This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
The kittens are now compelled more and more to find their own food; and in consequence are often reduced to a very meagre diet. Maybugs, grasshoppers, and snails float about inside each of them!
Occasionally, however, the old cat gathers her flock around her.
When she has made an exceptionally big catch, which she herself cannot eat up, she miauws them together for a great banquet. They behave in exactly the same way as when they were small kittens: each of them grabs a lump, and sits down gnawing it, always on the alert, growling, scowling, and spitting— and, if necessary, fighting.
Black, especially, has developed extensively in the matter of quarrelsomeness—and he is now the terror of his brothers and sisters on account of his strength and brutality. He deprives both Grey and Red mercilessly of their portions; he is not even afraid of letting Big's back make the acquaintance of his claws; which results as a rule in that portion, also, dropping from its rightful owner's jaws.
And if his claws do not suffice, his strong, pointed teeth are brought into play, and infal-libly succeed in convincing his victim that part of the spoil is not what he is after; he wants the lot!
Naturally, everyone protests—and as a rule Big springs at his throat; but when it is a question of fighting, Black is all there. He bites hard, and has a habit of following it up at once with a second bite, if the first does not take immediate effect.
As a result, he can take whatever liberties he chooses! One never knows what he will do next: he tackles things which no ordinary cat would dream of attempting; all his brothers and sisters, except Tiny, fight shy of him. . . . As soon as they see him they shriek out "Fiew!" And "fiew" is the cat language for "madness."
Every morning and evening he takes his usual walk. Unseen and unheard, he approaches his quarry, and before the luckless mouse or bird dreams he is near, he is upon it with a spring. He never plays with his victim, but disposes of it at once. Not until late in the morning does he return home, for he never goes to rest except on a full stomach.
Just as Big is the scourge of all birds living in the field, so is Black the scourge of all those living in hedge or wood. He wanders from tree to tree, and not even the densest thicket can resist his progress. He glides through the thorny, jealous heart of a hawthorn copse like a panther, insensate and invulnerable. Tears in skin or snout please him and urge him to greater efforts; it is as if his body cannot feel pain. Black as the branch itself, he lies stretched at full length, searching out the little birds' homes—-and once he catches a glimpse of wings settling in hiding-place or treetop, he never rests satisfied until he has made closer, thorough investigation.
But the old crow defies his strength and skill. It plays him all manner of tricks, and uses every imaginable opportunity to bespatter him with the foulest language.
One day it added to these an unspeakable insult!
It is early dawn. . . . All the birds are still half asleep, and flutter clumsily as they flee from his path. Even the lark makes such a din in rising that Black gives quite a jump.
He arrives with a young rat in his mouth at the entrance of the village wood, when suddenly his old enemy the crow attacks him in his usual unexpected, disconcerting manner.
He drops the rat for a moment and makes a foolhardy dash at the bird; but it merely spreads its wings and, floating leisurely side-ways a short distance, settles on a big stone. . . .
He would just run over there and shift the ugly devil!
His temper begins to get the better of him and he becomes more and more foolhardy; the rat must look after itself for a bit, while he gives that beast a real scare for once in its life! He races like a mad thing after the bird, from grass tuft to mound, from stone to stone—and when the cunning old crow has tempted the inexperienced hot-head far enough away, it flaps back over his head and bags the spoil of war.
That was a surprise; nay, more, an event unparalleled in the black cynic's whole experience! His back rises and his hair stands on end with fury; but it does not bring back the young rat from the air.
Nevertheless, in spite of all, he felt very proud of himself. Big-cat could catch birds and Grey could catch mice; but he could catch rats. . . .
His short, strong jaws could inflict a terrible bite—and his teeth gradually became his most formidable weapon. It seemed almost as if there were weasel's blood in him, so quickly did he fix in his teeth; and he employed just the animal's tactics: spring and bite—and then back out of reach again.
As soon as he found that rats had teeth, he began to use this method of attack regularly.
Grey Puss often sat looking doubtfully at him. . . . No, she was sure he was not quite cat-normal in the head!