that reached out one stubby finger and tapped.
The finger reached out again and tapped on the glass. Emmy looked closer. It wasnât a finger after all. It was aâ
It was a stubby, short, furry foreleg with a paw attachedâ
It was the Rat.
âR AT!â Emmy ran to the window and creaked it open.
The Rat, wet and bedraggled, dragged himself over the sill and collapsed in a damp heap. His ear looked like it had been chewed.
âWhere have you been?â Emmy whispered. âYou look justââ
âTerrible,â said the Rat, and sneezed. âI know.â
âBut what did you do? What happened to you?â Emmy carried him into her bathroom and set him gently on the counter. The Rat leaned against the blow-dryer and put his head in his paws.
âI have been chased. I have been beaten. I have been manhandled and taunted and set upon. Freedom,â he added grimly, tossing back the lank and dripping fur that hung in his eyes, âhas its bitter side.â
âOh, poor Rat!â
âAnd Iâm cold and hungry, and I want a bath.â
Emmy filled the sink and laid out a towel.
âThâthâthangââ The Rat swallowed, hard, and cleared his throat.
âThank you?â Emmy suggested.
The Rat nodded. The tip of his nose turned pink.
âYouâre welcome.â Emmy tested the water in the sink. âSo how did you ever find my house? And how did you know which window was mine?â
âYou pointed it out, remember?â The Ratâs tone was impatient. âTopmost turret, blue window. I just climbed up the grapevine.â
âOh,â said Emmy.
There was a little silence. The Rat tapped his foot.
âLook,â he burst out at last, irritably. âIs it the usual thing for you to watch your guests take a bath? Because if it isnât, then why donât you just go get me something to eatâ not rat pelletsâand give me a little privacy?â
Emmy was almost down the back stairs to the kitchen when she heard the voice she dreaded above all.
âSo you didnât meet Emmaline coming out of French? Where was she, exactly?â
Emmy stopped, paralyzed. Should she try to getback up the stairs without being heard? But some of the steps creaked. â¦ Undecided, she looked down. The old-fashioned staircase turned a corner just before descending to the kitchen, and a wedge of light crossed the steps just below Emmyâs feet. She could see Mrs. Brecksniffâs bulky shadow, her hands on her substantial hips.
âShe was right across the street,â said Mrs. Brecksniff, sounding defensive. âThere was no danger, she was just talking to a friend.â
âA friend ?â Miss Barmyâs voice scaled up dangerously.
âNothing wrong with friends, last I heard,â said Mrs. Brecksniff stoutly. âThe poor girl could use a few more of them.â
There was a long, dangerous silence.
âAny friends must be approved by me ,â said Miss Barmy coldly. âEmmaline has been troublesome latelyâinfluenced, no doubt, by this so-called friend. Or perhaps,â she added, her voice silky, âEmmaline has been getting encouragement from you. â
âNow, Jane Barmy, thereâs no call to take that tone with me.â Mrs. Brecksniff made a noise that sounded like an irritated buffalo.
âThe girlâs health is delicate, and I will allow no interference.â Miss Barmyâs voice was crisp.
âHer medicines must be carefully calibrated to her exact emotional condition. I was forced to create an entirely new batch and bring it to her at school.â
âWell Iâm sure I donât know what youâre so worried about,â Mrs. Brecksniff burst out passionately. â You donât care about Emmy, youâve made that plainââ
âThatâs enough, now, youâre talking