This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
This was a fellow to be handled carefully!
He returned snarl and spit for a kind word —and he never hit softly on the nose, but scratched so that it hurt. He did not understand fun, but took everything in dead earnest; and in consequence was always quarrelling with his brothers and sisters. They knew him well enough by now, and only as a last resource, when there was nobody else about to play with, would one make the best of a bad job and take Black. In revenge he mixed in a game of his own accord whenever it suited him, and that in a most aggressive and unpleasant manner.
He was strong and well built; but he had large paws—and worse still, an ugly face!
A high-arched forehead protruded abruptly over unusually deep-set eyes. The eyes themselves were golden-green in colour—and some thing angry and evil perpetually obscured their glance, like a murky cloud over a clear horizon. And the wildness in the eyes was emphasized by the almost constantly pressed-back ears.
He was extremely skilful at climbing trees! His insulting and provocative behaviour often resulted in a general assault upon him, and when things became desperate he invariably went aloft.
To get up was easy enough—all the kittens could do that; but none of them could come down like Black. The others slid and scrambled down, thereby ruffling their fur and blunting their claws; he, on the contrary, had the real tree-climber's blood, having inborn in him the art of descending in successive jumps, a number of short falls, which he checked at the right moment by sticking all four batches of claws into the tree-trunk.
As time passed, he became as much at home in the trees as a marten, and could spring from top to top with the skill and agility of a squirrel. It is doubtful whether any other cat than he could have escaped from the manure-well.
Just as the secret of Samson's strength was hidden in the giant's growth of hair, so was Black's concealed in his claw-daggers; he spent, indeed, every spare moment in sharpening his claws!
He was nearly always to be seen by the old gate-post, where he squatted down and reached up with his forepaws, listening contentedly to the scratching of his claws on the hard, bone-dry wood. He always finished off by stropping them, stroking them forwards and backwards over the corner of the post until they were as sharp as shoemakers' bradawls.
None of the others possessed weapons like these!
And as he grew up and began to catch things, he deceived by means of them even experienced old birds! Thus, one day an old male sparrow taking a leisurely dust-bath fell a victim to his precocity. The sparrow, with the wisdom of his years, thought, "Piff! it's only a kitten!" And it flew up just in time to escape—if Black had been an ordinary kitten!
But that was its mistake—just as the chameleon with its lightning-like tongue reaches the distant insect, so did Black at the critical moment succeed in thrusting forward his claws and reaching the bird.
These terrible claws of his in reality made his forepaws abnormally long—a fact which his brothers and sisters also had long since discovered!
When Mother Puss sat dissecting her spoil and Black-kitten came too near, she used at first to lash out at Master Impudence. But Master Impudence lashed back! It was as if he said, "You must make room for me, too!" And the old she-cat soon learned to respect him for his swift, scratchy boxes on the ear.
In general he was timid and solitary. . . . The moment the kittens heard people on the field-path near by, he would arch his back, thicken his fur, and hurriedly run to cover.