I dedicate this tale to Max who lives with five other cats and two dogs (See The Ginger Darlings) and is poorly at the moment. May he soon be prowling and snoozing in the sunshine again as he has done for a while and may his eye always be keen and his paws always dry.
Some few hundred years ago it seems, there lived a man called Troismaistre who was among other things, an alchemist. He lived in Rheims with an assistant called Jehan who was an adept... among other things. There was also a cat called Max, a fine tabby cat, dark and dangerous who was both a mouser and a magician of his own secret ways.
Of course, all alchemists worth their alembicks know that the moon is made of silver. So Troismaistre decided to capture the Moon and gain her essence. With this, he hoped to turn base metal into Silver and thence to Gold. With this Gold and the secret of making it, he would never eat turnips again.
First, he gathered his equipment together, but Jehan, who loved the Moon could not bear the thought of her essence being stolen from her. So Jehan convinced his master that he needed a bottle suitably moon shaped to keep the essence in. Troismaistre liked the idea very much and went off one evening to consult with a glassmaker he knew. The glassmaker realised that Troismaistre was not a man of the world and agreed to make a fine bottle for essence of Moon.
While Troismaistre was out however, Jehan took up Max in his arms and went out upon the roof where it was quiet. Sensing the cat, all the birds went very quiet. Max could smell the birds, but he had eaten well and it was warm in the young apprentice's arms. From the rooftop, Jehan could see into windows where people were settling down for the evening. Some were still busy however.
Jeanne de la Fleur was busy at her embroidery, Madame Clocherie was busy at her clocks, decorating the faces of the clocks with her melancholy thoughts on time. Down near the sea in a large studio, Madame des Chatonnes was drawing dragons with great golden eyes. A lot of women were busy tonight at their work, Jehan noticed. Needle and thread was being used, cooking was going on and a myriad of arts also.
Jehan looked up at the sky, which was slowly darkening and thought of the ginger-haired priest Brother Elmo who visited the old folk to comfort them. He thought of the famous minstrel Ma'mselle the Bean singing to her mother. He gazed up at the new moon and sighed at the sheer beauty of that sliver of pale light in the dark of the night. He could not allow Troismaistre to capture her essence, but did not know how to stop him. Max chuckled.
"The old fool, eh? Does he really think Her Majesty, the Queen of Night, the Pale Strider among stars will be his for the taking? She blessed me once," Max said, settling on Jehan's lap and tucking his paws beneath him.
"The Moon blessed you?" Jehan asked him.
"Of course, can't you see her blessing in my eyes? She made my eyes wax and wane with the light. Now they are waxing wide with the night. In the middle of the day when the sun is at his height, they wane so that they seem like she is now. A maiden moon," Max answered him, carefully wrapping his tail about him.
"I wish she would bless me," Jehan murmured, "I am tired of turnips and the stink of the laboratory. I want to live and have adventures."
"Adventures," Max said sniffily, "Are greatly over-rated. A warm fireside, food in your stomach and shelter from the rain, those are far better. Of course, flying now and then helps to keep you going and a little frisking. I used to do a lot of frisking when I was a kitten."
Jehan sighed and very quietly told the Moon everything Troismaistre had in mind. A light silvery laugh broke the quiet of the rooftop. Probably one of the women working, laughing with her children or her love, Jehan thought. After a while, he took Max up again and went down to his little room and got into bed. Max slept upon the bed next to the apprentice where it was warmer. Troismaistre came in later and shuffled up to his bed also, having left upon the desk in his laboratory, the moon bottle.
When the house was quiet, the Moon sent down a beam of pale light and came down to the house. It was very still, even the mice in the wainscoting were asleep. The dog in the yard, slept in his kennel, one ear listening, but he did not hear the Moon. Max heard her though and got up softly. He left the apprentice sleeping and padded quietly down to the parlour where the Moon stood. She turned her pale gaze upon him and he blinked very slowly as cats do when they smile. She smiled back at him and whispered a word.
"He has a good heart that boy. So much promise and so much love," she told Max.
"Yes, your majesty, he does and he hates anyone to cause pain to any living thing. He has told me off several times for catching the mice. There, but he's only a boy and doesn't understand that a cat is made to catch mice," Max answered.
"Well, let him take up the third brick at the back of the fireplace. There is a document there that will help him greatly," the Moon said softly.
Max smiled again and went back up to Jehan's room where he curled up and went back to sleep. The Moon, looked about the laboratory and laughed a light silvery laugh. She lit up the parlour with her pale glow and gazed about the room. She brought things long hidden and forgotten into the light. After a little while, she went up to the alchemist's room and gazed into his heart. He was not a bad man. A little self-absorbed and curious about the world, but no more than that. She leaned over his bed and kissed him gently, whispering a word that slipped into the old man's ear and into his dreams. She slipped into Jehan's bedroom and whispered a word into the young apprentice's ear and into his dreams too. She stroked the soft fur of Max's head and he purred and stretched in his sleep. After a little, she slipped out of the house by the window and went home.
The following morning, Jehan awoke early and having bathed and dressed, he began to prepare everything for the day. First he fed Max and then himself. He could not get the strangest dream out of his head. He was about to get the fire going when he paused and wondered. In that moment, he found himself reaching out to the back of the fireplace, but he paused again feeling eyes upon him. He turned and Max smiled.
"Go on then. The third brick in the middle of the fireplace," Max told him.
Jehan shrugged his shoulders, smiled and tugged out the brick. Behind it was a small alcove in which was a box. Jehan took the box and replaced the brick. He got the fire going and sat down to look at the box. It contained a document on which was a code. Jehan frowned for a while as he tried to decipher it. When the answer came suddenly into his head, he laughed and got up.
When Troismaistre came down, scratching his head at the dream he'd had, he sat and had his breakfast before writing down something that he had dreamed about the previous night. He wondered where Jehan was but before he could ask the cat, the door flew open and Jehan came bursting in.
"The Pettigrew Code, master! I found and cracked it! We have 900 gold sovereigns as promised by the Duke. We'll never eat turnips again!" the apprentice told him.
Troismaistre looked dazed, but then got up and hugged the boy, for he loved him dearly. He took up the page on which he'd written something and then laughed and laughed. He had written a recipe for honey almond cakes. He would make them round and sell them in the market, he told himself. But what to call them. He thought of the charming young cook along the way but would she mind him calling them Clotildes?
Perhaps he would make the cakes the shape of banker's boxes and call them financiers. So it was and the financier is still eaten today... just as the Moon still shines and cats still sun themselves. Oh and the bottle?
Well it was such a lovely bottle that Jehan put a pair of flowers in it and placed it on the windowsill. People passing saw it and bought their own. They still called it the Moon bottle though.