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So it was agreed that we should take Zanita and adopt her as our own, or rather, as my own, for the Professor declared that although he did not object in the least to my having the child, yet he declined sharing any of the responsibility. She was to be wholly under my supervision and control, and I was not to apply to him for any advice or aid, further than the funds necessary for her maintenance.
“If,” said he, “you consider, my dear, that it is your duty to care for and educate Zanita, and direct her mental growth, then by all means act as your conscience directs; but I am not imbued with the same opinion, and I warn you not to allow your heart to mislead you in this respect, under the very natural and feminine idea that it would be pleasant to have a child in the house to love and protect. Zanita is not the one to increase any one’s happiness. And, excuse me for doubting that, even under your judicious treatment, she will ever make such a woman as a right-minded man would esteem and love. But, as I said before, if you think that your sacrifice for her good will prove her salvation, then, under such circumstances, I say you are the good and true little woman I have known you to he for fifteen years, and you shall carry out your noble intentions.”
Accordingly we started with Zanita for our home in Oakland. This journey out of the Valley was one of the saddest rides I ever made in my life. Everything wore an aspect of woe: the iron Tu-toch-a-nulah himself had a crushed and bowed appearance, as though he grieved for the absence of the beautiful spirit that had flown away even beyond his cloudy crest. The trees, and the few flowers left by the autumn, seemed to droop and pine as for a lost friend.
It was one of those dying days of the year when nature seems expiring with a solemn mournful sob; bright, beautiful, and glorious as she had been for months, she was now a thing of the past. Hers is a state of transition: the end of one life and the birth of another. Human nature, whose existence is still protracted, has an internal sympathy with her dissolution, and longs to lie down and expire with her. Thus had it been with that sweet spirit, so tender, so intimate, so loving had been her fellowship with the Great Mother. The air was heavy with clouds. A few drops of rain now and then fell like our painfully restrained tears. The piteous sobs of poor Rosalind, as she had clung to all in turn, imploring to be taken to her mamma, and believing steadfastly that we were going to join her as we had all gone to the funeral, still vibrated in my heart. Every moan through the pine boughs seemed to bring the agonized cry to my ears, until my heart was so full that it ran over. I felt then that I would give the world to turn back, and take the child upon the saddle before me.
The Professor, who generally followed the tenor of my thoughts pretty accurately, though unexpressed in words, here rode close along by my side, and placing his hand upon my shoulder,—
“Come,” said he, “hear up; you have done for the best; the child will be a comfort to her father, and it is the only consolation left him. She will be much happier in her old home than in a new one, and you have relieved them of a great trial in bringing away this one, who is absolutely enjoying, in her peculiar way, the lashing-up of her horse. If she does not break her neck over these rocks and stones before we get out of the Valley, I shall regard it as a special Providence.”
I looked ahead, and there was Zanita curveting and whipping and curbing her horse on a path, not much more than half a yard wide, overlooking a chaos of rocks and boulders sloping down for a thousand feet.
“Zanita! Zanita!” I exclaimed, “stop lashing your horse; he will lose his footing and go over the precipice.”
“Aunty,” she called back, “he wants to go over, and I am trying to prevent him.”
And she continued her exercise; fortunately the horse knew both his path and his rider, and pertinaciously refused to budge an inch off the track.
“Do you go to her, and take away her whip,” I said to the Professor, as we exchanged glances of meaning that my trials had already commenced. “For, although the child is a splendid horsewoman already, and could ride a steeple-chase, yet I would rather see her anywhere than mounted.”
Indeed my husband congratulated me when we arrived safely at Mariposa, there to take the stage for Stockton.
But our anxieties were only exchanged, and not removed; for having allowed her, under strict promise to behave herself, to ride alongside the coachman, she easily, with that soft winning look she knew so well how to assume when she wished to beguile a stranger, succeeded in persuading him to let her handle the reins, which she did with such skill and adroitness that coachee was amazed and delighted.
Presently we heard the whip going, and felt ourselves dashing along at a tremendous pace down-hill and around corners, the coach swaying to and fro until some of the inside passengers began to get alarmed, especially as we heard peals of laughter from the box.
“The driver must be drunk,” said my husband, “but he has his horses well in hand. Did you see how splendidly we came around that corner?”
Suddenly we pulled up with such a jerk, that the impetus caused all the vis-a-vis to embrace each other. The Professor, putting his head out of the window, beheld Miss Zanita struggling with the driver in her refusal to give up the reins.
“Zanita, you must come inside if you cannot behave properly.”
“He let me take the reins, and I drove splendidly he said,” so pleaded Zanita; “and if you will allow me to remain outside I will not do so again.”
We had not traveled half an hour before the elf, as my husband called her, was flourishing about on the roof and dangling the whip, to which she had tied a hunch of dry sedges, in at the windows of the stage.
“That ar’ gal of yourn seems an imp of mischief,” said a portly old gentleman in the corner, whose nose had been titillated by the sedges.
We had now to stop the coach, and have the imp brought in bon gré mal gré. It was a peculiarity of this child that she never fretted over anything, and no disappointment, or crossing of her purpose, seemed to afflict her more than two minutes. Her mind never dwelt longer on anything. If she were not allowed to amuse herself one way, she was fertile in improvising another. She had clung to her dead mother be-fore she was put into the coffin, and had uttered wild yells, screamed, and fought, and hit in a frenzy to prevent the coffin from being lowered into the grave.
But the following day she seemed to have little, if any, remembrance of the tragic scene, and it was doubtful if the solemnity of her mother’s death or absence affected her in any way. She was self-reliant and self-sufficient; and it was often a matter of doubt to me whether the normal affections had not been curiously omitted in her nature. She never nursed a doll, or fondled an animal, or caressed her sister. She would make the latter take a part in her play, but always to oblige herself. Yet once, when Kenmuir had harshly ejected Rosalind from amongst his botanical specimens, Zanita seized a chisel, and screamed with frantic passion that she would scalp him.
Being so much older than Rosalind, she ruthlessly took possession of whatever plaything she wished, indifferent to the lamentations of the little one. Yet, as a rule, she was not unkind, though tyrannical.
It boots not to tell of the hot water she kept our erst quiet establishment afloat in; nor would these pages suffice to narrate the ninety-ninth part of her escapades: how she rode astride down the banister, instead of stepping down the stairs; how she connived with the cat to catch a mouse alive, and put it into the meal barrel; how she would turn the water tap, and flood the whole premises; how it was impossible to keep her respectably clothed from any milliners. She never could be induced to take care of her costume; and of vanity, as far as fixings went, she had none. Gathers or trimmings were impracticable, the latter were always en queue, and the former en feston.
I had to take her in hand, and make her dresses in one piece, with as few seams or adornments as might be; nothing but back-stitching had a chance. Only on Sunday could I venture to dress her as a young lady to go to church.
Even then the Professor always declared he was ashamed to go out with her, for her hat could never be kept straight on her head, and often, if lost sight of for a moment, she would have it tied around her body, either as a pack or a breastplate, or strung over her parasol or umbrella, as though she were off camping again. In church she would persistently sleep and yawn aloud, or chew up the leaves of her prayer-book as if they were tobacco, making a tremendous display of spitting, and, if I gave her a handkerchief, would cough and hark until she drew the attention of the whole congregation upon her, and then she would flash out that elfish glance which expressed her highest state of enjoyment.
She had not been long in our quiet home in Oakland before most of my friends had come to condole with me, and delicately hint that she should be sent back into the wilds from whence she came. But the more difficult she was to manage, the more I felt that her father was unequal to training her: with her headstrong will, and relentless, fierce passions, she might drift into some fearful catastrophe or crime; while a judicious influence and pressure might subdue and guide her to some bright career; for that she was a child of magnificent talents and capabilities was undoubted.
Neither was it possible to conceal her mischievous proclivities from our neighbors; for if once admitted within their homes, there was no further safety for them or their belongings. She had sheared the tail and mane of the minister’s gray pony, which, as his wife said, made it look such an indelicate, nude object, that she could never ride behind it again.
Her reputation was thoroughly spread, when, one day, having locked myself in my room to write letters, which having accomplished, I sought in the parlor and kitchen, and was told by the servant that she had not seen her, but believed she was playing in the back garden, or in one of the trees, her usual resort. She answered not to my call, nor was she in the garden, or in the house; every room was looked into, every closet was opened; nothing was found. Her hat was gone, and she was gone, and we were all non-plused. I then waited for a time, thinking she had ran in, perhaps, to some of the neighbors. After the lapse of a couple of hours, the Professor came home; but no Zanita.
He expressed considerable alarm when told of the circumstance, and suggested that a search through Oakland be instituted without delay. He arranged a plan, and we all turned out to carry it into execution. We dreaded such a beautiful child being decoyed into San Francisco, and that she would fearlessly go with any one for a sufficient bribe I did not doubt.
My husband took one street, myself another, and the servant a third. We had a young darkey called Beppo, or for short “Bepp,” about thirteen years old, who served our small establishment as errand-boy and general skirmisher. He had been questioned at first, and his great round eyes opened so wide at the tidings of the disappearance of “Missy Zanita,” that I was fain to say, as I often did, “Do close your eyes, Bepp; they’ll fall out some day if you stretch them so wide.” I now gave him directions to run all about the neighborhood, a jaunt of which he was usually very fond, and try to find Miss Zanita.
He showed his white teeth, and doubtfully rolled his head, which always seemed loose.
“Missy am not been done gone far away.”
“How do you know—have you seen her?”
“I b’leeve missy an’t been done gone far away.”
“Nonsense!” I said, “go directly and look everywhere until you find her.”
“I’se been gone, missis.”
Two hours of ineffectual search and we became convinced, to our horror, that the child was not in Oakland; especially as in my travels I had met a lady who said that, from the description given, she had seen such a child going on to the ferry-boat, as she came off that day. She had not noticed her dress, but had been struck with her remarkable beauty.
Everything having been done that could be done in Oakland, and the police put on the qui vive, as much as could be effected with that body, myself and the Professor resolved to go over to San Francisco to trace the child which had been seen on the steamer, and communicate with the police in that city, and, as we could not conveniently return that night, we decided to remain there unless in case of her being discovered, when a telegram was to be sent; then we could hire a boat to take us across.
My heart sunk as I thought of the child wandering in the purlieus of San Francisco, and of the perils to which she was exposed: that she would readily accompany any one or enter any place I was sure, for fear was a quality which seemed entirely absent from her character. Even worse was the reflection, that she might choose to remain in any den of iniquity where it might suit them to keep her, with all her acuteness for concealing herself. I felt that, young as she was, it would take more than one adult intellect to compete with her in cunning devices.
As all these thoughts crowded upon me, I was utterly hopeless, and began to blame myself for bringing such a child out of her native forest. Communicating these thoughts to my husband, who, in spite of all his repudiation of responsibility, still behaved admirably in this emergency, he replied to my fears,—
“I would not make myself unhappy by entertaining those thoughts, my dear, if I were you; for I think it is ten chances to one that the child has hidden herself for the purpose of causing all this confusion, and that she will turn up in the quarter we least expect. Nevertheless, we must follow up this trace of her.”
On the ferry-boat, no one who knew her by sight had seen her, but a porter at the San Francisco depot remembered a little girl with very bright dark eyes. I could scarcely keep the tears out of mine, as I heard this news.
“You know, my dear,” commented my husband, “there are a few hundred little girls with beautiful black eyes who might be coming backwards and forwards to Oakland.”
We finally traced the black eyes to the street-cars; there the conductor said that such a little girl traveled by his car and had paid her fare with a dime, but did not recollect where she got out. As regarding her dress, he believed she had blue ribbons in her hat. “No red?” said I. “Well, maybe it might be red. I could not be clear about that.”
“What! not know blue from red?” I exclaimed, impatiently.
“Well, madam, I guess I can manage to get through without knowing. I havn’t got to garnish my hat with either, and if I want to make our glorious flag, I’ve only to put the two together.”
“But,” I continued, in my anxiety, “can’t you possibly recollect which? If it was blue, as you first said, it was surely not my little girl, and the dread of her having come over to the city alone would be at an end, and we could renew our efforts in Oakland.”
“Wall,” said the man immediately, “I guess it was blue; now, I am about certain it was;” and as my face brightened with the hope, he added,—
“I’m right certain it was the color of your bonnet ribbon.” “Good gracious, man!” I exclaimed, in despair, “that is violet.”
“Wall, it’s that, anyhow!” he persisted; so we went as wise as we came.
The captain of the police then told us he had seen, or heard of, at least six lost little girls, all with black eyes, and had no doubt but that he could lay his finger upon the one we sought in the course of twenty-four hours. He took down from my lips a minute description of her appearance and dress.
“Yah!” he exclaimed, running his eye over the page, “I thought I had her right off if it hadn’t a-been for them ‘slender limbs’: now the little gal I have in my eye has stout legs and arms, and is a right-fleshy child.” I went on with my description.
“Yah! I have her,” he interrupted; “speaks rapidly, does she? No mistake,” and he turned over the leaves of his day-book and ran down the columns with his finger.
‘There ye are, madam. Black eyes, brown nose,”—
“Hair,” I suggested, looking over the page.
“Quite right, madam; it is hair I was agoin’—straight down ye see. A quill nose,”—
“Aquiline,” I put in.
“Just so; slender figure, brown dress. There you are,” called the captain, triumphantly.
“Have you got the child?” I burst out, overjoyed.
“I guess I have; I guess I got just such a one in my eye.”
“O, take us to her at once!” I exclaimed. “If you knew the anxiety I have suffered”—
“Here you are, madam! We’ll go at once. I knew that child belonged to decent folks, professors like yourselves; so I kept her in my eye, though those people swore she belonged to a dead sister-in-law’s cousin. Yah! I knew I should pitch upon it at last. I’ve had that case in my eye for the last ten days, madam.”
“O dear!” I cried, clinging to my husband’s arm, “then it can’t be Zanita; she was only lost this morning.”
“Not her!” exclaimed the captain, incredulously; and he again ran his finger down the column of the day-book. “Black eyes, brown nose,—nose—how ? I mean a quill nose.”
“It is of no use,” I repeated; “the child was safe this morning under my care.”
“Well, then, it’s a case of mistaken identity,” said the captain, “and I’ll keep that child in my eye till her rightful parents does turn up. Now, madam, I will just take down how you came to lose her and where you think she is gone, and that is all that I will trouble you with this evening.”
Having given our address in the city and in Oakland, and promising to call early next morning, for which the captain said there was not the slightest necessity, that he could lay his finger on her in twenty-four hours if she was in the city of San Francisco, and “if she wasn’t, as a matter of course, why, he couldn’t, that was all.”
We returned to our hotel anxious and disconsolate; at least I was, but the Professor declared that he felt hopeful, as he had come to the conclusion that Zanita had not been in the city at all, and was safely in hiding in Oakland, for there was no place we could think of where she could be drowned or have fallen over.
“That child is the incarnation of mischief, and you will have to get accustomed to her vagaries and not worry about her, whatever happens!”
“Her poor mother never did,” I replied, “and it seems as though she was the only one who could control her.”
“Well, my dear,” said my husband, in his consolatory way, “I think you manage her very well whilst she is by you, but unless you could influence her magnetically, and exercise some superhuman sort of control, I do not see how these untoward proceedings can be foreseen or avoided.”
I never passed a more uncomfortable and restless night than at the hotel. I found it impossible to keep my imagination in repose for a moment. I was in spirit prowling all over the country, rummaging into every possible and impossible place. She might have fallen down somebody’s well; she never could keep her hand from interfering with anything she saw. Had she walked out into the country and taken refuge in some barn?
I resolved to have all the out-houses and wells searched next day. Could she have wandered down by the beach and been carried off by the tide? She could swim like a fish, and I had a feeling that she could not be drowned.
After settling all my plans for the coming day I got a few moments of rest.
Early the next morning the Professor went around to the office of the chief of police, and to all the different places where we had given information the evening before, but without gaining any satisfactory result. The captain admitted he had not got her rightly in his eye, but would no doubt lay his finger on her in twenty-four hours. We, consequently, returned home weary and heart-sick.
Our woolly-headed page met us at the cars: from the grin on his countenance visible far away in the distance, I rushed to the conclusion that there was good news, and communicated my hope to the Professor.
“See how delighted he looks; they must have found her!”
“Bepp has a capability of always being delighted, and I doubt very much whether the seriousness of the affair has as yet penetrated both the wool and the cranium. I suspect his pleasure arises from having caught a glimpse of you in the cars.”
“Is Miss Zanita found?” I called from the car window as soon as we were within hail. Bepp grinned assent and rolled his head in negative.
“What a tantalizing boy that is! Is Miss Zanita found?” I cried, jumping off the car and seizing him by the shoulder.
“Missy Zanita no found; she am been gone in the night.”
“How do you know? If she came in the night she must be at the house now. Is she?”
“B’leeve Missy Zanita gone been in the night.”
We hastened home, Beppo following, looking very serious, but no more intelligible. Martha, our girl, was standing at the door.
“Not the slightest tidings of her,” she said, answering my inquiry, before I could utter it.
“What does that goose, Bepp, mean about the night?”
“I don’t know,” said Martha, coloring. “He fancies he saw her, or dreamed he did.”
After some further talk we again took up the search. Martha went off on one expedition, and I started to hire a horse and buggy to be driven around the suburbs. I had not gone more than a hundred yards from the house, when I recollected that I might require more money than I had in my purse. I at once retraced my steps, opened the door softly with the latch-key, and was half-way up-stairs toward my bedroom, when I was startled by a fearful crash in one of the rooms below, which sounded as though all the crockery in the house had been broken. I thought of a strange cat having got into my china and store closet, and rushed to the spot.
The door was partly open, and there, astride the débris of my best tea-set, jam-pots, apples, peaches, dry tea, and coffee-beans, stood the lost Zanita, with a gleam of half discomfited mischief in her roguish eyes.
“Why Zanita!” I exclaimed, “where have you been?”
“Nowhere,” was the prompt reply. “Has aunty just come back from San Francisco?”
“Certainly I have, where I have been looking for you. You naughty child! Where have you been?” I repeated. “Tell me, instantly.”
“Aunty, I have not been anywhere,—not even into the garden to play whilst you were absent,” cried the little witch demurely, attempting to make believe she had been conducting herself most exemplarily during my short stay in San Francisco.
“Where were you yesterday, and last night?”
“Sometimes in one room, sometimes in another.”
I now recollected that we had all been away during the greater portion of the time, and that she had the full roam of the rooms to herself. “What part of the house were you in when I was calling you?” “I did not hear you calling,” she said, with the most innocent look.
“How came all this breakage?”
“I was trying to reach an apple.”
“You could not have broken the shelf trying to reach an apple,” I said: and now the whole mystery flashed upon my mind. She had mounted the shelf and hidden away in the dark corner, so that a person coming from the light and looking in would not observe her; and when she had found the house clear had roamed about at large, concealing herself when she heard any one approach. Thus, probably, Beppo had seen her; but there was some Masonic understanding between them.
“Now, Zanita, tell me, were you not upon that shelf?”
“I was just camping there,” she pleaded, at last brought to bay, “and I’ll mend all the cups and saucers with pine gum, and I’ll put a stanchion under the shelf, so that it won’t break again.”
“No,” I said, “it will never break again when it is mended; for, in punishment of the naughty trick you know that you have played, you shall not enter that closet again for six months.”
This was a terrible infliction, for it was her special delight to bring me fruit and cake from the closet, to which, no doubt, she helped herself. She made no murmur or to do, but just turned round and began to fit the china together.
Most of our friends were of opinion that she ought to receive a sound whipping, and that it would cure her of such exploits, but, besides doubting the wisdom of Solomon in general as to the use of the rod, in this special case it would have been the climax of evil. Fear of anything would never deter her accomplishing whatever she had set her heart upon, but a constant privation was what she could less endure. She was passionately fond of good things to eat, and for this gratification she was likely to sacrifice the other propensity to mischief.
At this juncture of affairs the Professor came in, and I hastened to in-form him of the manner of the discovery. He was not a man of many words and said nothing, except his expressive little “Humph, humph!”
Zanita pretended hard to appear as though unconcerned in the conversation, but under her long dark lashes she was keeping a keen watch upon the Professor, like a wary dog guarding an enemy that might turn out dangerous. But she avoided meeting his eye. There was a struggle for mastery silently going on between the child and the man, very curious to observe.
He was making her aware that no such pranks could be safely played with him or anything appertaining to him. Unconsciously, she was trying to repudiate this impression, and reviewing in her mind how she could create a disturbance in his geological and botanical specimens. That she would fall foul of his study some day had been my fear and dread since she had entered the house. But my comfiture and pickle closet had been the first victim.
Presently the eyes of the silent and fierce combatants met, and Zanita received a glance which made her dark orbs droop and quiver. She turned away with that peculiar laugh of hers, half glower and half leer, and the contortion which came over her delicate and already expressive little face said as plainly as if spoken in words,—
“I see I must not come in collision with you, but there is mischief enough to beat outside your study, and I’ll circumvent you in many a way you don’t think of.”
My husband and I exchanged glances of intelligence.
“It is very hard for you, my dear,” he said, laying his hand on my shoulder, “but courage! you have to meet the ordeal you have undertaken.”
“It seems to me,” he added, sitting down on the lounge beside me, as he always did for a cozy chat,—“it seems to me a problem which I cannot solve. To start with the beneficence of Providence, it is a mystery that He should burden a poor child with such a character from no fault of any one that we can see, unless one is lugged out from some of the remote relics of her dead ancestors and bequeathed to her as a legacy, for neither her father nor mother had any of these peculiar traits. It is the unnatural development of the organs of destructiveness, secretiveness, and ideality.”
“Admitted; but her mother was not secretive, perhaps a little reticent from timidity, but simple and truthful as a May morning, and her ideality was of the most spiritual and angelic character; and her father is as honest and upright as day,—a man without guile.”
“Where, then, does she get her inaptitude, or, I may say, her incapacity, for truth?”
“It is her want of conscientiousness,” I replied.
“Allowed,” returned my husband; “hut how are you going to supply it? Don’t you admit that it is a misfortune to be born without conscientiousness?”
“Certainly I do; but by cultivating that organ and repressing destructiveness, I hope, in a measure, to counteract the misfortune.”
“Well,” said the Professor, smiling, “we shall see who has the best success: I with my cabinet, or you with your china closet.”
Here we were interrupted by Martha’s voice, exclaiming,—
“My, my! if you ain’t a little cuss! I never did! I wish you were my child; I’d spank you while I could stand over you—that I would!”
“No you wouldn’t,” retorted Zanita; “I’d just put matches and pow-der under your bed if you were my mother, and blow you up in blazes.”
“I’ll bet you would; there’s nothing impish that’ll beat you. Where have you been?”
“Nowhere,” cried Zanita. “I’ve never been out of the house. But you have; you’ve been out all night, and I’ll tell aunty of you if you don’t leave me alone.”
“Drat the child! she must be a witch: how do you know?”
Zanita let fly her elfin fire, but said nothing.
Here I called Martha and explained the situation.
“And were you out, Martha?” I inquired.
“True for you, ma’am, I was: I’m sorry I left the house when you and the Professor was out, but it happened just this how. I fell asleep in my chair right early, and was awoke by a queer-like noise that set all my hair up, and I come out in a reg’lar perspiration: it was the strangest kind of thing. First, as though something had tickled my face, like the cat’s tail, ma’am, but when I got up there was no cat, and I heard the strangest noise—well, more like the spirits in Purgatory than anything I can think of.”
Here Zanita, her face buried in the sofa cushions, was shaking with suppressed merriment.
“Zanita! what is the matter; do you know anything about it?”
“No, nothing, aunty,” said the child, looking up as grave as a judge, her great dark eyes troubled as though mischief had never been reflected from the same orbs.
“Well, ma’am, as I was saying, I just made tracks out of the door to fetch up Bepp, and then I bethinks me that if it was any of the brood of Satan, why a nigger might be the best to help him, both being of the same color like. So I just stepped into Mrs. Waddy’s, next door, and found Jane sitting up, ironing; and she said, said she, that even with a hot iron she’d not like to face such a dispensation of Providence as spirits in Purgatory appearing in acshul presence as they are allowed to do, you know ma’am, on All-Hallow’s Eve. So the long and short of it is, I slept with Jane, and I’ve not seen the cat this morning, and I do confess and believe that the devil and all his works have taken it.”
At this avowal of faith another convulsion from Zanita confirmed the idea I had formed of this tragic story.
“Now, Zanita,” I said, “tell me where the cat is!”
“You bet she’ll know if any one does. I’m blessed if she ain’t in telegrammatical communication with the devil, as is a growling lion as she is, always a talking about in them forests where she comes from.”
“Where is the cat, Zanita?” I repeated.
Zanita cast down her eyes and twined her slender fingers, as she was in the habit of doing when seeking for a plausible subterfuge.
To my reiterated question she answered, “Oh, it was probably a tiger-cat, a great frightful striped thing that came down to the cottage at home in heavy snowstorms. Ah! Martha, it’s a wonder it didn’t tear your eyes out and your hair off, specially your waterfall that’s just like a bird’s-nest, and the tiger-cat would think there were young ones in it, and would eat it all up, and you too,” she concluded, her eyes gleaming with delight at the horror and disgust expressed by Martha as she re-fixed her waterfall.
I could scarcely keep from laughing, but I said, gravely,—
“Zanita, that will not do. You must tell me where the cat is!”
“Well, then,” she said, throwing her arms about me with her sweetest manner, “may I go into the closet again if I tell?”
“No! certainly you cannot; but you must tell all the same.”
Having retreated behind her last fastness and unable to make terms, she yielded at discretion and whispered,—
“In the wood-shed.”
“Come, then,” I said, taking her hand, “let us find her.”
We all went into the wood-shed, and there, as pointed out by my protege, in a barrel, the lid heavily weighted by a lump of coal, lay poor pussy, still and lifeless, with my gilt leather cincture, to which a buckle was attached, drawn tightly round her neck.
To our mutual exclamations of horror, Zanita replied,—
“I put a pretty collar on her, aunty; you said she should have a pretty collar.”
“Don’t say a word, you naughty child; how could you be so cruel as to kill poor Kitty?”
“I didn’t kill her. I only pulled the strap to stop her making a noise and waking Martha.”
“Yes, whilst you tickled her face with pussy’s tail!”
I took the poor kitten on my lap and unfastened the strap, and made Zanita stand and look at her while I appealed to her higher and softer feelings. I represented the suffering of the kitten and how playful and cunning she had ever been.
“She scratched me, once!” said Zanita.
I used my utmost eloquence, and pictured the death of the kitten in the most pathetic strain. It was all in vain; not a tear could I win, not an expression of sorrow or remorse flickered for an instant over her statue-like face. She coolly turned to Martha and said,
“Martha, won’t you skin it, just like you do the rabbits, and let me have the skin to make cuffs like aunty’s, to wear in snow time.”
I gave up trying to excite any tenderness as quite hopeless, and carried the cat to the Professor, who had been in his study all the time. To my great relief he pronounced the animal not dead.
“It is a case of suspended animation, and possibly we may resuscitate her.”
The Professor went to work, with a little science and more good-will, and poor pussy was soon crawling about,—very languidly at first, but rapidly gaining strength, and bearing no malice toward Miss Zanita.
Children who are already callous to the delicate emotions, without a clear sense of justice or right, do not recognize the punishment of the rod as retributive, but only as an exercise of power which they set themselves to defeat by every means within their grasp. They do not resolve never again to commit the act for which they have been punished, but they determine to so plan and plot, to so lie and deceive, that they shall never again be caught. Thus they are not improved, but rendered ten times more vicious than before. Boys, especially, are often fearless and take delight in daring a danger, which, if incurred, will assuredly bring them pain. They know when they climb trees they may fall and break their limbs, and suffer weeks of confinement and agony; but no boy was ever deterred from climbing by fear of consequences, or from stealing apples by fear of a whipping, even though he has suffered from either: he merely acts with more caution in placing his footing, or waits till it is darker, or the owner of the apples more distant.
If Zanita had been whipped she would have taken the first opportunity of practicing the same infliction on the cat, or dog, or child over whom she might have control. I should have been in terror lest somebody’s baby would be found beaten to death with the stair rod or hand broom, so vindictive and hard was her nature. Pain and suffering in another seemed to afford her absolute pleasure,—like the Queen Joanna of Naples, who is said to have had her lover tortured to death before her eyes. I did not doubt that my protégé possessed much the same disposition, and would exercise it with the same gusto when she had the power.
To counteract this idiosyncrasy I endeavored to exclude her from the sight or knowledge of any act of cruelty, for even the killing of bears, snakes, and wild animals, in her forest life, had already had a most baneful effect on her character. Life of bird, beast, or man was alike indifferent to her. She was as callous about her mother’s death as about that of her favorite calf or dog.
“How did she die?” she would ask me over and over again, when I mentioned the subject. If I could have told her she had been shot, or fallen off Tu-tock-a-nulah, or drowned in the Mercede, she would have taken great interest in the subject; but she lacked sympathy and even appreciation of her sweet, saint-like mother. She could perceive no beauty in earth, or sky, or rock, or river, nor yet in her own exquisite face.
“Aunty,” she said one day, “that little girl at Waddy’s says I’m not as pretty as she is, because she has got light hair like Cozy. Isn’t that rubbish? Who cares about being pretty! I can jump three times as high as she can, and throw a stone and hit any one chicken you like to say.”
“No, indeed, I do not like ‘to say’; and you must not throw at the chickens.”
In many ways she had the character of a boy. She was never known to cry, and I have seen her, as a little one, bruised all over, show up her wounds and scratches, and even glory in them.
“You never had such a deep cut as that!” she would cry, exultingly.
Some days she would limp and explain to every one that a large rock had rolled over and crushed her foot.
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