Young Thomas Andrews and the Kitten

I wanted to tell some extra stories about Thomas Andrews, in honor of his birthday on February 7. This story is a fictionalized account of a true event, documented in several sources about Mr. Andrews. It’s an oft-told story that demonstrates his natural compassion.

Hope you like it!

Young Thomas Andrews and the Kitten
Marlene Dotterer

1885
Comber, Ireland

The church hall echoed with laughter and the low buzz of voices, as people went about setting up tables and creating attractive displays for their wares. The church’s fundraising auction was due to begin in a few minutes, but when an enticing odor reached the nose of twelve-year-old Tommy Andrews, he detoured from his path. His nose led him past a pile of knitted garments  and around the Worthington clan’s groaning shelf of canned jam and honey, to Granny Harkin’s display of fresh-baked pies.

“That’s a winning table if ever I saw one,” he told the church’s oldest member, who sat rocking placidly out of the way as her great-granddaughters arranged pies on doilies. The old lady clapped her hands, too softly to produce any sound, and nodded at him. At least, he thought she nodded, by way of her head shaking with a bit more firmness than was usual.

“Which one will ye be biddin’ on, Master Thomas?”

There was no doubt in his mind. “The apple crumb,” he said, eyeing the deep golden-brown of the buttery topping, while mentally tallying up his pocket change. The bids would go high. He’d probably have to bring one of his brothers in on the deal. This was unfortunate, as it meant he’d have to share the pie with him. But half was better than none.

“Were ye goin’ somewhere with yon contraption, lad?” Granny Harkin pointed a hand at the brass horn he held against his chest. “What is that thing?”

“It’s part of a phonograph, ma’am,” Tommy said. “My uncle brought one back from London, and he donated it for the fundraiser.”

“That’s one of those sound-making machines, is it not?” Granny asked.

“Have ye heard one before, ma’am?”

Her lips pursed, as if she needed to think about it. Tommy half turned, preparing to go back the way he came. “I should be getting it over to our table, Granny Harkin. My da’s going to play some music on it before the bidding starts, Maybe you can hear it, then.”

Her head movement became more pronounced again. He was pretty sure it was a nod. “Go on with ye, lad.”

He bowed as best he could with the horn in his way, and hurried back through the crowd. As he passed a box of mewling kittens at the Brenner table, he heard his father’s voice two tables on. “Where is the lad? John, run find him…, oh, here ye are then.” His father pointed at the half-assembled phonograph on their table. “Set it on top there and hold it still, while I fasten…” his voice trailed off as he fiddled with it amid excited advice from Tommy’s younger brother, James.

Once Tommy could let go of the horn, he stepped behind the table and tugged on John’s arm. Moving his older brother farther back, away from interested ears, he started to ask about the pie, but turned his head at a sudden commotion to his right.

“We’ll never get her out! She’ll die in there!” It was six-year-old Molly Brenner, oblivious to the tears running down her face as she clung to Tommy’s young sister, Nina. Molly’s parents, along with Tommy’s mother, the pastor and several other men, were all gathered around a joint in the wall. There was a lot of head shaking-and-scratching going on.

The pastor patted Molly’s head. “Now lass, we’ll figure somethin’ out.” He peered over his glasses at Molly’s father. “Mayhap, we’ll have to tear into the wall, though.”

Exchanging a curious glance with John, Tommy slipped behind his sister and bent down to whisper in her ear. “What’s happened?”

He had whispered so he wouldn’t interrupt the adults, but Nina was nearly as distraught as Molly. She answered him loudly. “One of the kittens got scared and tried to run away. She jumped on the wainscoting, and fell into a hole in the wall. No one can reach her.

Nina’s shouting brought all the adults to silence, and in the sudden quiet, the distressed kitten could clearly be heard, demanding rescue, silence, and milk, all at once, please.

Tommy felt a pang of pity for the little thing, who surely had been overwhelmed from the noise of the crowd, and was now lost in the dark. He could see the hole, a small, ragged affair just at the joint, probably the work of mice. “I think I can get my arm in there,” he said. “Let me try.”

They let him through. His arm would fit easily, but he’d have to work blind. He peered into the hole, able to see the bulk of the kitten by zeroing in on the sound of it. It was on a beam, tucked tight into a ball, it’s tiny face fixed on the hole above it. Stepping back, Tommy slipped off his jacket and slowly lowered his arm into the hole. The kitten’s cries turned to shrieks. Molly and Nina both began to wail, and the men all crowded behind Tommy, giving advice.

He pulled his arm out and turned to the pastor. “She’s vry frightened, sir. Might be best if everyone stayed quiet and let me try to calm her down.”

“Quite right.” The pastor nodded and began waving his hands. “Everyone step back. Let’s get on with the auction, and we’ll see if Master Tommy has any luck.”

Tommy’s mother took the little girls away, and as the rest of the crowd fell back, Tommy peeked into the hole again, making tsking noises and murmuring reassurances. The kitten let him know she was not impressed with this. He kept talking, his soft voice describing the people, the pies, and how scared he knew the kitten was, but it was all going to be all right…

Behind him, the auction started with announcements. Tommy could tell the pastor had moved to the farthest part of the room, and he was grateful for that idea. John settled onto the floor under the hole, and Tommy used the opportunity to tell the kitten about the apple crumb, and how he hoped his brother would be willing to go in on it with him. At one point, he glanced down at John with an arched brow, and his brother grinned up at him, lifting a thumb to indicate he was willing. Tommy made sure the kitten knew of his good fortune.

As he murmured on, the kitten’s wails faded from a frantic screech to the normal mews of a hungry and unhappy baby. This was easier on Tommy’s ears, although his heart nearly broke at the lonely, scared sounds. Poor little thing.

He tried twice to insert his arm again, but the kitten would have none of it. Finally, the exhausted animal stopped crying altogether. The third time Tommy reached in, he was rewarded with just one cross mew. In one ear, he realized the bidding had reached Granny Harkin’s pies. John had disappeared, but Tommy was certain his brother did not have enough money on his own. Well, there was nothing for it, he told the kitty softly. There would be other pies.

He could just brush the kitten’s fur with the tips of his fingers. He did so, urging her to stand. “Come, come, come,” he murmured, and tsked again. He lost count of how many times he did this, and soon became afraid that even if the kitten did stand up, he’d never be able to feel it with his numb fingers.

But he did. First, a hot nose poked at him, then a rough tongue, followed by the nibbling of sharp milk teeth. Tommy had to force himself to keep his hand still and his voice even – sudden moves or a loud noise from him would scare the kitty and bring them back to square one.

He almost couldn’t believe it when he felt the kitten’s head under his hand. She was standing! He rubbed the head, then lunged, his fingers catching the back of her neck in the mother cat’s favorite hold. His arm cramped in protest, but he kept his grip as he stepped back, his shirt sleeve appearing in dusty inches. He had a bit of a struggle squeezing both his hand and the kitten’s head through the hole, but at last she was cradled against him, her face buried in the crook of his elbow.

The room erupted in cheers. He looked up, startled, to see everyone watching him as they clapped, while Nina and Molly jumped up and down, squealing happily. They little kitty burrowed deeper into his elbow, shaking, but silent. Tommy stroked her back and shared a grin with his mother.

“Good job, lad!” Mr. Brenner said as the clapping died out. He turned to the pastor. “I wonder, sir, if instead of auctioning off this kitty, would it be all right to let Master Tommy have her? She’s from a line of good mousers.” This last was directed to Tommy’s mother, who nodded back.

The congregation was pleased with this idea, and Tommy settled against the wall, stroking his new pet. She seemed to approve of the idea too, for he felt a tiny rumbling begin against his hand.

 

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