I T was late in the fall when Silvertip came to live in the big house, and he was then a very small kitten. All through the winter which followed, he was the pet of the Gentleman and the Lady, of the Maid, and of the people who came there to visit. He liked the Gentleman best and showed it very plainly, but that was only right, for it was the Gentleman, you know, who first brought him into the house.
At night he slept on a red cushion in a basket in the kitchen, except when he made believe catch Mice with a spool for a Mouse. Sometimes, when the other people were in bed, they could hear him running and jumping out there and having the finest kind of a time all by himself. During the days he spent most of his time on a red lamb's-wool rug under a desk where the Lady kept her typewriter. He thought the desk must be a Cat-house, for the room under it was just large enough and just high enough to suit him, and there were walls on three sides to make it warmer. He did not see why the Lady should sit down at it nearly every day and thump-thump-thump on the queer-looking little machine which she kept upstairs in this house. When she did this he had to move farther back on his rug, and it bothered him to do so when he was sleepy.
Sometimes, when he had been really awakened by the thump-thump-thumping of the machine and the ringing of the little bell on it, he would jump up behind it. Then he would peep over its top at the Lady and chew the paper which stuck out in his face until he was gently lifted or pushed away. Sometimes he sat by the side of it, and then he would watch the little bell ringing until he learned to put up one tiny white paw and ring it himself. After he had watched and played in this way for a while, he would lie on the high part of the desk, over where the drawers were, and sleep again. Yet he was never too sleepy to pat with his paws every printed sheet which the Lady took from the machine, or to play with every clean white one which she fastened into it. He liked the white ones the better and didn't see why the Lady wanted to mark them all up so. Still, he thought it was probably her way of playing, so it didn't matter.
Sometimes, when she seemed tired, the Lady would bend over and put her face down against his back and call him "her little collaborator." He did not know what that big word meant. He thought it might be something about his tail. They were both interested in tales.
When the Lady was writing on her lap in the funny way that Ladies sometimes have, he would cuddle down under her portfolio and sleep. For these things he liked her, but she would hardly ever take time to play with him. So, when he heard the latch-key rattle in the front door, he listened, and if it were the Gentleman's step which he heard, he ran to the hall door and waited with his little pink nose to the crack until the Gentleman came in. Then what romps they would have! Back and forth from one room to another, with balls, spools tied onto the most charming strings, and even yardsticks and tape-measures, and things taken from the Lady's sewing-stand.
He liked the Maid, too. She was always kind to him, although she did shut him up one day when he stole a silvery little sardine from the table. She would not let him have anything but milk to eat until he was nearly grown-up. Whenever he smelled a roast or a fine juicy steak he would beg as hard as he knew how, but not one taste did he ever get until he had lost all his Kitten-teeth and his Cat-teeth were growing in. When he was older and knew more about life, he understood that this was to keep him from swallowing a loose tooth with a mouthful of meat, and that Kittens who are given all sorts of food are very likely to do this and bring on fits. You can just imagine what trouble it would make to have a sharp tooth get into a Kitten's stomach.
This was probably the reason, too, why Silvertip grew so very large and handsome. At Christmas time he was given a red ribbon to wear around his neck, red being very becoming to his complexion. He did not care very much for the ribbon, though, and went off into a corner and scratched at it with his hind feet until it came off. Then he chewed it into a wet wisp and left it.
This was Silvertip's life during that first winter. Sometimes on sunshiny days he sat out on the kitchen porch, and once in a while he sunned himself on the broad rail of one of the front porches. Whatever he wanted he had, except, of course, some kinds of food, which he ought not to have anyway. Nobody was ever cross to him and many people were doing things to make him happy. He had yet to learn that this could not last forever.
When spring came he lived more out of doors, and followed the Hired Man around barn and woodshed. He went into the ice-house once, but found that too cold. In these places he saw his first Mice. He will never forget the very first one which he caught. It was just at supper time and he brought it into the kitchen. He could not understand why the Maid should scream and act so queerly. He thought perhaps she wanted it herself.
Whenever the Mouse wriggled or flirted its tail into his eyes he jumped backward. It scared him dreadfully, but he would not let go. Instead of that he would walk backward two or three times around the kitchen range. He wanted to lay the Mouse down and play with it, only he did not know just how to go about it. He tried to have the Maid help him, but every time he went to lay it at her feet she jumped into a chair. At last she called for the Lady. Then the Lady came out and laughed at both of them. How it ended nobody but Silvertip knows, for he walked around the kitchen with it in his mouth until late in the evening, and the next morning there was not a sign of it to be found.
It was this spring, too, that he became acquainted with the Catbird. He heard a queer Cat-like voice saying "Zeay! Zeay!" many times, and yet could never find the Cat to whom it belonged. "Come out here!" he would cry. "Come out here, and we will make believe fight!" When no Cat came he couldn't understand it. He had already become acquainted with many Cats in the neighborhood, and whenever one came to call they made believe fight. It was their favorite game. They would sit around and glare at each other and growl a whole day at a time. So Silvertip could not understand a Cat who said "Zeay!" instead of "Meouw!" and would not fight.
One morning when Silvertip was sitting on the back porch, a slender gray bird, with black crown, tail, bill, and feet, perched on the woodbine over his head and said, "Zeay!" It sounded as though somebody in the little apple-tree had said it, but Silvertip was looking at the bird and saw him open and shut his bill.
"Pht!" said Silvertip, as he began to let his tail and the hair along his back bristle. "Pht! Don't you dare to mock me!"
"Zeay!" answered the bird. "Zeay! Zeay!"
"I don't say it just that way, anyhow," said Silvertip; "so quit!"
"Zeay!" answered the bird.
"I am the Cat who belongs here," said Silvertip. "You quit mocking me or go away!"
"Zeay!" replied the bird, putting his head upon one side. "I am the Catbird who belongs here. I had a nest here last year before you were born, and when I went south for the winter you were not here. Zeay!"
Now Silvertip, not having had a chance to learn much about birds, thought that this one was not telling the truth, and he quite lost his temper. "You deserve to be eaten," he cried, and he began to climb up the woodbine, feeling his way along without taking his eyes from the Catbird. The Catbird sat there and twitched his tail until Silvertip had almost reached him. Then he said, "Zeay!" and flew off. A few minutes later he was sitting on the top twig of a fir tree and singing wonderfully. This was what he sang: "Prut! Prut! Coquillicot! Really! Really! Coquillicot! Hey, Coquillicot! Hey! Victory!"
"You deserve to be eaten."
Silvertip walked back and forth on the kitchen porch. He was too angry to sit down at once. When at last he did, and began to wash himself, he was thinking all the time how mean the Catbird was.
Every day the catbird came and flirted around and said, "Zeay! Zeay!" till Silvertip lost his temper. He just ached to get his claws into that bird, and that even when his stomach was full. He did not care so much about eating him, you see, although he would undoubtedly have done so if he had had the chance, but he wanted to stop his teasing.
One day he was looking out through a screen door and happened to see the Catbird mocking another bird. He was surprised to hear the other say: "Mock away, if it is any fun! It doesn't hurt me any." Then he heard the Catbird laugh and saw him fly away.
"I wonder what he would do if I were to try that?" said Silvertip. "I believe I will the next time."
That very day, when Silvertip was sunning himself on the porch and heard the same teasing voice say, "Zeay!" above his head, he opened his thick eyelids and slid the other ones about half-way to one side, and looked lazily up. "Pretty good!" he said. "You do a little better every day I think. If you keep at it you can say 'Meouw' after a while." Then he began to shut his eyes again.
"Prut!" exclaimed the Catbird. "It's no fun teasing you any more! You don't care enough about it! Good-by!" And that was the last time that Silvertip ever saw him nearer than the top of a tree. So Silvertip learned one of the great lessons of life, which is not to pay any attention to people who make fun of you, or to mind when you are teased.