Once in a blue moon there comes

A cat that is blue,

Singing the river’s song,

Seeking – for you!_

THE blue kitten was born under a blue moon in a warm nest of dried clover, Queen Anne’s lace and chickory, which his mother had made for him at the foot of a forgotten haycock in a Vermont meadow. It was the end of the first third of the nineteenth century, or more than a hundred years ago, which is a very long time indeed.

The mother cat had been quite upset when she first saw the blue kitten. She had looked fearfully then toward the river. For, like all cats, she had heard that a blue kitten could learn the river’s song.

Any kitten has a hard enough time to find a home for himself. For every kitten must find a hearth to fit his song. But a kitten who listens to the river and learns the river’s song has the hardest time of all.

Not only must the kitten who sings the river’s song find a hearth to fit that song, but he must teach the keeper of that hearth to sing the same song. The river’s song is very old. And mortals who have ears to hear and hearts to sing are fewer than few

Yet such folk must be found at least once in a blue moon. For if the river’s song rise no longer from the hearthside, then it is said, the very days of the land itself are numbered.

So a blue kitten is like a knight, a small knight sent forth on a quest, armed only with a song. There are great rewards for knights and kittens who succeed. But no one has ever told what happens to those who fail.

Small wonder the mother cat was afraid. Still, when she found three black hairs on the end of the kitten’s tail she was a bit more hopeful. For as long as a blue kitten has even one black hair, there is a chance that he will live and die an ordinary cat. “And after all,” the mother cat consoled herself, “my kitten has three black hairs, three!” She counted them again to be sure she was right.

“Do not listen to the river,” she warned the blue kitten, as soon as his eyes were wide open and he was old enough to pay attention. “Remember, grasshoppers make you thin. Moles are indigestible. While birds should be killed only when no mortal is looking. Yet though these are important matters, still it is permitted that now and then you may forget. But – whatever you do, never listen to the river!

She turned her back on him then and stalked off, as though she could not bear to tell him any more. Only her tail stood up, straight and tall, moving through the grass stubble, like a horrible warning.

The blue kitten watched, head on one side, his amber eyes puzzled. Perhaps if his mother had turned back and told him why he must not listen, things might have turned out differently. One never knows.

For a long time, however, the kitten paid no attention to the river’s far-off murmuring. Perhaps he thought it all part of the sound of summer, surging up, sweeping down, or wafted over the nest of dried clover, Queen Anne’s lace and chickory

Besides, the kitten was busy with the business of growing up, which meant playing with a timothy tassel, watching a spider looping his web, or wondering whether for one wonderful second he had really seen the pointed nose and the bright eyes of a field mouse.

The river bided its time. Every day, however, its murmur grew a trifle louder. Oh, the least bit louder. Until one morning the kitten pricked up his blue ears, which deep inside were pink like sea shells. Was that low sound someone talking? Then, as the pointed tips of his ears bent forward, simple, lovely words slipped in, past the blue tips, down into the sea-shell pinkness, like so many notes of music, spilled from the bobolink.

“Castle Town, where I am going, is a lovely town,” came the words. “Nobody knows why it is called Castle Town. But everybody, even a blue kitten, knows that castles are enchanted.”

The blue kitten nodded his head. “Yes, wind,” he said. “Castles are enchanted.” Naturally, living in a meadow, he understood a good deal about enchantment.

“There have even been some folk in Castle Town,” the murmur continued, “and there is one there now, who would break this enchantment. Enchantment is made up of three things – of beauty, peace and content.”

“Beauty, peace and content,” purred the blue kitten, thinking of the wonder of the meadow.

“The one who would break the enchantment,” went on the soft, slow sound, “does not see beauty. He has no peace. He is not content.”

The blue kitten shook his head sadly. Two tears dropped from his amber eyes.

“Not content,” he said.

More than that, he is weaving a dark spell.” The murmur was so low and so sad that the kitten put his head close to the grass roots to listen.

“Out of greed for gold and power is the dark spell being woven. And if the folk in Castle Town yield to this spell, and do not listen to our song, then the glory of Castle Town will be lost forever.”

It was difficult for the blue kitten to hear. Perhaps if his ears were larger. Or perhaps if he sat up straight. He tried that. Sure enough he could hear much better. Over the widespread leaves of the meadow sorrel, in a low, sweet whisper came the words, “If the glory of Castle Town be not lost forever, you must find some there, blue kitten, who will listen to our song.”

“Listen to our song.” The blue kitten nodded, watching the sorrel nodding too. “Listen…” He stopped and asked sharply, “Are you the wind?”

“I am the river,” came the murmur. “And you will listen to me!”

“Will listen to you,” replied the kitten.

Suddenly he remembered his mother. “She said…” wailed the kitten.

“It is too late now,” replied the river. “Besides, you will discover that you hear me whether you listen or no. So, listen well, and some time I will teach you The Song. But first, I shall tell you of Castle Town.”

“I – will – not – listen!” declared the blue kitten stoutly, putting two blue paws firmly over both ears. Kitten paws do make good ear muffs, but they are warm. And summer is no time for a kitten to wear ear muffs, at least not for long

When he removed the paws, just to cool his ears, the river was laughing at him. “You are not a blue kitten for nothing,” it said, and went right on murmuring. But now it was only a comforting, soothing hum, just part of the meadow’s enchantment and wonder.

After that the blue kitten really tried not to listen. But of course no kitten can keep his ears covered all the time. And little by little, day after day, he heard the sound of the river. Every now and then it told of Castle Town.

“Castle Town was settled a long time ago,” said the river. “Up from Connecticut, through the wilderness, came men and women, riding on horseback or walking beside their oxcarts.

“They brought their Bibles and their babies in their arms. They brought apple seeds and rose roots, which had come long ago from England and from Scotland, in their saddlebags. They brought seed corn and barley. They brought axes and tools and pewter molds, spinning wheels and looms in their carts.”

“And they brought my seven-times great grandfather in a little girl’s pocket,” interrupted the kitten. His mother, when she had been in a story-telling mood – which was not often – had told him that.

The river paid no attention. Perhaps the river knew more about the kitten’s seven-times great grandfather than the kitten – or even his mother, knew.

“Best of all,” declared the river, “these folk from Connecticut brought the Bright Enchantment. Beauty and peace and content they brought in their hearts. They knew, and some among them sang, the river’s song.

“So they came to the Vermont valley and said that here should be their castle forever. For a man’s home is his castle. They cleared the land, they planted their corn and barley. They slipped the apple seeds hopefully in the earth, and they set out their

rose roots near the log cabins which were their first homes.

“Soon the cabins gave place to homes of boards of pine, of maple and of birch. Some of these homes were set close together for company, along a mile of road which ran east and west through the valley. At the east end of this mile was the village green so the children of Castle Town should have a place to play forever. The church was built on the edge of the green and a graveyard was beside it for the dead to rest in. Not far from the center of this settled mile was a tavern, where men often gathered and talked much of liberty. And at the west end was the cobbler’s shop. The bricks in the walls of that shop were the softest rose color, folk said, in all the world – or at least in as much of the world as they had seen. The boards which went into the homes in the valley were the finest, the apples which soon hung on the apple boughs were a much better flavor than they had even been in Connecticut. And as for juice – well you had only to taste the cider to judge that! While the fragrance lifting from the roses was such a sweet, though unseen, cloud that it made the hearts of all those passing through it beat faster, and their feet kept time as to music.

“All this was part of the Bright Enchantment in the days when there was beauty and peace and content in the hearts of the people of Castle Town.”

In spite of himself the blue kitten began to purr, “Beauty and peace and content.”

“What did I tell you?” cried the mother cat, coming to the haycock at that very moment with a field mouse. And she smacked the blue kitten sharply on his right ear. And even more sharply on the left, for that was the ear nearest the river.

But it was too late. The blue kitten was growing fast. And, the river had been right, for whether he listened or not, he heard it murmuring. Day after day he heard it. Most of all he heard the words, “Beauty and peace and content.” He would like to find a hearth where a mortal understood and sang that song.

It will not be easy,” warned the river. “Occasionally there have been men and women who were born knowing the song, but mortals cannot teach it to other mortals. Only a blue cat can do that, a blue cat who sings and believes in the song.”

“Believes – what is that?” asked the kitten.

“That is something you must find out for yourself. Not even I, the river, can tell you. But this I can say. Castle Town needs to learn the song and that quickly if the dark spell, which is now being fashioned, is to be kept from engulfing the place. So your quest, blue kitten, is very important. Remember, you must live your own life, and sing your own song.

“Now, whatever happens, and plenty will happen, do not be discouraged too easily or too soon. Your task is hard and there will be many difficulties to face. But this, too, is true, blue kitten, if you do find a mortal who will welcome you at the hearthstone, and who will both listen and sing the song as long as you live, not only shall you rest in comfort in your chosen place, but you shall live forever!”

“Live forever,” echoed the blue kitten.

“That is utter nonsense,” declared his mother, when the kitten told her he was going to live forever. “Never have I heard of a cat with more than nine lives! Never!”

“But the river…” began the kitten.

“Mer-row! I see you would rather listen to the river than to me,” said the blue kitten’s mother sadly. And she sat and looked at nothing for a long time.

At last she came to a decision. “Very well, blue kitten!” she said. “The moon will be blue tomorrow night. So, as long as you are determined upon it, you had better go then and sit in the reeds by the river’s edge and learn the river’s song. It must be

done, if it is to be done at all, in a single night.

“Besides,” she continued, “you will be grown soon and there are no longer enough mice in the meadow to feed the two of us. So perhaps it is just as well that you get ready now to make your way in the world.”

“But,” began the blue kitten, thinking how full of mouse his stomach was, and how soothing it was to have his whiskers brushed, “the river says my task is hard and there will be many difficulties.”

“Of course,” agreed the mother. “I told you that a long time ago. Or at any rate I told you not to listen to the river. But, after all, a nest of dried clover, Queen Anne’s lace and chickory cannot last forever. You must live your own life and sing your own song.”

“That’s just what the river says,” declared the kitten.

“Mer-row! Oh, go and listen to the river then!” said the mother cat crossly.

Sing your own song. Sing well.

– From the River’s Song

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