| Dooryard Stories|
|by Clara Dillingham Pierson|
|Around the dooryard nest all sorts of birds, including flickers, robins, sparrows, wrens, swifts, and blackbirds. These stories convey some of the drama that arises in the garden as birds go about the business of building nests and raising young. The author's cat Silvertip figures in a number of the narratives as do a number of other mammals and insects. Invites children to 'see how many tiny neighbors you have around you, and how much you can learn about them.' Ages 5-7 |
THE CAT AND THE CATBIRD
T was late in the fall when Silvertip came to live in
the big house, and he was then a very small kitten.
All through the winter which followed, he was the pet
of the Gentleman and the Lady, of the Maid, and of the
people who came there to visit. He liked the
Gentleman, you know, who first brought him into the
At night he slept on a red cushion in a basket in the
kitchen, except when he made believe catch Mice with a
spool for a Mouse. Sometimes, when the other people
were in bed, they could hear him running and jumping
out there and
hav-  ing the finest kind of a time
all by himself. During the days he spent most of his
time on a red lamb's-wool rug under a desk where the
Lady kept her typewriter. He thought the desk must be
a Cat-house, for the room under it was just large
enough and just high enough to suit him, and there were
walls on three sides to make it warmer. He did not see
hwy the Lady should sit down at it nearly every day and
thump-thump-thump on the queer-looking little machine
which she dept upstairs in this house. When she did
this he had to move farther back on his rug, and it
bothered him to do so when he was sleepy.
Sometimes, when he had been really awakened by the
thump-thump-thumping of the machine and the ringing of
the little bell on it, he would jump up behind it.
Then he would peep over its top at the Lady and chew
the paper which stuck out in his face until he was
gently lifted or
 pushed away. Sometimes he sat
by the side of it, and then he would watch the little
bell ringing until he learned to put up one tiny white
paw and ring it himself. After he had watched and
played in this way for a while, he would lie on the
high part of the desk, over where the drawers were, and
sleep again. Yet he was never too sleepy to pat with
his paws every printed sheet which the Lady took from
the machine, or to play with every clean white one
which she fastened into it. He liked the white ones
the better and did n't see why the Lady wanted to mark
them all up so. Still, he thought it was probably her
way of playing, so it did n't matter.
Sometimes, when she seemed tired, the Lady would bend
over and put her face down against his back and call
him "her little collaborator." He did not know what
that big word meant. He thought it might be something
about his tail. They were both interested in tails.
 When the Lady was writing on her lap in the funny
way that Ladies sometimes have, he would cuddle down
under her portfolio and sleep. For these things he
liked her, but she would hardly ever take time to play
with him. So, when he heard the latch-key rattle in
the front door, he listened, and if it were the
Gentleman's step which he heard, he ran to the hall
door and waited with his little pink nose to the crack
until the Gentleman came in. then what romps they
would have! Back and forth from one room to another,
with balls, spools tied onto the most charming strings,
and even yardsticks and tape-measures, and things taken
from the Lady's sewing-stand.
He liked the Maid, too. She was always kind to him,
although she did shut him up one day when he stole a
silvery little sardine from the table. She would not
let him have anything but milk to eat until he was
nearly grown-up. Whenever
 he smelled a roast or
a fine juicy steak he would beg as hard as he knew how,
but not one taste did he ever get until he had lost all
his Kitten-teeth and his Cat-teeth were growing in.
When he was older and knew more about life, he
understood that this was to keep him from swallowing a
loose tooth with a mouthful of meat, and that Kittens
who are given all sorts of food are very likely to do
this and bring on fits. You can just imagine what
trouble it would make to have a sharp tooth get into a
This was probably the reason, too, why Silvertip grew
so very large and handsome. At Christmas time he was
given a red ribbon to wear around his neck, red being
very becoming to his complexion. He did not care very
much for the ribbon, though, and went off into a corner
and scratched at it with his hind feet until it came
off. Then he chewed it into a wet wisp and left it.
 This was Silvertip's life during that first
winter. Sometimes on sunshiny days he sat out on the
kitchen porch, and once in a while he sunned himself on
the broad rail of one of the front porches. Whatever
he wanted he had, except, of course, some kinds of
food, which he ought not to have anyway. Nobody was
ever cross to him and many people were doing things to
make him happy. He had yet to learn that this could
not last forever.
When spring came he lived more out of doors, and
followed the Hired Man around barn and woodshed. He
went into the ice-house once, but found that too cold.
In these places he saw his first Mice. He will never
forget the very first one which he caught. It was just
at supper time and he brought it into the kitchen. He
could not understand why the Maid should scream and act
so queerly. He thought perhaps she wanted it herself.
 Whenever the Mouse wriggled or flirted its tail
into his eyes he jumped backward. It scared him
dreadfully, but he would not let ho. Instead of that
he would walk backward two or three times around the
kitchen range. He wanted to lay the Mouse down and
play with it, only he did not know just how to go about
it. He tried to have the Maid help him, but every time
he went to lay it at her feet she jumped into a chair.
At last she called for the Lady. Then the Lady came
out and laughed at both of them. How it ended nobody
but Silvertip knows, for he walked around the kitchen
with it in his mouth until late in the evening, and the
next morning there was not a sign of it to be found.
It was this spring, too, that he became acquainted with
the Catbird. He heard a queer Cat-like voice saying
"Zeay! Zeay!" many times, and yet could never find the
Cat to whom it belonged. "Come
 out here!" he
would cry. "Come out here, and we will make believe
fight!" When no Cat came he could n't understand it.
He had already become acquainted with many Cats in the
neighborhood, and whenever one came to call they made
believe fight. It was their favorite game. They would
sit around and glare at each other and growl a whole
day at a time. So Silvertip could not understand a Cat
who said "Zeay!" instead of "Meouw!" and would not
One morning when Silvertip was sitting on the back
porch, a slender gray bird, with black crown, tail,
bill, and feet, perched on the woodbine over his head
and said, "Zeay!" It sounded as though somebody in the
little apple-tree had said it, but Silvertip was
looking at the bird and saw him open and shut his bill.
"Pht!" said Silvertip, as he began to let his tail and
the hair along his back bristle. "Pht! Don't you dare
to mock me!"
 "Zeay!" answered the bird. "Zeay! Zeay!"
"I don't say it just that way, anyhow," said Silvertip;
"Zeay!" answered the bird.
"I am the Cat who belongs here," said Silvertip. "You
quit mocking me or go away!"
"Zeay!" replied the bird, putting his head upon one
side. "I am the Catbird who belongs here. I had a
nest here last year before you were born, and when I
went south for the winter you were not here. Zeay!"
Now Silvertip, not having had a chance to learn much
about brids, thought that this one was not telling the
truth, and he quite lost his tempter. "You deserve to
be eaten," he cried, and he began to climb up the
woodbine, feeling his way along without taking his eyes
from the Catbird. The Catbird sat there and twitched
his tail until Silvertip had almost reached
Then he said, "Zeay!" and flew off. A few minutes
later he was sitting on the top twig of a fir tree and
singing wonderfully. This was what he sang: "Prut!
Prut! Coquillicot! Really! Really! Coquillicot!
Hey, Coquillicot! Hey! Victory!"
"YOU DESERVE TO BE EATEN."
Silvertip walked back and forth on the kitchen porch.
He was too angry to sit down at once. When at last he
did, and began to wash himself, he was thinking all the
time how mean the Catbird was.
Every day the catbird came and flirted around and said,
"Zeay! Zeay!" till Silvertip lost his temper. He just
ached to get his claws into that bird, and that even
when his stomach was full. He did not care so much
about eating him, you see, although he would
undoubtedly have done so if he had had the chance, but
he wanted to stop his teasing.
One day he was looking out through a screen door and
happened to see the
Cat-  bird mocking another bird.
He was surprised to hear the other say: "Mock away, if
it is any fun! It does n't hurt me any." Then he
heard the Catbird laugh and saw him fly away.
"I wonder what he would do if I were to try that?" said
Silvertip. "I believe I will the next time."
That very day, when Silvertip was sunning himself on
the porch and heard the same teasing voice say, "Zeay!"
above his head, he opened his thick eyelids and slid
the other ones about half-way to one side, and looked
lazily up. "Pretty good!" he said. "You do a little
better every day I think. If you keep at it you can
say ‘Meouw' after a while." Then he began to shut his
"Prut!" exclaimed the Catbird. "It's no fun teasing
you any more! You don't care enough about it!
Good-by!" And that was the last time that Silvertip
ever saw him nearer than the top of a tree. So
 Silvertip learned on of the great lessons of life,
which is not to pay any attention to people who make
fun of you, or to mind when you are teased.
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