THE ADVENTURES OF A CAT AND A FINE CAT TOO!
The first adventure that one meets with on entering the world is certain to make a deeper impression on the memory than any of those which may succeed it. Thus it was that I have a distinct recollection of our meeting with Mr. Fox, described in the last Chapter, and all the minute circumstances that attended the discovery of his treachery and his punishment by Snub. But from that time, a confusion of objects and events rushes into my brain when I attempt to think over the particulars of my journey.
The beautiful pictures of Nature, which almost every turn on the road presented to me, are however indelibly fixed in my memory, and I shall never forget the loveliness of the sun rising from behind the grey hills, and enriching the sober colours of the landscape with a tinge of gold; or the splendid spectacle displayed from the summit of one of those same hills at noonday, with a very world of beauties at my feet, laid out in trees, and stream, and field, with a light breeze driving the patches of cloud over the face of the hot sun, and shifting at every moment the light and shade beneath; or, lovelier still, the calm repose of evening, when that same sun had run his course and was sinking to his rest amid the harmonious sounds of Nature, and surrounded by the glories of piles and piles of golden and crimson clouds, which, as he sank lower and lower down, gradually lost their splendour and faded almost imperceptibly in colour, until all was grey, and the night-wind swept over the landscape as if mourning at the day's departure! These things cannot be forgotten while our memory exists at all, and the joy they awoke in my breast at seeing them, was like that which I had felt when my dead cousin used to sing some of her delightful songs,—it was all music to me.
But the first sight of the sea was what filled me with wonder, delight, and fear! The immense breadth of water,—at one time so calm as though it were asleep; at another, moaning as if it grieved for the many brave and good hearts it had engulfed; and on other occasions, fretting against the rocks, or, when moved by some strong impulse, working itself white with fury, and carrying all before it in its impetuous course. All these various moods were matter to me of astonishment and awe, which no familiarity could ever diminish; and I watched the waves roll in, and throw shells or corks or pieces of smooth wood to my very feet, with the same surprise after weeks of acquaintance, as I had done on the first day of my beholding the ocean.
Our road had led through districts but little frequented by other animals, and, with the exception of a stray fox or hare, we met scarcely a single creature. We carefully avoided all intercourse with the former, and the latter as carefully kept away from communication with ourselves; for the sight of us appeared so to alarm the poor beasts, that they would not even answer our questions, whether we were proceeding towards the habitations of more civilized animals.
To tell the truth, I so thoroughly enjoyed this part of my journey, that I felt little inclination to change it for the confinement and stiffness of city life; and as I had no difficulty in procuring food or lodging,—for mice and wild birds abounded, and any old tree gave me shelter,—I could have been content to spend some months in this errant mode of existence, and meditate in the half-solitude on the vanities of animal life. But I reproved myself for my selfishness when I looked at Snub. He, poor fellow, who had not been blessed with the same advantages of education as myself, had little inclination to continue a course which presented much to be endured and little to be enjoyed. The bold bending of a bough of a tree, which I found so admirable, he considered very inferior to the joint of some savoury bone; the wide expanse of the waters was to him less charming than the confined limits of some dish containing one of our favourite Caneville compounds. Nor could it be expected that he should feel much enthusiasm at sight of a fine prospect, when his head was aching with the weight of my luggage, and his feet were sore with the burden they had had so long to support over flinty, uneven ground. I confessed to myself the justice of this reflection, and became at last as anxious as he for our arrival at some city.
A few days after, various things convinced us that we were not far removed from one. Heaps of rubbish lay strewn confusedly here and there, which were uncomfortable to look at, and much more uncomfortable to smell! The road was broader and harder, as if beaten down by many feet. By-and-by a house or two appeared,—then two together,—then three,—until at last we saw a whole street, with quantities of little objects running in and out them. I would willingly have examined what the animals were who occupied these dwellings, which were indeed miserable enough. I learnt afterwards that they were inhabited by pigs; and their huts, that were never too clean or neat, were called in the language of the country styes, but so unpleasant an odour came from them that I could not be prevailed on to go very near. The town itself now came in sight, and, as I had never seen any other than Caneville, my curiosity was aroused as I drew closer to make acquaintance with the inhabitants, and see if they were at all like either of the tribes of beasts between which my native place was divided. Snub was no less delighted at the prospect of getting rid of his load and refreshing his body upon some more savoury food than he had lately indulged in.
It was not at that time that I knew all the particulars which I afterwards obtained concerning this foreign city; but I may as well relate here all that I subsequently gleaned.
The place was called Norsarque, and was inhabited by animals of every sort and size, who lived in houses large, small, middling, high, low, miserable, and beautiful, just as their means or taste allowed them. They were not, I found, the richest beasts who occupied the most costly dwellings; on the contrary, I often discovered some very poor animals who made a most splendid figure; for, curiously enough, although the Norsarquians had a very great notion of their own wisdom, they often believed the greatest nonsense which any creature chose to tell them, provided the speaker wore a fine coat, and seemed to think a good deal of himself.
I could write a history of the many funny and contradictory things I met with in Norsarque; but perhaps nobody would read it if I did, so I will go on with my own adventures, and only speak of such matters as particularly concerned myself. I must however mention, as a circumstance that had afterwards a great deal to do with causing my departure from the town, that the place was governed by some superior, or thought to be superior, animal, chosen from among the principal beasts; but that the inhabitants generally were so discontented and fond of quarrelling, that they had scarcely elected him King, than they began to find fault with him and with everything he did, and were not satisfied until they killed him or drove him away, and set up another in his place. Sometimes this royal beast was a Pig; sometimes a Lion; once he was a Fox, and, although very much hated by all his subjects, he managed to make them quarrel among themselves, and so employ their time as to have no leisure left to think of him, until one unlucky day, when, having nothing else to do, they rose up against him and drove him out, and put some other animal in his place. When I arrived at Norsarque, a Bear was on the throne; so the Bears were in high favour, and several fresh ones had lately come to the city to seek their fortunes,—and very rough-looking beings they were too!
With the aid of Snub, I managed to procure some handsome apartments in a genteel quarter; and, as I intended to make a long stay in the place, I procured everything which could make them comfortable.
When once established, I directed some attention to my humble companion. As I was convinced of his fidelity and his attachment to myself, I resolved to keep him for my own private servant, and I therefore hired others to do the necessary work of the house. But as Snub could not attend me in my walks in the costume he wore when he left his native place, I procured a complete livery-suit, in the fashion at Norsarque; and Snub soon looked splendid in a dress of bottle-green, with white buttons springing out all over his body, just like daisies on a lawn, and, I assure you, with his hat surrounded with a broad gold band, and his hair powdered, he looked a very different figure. Having thus cared for his outer dog, I did what I could to improve his name; and scorning to remember that he ever bore such a vulgar one as Snub, I made him Snubbini forthwith, and took care always to pronounce every letter of the word. It was astonishing to observe the effect which these little matters produced on my neighbours. They took me for a grand Cat at once; and I overheard a Pussy, who was talking to another on the roof of the house situated on the opposite side of the street where I lived, that I was a foreign Princess in disguise, and was rich enough to buy half Norsarque, if I felt inclined! But how they had learnt that piece of news, I could not imagine.
I had been residing some months among the restless inhabitants of Norsarque, when an incident took place, which, although I thought but little of it at the time, turned out of great importance to me.
I happened to be walking in one of the principal Squares, or Places as they were called, when my ear was attracted by the sound of music.
Although the performers were not of the best, and their time was about as good as their tune,—that is to say, both indifferent enough,—I could not help stopping as I went by to see the show.
There were three mongrels, rather fantastically dressed, blowing all the breath they could spare into two flageolets and a flute, but as one or the other was forced to stop every now and then to recover his wind, and always managed to do so in the most pathetic part, the effect was more curious than agreeable. Several animals were standing round, and a little wee Pup went about among them collecting, with a hat big enough to hold a great deal more than was ever put into it. But the creature who most attracted my attention was a huge lump of a Bear, with so ugly a face that it made me quite shudder to look at him, who seemed the master of the band, and held a tray up to the various windows where any heads had been put out to listen to the music. He was in the act of doing so, when I came up, to the window of a large house, where a fat, white Puss, evidently the servant of some rich family, was nursing a darling little Kitten that was mewing with delight at the scene below.
The servant had thrown down a few coppers in reply to the Bear's demand for money, when the ill-tempered brute, not satisfied with the donation, swore in so terrible a way, that the frightened nurse let go her hold of the Kitten, which fell direct from her paws.
I rushed forward to save it, upsetting as I went the unfortunate little Pup, who was at that moment presenting the hat for my contribution, and was just in time to seize it by the tail before it reached the pavement. At the same instant the door burst open, a troop of servants rushed out, headed by a Cat, superbly dressed. The band of musicians disappeared, as if by magic, the great Bear being the first to take to flight; the new-comers surrounded me, and I had the satisfaction of putting the Kitten, unharmed, into its mother's paws. A tender scene then ensued; and as ingratitude was not among this Lady Puss's failings, I was begged to enter, nay, was almost carried into the house, to receive the repeated thanks of the noble family.