Reflections and resolutions

There is no place so conducive to reflection as the quiet of one's bedchamber, when confined to it by sickness. It is true, when the illness is violent, pain for the time excludes every thought beyond that of the actual suffering,—for pain makes us all very, very selfish; but when the bodily suffering is over, and our meditations come back into their usual channel; when we are in a state of convalescence, and are about shortly to resume our intercourse with the world, a crowd of thoughts comes trooping from our brains, and we live over again much of our former lives, and imagine beforehand scenes of our life to come.

At least it was so with me. When I had recovered from the fever into which the disagreeable events related in the last Chapter had thrown me, I ran over in my recollection everything that had occurred to me up to the present time. I was again a thoughtless Kitten, gamboling on the green, playing with my own tail, or resisting with all my might the efforts of my poor mother to lick me clean! Again I wandered in the fields with my young companions, clambered trees for birds, or hid myself away in solitary places for stray rats! I once more hearkened to my dead cousin's voice, as she warbled one of her pretty songs; and as I still went on reflecting, I was again sitting in the arbour, listening to the deep tones of Senhor Dickie, until the malicious face of my neighbour's daughter, peering at us from the broken paling, broke in upon my thoughts, and I heard the vile malicious screams and hisses of the ill-bred Cats which had caused his abrupt departure and my present confinement. It was a bitter recollection; and, as I recalled the scene, I hid my face in my paws and mewed aloud.

As I got calmer I meditated upon what was best to be done. I would have despised the reports of cruelty which I was sure were spread abroad against me, and have continued my school, if my scholars had felt inclined to resume their lessons; but as they had not come back after the first day, that resource was denied me. Without some occupation, I felt certain I could not bear the being at war with my neighbours; for although I had done nothing unkind, they evidently believed I had; and as there was no opportunity of convincing them of the truth, I suffered just as much as if I had been guilty.

One road was yet open to me; and as I thought of it my eyes brightened up, and a low purr of satisfaction unconsciously broke from my bosom—I could travel! This idea had no sooner entered my head than it took entire possession of me, and drove everything else out of my thoughts. I wished to be at once well and strong, in order to carry out my new-formed resolution. The prospect of a speedy change, and the thought of seeing new countries and other animals, produced at once a favourable effect, and not many days elapsed before I was able to sit up and resume some of my usual habits.

I did not venture into the garden, for fear of again exciting the remarks of my rude neighbours; but I sat by the door, and looked out upon the green trees, and the blue sky, and the lively birds, with a delight I cannot describe.

How beautiful does all nature seem after we have been deprived for some time, by illness, of the pleasure of looking upon it! How delicious is the air! how sweet the perfume of the flowers! and how agreeable to the sense the hum of each fly as it basks in the sunshine, cleaning its glittering wings, or darts in and out and round and round in chase of some companion! It is worth being ill, to enjoy such pure happiness, and to feel the gratitude which gushes up from our hearts at being permitted to see again the loveliness of creation.

It has been said by more than one animal, that Cats are such selfish creatures that they are envious of the enjoyments of others, and can feel no pleasure beyond their own particular gratifications. I deny that this is the truth. I, a Cat, boldly affirm, in defence of my tribe, that they are capable of as strong and unselfish affections as those of any other beasts; and although, as my cousin told me, when in the service of man they display a different character, such character must not be considered as their true one, but rather forced upon them by their state of servitude and the want of confidence reposed in them. Even under such disadvantageous circumstances, I have heard that they often discover traits of kindness and fidelity, and receive many slights and insults with a patience which would do honour to their masters themselves.

As I had no one to consult about my departure, or the day I should set forth, I was not interrupted in my preparations, for I was too anxious myself to obtain a change of scene, to have any delay when I once began my arrangements.

My house was put in order; my box was packed; my servants received their instructions, and were put on board-wages till my return. I promised to write to them when an opportunity offered, to inform them of my adventures, and let them know my opinions concerning the manners of foreign countries.

The morning at length arrived when I was to take my departure. Dressed in my second-best clothes, with a parasol in one paw,—for the sun was hot,—and with my travelling-bag, containing a few necessaries, in the other, I ventured into the streets for the first time since that memorable evening. A stout cur, whom I had hired as a valet to accompany and protect me, walked behind me with my trunk upon his head; and as I turned from the door I perceived my servants, and some other Cats whom I had at times assisted, watching me as I went, and bidding me a mournful adieu. I was affected by their gestures, and should have been more so, but that I was still in sight of my neighbours' dwellings, and was apprehensive of some disagreeable remarks. Fortunately none of them were visible. I passed their houses; I got out of the very street, but not till I had stopped at the corner and given a quiet mew to the villa where I had spent so many pleasant days, and which I was now leaving perhaps for ever. We moved on through the Cats' quarter, across one or two streets inhabited by the Dogs, and out into the open country. We soon left behind us the few straggling houses which were at the entrance of the town, and, mounting a hill, paused when we had gained the summit, partly to give a last look at the city, but more to rest my companion, who declared that his legs would never get straight again from the heavy burden which had bent them down, and that the rope with which the box was tied was positively cutting his head in two.

I reclined upon a grassy bank, and nibbled a few blades while deep in thought; but my valet, "Snub," made a more substantial use of his time; for, squatting himself down on his own hat, with his legs under him, to my horror he pulled out a half-devoured bone, which he began to gnaw with much appetite. I did not think this very becoming conduct in the valet of a genteel Pussy; but as it was not the time to find fault, I allowed him to pick his bone, and gazed long and tenderly upon that city where I had been born and brought up, and which I was now leaving for strange climes, and for the society of animals of whose very language I was perhaps ignorant.

We now descended the hill, Snub carrying the box with a little more comfort to himself, having placed his hat between the sharp cord and his own broad, flat head; and on reaching the bottom we found that an extensive wood lay before us, without any trace which seemed to show there was a high-road through it. While stopping to consult what was the best course to take, an animal came from behind a large tree, and with many bows advanced towards us. His appearance startled me not a little, for I could not at first make out who or what he was. I at length discovered that he was a Fox, a tribe distantly related to the Dogs, but so little liked by them that very few ever came into Caneville, and those who did so, clipped their ears and trimmed their tails so as to alter their look as much as possible to the animals among whom they presented themselves. This Fox, on the contrary, wore all his native luxuriance of fur, and, by the way he carried his great brush of a tail, seemed not a little proud of it.

When he got within a few steps of us, he addressed me in broken Caneville dialect, and offered his services to show me the way through the wood. "It was a short cut," he said, "and would save me a good deal of ground, which I should be obliged to go over if I went round the forest."

Without paying attention to the nods or winks of Snub, which were however so violent as almost to upset his load, I accepted his polite offer with thanks, and bidding my valet, who walked very glumpily behind, to keep close by, I followed my polite guide, who at once entered a little path through two tall trees.

The shade grew thicker as we advanced, and I observed that the path got not only narrower, but was in some places almost invisible. It was evidently very little used, and unaccustomed as I had been of late to the country, I did not feel quite comfortable in thus penetrating deeper and deeper into the solitude; still I did not like to show any fear, more particularly as I was rather annoyed at the conduct of Snub, who, close behind me with the box upon his head, kept grumbling at its weight one minute, and actually growling in an under-tone at our guide the next.

The conduct of that guide did not exactly please me; for in his evident wish to prevent my being alarmed, he kept chatter, chatter, chatter, with all his might, and still went on, his sharp eyes here, there, and everywhere at once, in a most disagreeable manner.

We at last reached an open space, covered over with grass, and here and there strewn with immense masses of rock. The overhanging branches of the trees were, however, so closely intertwined, that no ray of sun, and very little light, could penetrate into it. Here I stopped short and declared I would go no further; an exclamation which seemed to arouse Mr. Fox's anger, for he came towards me with a threatening look that alarmed me not a little. I stepped back to avoid him, when Snub—as if by accident, although I felt sure the good dog knew perfectly well what he was about—by a dexterous stumble pitched the box off his head right against the Fox. It was only by the greatest agility that he avoided the heavy weight falling on and crushing him; as it was, he could not get his long tail out of the way in time, for the box came plump down upon it and nailed him to the ground in the most effectual manner. In vain he screamed and pulled; the weight was heavier than he could get rid of; and the more he pulled and screamed, the greater was Snub's delight, who capered round him, wagging his own tail with wonderful swiftness in the intensity of his satisfaction.

After having kept him a prisoner for a good hour, and forced him to confess that he had led us into the wood with the intention of robbing us, and even worse, Snub cut a piece of cord from off the box and tying it round Mr. Fox's neck, and then fast to the trunk again, lifted the latter on to his head, and ordered the treacherous guide, under penalty of instant death, to lead us back at once to the place we had started from. The wounded beast was forced to obey; so taking his mutilated tail in his paw, with a thousand apologies,—to which Snub made no other reply than to bid him to "look sharp" (a very unnecessary piece of advice, as his face could scarce have been sharper than it was), and to which I made no answer at all,—he walked on in front of us, keeping at as great a distance from his tormentor as the length of the cord would allow him.

We reached, after some time, the place where we had entered the wood, when Snub, advising our polite conductor to be more honest for the future, undid the knot which bound him to the trunk and set him again at liberty. The Fox no sooner found himself free, than, with a cry of satisfaction, anger, and defeated wickedness, he darted back among the trees, and was instantly out of sight.

Alfred Elwes

Chapter 6

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