‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ she said, dramatically, ‘puppies are arriving earlier than expected. Mr and Mrs Dearly ask you to remember that Missis has never before been a mother. She needs absolute quiet.’
There was an instant silence, broken only by a stifled sneeze. Then the guests rose, drank a whispered toast to the young mother, and tiptoed from the house.
All except Cruella de Vil. When she reached the hall she went straight to Nanny Butler, who was seeing the guests out, and demanded:
‘Where are those puppies?’
Nanny Butler had no intention of telling, but Cruella heard the Dearly voices’ and ran upstairs. This time she was wearing a black satin dress with ropes of pearls, but the same absolutely simple white mink cloak. She had kept it round her all through dinner, although the room was very warm (and the pepper very hot).
‘I must, I must see the darling puppies,’ she cried.
The cupboard door was a little open. The Dearlys were inside, soothing Missus. Three puppies had been born before Nanny Butler, on bringing Missus a nourishing chicken dinner, had discovered what was happening.
Cruella flung open the door and stared down at the three puppies.
‘But they’re mongrels – all white, no spots at all!’ she cried. ‘You must drown them at once.’
‘Dalmatians are always born white,’ said Mrs Dearly, glaring at Cruella. ‘The spots come later.’
‘And we wouldn’t drown them even if they were mongrels,’ said Mrs Dearly, indignantly.
‘It’d be quite easy,’ said Cruella. ‘I’ve drowned dozens of my cat’s kittens. She always chooses some wretched alley-cat for their father so they’re never worth keeping.
‘Surely you leave her one kitten?’ said Mrs Dearly.
‘If I’d done that, I’d be overrun with cats,’ said Cruella.
‘Are you sure those horrid little white rats are pure Dalmatian puppies?’
‘Quite sure,’ snapped Mrs Dearly. ‘Now please go away, you’re upsetting Missus.’
And indeed Missus was upset. Even with the Dearlys there to protect her and her puppies, she was a little afraid of this tall woman with black-and-white hair who stared so hard. And that poor cat who had lost all her kittens! Never, Never, would Missus forget that! (And one day she was to be glad she remembered it.)
‘How long will it be before the puppies are old enough to leave their mother?’ asked Cruella. ‘In case I want to buy some.’
‘Seven or eight weeks,’ said Mr Dearly. ‘But there won’t be any for sale.’ Then he shut the cupboard door in Cruella’s face and Nanny Butler firmly showed her out of the house.