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Zinnia and Her Babies

By Margery Bianco


Some time ago, in writing about cats, I spoke of Zinnia, the little black cat who has such a liking for dogs. I told how she will sit staring pensively, or thoughtfully, at some dog which may happen to be in the room. Then all at once she will jump up, walk over to him, and begin washing his face and smoothing his hair, holding his head between her two paws if he tries to move. What a terrible time she had trying to straighten out the big long-haired collie! Much as she likes dogs, their occasional untidiness gets very much upon Zinnia's nerves. Sooner or later she decides that something must be done about it.

I think Zinnia made up her mind long ago that all this so-called "cat and dog" business was just nonsense. Dogs are just like cats, if you treat them the right way, and a little good sound cat training will do them all the good in the world. Zinnia's owners are always afraid that she will one day, in her fearlessness, happen upon the wrong dog. Then she may get unpleasantly surprised. But so far all the dogs she has met have either returned her friendliness, or have been far too surprised by it to think of attacking her.

The only other creatures that Zinnia seems to like better than dogs are kittens. She loves anybody's kittens, though naturally she prefers her own. She is a born mother, and the voice of a kitten mewing will always bring her on a trot to see what the trouble is. Quite likely she may decide that the kittens are fretful, or fussy, because they are not in what she considers a good and comfortable place. In that case she will probably pick them up one by one and carry them off somewhere else. She won't bother to consult their own mother at all.

One summer I remember Zinnia was bringing up a family of her own, four babies a few weeks old. She had them in the barn. The barn was big and airy; the kittens had their own box lined with hay, and plenty of space to crawl safely about in. But that didn't satisfy her. It was sunny June weather; kittens should be out in the garden, enjoying the fresh air.

Every morning there they were, all four of them, packed into an old wooden wheelbarrow by the woodshed. They whimpered and blinked in the sunlight, looking anything but comfortable on the bare earthy boards. There Zinnia would leave them, while she went off on some hunting excursion of her own.

Zinnia is a grandmother now, many times over. Most of her various babies are grown up and have families of their own, though each summer there are new ones to take their place.

Zinnia herself is growing middle-aged. Her little pointed face, with its pale-green slanting eyes, is a shade more pointed than it used to be. Her black fur, always a little reddish in the light, is taking on more and more of a rusty tone, the color of an old iron kettle that has been lying out in the sun. But she is as keen a mouser as ever. Her sense of responsibility is more marked, or noticeable, as time goes by. When I last visited her, only a short time ago, we had a very good example of it.

A grown up daughter of Zinnia's, Topsy, had died quite suddenly, leaving two pretty little kittens about ten days older than Zinnia's own kittens. Luckily they were nearly big enough to lap for themselves. In the meantime they could be fed warm milk with a medicine dropper. But they missed their own mother and the warmth and comfort of her body curled up beside them in the basket. Everyone was worried about poor Topsy's kittens and how they would get along without her. Before twenty-four hours had passed, Zinnia, as usual, had come to the rescue. She heard the little orphans mewing, took one look at them, and seized first one and then the other. She dragged them up two flights of stairs to the attic, where she settled them comfortably in the box with her own three babies.

There will be no neglected kittens in any house where Zinnia lives, as long as she is there to look after them.

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4th Grade Reading Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test
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