This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
BIG-CAT knew the neighbourhood thoroughly for a distance of at least two miles in every direction.
Along fence and ditch, which were his hunting-paths, he crept in search of his prey. . . .
Then he disappeared in a cornfield, and commenced his laborious stalking operations, the thick forest of corn-stalks making constant demands on his skill.
The green, brown-jointed stems stood quivering and swaying in the wind; their withered, rust-spotted leaf-tips scratched his nose and poked him in the eyes, while inflicting constant torture to his soft, sensitive moustache. But once in the field he was unmindful of such trifles, and with noiseless steps he stole along utterly absorbed, like the true sportsman he was, in the breathless exaltation of the chase.
He was alone with Nature . . . and in his ears sounded her unique harmonies: the swishing of the wind through the poplar-top—that full, rich music with its sharp undertone which could only be fully appreciated by senses as finely attuned as his—and the thin, eternal seething of the barley or the rattling of the oats, were to him the earth's song of love; he was its best cat, its greatest and happiest hunter!
He felt in touch with Nature; inspired by her music to great deeds. . . . Tiny red ladybirds with black-spotted body-shields wandered up and down the corn; and when he stopped to think, or to peer ahead through the waving green multitude of straws, he could see the little red fox-tongue of the poppy and the rough-haired cornflower's deep blue snake's-eyes. At intervals the white marguerite flashed like a lark's breast momentarily into view, fixing his gaze for one fleeting moment with hypnotic attraction.
The depths of the corn vibrated with mystery. . . . Sounds which lived and died before he could guess their maker, thronged his ears on every side! Uncanny things happened out here in the jungle of the summer corn—he felt sure of it!
A sudden rustling followed by a crashing retreat sounds in front of him; it is the corn shrieking under the foot of a fleeting hare! Presently a loud turmoil in the air breaks for the moment Nature's harmonious melody: he starts up, and the nervous twitching of his whiskers betrays his overwrought condition; soon he hears the warning call of an approaching partridge—and now he recognizes the noise, and sits down again while his sensitive nerve-strings gradually resume their normal vibration.
Finally, when a long-legged frog, panic-stricken at his approach, leaps with its cold body right into his face, he has, fortunately, recovered from his previous shock, and continues calmly on his way.
A large flock of tame pigeons from the farm sweep past just overhead, bringing a glow to his eyes. Soon afterwards he hears the flap of their wings as they land among the peas. In the flock are white, red, and blue pigeons. . . .
His body sinks to the ground. Now is the chance to prove that he is a born master-hunter. He feels his pulse hammer and his heart thump I
After a quarter of an hour's stalking he pokes his head out of a heap of cut-down peas. He is panting for breath with a half-open mouth, and his eyes shine with a greenish light. His muscles are tense to the uttermost—the great thing now is not to surrender to his exhaustion and so spoil everything he has already done. . . .
The pigeons rise and float round in a circle —a habit they have—and the next moment a dazzling white turbit flaps within reach.
No need for him to spring; he just lashes out and hooks three of his curved claws into its breast! The claws go in easily enough; but they will not come out again so willingly! In fact, the more frantically the victim struggles to get loose, the more firmly his nails seem to hold; they literally stick to everything they touch. Now his jaws flash forward with their strong muscles—and the pigeon gives up the ghost at the first bite!
With the spoil in his mouth Big-cat retires hurriedly into a recess between two burdock plants; here he devours his catch.
"madness" and the owl
In the evening it is brother Black's turn!
Reckless as "Madness" was in the daytime, it was nothing to what he became when darkness fell. The moment the sun had set, his claws itched to be out on the warpath. . . .
At first he captured maybugs and grasshoppers ; but when the darkness began to gather he prepared for serious work. From the top of the turf-house roof or from the brow of some hill he peered out over the landscape, listening: were there "humans" or dogs about?
Worming and creeping between molehills and grass-stems he made his way, stopping at frequent intervals to look round or listen. Where did the lark go to bed? Where did the partridges assemble? He was not in the least afraid of weasels and stoats; he let fly at them with his claws, spitting and hissing. . . .
One night when the sky is lowering and the clouds are scudding he goes out as usual. He moves along on his soft, noiseless paws like a part of the silent darkness itself. The owl over in the village copse hoots hideously, making other creatures rush into hiding; but Black does not hide; the sound makes his blood rage!
He steals into the copse, choosing the leafless places near the boundary hedge and along the paths. "Ow!" Now he will be quite lame and crippled; for he is compelled to remain motionless and silent at the very moment he steps on a sharp-pointed stone.
The next second he is crouching flat on the ground, his ears directed ahead. . . . Something is moving in front of him!
Oh, it is only the little baby hare which he has seen several times already! It gambols round him—until the owl dives out of the darkness and blots out the hare with its black wings. Then it utters that diabolical shriek again. Black goes mad; it calls to him, he feels; it pulls him . . . and he hurls himself forward—to be reduced to sheer spitting and spluttering at the sight that confronts him.
A cat like himself, but with feathers and wings, rolls a beaked head forward out of the bundle before him! It hoots mournfully, like the wind sighing among the giant stones— and tears his nose with its claws. . . .
Black, also, blows himself out and glares fiercely at the enemy, while his tail whips restlessly to and fro. He is suddenly a cat of nine tails standing there! What is more, his body does not stand on all fours; only the two hind legs and the left forepaw bear its weight—his right forepaw is, as usual, slightly raised ready for his lightning spring!
Then his face twists sideways, and he intones the war-chant which he has inherited from his father: "Auw-auw-auw—o-o-o— ttt!"
Can he capture spoil by hanging back and hesitating? Can he gain meat by being afraid and running away? . . .
His thoughts drive him to frenzy!
He flies at the owl, and transfixes one of its ears. He attacks again—and the flying cat decides that things are getting too warm. It swings itself up to a branch and begins also to wail its war-cry:
"Auw-auw-auw. . . ."
"Oo-oo-hoo-00. . . ."
"Tt-ttt. . . ."
During the pauses Black devours the best parts of the hare.