“Manslaughter” queried the town traveller, who had noticed Mills’ fatal facility with a pound-weight.
“No,” said Feathers. “I don’t kill cats, on principle; it’s bad fer luck. When I first came up the flat I passed-out a large blonde she-cat ’n’ her family by pinnin’ ’em to the floor with a 4cwt. tank iv tinfoil; ’n’ I lived t’ regret it. Point iv fact, we all lived t’ regret it. The cat was nursin’ her brood, clandestine, aft the smoker there, ’n’ I ran the tank in, ’n’ dumped her in the dark, havin’ no previous knowledge iv Tutsie ’n’ her chicks. When I bumped the stock down on her she never breathed a word. Her pride wouldn’t allow her. She left us to find out the herror fer ourselves, which we did in the course iv time. That knowledge groaned all over the factory, the hum iv it was so fearful. Take it from the man off the works, Goudy, killin’ cats is rotten luck.”
“How do they die generally” asked the town traveller. The town traveller’s order was being carefully compiled the while, and that bulky and indolent man was comfortably bestowed on a lounge of parcels. He loved conversation.
“Sooercide,” answered Feathers. “I was goin’ t’ tell yeh. They all do it. That un will in about a month.” He indicated the new cat, curled up in the cherished best hat of the elder Miss Kruse. “They get hydrophobia, ’r somethin’ ’n’ run stark starin’ demented over everythin’, like a fresh soul in the fire-box; ’n’ end by pitchin’ themselves head-over-crumpet down the lift-well.
“The first one I recomember kicked the fact’ry end-up, ’n’ fair rattled the town. He was a big, lanky, grey brute, like a daylight spectre; jest the color iv everythin’; so you had t’ look three times t’ see ‘im, ’n’ then sometimes you wasn’t sure that he wasn’t a sleight-iv-hand trick ’r a bloomin’ hillusion. He ’ad big, sad eyes, ’n’ when ’e fixed ’em on yeh thoughtful you bed a feelin’ ’e was strippin’ you clean, ’n’ turnin’ up all yer miserable secrets. ’Ceptin’ fer a hunexpected wail he jerked out iv ‘is works now ’n’ again, that cat was just a livin’ silence; but that one yowl was a blood-curdler; chock full iv human sorrer mixed with hints iv Hell; bad enough by day, but at night, when he slipped it on yeh down in the cellar, yer backbone rattled loose, ’n’ yer ’air took t’ crawling round yer head like cold worms.
“He came to us full-grown, ’n’ made friends with nobody. Killin’ rats was his bizness, ’n’ he give his whole attention t’ it. You know what a place this is fer rats; they’re ez thick ez flees on a Chow’s dorg, ’n’ up in the loft the kings iv them grow ez big ez sheep. Bunyip was th’ on’y cat we ever had game t’ roller ’em inter the loft, ’n’ try a fall with the champions up there in the dark.
“’Twas quick business down below here, ’n’ no beg-pardons with Bunyip. He downed on his victim like a flash, there was a sort o’ sputter iv fireworks, ’n’ Bunyip came out o’ the scrim, carryin’ his lunch be the scruff, but hot ’n’ willin’ was the mills he had up under the roof. There’s a hacre ’r so iv wilderness up there, smit with a plague iv darkness, ’n’ old grey rats with whiskers on ’em ’n’ tusks like walruses. Stick yer nose up there, ’n’ ten t’ one a rat what might be mistook fer the father iv all the wallabies’ll ’ave a cut at yeh fer yer ear.
“Bunyip’s great fight come off one hot mornin’. It seemed ez if there was a conspiracy among the patriarchs t’ deal with him. We ’eard his usual jump, and the squeal iv a rat in holts, ’n’ then there was a sound like the rush iv a reglar army, ’n’ then a tearin’ round ’n’ bumpin’ ’n’ botheration, same ez if a hundred dingoes was dinin’ off a ’orse. Bunyip let loose his terrible cry on’y once; it was his busy day.
“Operations was suspended on the flat, ’n’ we listened t’ the fight shiftin’ round above the ceilin’. There was a ’orrible muffled fierceness about it; ’twas sort iv uncanny, same ez if two sets iv devils was settlin’ a difference in the darkness. At times it was deadened by the thick dust, ’n’ then it ud beat down t’ the boards, ’n’ bump furious; ’n’ then off it ud scurry t’ th’ other end iv the flat with a noiseless noise, in a way iv speakin’. S’elp me, I thought I cud hear them rats breathin’.
“Some iv the girls got scared, ’n’ moaned a bit, ’n’ began t’ huddle like sheep; ’n’ the dust fair boiled out iv the loft.
“Sudden ’n’ wild all the rats seemed to yell et once; there was a terrible scramble, ’n’ a rattle iv loose slates where the roof jined the ceilin’, ’n’ then somethin’ shot clean through the man-hole there; somethin’ fearful t’ see, revolvin’ with rage ’n’ full iv murder; somethin ez big ez a bar’l. It bumped on the fact’ry floor, ’n’ bust into two ’underd ole-man rats that ’ad bin glued on t’ Bunyip in mortal combat. The rats scattered ’n’ broke fer cover, ’n’ the girls put up th’ biggest thing in the way iv a nine-stone-four shriekin’ competition I ever heard, ’n’ rushed into a heap up by the cutters.
“Bunyip didn’t stop revolvin’. He was turnin’ mad han’-springs over hisself on the floor; his wool was stickin’ out like a wire-brush; his tail was ez thick ez yer arm, ’n’ his eyes blazed delirious tremblings. He whirled like a bally cath’-rinewheel, ’n’ bounced like a squib, all spikes ’n’ ’lectric sparks, fer ha’f a minit, ’n’ then he started down the fact’ry. Lor lummy, what a hexibition!
“That cat seemed t’ be a whirlin’ battery full iv steel claws. He flew up the walls ’n’ fell off, whirled over everythin’, ’n’ everythin’ he touched was scattered in fourteen directions, same ez if the works iv a winnower had gone mad among the staff an’ stock. He flopped into the paste, ’n’ it was splashed all over the shop; he got among the stacks iv bags ’n’ the cut papers, ’n’ the envelopes, ’n’ the air was full iv damaged goods. Over ’n’ under the boards, up the walls, ’n’ through the stacks iv dryin’ wrappers went Bunyip, ’n’ 87 girls yelled blue murder, ’n’ the grey dust iv ages from the loft rolled towards the winders in thick clouds, ’n’ Fuzzy revolved on the edge iv things, ten times madder ’n the cat.
“I went after the brute with Benno’s ebony ruler, ’n’ Fuzzy danced round the bloomin’ fray with a iron spanner in his fist, but Bunyip had got among the Beauties, ’n’ you might ez well try ter knock the eye out ’v a shootin’-star with a ’arf brick.
“Goudy, don’t talk t’ me; you never seen that worry; you don’t know nothin’ iv trouble. The cat went through the bunch iv girls, fair kickin’ off their goods, ’n’ their cries could be ’eard a mile off. Three fellers from the printers’ flat raced up ’ere, ’n’ got after the cat with weights ’n’ things, ’n’ Bunyip went on spreadin’ himself. When he struck a paster he buzzed all over her, up one side, down the other, whizzin’ hair ’n’ hide ’n’ rags inter the hatmosphere, ’n’ then got at another, ’n’ the fact’ry was littered with hysterics, ’n’ fringes, ’n’ fluff, ’n’ distracted rats was dartin’ in ’n’ out, huntin’ fer places iv refuge, ’n’ on the outskirts iv the trouble Fuzzy continued caperin’ like a crimson goriller in a fit, clean off his knocker, ’n’ pickled in misery. Presently he thinks he see a fair openin’ fer a dash at the cat, ’n’ lets go his spanner, all-in, ’n’ takes Tommy th’ comp. fair twixt wind ’n’ vittles, drivin’ him inter the corner, tucked up ’n’ scratched fer all engagements.
“Bunyip broke loose from ther Beauties agin, ’n’ went down the flat once more, revolvin’ on his own axle, ’n’ boundin’ ’n’ bumpin’ somethin’ furious. Then he gives one grand bounce, takes three turns out iv hisself, ’n’ bangs down the lift-well, still whirlin’, landin’ on the head iv Tim Fennessey, the lorryman from the paper-mill, clings there fer a moment with 57 sets iv red-hot claws, ’n’ then starts over Tim, workin’ his passage, ’n’ clawin’him t’ the bone. Tim thinks the devil’s collector’s got him fer all his sins, fetches a bellow, ’n’ goes roarin’ up the steps inter the warehouse, where the cat breaks loose ’n’ starts layin’ waste the selected stock, doin’ nothin’ t’ the inks ’n’ gums ’n’ pastes, kickin’ the whiskers off the accountant en route, so ter speak, fizzin’ among the glassware, ’n’ raisin’ Spats ’n’ ’ell generally.
“Up here, meanwhile, the Beauties wuz still kickin’ their feelin’s loose, one big, red-’eaded bounder leadin’ the band, mainly ’cause iv a suspicion concernin’ a rat in her dress-improver. Tommy was still lyin’ in his corner with the spanner tucked in his darby, venturin’ a groan now ’n’ agin, ’n’ the foreman was fumblin’ his ’air up, dotty with anxiety, wailin’ for peace ’n’ quiet.
“Suddenly—wosh! crash! biff!—through one iv the front winders comes a stream iv water, thick ez that, takes Fuzzy fair in the mush, heels him over, ’n’ washes him under the grinder, ’n’ mixes him up with two ’undred weight iv emery-powder, sluices the red-’eaded girl ’n’ Mother Kruse ’ead-over-tip down the front stairs, swirls most iv the other girls round promiscuss among the paste ’n’ paper, ’n’ then takes me fair ’n’ ’ard where the beer settles, ’n’ jams me tight inter the works iv a bag-machine, dead t’ the world.
“It seems the racket upstairs fired an idyit boy on the clerical staff with an idear the fire-brigade was wanted, ’n’ he hailed ’em up quick ’n’ lively; ’n’ nine wild firemen, arrivin’ with a reel, ’n’ seein’ the grey paper-dust from the loft billowin’ out iv the upstairs winders, let loose the bloomin’ reservoy, ’n’ shot a million gallons iv water at us.
“The damage done almost turned the boss’s belltopper grey in a single night. Bunyip was found in the cellar seven days later, ’n’ a ’eroic dustman removed him for ninepence. Since then cats ain’t bin pop’lar in this fact’ry, somehow.”