Kittenhood, the baby time especially of country cats, is with most the brightest, sprightliest, and prettiest period of their existence, and perhaps the most happy. True, when first born and in the earliest era of their lives, they are blind, helpless little things, dull, weak, and staggering, scarcely able to stand, if at all, almost rolling over at every attempt, making querulous, fretful noises, if wakeful or cold, or for the time motherless. But 'tis not for long; awhile, and she, the fondest of mothers, is with them. They are nestled about her, or amid her soft, warm fluffy fur, cossetted with parental tenderness, caressed, nurtured, and, with low, sweet tones and fondlings, they are soothed again and again to sleep. - They sleep. - Noiseless, and with many a longing, lingering look, the careful, watchful, loving creature slowly and reluctantly steals away; soon to return, when she and her little ones are lost "in the land of dreams." And so from day to day, until bright, meek-eyed, innocent, inquiring little faces, with eager eyes, peep above the basket that is yet their home.
One bolder than the others springs out, when, scared at its own audacity, as quickly, and oft clumsily, scrambles back, then out - in - and out, in happy, varied, wild, frolicsome, gambolsome play, they clutch, twist, turn, and wrestle in artless mimicry of desperate quarrelling; - the struggle over, in liveliest antics they chase and rechase in turn, or in fantastic mood play; 'tis but play, and such wondrous play - bright, joyous, and light; and so life glides on with them as kittens - frisky, skittish, playful kittens.
A few more days, and their mother leads them forth, with many an anxious look and turn, softly calling in a subdued voice, they halting almost at every step; suddenly, oft at nothing, panic-stricken, quickly scamper back, not one yet daring to follow where all is so oddly strange and new, their natural shyness being stronger than the love of freedom. Again, with scared look and timid steps, they come, when again at nothing frightened, or with infantile pretence, they are off, " helter-skelter," without a pause or stay, one and all, they o'er and into their basket clamber, tumble in, turn about and stare with a more than half-bewildered, self-satisfied safety look about them. Gaining courage once more, they peer about, with dreamy, startled, anxious eyes, watching for dangers that never are, although expected. Noiseless comes their patient, loving mother; with what new delight they cling about her; how fondly and tenderly she tends them, lures, cossets, coaxes, and talks, as only a gentle mother-cat can - "There is no danger, no! - nothing to fear. Is she not with them; will she not guard, keep and defend them? There is a paradise out there; through this door; they must see it.
Come, she will show them; come, have confidence! Now, then - come!" When followed by her three little ones, and they with much misgiving, she passes out - out into the garden, out among the lovely, blooming, fragrant roses, out among the sweet stocks and the damask-coloured gilly-flowers, the pink daisies, brown, red, and orange wallflowers, the spice-scented pinks, and other gay and modest floral beauties that make so sweet the soft and balmy breath of Spring. Out into the sunshine, almost dazed amid a flood of light, warmed by the glowing midday sun. Light above, light around and everywhere about; while the sweet-scented breezes come joy-laden with the happy wild birds' melodious songs; wearied with wonderment, under the flower-crowned lilacs they gather themselves to rest. How beautiful all is, how full of young delights; the odorous wind fans, soothes, and lulls them to rest, while rustling leaves softly whisper them to sleep - they and their loving mother slumber unconscious of all things, and with all things at peace.
There, stretched in the warm sunshine asleep, possibly dreaming of their after-life when they are kittens no longer, they rest and - sleep.
Their young, bright life has begun; how charming all is, how peaceful under the young, green leaves, bright as emeralds; about them flickering, chequering lights play with the never-wearying, restless shadows; they know of nothing but bliss, so happy, they enjoy all - sweet-faced, gentle-eyed and pretty. Happy, there is no other word. "Happy as a kitten." "Sprightly as a kitten." As they sleep they dream of delight, awake they more than realise their dreams.