This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
One afternoon very early in spring a small, snow-white he-cat came strolling carelessly along the road. His ears were thrust forward, betraying his interest in something ahead: he meant to take a walk round the farm, whither the road led . . . there was a grey puss there who attracted him!
He ought to have been more cautious, the little white dwarf! A giant cat, a coloured rival, with the demon of passion seething in his blood and hate flaming from his eyes, caught sight of the hare-brained fellow from afar off and straight-way guessed his errand.
With rigid legs, lowered head, and loins held high, he comes rushing from behind . . . runs noiselessly over the soft grass at the side of the road and overhauls the other un-perceived.
With one spring he plants all his foreclaws deep in the flesh of the smaller cat, who utters a loud wail and collapses on the ground.
The big one maintains his grip on his defeated foe's shoulder, crushing him ruthlessly in the dust. Then he presses back his torn ears, giving an even more hateful expression to the evil eyes, and lowering his muzzle, gloatingly he howls his song of victory straight into his fallen rival's face.
For a good quarter of an hour he continues to martyr his victim, who is too terrified to move a muscle; he tears the last shred of self-respect and honour from the coward—then releases him and stalks before him to the farm, without deigning to throw him another glance. He was too despicable a rival, the little white mongrel! The big, spotted he-cat considered it beneath his dignity even to thrash him.
But the little grey puss had other suitors still. . . . There was the squire's ginger cat and the bailiff's wicked old black one; so that both daring and cunning were necessary if one's courtship was to be a success. At sunset they invaded the farm from every direction, stealing silently through corn or kitchen garden until they reached the garden path by the hedge.
The black ruffian, who considered himself the favourite suitor, arrived, as he imagined, first at the rendezvous. But simultaneously his ginger rival stuck his head through the hedge bordering the path. At sight of each other both halted abruptly, thrusting up their backs and blowing out their scarred, battle-torn cheeks.
For many minutes the two ugly fellows stood glaring silently at one another. . . . Then their whiskers bristled, their tattered ears disappeared, and their eyes became mere slits in their heads; hymns of hate wailed from their throats, and their tails writhed and squirmed like newly-flayed eels.
Suddenly the big, spotted cat appears in the garden. Tiger-like, with body almost brushing the ground, he glides silently past them.
They hate him, the low brute! . . . He is their common enemy! The sight of him caught in the act makes them allies in a flash. . . . They tear after him and surround him. Then they go for him tooth and nail.
All thoughts of the fair one have gone from their minds. War-cries cease; gasps and grunts of exertion punctuate the struggle; chests heave and ribs dilate with compressed air; whilst naked claws are plunged into skin and flesh. They are one to look at, one circular mass, as they whirl round inextricably interlocked, puffing their reeking breath into one another's faces.
The spotted devil's powerful hind legs are wedged in under the red cat's body. With his forepaws he grips him as if in a vice—and now thrusting the needle-pointed, razor-edged horn daggers from their sheaths, he straightens his hind legs simultaneously to a terrible, resist-less, lacerating lunge. . . .
With a stifled hiss of fury the squire's cat falls back. It limps moaning from the battle-field, with blood pouring from its stomach.
Now comes the old black thief's turn! First the hair flies ... it literally steams from the two rivals as they rush at each other. Their incredible activity is expressed in every movement. . . . After lying interlocked for some time on the ground they suddenly break away, and, as if by witchcraft, stand on all fours again.
The piebald is winning!
His claws comb like steel rakes. They tear the hair from the bailiff-cat's flanks, leaving them bare and shining. The latter often succeeds in parrying, and returns kick for kick, but his hind legs lack strength, and he cannot complete a full thrust.
Madness gleams in their eyes; they are beside themselves with frenzy; fear flies from their minds; they are exalted . . . for now they are fighting!
Until a sudden scuffle advertises that the bailiff-cat has had enough. He tears himself loose and bolts for his life.
The big piebald has won. He shakes himself and rolls over, gives a couple of energetic licks to his paws, and carefully brushes his whiskers; then he hastens through the garden up to the farmyard, where a little later he is to be seen promenading the pigsty roof.
With alert expression and nervously vibrating tail he looks inquiringly at all trap-doors and open windows. Suddenly he gives a start; there is Grey Puss on the manure heap beneath him.
Without a moment's hesitation he leaps down. ... It was the decisive meeting!
She had always been true to this one lover. . . . And yet there had been times when all the gentlemen of the neighbourhood had paid court to her. Often she had reclined on the planking with one in front of her, one behind, and three or four in the elder tree above her head. . . . She had been literally besieged.
But however many suitors might appear— even though they came right up from the sea-coast and the fishing village—she still loved him and him alone, the great piebald hero!
He was an exceptional cat: the ears, far apart and noticeably short, were set far back on the broad head; the neck was thick and powerful, the body long and heavy. When he ran, he moved with such swiftness that he seemed to glide, and he could leap two yards without effort.
He was all possible colours—black, red, yellow, and white. A tinge of green shone in the wicked golden eyes; they sat deep in his head, so that his cheeks stuck out each side like dumplings. . . . And in the middle of his bristly moustache protruded a small lacerated nose, which was always bright red and covered with half-healed wounds. He was always at war. . . .
Once he received a deep, horrid bite just under the throat, where he could not lick it. So he went to his sweetheart; she helped him. . . .
She was faithful and true to him . . . but she did not trust him beyond the threshold.