This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
Whatever doubt there may have been as to Tiny's being a sly puss, it was quite certain that Red-kitten was a deceitful hussy!
Her coat alone stamped her as a mountebank, being fox-red in colour, with bright yellow stripes which turned to rings round her legs and tail.
Her body also was unique, being long, thin, and supple, and gave as she walked, like a freshly stuffed sofa.
She had a mania for stretching herself, as if she could not get her body slim and supple enough. None could compare with her in activity; she was incessantly playing tricks on the others—and when they attacked her she could easily wriggle out of their clutches, even Black and Big being unable to hold her.
A gymnast, a juggler, was Red!
In addition to her bodily virtues she had tall, slim legs, which, when necessary, enabled her to escape from the swiftest opponent by sheer speed.
She was still quite young when Box one day surprised her in the middle of the field; but, thanks to her speed, she saved herself at the last moment by scrambling up on a straw thatch, her mouth extended and the water running down her red tongue. Had there been a man on the scene he would have said that it was the first time he had seen a cat sweat!
Her cunning, flame-coloured eyes are seldom really open; she usually goes about with them screwed up, as if desiring to conceal their lowering, deceitful glance.
She is always to be seen sneaking round stones and molehills, and likes jumping out suddenly and unexpectedly. When the others play puss-in-the-corner, she prefers to lie in ambush and spring upon the nearest from behind, knock him down, and maul him about.
She beats all the others in cunning, and they do not like her to be near when they are eating; they know from experience her extraordinary skill in stealing.
On the day Mother Grey Puss brought home the herrings, each kitten was apportioned a lump of the delicious food. Big, who had received the head, sat a little apart from the others, nibbling it thoughtfully.
There was still a piece of the jaw left; it lay just in front of him, as with closed eyes he swallowed blissfully a tasty mouthful. When he opened his eyes again the herring jaw was no longer there—and a red tail-tip vanished silently behind the nearest boulder.
Nature, as a rule, equips each of her creatures generously with at least one special talent; and, provided only it uses that talent, the struggle for life is an easy one.
And Red's talent was—thieving!
One can never take her by surprise: she possesses extraordinary decision of character, coupled with extreme cautiousness; and she never resorts to force until her prey is at her mercy. Her daily struggle for food and her constant intercourse with her talented brothers, whose highly specialized skill in trapping was so much superior to her own, have developed her inbred tendency to steal, whenever her special characteristics make it possible.
She is an expert at starting a quarrel when the others sit devouring their spoil; and while they fight, she fishes in troubled waters. She hunts indeed, but after her own fashion; and most of her spoil is second-hand!
Her sympathies are unstable; she lacks personality! Sometimes she helps Black against Big, at others Grey against Black; being always on the side of the one who owns nothing against the one who has for the moment something to steal. . . . She is in favour of common ownership, and is the red communist of the litter!
But she is an adept at dissembling; she is not only a great juggler, but also a great hypocrite . . . her tail betrays this, for in the most exciting moments it is as stiff as a poker!
In the long run, however, the narrow bounds of catborough do not offer sufficient scope for her predatory instincts, and she is compelled to eke out her spoils. When Big, Black, and Grey, with White and Tiny in tow, slink out in the gloaming over field and meadow and follow the twisting, irregular paths of the village copse, Red lounges through the field until she meets a human track.
Experience has taught her that such a track usually leads to a place where there is something to be picked up . . . some cast-away food-paper or other, which, on investigation, often proves to contain tasty morsels, such as herring-bones, cheese-rind, or scraps of fat.
Sometimes, also, an old wooden clog or a pair of cast-off stockings lie on the ground near by, but they appeal to her less, and serve only to increase her faith in human footsteps.
But it happens, too, that the tracks lead to dainties such as would make even gourmands like Big and Black turn blue in the face with envy!
The errand boys of the neighbourhood are very keen on wandering round the hedges for birds' nests—not to destroy them, but merely to feel the thrill of peeping at the eggs. Red, aided by her cunning and her deductive faculties, finds every single one of these nests!
On one occasion she raided a lark's nest. All night long she had followed a human "spoor," which led over grass and clover and turnips. At a certain place the track stopped and turned off abruptly towards a clump of white marguerites.
Three nights in succession she came across the same lonely track, and found it stop on each occasion exactly at this place. And yet there was nothing there; that was peculiar!
She examined the immediate surroundings even more thoroughly, poked her nose in the steaming scent-waves—where human foot stood long in one place, the scent was warm; she knew that well enough!
At this a bird sprang up. She thrust her teeth into the nest and lapped down the nearly full-grown young greedily. . . .
She had been right after all; food always flowed where human footsteps trod!