This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
THICK-SET and sturdy, with short tail, strong legs, and a back which merged smoothly into a plump, round stomach; big, attentive eyes with intelligence and intensity in their glance; small ears never at rest; this was Big!
He was the born master-hunter of the litter, and spent nearly all his time lying in wait on his belly, his tail stretched out behind him. He captured in a flash every bit of fluff carried past by the wind; he pursued passionately every butterfly and bird that came near him. When one of his brothers or sisters got up and walked away, Big-kitten would look up with a start and steal cautiously in the wake of the "meat." . . .
He was always the one to start a new game . . . and he commenced every game of "tag" with a leap right over his playfellow; a deliberate insult which emphasized his opponent's inferiority.
Although Big was still only a little half-grown fellow, his paws itched with the lust of the chase, and in his mind smouldered a constant desire for adventure. During the noonday hour of rest he would push out recklessly from the island-fortress, and, when the weather was dry and warm, creep far away out along the hedge and ditch bordering the corn.
Inbred in him was the ability to make use of every scrap of cover offered by Mother Nature, whether a tiny depression in the ground, or a tuft of grass, behind which he would hide and listen patiently before proceeding on his way. With doubled-up legs and body dragging along the ground he could creep for half-hours at a time, hiding in a bush or copse when he wished to rest or stretch his muscles.
His movements were so light and deft that he barely disturbed the grass—no shaking flower or trembling stalk ever betrayed his passage!
One day he went farther than usual along the ditch. . . . He had found a splendid hunting-ground! Flies and swallows swept over him in crowds. Now he must do something big!
He exerted all his powers to the uttermost: lifted his feet high to avoid scraping and rustling, crawled up at frequent intervals on stones to look around, and often sat still listening with his head stretched high above the grass. His ears were instantly directed towards every sound, while simultaneously he crouched ready to spring. . . .
His efforts were crowned with success; he came upon a weird, earth-like little animal which sat digging at a hole. He should have sprung upon it at once, but he hesitated. Then the earthy one started up and ran off, disappearing with a final hop into an adjacent bush.
In the bush sat a young starling with broken wing, enjoying the view, and under the impression that it had reached safety at last.
Not many days before it had slipped out of its nest; the down of childhood still lingered on its body. What a long, long time it had already lived, thought the little fellow I
How it had wonderingly stared out of the nest, peeping through the branches after its mother as she flew away in search of food! . . .
With what a shiver of dread it had, one fine morning for the first time in its life, set foot upon the ground! . . . There was something about the ground which frightened it dreadfully; true, the earth could not run and jump, but nevertheless the little bird didn't feel at all safe there. It longed to go aloft— aloft and flying!
The first minor difficulties were soon overcome. It learnt to glide through the air from branch to branch. Then suddenly it found itself really flying, able to turn and twist and sweep round in curves, to swerve upwards in spirals and suddenly turn and corkscrew down again. It had become master of its destiny —the world was big and the earth beautiful, for real life had begun.
Then one day it had flown into the farmer's kitchen garden, which twinkled with flowers strawberry season. There came a shot!
Something queer happened: all at once, after a loud noise, it found itself unable to rise and fly aloft; it could only hop clumsily in the air.
It ran and ran, tearing away in the direction of the long-drawn whistle of terror which the other birds uttered as they flew away. Now it sat quite still under the bush, awaiting the inevitable doom which comes to every crippled bird.
For days it had hopped about, getting farther and farther out into the field. . . .
Big-kitten made very short work of it; his victim sat waiting as if put there for him by the Creator. To capture it was child's play.
Thus did the world with its colours and sounds vanish from the consciousness of the little brown starling. . . . Sharp teeth buried themselves in its neck and greedy lips sucked its blood.
THE CONQUEROR Big-kitten would not devour his booty on the spot. In addition to being a great hunter, he was very fond of bragging of his exploits. He started, therefore, on the return journey at once, in order to display his booty outside the cat borough.
Forward through the green grass he treads, slowly and carefully. His white forepaws appear first ... as if feeling their way; then follow the round head, plump body, and gently swishing tail. His jaws seem enormous, and his neck looks swollen—but this is because he is carrying the bird in his mouth.
He grips it by the middle; head and neck dangle down on one side, legs and tail stick out on the other; while along the ground drag its limp wings, on which his forepaws keep treading and delaying his progress. . . .
Presently he puts his burden down for a breathing-space—now he picks it up again; his hairless little red nose-tip flattens out, and his yellow, slanting eyes close viciously as he crunches it in his teeth.
As it happens, none of the others are outside the hole when he arrives, so that he receives no immediate applause; he therefore begins to run about miauwing, which soon fetches out the whole band. They shall view him as conqueror!
With the young starling dangling from his jaws and his tail hoisted proudly he swaggers in among them. He twitches a wing tan-talizingly under their noses, making them snap jealously at it. At last he lies down and devours his booty with exasperating calmness and deliberation.
However, the young starling is more than he can manage at one sitting, and when he is satisfied he begins to play with the remains.
Unfortunately, of course, it is dead; but he does everything possible to make it seem alive!
He takes it between his forepaws and casts it high in the air, then catches it with a deep, savage growl. He puts it in front of him and gives it a push, causing it to jerk forward. This stimulates his imagination enormously; he thinks the bird is about to escape, and quickly thrusts his claws into it.
Again, with rapid touches of his paws he brushes the starling towards him, at the same time jumping back quickly—and now in his haste he rolls over backwards and lies there, juggling ecstatically with the dead bird.
Surrounding him, but hidden behind stone and hillock, his brothers and sisters, with ears stiff and whiskers quivering, wait and watch . . . perhaps a miracle will happen and the bird fly towards one of them. . . .
Just then a sea-gull comes sweeping past the mound, and, startled at seeing the kitten flock just beneath it, drops a jet of white, which hits the victor on the forehead and nose. . . .
Big makes a leap upwards at the sharp-shooter, and afterwards, feeling the need of a good wash, forgets for a time all about the starling.
When he returns it has vanished! Tiny sits with a most innocent expression on his face, and Red had a feather in his whiskers!
He ought really to have trounced the two impudent brutes; but it was beneath his dig-nity—besides, he was full to the brim. He could go out into the field and catch another one if he liked—he was quite certain he could!