This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
As soon as the after-dinner siesta was at an end, Grey Puss, contrary to custom, called her kittens together with soft, alluring miauws, and took them for the first time along the secret, winding path she had trodden through the corn.
In the baking sunshine, while the country-side was enjoying its Sabbath-day's rest from toil, she led them out to a large, sweet-smelling haystack. Farther they were not allowed to follow her.
She placed them in a hollow, which she made deep and roomy, at the foot of the stack. It was as if she understood that they needed to see something fresh and for a time get right away from their gloomy grave-home. They spent the afternoon lying together in the sweet yielding hay. . . . Presently the babies fell asleep, and Grey Puss stole away.
Oh, the luxury of lying at rest on a summer day, dozing in the soft, warm breeze as it sighs between hill and dale; to escape for once from one's tail and the never-ceasing crawling of one's paws; to float body and soul along a broad, shining river of light and not know a single want or care!
The whisper of the reeds from the pond, the song of the larks from the heavens, the whistle of the wild chervil stems, and the rustle of the osier leaves, unite in a hymn of peace, caressing and soothing the slumberers' ears—until the booming of a passing bee calls them back to consciousness for two long, drowsy seconds. . . .
"Ears—must you hear? Eyes—must you see? Nose—must you smell?"
"No, no—just rest, slumber, sleep. . . ."
The fluff of the dandelion floats slowly past; over them chases the swift, scythe-winged swallow; while the lark's eternal, monotonous song slowly mends the thread broken by the kittens when they fell asleep.
They wake; glide imperceptibly from the far into the near; yawn and stretch each limb; and finally open their eyes, saturated with the sweetness of that kind of repose which urges instant action.
The heat of the sun toasts them until their fur sparkles. . . . They get up and look at once for something to do.
Not far from the stack was a large liquid-manure well with a rotten, worm-eaten lid.
In places the lid dipped dangerously; it was a wretched bridge over a dangerous well —but it could bear a little kitten's weight, surely?
Plies gathered in masses on the sun-baked lid, forming black, restless shadows on its tarred-felt covering. Big-kitten saw at once that they offered sport. And he soon found it just as nice to eat them as it was exciting to catch them.
He had not been at it long before the others followed suit. But no one could compete with him in accuracy; he displayed at once the master hand. ...
Sitting quietly on his tail, he brought down his paw with unerring accuracy, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, upon every fly that ventured within range.
White, wishing to emulate his performance, came and sat beside him; but before very long had to acknowledge that the new game was more difficult than it appeared.
She then tried crawling on her belly in pursuit of the restless creatures, and managed indeed to approach quite near to them; but each time she made her spring they flew away too soon.
Grey and Red were more fortunate. Each one took up a position on the lid, and with raised paw waited until the fly of its own accord came within striking distance. In this way they managed to catch a few flies, but far from all; Red was especially erratic, and missed two or three shots out of every four.
Black, on the other hand, after a little practise, proved himself an excellent shot; but, unhappily, he struck with such violence that the victim was smashed into a black spot, the edible fragments of which were buried in the tar.
Fly-catching did not interest Tiny. He hopped and jumped in happy ignorance on the yielding well-cover, playing prettily with his own tail. He also derived much pleasure from a rickety old hoisting-apparatus, climbing gaily up and down the disused pump-spear.
Round the rotten cover grew a border of sweet-smelling wild camomile, in the midst of which stuck up a few stray blades of rye. An occasional bee or butterfly, attracted by the scent, settled on the odorous blooms.
When a little pearl-winged "Blue-bird" appeared dancing above them, the kittens all deserted their fly-catching and with one accord sprang high in the air after it.
On this occasion Black disappeared abruptly and mysteriously into the bowels of the earth! A little dust from the broken board rose in the air behind him.
The others continued the chase, and Big-kitten succeeded in capturing the butterfly; he was lucky enough to clap his paws upon it as he clutched wildly in the air. In the silence following the capture, it was carefully and thoroughly investigated. The wings came off, and the body came in two . . . and Big, in his scientific ardour, even tried to find out what was inside!
They missed Black occasionally; but after all, there was plenty without him!
Exhausted with fly- and butterfly-catching, the children lie down on the lid and rest in the sun, listening with puzzled frowns to a new and strange sound which comes from beneath them. It sounds like a toad splashing through wet grass in the rain. . . .
Black-kitten paddles round in the filthy liquid manure. He has not the slightest notion of what it is he is treading in; but he uses his legs vigorously, for otherwise his nose complains that it lacks air. He has several times reached the walls and sought vainly to escape; but now luckily he stumbles against the wooden pump, the wood of which offers a better surface for his claws than the hard, unyielding bricks.
He pulls himself up out of the cesspool and climbs towards the streak of light, until he reaches a cross-piece, where he is able to snatch a breathing-space. He whimpers and miauws, summons up strength, and climbs farther—and as there is ample space between pump and lid, owing to the straw that once supported the pump in the hole having almost rotted away, he suddenly dumbfounds his callous relatives by pushing up his head into their midst.
It is the only part of-him which is still at all recognizable: the rest of his black fur has become quite brown! He looks like a chocolate cat—but he smells otherwise! His brothers and sisters shrink back from him, and spit and hiss as if he were a stranger.
When Grey Puss later on miauwed herself into view with a captured mouse and warm milk, he was at last declared genuine, and in addition enfolded in her arms. But Big shirked his washing duties that afternoon! He licked his mother, it is true, but only on the neck and in the ears; no one else received attention from his lavish tongue.
The clever little cat-mother, realized quite well what had happened, and at once shifted her family from their dangerous summer-house back to their old home. Well satisfied with the security of the burial-mound, she left her children clustered round the giant stones enjoying the sunset, while she herself curled up in the entrance hole and fell asleep.