The marmalade cat spat the young mouse out upon the bam floor. He lay wet and sticky, quivering all over, dust and straw clinging to his fur. Instinct warned Matthias to tie inert and play dead. He had no chance to make a run for it, surrounded as he was by the cat's paws. He could not stop liis body from quaking badly. He lay staring into the feline eyes, great twin pools of turquoise flecked with gold.
The cat stared back at Matthias in disgust. Disdainfully it wiped a fastidious paw across its soiled tongue and spat as if toying to rid itself of a horrible taste.
"Ugh! I simply cannot abide the taste of mouse. Filthy little vermin, one can never tell where they've been."
The cat's voice, though cultured, was a high reedy tenor. It would have sounded comical under different circumstances. Matthias lay as still as possible.
The marmalade cat prodded him with an indolent paw. **Oh get up, you disgusting little beast! I know you're not dead."
Slowly the young mouse rose to his feet. The cat seemed uninterested in him as a possible food source. Matthias's legs were shaking so much that he had to sit down again.
They stared at each other. Matthias could think of nothing
to say. The cat spoke again. This time its voice was indignant. "Well, have you nothing to say for yourself, mouse? Where are your manners? Don't you think you should apologize for leaping into my mouth like that?"
Matthias managed to stand again. He bowed shakily. "I beg your pardon, sir. It was purely accidental. I fell, you see. Please accept my humble apologies. I am Matthias of Red wall and I sincerely hope I have not disturbed you in any way."
The cat sniffed distantly. "Yes, at least you seem to have some sort of decent upbringing, Matthias of Red wall. I accept your apology. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Squire Julian Gingivere."
"Pleased to meet you. Squire Julian," said Matthias politely.
The cat yawned regally. "You may call me Julian. The title is hereditary. I never wanted it. Squire of what? A broken-down ramshackle farm building and a stretch of river over yonder! One has no real friends, no trusty servants, not even a mate for that matter. Hmmm, I suppose the Gingivere line will become extinct when I die."
Matthias could not help feeling a certain amount of sympathy for the lonely aristocrat.
"At least you seem to lead a peaceful life," he said hopefully.
"Oh, spare me your platitudes, mouse," Julian replied in a world-weary voice. "What would you know about loneliness and trying to preserve one's standards in a decaying world? I say, do you think you could manage to clean yourself up a bit? You look an absolute fright, standing there all covered in dust and straw. you'd like to explain how you came to be sneaking around my bam."