This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
THE late autumn showers were beginning. . . . Heavy, violet-blue clouds swollen with moisture drifted about —and often two rainbows stood simultaneously one behind the other in the sky.
Grey Puss could no longer forage in the fields—it was wet and muddy everywhere.
The wretched wild bees, whose earth-hive she had dug up, hastened to cover their remnants of honey with layers of moss. . . .
The chirp of grasshoppers and the buzzing of mosquitoes no longer filled the night air; unquiet and discomfort reigned in their stead. The cows mooed for shelter and the young cattle coughed and sneezed with cold —whilst the bulls in the meadows boomed deeply and mournfully.
The fields became more and more deserted, and the ditches and hedges more muddy and bare; only the shelter in the lee of the rising stacks grew and grew.
Mice were also scarce! The lucky ones had completed the miraculous journey with the wagon, hidden in the middle of the sheaves, after having successfully evaded the eagerly sniffing noses of the farm dogs. The others were now emigrating towards the big "human" dwellings. . . . They scented the warm, heavy odour from the stacks and followed in the wake of the corn.
And Grey Puss followed in the wake of the mice; and came each evening a little nearer to the farm . . . the dear old farm with its dry beams and warm, quiet barns.
She longs to move among the cobwebs in the loft once more, to hear the everlasting rushing of the wind through its thatch. Most of all she thinks of the pot-bellied, piebald tomcat, whose drawling, wailing love-song seems to her irresistibly alluring. With every day that passes she seems to hear his pleading voice more and more plainly, and she sees him in her mind's eye with his restless, swinging tail and his wild, burning eyes. ...
One October evening, when all colours have withered from the marshes and the deep, black shadows along the tufted banks make the water gleam still more brightly, Grey Puss slinks home through the fields towards Hill Farm.
All day the long waggons have rocked their loads of yellow turnips along to the shelter of the poplars, where the turnip-heaps grow in size and number.
She watches the tame cats sit in ambush at the foot of the stacks. They have only to sit there and doze, and the mice, which are not yet accustomed to their elevated residence, will tumble down on their heads.
Listen! The children are singing in the farm. . . . "Three blind mice; see how they run." . . . Dear little children, who used so often to play with her when she was a tiny kitten in the house, and give her sweet milk to drink!
But now the dog is barking ... a new Box probably—one she has not yet seen. And clogs clatter suddenly on the bridge—no, no, she can not, she dare not—she must go out to the fields again. . . .
But she longs . . .
In the turf-house loft, as well as in the burial-mound, and down in the willow bole— where she has also paid a visit—all is cold and lonely and full of damp and discomfort.
She longs for the spacious, broken-down farm loft, where the moss-covered thatch clings to the broad, low chimney-stacks; where the clay-lined walls are warping and the small-paned windows hang askew.
There is her real home, the home of her race. ...
The new farm-buildings, where bricks replace clay and wood, don't attract her; they are much too cold, and too clean! No; where there are hatchways instead of doors, hooks instead of locks, pegs and staples instead of keys, that is where she feels at home. She can always be relied upon to find her way in through some split in the roof, some air-hole in the wall. . . .
And the "cunning ones"? Oh, perhaps it would not be so bad to live among them again, after all!
Yet another week she hesitates on the threshold—then one afternoon her longing for the room, with all its sweet memories of kittenhood, overwhelms her. . . .
A storm raged over the fields! It swept hissing along the shaggy ditches and writhed screaming and whistling through hedge and fence.
At one moment whitish-grey, swollen masses of cloud came pouring like a flood of liquid lead across the sky, to fling down a shower of seething rain ... at another the clouds split and parted, and the sun created heaven out of chaos: a strip of blue appeared, a stream of dazzling light—and the earth broke into a smile of joy!
For one short minute the farm's white gables and moss-green roofs with their frame of yellow poplar-tops sprang into life and colour. . . .
Then the picture broke, shattered into a thousand fragments; the white gable, the whole farm, sank into the ground—and once more the rain fell in torrents.
A storm raged over the fields; all creatures fled for shelter—and Grey Puss had to hie her to the willow bole.
She shivered as she sat there with eyes half-closed and tail curled round her paws. . . . She was day-dreaming: it is early spring, and she lies in the shelter of the kitchen garden, sunning herself and rolling to and fro on the warm ground. Suddenly her old prize-fighter is sitting before her! She goes crazy with delight, and rolls with still greater abandon from side to side on her back.
He sits before her ready to spring. . . .
A new, violent shower drummed on the old willow bole's withered bark and tore her from her dreams. Wet spray from the raindrops splashed in her eyes. . . .
She had never been a mother to kittens . . . she had never had a grudge against the "cunning ones!" She thus deadens her conscience, for she is drawn irresistibly to the place where she was born and a the shelter of the stall, the barn, or at a pinch, the roof.
That evening a red, flaming shaft of sunlight pierces the ragged horizon. Long, black wisps of cloud hang across the heavens and draw a veil over the frost-moon's cold, curved sickle.
At midnight she makes her return to the farm, following the familiar path over the pigsty roof, through the trap-door, and up into the loft over the cow-stall. She feels the warm air enfold her; the sweet, delicious odour of hay and fresh, dry straw meets her nostrils. The soothing chewing of the cows sounds beneath her. . . .
There comes a rustling in the straw—and the multicoloured he-cat steps forward and greets her with every sign of delight. He springs towards her and strokes his cheek lovingly along her side right from her neck to her tail. . . . She is welcome to the farm; she is home
As she gazes at him, it seems suddenly as if the whole kitten flock is standing before her.
She sees them all in him: Black's temper, Tiny's fur, Big's strength, and White's cunning. Like Grey, he is patient and shrewd; and fully as reckless, if not so active, as Red.
"Auw-auw . . . ooh . . . uuh!"
And she fell in love with him once more— the dear, old spotted darling I