The kittens were playing a sort of "follow-the-leader" in and out of their comfortable box of straw, while Mrs. Tabby Cat sat patiently by, only occasionally glancing at them to make sure that all three were safe.
Things were very comfortably arranged for the little family of pussies out in the barn, and the only possible danger to the cat babies was the St. Bernard dog's drinking dish which was set down into the barn floor, very near the wall, and kept filled with water. One of the grooms had arranged it one idle afternoon, more for his own amusement than for any real need so to place it.
"Mr-r-r-owh!" trilled Mother cat warningly as Frisker wobbled over toward her greatest dread, that dreadful water! "Do stay near me, kittens; then you won't tumble in and get drowned."
"Miew!" answered the three kittens, in three different keys. "Don't worry about us: we're all right!"
Folly, the white-nosed kitty, rose gaily on her tottery hind-legs for an instant and cuffed playfully at her mother's ear, then started across the barn floor as fast as a fat three-weeks-old kitten can tumble, followed at once by Frisker.
Calico saw them go and, anticipating a frolic, at once made up her mind to be in it. She lifted her heavy little head and started eagerly toward her stronger sisters; but the progress was slow, for Calico was feeble, and the weak little legs wouldslide apart, while her tail waved wildly from side to side in the effort to keep her balance.
She was a strong-minded small pussy, though weak in body, and she kept steadily on. As she drew near her goal she feltvery strong and proud! One or two surprising sit-downs and a very hard bump on the pink nose in no way dampened her enthusiasm; but alas! the fall that always follows pride dampened both enthusiasm and her whole wee self for a time.
Just as she was becoming quite reckless, almost prancing, with feet stepping at least half an inch from the floor, there suddenly yawned directly in front of the astounded kitten the six-inch chasm of the drinking dish! She toppled; her tail gave a single wild twirl; and she splashed heels over head into two inches of water!
Mrs. Tabby, who had been anxiously watching the unsteady promenade sprang to the basin at once and leaning down tried to pull Calico out by the nape of the neck. To the frightened and shivering kitten—that had upon touching bottom at once gained its feet—this would have been quite as unpleasant as the cold water that was now chilling her through and through, so she protested in shrill wails.
Though she was too heavy for the little mother to lift, still Mrs. Tabby would not give up, and tried to claw her kitten out with sudden dabs, as she took the fish from the brook. This was more than any kitten could stand, and Calico rebelled openly; she spat at her worried mamma! (Of course, she did not know any better, for she was only a kitty.) The water might be cold; but at least it did not hurt, while her nose and ears smarted sharply from her mother's well-meant scratches. Then Mother Cat grew desperate and lost her head completely, circling round and round her baby, now coaxing Calico to jump out—"As if I wouldn't if I could!" thought the kitten—now crying piteously. After what seemed to Tabby an age, but was really less than five minutes, the groom, who had really been the innocent cause of all this trouble, sauntered in and put an end to it by lifting Calico tenderly out. Gently he dried the little trembling thing, and sat her down in her comfortable box once more, where Mrs. Cat at once cuddled down close beside her. Suddenly spying her sisters again, she made a fresh start only to be stopped by a well-directed slap from her mother's swift paw. "M'you, M'you!" snapped Mrs. Cat. "You just sit still for a while. I've had worry enough for one day, and I will not help you out again."
"I don't want you to," sniffed Calico, rubbing her still smarting nose thoughtfully.
Tabby sighed, as the kitten made yet another start for her sisters, but wisely let her go.
"Did you ever?" she groaned; "but then, kittens will be kittens!"