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- ANIMAL HEROES - 6/31 -
got there to find it shut up and deserted. She waited about for a day; had an unpleasant experience with a big man in a blue coat, and next night returned to the crowded slum.
September and October wore away. Many of the Cats died of starvation or were too weak to escape their natural enemies. But Kitty, young and strong, still lived.
Great changes had come over the ruined blocks. Though silent on the night when she first saw them, they were crowded with noisy workmen all day. A tall building, well advanced on her arrival, was completed at the end of October, and Slum Kitty, driven by hunger, went sneaking up to a pail that a negro had set outside. The pail, unfortunately, was not for garbage; it was a new thing in that region: a scrubbing-pail. A sad disappointment, but it had a sense of comfort--there were traces of a familiar touch on the handle. While she was studying it, the negro elevator-boy came out again. In spite of his blue clothes, his odorous person confirmed the good impression of the handle. Kitty had retreated across the street. He gazed at her.
"Sho ef dat don't look like de Royal Ankalostan! Hyar, Pussy, Pussy, Pu-s-s-s-s-y! Co-o-o-o-m-e, Pu-u-s-s-sy, hyar! I'spec's she's sho hungry."
Hungry! She hadn't had a real meal for months. The negro went into the building and reappeared with a portion of his own lunch.
"Hyar, Pussy, Puss, Puss, Puss!" It seemed very good, but Pussy had her doubts of the man. At length he laid the meat on the pavement, and went back to the door. Slum Kitty came forward very warily; sniffed at the meat, seized it, and fled like a little Tigress to eat her prize in peace.
This was the beginning of a new era. Pussy came to the door of the building now whenever pinched by hunger, and the good feeling for the negro grew. She had never understood that man before. He had always seemed hostile. Now he was her friend, the only one she had.
One week she had a streak of luck. Seven good meals on seven successive days; and right on the top of the last meal she found a juicy dead Rat, the genuine thing, a perfect windfall. She had never killed a full-grown Rat in all her lives, but seized the prize and ran off to hide it for future use. She was crossing the street in front of the new building when an old enemy appeared, --the Wharf Dog,--and Kitty retreated, naturally enough, to the door where she had a friend. Just as she neared it, he opened the door for a well-dressed man to come out, and both saw the Cat with her prize.
"Hello! Look at that for a Cat!"
"Yes, sah," answered the negro. "Dat's ma Cat, sah; she's a terror on Rats, sah! hez 'em about cleaned up, sah; dat's why she's so thin."
"Well, don't let her starve," said the man with the air of the landlord. "Can't you feed her?
"De liver meat-man comes reg'lar, sah; quatah dollar a week, sah," said the negro, fully realizing that he was entitled to the extra fifteen cents for "the idea."
"That's all right. I'll stand it."
"M-e-a-t! M-e-a-t!" is heard the magnetic, cat-conjuring cry of the old liver-man, as his barrow is pushed up the glorified Scrimper's Alley, and Cats come crowding, as of yore, to receive their due.
There are Cats black, white, yellow, and gray to be remembered, and, above all, there are owners to be remembered. As the barrow rounds the corner near the new building it makes a newly scheduled stop.
"Hyar, you, get out o' the road, you common trash," cries the liver-man, and he waves his wand to make way for the little gray Cat with blue eyes and white nose. She receives an unusually large portion, for Sam is wisely dividing the returns evenly; and Slum Kitty retreats with her 'daily' into shelter of the great building, to which she is regularly attached. She has entered into her fourth life with prospects of happiness never before dreamed of. Everything was against her at first; now everything seems to be coming her way. It is very doubtful that her mind was broadened by travel, but she knew what she wanted and she got it. She has achieved her long-time great ambition by catching, not a Sparrow, but two of them, while they were clinched in mortal combat in the gutter.
There is no reason to suppose that she ever caught another Rat; but the negro secures a dead one when he can, for purposes of exhibition, lest her pension be imperilled. The dead one is left in the hall till the proprietor comes; then it is apologetically swept away. "Well, drat dat Cat, sah; dat Royal Ankalostan blood, sah, is terrors on Rats."
She has had several broods since. The negro thinks the Yellow Tom is the father of some of them, and no doubt the negro is right.
He has sold her a number of times with a perfectly clear conscience, knowing quite well that it is only a question of a few days before the Royal Analostan comes back again. Doubtless he is saving the money for some honorable ambition. She has learned to tolerate the elevator, and even to ride up and down on it. The negro stoutly maintains that once, when she heard the meat-man, while she was on the top floor, she managed to press the button that called the elevator to take her down.
She is sleek and beautiful again. She is not only one of the four hundred that form the inner circle about the liver-barrow, but she is recognized as the star pensioner among them. The liver-man is positively respectful. Not even the cream-and-chicken fed Cat of the pawn-broker's wife has such a position as the Royal Analostan. But in spite of her prosperity, her social position, her royal name and fake pedigree, the greatest pleasure of her life is to slip out and go a-slumming in the gloaming, for now, as in her previous lives, she is at heart, and likely to be, nothing but a dirty little Slum Cat.
THE CHRONICLE OF A HOMING PIGEON
We passed through the side door of a big stable on West Nineteenth Street. The mild smell of the well-kept stalls was lost in the sweet odor of hay, as we mounted a ladder and entered the long garret. The south end was walled off, and the familiar "Coo-oo, cooooo-oo, ruk-at-a-coo," varied with the "whirr, whirr, whirr" of wings, informed us that we were at the pigeon-loft.
This was the home of a famous lot of birds, and to-day there was to be a race among fifty of the youngsters. The owner of the loft had asked me, as an unprejudiced outsider, to be judge in the contest.
It was a training race of the young birds. They had been taken out for short distances with their parents once or twice, then set free to return to the loft. Now for the first time they were to be flown without the old ones. The point of start, Elizabeth, N. J., was a long journey for their first unaided attempt. "But then," the trainer remarked, "that's how we weed out the fools; only the best birds make it, and that's all we want back."
There was another side to the flight. It was to be a race among those that did return. Each of the men about the loft as well as several neighboring fanciers were interested in one or other of the Homers. They made up a purse for the winner, and on me was to devolve the important duty of deciding which should take the stakes. Not the first bird back, but the first bird into the loft, was to win, for one that returns to his neighborhood merely, without immediately reporting at home, is of little use as a letter-carrier.
The Homing Pigeon used to be called the Carrier because it carried messages, but here I found that name restricted to the show bird, the creature with absurdly developed wattles; the one that carries the messages is now called the Homer, or Homing Pigeon--the bird that always comes home. These Pigeons are not of any special color, nor have they any of the fancy adornments of the kind that figure in Bird shows. They are not bred for style, but for speed and for their mental gifts. They must be true to their home, able to return to it without fail. The sense of direction is now believed to be located in the bony labyrinth of the ear. There is no creature with finer sense of locality and direction than a good Homer, and the only visible proofs of it are the great bulge on each side of the head over the ears, and the superb wings that complete his equipment to obey the noble impulse of home-love. Now the mental and physical equipments of the last lot of young birds were to be put to test.
Although there were plenty of witnesses, I thought it best to close all but one of the pigeon-doors and stand ready to shut that behind the first arrival.
I shall never forget the sensations of that day. I had been warned: "They start at 12; they should be here at 12:30; but look out, they come like a whirlwind. You hardly see them till they're in."
We were ranged along the inside of the loft, each with an eye to a crack or a partly closed pigeon-door, anxiously scanning the southwestern horizon, when one shouted: "Look out--here they come!" Like a white cloud they burst into view, low skimming over the city roofs, around a great chimney pile, and in two seconds after first being seen they were back. The flash of white, the rush of pinions, were all so sudden, so short, that, though preparing, I was unprepared. I was at the only open door. A whistling arrow of blue shot in, lashed my face with its pinions,
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