This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
Had she reason to doubt him? He was chock-full of lust and vice, and great in merit as in fault; nevertheless—had she actual proof for doubting him?
One night her eyes were opened in the most sinister manner. The last rays of the setting sun had departed from the fields, leaving them wrapped in the summer evening's mist and obscurity. Only some horses greeted the solitary nocturnal marauder with warm, friendly neighing.
They knew him well, although he was only a cat, whose many-coloured body seemed grey, like all other cats, in the twilight. In doorway, at the pump, in yard, and in stable he was their daily companion. How nice to see him here on the meadow too! "Ehehehe," they neighed . . . welcome to the tethering-ground !
He ignored them completely, neither breaking his stride, nor wagging his tail, nor giving a single miauw. Past nuisances like foals which greeted him boisterously he went unresponsive and bored. He was out hunting now—nothing else mattered!
With gliding step he passes from clover field to seed ground, jumping with noiseless, tense spring over brook and ditch. His progress roused the lark from heavy slumber.
He reaches a copse—and soon afterward is heard the death-shriek of a captured blackbird. With covetous grasp he seizes his victim, buries his sharp teeth in its breast, and sucks with long sniffs the warm, odorous bird-smell. . . .
It was not hunger which drove him to the crime: he has just made a full meal off a couple of fat mice. But when coming unexpectedly upon the bird in the copse, he could not control his murderous impulse.
He sits with the booty in his jaws, purring contentedly, and ponders frowningly where he shall conceal his capture.
The summer moon shines big and round from the pale blue, starless sky—and white, pink-underlined layers of cloud hover like feathers far out on the horizon. Warm puffs of wind come and go, enveloping him in the meadow's silver mist, making the dim shelter of the hedge seem hot and oppressive.
His eyes fall on the three ancient willow stumps at the far end of the field! He, too, knows how rotten and hollow they are, and how well adapted for a hiding-place. True, it is rather a long way there . . . through the soaking wet rye—but that can't be helped!
The night is absolutely silent, broken only by the rasping song of the little reed-warbler from a swampy hole among the rye. The din of the farm has long since died down; not even the bark of a dog is heard, and neither water-pump nor wind-motor can summon up another note. How splendid to have ears, to be able to listen! Now he hears only the play of the grasshoppers, the love-song of the cockchafer, and the high-pitched music of the ant-hills.
Here, behind a knotted root at the base of the largest of the old willow trees, he conceals the blackbird, afterwards covering it carefully with earth and moss. Then he reaches his forepaws up to the trunk to stretch his limbs and sharpen his claws.
He gives a violent start! The scarred, rugged skin on his head wrinkles thoughtfully, as it always does when something attracts his attention. His multicoloured tail jerks uneasily, as he peers about him with uplifted ears.
The subdued rustling and squeaking noises from inside the tree trunk continue. . . .
Now there is no longer room for doubt. . . .
With a giant leap he springs up the tree, and next moment he is down in the bole.
Grey Puss is not at home. . . .
The little kittens swarm up to him. Tiny seeks to drink, while Black and Big make a joyful assault on his swiftly wagging tail. He lowers his nose to each of the little fellows in turn as if tasting their smell. Then, as if suddenly gone mad, he begins clawing about in all directions at the defenceless kittens. Mewing and squealing, they roll away to all sides like lumps of earth—but the he-cat's frenzy increases.
He seizes Tiny by the mouth, fixes an eye-tooth in his scruff and hurtles out of the willow with him. The little tot hangs limp and apparently lifeless in the jaw of his brutal sire; but, fortunately for him, the old cat is not hungry, and so is content with burying the kitten at the foot of the willow, by the side of the dead blackbird.
In justice to the criminal it must be stated that he has no conception of the enormity of his crime; only when he is on his way up the willow for the second time is he enlightened— and that in a most ruthless manner. Two rows of gimlet-pointed claws descend from nowhere and almost nail him to the bark. . . . Furious, he turns his visage . . . and the next second all his old half-healed wounds are torn open again!
Grey Puss has surprised him—and recognizes him instantly. So it is he who comes wrecking her maternal happiness; yes, she thought as much! And like a vice she clings to his back, biting and scratching and tearing as he flees panic-stricken along the hedge. Away, away, home, anywhere! He is more afraid of Grey Puss' mother-claws than of the raven's beak or the blade of the reaping-machine; he has learnt to his cost that a she-cat knows not the word mercy when her swollen udders are carrying milk for her young.
He lacked a conscience, this big, piebald he-cat—and he respected nothing except his own skin! The egg of the lark, the chick of the partridge, the young of the hare, were each and all grist to his mill; he took everything he could find, catch, or steal.
On the rafter at home in the farmyard, where Grey Puss used to lie, he had been allowed free passage, until the very moment when some small bundles lay shivering on the hay in the corner. Then the fascination of his black face and shining coat seemed to vanish ; she would not allow him to approach; he was not even admitted to the barn. If he just showed himself at the trap-door she would become seized with frenzy, spring up, and fly at him as if he were a dog! He had always to beat a hurried retreat!
Did she read his character; did she know that the feeling of paternal love was foreign to his nature? In any case, she took no risks; she never trusted him over the threshold. . . .