “Pirates,” he whispered. He hadn’t realized he’d said it out loud until the sailors in the boat stopped rowing and looked at him.
Lewis let out a loud hiss. “Pirates!” he cried. “You are pirates!” The kittens in his arms went still with fear.
One of the sailors got a saddened look on his face. He was a gray a short-hair who looked as if he might be a Russian Blue. “We mean you no harm,” he said quietly. “You’ve no treasure for us to steal, and we’d hardly tempt fate by letting harmless castaways die of hunger. Any of us could be shipwrecked someday, and terrified will be the ones who have done harm to others and then find themselves in the same situation, reliant on the kindness of strangers. Nay, we are not in the business of leaving kittens to die in an open boat.”
Lewis looked at the faces of the sailors. None of them had their fur raised. Their tails were sleek and unruffled, their ears high in the night air. “Please,” he begged them, “these aren’t my kittens, but I have charge of them. We have no choice but to trust your word.”
The Blue nodded in agreement. “No, you don’t,” he said. “But you won’t come to regret it. Now up the ladder you go and we’ll get you washed and fed and tucked away out of the wind. Things will look better in the morning when you’ve full bellies and dry fur.”
And that was how Lewis, a one-time farm cat from solid and steady Iowa fields, found himself climbing aboard a pirate ship.
Things did look better in the morning, that was true. Certainly shelter on a pirate ship was better than being in a lifeboat with dwindling food supplies, and Lewis began to feel saddened by his lack of gratitude for their rescue. He left the kittens sleeping on the felted pillow they’d been given and made his way on deck. The sight of sailors bustling about the Puss in Boots was a familiar scene after Lewis’s time serving on the Whittington, and he was cheered by the thought that at least he could earn his keep by helping to sail this ship. Except that he feared that rather than making a safe and entirely legal journey from port to port, the Boots lived a permanent life at sea–stealing the cargos of other ships.
Before Lewis had gone far up the deck, he was greeted by the Russian Blue who’d spoken to him in the lifeboat the night before. “My name is Grizzly,” the Blue told Lewis with a smile. “But everyone calls me Mouse. I’m the first mate of this ship. The captain is Johnny One-Sock. We welcome you and your little ones on board.”
Lewis was about to ask how a fierce pirate could come to have such a name as Mouse, but he thought better of it. “I’m Lewis,” he said. “And I am remiss in not thanking you for rescuing us last night. We would surely have perished if not for your kindness. I am a sailor and I am happy to work for our board.”
Mouse twitched the end of his tail. “Well, I’m sure we can find some task for you.” He started to walk along the deck and Lewis rushed to keep step with him.
“But I must ask,” said Lewis bravely, “to speak to Captain One-Sock.”
“Why would you want that?”
“Because I–need to,” said Lewis, less bravely.
Mouse stopped to call an order to a sailor who was aloft in the rigging. The cat leaped to another spar and began to unfurl a sail.
“What’s our heading?” Lewis ventured to ask.
“I suggest you ask the captain when you speak to him,” Mouse replied. “He’s finishing his breakfast now, so we’ll pay him a visit.”
It was a short walk to the captain’s cabin, and the whole time, Lewis concentrated on trying to keep his fur lying serenely on his back and tail so as not to show his nervousness. A sailor opened the door for them, and the smell of roasted finch drifted out onto the open deck.
Captain One-Sock was a large orange tabby with abundant fur that danced about in the air coming through the windows. He sat on a red cushion with a china plate of food on the floor before him. The captain looked at his visitors for a moment before licking his paw and using it to clean the tiniest speck of finch from his chin. “Our castaway,” he said finally, to Mouse.
“Yes, Sir. This is Lewis, a sailor from the Dick Whittington.”
“Ah, the Whittington,” Captain One-Sock said. “We found but little of your cargo after the wreck. A pity, I had heard you were carrying silk. My cabin could use some new pillows.” His tail lashed once.
Lewis forced his words to remain civil. “Yes, Sir. I’ve no doubt the silk was ruined by the waves.”
The Captain nodded. “A pity,” he repeated. “Well, state your business, Lewis.”
“Sir, I would like to express our gratitude for your saving us. We would–”
The Captain dug a claw into a roasted finch wing. “Yes, yes. No need to mention it.”
Lewis was impressed by the captain for the first time. A man of modesty, it seemed, which was not a trait he thought likely to be found in the character of a pirate captain. Lewis was not sure if that was a help to his case or not. Well, best to have it out, he supposed. “Sir, I am happy to work to keep up the ship until we can be let off at whichever port you next call at. But I must ask,” he said, summoning his bravado once again, “that until we are put off the ship, that you and your crew refrain from acts of piracy, as undoubtedly it will be a very bad influence on the character of the three kittens of whom you now find yourselves the guardians.”
It seemed that the whole ship had gone quiet. Even the wind ceased to blow through the window and lift the wisps of the captain’s fur. The world was holding its breath for the captain’s answer.
But the captain did not answer. He looked to Mouse, who was twitching his ears back and forth in surprise, and he looked to Lewis, who tried to look confident and quite as if he were in the habit of making demands of powerful strangers. The captain looked down at his finch, but the bird of course bore no emotion. “I see,” said Captain One-Sock finally. “I see. Well, it may interest you to know, Lewis, that the Puss in Boots is not currently involved in menacing shipping. We have quite another goal in mind at this time.”
“Oh,” said Lewis, and his voice sounded as high and squeaky as that of the kittens. After hearing himself, he decided not to say anything else for the moment.
“We seek an island,” said the captain. “And what is buried there.” He picked up his finch wing again. “Treasure. Isn’t that so, Mouse?”
“Yes, sir,” Mouse replied.
“Oh,” said Lewis again. “And to whom does this treasure belong?”
The captain showed no surprise at Lewis’s impertinence this time. “Not us,” he informed him coolly. “But not anyone else, either. Not anymore. The treasure’s been there a hundred years now, and its owners are long gone. It’s for the finders alone. If you serve as a sailor here, Lewis, you will have a share in it, and if you don’t claim it, that is your choice. But I must inform you that we are not heading toward any known port at this time. You and your charges will be with us for a while.”
Lewis let out a breath. “Very well, Sir,” he said, as calmly as he could. “I owe you my service in exchange for my life. As far as the treasure–the kittens are alone in the world now, and if I can lay aside some funds for their keep and education, then I would be well advised to do so.”
A hint of a smile crossed Mouse’s face and the tip of his gray tail twitched. “So you’ll take some treasure, will you?” he asked. “Be careful, my good man, or you may find you become a pirate yourself!”
It felt good to be aboard a ship again. And while his fellow sailors were in fact pirates, Lewis quickly began to feel the same sort of kinship with them as he’d felt with his mates on the Whittington. Captain One-Sock was seen by the sailors mostly from a distance. First Mate Mouse was responsible for informing everyone of the captain’s wishes. Mouse himself was friendly, but aloof, as an officer should be. Word quickly spread that Lewis the castaway had dared to make demands of Captain One-Sock, and Lewis found himself with a quite unlooked-for reputation for bravery. He still did not feel especially brave, but he was the guardian of three kittens now, and he had to be as courageous as possible, for their sake.
His best friends on the Boots were a couple of littermates named Smokey and Rocky. They were long-haired cats like Lewis himself, but Smokey was a gray color and Rocky more brown. They both had faint stripe patterns to their fur. The brothers had gone to sea from the port of Boston and had come to be pirates after their ship had been taken by the Boots. Life with the pirates had seemed much more entertaining than life on a regular ship, so they’d both jumped at the chance to sign on with Captain One-Sock’s crew. Despite this, Lewis believed them to be good cats at heart. Certainly many of the things he’d feared would take place on a pirate ship–lawlessness, fighting, abuse of catnip, even murder–on the Boots these things were legend, not to be found in fact. Perhaps, Lewis reasoned, pirates encouraged such mythology, as it made them more fearsome to the average sailor. Certainly, such tales had put fear into Lewis’s heart.
Mouse was a good mate and did not work the sailors harder than was necessary. The mate on the Whittington had been of similar temperament, and Lewis appreciated it now as he had then. It made the cats willing to do their work with all effort, since they knew that a job well done would be rewarded with fair treatment. That, above all–a respect for others–was something Lewis had not expected to find on a pirate ship.
The kittens, for their part, came to see the Boots as their new home. They happily ran about the rigging with the sailors, helping out where possible, and only occasionally getting in the way. The pirates seemed to quickly grow devoted to their tiny castaways, and sneaked them more food than the kittens could eat. Snow, Blackie, and Grey grew fit and fluffy from this treatment, and Lewis thanked the heavens that they should have come to such a place of safety after their ordeal.
As for himself, Lewis remained cautious. He enjoyed the company of the pirates, and was quick to return favor for favor, but he could not allow himself to become one of them. In fact, when Lewis gazed out at the sea in its endless blackness every night, he was beginning to wonder if he was a sailor at all, and not perhaps still a farm cat at heart.
They sailed this way for many weeks, as Captain One-Sock pored over a poorly drawn treasure map. They examined many uninhabited islands, but none proved to be the elusive shore that promised them riches. There were stormy nights, though none of them as serious as the night the Whittington had gone down. Lewis marveled at how little these storms frightened the kittens. But then, during storms, he had always found a few of the pirates spinning the children stories of grand adventure in far-off lands, keeping their attention away from choppy seas and harsh winds.
Unlike the kittens, when it stormed, Lewis found himself greatly unnerved by the creaking of the ship and the shrieking of the wind through the rigging. He felt unable to sleep during such a night, staying alert for the sound of cracking decking and the noisy rush of the sea coming into the ship to find him.
One morning after such a storm, the cat in the crow’s nest called down that he had sighted land. The ship had reached the next island that they planned to search, which was just an unnamed rise of sand and jungle above the sea. Probably it was quite beautiful, but as they approached it this morning, the whole of the land was wrapped in a cold white mist. For some reason, it gave Lewis a sense of unease.
“Landing party!” called Mouse, and sailors lined up for the chance to go ashore. On this occasion, Rocky and Smokey were chosen, along with Lewis, whose sense of duty had overrun his misgivings about the island and his lack of sleep the night before. The three sailors, along with Mouse, climbed into a lifeboat and landed themselves on the shore after a hard bout of rowing. As soon as they’d dragged the boat a good distance up onto the beach, they looked back to sight the Puss in Boots. But they discovered that they were now themselves surrounded by the chilly mist, and though they knew the Boots waited patiently for them, she could not be seen.
Lewis felt a shock of fear that took him quite by suprise. But perhaps it was excusable, since the last time he’d failed to sight his ship, it had marked the beginning of a terrifying journey in a tiny lifeboat with little food. Still, there was no reason to be scared now. Lewis shook himself out of his fright and followed his shipmates off of the beach and into the jungle.
The problem with Captain One-Sock’s map was that it sketched few landmarks clearly. The one thing that appeared in perfect detail was the actual treasure island, but try though they might, no sailor aboard the ship had ever recognized it. The map and treasure would probably have been taken as pure fancy, but for Captain One-Sock’s devotion to the quest. It seemed that the cats who served the captain either believed in his ability to find the treasure, or else they did not want to question him.
Despite the dense trees and tropical fruits the landing party found on the island, the earth was cold beneath their paws, and the mist dampened their fur. It was not a welcoming place, and Lewis felt his unease grow as they walked deeper into the jungle. The calls of strange animals were heard, but the mist hid them away in the trees, so that Lewis was never quite sure what creatures were moving about above them.
After they had been walking for half an hour, Lewis began to hear rushing water, and they soon came upon a waterfall. A clear, cold stream tumbled down a rocky cliff and emptied below into a large lagoon that was ringed by a dark sand beach. With the cliffs surrounding the lagoon on all sides, the area looked to Lewis like a brown bowl that held a bit of water at the bottom.
The mist was thinner here, and as the four cats looked out over the scene below them, Rocky caught his breath. “Sir!” he cried. “Look! The island!”
The lagoon was immense, almost like an inland sea. And in the center of it was an piece of land–an island hidden within an island. And Rocky was quite correct. This inner, hidden island was the exact shape of the island on the captain’s map.
The cats cried out with joy, bounding quickly down the rocky cliff beside the waterfall. “It is the island!” exclaimed Mouse, and Lewis felt a rumbling purr rise up through his own throat. He might not have been a pirate, but the elation of finding a hoard of treasure was surely contagious.
Their rejoicing gradually faded away as the cats stood on the shore of the lagoon, tails twitching and ears turning one way and another as they took in the scene. “It’s too far to swim,” Smokey announced, and they all had to admit that it was true.
“Lads, we shall fetch the lifeboat from the beach,” ordered Mouse, and though Lewis was loathe to try lugging a heavy boat through misty, cold jungle, he of course hastened to obey.
It was not a pleasant journey. Mouse fitted an attachment to his paw that covered his own claws with long talons of steel, and he cut the way through the jungle as the three sailors struggled to carry the lifeboat behind him. Perhaps it was fitting, Lewis thought, that just as a lifeboat had carried him for three days, it was now his turn to carry a lifeboat. But thankfully it would not take anywhere close to three days to reach the lagoon!
They stopped for lunch–dried rats and a little barley with powdered cream that they mixed with water–and after this much needed break, the three sailors shouldered the lifeboat again and renewed their walk toward the lagoon. It was not until they finally reached the clearing in the jungle that marked the edge of the cliffs that Lewis realized how late it was. The sunlight that filtered through the mist was nearly horizontal to the horizon. It was almost nightfall. And here, outside of the trees, Lewis could feel a bitter wind blowing.
“Looks like a storm,” Mouse remarked, as the cats caught their breath. “But I wager we have time to make the island and begin our search before it hits. Let us not waste time, lads.”
Lewis was of two minds about the darkening weather. Surely it was better to spend the night on an island than a ship in the open sea if they were in for a blow. But something about this island just didn’t seem right to him. It was eerie somehow. He thought of the kittens on the ship and knew they’d been taken below as soon as the wind began to pick up. No doubt they were enjoying fresh fish and coconut milk for dinner. The pirates on board would not see the children want for anything. If he didn’t make it back, Lewis realized, the kittens would have a permanent home on the ship. But of course, that would mean that they would be raised as pirates, for surely as soon as Lewis had passed out of their lives, the pirates would think nothing of teaching the kittens to live as they did, thieving from other ships to provide their needs.
He was coming back, Lewis reminded himself as they carefully carried the lifeboat down the rocky cliff toward the beach in the growing wind. He would return to the Boots, and this time, with money enough to pay for the kittens’ education as soon as the pirates found a suitable port at which to leave them. He was coming back. So why was his tail puffing up wider with every step toward the lagoon?
There was no rain when they climbed into the lifeboat and finally started rowing for the little island. The arm muscles that Lewis used to row were different from those he used to carry the lifeboat, and so he was grateful, at least, that he was feeling aching and pain in a different place than he had all afternoon. The wind was getting stronger, skipping across the water and pushing it into choppy waves. It was fresh water, Lewis realized, as the spray leaped up over the sides of the boat and hit him in the face. The lagoon must be completely isolated from the sea.
Mouse lit the lamp on the front of their boat, and Lewis watched the little island grow nearer as the sun dipped lower in the sky. Just as the cats began to feel the first drops of rain, their boat struck sand. They quickly pulled their craft up into the cover of some trees and Lewis began to ready himself to take an oar and start digging. But Mouse suddenly called out to them. “Lads! It’s not even buried. Come and see!”
Perhaps the secret island-within-an-island was thought to be security enough for the cats who’d hidden their treasure here so long ago, for indeed, they had not taken time to bury their wealth. They’d merely secured it under a ledge of rocks so that it was out of sight to any except those who walked the island’s beach. And it was treasure indeed. Three large chests, and as Mouse used his steel claws to pick open the locks they took in the sight of the bounty. Golden milk saucers, open boxes glittering with jewels and lined with silken pillows, ribbons of satin and lace with feathers of exotic birds attached.
“My word,” breathed Mouse. “Boys, we’ve actually found it.” But instead of joining in the rejoicing of his men, Mouse just looked uneasily toward the lagoon and the lifeboat. “It’s too heavy,” he told them. “We can’t fit all of us in the boat along with the treasure chests. Some of us will have to remain behind.”
Lewis felt the wind beginning to push through the few trees of the little island and tried not to shiver. Perhaps he was not successful, because he found the other three cats looking at him. “It’s going to be a bad storm,” Mouse said quietly. “It’ll be safer and drier on the shore of the lagoon, and we might as well start the treasure on its journey to the Boots. Lewis, you take the boat and the treasure chests. Get them to the other side and in the morning, you can come back for us. We’ll pass the night here.”
Lewis was struck speechless. He must have had quite a look on his face, because Mouse laughed suddenly, his tail dancing with amusement. “Lewis, you’re probably the most upright cat this poor ship of pirates has ever met. We know you won’t steal from us, lad, have no fear. Now get across the lagoon before this weather blows up.”
Lewis hastened to do Mouse’s bidding. The four cats dragged the chests out onto the beach and loaded them into the lifeboat. The rain was not coming down too heavily at this point, and the waves were not big enough to threaten to sink the little craft.
“Can you make it across by yourself with all this weight?” Mouse asked Lewis as he secured the last chest with rope.
“Aye, Sir,” Lewis responded.
“Then be off with you, and we’ll see you in the morning,”
With barely a backward glance, Lewis obeyed. In minutes he was out alone on the lagoon in a tiny boat as a storm gathered strength around him.
The trip to the lagoon shore took much longer than had the reverse journey with four cats rowing. It was full dark before Lewis finally saw the glint of sand in the boat’s little lamp. He beached the boat as well as he could and started unlashing the treasure chests, lifting them out of the boat and dragging them across the sand and up a steep hill to a small cave that he found in the cliffs. The lagoon might rise in storm, but Lewis and the treasure would pass the night safe and dry.
By the time Lewis had finished securing the third chest in the cave, the wind was howling and the rain was coming down in torrents. Lewis gratefully hastened into the rear of the cave and began to lick his sodden fur into some kind of order again. Though he didn’t run the risk of becoming dehydrated overnight, he was glad that the lagoon was of freshwater and there was no salt on his fur.
Once he had dried himself as well as possible, Lewis settled down to watch the storm show its might. It was the worst blow he’d seen in some time. He began to realize that he hadn’t seen its like since the night the Whittington had gone to the bottom with all his friends aboard. In fact, it was almost like he could hear their voices now, inside of the wind, the crying of the doomed cats. Lewis shivered and tried to block out the noise, flattening his ears down against his head. But it kept coming, and now Lewis could hear his own name. His friends were calling for him!
But they hadn’t, not the night the Whittington went down. Fighting the ocean to rescue the kittens, Lewis had not heard his shipmates’ last cries. So why could he now–
With a fright, Lewis sprang up, his fur puffed up with fear and shock. It was no memory. His hearing had once again picked up voices from a storm–it was Mouse, Rocky, and Smokey on the little island, screaming his name!
Lewis dashed out into the storm. The wind nearly picked him up and pushed him back into the cave, but Lewis pressed on until he’d reached the beach. The waves were crashing at his feet, but he could still hear them, his friends on the island–calling out in fear. “Lewis! Help us! We are drowning!”
The little island-within-an-island had seemed so safe. Many years had passed since the treasure had been stashed there, and it had remained dry and safe for so long. There must never have been a storm as bad as this one, a storm that could overrun the whole of the little island with waves. Until tonight. Perhaps that was why Lewis had felt uneasy since sighting the island that morning. It had been a premonition. Death was with them on the island that night.
Lewis ran back and forth along the beach in helplessness. It might be possible for him to launch the lifeboat into the lagoon, but it was also possible that the storm would capsize the little boat and that like his friends on the Whittington, Lewis would find himself in a watery grave. Should he even try to cross the lagoon? Was it folly? Lewis’s thoughts ran to the fate of the three kittens. If he should fail to make it back to the Boots, their lives would be spent in piracy. The grandkittens of a sea captain would live out their days in thievery on the high seas. Surely Captain Rogers would not want Lewis to risk their futures by trying to launch a lifeboat onto a storm-crazed lake in a possibly vain attempt to rescue three pirates?
He could still hear their voices, Mouse, Smokey, Rocky. They called his name in shrieking fear, pleading with him for their lives. Lewis knew in his heart that he could not abandon them. If the Boots had sailed past the little lifeboat that sheltered Lewis and the kittens, then those tiny children would surely have died of hunger. Mouse had told Lewis that any cat who made his life on the sea might become a castaway someday, and that the crew of the Boots refused to tempt fate by ignoring the plight of others who were in need of help. No. He could not leave these same valiant cats to drown.
And if he died in the attempt to rescue three of his ship-mates, then yes, the kittens would be raised as pirates. But how could Lewis return to the Boots and face those three little souls knowing that he had spurned the mortal pleas of those who had become their friends?
Lewis dragged the lifeboat toward the shore. He shouted to the three cats on the island that he was coming for them, but he could not be sure that they would hear. And soon enough, he needed all his strength and energy just to steer the little craft through the breaking seas that threatened to swamp him. He lost an oar almost immediately, when it was ripped from his paw by wind and water. Fortunately, there were other oars. For what seemed like hours, Lewis fought the waves just to launch the boat. Finally he found himself past the breakers and he began to pull with all his might for the island.
The cries of his friends began to get louder. A wave had torn away the lamp from the front of the boat, but Lewis’s ears guided him true and soon enough he felt the boat strike the sand of the island’s shore. Immediately the boat’s weight was increased by the bodies of Smokey and Rocky, and Mouse began to shove the boat back off of the beach. He leaped aboard as the craft left the shore, and with the added ballast and three more cats to work what oars remained, the trip back across the lagoon went much more quickly. In time, they reached the safety of the shore. The wind howled and snatched at them as they pushed the lifeboat onto the beach and made haste to the cave where the treasure chests waited, dry and secure.
Mouse nearly collapsed in exhaustion as he entered the cave, and the sailors helped to drag him farther inside the shelter. The cave was warmer and less frightening now that Lewis had company, and he felt a sudden relief that was so heavy, he nearly stumbled as well.
Mouse managed a few heaving words. “Lewis, that is the bravest thing I’ve ever seen a cat do. You’ve saved our lives, lad.”
Lewis looked from the other cats to the treasure chests to the howling of the storm outside. “I went to sea to have an adventure,” he told them, and the laughter of his friends filled the cave.
It would be another year before Lewis would return home to Iowa. He and the kittens had taken leave of their new ship family in Peru, and with their share of the treasure, Lewis had purchased for the young cats an apartment in Lima near the university. By that time, they were kittens no longer, and he’d been satisfied that they could steer their own lives, having learned the value of friendship, loyalty, and mercy–from none other than pirates.
Lewis made it back to Iowa on a cold December day. The wind howled through the city, but the noise of storms no longer gave him any fear.
The Animal Shelter was known to local cats as a good place to stay while awaiting a more permanent place, and it was to this hotel of sorts that Lewis made his way. He’d been gone to sea two years, and had certainly had some amazing experiences. He was ready now, for his next adventure.