Nine Lives - Девять жизней
|"MOTHER," said the yellow kitten, "is it true that we cats have nine lives?"
"Quite, my dear," the brindled cat replied. She was a very handsome cat, and in very comfortable circumstances. She sat on a warm Turkey carpet, and wore a blue satin ribbon round her neck. "I am in the ninth life myself," she said.
"Have you lived all your lives here?"
"Oh dear, no!"
"Were you here," the white kitten asked, in a sleepy voice, "when the Turkey carpet was born? Rover says it is only a few months old."
"No," said the mother, "I was not. Indeed, it was partly the softness of that carpet that made me come and live here."
"Where did you live before?" the black kitten said.
A dreamy look came into the brindled cat's eyes.
"In many strange places," she answered slowly; adding more briskly, "and if you will be good kittens, I will tell you all about them. Goldie! come down from that stool, and sit down like a good kitten. Sweep! leave off sharpening your claws on the furniture; that always ends in trouble and punishment. Snowball! you're asleep again! Oh, well; if you'd rather sleep than hear a story——"
Snowball shook herself awake, and the others sat down close to their mother with their tails arranged neatly beside them, and waited for the story.
"I was born," said the brindled cat, "in a barn."
"What is a barn?" asked the black kitten.
"A barn is like a house, but there is only one room, and no carpets, only straw."
"I should like that," said the yellow kitten, who often played among the straw in the big box which brought groceries from the Stores.
"I liked it well enough when I was your age," said the mother indulgently, "but a barn is not at all a genteel place to be born in. My mother had had a little unpleasantness with the family she lived with, and, of course, she was too proud to stay on after that. And so she left them, and went to live in the barn. It wasn't at all the sort of life she had been accustomed to."
"What was the unpleasantness?" Sweep asked.
"Well, it was about some cream which the woman of the house wanted for her tea. She should have said so. Of course, my mother would not have taken it if she had had any idea that any one else wanted it. She was always most unselfish."
"What is tea?"
"A kind of brown milk—very nasty indeed, and very bad for you. Well, I lived with my brothers and sisters very happily for some months, for I was too young to know how vulgar it was to live in a barn and play with straw."
"What is vulgar, mother?"
"Dear, dear; how you do ask questions," said the brindled cat, beginning to look worried. "Vulgar is being like everybody else."
"But does everybody else live in a barn?"
"No; nobody does who is respectable. Vulgar really means—not like respectable cats."
"Oh!" said the black kitten and the yellow, trying to look as if they understood. But the white one did not say anything, because it had gone to sleep again.
"Well," the mother went on, "after a while they took me to live in the farm-house. And I should have liked it well enough, only they had a low habit of locking up the dairy and the pantry. Well, it would be tiresome to go into the whole story; however, I soon finished my life at the farm-house and went to live in the stable. It was very pleasant there. Horses are excellent company. That was my third life. My fourth was at the miller's. He came one day to buy some corn; he saw me, and admired me—as, indeed, every one has always done. He and the farmer were disputing about the price of the corn, and at last the miller said—
"'Look' here; you shall have your price if you'll throw me that cat into the bargain.'"
The kittens all shuddered. "What is a bargain? Is it like a pond? And were you thrown in?"
"I was thrown in, I believe. But a bargain is not like a pond; though I heard the two men talk of 'wetting' the bargain. But I suppose they did not do it, for I arrived at the mill quite dry. That was a very pleasant life—full of mice!"
"Who was full of mice?" asked the white kitten, waking up for a moment.
"I was," said the mother sharply; "and I should have stayed in the mill for ever, but the miller had another cat sent him by his sister.
"However, he gave me away to a man who worked a barge up and down the river. I suppose he thought he should like to see me again sometimes as the barge passed by.
"Life in a barge is very exciting. There are such lots of rats, some of them as big as you kittens. I got quite clever at catching them, though sometimes they made a very good fight for it. I used to have plenty of milk, and I slept with the bargee in his warm little bunk, and of nights I sat and toasted myself in front of his fire in the small, cosy cabin. He was very fond of me, and used to talk to me a great deal. It is so lonely on a barge that you are glad of a little conversation. He was very kind to me, and I was very grieved when he married a lady who didn't like cats, and who chased me out of the barge with a barge-pole."
"What is a barge-pole?" the yellow kitten asked lazily.
"The only leg a barge has. I ran away into the woods, and there I lived on birds and rabbits."
"What are rabbits?"
"Something like cats with long ears; very wholesome and nutritious. And I should have liked my sixth life very much, but for the keeper. No, don't interrupt to ask what a keeper is. He is a man who, when he meets a cat or a rabbit, points a gun at it, and says 'Bang!' so loud that you die of fright."
"How horrible!" said all the kittens.
"I was looking out for my seventh life, and also for the gamekeeper, and was sitting by the river with both eyes and both ears open, when a little girl came by—a nice little girl in a checked pinafore.
"She stopped when she saw me, and called—'Pussy! pussy!' So I went very slowly to her, and rubbed myself against her legs. Then she picked me up and carried me home in the checked pinafore. My seventh life was spent in a clean little cottage with this little girl and her mother. She was very fond of me, and I was as fond of her as a cat can be of a human being. Of course, we are never so unreasonably fond of them as they are of us."
"Why not?" asked the yellow kitten, who was young and affectionate.
"Because they're only human beings, and we are Cats," returned the mother, turning her large, calm green eyes on Goldie, who said, "Oh!" and no more.
"Well, what happened then?" asked the black kitten, catching its mother's eye.
"Well, one day the little girl put me into a basket, and carried me out. I was always a fine figure of a cat, and I must have been a good weight to carry. Several times she opened the basket to kiss and stroke me. The last time she did it we were in a room where a sick girl lay on a bed.
"'I did not know what to bring you for your birthday,' said my little girl, 'so I've brought you my dear pussy.'
"The sick girl's eyes sparkled with delight. She took me in her arms and stroked me. And though I do not like sick people, I felt flattered and pleased. But I only stayed a very little time with her."
"Why?" asked all the kittens at once.
"Because——but no; that story's too sad for you children; I will tell it you when you're older."
"But that only makes eight lives," said Sweep, who had been counting on his claws, "and you said you had nine. Which was the ninth?"
"Why, this, you silly child," said the brindled pussy, sitting up, and beginning to wash the kitten's face very hard indeed. "And as it's my last life, I must be very careful of it. That's why I'm so particular about what I eat and drink, and why I make a point of sleeping so many hours a-day. But it's your first life, Snowball, and I can't have you wasting it all in sleep. Go and catch a mouse at once."
"Yes, mamma," said Snowball, and went to sleep again immediately.
"Ah!" said Mrs. Brindle, "I'll wash you next. That'll make you wake up, my dear."
"Snowball's always sleepy," said the yellow kitten, stretching itself. "But, mamma dear, she doesn't care for history, and yours was a very long tale."
"You can't have too much of a good thing," said the mother, looking down at her long brindled tail. "If it's a good tail, the longer it is the better."
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