Barks and Purrs online

. (page 1 of 5)
Online LibraryColetteBarks and Purrs → online text (page 1 of 5)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Hilary Caws-Elwitt and PG Distributed Proofreaders










_There are moments when one seems to come to life. One looks about and
distinguishes a creature whose foot-print closely resembles the ace of
spades. The thing says: bow-wow. It is a dog. One looks again. The ace
of spades is now an ace of clubs. The thing says: pffffffff - and it is a

_This is the history of the visible world and in particular, that of my
god-children, Toby-Dog and Kiki-the-Demure. They are so natural - I use
the word in the sense in which it is applicable to the savages of
Oceania - that all their acts conspire to make of life, a very simple
proposition. These are animals in the fullest sense of the
word - animos - if I may employ the original orthography, capable of
exclaiming with those of Faust_: "The fool knows it not! He knows not
the pot, He knows not the kettle."

* * * * *

_And as such, Madame, you have placed them exactly where they should be:
their earthly Paradise is the apartment of Monsieur Willy. In your
salon, the probable palm and rubber-plant give the impression of
luxuriant Edenic flora, relatively speaking, and illustrate the
transmogrification which is to allow M. Gaston Deschamps - critic of a_
"Temps" _plus-que-passé - to announce to the wilderness (where he speaks
familiarly of Chateaubriand), and to the Collège de France, how well he
can admire and understand a true poet_.

* * * * *

_For you are a true poet and I will declare it freely, not concerning
myself more with the legends Parisians have the habit of weaving about
every celebrity. They admire Gauguin and Verlaine, not so much for their
originality, as for their eccentricities. And so it happens that certain
persons, unacquainted with the nameless sentiment, the order and purity,
the thousand interior virtues which guide you, persist in saying that
you wear your hair short and that Willy is bald._

_Must I then - living at Orthez - tell_ Tout-Paris _who you are, present
you to all who know you - I who have never seen you_?

* * * * *

_I will say then, that Madame Colette Willy never had short hair, that
she does not wear masculine attire; that her cat does not accompany her
when she goes to a concert, that her friend's dog does not drink from a
tumbler. It is inexact to say that Mme. Colette Willy works in a
squirrel's cage, or performs upon trapeze and flying rings, and can
reach with her toe the nape of her neck. Madame Colette Willy has never
ceased to be the_ plain woman _par excellence, who rises at dawn to give
oats to the horse, maize to the chickens, cabbage to the rabbits,
groundsel to the canaries, snails to the ducks and bran-water to the
pigs. At eight o'clock, summer and winter, she prepares the café au lait
for her maid - and herself. Scarcely a day passes that she does not
meditate upon this admirable book_:




_Orchard, kitchen-garden, stable, poultry-yard, bee-hive and hot-house,
have no further mysteries for Madame Colette Willy. They say, she
refused to divulge her secret for the destruction of mole-crickets to "a
great statesman, who prayed her on his knees."_

* * * * *

_Madame Colette Willy is in no way different from the description I have
just given of her. I am aware that certain folk, having met her in
society, insist upon making her very complex. A little more, and they
would have ascribed to her the tastes of the mustiest symbolists - and
one knows how far from pleasing are those Muses' robes, how odious the
yellow bandeaux above faces expressionless as eggs. Robes and bandeaux
are to-day relegated to drawers in the Capitol at Toulouse, from which
they will never be taken more, except when occasion calls for the
howling of official alexandrines in honor of M. Gaston Deschamps,
Jaurès, or Vercingétorix._

_Madame Colette Willy rises to-day on the world of Letters as the
poetess - at last! - who, with the tip of her slipper sends all the
painted, laureled, cothurnèd, lyre-carrying Muses - that, from Monselet
to Renan, have roused the aspirations of classes in Rhetoric - rolling,
from the top to the bottom of Parnassus._

_How charming she is thus - presenting her bull-dog and her cat with as
much assurance as Diana would her hound, or a Bacchante her tiger._

_See her apple-cheeks, her eyes like blue myosotis, her
lips - poppy-petals, and her ivy-like grace! Tell me if this way of
leaning against the green barrier of her garden-close, or of lying under
the murmurous arbor of mid-Summer, is not worth the starched manner,
that old magistrate de Vigny - with his neckcloth wound three times
around, and rigid in his trousers' straps - imposed upon his goddesses?
Madame Colette Willy is a live woman, a real woman, who has dared to be
natural and who resembles a little village bride far more than a
perverse woman of letters_.

* * * * *

_Read her book and you shall see how accurate are my assertions. It has
pleased Madame Colette Willy to embody in a couple of delightful
animals, the aroma of gardens, the freshness of the field, the heat of
state-roads, - the passions of men.... For through this girlish laughter
ringing in the forest, I tell you, I hear the sobbing of a well-spring.
One does not stoop to a poodle or tom-cat, without feeling the heart
wrung with dumb anguish. One is sensible, in comparing ourselves to
them, of all that separates and of all that unites us_.

* * * * *

_A dog's eyes hold the sorrow of having, since the earliest days of
creation, licked the whip of his incorrigible persecutor in vain. For
nothing has mollified man - not the prey brought him by a famishing
spaniel, nor the humble guilelessness of the shepherd-dog, guarding the
peace of the shadowy flocks under the stars_.

_A tragic fear shines in the cat's eyes. "What are you going to do to me
now?" it seems to ask, lying on a rubbish-heap, a prey to mange and
hunger - and feverishly it waits the new torture that will shatter its
nervous system_.

_But have no fear ... Madame Colette Willy is very kind. She quickly
dispels the hereditary dread of Toby-Dog and Kiki-the-Demure. She
meliorates the race, so that dogs and cats will learn in the end that it
is less dull to frequent a poet than an unhappy Collège de France
candidate - had this candidate proven more copiously still, that the
author of "Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe" had topsyturvily described the
jawbone of the Crocodile_.

* * * * *

_Toby-Dog and Kiki-the-Demure well
know that their mistress is a lady who
would do no harm - neither to a piece of
sugar nor to a mouse; a lady who, for our
delight, jumps a rope she has woven of
flower-words which she never bruises, and
with which she perfumes us; a lady who sings,
with the voice of a clear French rivulet, that
wistful tenderness which makes the hearts of
animals beat so fast_.


* * * * *


KIKI-THE-DEMURE, A Maltese cat.
TOBY-DOG, A French bull-dog.
HE, }
SHE,} Master and Mistress (of minor importance).


_The sunny porch_. TOBY-DOG _and_ KIKI-THE-DEMURE _sprawl on the hot
stone-flags, taking their after luncheon nap. The silence of Sunday
prevails, yet_ TOBY-DOG _is not asleep: the flies and a heavy luncheon
torment him. Hind-quarters flattened out frog-fashion, he drags himself
on his belly up to_ KIKI-THE-DEMURE _whose striped body is perfectly


Are you asleep?

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_purrs feebly_)


Are you even alive? You're so flat! You look like the empty skin of a

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_in faltering tones_)

L-e-t - m-e - a-l-o-n-e....


Not sick, are you?


No.... Let me alone. I'm asleep. I'm not even conscious of my body. What
torment to live with you! I've eaten, it's two o'clock, let's sleep.


I can't. Something's made a ball in my stomach. It means to go down I
guess, but very slowly. And then, - these _flies_, these _flies_! The
eyes start out of my head at the sight of one of them. I'm all jaws,
bristling with terrible teeth (just hear them snap), yet the infernal
things escape me. Oh! my ears! Oh! my poor, sensitive, brown belly! My
feverish nose! There! ... you see?... right on my nose! _What_ shall I
do? I squint all I can ... two of them now?... No ... only one ... no,
two!... I toss them up like bits of sugar and it's the empty air I
snap.... I'm worn out. I detest the sun, and the flies, and

(_He wails_.)

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_sitting up, his eyes pale from the light and

Well, you've succeeded in waking me. That's all you wanted, isn't it? My
dreams are gone! These flies that you're pursuing - I hardly felt their
little teasing feet through my thick fur. The merest touch, like a
caress, now and then thrilled along the silky sloping hairs which clothe
me.... But then you never act with any discretion. Your vulgar gayety is
a nuisance, and when sad you howl like a low comedian.

TOBY-DOG, (_bitterly)

_ If you woke up just to tell me _that_ -

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_correcting_)

Of course you'll remember 'twas _you_ woke me.


I was so uncomfortable, I wanted someone to help me, to give me a word
of encouragement....


_I_ don't know any digestive words.


Fancy their giving _me_ a bad character when ... Just examine your
conscience a bit and compare us. Hunger and heat wear you out and drive
you mad; cold makes your blood curdle....

TOBY-DOG, (_vexed_)

Mine is a sensitive nature.


A demoniacal nature, you mean!


No, I don't mean that. You - you're a monstrous egoist.


Perhaps.... You and the Two-Paws don't understand what you're pleased to
call a cat's egoism.... Our instinct of self-preservation, our dignity,
our modest reserve, our attitude of weary renunciation (which comes of
the hopelessness of ever being understood by them), they dub, in
haphazard fashion, egoism. You're not a very discriminating dog, but at
least you're free from prejudice. Will _you_ understand me better? A cat
is a guest in the house, not a plaything. Truly these are strange times
we're living in! The Two-Paws, He and She, have _they_ alone the right
to be sad or joyful, to lick plates, to scold, or to go about the house
indulging their capricious humors? I too have _my_ whims, _my_ sorrows,
_my_ irregular appetite, _my_ hours of reverie when I wish to be

TOBY-DOG, (_attentive and conscientious_)

I'm listening, but I can hardly follow what you say. It's so
complicated - a bit over my head, you know. But you astonish me! Are they
in the habit of hindering you in your changeful moods? You mew, and they
open the door. You lie on the paper - the sacred paper He's scratching
on - He moves away, marvelous condescension! - and leaves you his soiled
page. You meander up and down his scratching table, obviously in quest
of mischief, your nose wrinkled up, your tail giving quick little jerks
back and forth like a pendulum. She watches you laughing, while He
announces "the promenade of devastation." How then, can you accuse
Them -

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_insincere_)

I don't accuse Them. After all, psychological subtleties are not in your


Don't speak so fast. I need time to understand. It seems to me -

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_slyly_)

Pray, don't hurry! Your digestion might suffer in consequence.

TOBY-DOG, (_unconscious of the irony_)

You're right! I've some trouble in expressing myself to-day. - Well, here
goes: it seems to me that of the two of us it's you they make the most
of, and yet _you_ do all the grumbling.


A dog's logic, that! The more one gives the more I demand.


That's wrong. It's indiscreet.


Not at all. I have a right to everything.


To everything? And I?


I don't imagine you lack anything, do you?


Ah, I don't know. Sometimes in my very happiest moments, I feel like
crying. My eyes grow dim, my heart seems to choke me. I would like to be
sure, in such times of anguish, that everybody loves me; that there is
nowhere in the world a sad dog behind a closed door, that no evil will
ever come....

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_jeering_)

And _then_ what dreadful thing happens?


You know very well! Inevitably, at that moment She appears, carrying a
bottle with horrible yellow stuff floating in it - Castor Oil! Wilful and
unfeeling, she holds me between her strong knees, opens my jaws -

Close them tighter!


But I'm afraid of hurting her - and my tongue, horrified, tastes the
slimy mawkish stuff. I choke and spit, my poor face is convulsed and the
end of this torture is long in coming.... You've seen me afterwards
dragging myself around, melancholy, my head hanging, listening to the
unwholesome glouglou the oil makes in my stomach....


Once when I was little She tried to give _me_ castor oil. I scratched
and bit her so, she never tried again. Ha! She must have thought she
held the devil between her knees. I squirmed, blew fire through my
nostrils, multiplied my twenty claws by a hundred, my teeth by one
thousand, and finally - disappeared as if by magic.


I wouldn't dare do that. You see, I love her. I love her enough to
forgive her even the torture of the bath.

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_interested_)

You do? Tell me how it feels. It makes me shiver all over, just to see
her putting you in the water.


Alas.... Listen then, and pity me. Sometimes, when She's come out of her
tub with nothing on her but her skin, her soft hairless skin that I lick
respectfully, - She spills out more warm water, throws in a brown brick
which smells of tar, and calls, "Toby!" That's enough! The soul quits
my body; my legs shake under me. Something shines on the water - the
picture of a window all twisted out of shape - it dances about and blinds
me. She seizes me, poor swooning thing that I am, and plunges me in....
Ye Gods! From that time on I'm lost.... My one hope is in her. My eyes
fasten themselves on hers, while a close warmth sticks to me like
another skin on top of mine.... The brick's all foamy now ... I smell
tar ... my eyes and nostrils smart ... there are storms in my ears. She
grows excited, breathes loud and fast, laughs, and scrubs me
light-heartedly. At last She rescues me, fishing me out by the nape of
my neck, I paw the air, begging for life; then comes the rough towel and
the warm coverlet where, exhausted, I relish my convalescence....

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_deeply impressed_)

Calm yourself.


Jove! The telling it alone!... But - you old sly-boots - didn't I see her
one day armed with a sponge standing over _you,_ holding _you_ down on
the toilet table?

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_quite embarrassed, lashing his tail_)

An old story! The long, fluffy hairs on my legs (which give them the
outline of a Zouave's) had somehow gotten dirty. She insisted upon
washing me. I persuaded her that I suffered atrociously under the


What a fibber you are! Did She believe you?


'Um ... at first. It was my own fault tho' when She didn't. Turned over
on my back, I proffered the candid belly, the terrified and forgiving
eyes of a lamb about to be sacrificed. I felt a slight coolness, nothing
more. A fear that my sensibilities might be destroyed, took possession
of me. My rhythmical wailings increased, then subsided, then went up
again like the noise of the sea (you know the strength of my voice). I
imitated the calf, the whipped child, the cat in the night, the wind
under the door. Little by little I grew enraptured with my own song, so
that long after She had finished soiling me with cold water I continued
wailing, my eyes fixed on the ceiling. Then She laughed tactlessly and
cried out, "You're as untruthful as a woman!"

TOBY-DOG, (_with conviction_)

That _was_ annoying.


I was angry with her the entire afternoon.


Oh, as to sulking, you do your share! _I_ never can. I forget injuries.

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_dryly_)

You lick the hand that chastens you. Oh it's well known!

TOBY-DOG, (_gullible_)

I lick the hand that - yes, that's it exactly. - An awfully pretty


Not mine.... Dignity doesn't trouble _you_ any! My word! I'm often
ashamed for you. You love everybody. You take all sorts of rebuffs
without even raising your back. You're as pleasant and as banal as a
public garden.

TOBY-DOG Don't you believe it, you ill-bred cat! You think you know
everything and you don't understand simple politeness. Frankly now,
would you have me snarl at His or Her friends' heels, - well-dressed
people who know my name (lots of people _I_ don't know know my name) and
good-naturedly pull my ears?


I hate new faces.


I don't love them either - whatever you say. I love - Her and Him.


And I, Him - and Her.


Oh, I guessed _your_ preference long ago. There's a sort of secret
understanding between you two -

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_smiling mysteriously and abandoning himself to his

An understanding, yes - secret and profound. He rarely speaks but makes a
noise like a mouse, scratching his paper. It's for Him I've treasured up
my little heart, my precious cat's heart, and He, without words, has
given me his. This exchange makes me happy and reserved. Now and then
with that pretty, wayward, ruling instinct which makes us cats rivals of
women, I try my power over him. When we are alone, I point my ears
forward devilishly as a sign that I'm about to spring upon his
scratching paper. The tap, tap, tap of my paws straight through pens and
letters and everything scattered about, is addressed to him as well as
the insistent miauling when I beg for liberty. "Hymn to the Door-Knob,"
He laughingly calls it, or "The Plaint of the Sequestered Cat." The
tender contemplation of my inspiring eyes is for him alone; they weigh
on his bent head, until the look I'm calling searches and meets mine in
a shock of souls, so foreseen and so sweet, that I must needs close my
lids to hide the exquisite shyness I feel.

As for Her, she flutters about too much, often jostles me, holds my paws
together and rocks me in the air, pets me in excited fashion, laughs
aloud at me, imitates my voice too well -

TOBY-DOG, (_moved with indignation_)

You're very hard to please! I certainly love Him; he's good and pretends
not to see my faults, so that he won't have to scold, but She's the most
beautiful thing in the world to me, the dearest and - the most difficult
to understand. The sound of her step enchants me, her changeful eyes
dispense happiness - and trouble. She's like Destiny itself, she never
hesitates. Even torture from her hands - you know how She teases me?



No, not cruelly, but artfully. I never can tell what's coming next. This
morning She bent down as if to speak to me, lifted one of my "tiny
elephant's ears," as She calls them, and sent a sharp cry into it, which
went to the very back of my brain.




Was it right or wrong? I can't decide even now. It started waves of
nervousness running madly through me. Then, She has a fancy for making
me do tricks. Almost every day I must - "Do the Fish, Toby dear." She
lifts me in her arms and squeezes me until I gasp. My poor dumb mouth
opens as a carp's does when they're drowning it in air....


That's _just_ like Her!


Suddenly I find myself free - and still alive, miraculously saved by the
power of her will. How beautiful life seems to me then! How fondly I
lick the hand hanging at her side, the hem of her dress!

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_contemptuously_)

A pretty thing to do!


All good and all evil come to me from Her. She is my worst torment and
my one sure refuge. When I run to her, my heart sick with fear, how soft
her arms are and how sweet her hair, falling in my face! I'm her
"black-baby," her "Toby-Dog," her "little bit o' love." She sits on the
ground to reassure me, making herself little like me - lies down
altogether and I go wild with delight at the sight of her face under
mine, thrown back in her fragrant hair. My feelings overflow, I can't
resist such a chance for a jolly good game. I rummage and fumble about,
excitedly poking my nose everywhere, till I find the crispy tip of a
pink ear - Her ear. I nibble it just enough to tickle her - to make her
cry out: "Stop, Toby! That's awful! Help! Help! This dog's devouring


H'm! Simple, homely, wholesome joys! ... And then, off you go to make
friends with the cook.

TOBY-DOG And you, - with the cat at the farm.

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_coldly_)

Enough I pray, that concerns no one but myself ... and the little cat.


A pretty conquest! It should make you blush - a seven-months-old kitten!

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_roused_)

For me she has all the charm of forbidden fruit and no one dare steal
her from me. She is slim as a bean-pole....

TOBY-DOG, (_aside_)

You old rascal! KIKI-THE-DEMURE

... and long; poised on long legs she walks with the uncertain step
common to all young things. She hunts field-mice, shrew-mice - even
partridge, and this hard work in the fields has toughened her young
muscles and given a rather gloomy expression to her kitten-face.


She's ugly.


No, not ugly, but odd-looking. Her muzzle with its very pink nostrils
strongly resembles that of a goat, her large ears remind one of a
peasant's coif, her eyes the color of old gold are set slant-wise, and
their naturally keen expression is varied by an occasional piquant

With what a will does she fly me confounding modesty with fear! I pass
slowly by (one would think me quite uninterested), draped in my splendid
coat. She's struck by its stripes. Oh, she'll come back, a little
love-sick kitten, and putting aside all constraint she'll throw herself
at my feet - like a supple white scarf -


I've no objection, you know.... I'm comparatively indifferent to all
that concerns love. Here my time's so completely filled ... physical
exercise ... my cares of watch-dog, I ... hardly give a thought to the


Bagatelle!... He indulges in the persiflage of a traveling salesman!


I love - Her and Him devotedly, with a love that lifts me up to them. It
suffices to occupy my time and heart.

The hour of our siesta is passing, my scornful friend. Do you know, I
like you in spite of your scorn and you like me, too. Don't turn your
head away, your peculiar modesty would hide what you call frailty and
what I call love. Do you think me blind? How often, on coming back to
the house with Her, have I seen your little triangular face at the
window, light up and smile at my approach, - the time to open the door
and you'd already put on your cat's mask - your pretty Japanesy mask,
with its narrow eyes.... Isn't it so?

KIKI-THE-DEMURE, (_resolved not to hear_)

The hour of the siesta is passing. The cone-shaped shadows of the pear
trees grow long on the gravel path. We've talked away our sleepiness.
You've forgotten the flies, your uneasy stomach, and the heat which
dances in waves on the meadows. The beautiful, sultry day is dying.
Already there's a breeze bringing perfume from the pines. Their trunks
are melting into bright tears....


Here She is! She's left her wicker chair, stretched her lovely arms and,
judging from the movement of her dress, I think we're going to take a
walk. See her behind the rosebushes? Now, with her nails she breaks a
leaf from the lemon tree; she's crumpling it up and smelling it. Ah ...
I belong to Her, soul and body. With my eyes closed I can divine her


Yes, I see Her. She is quiet and gentle for the time being. He'll leave
his paper now to follow her. He'll come out calling, "Where are you?"

1 3 4 5

Online LibraryColetteBarks and Purrs → online text (page 1 of 5)