Jennie Moore's aunt paid Mr. Mugg for the white China Cat, and the little girl carried the toy out of the store, not even waiting to have wrapping paper put around her.
"She is afraid the China Cat may be caught in another fire, or that something will happen," laughed the aunt, as she followed her niece.
"Oh, I hope there will never be another fire!" exclaimed Mr. Mugg, as he bowed his customers out of the door. "I can't imagine what started this one. But I am glad the China Cat is safe, though she did get very dirty."
"She is clean now," said Jennie, turning her China Cat over and over, and not finding a speck of dirt on her.
"What are you going to call your China Cat, Jennie?" asked Aunt Clara, when they had almost reached the home of the nice little girl.
"I will call her Snowball," was the answer. "She is white, just like a snowball."
"And from what Mr. Mugg said, I imagine she was as black as coal after the fire," laughed Aunt Clara. "Well, I am glad Snowball is clean and white now, and that you at last have her. Take good care of her and don't drop your cat, for I think she will break easily."
"I'll be careful," promised Jennie.
"Oh, how different this is from the time when that terrible black boy, Jeff, had me," thought the China Cat, as she was taken into Jennie's home. There the rooms were bright, cheerful and sunny, with soft carpets on the floor and beautiful ornaments all about.
"Now we'll have some fun, Snowball," said Jennie to the China Cat, as she set her toy down on a table, while she took off her hat and coat, for it was winter and the weather was cold, even though it did rain at times, instead of snow.
"You will not have to be afraid of a flood here, Snowball," went on Jennie, "for we are far from the river."
"Thank goodness for that," thought the China Cat, who heard all that was said, though she could not move when Jennie, or any one else, was looking at her.
Jennie played with the China Cat all the rest of that day. Once the nice little girl dressed the China Cat up in doll's clothes and pretended she was a doll.
"Though I cannot say I liked that," said the China Cat, telling her adventures afterward to her friend, the Talking Doll. "The clothes sort of tickled me. But Jennie was so kind and good I did not want to make a fuss."
When evening came Jennie put her China Cat away in a closet in her room, where there were many other toys. At first it was so dark that the China Cat could see nothing, but, after a while, she saw where some light came in through the keyhole, and then Snowball could look about her. The light that came through the hole was not daylight, for it was now night, and Jennie was going to bed. It was the light from a little lamp that burned all night just outside Jennie's room, and the China Cat was glad of that, for by the gleam she was able to see her way around the closet.
"Thank goodness now I can move and stretch myself a bit," said the China Cat, speaking out loud, in toy language. "I haven't had a chance to do as I pleased since just before the fire."
"What's that about a fire?" suddenly asked a voice just behind the China Cat. She looked around the shelf on which she sat but could see no one, though a Wooden Doll, with funny, staring eyes, was looking straight at her.
"Did you speak?" asked the China Cat of the Wooden Doll.
"No," was the answer. "Though I was just going to. I'm glad you have come here to live with us. You'll like it here. Jennie is such a nice little girl."
"We're all nice!" cried the same voice that had asked about the fire.
"Who is that?" asked the China Cat, for, as before, she saw no one.
"Oh, it's probably Jack," answered the Wooden Doll. "He's always playing jokes."
"Jack who?" asked the China Cat.
"Jack Box," answered the Wooden Doll. "He's one of those funny, pop-up Jacks in a Box, and he's always trying to fool some one. I suppose, because you are the newest toy to come here, that he is playing a trick on you."
"No trick, Wooden Doll! Just trying to be friendly and jolly--that's all!" went on the voice, with a laugh, and from a box near the China Cat sprang one of the queer Jacks that have such a sudden way of appearing.
"Oh! How you surprised me!" mewed the Cat.
"That's just my way! Can't help it! Have to jump when my spring uncoils!" said the Jack, with a broad grin on his face. "Let's have some fun!" he went on. "It's our chance to make believe come to life, now that Jennie has gone to bed. Sweet child. I like her, don't you?" he asked Snowball.
"Yes. But how you rattle on," said the China Cat. "You don't give one a chance to think."
"Yes, Jack is always like that," said the Wooden Doll.
"Well, let's have some fun," went on Jack. "What do you say to a game of tag?"
Leaning over, which he could readily do, as the coiled spring inside him was so easy to bend, Jack touched the China Cat. But Jack must have leaned too far, or too suddenly, for he brushed the Wooden Doll to one side.
"Oh, look out!" she cried. "You have knocked me off the shelf! Oh, there I go!" and the Wooden Doll fell straight down!
"Now you have done it!" mewed the China Cat.
"I hope her neck isn't broken," said a tiny Celluloid Doll. "Oh, what an accident!"
"I--I didn't mean to do it," said Jack sadly. "I'll go down and pick her up."
"Hush! Keep quiet, all of you!" suddenly mewed the China Cat. "Some one is coming!"
On the other side of the closet door, in the room where Jennie slept, the toys could hear the voice of the little girl calling:
"Aunt Clara! Aunt Clara! Come here! There's something in my toy closet. I heard a noise! Maybe that colored boy is trying to get Snowball, my China Cat."
"Nonsense, Jennie. You imagined it, dear. Go to sleep now," replied her aunt, coming in from her room and turning up the light.
"No, I didn't imagine it," declared Jennie. "I heard a noise in my closet. Please look, Aunt Clara."
So Aunt Clara opened the door, and there she saw the Wooden Doll on the floor. The Doll had fallen on some felt slippers and so was not in the least hurt.
"There it is," said Jennie's aunt. "Your Wooden Doll fell off the shelf. You couldn't have put her far enough back."
"Oh!" murmured Jennie sleepily. "I'm glad she wasn't broken, and I'm glad my China Cat is all right."
Then Jennie went to sleep again, but she never knew, nor did her aunt, that Jack had knocked down the Wooden Doll.
"Behave yourself now, Jack," said the Celluloid Doll, when the toys were once more left alone. "If you play, let it be some easy game, like telling stories or riddles."
"All right," agreed Jack. "Suppose the China Cat tells us the story of the fire and the flood."
So the China Cat did, just as they are set down in this book. And after that the toys played guessing games, and told riddles until it was time for them to stop, as morning was at hand.
Jennie awakened early, and got her China Cat from the closet.
"You are one of my nicest toys," said the little girl. "To-day I am going to put you in the front window where you can see everything, and where the other children can see you."
So after breakfast the China Cat was set in the front window of the house, while Jennie sat near in a chair reading a book of fairy stories. After a while Jennie was called away to help her aunt, and the China Cat was left alone. For the first time that day she could look about as she pleased, moving her head and stretching her paws, as no one was in the room.
The China Cat gazed out of the window toward the house next door, and what was her great surprise to see in the front window there an old friend.
"Well, I do declare!" mewed the China Cat to herself. "How did he get here? Oh, if I could only speak to him! See, he is bowing to me! Oh, isn't this just wonderful!"