This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
GREY PUSS had not been home for two whole days and nights.
And the unaided efforts of the kittens to secure food had not resulted in anything more satisfying than the usual maybugs and dragon-flies, with some extra big grasshoppers.
This morning it is such fine day weather that, after having waited in vain till sunrise for their mother's return, they resolve to set out on a hunting expedition alone. Necessity is teaching even these four-month-old babies self-reliance!
They start all together and wind their way successfully through the corn; they reach a ditch, and soon after a road—faster and faster they go. . . .
Big is the leader. Red follows close behind, ready to help in the event of her brother being specially lucky. She seconds him carefully; stops instantly when he stops; crouches when he crouches. All the time her flame-coloured eyes sweep round searchingly—and she wears her most knowing expression. Farther back comes Grey with her long hare's ears thrust forward, her whole attention directed far ahead. She moves forward in spasms, sinking down every other moment to the ground to listen.
A little behind her saunters dreamy little White; she glances carelessly about her at the larks, bumble-bees, her sisters . . . anything.
Last of all, far behind the rest, looms "Madness," shadowed by Tiny—surnamed "Terror."
"Terror" has of late risen more and more in his brother's estimation; the cunning little weather-prophet exercises a wonderfully soothing influence on the ever-angry warrior. Possibly it is because the little fellow never with so much as a scowl or an arching of the back dares to oppose him, but when attacked instantly rolls over abjectly in the dust.
Black likes the little coward's companionship. It is true that he preferred hunting alone—he was naturally of a solitary disposition and could not work in a crowd; but, on the other hand, it was always pleasant to have someone upon whom to vent his anger when his hunting was a failure.
The dawn is beginning to break!
Behind a group of long, irregular clouds which stretch in streaks right across the heavens, the rising sun's reflected rays shine red and gold. But below the clouds all is darkness, from the depths of which loom the vague outlines of the immediate foreground.
White daisies twinkle round the thickets and wallflowers border the rye-field, while snakeweed and cornflowers shine forth along hedge and path.
A little reed-warbler gives a voice to a hole in the swamp and sings and trills in thin staccato. The sight of an insect causes it simultaneously to increase its volume of sound and to curve upwards from the ground. For a moment it hangs with outspread wings motionless in the air—then sinks slowly and gracefully, singing all the time.
White watches the bird's movements lazily; her interest is so small that her tail-tip scarcely curls.
The fly is not captured, nor was that really the little songster's intention. . . . The insect had merely roused its desire to leave its gloomy hole and climb up into the fresh air and sunshine.
But now partridges begin to lend the fields voices; yellow-hammers twitter in the hedges; starlings in the village wood; linnets in the depths of the hawthorn thicket.
In a patch of weeds near one of the swamps a sucking-calf wakes from its slumber. It has a skin like a lion and a pair of glittering-black, leopard's eyes; but in other respects could not possibly be mistaken for a beast of prey. Although they have never seen such a creature before, the kittens practically ignore it; except for White, who feels enormously attracted the moment she catches a whiff of the sweet cow-smell.
The calf is still so feeble that it cannot stand upon its legs. Its eyes follow the small white visitor languidly, as the kitten with arched back and rigid tail rubs herself affectionately against its neck.
White delights in the warm animal-odour which streams in over her; closer and closer she presses herself against the calf, miauw-ing all the while coyly and ingratiatingly.
The flies assemble in multitude on the baby calf's wrinkled, red skin; White catches a score of them with ease, and thereby satisfies her appetite; then, discovering a thick layer of milk scum on her host's muzzle, she cautiously licks that off too. Finally she curls herself up between the animal's legs and goes to sleep.
The others continue hunting. . . .
Scattered about at irregular intervals in the form of a fan, they spread themselves out over the landscape.
On arriving at a wheat-field bordering the little village copse, Big and the thief-cat find fresh human "spoor" on a narrow, winding path. Anything human repels Big—but Red follows them up towards the farm. . . . Suddenly a flock of sparrows buzz out from a hedge and settle in the wheat. A thrill runs through Big; his eyes gleam with the lust of the chase—and he follows noiselessly in their wake.
Grey has long ago heard the squeak of a mouse in the hedge, and found an inhabited mouse-hole near which he sits in ambush.