This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
Grey Puss becomes lazier and lazier, and no longer takes the slightest interest in her offsprings' food difficulties. Whereas formerly she used often to go hungry herself in order to feed her kittens, she now almost invariably devours her catch herself. Yes, it has even happened that, upon surprising one of the children with an extra tempting mouse, she has taken rather than given! She behaves all at once as if she were not their mother at all.
Through the regiment of withered thistle-tops lining the path by the marsh she patters peacefully along to the broad high road, where her grey coat soon disappears in the twilight.
From the opposite direction Box comes walking dejectedly. He is now no longer the terror of the cat neighbourhood; and besides, at the moment there burns inside him the strong but unsated fire of love. After a three days' fruitless vigil outside the vicarage gates of a distant village he is now returning home.
Without thought of evil he slinks leisurely along the main road towards home, and has just reached the bridge over the stream when he finds himself suddenly face to face with the "claw-beast," who emerges from the shadow at the side of the bridge with the intention of crossing the road. Box, from force of habit, gives the alarm, and charge's courageously forward—the cat straightens her legs and becomes all at once big and glistening, at the same time exploding with spits and hisses. . . .
When too late Box recognizes the ferocious creature!
He has lately succeeded in convincing himself that he no longer cares for gadding about the fields after cats and other "vermin." And now, suddenly remembering his dearly bought experience in connection with this field-tiger's claws, he makes his good resolution an excuse for shunning the she-devil.
The stream is handy—and he is not afraid of water.
True, his canine self-respect protests, but only for a moment; a glimpse of the curved yellow-green claws, whose capacity for inflicting pain he knows so well, gives him a sudden sinking feeling—and the next moment he has plunged into the water.
But he is mistaken in thinking that Grey Puss will not follow him!
The brave little mother-cat, overwrought as she is with the strain and anxiety of the summer, is transformed into a fury at the sound of her old tormentor's ill-natured bark; she springs after him, just as in his time he has sprung after her—and seeing him like a little floating island beneath her, she is seized with the devilish inspiration to land on that island.
With a beautifully judged spring she lands with all four claw-bunches smack on the dog's forehead; and he disappears in a long, sudden dive which stifles his howls of misery.
Now follows an extraordinary life-and-death struggle!
Box is quite mad with terror. . . .
Every time he shows himself above water the cat climbs up on his back from behind and scratches and bites him so mercilessly that he has no choice but to dive again.
He treads water, bristles up, and arches his back; while Grey Puss spits, gurgles, and splutters. He makes an attempt to bite; but a claw plunges into his snout and stops there. . . .
He puts up a forepaw to free his snout; but a lightning bite paralyses the paw. . . .
He is breathing water now instead of air. . . . He is slowly losing consciousness—but the claw still hangs fast. . . .
He flounders no longer; he sinks, but this time he does not rise. . . . The poor old cat-nihilist is reformed at last!