Jeff was not going to let his China Cat be taken from him in this fashion. With a yell he darted up the basement steps and ran after his sister.
"Come back heah! Bring back mah cat!" yelled the colored boy.
"No! No!" screamed his sister. "I done got her, an' she's mine now! She suah is mine!"
Faster and faster the little colored girl raced down the street, but of course she could not run as fast as Jeff, who soon caught up to her. Reaching forth his hands, which were now dirtier than before, Jeff caught hold of his sister's kinky hair.
"Ouch! Oh, yo' stop dat, Jeff!" she wailed.
"Gib me back mah white cat!" he demanded, and he took the toy roughly from his sister. Arabella began to cry, and a man who was passing stopped and looked at the colored children.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Oh, we's only playin'," answered Jeff. "She took mah cat, an' I wanted it back."
"Hum!" mused the man. "That's a queer kind of play, I think. And if you drop that cat on the sidewalk you won't be able to play with her, for she'll be broken to pieces."
"What a dreadful thing! Oh, if that should happen!" thought the China Cat, who heard all that was said.
"I ain't gwine to drop her," declared Jeff, as he turned away with the China Cat in his dirty hands. With tears on her black cheeks, Arabella followed her brother back to the tenement.
Jeff put his toy down on the table again. On one wall of the room was a looking glass. It was cracked and not very clean, but as a ray of sunshine entered the dingy basement the China Cat, by the gleam of it, saw her reflection.
"Why, I hardly know myself!" she whispered, not daring, of course, to speak aloud or to move and make believe come to life. There were too many colored children looking at her. "Oh, what a fright I am!" thought the China Cat and sighed.
Well might she think that. On her nose was a big speck of dirt, and there were other specks on her back and sides. Her tail, too, that was always so spotless, was now daubed with molasses and smoke grime from the fire. The China Cat was white now only in spots.
"The Nodding Donkey would hardly speak to me if he saw me now," she thought. "I'm glad he isn't here."
"Now don't yo' touch my cat!" warned Jeff, as he got up from the table, where he had been playing with the toy.
"Whut yo' gwine do?" asked Arabella, who had got over her crying spell.
"I's gwine make a stable fo' my cat," answered the colored lad.
"Cat's don't live in stables! Dey lives in under de back porch," said Arabella. "In a box."
"Cats do so live in stables, 'cause I done seen 'em!" declared Jeff. "An' dey catches rats an' mice. I's gwine make a stable fo' my cat whut I done got at de fire an' de p'liceman didn't see me!" and he laughed as he thought of how he had fooled the officer.
Jeff hunted around in the woodpile until he found what he wanted. This was a large cigar box, and with a knife Jeff soon cut a hole in one side, large enough to slip the China Cat through.
"Dere's her stable!" he declared with satisfaction.
As for the China Cat, when she was shut up in the cigar box, she wanted, most dreadfully, to sneeze. For the box smelled very strongly of tobacco, and it made her nose tickle. But she dared not so much as utter a faint aker-choo for fear she would be heard. So the China Cat held back the sneeze, though it made her nose ache, and she was very glad when Jeff took her out of the cigar box stable.
During the remainder of that day the colored boy and his sisters and brothers took turns playing with the China Cat. For, after a while, Jeff allowed the others to handle his toy. And the China Cat was passed around among the colored children so often that she kept getting more and more dirty. And on account of having spots of molasses on her, every bit of dirt and grime that touched her stuck right there. Jeff and his brothers and sisters did not think of washing themselves, much less of washing the China Cat.
At last, after having been much handled and passed from one to another, the China Cat was set on a shelf in the kitchen of the basement tenement where the colored family lived. Many other colored folk lived in the same house, and in adjoining houses.
"At last I have time to breathe, but I am so dirty I do not know what to do," said the China Cat to herself. "I do not believe that any of the other toys that came from the workshop of Santa Claus ever had such an unpleasant adventure as I am having."
But if the China Cat had only known it, the Lamb on Wheels, about whom one of these Make Believe books has been written, had an adventure almost as sad. The Lamb went down into a coal bin, which was a great deal blacker than the negro tenement.
"I wonder what will happen to me next?" thought the China Cat, as she found herself perched on the kitchen shelf. She could look down and see Jeff, his brothers and his sisters, and his father and mother, eating supper. They did not offer the China Cat anything to eat, of course. Toys don't have to eat, which is very lucky sometimes.
"Come now, chilluns! Off to bed wif yo' all!" called Jeff's mother, when supper was finished. "Yo' was up early, an' yo' mus' git to bed early."
"Can't I play with my China Cat?" asked Jeff.
"No, indeedy!" declared the colored woman, shaking her head. "Yo' leave dat cat alone, an' git to bed!"
So to bed went Jeff and the other children. Their beds were down in the basement, in a room just off the kitchen. It was not a very nice home, but it was the best they could get.
Soon it began to grow dark, but there was a street lamp that shone in one of the basement windows, so the China Cat, who could see pretty well in the dark anyhow, managed to look about her.
On the same shelf where she sat, and not far away, was a little Cloth Dog.
"Dear me!" said the China Cat, speaking out loud now, for there was no one in the kitchen, all the family having gone to bed. "Dear me, I didn't know you were here!"
"Oh, yes, I'm here!" barked the Cloth Dog. "That is, what's left of me."
He and the China Cat did not quarrel, though in real life very few dogs and cats are friends. But it is much different with toys.
"Why, has anything happened to you?" asked the China Cat.
"Gracious, yes!" exclaimed the Cloth Dog. "Can't you see that my tail is pulled off?"
The China Cat stretched her neck and looked at the Cloth Dog. Surely enough, in the gleam from the street light she saw that he had no tail.
"Oh, how dreadful!" mewed the Cat. "How did it happen? It must pain you?"
"Not so much as at first," said the Dog. "I'm used to it now. One of the colored children pulled my tail off. I think it was the one they call Arabella. She's always grabbing things away from the others."
"Yes, she grabbed me," said the China Cat. "But I'm glad she didn't pull off my tail. I'm dirty and sticky, and I hardly know myself, but, thank goodness, I'm all here."
"That's more than I can say of myself," said the Cloth Dog sadly. "And I'm afraid you will not be all there after a few days in this house. It's a dreadful place, and the children are so rough!"
"How did you come to be here?" asked the China Cat. "Were you brought here from the workshop of Santa Claus?"
"Bless your whiskers, no!" barked the Cloth Dog. "Of course I once came from North Pole Land, but that was years ago. I was a good-looking toy then, and I had a fine tail. But after a while the children with whom I lived grew tired of me. I was tossed about, thrown into corners, and at last put out in the ashes. There one of these colored children found me, and brought me here. And the very first day there was a scrabble and a fight over me, and my tail was pulled off."
"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that!" sighed the China Cat. "If you could only be taken to the store of Mr. Mugg he would put a new tail on you. He mended the broken leg of the Nodding Donkey."
"I'm afraid it is too late," whined the Cloth Dog. "But I am sorry for you. You are such a fine toy, and almost new."
"Yes, I am quite new. In fact, I have never been sold as yet," said the Cat. "I wouldn't be out of the store now, except for the fire. I was going to be taken by a very nice little girl named Jennie Moore. But now, alas, it is too late for that!"
"Tell me about the fire," begged the Cloth Dog. "It will make me forget that I have no tail."
So there on the shelf in the tenement kitchen, the China Cat told the Cloth Dog the story of the fire in the toy shop, and how she had come to be taken away by Jeff.
"I wondered where he had found you when I saw him bring you in this morning," barked the Dog, when the Cat finished her story. "Indeed, you have had many adventures; almost as many as I."
The two unfortunate toys became very friendly there in the half darkness of the night. The Cat was just telling about the Nodding Donkey, and how he had made the lame boy smile, when she suddenly stopped mewing.
"What's the matter?" asked the Cloth Dog.
"I heard a noise," said the China Cat.
"Oh, that's only rain," went on the Dog. "It is raining hard outside, and you hear it more plainly here because we are so near the street. Don't worry. Though this place is dirty, no rain comes in."
So the Cat went on with her story, but as the rain came down harder and faster it brought her another adventure.
Not far from the tenement was a river. And because there had been much rain before this last hard shower, the river had risen very high, until it was almost ready to overflow the banks.
Down pelted the rain, and soon there was a louder roar in the street outside.
"Is that just the rain?" asked the Cat of the Dog.
"It does sound a little different," the Dog replied. "I wonder if anything is happening? And see, what is that on the floor?"
"It is water!" cried the Cat, catching the gleam of it in the light of the street lamp. "Water is running in under the door!" she added.
"Then the river must be overflowing," barked the Dog. "The water is running in here. Oh, what shall we do?"
As the two toys watched they saw the puddle of water on the floor grow larger. The rain pelted down harder than before, and all at once there was a shouting in the streets.
"Get out! Get out, everybody!" came the cry. "There's a big flood! The river is rising! Get up and get out, everybody!"