THE KITTEN'S GHOST.
Sarah Orne Jewett
The kitten herself came to us in a strange way one night when it was raining furiously.
"What a noise the rose-bushes are making against the window," said grandmamma, who was with us; and we all stopped to listen to the scratches and soft little knocks, the only noise except the rain, and the wind howling in the great elms around the house.
"Hi! yi!" said my little brother, jumping up from the rug before the fire, "I hear your rose-bush mewing."
So he opened the window, and, with a gust of wind and rain that made us shiver, there came in a very thin wet kitten. How could we think of anything but giving her all the supper she could eat, and making a warm bed for her in the kitchen? It must be a small house and a selfish heart that will not take in such lodgers on a stormy night.
But this kitten proved to be a naughty kitten, and such a thief and prowler! The cook could not leave anything on the table and turn away for a minute but this wicked little cat would come forth from some hiding-place, and be caught with her head in the dish. She always seemed to be lying in wait for a chance to steal. Strange to say, in spite of these tricks of hers, it was very hard to be cross to her. She was either so subdued and sleepy, trying to hide away from her pursuers, after having done something abominable; or, when she was visible, she sat by the fire looking so forlorn and pitiful and homely, that, when you were in a suitable frame of mind to kill any other cat, you could not, for the life of you, lift a finger to do anything but pat her. Then she would be so grateful, look so penitent and miserable, and purr a little with a voice so unused and rusty, that you were again her sworn friend and defender. That afternoon you would find her sleeping in your upper bureau drawer, which you had carelessly left open, snarled up in your ruffles and ribbons. Very likely she had been walking in muddy places, and your newest cravat was ruined forever by the print of a cat's wet paw. Even in this grievance there was something which made you tender-hearted. She had been hooted from the kitchen; she remembered your kindness in the morning and had fled to your room for protection. Sometimes she found her way into your room in the middle of the night, and waked you from a delightful dream with her cold nose against your cheek and that doleful purr sounding loud in your ears.
After a time even I deserted her, after having been her preserver in many conspiracies against her life. There was scarcely a day when she did not break or steal something and after all high treasons she used to come to me in the parlor, darting from under one piece of furniture to another and finally getting near enough to spring into my lap and lie there trembling, with her naughty little heart beating hard, as if she had been chased by wild dogs, which she certainly deserved to be. I used to feed her myself until she could hardly walk away from her saucer and fell asleep immediately; but it was no use, for she would be thrown indignantly out of the window half an hour afterward for stealing.
She was the oddest looking creature. There was just enough yellow mixed with her dark gray fur to make it look rusty, and as if it had been through the storms of years and was an old cat's coat instead of a spring kitten's. There were one or two spots of dingy white on her back, and a spot of yellow surrounding her left eye made it look very much larger than the other, and gave her the queerest expression you can imagine.
So, as the summer went on, my patience and pity became exhausted; for, in addition to her other failings, she became afflicted with fits, which make the best of kittens undesirable. At last she made friends with the great watch-dog, and used to live in the kennel and share his dinner. He seemed to pity her and befriend her as his mistress had. There was some goodness and gratitude in the forlorn little creature, for one day the children saw her carry a half-fledged robin which she had caught, and lay it down before Dash, rubbing herself against his great paws most affectionately, while he looked much perplexed. Our other cats were both most respectable pussies and treated her with great disdain; and the shabby little pussy came into the house less and less, and finally grew a little afraid of us, scurrying away if we met her in the garden. She did not seem to grow a bit and I pitied her very much.
Just at this time we had a new maid in the kitchen, a young Swedish girl, one of the kindest and most child-like persons I ever saw. She had come over with part of the Maine colony and had drifted away from them.
"I say I not like that new place," she told me. "I like to live in a house that are not builded yesterday. I see the house and the field are builded new and nobody know them. I shall be homesick there for my old Sweden."
One day I was coming in from the garden and saw Elsie sitting in the grass with the kitten cuddled in her arms in a most affectionate way.
"Take care, Elsie!" said I. "That is a wild kitten. She will scratch you."
"Oh no, Miss, she not scratch her Elsie. She love me." And after this you might see the two together very often. Mamma asked Elsie one day why she liked the kitten so much, and she said:--
"Oh, I think she are zhust like a kitty I have in old Sweden long ago. I think she know what I say in Swede talk."
For two or three weeks "Kiesie," as Elsie called her, behaved with great propriety. It was really touching to see the pleasure they were to each other, and we all smiled to see how round and comfortable the little cat was growing to be. One of the servants who used to hate her more than any one else said to me that she wasn't half so stupid as she used to be, and never lifted her paw to steal a thing.
"Indeed, Miss, she may turn out to be our best mouser, after all, for I never saw a quicker kitten, though her nose isn't sharp."
But after a while too much prosperity brought back her old spirit of daring and mischief, and she ventured into the dining-room, and, once in a while, into the parlor. At first, she had never left her protector, but crept warily about, never venturing far from the hem of Elsie's garments. Elsie would hold her in her lap of an afternoon, while she sat sewing and singing, and Kiesie was of a moral turn of mind in those days, and apparently enjoyed the psalms and hymns. As you walked by she would lazily open her eyes, and twitch the end of her tail a little faster, while her new mistress cheerfully droned out the tunes she had learned far away over the sea, sitting among her blue-eyed, yellow-haired cronies in the Swedish parish school.
But this was all too good to last. One day Elsie came to mamma with much confusion of face and speech, to tell her that the beloved Kiesie had been stealing from a shelf, and had knocked down part of the best dinner-set. "She are all in such little pieces she cannot never be mended. I scold my Kiesie; I talk so loud that she very 'fraid and have walk out far in the gardens." There was no excuse; she had had a good dinner, and this was the beginning of many troubles. Soon Elsie no longer came with her grieved, blushing face to confess the kitten's last sin. For her sake, we endured a great deal of stealing and china-breaking; but at last mamma said it must stop, and she gave the gardener's little boy twenty-five cents, and a bag of proper size, and told him to catch Kiesie and drown her. I was looking out of my window a little later in the afternoon and saw him go down through the meadow, and the children whispered to me at tea-time that Tom had been met coming from the river, and did he not go to drown the kitten? They had asked him, but he would not tell.
To our great relief, Elsie did not seem to mourn at all, and even laughed one day, and said to the cook that the old cats had fine dinners now Kiesie was put away. This was the end of her for a week or two, and then one night nothing could persuade my brother and sister to go to bed. I had noticed that they seemed very solemn and had great whispering all day, while just as soon as it was dark they kept close to me, begging me to sit with them, for it was so lonely now that mamma was away. One of my friends was staying with me, and while we were all sitting in the library, Ann came to say that it was time for the children to go to bed, and they refused to go. I asked them if they meant to sit up all night, but I soon stopped joking, for I saw by their faces that they were really afraid, and after some persuasion they told me what the matter was.
"We are afraid you will make fun of us," said Jack, "but it's true. It's her ghost, and it walked right over my bed last night, and sat down where the moon shone on the quilt, and stared at me with its horrid shiny eyes. Kitty saw it run along the hall, and oh! mamma wouldn't make us stay alone all night, or go to bed early and lie awake thinking every minute it will come."
"But what ghost is it?" said I. I could not imagine what had frightened them so, and the two scared little faces looked at me imploringly.
"That awful little Kiesie," said Jack. "Elsie's kitten, you know. She never was like any other cat. I know she was drowned, for Tom said to-day that he threw her right off the bridge, where the water is so deep."
"But you must have dreamed you saw her. Or wasn't it one of the other cats?"
"Do you suppose we don't know Kiesie?" asked Jack, indignantly; and finding them so sure about it, I said that Jack should sleep in my room, if he liked, and shut both doors tight, and I would sleep in his room with the door open between that and Kitty's. They were quite willing to do this, and soon said good-night, after making me promise that I would come to bed early, and that Ann should stay with them until they went to sleep.
"What do you suppose put such an idea into their heads?" asked my friend, laughing, as they disappeared. "Who ever heard of a kitten's ghost?"
"Oh," said I, "they often tell each other frightful stories, and Jack is actually afraid of his shadow at night. He is as brave a boy as one would wish to see in the day-time." And then we talked of other things, and I read aloud for a while, and to our surprise, it was nearly midnight when we were ready at last to go upstairs. I looked in at the children to see if they were all right, and of course found them sleeping soundly, and looking as if their dreams were not of ghosts, but of something very pleasant.
I went into Jack's room next, the haunted chamber where I was to sleep, and I went to the east window to shut the blinds so that the sun could not shine in in the morning. When I turned round I saw with my own eyes, on the floor, in the square of moonlight that came through the other window,--the kitten's ghost!
Jack had told the truth; its eyes were shiny and they stared at me. I was just a little frightened, for a cat I knew to be alive would have startled me then. But the next minute I heard a croaking little mew that sounded very familiar, and the ghost came and rubbed itself affectionately against my foot. "Kiesie!" said I, and I gave her a little push. But she did not vanish into thin air.
So then I took her in my arms and marched bravely out through the house to Elsie's room. "Do you know where this kitten came from?" said I. "I thought she was at the bottom of the river."
Elsie rubbed her sleepy eyes. "Oh, I know she are not drowned. I so sorry. I should tell long ago she come home to me, but I think I keep her hiding in my closet till some Swede folks come I know, and I give her to them. I was scared when I see she. I think she eat herself a door in the bag, and yoomp out to the land. I feel her so wet on my bed that same night, and I call out, 'I hope you was dead.['] I think she are a spoorgie at first, and then she dry herself all warm, and come and love me like she used. So I say, 'You shall not be sent to be dead again in that cold water, my Kiesie.' I keep my door lock and I think no one know she are here, and sometimes I put her all day in a box I know in the stable-loft. She are bad cat. I shall say she is spoorgie; she know too much. I think she eated a door for herself out of my room like she come out of the bag in the river. She come right to me out of that cold water."
I laughed, and tossed Kiesie over on the bed, and said good-night to Elsie, and went back to Jack's room, where I slept in peace. Jack came in early in the morning, and we had a grand laugh over the phantom, but his triumph was great, because I frankly owned that I was frightened.
I went away for a visit soon after this, and when I came back one of the first pieces of news the children told me was that Kiesie had stolen so much meat from the store-room one morning that she had died in a fit the same afternoon. "It happened very well," said Jack. "We had nothing to do that day, and it was while the Ashtons were here, so we had a big funeral. We made Elsie walk in the procession, and she made six, with the three boys and Kitty and me. Elsie didn't care much; she said, 'I think it are time she die.' But we all made believe cry, and one of my old slates is put up for a head-stone. We have been waiting for you to come, to write the epitaph."
"It wouldn't have made a bit of difference about her being so homely," said Kitty, "but you know she never was going to be good for anything. Bridget says that kittens with noses like Kiesie's never make good mousers."
"I am so glad we are not like kittens," said I, moralizing a little. "It is no use to tell them to try to grow up to be good mousers and valuable cats, but we can learn every day how to be better the next, and we can be useful and busy and have as many friends as we please."
"Yes, indeed," said Jack. "Did you say you brought us some candy?"
"The Kitten's Ghost" first appeared in The Independent (25:589-90) on May 8, 1873, and was collected in Play Days. This text is from Play Days. Probable errors have been corrected and indicated with brackets. If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.
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the Maine colony: According to the Maine Swedish Colony website, William Widgery Thomas, Jr., created the Maine Swedish Colony and led the first settlers from Sweden to a New Sweden in 1870. http://www.maineswedishcolony.info/aboutcolony.html
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spoorgie: While it seems clear that Elsie is referring to a ghost, her word is not in the Oxford English Dictionary. Perhaps it is Swedish? Help is welcome.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.