About the Author
Felix Salten (1869–1945) was an Austrian author and critic in Vienna. His most famous work is Bambi.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The young little kitten, thrown by a rough hand, flew into the water. She had barely opened her eyes, when an attempt was already made to deny life to her.
Three of the kittens had been drowned as soon as they were born. The remaining three were left with their mother, feeling cozy and warm, and enjoying her milk, until a brutal voice cried: “Two are enough!”
The young kitten heard this thundering voice, but, of course, she understood nothing.
She was grabbed and hurled into the pond.
Her tender body felt the hard grip with a painful shock. The fall dazed her small brain, but contact with the water revived her sufficiently to experience all the horror and torment of the wet cold.
The little creature, yielding weakly, was now carried along by the waves. She was unconscious, and felt only the hostile, cold water. Dizziness clouded her confused senses, and she touched the shore several times without realizing it.
The small boy who fished the wretched creature out cried: “A kitten!”
Compassionately he laid the rescued kitten next to him on a warm, sunny stone.
“Is the poor thing still alive?” The poor thing was alive. She breathed feebly, but she breathed.
Lying there exhausted, ill-treated, nearly dead, she was a touching sight.
The boy’s heart swelled with pity. For a long time he sat at the side of the miserable kitten and watched her in silence, and began to love her innocent grace with all the stormy intensity of a child’s heart.
At last she began to whimper softly. Very, very softly.
Her dark gray fur, with its black tiger stripes, was drying quickly in the sun, and the reviving warmth penetrated deeply into the kitten’s body. The tiny snout opened softly, and a faint, though now audible, plaintive sound emerged. It was a thin, pitiful wail, but the boy was pleased about it, almost happy. He picked the little thing up very carefully, pressed her to his heart, and carried her home.
The soft voice remained silent for a moment, but then complained no longer, but purred sweetly and melodiously.
“I’ll tell you what,” said the mother to the boy. “Take her to Lady in the stable. She has two puppies. Put the kitten to her breast. If she sucks, all will be well.”
“But Lady . . . will she let her?”
The mother smiled. “Don’t worry. Just try.”
Lady, the big Alsatian, was puzzled when the kitten was brought to her. But two of her puppies had been taken away, and she accepted the newcomer willingly.
She immediately began to treat the stranger as her own offspring, licking the kitten’s fur with her warm tongue.
The latter felt quite at home, nestled in between the two puppies till she reached the motherly breast, and drank greedily, as though parched with thirst.
The boy stood proudly by. He had saved the little creature’s life.
The stable was plunged in semidarkness, and a pleasant, milky odor floated in the air.
Five cows stood there, stamping their feet, whipping their flanks with their tails to chase away the flies. The smacking sounds repeated themselves at irregular intervals. From time to time one or the other of the cows would emit a grunt, almost like a deep sigh.
Quite apart from the cows, separated from them by a special box, stood the bull. His hide was uniformly black and carefully brushed. A nose-ring kept his boundless strength under control. He had a white spot on his breast. His breath often blew like a loud snort.
Actually he was quite a mild bull; the farmer loved him and took him daily for a walk. Every day at the same time the farmer would come into the stable and the bull would follow him obediently on their usual walk.
The kitten grew and grew, unconcerned at the proximity of such mighty creatures.
On his way to the bull, the farmer, followed by the boy, who was his son, stopped at the dog basket.
“There is an example of kind motherhood for you!”
“You’re thinking of the kitten, Father? Do you think she’ll turn out well?”
“How should I know? A cat is always a gamble. But I hope so. If the little thing is going to live, she must have a name.”
“A name, Father? I’ll think about it.”
“Think, my boy. Thinking never does any harm.”
The farmer approached the bull, who greeted him with loud snorting and impatient stamping.
“Come on, Peter, come now. The two of us are going on a ramble.”
The farmer loosened the rope which fastened the nose-ring to the trough. The bull turned round immediately and marched out of the stable with a stilted step, while the farmer gently patted his back.
Deep affection stirred in the man’s heart.
The man and the bull walked along the village road like two comrades. The man chatted ceaselessly. The bull nodded his massive skull as though in approval and wagged his thick ears all the time.
After about an hour the farmer said: “It’s time to go home, Peter.” The black giant obeyed without demur, quietly allowed himself to be tied back to his stable and submitted to the vigorous caresses and pattings which sent quivering jerks all along his body.
Days followed days. Weeks passed by. Everything remained peacefully the same: the milking of the cows, which was done by the farmer’s wife, the brushing and exercising of the bull.
The kitten was far in advance of her foster brothers. The two puppies were still toddling, plump and awkward, when she could already dance gracefully and vivaciously round her foster mother, jump in and out of the basket and explore all the corners of the stable. When the boy lifted and caressed her, she purred loudly. He whispered tenderly: “Djibi, my Djibi . . .”
But she wanted to be free, and wriggled until he put her down again.
Everyone was delighted with the little thing’s intelligence.
Her two foster brothers, however, showed her no great affection; they provoked her constantly, but when they became too rough, she knew how to use her sharp claws in a most painful manner.
Djibi was soon at home not only throughout the stable—and made sure that she always got her fair share of milk at milking time—but also found her way into the farmer’s living room and kitchen.
When she saw a piece of string dangling down from the table, after a parcel had been opened, she tried to catch it with her paws; she raised herself in the attempt, and chased it eagerly and gaily. The swinging movements of the string were a game to her, specially intended for her amusement—that was how she treated everything that lent itself to play.
The boy laughed, the mother laughed, the father smiled. Djibi’s dancing grace won her applause and affection.
The boy got out a top and spun it round.
Djibi was taken aback; for a time she looked on with her little head cocked to one side, but suddenly she jumped up and bravely hit out with her paw. The top lay vanquished and motionless. Djibi watched it anxiously, prowled round it and pawed it gently.
Every one of her gestures was charming, she was a source of gaiety and carefree jolliness.
She was extremely particular as regards cleanliness; she cleaned herself elaborately and at great length, and when she grew tired, she always chose the same spot in front of the stove. She slept there for several hours during the day and sometimes at night. Comfortably stretched out, she began to purr as soon as the boy came in to stroke her. He always liked it, and he thought how he had fished her out of the water, half dead, and how bright she was now. He was pleased with his rescue work and woke the kitten, who was never too tired to play.
In the stable she often felt lonely. Then she would hop fearlessly among the cows, who occasionally sniffed at her. Even the bull tolerated her, and snorted at her good-naturedly. Mostly she indulged in terrific fights with her foster brothers, only in fun, of course. Lady, the puppies’ mother, now walked about in the courtyard.
One day, Djibi had the opportunity of showing that she was useful as well as amusing.
She was sitting alone in the kitchen, blinking idly, when a poor mouse, suspecting no danger, ventured out of her hole to get a tidbit, and was suddenly confronted with her worst enemy.
In her terror, utterly confused and panic-stricken, not knowing where to escape, the mouse ran up the wall. Thereby she came even more clearly into the field of vision of Djibi, who had already cocked her ears at the first rustling sound.
A mouse for the first time! Djibi was nonplussed. But her eyes sparkled!
The mouse was so annihilated by this terrible look that she was quite unable to move or flee. This strange spell lasted for two long seconds.
Then Djibi simply caught hold of the mouse with her teeth, shook the numb creature vigorously, and put her down on the floor. This was a sudden idea.
Bleeding, almost unconscious, dizzy, the mouse realized the impossibility of escape and submitted helplessly to her fate. Nevertheless, she ran a few tiny steps, almost as though to oblige the cat.
Djibi followed every movement with her head cocked, hit out again at the bleeding creature.
The mouse still moved on, was stopped again, ran painfully for the third time and then remained motionless under Djibi’s claws—her last breath of life had expired.
Djibi still pushed the small body about. The cruel game had not lasted long enough for her.
At last she carried the dead mouse into the living room and laid her booty proudly on a chair.
“Look, Mother, what Djibi has brought,” cried the boy.
“Look, Father!” said the farmer’s wife.
“Good, Djibi. Very good!” praised the farmer.
“That’s right!” his wife agreed, while the boy pressed Djibi to his heart and caressed her. Djibi showed her delight by prolonged purring.
From now on Djibi knew no greater pleasure than chasing mice. She lay in wait for them in dark corners, searched for them in the house, in the stable, kept a jealous watch over the larder. She was not hungry, and ate the mice only as a reward. But her passion for hunting was never satisfied.
Djibi spent many happy weeks in this manner.
In the stable she had friendly tussles with the dogs. Like Djibi, they had grown up, but were much bigger and surpassed her both in size and strength. Nevertheless, Djibi’s agility had the better of them. She never allowed herself to be hurt. Sometimes when she got hurt, even if only by accident, she would punish the clumsy offender by boxing his ears vigorously, whereupon he would withdraw in confusion.
Djibi lived her own life gaily, enjoying her milk, and as she was solely concerned with her own welfare, she did not notice the mood of depression that had descended upon the household.
The farmer was sad, and so was his wife; the boy, too, seemed subdued. The veterinary surgeon had said that the bull was ill beyond cure, and would die soon.
Djibi knew nothing of all this. She took no notice of human sorrow. She hardly even noticed that for days on end the boy omitted to take her into his arms and caress her. When she wanted to be petted, she jumped up to his chest and shoulder and poked her pretty head under his chin, purring loudly. He would then stroke her fur, but only for a short moment, and then put her down on the floor. But Djibi was quite satisfied with even a short game.
One day, at dawn, the bull was found dead in his box. He had grown thin as a skeleton and was lying on his side, his eyes shut, as though asleep.
The vet was called, but he only shrugged his shoulders: “I told you a long time ago that you ought to put an end to the beast.”
But the farmer, disconsolate, refused to move from the dead bull’s side. He was so shaken that he was unable to utter a word.
His wife sobbed heartbreakingly. She was worried over the material damage caused by the loss of the bull, and grieved over her husband’s sorrow.
The boy ran howling out of the stable. But because he was hungry, he ran into the kitchen.
There a decisive scene took place between him and Djibi.
Djibi meant no harm when she hastened to meet him and tried to jump on his shoulder as usual.
But the boy pushed her back: “Leave me alone!”
Djibi made a second attempt at re-establishing their long-standing intimacy. At the first sign of her intention, however, the boy cried:
“Leave me alone, you damned beast!” At the same time he slapped the cat’s head with impatient indignation.
A slap? Djibi never accepted a slap without retaliation, never!
As quick as lightning, her sharp claws dug into the boy’s hand, from which a few drops of blood began to trickle. He staggered back in pain, while the cat, spitting, sat up on her hind legs and raised her paws in readiness for both defense and attack.
The boy did not remember that he had pulled Djibi out of the water and saved her poor little life; he did not remember how often she had amused and delighted him. At the moment she appeared to him as a wild, excited enemy, and he was her exasperated, badly scratched opponent.
It never occurred to him that he was responsible for this sudden transformation. Embittered, he reached out for the cat, to throw her against the wall, to punish her. To show her who was master.
But Djibi admitted no punishment. The very notion of it, so well known to dogs, was completely alien to her.
She submitted to neither ill-treatment nor to punishment. Nothing of the kind!
She had suffered gross unfairness, never gave a thought to the past, or to her once beloved friend. She had finished with him forever.
In the face of his angry attitude, she ran stealthily past him, and jumped out of the window before he had realized it.
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