“Why are you crying, Little Cat?” asked Little Dog.
“Because my paws are so cold!” said Little Cat. “I have been digging in the snow and I cannot find one.”
“One what?” asked Little Dog.
“One new leaf.”
“What do you want of a new leaf?”
“I want to turn it over, but there just aren’t any to turn.”
“Of course there aren’t!” said Little Dog. “It is winter.”
“But Little Girl is going to find one,” said Little Cat. “I heard her mother say to her, ‘You really must turn over a new leaf!’ and she said, ‘I truthfully will, Mamma!’ and when Little Girl says she truthfully will she always does. Then her mother kissed her and said everybody had to turn over new leaves now, and she had some of her own to turn, so she knew just how it was. The door shut then on the tip of my tail, too and I heard no more; but what do you suppose it means?”
Little Dog shook his head. “We must ask somebody,” he said. “Let me see! Great Old Dog is out for a walk, and Crosspatch Parrot bit me the last time I asked her a question.”
“I know,” said Little Cat. “We will ask Old Cat in the Barn. She knows a good many things, and if she isn’t catching rats but she generally is she will tell us.”
They found Old Cat in the Barn sitting on a truss of hay, washing herself. She listened to Little Cat’s story, and her green eyes twinkled.
“So you have been looking for new leaves under the snow!” she said.
“Yes,” said Little Cat. “First I looked on the trees, and there weren’t any there; so I thought it must be leaves of plants and things, so I scratched and dug till my poor paws were almost quite frozen, but not one single scrap of a leaf could I find.”
“Fffff!” said Old Cat in the Barn. “This barn is full of them!”
“Full of leaves!” cried Little Cat and Little Dog together. “What can you mean, Old Cat? We don’t call hay leaves!”
“How many rats have you caught this week?” asked Old Cat, turning to Little Dog.
“None!” said Little Dog. “The last rat I caught bit me horridly; besides, they are odious, vulgar beasts, and I don’t care to have anything to do with them.”
“Fffff!” said Old Cat. “Little Cat, how many mice have you caught in the kitchen this week?”
Little Cat hung her head. “I haven’t caught any,” she said. “I don’t care for mice, the flavor is too strong; I like cream better.”
“Ffffff! grrrr-yow!” said Old Cat; her green eyes shot out sparks, and her fur began to stand up. “Now, you two, listen to me! Why do you think Big People keep you? Because you are soft and pretty and foolish? Not at all! They keep you because you are supposed to be useful. Your mother, Little Cat, was a hard-working, self-respecting mouser, who caught her daily mouse as regularly as she ate her daily bread and milk. Your father, Little Dog, hunted rats with me in this barn as long as he had legs to stand upon, and between us, we kept the place in tolerable order.
Great Old Dog cannot be expected to hunt at his age, and besides, he is too big; one might as well hunt with an ox. But since your parents died you two lazy children have done next to nothing, and what is the consequence? I am worked to skin and bone, and the mice are all over the house; I heard Cook say so. Mind what I say; no creature, with four legs or two, is worth his salt unless he earns it, in one way or another. Now, what have you to say for yourselves?”
“Miaouw!” said Little Cat. “I am very sorry, Old Cat.”
“Yap! Yap!” said Little Dog. “I am sorry too, Old Cat.”
“Very well!” said Old Cat in the Barn. “Then turn over a new leaf!”
“Miaouw!” “Yap!” “That is just what we want to do!” said Little Cat and Little Dog together; “but we can’t find any.”
“The fact is,” said Old Cat in the Barn, “it is one of the foolish ways of speaking that the Big People have. It just means, stops being bad and begin to be good. Now, do you see?”
“Prrr!” said Little Cat; “now I see. I will go and catch a mouse this minute, Old Cat.”
“Wuff!” said Little Dog; “I see, too, and I will come and hunt rats with you, Old Cat.”
“Prrrrrrr!” said Old Cat in the Barn. “That is right! Go to work, like good children, and as I may have been rather short with you lately I will turn over a new leaf, too, and ask you both to supper with me in my hay-parlor. Cook gave me the bones of the Christmas goose, and we will have a great feast.”