This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
SHE came to a mound which rose, peaceful and untrodden, in the middle of the field. On every side of it corn was growing, but the mound itself was green with grass and smothered in wild flowers: sorrel and heather grew side by side with the bright yellow calyx of the dandelion. A border of blackthorn wreathed the base of the mound, and a pair of great moss-covered boulders crowned the top.
Grey Puss sat down on one of the stones and stared out disconsolately over the landscape, whose colours were just retiring for their nightly rest.
Half unconsciously she began to scratch among some tufts of grass and dried leaves which covered a depression in the turf; they came away very easily. She noticed how quickly she delved deeper and deeper down.
She became thoroughly interested. . . .
She had happened upon an old, thinly-covered fox-hole, and when at last she had cleared the entrance, a narrow spiral passage lay open before her. She was accustomed to darkness; and happy at the possibility of finding a new home for her kittens, she bravely entered the opening.
After a short distance the tunnel made an abrupt turn, continued downwards in a curve over some enormous boulders—and then plunged straight into the vault.
Huge boulders with half-hewn surfaces stood as if growing from the ground. Above them were others of a similar kind, the walls continuing in an unbroken curve until they met at the top, thus forming the solid vaulted roof of the sepulchre. In the splits were wedged smaller stones, the whole making a small square chamber.
Had body-snatchers at some time desecrated this grave? Or perhaps some lawful visitor on his departure centuries before had neglected to close it properly behind him! In either case one of the corner stones was displaced; so much so that a fox had continued his burrow right into the very burial-chamber. A gruesome place of death even for a cat to happen upon!
A weird, vicious, humming noise greeted her the moment she thrust in her nose ... a fluttering of something that was, and yet was not, surrounded her and filled her ears, nose, and mouth, making her cough and spit.
Had she been a human being she would have been horrified, and imagined it to be the ghost of the dead sounding her doom for disturbing its peace; but she was only a cat, and knew nothing of the beyond.
As she jumped down into the vault, and in so doing brushed the wall with her tail, the din about her head reached its climax: hundreds of mosquitoes and bats inhabiting the grave protested vigorously against her entrance.
She stood for a moment undecided, taking stock of her surroundings. . . .
The floor was firm, and as hard and uneven as a threshing-floor. A hollow echo vibrated through the air at her every movement, the hissing of her breath or the grating of her claws.
Just before the sun went down, a thin ray of light filtered through a crevice in the stones opposite the tunnel. Thousands of tiny points of light, the watchful eyes of the denizens of the tomb, leaped into being.
Otherwise the shadows prevailed, and were only conquered little by little by her piercing glance. Later she distinguished fragments of bones and skulls on the ground, and saw supine toads fumbling their way along the walls.
In some inexplicable manner a heap of elm leaves had found their way into one of the corners; they crackled and shrieked "Halt!" when she trod on them, but promised, nevertheless, a warm and dry couch.
The conditions were acceptable—besides, there was no alternative! As soon, therefore, as she had remained there long enough to feel at ease, she made her decision.
Here in the old viking's tomb she made her home. On the leaves and fragments of straw she dropped her kittens, fetching them one by one from their various hiding-places in furrows and behind stones, where she had been forced to harbour them in her headlong flight from the old willow stump.