The Cat and the Hornbeam Trees
The Cat and the Hornbeam Trees is the title of chapter 1 of the Subtle Knife.
Title Reference and Icon
Twelve year old Will Parry takes his mother to stay with his previous music teacher, Mrs. Cooper. He needs to find a safe place for her because two men are continuing to show up at their house to threaten and frighten her.
Will's father left on an expedition to Alaska when Will was less than 1 year old and never returned. Will continually asks his mother questions about his father, but she will only say that he "had been a handsome man, a brave and clever officer in the Royal Marines, who had left the army to become an explorer and lead expeditions to remote parts of the world." Will wonders if there's a written history or pictures somewhere. She just tells him that he will follow in his father's footsteps, taking up his mantle. Will first realizes his mother is different when he is seven -- the enemies that she taught him to her avoid were in her mind. Will's biggest fear is that the authorities will take his mother away and put him in a home; so, he learns to shop, cook and clean so he can take over when she isn't able. He also learns to make himself almost invisible when in public so he calls no attention to himself. Will and his mother love each other very much and he will do anything to keep her safe.
Back to the Present
Will returns to their house, greeting and feeding his cat Moxie. Before he enters the house, he listens carefully to make sure no one is inside. He begins searching the house for a battered green leather writing case that's his mother's most precious possession. Four hours later he is exhausted and still hasn't found the case anywhere. He falls asleep and suddenly awakens knowing two things:
- The location of the writing case
- Someone is in the house
Will retrieves the case from his mother's sewing machine and hears one of the men coming upstairs. Will rushes out of a room, charging into the man's stomach. The man trips over Moxie, falls down the stairs and is dead. Will grabs the tattered tote bag and bolts out of the house. He is sick at the thought that he killed a man. Now, he heads for Oxford where he hopes to find answers to some of his questions about his father. By nightfall, Will is exhausted and looking for a safe place to sleep. He sees a tabby cat, much like Moxie, and she suddenly vanishes from sight. Will goes over to see where she went and finds a window/opening, that has been cut out of the air. He steps through the window and realizes he is in a different world. He explores the empty, silent Mediterranean-looking town of Cittàgazze, cooling himself off in the sea and leaving money when he helps himself to a bottle of lemonade. He realizes he is hungry and finds a cafe where he feels comfortable. As he is exploring the building, he opens a door and someone charges out, and they struggle with each other. He asks who she is and she wants to know where his dæmon is. She introduces herself as Lyra Silvertongue. Will tells her that he has no idea about a dæmon. Will begins to prepare food and discovers that Lyra knows nothing about refrigerators, cola or can openers, omelets -- she tells him that servants deal with those things in her world. After they eat, Will asks Lyra to clean up since he cooked, and she refuses at first. He tells her that they are going to have to treat the place where they are staying properly and goes to bed. Once she's sure he's asleep, she washes, dries and puts the utensils and plates away. She goes into to look at Will while he is sleeping. She sees that he is strong and stocky and just a little older than she is. She uses the Alethiometer and asks about Will. It replies that he's a murderer. She relaxes and feels that he's a worthy companion.