This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
ON the top of the mound the kittens are playing, in and out among the old tombstones.
The sun has risen. It shines in long, golden stripes on the stones and lights up the deep, gloomy sepulchre; pools of water glisten, and fields and meadows are already green-white with light.
Big sits on his haunches with a clover stem in his claws. He looks as if he is studying the flower, while at the same time he nips off the leaves one by one with his sharp little teeth. The others watch him, gaping with astonishment.
Suddenly he throws the stalk away and leaps over the heads of the others. . . . One of the granite stones at that moment reflects the sun and attracts his attention; he can never look at a stone without at once making a dash to reach the other side of it and hide. His disappearance is so provoking that a couple of the others cannot resist jumping up and joining in the game.
They gallop after him, and now they play hide-and-seek round the stones, until Big takes advantage of his long start and climbs into an old empty pail in an adjacent thicket. His playmates run about all over the place looking for him. . . .
Shortly afterwards the jester's white socks peep over the edge of the pail; a pair of yellow-grey ear-tips follow—and now springs into sight a happy, laughing cat-face!
Black's claws begin to itch; he wants very much to play, but in his own manner. He has been up to the clover stem and smelt it carefully; he has also taken it between his paws, but thrown it away contemptuously. A plant stem, a mere flower, seems to him quite useless; a thistle, on the contrary, which pricks his nose when he smells it is much more exciting. He can at any rate get angry with it.
Suddenly he sees Red and Big engaged in an angry wrestling match, while White and Grey stalk them from opposite sides.
With a spring he is upon them; flings himself first upon White, turns her head over heels, and then falls upon Grey. In a furry, fighting ball they roll over and over down the hill. . . .
Grey gets on top, and Black suddenly realizes that he is getting the worst of things. He at once brings his hind legs into play and claws his adversary's stomach and nose mercilessly—in real earnest with naked claws!
Grey wails miserably, and at the sound the whole flock comes rushing forward with joyous recklessness. But Black does not wait for the assault; with doubled-up body and curved tail, he stalks sideways towards them. They expect him to jump, but instead he sticks his claws right into their eyes.
But the battle is too unequal; Black has to retreat hurriedly. He flees to the top of a small aspen, creeps out along one of its upper branches, and from there jumps into the hawthorn thicket encircling the base of the hill. He does not stop even there, but continues his flight through the thicket all the way round the hill. Every thorn that pricks him teases him and fills him with delight. He crawls from branch to branch like a great black caterpillar, while the others, who have long since forgotten all about him, go on with their game.
The rays of the morning sun sweep gleaming over the fields; the barley shines like spun silk, the oats like molten silver, while lake and pond and pit lie like mirrors. The buzzing of flies and the humming of bees rise incessantly into the hot, motionless air; above the burial mound the gnats dance in a swarm. The air is filled with sounds: the sweet trilling of the larks; the snorting of the harnessed horse from the road; the bleating of calves and the rattling of pails from the distant farm. . . .
A halt has been called in the game; the tired kittens are resting. . . . Grey and Red, who had got the worst knocks, sulk together with their tails encircling their little round behinds.
Then Big Puss gets up. . . . The others half raise their sleepy eyelids; what on earth is he going to do now?
With the side of his paw he begins softly patting a little lump on the ground; the loose mould slides forward and the bump collapses.
At this he goes suddenly mad with excitement. Holding his forepaws stiffly in front of him, he leaps forward, like a monkey on a stick, in a series of jumps, at each plunge pushing up a little mouse-grey cushion of sand, which he simultaneously flings behind him with the backward sweep of his paws.
His brothers and sisters are now thoroughly roused; their eyes, which but a short time before were dull and bored, shine eagerly, their curled-up backs straighten out, and their paws are held stick-like in front of them, ready for the new, fascinating game.
He really is an Edison-cat, is Big Puss! There they had all been sitting bored to death, and now . . . now he comes and makes grey mice spring up out of the ground and then disappear again! They must try the new game at once. ...
The next moment the six little splashes of colour are again rushing round like mad. . . . Even Black has jumped down from his branch to the ground, where he is soon busily engaged in crouching and leaping, creating and destroying the new little, maddening, earth-born mice. A splendid game for little pussy-cats!
The midday sun pours its hot breath down upon the earth; the air quivers out there above the fields as if boiling. The sand and stones are burning hot. . . .
But the grass shines smilingly back at the sun, and the rye bursts into flower.
The kittens lift their heads as they hear a rustling in the corn: along the secret path which has gradually formed itself, Grey Puss returns home with her catch.
Not chicken for dinner to-day, but—herring! The fishmonger's cart upset last night at the turn of the road, and dropped a box of splendid fresh herrings. Grey Puss, who had stuffed herself to bursting-point on the spot and dug down half a score besides, appears now with a couple hanging out of her mouth.
At first this new kind of food is greeted with contempt; it is cold and slimy—and doesn't smell! But when the mother starts munching, the young ones soon follow her example, and join in the feast.
Delicious food! After the first taste each of them grabs a big lump; even Tiny, who has never taken kindly to solid diet, displays unusual eagerness. He devours not only his own share, but in addition, is foolhardy enough to covet some of Black's.
Then, for the first time in his sheltered life, the little kitten sees the furious, grinning face, and the flattened, pressed-back ears, of an angry cat. And when, in spite of these, he continues innocently to reach in under the head, and is even lucky enough to pull out a piece of herring, down flashes a vicious fore-paw, and he feels the scratch of a sharp, curved claw upon his tender nose.
Tears of pain spring to his eyes as he recoils, mewing piteously; while Black resumes his meal, emitting at intervals weird, muffled noises like threatening thunder.