When the white cat disappeared, everyone was surprised. Mr. Dearly placed ads in all the local newspapers, Mrs. Dearly inquired at the homes of their friends, and the Nannies spread the word among the farmers at the market. But days passed, and the white cat was not found.
"And in her condition, too," Mrs. Dearly mourned. "I hope she wasn't attacked by a fox."
That night, when the puppies and the young dogs had all been settled for the night and the four parents could rest in their beds and talk, Perdita asked, "Shouldn't we look for her?"
"I don't think it'd be much use," Pongo said gently. "None of us have smelled her on our walks, and neither the sheepdog nor Captain Willow have reported any traces."
"Perhaps she simply went somewhere quiet to have her kittens," Missis said hopefully.
Prince said nothing but licked her ear. It was comforting, but not enough to ease Perdita's worries. After the other dogs fell asleep, she lay awake and thought.
The next morning, Perdita waited until Nanny Cook went out to do the marketing and slipped through the outer door behind her.
There were faint traces of the white cat's scent everywhere, but all several days old...except for one, leading towards a nearby farm.
She finally tracked down the white cat in an old shed. The cat was curled up in a box of sacking in a hidden corner, and she swatted at Perdita's nose, claws extended. Perdita jumped aside and knocked over an old milking stool.
"Oh, it's you," the white cat said, sounding mildly apologetic.
"The Dearlys are worried about you. Have you been here all this time?" Perdita asked.
"Only a day or two," replied the cat. "I spent a few days in the hedgerows but decided that this would be a safer place."
The bits of leaf and twig in the cat's fur supported her words, and Perdita mentally winced at the beginnings of matts; she'd seen Mr. Dearly deal with Carrabas after an outdoor expedition, and the white cat looked in worse shape.
She sniffed the cat's head and back, checking for the smell of blood, and recognized another scent that she'd smelled on Captain Willow a couple of months earlier. "The kittens are coming soon, aren't they?"
"Yes." It was not quite a hiss, but the white cat was clearly unhappy.
"What's wrong? You seemed to be looking forward to starting your own family."
The white cat sat up and licked her paws, then brushed back her whiskers. By now, Perdita had been interacting with cats enough that she knew this was a pause for thought, and that an offer to assist the white cat in cleaning herself would be highly unwelcome.
At last, the white cat said, "This will be my eighth litter."
"I didn't know you had children!"
"I don't. Cruella drowned all my kittens at birth."
Perdita was familiar with the harsh culling of unwanted kittens (and puppies) on farms but had never dreamed that it also happened in cities; she restrained herself from licking the white cat's face in sympathy. "But the Dearlys would never do that. They've been looking forward to kittens; that's why they bought Carrabas to live with us, so you and he could have kittens together."
Now the white cat swished her tail and looked away. "Carrabas isn't the father of the whole litter."
"Don't be so shocked; you know what it's like to be in heat. He was a lovely red tabby who came from one of the farms a few miles away; I think he's a relative of Mrs. Tibbs. And now...." She arched and hissed; Perdita stepped back involuntarily.
The white cat sat again and smoothed her fur.
Perdita tried to think of the right thing to say. "Perhaps the Dearlys won't notice."
The cat swished her tail. "A different color of fur could be excused; my father was red, and Carrabas's mother was gray. But short fur? I speak from experience: that will be noticed. Seven lost litters is enough; I refuse to lose the eighth. You must not tell anyone where I am."
Now, if Pongo or Missis had been there, they would have immediately assured the white cat that she had nothing to fear. They had been at the dinner where Cruella had bragged about drowning the kittens, and they knew that the Dearlys had been horrified. That dinner had been before Perdita joined the family, though, and so she saw all the force of the white cat's argument. "I promise," she finally said. "Is there anything else I can do to help?"
"Well, I wouldn't say no to a few pieces of chicken or fish, but as that'd be difficult to carry out here, do you think you could catch me a mouse or two? My hunting skills are not at their best at the moment."
Perdita wagged her tail and went off to forage, wondering what would be best to do. The white cat spoke bravely, but a Persian was not a cat that would do well without the care of its pets. On the other paw, she had promised silence. And Perdita remembered what it was like to have her puppies taken away, both those she had borne and those she had only nursed; the reunion had been joyous, but there were still nights when she woke terrified that they were lost again. To experience that seven times, and to know that there would be no reunion....
A rustle in the hay caught her ear, and she pounced on a mouse, imagining that it was Cruella.
The door of the Folly was closed when Perdita returned, but after a few soft barks, Prince answered. He had been taking lessons from Pongo in opening bolts, and he was able to let her in with little difficulty. "Where have you been?" he asked. "Nanny Butler noticed that you weren't at breakfast, and we were starting to worry."
"I was looking for the white cat," Perdita replied. Her promise, she had decided, only meant that she couldn't say she'd found the cat. "I know it seems hopeless, but I wanted to at least search one more time."
Prince kissed her nose. "That was kind of you. Come have your breakfast."
She ate slowly, still pondering what would be the best thing to do. Surely that shed, while fine for a barn cat, was no place for a Persian to rear her family, but surely it was better than not rearing the family at all.
But the Dearlys had always been so kind to them; they had, after all, taken in all of the puppies.
But then, the puppies were all Dalmatians too. Would the Dearlys have kept them if they were terriers or sheepdogs, or mixes of many breeds?
Perdita played with puppies all morning, chewed on several puppy toys as she thought, and failed to reach a conclusion. Perhaps she needed the opinion of someone who'd known the Dearlys longer.
In the afternoon, while Pongo and Prince were drilling puppies in the Folly, Perdita lay down next to Missis and rested. The two talked of the puppies and of the Dearlys. Perdita finally blurted out, "What do you think the Dearlys would do if you or I had an affair?"
Missis tilted her head in puzzled thought. "I shouldn't think it'd come up. The honeymoon quarters are too difficult for another dog to enter. Even if something happened and the Dearlys couldn't get us there in time, Pongo would fight off another dog before anything happened, and I'm sure Prince would too."
"But if we did? What would happen to the puppies? Wouldn't the Dearlys drown them?"
"Of course not!" Missis growled, then said more calmly, "They told us -- well, they told Cruella DeVil -- that even if our puppies were mongrels, they wouldn't drown them. I expect that they'd find homes for all the ones they could, and keep the ones they couldn't."
"Oh!" Perdita could barely contain her excitement. "That changes everything!"
"Everything about what?"
"I can't tell you yet. But I will when I can." Perdita jumped up and raced to find the Dearlys.
It was easy to convince the Dearlys that they needed to take a short walk, and with a little judicious tugging, it wasn't hard to move them in the direction of the farm. The difficult part was the timing. Perdita waited until they were close enough to the shed that the white cat could hear her, and then barked, "Your kittens are safe. Do you trust me?"
Mr. Dearly shortened the leash. "Stop that, Perdita. No need to disturb the neighbors.
The cat's reply was muffled by the walls, but still audible to Perdita. "Whatever are you doing?"
"Bringing you help. I promise that your kittens are safe." I hope, she thought. The dreadful idea suddenly occurred to her: what if the Dearlys didn't mind uncertain ancestry in puppies, but objected to it in kittens?
A pause, and finally the cat said, "You'd better be right. I could use a brushing."
Immediately Perdita pulled the Dearlys through the door of the shed.
The white cat stood in the corner, back arched; tiny mews came from behind her. Mrs. Dearly hurried forward. "There you are! We've been worried about you...oh, and you had your kittens!"
The cat swished her tail once, then having established her alertness, moved aside. She looked at Perdita and began, "If you're wrong...."
But before she could finish, Mrs. Dearly cried out, "How adorable!" and picked up the short-haired red kitten. She smiled up at Mr. Dearly. "Isn't he beautiful? Like a little piece of amber."
Mr. Dearly said, "Well, young lady, I see you've been cavorting with strangers." His words sounded strict, but his tone was the cheerful one he used when a puppy managed to beg an extra treat after being fed.
"We're keeping this one," Mrs. Dearly said, gently stroking the kitten's head. "We might find homes for some of the others, but this one is ours."
The white cat sat still for a few seconds, then walked over to Perdita and bumped her head against Perdita's chest. "I suppose you were right," she said.
"We have good pets," Perdita replied, wagging her tail in relief. She leaned over toward Mrs. Dearly and licked the kitten's ear. The white cat sat and purred.