Jillian breathed in the rich summer air as they walked along the river banks.
“The mint is so fragrant this year.” She told Martha as a warm breeze played through the girls’ hair, tied back with colourful ribbons.
“It’s the cats.” Martha stated. “They’ve been hunting in the mint this year. One of the vile things left a dead rat on my front doorstep last night.” She shuddered in her cotton dress as she hugged her market basket. “Eva says there’s more this year than there was last year.”
Jillian watched a black cat with a white star on its forehead dart across the path. It paused in its journey, staring at Jillian with unblinking amber eyes. A look of recognition seemed to cross the feline face. Jillian felt a shiver run down her back as the cat disappeared into the thick weeds, leaving a cloud of gnats and the scent of mint in its wake. Martha’s voice lowered to conspiratorial levels.
“Eva says they’re Hilda’s cats, and they came to town because Jeb killed that witch.” She whispered to the wide-eyed girl.
“Jacob told me they didn’t find her. That the hut was empty when they arrived, and they came home empty-handed.” Jillian protested, glancing down the empty path as Martha flounced her hair.
“Well, I’m just glad she’s gone. They must have done something that night, because he got better right away.”
“Who got better, girls?” Asked a sweet voice behind them. Hilda’s warm smile greeted them as they faced her in shock. Jillian fought to keep the surprise out of her voice.
“Jeb’s boy.” She stammered, “He had a fever a few weeks ago and everyone was worried, but he got better.” Hilda’s smile deepened as the girl talked.
“I’m glad he recovered. I must have been out of town at the time, visiting my sister in the highland village.” She nodded to the girls as the wind pushed around her pale hair, “Well, I must be off. Enjoy your day at market.” The girls uttered a hasty goodbye as they hurried off down the road. When Jillian looked back, there was nothing there except the drifting scent of mint and the buzz of a cicada.
Why do you tease them? Questioned the white-starred cat, watching from the stump of a tree that was washed away in last year’s flood. The answer came from the black pointed cat beside her like the sound of the wind through the tall grass.
They will spread the word of my return. Soon, I will go home.