Hiram, Jingo And Baby
( Originally Published Ealry 1900's )
" More evil is wrought by want of thought than ever by want of heart."
THE increasing winds and cool evenings warned the pleasure-seekers at the mountains and seaside that they must return to furnace-heated houses and indoor life.
The summer had been a delight. Men had brought their families, their servants, and their household pets their dogs and cats; they had lounged under the trees, fished off the rocks, walked on the beach, been children again with their children, and now must be back at desk, and store, and the cares and conventionalities of city life.
Trunks were packed, and house after house was shut up. Pet cats began to be seen straying about the streets, waiting at back doors where homes were empty, trying to catch birds or whatever was possible in the late autumn, lean and forlorn, and frightened instead of purring when a friendly hand tried to touch them. Could it be possible that even good people could be so cruel as to go back to the city and leave pet cats to starve in the winter, or, when going into the country, to leave them to die of thirst and hunger on the hot paved streets of the city?
The Wesseltons seemed to be the very last family to return to town. All was excitement as the children gathered up their playthings and made ready, reluctantly to go away to the train. " Where is the basket for the kittens, mamma? We've had such fun with them ! Won't they enjoy the bed in our room, and what will they think of our big house and soft rugs? Won't they play before the fire, and like the bed we make up for Topsy ? — the latter a pet dog.
" Oh, Carrie, we can't take those half-grown cats to town. We must leave them here," replied the mother.
" Why, mamma," answered the astonished child, " Jingo will starve, and little Baby will freeze. She is so gentle, she won't know how to catch things, and besides, the things will all go away in the winter, when the snow comes and then she can't find any."
" Oh, she'll go miles to some farmhouse, and the people will take her in as you have done, because she is so pretty. Jingo is big, and he can fight his way with the dogs."
I guess there won't be any dogs to fight," said Carrie, " but there will be lots of lonesome cats." Tears gathered in the eyes of little Carrie, and her sister Marion looked equally downcast.
Pleading did not avail. Mrs. Wesselton was not hard-hearted. She did as most of her neighbors did, let her children enjoy the cats and pretty kittens in the summer. and turned them out to die in the winter, without seeming to realize the cruelty of it.
To soothe the feelings of the children, Mrs. Wesselton assured them that if the cats found no home at farm-houses, they would stay in the shed, in the straw, and Hiram, the coachman, would come down in a few weeks, look after the summer home, and bring the cats some food. Weeks did not seem to Mrs. Wesselton a long time for cats to wait for food and drink.
The Wesselton carriage drove away with nurse and children, who turned wistfully back and saw the half-grown Maltese cats looking after them—perchance, knowing that they were to be abandoned.
For days after reaching the city, Carrie and Marion talked about their pets; wondered if they had any breakfast or supper, if they missed the girlish petting, if they remembered the play with ball and string, if they had really found the farm-houses, which were, in reality, a great way off, and if they would be warm when the winter came. They realized how deeply they missed the kittens, who had followed them like little dogs, who had slept in their laps in the sunshine, and nestled in their necks when all frolicked on the grass.
Hiram did not go to the country as soon as was expected. There were many matters to be attended to before the city house was in good order, and Hiram was useful everywhere. At last, about the middle of December, there came time for him to go to the summer home, to see if all was safe as when he left it, and, incidentally, to see if the cats were still there.
" Look for Jingo," said the children, " but especially for Baby. She must have cried so hard, poor thing."
Hiram reached the place, found the furniture uninjured, and then looked about for the pets. Of course, he did not much expect to find them. There was not a living person about, the snow was on the ground. He called " Jingo ! " but received no answer. The cat had died of cold and hunger, probably, or had wandered far away, possibly still suffering, but more likely dead.
Then Hiram called " Baby ! " and thought, under the edge of the shed floor, he heard a faint cry. He got down on his knees and looked. Baby saw him, and attempted to crawl out. At her side lay four little dead kittens, nearly famished before birth, and dead afterward from starvation. " Baby ! Baby ! " said the man, with a tremor in his voice, " here is food for you! " for he had not forgotten to bring some, thinking there was _a slight possibility that he might need it.
The poor, gaunt creature crawled out, almost too faint to lick his hand, and quite too weak to eat the food which he had brought. He took her in his arms, folded his coat about her, and tried to warm her back to life. It was too late. The neglected thing tried to crawl into his vest, as if longing for the affection she used to receive. Then she seemed to have a slight convulsion, as though the seeing of a friend was too great a strain upon an already weakened heart, stretched out the skeleton paws, mewed faintly, as if in pain, and died. Hiram buried Baby and.
her four kittens, and took back the mournful news to Mrs. Wesselton and the children. Carrie and Marion cried as though their hearts would break. Mrs. Wesselton was sorry for the children, and astonished, because she thought, with thousands of others, that cats could live somehow, despite starvation and freezing, or, indeed, like so many others, 'when leaving city homes for the country or country homes for the city, she did not give much thought -to poor dumb creatures. She regretted her cruelty to Jingo and Baby and their kittens as long as she lived.