This chapter is from the "Kittens: A Family Chronicle" book, by Svend Fleuron.
Grey Puss' milk tasted sour for a whole day following the adventure; she was frightfully restless and upset Several of the young ones had wounds and had to be licked. Time after time she ran her glance over the small, rolled-up patches of colour; greedily her eyes de-voured each little furry coat; but it was with no trace of the sweetness of recollection or the joy of recognition.
Were they all there . . . all? Their villain of a father she had already forgotten; not until she was giving suck did she become suddenly nervous. She felt that one of the swollen udders remained swollen, and now she nuzzled with her nose along the row. Big, Red, White, Grey . . . yes, she found them all! But where was the little piebald one? . . .
The kittens buried their noses deep in her fur to get a good hold of the small, sprouting milk-springs. All was quiet inside the willow trunk; only now and again was heard the sucking of the eager little lips. . . .
Yes, to be sure, she missed a colour . . . missed just that one which—in spite of all— she unconsciously preferred to all the rest; that seemed made up of bits of colour from all the other colours. . . . Then suddenly a thin, feeble crying reached her ever-listening ears.
It seemed to her to come from under the willow bole. Perhaps there was a crevice in the nursery?
Cautiously getting up, she begins to scratch a little with her forepaws in the floor; but finds no hole.
She dismisses the thought that one of the young ones is really missing, and lies down again and resumes her maternal duties. For a time all is peace, and she abandons herself completely to the pleasure of being at the mercy of her kitten-flock, but again comes the faint cry for help. This time it is so heart-rending that she springs up, and then, half crouching, listens breathlessly.
"Mew, mew!" it tinkles to her from the distant depths. And now she begins to answer in anxious, encouraging tones, meanwhile pushing her snout among the young ones to count them. The tinkling from below upsets and worries her; but presently she stifles her anxiety by rolling right under the heap of kittens and congratulating herself that she has so many dear children safe and sound.
Meanwhile from his living tomb by the side of the dead blackbird, Tiny continues fog-hornlike, to emit at regular intervals his ceaseless signals for assistance. He has lain for a long time buried alive; but, accustomed as he is to having his brothers and sisters on top of him, the thin layer of moss and earth over him does not embarrass him particularly. Now he has recovered so much that he can not only squeal but wriggle also—a fact which serves to increase the air supply in his lungs, so that his weak cries gain momentarily in strength and resonance.
Suddenly the heap of earth is swept from him, and he hears his mother's soft voice right in his ear. Oh, what a stream of happiness flows through him! He stretches his tiny body towards the strong, comforting miauw, and like a freezing man making for the fire, he puts his wet, earth-cold head against the mother-cat's soft neck and feels her warm breath ripple over him.
Grey Puss' eyes shine green and evil; they speak plainly of surprise and emotion. She begins purring angrily, so that the young ones inside the tree lift their ears anxiously and wonder, "What's happening down there at
the foot of the tree?"
Tiny's wound is licked, and the mother prepares to return. He must be carried, of course. . . . and the problem is to find a hold which will not destroy the creature. She tries to grasp him by the scruff, but here he is so sore that time after time the attempt fails. Cautiously she presses her teeth into his back and shoulder; but cannot find a hold, although he seeks instinctively to help her by stiffening his body as she lifts.
However, it must be done somehow; there is not the slightest doubt that he is to be carried up! So she opens her mouth wide and puts her jaws round his neck. Then, disregarding his lively protests, she cautiously closes her mouth.
He becomes suddenly quite quiet. She needs all her presence of mind to judge how tightly she may grip him without making it his last journey.
He hangs there in his mother's jaws and closes his earth-clogged eyes, clutching her body tightly with his little legs. But he surrenders himself to her without complaint and without movement, bearing the pain in blind faith in her omnipotence.
In two jumps she reaches the top, slides down into the bole, and a moment later deposits him carefully on the ground among the others. A healing warmth envelops him— and, as the kittens are already satisfied, he secures an unusually large share of milk.