SEVEN STAGES IN THE LIFE OF A KITTEN
I. IT ARRIVES.
In the marketing-bag, one Saturday morning, there came upon
the scene a strange addition to the household. By favour of the dairyman at the corner, an introduction had been obtained to a family of cats. There was a grandmother, jet black with yellow eyes ; a mother, ditto ; a daughter and a son, ditto ; and yet another son, not ditto at all. He was grey, and in a family of black cats the grey one is not considered “quite right” for it isn’t the thing at all to be tabby-tinted ; it
is almost as bad as a kinked nose in a blue-blooded, high-nosed aristocracy, or as a straight nose among Kaffir kings. But when it came to the giving away of one of the five, and the future owners of the kitten insisted upon receiving a tabby and nothing but a tabby, then the value of this grey bit of fur rose in the eyes of three generations of black cats. And the children to whom the five belonged said shyly that they would rather give up a black one. It then appeared that though this tabby kitten was impudent beyond the ken of cats; though its pink nose and white pinafore and white shoes and stockings were often ruthlessly dipped in coal and worn begrimed till the kitten had finished all its games, and strengthened itself for a prospective washing by a long sleep, this tabby kitten had crept into the hearts of the children, and they gave it up somewhat sadly, cheered only by the suggestion that they should come and visit it in its new home.
Thereupon the grey kitten rode home in the marketing-bag.
II.— IT MAKES ITSELF AT HOME.
Two great round eyes and two gigantic ears looked over the top of the bag. “The ears are too long,” was the first impression. Then the kitten stood on the floor, solemnly inspecting this new quarter-deck. The legs were too long. The tail was too long. The neck was too long. Everything, in fact, was too long or too large, except the eyes that looked at you pathetically, innocently. The eyes were just right—clear, large, and dark ; and for the sake of the limbs and features that were too large, the kitten was affectionately welcomed, since in this world of ours the creatures, human and other-wise, whose outward perfections leave a good deal to be desired have more need than the rest of a little extra affection and admiration.
When the kitten had proved the thickness of the carpet by hooking ten sharp claws into it (the claws also were too long) it looked calmly, inquiringly round. Behind the pathos in those eyes there lay a whole world of thought for the comfort and convenience of No. 1. The fire prattling in the grate was an old acquaintance ; the baby went up to it, mounted the red and gold cushion in front of the fender, arched its back to show that it felt at home, and sat down. The poise of the head, at all events, was faultless. No Turveydrop of the kingdom of cats could have carried himself better. The pink nose was held haughtily high, despite the humiliating fact that the ears above it were like unto the ears of bats. “Here I am, here I stay, ” said the kitten's attitude. It blinked, polished (by way of washing) one little spot just above its right shoulder, drank all the milk it could get, and went to sleep.
III.—IT MAKES AN ENEMY
And it came to pass that while the new kitten dreamt its first dream of the splendours to come on a cushion of red and gold, the owner of that cushion, a lady cat of the name of Tommy, returned from an early luncheon party which she is in the habit of giving to herself in the kitchen. Tommy, being a lady of great method, proceeds after the daily event of luncheon into her drawing-room, there to repose and strengthen herself for further meals. The cushion was occupied. In the life history of Tommy, extending over six years of plenty, such a thing had never yet occurred. With outward calm — for noblesse oblige — but with a tail gradually thickening and taking on an unnatural twist, she approached her bed of state, smelt to the right of her, smelt to the left of her, singing, low down in her musical throat, a battle song in a deep bass voice. The kitten slept on.
Stronger measures must be employed, evidently. Tommy sang louder, in tenor, alto, soprano. She pushed her nose against the intruder ; she even went so far as to bite into the little white leg that was stretched out with such unbearable liberty. The kitten took no notice. Then Tommy, in a paroxysm of pride and fury, stepped on to the cushion, regardless of impediments, and sat sternly upon the sleeping baby. This roused the latter. The round eyes opened, the lazy limbs, gathered themselves together, the kitten sat up. What was it all about, this stir, and hustling, and concerting ? Tommy, majestic beyond expression, glowered with the evident intention of withering this thing with a glance. But withering had no effect. Hence, dignity go hang, thought the great Tommy, gave a vicious snarl, “spit ” like a fury, and thought the battle was won. It was nothing of the kind. The kitten, nothing loth, sat up undaunted, administered with its white velvet paw a box on Tommy’s genteel ears, and waited. The enormity of this offence was such that Tommy descended from her throne and departed. The kitten had made an enemy, a formidable one.
IV.-IT MAKES A FRIEND.
War was now declared. When the two met on the stairs, Tommy hissed and the kitten looked surprised, but quite ready to “come on. ” The food had to be administered in separate dishes, and at opposite ends of the kitchen. The space in front of the fire was divided, one side belonging to the kitten, while Tommy lorded it over the other, plus the red cushion. Tommy was in darksome mood ; the kitten unconcerned. An attempt at playing with Tommy’s restless tail having proved a signal failure, the kitten played with its own tail, and enjoyed itself visibly.
One day it invented a new game. Lying on its side, it clawed itself along round the four sides of the cushion, and this diversion proved so madly exciting that even the enemy, slowly baking in front of the fire, became absorbed, and, in spite of herself, interested. Tap ! went the dainty paw, as the kitten came by on its mad career, and tap ! tap ! tap ! the white baby paws gave back. As long as Tommy did not remember her dignity and enmity, the merry give and take went on. Then she growled and ran away, and the kitten flew round, round and round, with increased pride and absorption in its invention and with such grace and spirit that Tommy’s heart was softened again, and she let the baby play for one second with the tip of her fine tail. After that, as gradually and as awkwardly as two mere humans, the enemies approached each other, and before the kitten had been a fortnight in its new house it had become the darling of Tommy's heart, the pride of her eye, for the sake of whom she resumed infantile airs and graces, whom she washed and licked with out ceasing, and for whose presence she yowled and yammered all night long about the stairs and passages, while the kitten slept the sleep of babyhood in its round basket stuffed with some-thing soft and lined with clean flannel sheets.
V.-IT GOES EXPLORING.
With kittens, as with other things alive, it often happens that pleasures pall after a while. The fervour for the red cushion game abated presently. Then, suddenly, the kitten discovered that the room containing the much-quoted cushion held possibilities for other games, wilder, more enterprising. There was a flower-stand in front of one of the windows. The aspidistras formed a jungle, and in that jungle the kitten lived happily, browsing on the surrounding ferns till the heavy hand of the law was laid upon it, first in sorrow, and then, chastisingly, in anger. After many punishments the kitten, being only dense when density was convenient, left the aspidistras to their fate, and climbed the height of a black oak erection of ancient date, whereupon, encased in a Japanese bowl of purple and gold, stood yet another fern. Ferns being the kitten’s weakness, it ate away whatever tender fronds its teeth could reach. Slaps and ignominious evictions were as nothing compared to the intense joy of eating ferns. Hence, the fern was removed. Heigh-ho ! that was, of all things that could happen, the very best, from the distressful kitten’s point of view.
It went inside the bowl, turn¬ing round and round, as does the swallow when shaping the interior of its mud-nest with its tiny feet. A prettier Christmas card picture no one need desire than this, for which the kitten sitting in the Japanese bowl furnished the motif. The too-long ears and legs and tail and body had by this time assumed a much more suitable measure ; the kitten, in fact, was becoming a beauty. Its front, by reason of Tommy's motherly wash¬ings, was as white and soft as snow ; its eyes were just lovely, with their unnecessary and unnatural pathos ; its pink-tipped nose was couleur de rose ; its coat grew glossier every day, and still it poised its head high as a young princess. The dawn of the Golden Age was spreading over the kitten’s horizon.
VI —IT DEVELOPS TASTES.
A great and almost gigantic supply of milk represented the kitten’s daily bread. Occasionally, also, it ate with much gusto whatever milk puddings were put before it. As yet it was ignorant of meat. But one day the savoury smell of rabbit drew it like magic to the kitchen door. What was this strange yearning that caused the kitten to lift up its infant voice imploringly ? The kitchen-playground lost its charm ; the much bescratched table-legs were forsaken ; the milk-dish could satisfy no longer ; the only thing to do was to sit up on sturdy hind legs and battle with white fore-paws against the air that had such promises of bliss in its intangible, invisible form. Bewildered at its own vague yearnings, the kitten raved about till the rabbit was being dished. Then a great calm fell upon its spirit. In a moment it knew exactly what it wanted. It wanted a rabbit “wing,” and it ^mounted on the table to appease its desire. Another second, and it sat very much under the table, rabbitless and crestfallen.
Many a slip ’twixt rabbit and lip, was the lesson of life, the young tabby learned that evening. But rabbit time came in due course, and the kitten ate and was greatly satisfied.
The carnivorous part of its nature had come into existence.
From rabbit to fowl was an easy step, also to beef and mutton, and breakfast bacon. But not to meat extracts. The bovril bottle, beneath the shadow of which Tommy sat often for hours in rapt adoration, said nothing to the kitten ; and a potage of bread and bovril spelt starvation. . No ; it would rather be a vegetarian, and dived fearlessly into the very water where brussels sprouts are taking their last ablution. But Liebig, Bovril, and Co. it abhors. Has it read about those forty terrible tons of liver figuring so ominously in the courts of law ?
VII.—IT DETERMINES ON A CAREER.
The kitten is loyal if nothing else.. It resents all outside invitations ; it works in its own garden at exactly the same work as its owner. When tulips are planted, the kitten covers them up ; when dead leaves are brushed together, the kitten charges into them and drives them along as quickly as the broom ; when dead annuals are removed, it carries Michaelmas daisy stalks six times its length ; and when there is any running to be done from one end of the garden to the other, you should just see the kitten’s anxiety to help.
But gardening in December is a negligible quantity. You can’t sleep all day long, and you can’t play with your circus for ever (the circus being a crumpled piece of paper tied to a yard of string). Therefore you must determine on a career. The kitten's, career is literature. Almost before it is light it sits on the top of its writing-table, close to the drawer in which the invaluable circus is kept. It paws the pens ; it arranges the flowers ; it puts the papers straight ; it tests the thickness of the blotting-pad with claws and teeth ; and it dictates letter after letter, as soon as breakfast is over. Stolidly, thoughtfully, it watches the pen drive over the paper, giving every now and then assistance by putting a white paw on the last written word, and signing each letter by a fine inky paw-mark. The hand that writes is but the automaton ; the impress of the guiding spirit of the kitten is over all.
Writing, however, is but one part, and not the most important, of this scholar’s and student’s work. The day being absorbed in feeding, playing, and sleeping, it is the evening which is set apart for study. When the kitten has partaken of the last dinner of the day, it has one more walloping, galloping, game with Tommy, and after that it begins by plunging into that day’s copy of the West¬minster Gazette. The plunging in this case is done in the literal sense of the term. The charge, of the light brigade is nothing compared to the enthusiastic charge into the W.G. The W.G. suffers by the process ; the kitten flourishes on it. When it is Westminster Budget day, the kitten solemnly mounts the table and. sits tightly on the yellow cover for half an hour. Then the charging begins in the ordinary manner; and with infinite zest and gusto.
After the newspapers, the more serious study of books is pursued, and here it appears that the long-eared kitten has the most catholic tastes. To-day it is William Greg’s “Enigmas of Life,” which is manipulated by the small claws, and pondered over by those beautiful round eyes ; to-morrow it is a Tolstoi novel ; again, a volume of Keats or the tragedies of Shakespeare, and when a new picture-book for babies is at hand, this also receives careful and loving attention at the hands (and claws and teeth) of the kitten.
And thus it lives on, and the seven stages in the development of the kitten are each more interesting than the rest, to the kitten, to the kitten’s Tommy, and to its abjectly devoted owners. But of the theatrical performances of the kitten a special page must be devoted in a future Budget. The “studies” accompanying the above dissertations are from the note-book of that well-known painter and lover of cats, Mr. Hugh Thomson.