Long ago, a family of cats lived on the shore of Gadder’s Bay. Early each morning, the father, Gray Gatan, and the three oldest sons sailed off in their trawler in search of cod, sea bass, grouper, herring—and their favorite, of course—catfish. The mother, Mindy Gatan, and the three daughters headed out too. They sailed up and down the coast collecting catch from their lobster and crab traps.
The youngest cat, Whimsy, stayed at home. She spent her mornings digging clams with her grandmother. In late afternoon, when her parents and siblings returned home smelling of salt spray, Whimsy could be found in the kitchen stirring a pot of clam chowder or fish stew—or tending to whatever delicacy her grandmother had concocted. The rest of the family sorted their catch. They kept the best for themselves and sold the rest to their cousins, who ran a fish market. Everyone’s pockets jingled with coins—everyone’s except Whimsy’s.
Whenever the catch brought in an unusually big pile of coins, the family celebrated their success with a full-fledged dinner, not just soup. Such wonderful feasts! Fried flounder, crab cakes, grilled lobster, and broiled salmon! More than the food, however, Whimsy loved hearing her brothers laugh and tease each other about the adventures of the day.
“You should have seen Taffy pull in the catch. He slipped on the deck and fell overboard. I had to haul him in.”
“Yeah, as if nothing like that’s ever happened to you, Slate. You slipped and dropped a whole catch of sea bass. You looked so funny chasing the flopping fish across the deck. And then Rusty here is too busy to help because he’s fencing with a swordfish.”
“Hey! Someone had to defend the ship. You two numskulls didn’t even realize we were under attack. Taffy was laughing at Slate so hard, he didn’t hear Dad call, ‘Pirates!’”
Whimsy loved hearing her sisters giggle and tease their brothers and share their own adventures.
“You might try working together sometime, boys. No wonder we girls earned two-thirds of the gold today. Why, when that swordfish came around and bothered us, I tossed him a treat so he’d jump. Sandy lassoed his tail, and Ginger cinched the knot so tight, the fish had no choice but to tag along, swimming backwards.”
Whimsy adored adventures! On dinner days, a feeling of sadness overcame her. She sat silent, eyes glistening with tears. She wished she could have adventures too—that she could be a hero with tales of her own. Tears ran down her cheeks. She twitched her whiskers and sniffed. Nobody even noticed her. She sniffed again, this time so loud and long that everyone turned to look at her.
“What’s the matter with you?” Slate asked.
“Tomorrow, I want to go with you! I’m growing up. I’m big enough now! I’m ready for an adventure.”
Her brothers guffawed. “You? You’re so little, a wave could wash you overboard. A gust of wind would toss you off the rigging in no time!”
Whimsy looked hopefully at her sisters. “I could go crabbing with you! Let me come, please?”
Pearl merely giggled. “As crab bait?”
Whimsy’s mother shook her head at the older siblings, frowning. “Whimsy, you know your grandmother needs your help clamming.”
Whimsy knew Grandmother didn’t need help. All Whimsy did was find the bubbles that shot up from the clam holes. Sometimes she held the pail as her grandmother scooped out the clams with her shovel. But Grandmother did very well without her on the many days when Whimsy explored the shoreline instead of helping.
Whimsy wiped her tears with her sleeve and tried to put on a brave face. She knew why they didn’t want her on their boats: not because of her size, but because of her hind leg with its large hooked claw. The deformed limb made her slow and unsteady. She couldn’t move gracefully and nimbly like other cats; instead, she hobbled or shuffled—or just sat and watched.
That night, Whimsy cried herself to sleep. What would become of her? Would she spend her life digging clams and stirring pots of stew? Was she doomed to toil alone in a hot kitchen while others embarked on adventures and merrily bragged of danger and fun?
The next morning, Whimsy’s grandfather roused her roughly before the sun rose. “Get up! No more lolling about and playing on the beach! You have work to do.”
Whimsy blinked. “Grandfather?”
That day and every morning after, Whimsy’s grandfather made her do calisthenics and rope-climbing. When Whimsy faltered and complained that she couldn’t do something, her grandfather pooh-poohed her objections. “Of course you’re not going to be able to do this on the first try. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You don’t know what you can do if you don’t try.”
So Whimsy tried. She tried, and she tried again until her arms and legs felt so tired, she wished they would fall off. In trying, Whimsy grew slowly stronger. She grew bolder too, and full of stamina.
Whimsy spent the afternoons helping her grandfather build a boat. Together they sawed and hoisted and pinned long oak beams to form the narrow hull of a small sloop. They fit boards snugly over the hull and pounded dowels into place. Then they sanded the surface smooth and hammered special metal sheeting over the hull. Afterward, they buffed the whole underside until it shined a reddish gold. Even the nails for the sheeting glistened a reddish gold.
One day, as they were working on the deck of the boat, installing the mast and the riggings, Whimsy’s grandfather surprised her. He pulled out a small dagger and hurled it at Whimsy.
She jumped. “What was that for?”
“It’s time you learned how to protect yourself. It’s not safe to roam the sea without a blade.”
“You mean I’m . . .?” Her heart leaped inside her, but then her eyes narrowed. “Where did you learn to throw a knife like that?”
“The War of the West.” Grandfather wouldn’t explain further. Instead he started giving her throwing instructions.
So began Whimsy’s education in martial arts. She learned how to throw knives with deadly accuracy; how to wield a sword and dagger; how to hurl a throwing star; and how to wrestle and kickbox.
One day as they were sparring, Whimsy grew angry with Grandfather. He had kicked her to the ground yet again. This time Whimsy rose with a vengeance. She kicked back with her deformed leg. As she did so, her claw slashed her grandfather’s foreleg. Blood spurted all over. He grimaced and fell to the ground.
Whimsy knelt down beside him. “Grandfather!”
He lay there, breathing heavily.
Whimsy wailed. “Oh, Grandfather! What have I done?”
Her grandfather sat up slowly. He pinched the wound until it stopped bleeding. “It appears you have found a weapon we didn’t realize you had. We are done for today.”
After this episode, Whimsy’s grandfather took particular care not to kickbox with his granddaughter. When they had finished the boat’s deck and riggings, Grandfather began to drill holes in strategic spots around the boat. He fitted metal latches into the holes.
“What are the latches for, Grandfather? I’ve never seen them on any other boat.”
“For your claw.”
Whimsy looked down at her deformed limb.
“Slip your claw into the latch.”
“Why would I do that, Grandfather?”
“In the past, we have thought of your leg as a weakness. But in truth, it is a weakness that you can use to your advantage. In a storm, you can fasten yourself to a boat in ways other cats can’t.” Grandfather demonstrated by closing the latch over her claw. “See? You’ll never wash overboard now—unless you choose to undo the latch.”
Indeed, Grandfather took his idea a step further. He installed metal slides that enabled Whimsy to hang ropes and sails in a flash.
At long last, Whimsy and her grandfather finished the sloop. Whimsy itched to take it out on the water, but her grandfather made her practice sailing on land first. The old cat sat in the stern and called out commands. Whimsy learned how to slip the mooring line and cast off while she swung herself into the sloop. She learned how to furl the sails, crawl up to the crow’s nest, and use a telescope. She learned how to check the direction of the wind and tide and how to pack cargo so that it didn’t shift in passage.
Finally, after Whimsy’s performance convinced her grandfather of her skill, they hauled the sloop to the docks and set sail. When Whimsy sailed past her family’s crab boat, her sisters waved at her.
Pearl blinked twice. “Aw! You’re out on the water!”
Sandy ran her eyes over the boat. “Look at your little sloop! Isn’t it cute?”
Ginger slapped her hands down on the rail. “Well, I’m jealous!”
The hint of a smile spread across Whimsy’s face.
When she passed her family’s trawler, her brothers cheered and whistled.
Slate pretended to growl. “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
Rusty yelled, “You can’t have fun while we work!”
Taffy pulled up the anchor. “Come on, boys. Let’s chase her!”
Whimsy broke into a grin. “Just try to catch me!”
Her little sloop cut through waves like knife and raced smartly ahead.
“You’re lucky she’s speedy!” Slate called to her.
“Yeah,” Rusty added. “Otherwise, we’d catch you and toss you in the water!”
“Yeah,” Taffy added, but across the distance the word sounded like “Yar.”
Whimsy laughed with delight. She had heard her brothers use that word to describe the fastest and best-looking boats—boats that were quick and agile and easy to steer.
Together, Whimsy and Grandfather explored the coast. Grandfather pointed out all the best fishing spots and taught her how to watch out for riptides and sandbars and shallows.
They returned home that night, achingly tired and smelling of salt spray.
Grandfather patted her back. “Well, we did it! What are you going to name your boat?”
“It will always be our boat, Grandfather.”
“What are you going to call it?”
Whimsy thought for a moment. She felt so happy being free to sail and explore. She began to whistle a cheery tune.
Grandfather grinned. “The tune you’re whistling is called ‘The Happy Wanderer.’ Good name for a boat!”
The Happy Wanderer brought Whimsy more happiness than she had ever known. Whimsy sailed her little sloop constantly—so much and so well, in fact, that folk started calling her Yar Gatan.
With The Happy Wanderer to carry her about, Whimsy collected adventures as some people collect trophies—not only her own, but the adventures of others as well. She sailed up the rivers of Ellandria and met all sorts of creatures. She traded fish for lumber, lumber for wine, wine for gold, and gold for pairs of swashbuckling boots. Forever after, her pockets jingled with coins, creatures everywhere marveled over her derring-do, and children begged to hear her tales.