Lisa Fargazer was sitting in the Sneaky Vole, slowly making her way through one of the books Arnold had left for her, when she heard soft footfalls approaching. She looked up to see Arnold himself coming around the crates. “Hello, Arnold,” she said.
“Hello, Lisa,” he replied.
Lisa looked at him, tilting her head a bit, wondering at the conflicted look on his face. “What’s wrong?”
“I have some great news. Cortman has been fired.” Lisa smiled with satisfaction at hearing that. “Him and all the other orderlies…it’s just me till we hire people to replace them.”
She was a little taken aback at that. “Oh. I hope you’re able to handle all that?”
The large cat shrugged as he rested on the crate across from her, “I can…I’m stronger than I look.”
Lisa nodded, then asked eagerly, “Did you see Tenderpaws? Is he all right?”
Arnold paused for a moment as he tried to find the best way to say that there had been no change. Before she could grow too anxious he tried, “He’s still comatose, but we’re trying to bring him back.” She looked disheartened, sinking back into herself slightly, so he changed the subject, “I paid Cortman back for your nose.”
“Oh?” She waited, looking a bit eager to hear.
“He attacked Dr. Solsen,” Arnold said. Lisa rolled her eyes as he continued, “I had to take him down. Sort of. He backed off after I clawed him enough at least.” That wasn’t exactly true, but he was hoping she would smile.
Lisa hmphed, “I hope he’s learned a lesson.”
“He won’t be returning to the asylum.” He would see to that even if he had to scratch off the other side of the man’s face. “Canergak agreed that assaulting the staff cannot be allowed…but Cortman told us, ‘This is not over yet’ before he left.”
Lisa frowned at the mention of Canergak, but said, “Shall I tell my friends to keep an eye on Cortman?”
“It won’t hurt, provided they steer very clear of him.” If he hated cats before, he had a much better reason to do so now.
Lisa nodded. “That they’ll do.”
Silence came between the two friends. Lisa could tell that Arnold wanted to tell her something else, but it was several minutes until he finally spoke again. “There’s something I should probably tell you, if the cats haven’t told you yet.”
Lisa put on an encouraging expression, trying to make this as easy for the large cat as possible.
Arnold finally sighed, “It’s something that’s getting out anyways soon…” He looked at her and asked, “Have you heard of female pirates?”
Lisa Fargazer nodded. She’d seen Ceejay and Robin on a few occassions.
“Not the ones from Armada,” Arnold said, realizing that was not the best example he could have chosen given where they lived. “Not openly female pirates. I mean the ones who had to hide they are, or were, female.” Pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Read, he thought to himself.
“Oh!” Lisa exclaimed. “That, no.”
“It’s actually pretty common outside of the steamlands,” Arnold continued, looking at the floor again. “Women dressing as men, because men have rights women do not. That’s probably something you’ll learn if you ever leave Babbage. If you stay here forever it shouldn’t be a concern…it shouldn’t be… “
Lisa nodded, looking a little confused, but accepting of what he was saying. Unfortunately, Arnold was no longer looking at her, but at the floor repeating, “It shouldn’t be…it shouldn’t be…”
Lisa was starting to get worried, but finally the cat shook himself. “Sorry, I’m trying to convince myself…because my cat name, before I was given the name Arnold…” Arnold waited a moment and then said his name in cat, which roughly translated to Beryl.
“Ahh.” Lisa repeated the name, also in Feline. “Yes, I did hear mention that your scent was rather feminine, but I knew it was up to you whether you wanted to speak of it.” Lisa Fargazer smiled, trying to help ease him, now that he’d spoken of his secret.
Arnold sighed. Maddox had reacted the same way when she heard his name. He was more dignified this time and only asked, “Did everyone know?”
“The cats, yes. We… don’t always keep secrets well.”
“Cortman knows now, I think.” After the fight, Arnold realized that many of the men had seen him massaging his neck, and had neglected his other wound completely. At the very least they had to suspect someone had neutered him. “That for me is why it didn’t go well.”
Lisa nodded, though Arnold wasn’t sure she completely understood completely. He changed the subject once again, “I still have time to teach you your letters.”
Lisa smiled, feeling a bit relieved at that. “Thank you.”
“Have you been doing all right in the cold, without fur?” Arnold asked, and not just because he was concerned for her health, but because he needed to keep talking.
Lisa nodded. “I sleep a lot of the time, and when I’m not sleeping, I’m practicing reading and writing. It helps me save energy.”
“You’re right,” Arnold said. It was something he was horrible at doing, but he had found that the catnip really did help him relax. Speaking of the cold reminded him of the coal shortage affecting the city, “By the way, save whatever coal you can ‘get’ for awhile…you and the other urchins.”
“I’ll tell them.” Lisa said confidently, at this point he was beginning to wonder if she was putting on a strong front to make him feel better. The furry cat didn’t know where they would get some, but he couldn’t smuggle them any. Canergak was now refusing to pay for coal shipments anymore, since the prices had increased and Tepic had followed the last shipment inside.
“That’s good…I hope before the winter is out you’ll be able to write at least a few sentences.” Arnold said, “Maybe keep a journal one day.”
“Journal?” Lisa asked, subdued, “Like Ambrose?”
He hadn’t meant to remind her of that painful time in her life…