Bits of Travel

Partway through “The Encyclicals of a Traveller”, Helen Hunt mentions feeling like the fifth kitten. I’m pretty sure this is what she was talking about.

“The Fifth Kitten” forms part of the chapter “Mary Melville’s Birthday” in Childrens’ [sic] Holidays: A Story Book for the Whole Year, first published 1857 with no named author. The original story was printed as a single run-in paragraph. I’ve broken it up for readability, but changed nothing else. There were no illustrations.


Once there was a little girl, and her name was Emma, and it was me. And she had a great large 138 brown cat, and her name was Hepzibah, but the little girl called her Heppy.

And one day she went to give Heppy her supper, and no Heppy was there; and so I went to Heppy’s bed, that she had in a box in the back kitchen, and there I saw five little wee kittens tumbling about with their eyes shut, and Heppy mewed, and the little girl took out all the kittens, and set them on the floor, and Heppy was very proud, and the little blind things bobbed about for a while, and then I put them back, and went to the parlor, and told mother.

And the little girl’s mother said I might keep one, and all the others must be drowned. And the little girl cried, and after supper she went to her room and sat in the dark, and thought, and thought, for nearly half an hour. And then I jumped up, and took down my slate from the nail, and wrote, “Give one kitten to Mrs. Andrews.” And then I sat down, and thought 139 and thought, and all at once another thing came into my mind, and I took the slate and wrote down, “Give another to Miss Sophronia;” that was the little girl’s teacher. And then I thought again, till the clock in the little entry struck nine, and, just as it struck the ninth time, it came to me that father used to say he wanted a cat at the barn, and so I wrote that down.

Then it was bed-time, and still there was one kitten left. Oh, that was a dreadful evening! I went to bed, and cried, and thought, and cried, till I found myself going to sleep, and still nothing would come into my mind about that poor little fifth kitten. And I thought, What a cruel thing you are, Emma, to go to sleep, and forget about the poor little thing that has to be drowned to-morrow. So I pinched myself till I was wide awake, and then, all of a sudden, I thought of old Hanny, by the creek, (her name is Anne, but they 140 call her Mammy Hanny for short,) and she had four cats already, that she took from people to save them from being drowned; but I thought that she might take another, and so I felt easy in my mind, and went to sleep.

And next morning, long before breakfast, I ran down to Mam Hanny, and she was not up, and the door was bolted, and she told me if I got a stick, and put it through a hole in the door, the bolt would push back, and I went in, and told Mam Hanny about the fifth kitten. And she said she had three too many now, but she would walk over and look at them, and, if there was a very pretty one, she might take it, and I told her they were all beautiful; and so she went over with me, and I took her to the back kitchen, and I put the five kittens on the floor, and Mam Hanny looked at them a great while, and at last she picked out the prettiest, and said if it had only been black, with a 141 white nose, and a white collar round its neck, and a white tip on its tail, she thought she would have kept it; and then she put on her bonnet, and all was as bad as ever for the poor little fifth kitten.

And mother said it must be drowned, and she sent for Jake, and he brought a big bucket from the stable, and mother told us all to go away, and take the poor old mother puss with us, till it was all over; and I said no—if the darling little fifth kitten must be killed, I knew Heppy would rather I should do it than Jake, for Heppy couldn’t bear Jake, and he did not like Heppy. So I sent Jake away, and mother carried Heppy to the parlor, and Hanny and I took them all out of the box, and I did not know what to do, for we couldn’t tell which was the fifth kitten; and I said, When I wrote down one for father, I am sure I meant the brown one; and when I wrote down one for Mrs. Andrews, I think it was 142 the yellow and black; but the other three are all mixed up in my mind, and I don’t see how we can tell which I meant for the fifth. And Mam Hanny said we should put the two in the box, and put the other three in my lap, and the first that crawled out should be the poor little fifth.

And so we did, and I sat quite still for a good many minutes, and then the darling little white with brown ears put out its little soft paws, and travelled over my knee, and down to my foot, and rolled itself on the floor, and I sighed, and Mam Hanny sighed, and I took the darling little fifth and dropped it into the water, and I turned my back to the bucket, and Mam Hanny stood off by the wall, and shut her lips tight, and said nothing; and all at once her face got very red, and she dashed up to the bucket, and took out the little fifth, and wiped it dry with her apron, and turned to me quite angry, and said, “Now she had five, and I 143 never should dare to offer her a kitten again, for she wouldn’t take it;” and then I remembered that she had said just that last winter, when I gave her the gray and black with white feet.

And so she left it a few days, and then took it home, and it was the funniest little fat thing you ever saw, and there it is this very day, and that’s all.

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.