My Own and Some Others
By Helen M. Winslow
Editor of "The Club Woman"
WHO NEVER BETRAYED A SECRET, BROKE A PROMISE, OR PROVED AN UNFAITHFUL FRIEND; WHO HAD ALL THE VIRTUES AND NONE OF THE FAILINGS OF HER SEX
I Dedicate this Volume
I. CONCERNING THE PRETTY LADY. II. CONCERNING MY OTHER CATS. III. CONCERNING OTHER PEOPLE'S CATS. IV. CONCERNING STILL OTHER PEOPLE'S CATS. V. CONCERNING SOME HISTORIC CATS. VI. CONCERNING CATS IN ENGLAND. VII. CONCERNING CAT CLUBS AND CAT SHOWS. VIII. CONCERNING HIGH-BRED CATS IN AMERICA. IX. CONCERNING CATS IN POETRY. X. CONCERNING CAT ARTISTS. XI. CONCERNING CAT HOSPITALS AND REFUGES. XII. CONCERNING THE ORIGIN OF CATS. XIII. CONCERNING VARIETIES OF CATS. XIV. CONCERNING CAT LANGUAGE.
CONCERNING THE "PRETTY LADY"
She was such a Pretty Lady, and gentle withal; so quiet and eminently ladylike in her behavior, and yet dignified and haughtily reserved as a duchess. Still it is better, under certain circumstances, to be a cat than to be a duchess. And no duchess of the realm ever had more faithful retainers or half so abject subjects.
Do not tell me that cats never love people; that only places have real hold upon their affections. The Pretty Lady was contented wherever I, her most humble slave, went with her. She migrated with me from boarding-house to sea-shore cottage; then to regular housekeeping; up to the mountains for a summer, and back home, a long day's journey on the railway; and her attitude was always "Wheresoever thou goest I will go, and thy people shall be my people."
I have known, and loved, and studied many cats, but my knowledge of her alone would convince me that cats love people—in their dignified, reserved way, and when they feel that their love is not wasted; that they reason, and that they seldom act from impulse.
I do not remember that I was born with an inordinate fondness for cats; or that I cried for them as an infant. I do not know, even, that my childhood was marked by an overweening pride in them; this, perhaps, was because my cruel parents established a decree, rigid and unbending as the laws of the Medes and Persians, that we must never have more than one cat at a time. Although this very law may argue that predilection, at an early age, for harboring everything feline which came in my way, which has since become at once a source of comfort and distraction.
After a succession of feline dynasties, the kings and queens of which were handsome, ugly, sleek, forlorn, black, white, deaf, spotted, and otherwise marked, I remember fastening my affections securely upon one kitten who grew up to be the ugliest, gauntest, and dingiest specimen I ever have seen. In the days of his kittenhood I christened him "Tassie" after his mother; but as time sped on, and the name hardly comported with masculine dignity, this was changed to Tacitus, as more befitting his sex. He had a habit of dodging in and out of the front door, which was heavy, and which sometimes swung together before he was well out of it. As a consequence, a caudal appendage with two broken joints was one of his distinguishing features. Besides a broken tail, he had ears which bore the marks of many a hard-fought battle, and an expression which for general "lone and lorn"-ness would have discouraged even Mrs. Gummidge. But I loved him, and judging from the disconsolate and long-continued wailing with which he rilled the house whenever I was away, my affection was not unrequited.
But my real thraldom did not begin until I took the Pretty Lady's mother. We had not been a week in our first house before a handsomely striped tabby, with eyes like beautiful emeralds, who had been the pet and pride of the next-door neighbor for five years, came over and domiciled herself. In due course of time she proudly presented us with five kittens. Educated in the belief that one cat was all that was compatible with respectability, I had four immediately disposed of, keeping the prettiest one, which grew up into the beautiful, fascinating, and seductive maltese "Pretty Lady," with white trimmings to her coat. The mother of Pretty Lady used to catch two mice at a time, and bringing them in together, lay one at my feet and say as plainly as cat language can say, "There, you eat that one, and I'll eat this," and then seem much surprised and disgusted that I had not devoured mine when she had finished her meal.
We were occupying a furnished house for the summer, however, and as we were to board through the winter, I took only the kitten back to town, thinking the mother would return to her former home, just over the fence. But no. For two weeks she refused all food and would not once enter the other house. Then I went out for her, and hearing my voice she came in and sat down before me, literally scolding me for a quarter of an hour. I shall be laughed at, but actual tears stood in her lovely green eyes and ran down her aristocratic nose, attesting her grief and accusing me, louder than her wailing, of perfidy.
I could not keep her. She would not return to her old home. I finally compromised by carrying her in a covered basket a mile and a half and bestowing her upon a friend who loves cats nearly as well as I. But although she was petted, and praised, and fed on the choicest of delicacies, she would not be resigned. After six weeks of mourning, she disappeared, and never was heard of more. Whether she sought a new and more constant mistress, or whether, in her grief at my shameless abandonment of her, she went to some lonely pier and threw herself off the dock, will never be known. But her reproachful gaze and tearful emerald eyes haunted me all winter. Many a restless night did I have to reproach myself for abandoning a creature who so truly loved me; and in many a dream did she return to heap shame and ignominy upon my repentant head.
This experience determined me to cherish her daughter, whom, rather, I cherished as her son, until there were three little new-born kittens, which in a moment of ignorance I "disposed of" at once. Naturally, the young mother fell exceedingly ill. In the most pathetic way she dragged herself after me, moaning and beseeching for help. Finally, I succumbed, went to a neighbor's where several superfluous kittens had arrived the night before, and begged one. It was a little black fellow, cold and half dead; but the Pretty Lady was beside herself with joy when I bestowed it upon her. For two days she would not leave the box where I established their headquarters, and for months she refused to wean it, or to look upon it as less than absolutely perfect. I may say that the Pretty Lady lived to be nine years old, and had, during that brief period, no less than ninety-three kittens, besides two adopted ones; but never did she bestow upon any of her own offspring that wealth of pride and affection which was showered upon black Bobbie.
When the first child of her adoption was two weeks old, I was ill one morning, and did not appear at breakfast. It had always been her custom to wait for my coming down in the morning, evidently considering it a not unimportant part of her duty to see me well launched for the day. Usually she sat at the head of the stairs and waited patiently until she heard me moving about. Sometimes she came in and sat on a chair at the head of my bed, or gently touched my face with her nose or paw. Although she knew she was at liberty to sleep in my room, she seldom did so, except when she had an infant on her hands. At first she invariably kept him in a lower drawer of my bureau. When he was large enough, she removed him to the foot of the bed, where for a week or two her maternal solicitude and sociable habits of nocturnal conversation with her progeny interfered seriously with my night's rest. If my friends used to notice a wild and haggard appearance of unrest about me at certain periods of the year, the reason stands here confessed.
I was ill when black Bobbie was two weeks old. The Pretty Lady waited until breakfast was over, and as I did not appear, came up and jumped on the bed, where she manifested some curiosity as to my lack of active interest in the world's affairs.
"Now, pussy," I said, putting out my hand and stroking her back, "I'm sick this morning. When you were sick, I went and got you a kitten. Can't you get me one?"
This was all. My sister came in then and spoke to me, and the Pretty Lady left us at once; but in less than two minutes she came back with her cherished kitten in her mouth. Depositing him in my neck, she stood and looked at me, as much as to say:—
"There, you can take him awhile. He cured me and I won't be selfish; I will share him with you."
I was ill for three days, and all that time the kitten was kept with me. When his mother wanted him, she kept him on the foot of the bed, where she nursed, and lapped, and scrubbed him until it seemed as if she must wear even his stolid nerves completely out. But whenever she felt like going out she brought him up and tucked him away in the hollow of my neck, with a little guttural noise that, interpreted, meant:—
"There, now you take care of him awhile. I'm all tired out. Don't wake him up."
But when the infant had dropped soundly asleep, she invariably came back and demanded him; and not only demanded, but dragged him forth from his lair by the nape of the neck, shrieking and protesting, to the foot of the bed again, where he was obliged to go through another course of scrubbing and vigorous maternal attentions that actually kept his fur from growing as fast as the coats of less devotedly cared-for kittens grow.
When I was well enough to leave my room, she transferred him to my lower bureau drawer, and then to a vantage-point behind an old lounge. But she never doubted, apparently, that it was the loan of that kitten that rescued me from an untimely grave.
I have lost many an hour of much-needed sleep from my cat's habit of coming upstairs at four A.M. and jumping suddenly upon the bed; perhaps landing on the pit of my stomach. Waking in that fashion, unsympathetic persons would have pardoned me if I had indulged in injudicious language, or had even thrown the cat violently from my otherwise peaceful couch. But conscience has not to upbraid me with any of these things. I flatter myself that I bear even this patiently; I remember to have often made sleepy but pleasant remarks to the faithful little friend whose affection for me and whose desire to behold my countenance was too great to permit her to wait till breakfast time.
If I lay awake for hours afterward, perhaps getting nothing more than literal "cat-naps," I consoled myself with remembering how Richelieu, and Wellington, and Mohammed, and otherwise great as well as discriminating persons, loved cats; I remembered, with some stirrings of secret pride, that it is only the artistic nature, the truly aesthetic soul that appreciates poetry, and grace, and all refined beauty, who truly loves cats; and thus meditating with closed eyes, I courted slumber again, throughout the breaking dawn, while the cat purred in delight close at hand.
The Pretty Lady was evidently of Angora or coon descent, as her fur was always longer and silkier than that of ordinary cats. She was fond of all the family. When we boarded in Boston, we kept her in a front room, two flights from the ground. Whenever any of us came in the front door, she knew it. No human being could have told, sitting in a closed room in winter, two flights up, the identity of a person coming up the steps and opening the door. But the Pretty Lady, then only six months old, used to rouse from her nap in a big chair, or from the top of a folding bed, jump down, and be at the hall door ready to greet the incomer, before she was halfway up the stairs. The cat never got down for the wrong person, and she never neglected to meet any and every member of our family who might be entering. The irreverent scoffer may call it "instinct," or talk about the "sense of smell." I call it sagacity.
One summer we all went up to the farm in northern Vermont, and decided to take her and her son, "Mr. McGinty," with us. We put them both in a large market-basket and tied the cover securely. On the train Mr. McGinty manifested a desire to get out, and was allowed to do so, a stout cord having been secured to his collar first, and the other end tied to the car seat. He had a delightful journey, once used to the noise and motion of the train. He sat on our laps, curled up on the seat and took naps, or looked out of the windows with evident puzzlement at the way things had suddenly taken to flying; he even made friends with the passengers, and in general amused himself as any other traveller would on an all-day's journey by rail, except that he did not risk his eyesight by reading newspapers. But the Pretty Lady had not travelled for some years, and did not enjoy the trip as well as formerly; on the contrary she curled herself into a round tight ball in one corner of the basket till the journey's end was reached.
Once at the farm she seemed contented as long as I remained with her. There was plenty of milk and cream, and she caught a great many mice. She was far too dainty to eat them, but she had an inherent pleasure in catching mice, just like her more plebeian sisters; and she enjoyed presenting them to Mr. McGinty or me, or some other worthy object of her solicitude.
She was at first afraid of "the big outdoors." The wide, wind-blown spaces, the broad, sunshiny sky, the silence and the roominess of it all, were quite different from her suburban experiences; and the farm animals, too, were in her opinion curiously dangerous objects. Big Dan, the horse, was truly a horrible creature; the rooster was a new and suspicious species of biped, and the bleating calves objects of her direst hatred.
The pig in his pen possessed for her the most horrid fascination. Again and again would she steal out and place herself where she could see that dreadful, strange, pink, fat creature inside his own quarters. She would fix her round eyes widely upon him in blended fear and admiration. If the pig uttered the characteristic grunt of his race, the Pretty Lady at first ran swiftly away; but afterward she used to turn and gaze anxiously at us, as if to say:—
"Do you hear that? Isn't this a truly horrible creature?" and in other ways evince the same sort of surprise that a professor in the Peabody Museum might, were the skeleton of the megatherium suddenly to accost him after the manner peculiar to its kind.
It was funnier, even, to see Mr. McGinty on the morning after his arrival at the farm, as he sallied forth and made acquaintance with other of God's creatures than humans and cats, and the natural enemy of his kind, the dog. In his suburban home he had caught rats and captured on the sly many an English sparrow. When he first investigated his new quarters on the farm, he discovered a beautiful flock of very large birds led by one of truly gorgeous plumage.
"Ah!" thought Mr. McGinty, "this is a great and glorious country, where I can have such birds as these for the catching. Tame, too. I'll have one for breakfast."
So he crouched down, tiger-like, and crept carefully along to a convenient distance and was preparing to spring, when the large and gorgeous bird looked up from his worm and remarked:—
"Cut-cut-cut, ca-dah-cut!" and, taking his wives, withdrew toward the barn.
Mr. McGinty drew back amazed. "This is a queer bird," he seemed to say; "saucy, too. However, I'll soon have him," and he crept more carefully than before up to springing distance, when again this most gorgeous bird drew up and exclaimed, with a note of annoyance:—
"Cut-cut-cut, ca-dah-cut! What ails that old cat, anyway?" And again he led his various wives barn-ward.
Mr. McGinty drew up with a surprised air, and apparently made a cursory study of the leading anatomical features of this strange bird; but he did not like to give up, and soon crouched and prepared for another onslaught. This time Mr. Chanticleer allowed the cat to come up close to his flock, when he turned and remarked in the most amicable manner, "Cut-cut-cut-cut!" which interpreted seemed to mean: "Come now; that's all right. You're evidently new here; but you'd better take my advice and not fool with me."
Anyhow, with this, down went McGinty's hope of a bird breakfast "to the bottom of the sea," and he gave up the hunt. He soon made friends, however, with every animal on the place, and so endeared himself to the owners that he lived out his days there with a hundred acres and more as his own happy hunting-ground.
Not so, the Pretty Lady. I went away on a short visit after a few weeks, leaving her behind. From the moment of my disappearance she was uneasy and unhappy. On the fifth day she disappeared. When I returned and found her not, I am not ashamed to say that I hunted and called her everywhere, nor even that I shed a few tears when days rolled into weeks and she did not appear, as I realized that she might be starving, or have suffered tortures from some larger animal.
There are many remarkable stories of cats who find their way home across almost impossible roads and enormous distances. There is a saying, believed by many people, "You can't lose a cat," which can be proved by hundreds of remarkable returns. But the Pretty Lady had absolutely no sense of locality. She had always lived indoors and had never been allowed to roam the neighborhood. It was five weeks before we found trace of her, and then only by accident. My sister was passing a field of grain, and caught a glimpse of a small creature which she at first thought to be a woodchuck. She turned and looked at it, and called "Pussy, pussy," when with a heart-breaking little cry of utter delight and surprise, our beloved cat came toward her. From the first, the wide expanse of the country had confused her; she had evidently "lost her bearings" and was probably all the time within fifteen minutes' walk of the farm-house.
When found, she was only a shadow of herself, and for the first and only time in her life we could count her ribs. She was wild with delight, and clung to my sister's arms as though fearing to lose her; and in all the fuss that was made over her return, no human being could have showed more affection, or more satisfaction at finding her old friends again.
That she really was lost, and had no sense of locality to guide her home, was proven by her conduct after she returned to her Boston home. I had preceded my sister, and was at the theatre on the evening when she arrived with the Pretty Lady. The latter was carried into the kitchen, taken from her basket, and fed. Then, instead of going around the house and settling herself in her old home, she went into the front hall which she had left four months before, and seated herself on the spot where she always watched and waited when I was out. When I came home at eleven, I saw through the screen door her "that was lost and is found." She had been waiting to welcome me for three mortal hours.
I wish those people who believe cats have no affection for people could have seen her then. She would not leave me for an instant, and manifested her love in every possible way; and when I retired for the night, she curled up on my pillow and purred herself contentedly to sleep, only rising when I did. After breakfast that first morning after her return, she asked to be let out of the back door, and made me understand that I must go with her. I did so, and she explored every part of the back yard, entreating me in the same way she called her kittens to keep close by her. She investigated our own premises thoroughly and then crept carefully under the fences on either side into the neighbor's precincts where she had formerly visited in friendly fashion; then she came timidly back, all the time keeping watch that she did not lose me. Having finished her tour of inspection, she went in and led me on an investigating trip all through the house, smelling of every corner and base-board, and insisting that every closet door should be opened, so that she might smell each closet through in the same way. When this was done, she settled herself in one of her old nooks for a nap and allowed me to leave.
But never again did she go out of sight of the house. For more than a year she would not go even into a neighbor's yard, and when she finally decided that it might be safe to crawl under the fences on to other territory, she invariably turned about to sit facing the house, as though living up to a firm determination never to lose sight of it again. This practice she kept up until at the close of her last mortal sickness, when she crawled into a dark place under a neighboring barn and said good-by to earthly fears and worries forever.
Requiescat in pace, my Pretty Lady. I wish all your sex had your gentle dignity, and grace, and beauty, to say nothing of your faithfulness and affection. Like Mother Michel's "Monmouth," it may be said of you:—
"She was merely a cat, But her Sublime Virtues place her on a level with The Most Celebrated Mortals, and In Ancient Egypt Altars would have been Erected to her Memory."
CONCERNING MY OTHER CATS
"Oh, what a lovely cat!" is a frequent expression from visitors or passers-by at our house. And from the Pretty Lady down through her various sons and daughters to the present family protector and head, "Thomas Erastus," and the Angora, "Lady Betty," there have been some beautiful creatures.
Mr. McGinty was a solid-color maltese, with fur like a seal for closeness and softness, and with the disposition of an angel. He used to be seized with sudden spasms of affection and run from one to another of the family, rubbing his soft cheeks against ours, and kissing us repeatedly. This he did by taking gentle little affectionate nips with his teeth. I used to give him a certain caress, which he took as an expression of affection. After leaving him at the farm I did not see him again for two years. Then on a short visit, I asked for Mr. McGinty and was told that he was in a shed chamber. I found him asleep in a box of grain and took him out; he looked at me through sleepy eyes, turned himself over and stretched up for the old caress. As nobody ever gave him that but me, I take this as conclusive proof that he not only knew me, but remembered my one peculiarity.
Then there was old Pomp, called "old" to distinguish him from the young Pomp of to-day, or "Pompanita." He died of pneumonia at the age of three years; but he was the handsomest black cat—and the blackest—I have ever seen. He had half a dozen white hairs under his chin; but his blackness was literally like the raven's wing. Many handsome black cats show brown in the strong sunlight, or when their fur is parted. But old Pomp's fur was jet black clear through, and in the sunshine looked as if he had been made up of the richest black silk velvet, his eyes, meanwhile, being large and of the purest amber. He weighed some fifteen pounds, and that somebody envied us the possession of him was evident, as he was stolen two or three times during the last summer of his life. But he came home every time; only when Death finally stole him, we had no redress.
"Bobinette," the black kitten referred to in the previous chapter, also had remarkably beautiful eyes. We used to keep him in ribbons to match, and he knew color, too, perfectly well. For instance, if we offered him a blue or a red ribbon, he would not be quiet long enough to have it tied on; but show him a yellow one, and he would prance across the room, and not only stand still to have it put on, but purr and evince the greatest pride in it.
Bobinette had another very pretty trick of playing with the tape-measure. He used to bring it to us and have it wound several times around his body; then he would "chase himself" until he got it off, when he would bring it back and ask plainly to have it wound round him again. After a little we noticed he was wearing the tape-measure out, and so we tried to substitute it with an old ribbon or piece of cotton tape. But Bobinette would have none of them. On the contrary, he repeatedly climbed on to the table and to the work-basket, and hunted patiently for his tape-measure, and even if it were hidden in a pocket, he kept up the search until he unearthed it; and he would invariably end by dragging forth that particular tape-measure and bringing it to us. I need not say that his intelligence was rewarded.
Speaking of colors, a friend has a cat that is devoted to blue. When she puts on a particularly pretty blue gown, the cat hastens to get into her lap, put her face down to the material, purr, and manifest the greatest delight; but let the same lady put on a black dress, and the cat will not come near her.
"Pompanita," the second Pomp in our dynasty, is a fat and billowy black fellow, now five years old and weighing nineteen pounds. He was the last of the Pretty Lady's ninety-three children. Only a few of this vast progeny, however, grew to cat-hood, as she was never allowed to keep more than one each season. The Pretty Lady, in fact, came to regard this as the only proper method. On one occasion I had been away all day. When I got home at night the housekeeper said, "Pussy has had five kittens, but she won't go near them." When the Pretty Lady heard my voice, she came and led the way to the back room where the kittens were in the lower drawer of an unused bureau, and uttered one or two funny little noises, intimating that matters were not altogether as they should be, according to established rules of propriety. I understood, abstracted four of the five kittens, and disappeared. When I came back she had settled herself contentedly with the remaining kitten, and from that time on was a model mother.
Pompanita the Good has all the virtues of a good cat, and absolutely no vices. He loves us all and loves all other cats as well. As for fighting, he emulates the example of that veteran who boasts that during the war he might always be found where the shot and shell were the thickest,—under the ammunition wagon. Like most cats he has a decided streak of vanity. My sister cut a wide, fancy collar, or ruff, of white paper one day, and put it on Pompanita. At first he felt much abashed and found it almost impossible to walk with it. But a few words of praise and encouragement changed all that.
"Oh, what a pretty Pomp he is now!" exclaimed one and another, until he sat up coyly and cocked his head one side as if to say:—
"Oh, now, do you really think I look pretty?" and after a few more assurances he got down and strutted as proudly as any peacock; much to the discomfiture of the kitten, who wanted to play with him. And now he will cross the yard any time to have one of those collars on.
But Thomas Erastus is the prince of our cats to-day. He weighs seventeen pounds, and is a soft, grayish-maltese with white paws and breast. One Saturday night ten years ago, as we were partaking of our regular Boston baked beans, I heard a faint mew. Looking down I saw beside me the thinnest kitten I ever beheld. The Irish girl who presided over our fortunes at the time used to place the palms of her hands together and say of Thomas's appearance, "Why, mum, the two sides of 'im were just like that." I picked him up, and he crawled pathetically into my neck and cuddled down.
"There," said a friend who was sitting opposite, "he's fixed himself now. You'll keep him."
"No, I shall not," I said, "but I will feed him a few days and give him to my cousin." Inside half an hour, however, Thomas Erastus had assumed the paternal air toward us that soon made us fear to lose him. Living without Thomas now would be like a young girl's going out without a chaperone. After that first half-hour, when he had been fed, he chased every foreign cat off the premises, and assumed the part of a watch-dog. To this day he will sit on the front porch or the window-sill and growl if he sees a tramp or suspicious character approaching. He always goes into the kitchen when the market-man calls, and orders his meat; and at exactly five o'clock in the afternoon, when the meat is cut up and distributed, leads the feline portion of the family into the kitchen.
Thomas knows the time of day. For six months he waked up one housekeeper at exactly seven o'clock in the morning, never varying two minutes. He did this by seating himself on her chest and gazing steadfastly in her face. Usually this waked her, but if she did not yield promptly to that treatment he would poke her cheeks with the most velvety of paws until she awoke. He has a habit now of going upstairs and sitting opposite the closed door of the young man who has to rise hours before the rest of us do, and waiting until the door is opened for him. How he knows at what particular moment each member of the family will wake up and come forth is a mystery, but he does.
How do cats tell the hour of day, anyway? The old Chinese theory that they are living clocks is, in a way, borne out by their own conduct. Not only have my cats shown repeatedly that they know the hour of rising of every member of the family, but they gather with as much regularity as the ebbing of the tides, or the setting of the sun, at exactly five o'clock in the afternoon for their supper. They are given a hearty breakfast as soon as the kitchen fire is started in the morning. This theoretically lasts them until five. I say theoretically, because if they wake from their invariable naps at one, and smell lunch, they individually wheedle some one into feeding them. But this is only individually. Collectively they are fed at five.
They are the most methodical creatures in the world. They go to bed regularly at night when the family does. They are waiting in the kitchen for breakfast when the fire is started in the morning. Then they go out of doors and play, or hunt, or ruminate until ten o'clock, when they come in, seek their favorite resting-places, and sleep until four. Evidently, from four to five is a play hour, and the one who wakes first is expected to stir up the others. But at exactly five, no matter where they may have strayed to, every one of the three, five, or seven (as the number may happen to be) will be sitting in his own particular place in the kitchen, waiting with patient eagerness for supper. For each has a particular place for eating, just as bigger folk have their places at the dining table. Thomas Erastus sits in a corner; the space under the table is reserved especially for Jane. Pompanita is at his mistress's feet, and Lady Betty, the Angora, bounds to her shoulder when their meat appears. Their table manners are quite irreproachable also. It is considered quite unpardonable to snatch at another's piece of meat, and a breach of the best cat-etiquette to show impatience while another is being fed.
I do not pretend to say that this is entirely natural. They are taught these things as kittens, and since cats are as great sticklers for propriety and gentle manners as any human beings can be, they never forget it. Doubtless, this is easier because they are always well fed, but Thomas Erastus or Jane would have to be on the verge of starvation, I am sure, before they would "grab" from one of the other cats. And as for the Pretty Lady, it was always necessary to see that she was properly served. She would not eat from a dish with other cats, or, except in extreme cases, from one they had left. Indeed, she was remarkable in this respect. I have seen her sit on the edge of a table where chickens were being dressed and wait patiently for a tidbit; I have seen her left alone in the room, while on that table was a piece of raw steak, but no temptation was ever great enough to make her touch any of these forbidden things. She actually seemed to have a conscience.
Only one thing on the dining table would she touch. When she was two or three months old, she somehow got hold of the table-napkins done up in their rings. These were always to her the most delightful playthings in the world. As a kitten, she would play with them by the hour, if not taken away, and go to sleep cuddled affectionately around them. She got over this as she grew older; but when her first kitten was two or three months old, remembering the jolly times she used to have, she would sneak into the dining room and get the rolled napkins, carry them in her mouth to her infant, and endeavor with patient anxiety to show him how to play with them. Throughout nine years of motherhood she went through the same performance with every kitten she had. They never knew what to do with the napkins, or cared to know, and would have none of them. But she never got discouraged. She would climb up on the sideboard, or into the china closet, and even try to get into drawers where the napkins were laid away in their rings. If she could get hold of one, she would carry it with literal groans and evident travail of spirit to her kitten, and by further groans and admonitions seem to say:—
"Child, see this beautiful plaything I have brought you. This is a part of your education; it is just as necessary for you to know how to play with this as to poke your paw under the closet door properly. Wake up, now, and play with it."
Sometimes, when the table was laid over night, we used to hear her anguished groans in the stillness of the night. In the morning every napkin belonging to the family would be found in a different part of the house, and perhaps a ring would be missing. These periods, however, only lasted as long, in each new kitten's training, as the few weeks that she had amused herself with them at their age. Then she would drop the subject, and napkins had no further interest than the man in the moon until another kitten arrived at the age when she considered them a necessary part of his education.
Professor Shaler in his interesting book on the intelligence of animals gives the cat only the merest mention, intimating that he considers them below par in this respect, and showing little real knowledge of them. I wish he might have known the Pretty Lady.
Once our Lady Betty had four little Angora kittens. She was probably the most aristocratic cat in the country, for she kept a wet nurse. Poor Jane, of commoner strain, had two small kittens the day after the Angora family appeared. Jane's plebeian infants promptly disappeared, but she took just as promptly to the more aristocratic family and fulfilled the duties of nurse and maid. Both cats and four kittens occupied the same bureau drawer, and when either cat wanted the fresh air she left the other in charge; and there was a tacit understanding between them that the fluffy, fat babies must never be left alone one instant. Four small and lively kittens in the house are indeed things of beauty, and a joy as long as they last. Four fluffy little Angora balls they were Chin, Chilla, Buffie, and Orange Pekoe, names that explain their color. And Jane, wet nurse and waiting-maid, had to keep as busy as the old woman that lived in a shoe. Jane it was who must look after the infants when Lady Betty wished to leave the house. Jane it was who must scrub the furry quartet until their silky fur stood up in bunches the wrong way all over their chubby little sides; Jane must sleep with them nights, and be ready to furnish sustenance at any moment of day or night; and above all, Jane must watch them anxiously and incessantly in waking hours, uttering those little protesting murmurs of admonition which mother cats deem so necessary toward the proper training of kittens. And, poor Jane! As lady's maid she must bathe Lady Betty's brow every now and then, as the more finely strung Angora succumbed to the nervous strain of kitten-rearing, and she turned affectionately to Jane for comfort. A prettier sight, or a more profitable study of the love of animals for each other was never seen than Lady Betty, her infants, and her nurse-maid. And yet, there are people who pronounce cats stupid.
One evening I returned from the theatre late and roused up the four fluffy kittens, who, seeing the gas turned on, started in for a frolic. The lady mother did not approve of midnight carousals on the part of infants, and protested with mild wails against their joyful caperings. Finally, Orange Pekoe got into the closet and Lady Betty pursued him. But suddenly a strange odor was detected. Sitting on her haunches she smelled all over the bottom of the skirt which had just been hung up, stopping every few seconds to utter a little worried note of warning to the kittens. The infants, however, displayed a quite human disregard of parental authority and gambolled on unconcernedly under the skirt; reminding one of the old New England primer style of tales, showing how disobedient children flaunt themselves in the face of danger, despite the judicious advice of their elders. Lady Betty could do nothing with them, and grew more nervous and worried every minute in consequence. Suddenly she bethought herself of that never-failing source of strength and comfort, Jane. She went into the next room, and, although I had not heard a sound, returned in a moment with the maltese. Jane was ushered into the closet, and soon scented out the skirt. Then she too sat on her haunches and gave a long, careful sniff, turned round and uttered one "purr-t-t," and took the Angora off with her. Jane had discovered that there was no element of danger in the closet, and had imparted her knowledge to the finely strung Angora in an instant. And so, taking her back to bed, she "bathed her brow" with gentle lappings until Lady Betty sank off to quiet sleep, soothed and comforted.
It is not easy to study a cat. They are like sensitive plants, and shut themselves instinctively away from the human being who does not care for them. They know when a man or a woman loves them, almost before they come into the human presence; and it is almost useless for the unsympathetic person to try to study a cat. But the thousands who do love cats know that they are the most individual animals in the world. Dogs are much alike in their love for mankind, their obedience, faithfulness, and, in different degrees, their sagacity. But there is as much individuality in cats as in people.
Dogs and horses are our slaves; cats never. This does not prove them without affection, as some people seem to think; on the contrary, it proves their peculiar and characteristic dignity and self-respect. Women, poets, and especially artists, like cats; delicate natures only can realize their sensitive nervous systems.
The Pretty Lady's mother talked almost incessantly when she was in the house. One of her habits was to get on the window-seat outside and demand to be let in. If she was not waited upon immediately, she would, when the door was finally opened, stop when halfway in and scold vigorously. The tones of her voice and the expression of her face were so exactly like those of a scolding, vixenish woman that she caused many a hearty laugh by her tirades.
Thomas Erastus, however, seldom utters a sound, and at the rare intervals when he condescends to purr, he can only be heard by holding one's ear close to his great, soft sides. But he has the most remarkable ways. He will open every door in the house from the inside; he will even open blinds, getting his paw under the fastening and working patiently at it, with his body on the blind itself, until the hook flies back and it finally opens. One housekeeper trained him to eat his meat close up in one corner of the kitchen. This custom he kept up after she went away, until new and uncommonly frisky kittens annoyed him so that his place was transferred to the top of an old table. When he got hungry in those days, however, he used to go and crowd close up in his corner and look so pathetically famished that food was generally forthcoming at once. Thomas was formerly very much devoted to the lady who lived next door, and was as much at home in her house as in ours. Her family rose an hour or two earlier than ours in the morning, and their breakfast hour came first. I should attribute Thomas's devotion to Mrs. T. to this fact, since he invariably presented himself at her dining-room window and wheedled her into feeding him, were it not that his affection seemed just as strong throughout the day. It was interesting to see him go over and rattle her screen doors, front, back, or side, knowing perfectly well that he would bring some one to open and let him in.
Thomas has a really paternal air toward the rest of the family. One spring night, as usual on retiring, I went to the back door to call in the cats. Thomas Erastus was in my sister's room, but none of the others were to be seen; nor did they come at once, evidently having strayed in their play beyond the sound of my voice. Thomas, upstairs, heard my continued call and tried for some time to get out. M. had shut her door, thinking to keep in the one already safe. But the more I called, the more persistently determined he became to get out. At last M. opened her window and let him on to the sloping roof of the "L," from which he could descend through a gnarled old apple tree. Meanwhile I left the back door and went on with my preparations for the night. About ten minutes later I went and called the cats again. It was a moonlight night and I saw six delinquent cats coming in a flock across the open field behind the house,—all marshalled by Mr. Thomas. He evidently hunted them up and called them in himself; then he sat on the back porch and waited until the last kit was safely in, before he stalked gravely in with an air which said as plainly as words:—
"There, it takes me to do anything with this family."
None of my cats would think of responding to the call of "Kitty, Kitty," or "Puss, Puss." They are early taught their names and answer to them. Neither would one answer to the name of another, except in occasional instances where jealousy prompts them to do so. We have to be most careful when we go out of an evening, not to let Thomas Erastus get out at the same time. In case he does, he will follow us either to the railroad station or to the electric cars and wait in some near-by nook until we come back. I have known him to sit out from seven until midnight of a cold, snowy winter evening, awaiting our return from the theatre. When we alight from the cars he is nowhere to be seen. But before we have gone many steps, lo! Thomas Erastus is behind or beside us, proudly escorting his mistresses home, but looking neither at them, nor to the right or left. Not until he reaches the porch does he allow himself to be petted. But on our way to the cars his attitude is different. He is as frisky as a kitten. In vain do we try to "shoo" him back, or catch him. He prances along, just out of reach, but tantalizingly close; when we get aboard our car, we know he is safe in some corner gazing sadly after us, and that no danger can drive him home until we reappear.
Both Thomas and Pompanita take a deep interest in all household affairs, although in this respect they do not begin to show the curiosity of the Pretty Lady. Never a piece of furniture was changed in he house that she did not immediately notice, the first time she came into the room afterward; and she invariably jumped up on the article and thoroughly investigated affairs before settling down again. Every parcel that came in must be examined, and afterward she must lie on the paper or inside the box that it came in, always doing this with great solemnity and gazing earnestly out of her large, intelligent dark eyes. Toward the close of her life she was greatly troubled at any unusual stir in the household. She liked to have company, but nothing disturbed her more than to have a man working in the cellar, putting in coal, cutting wood, or doing such work. She used then to follow us uneasily about and look earnestly up into our faces, as if to say:—
"Girls, this is not right. Everything is all upset here and 'a' the world's gang agley.' Why don't you fix it?"
She was the politest creature, too. That was the reason of her name. In her youth she was christened "Pansy"; then "Cleopatra," "Susan," "Lady Jane Grey" and the "Duchess." But her manners were so punctiliously perfect, and she was such a "pretty lady" always and everywhere; moreover she had such a habit of sitting with her hands folded politely across her gentle, lace-vandyked bosom that the only sobriquet that ever clung was the one that expressed herself the most perfectly. She was in every sense a "Pretty Lady." For years she ate with us at the table. Her chair was placed next to mine, and no matter where she was or how soundly she had been sleeping, when the dinner bell rang she was the first to get to her seat. Then she sat patiently until I fixed a dainty meal in a saucer and placed it in the chair beside her, when she ate it in the same well-bred way she did everything.
Thomas Erastus hurt his foot one day. Rather he got it hurt during a matutinal combat at which he was forced, being the head of the family, to be present, although he is far above the midnight carousals of his kind. Thomas Erastus sometimes loves to consider himself an invalid. When his doting mistress was not looking, he managed to step off on that foot quite lively, especially if his mortal enemy, a disreputable black tramp, skulked across the yard. But let Thomas Erastus see a feminine eye gazing anxiously at him through an open window, and he immediately hobbled on three legs; then he would stop and sit down and assume so pathetic an expression of patient suffering that the mistress's heart would melt, and Thomas Erastus would find himself being borne into the house and placed on the softest sofa. Once she caught him down cellar. There is a window to which he has easy access, and where he can go in and out a hundred times a day. Evidently he had planned to do so at that moment. But seeing his fond mistress, he sat down on the cellar floor, and with his most fetching expression gazed wistfully back and forth from her to the window. And of course she picked him up carefully and put him on the window ledge. Thomas Erastus has all the innocent guile of a successful politician. He could manage things slicker than the political bosses, an' he would.
One summer Thomas Erastus moved—an event of considerable importance in his placid existence. He had to travel a short distance on the steam-cars; and worse, he needs must endure the indignity of travelling that distance in a covered basket. But his dignity would not suffer him to do more than send forth one or two mournful wails of protest. After being kept in his new house for a couple of days, he was allowed to go out and become familiar with his surroundings—not without fear and trepidation on the part of his doting mistress that he might make a bold strike for his former home. But Thomas Erastus felt he had a mission to perform for his race. He would disprove that mistaken theory that a cat, no matter how kindly he is treated, cares more for places than for people. Consequently he would not dream of going back to his old haunts.
No; he sat down in the front yard and took a long look at his surroundings, the neighboring lots, a field of grass, a waving corn-field. He had already convinced himself that the new house was home, because in it were all the old familiar things, and he had been allowed to investigate every bit of it and to realize what had happened. So after looking well about him he made a series of tours of investigation. First, he took a bee-line for the farthest end of the nearest vacant lot; then he chose the corn-field; then the beautiful broad grounds of the neighbor below; then across the street; but between each of these little journeys he took a bee-line back to his starting-point, sat down in front of the new house, and "got his bearings," just as evidently as though he could have said out loud, "This is my home and I mustn't lose it." In this way he convinced himself that where he lives is the centre of the universe, and that the world revolves around him. And he has since been as happy as a cricket,—yea, happier, for death and destruction await the unfortunate cricket where Thomas Erastus thrives.
But don't say a cat can't or won't be moved. It's your own fault if he won't.
CONCERNING OTHER PEOPLE'S CATS
Every observing reader of Mrs. Harriet Prescott Spofford's stories knows that she is fond of cats and understands them. Her heroines usually have, among other feminine belongings and accessories, one or more cats. "Four great Persian cats haunted her every footstep," she says of Honor, in the "Composite Wife." "A sleepy, snowy creature like some half-animated ostrich plume; a satanic thing with fiery eyes that to Mr. Chipperley's perception were informed with the very bottomless flames; another like a golden fleece, caressing, half human; and a little mouse-colored imp whose bounds and springs and feathery tail-lashings not only did infinite damage among the Venetian and Dresden knick-knackerie, but among Mr. Chipperley's nerves."
In her beautiful, old-fashioned home at Newburyport, Mass., she has two beloved cats. But I will not attempt to improve on her own account of them:—
"As for my own cats,—their name has been legion, although a few remain preeminent. There was Miss Spot who came to us already named, preferring our domicile to the neighboring one she had. Her only son was so black that he was known as Ink Spot, but her only daughter was so altogether ideal and black, too, that she was known as Beauty Spot. Beauty Spot led a sorrowful life, and was fortunately born clothed in black or her mourning would have been expensive, as she was always in a bereaved condition, her drowned offspring making a shoal in the Merrimac, although she had always plenty left. She solaced herself with music. She would never sit in any one's lap but mine, and in mine only when I sang; and then only when I sang 'The Last Rose of Summer.' This is really true. But she would spring into my husband's lap if he whistled. She would leave her sleep reluctantly, start a little way, and retreat, start and retreat again, and then give one bound and light on his knee or his arm and reach up one paw and push it repeatedly across his mouth like one playing the jew's-harp; I suppose to get at the sound. She always went to walk with us and followed us wherever we went about the island.
"Lucifer and Phosphor have been our cats for the last ten years: Lucifer, entirely black, Phosphor, as yellow as saffron, a real golden fleece. My sister lived in town and going away for the summer left her cat in a neighbor's care, and the neighbor moved away meanwhile and left the cat to shift for herself. She went down to the apothecary's, two blocks away or more. There she had a family of kittens, but apparently came up to reconnoitre, for on my sister's return, she appeared with one kitten and laid it down at Kate's feet; ran off, and in time came with another which she left also, and so on until she had brought up the whole household. Lucifer was one of them.
"He was as black as an imp and as mischievous as one. His bounds have always been tremendous: from the floor to the high mantel, or to the top of a tall buffet close under the ceiling. And these bounds of his, together with a way he has of gazing into space with his soulful and enormous yellow eyes, have led to a thousand tales as to his nightly journeyings among the stars; hurting his foot slumping through the nebula in Andromeda; getting his supper at a place in the milky way, hunting all night with Orion, and having awful fights with Sirius. He got his throat cut by alighting on the North Pole one night, coming down from the stars. The reason he slumps through the nebula is on account of his big feet; he has six toes (like the foot in George Augustus Sala's drawing) and when he walks on the top of the piazza you would think it was a burglar.
"Lucifer's Mephistophelian aspect is increased not only by those feet, but by an arrow-pointed tail. He sucks his tail,—alas, and alas! In vain have we peppered it, and pepper-sauced it, and dipped it in Worcestershire sauce and in aloes, and done it up in curl papers, and glued on it the fingers of old gloves. At last we gave it up in despair, and I took him and put his tail in his mouth and told him to take his pleasure,—and that is the reason, I suppose, that he attaches himself particularly to me. He is very near-sighted with those magnificent orbs, for he will jump into any one's lap, who wears a black gown, but jump down instantly, and when he finds my lap curl down for a brief season. But he is not much of a lap-loving cat. He puts up his nose and smells my face all over in what he means for a caress, and is off. He is not a large eater, although he has been known to help himself to a whole steak at the table, being alone in the dining room; and when poultry are in the larder he is insistent till satisfied. But he wants his breakfast early. If the second girl, whose charge he is, does not rise in season, he mounts two flights of stairs and seats himself on her chest until she does rise. Then if she does not wait on him at once, he goes into the drawing-room, and springs to the top of the upright piano, and deliberately knocks off the bric-a-brac, particularly loving to encounter and floor a brass dragon candlestick. Then he springs to the mantel-shelf if he has not been seized and appeased, and repeats operations, and has even carried his work of destruction around the room to the top of a low bookcase and has proved himself altogether the wrong sort of person in a china-shop.
"However, it is conceded in the family that Phosphor is not a cat merely: he is a person, and Lucifer is a spirit. Lucifer seldom purrs—I wonder if that is a characteristic of black cats?" [No; my black cats fairly roar.] "A little thread of sound, and only now and then, when very happy and loving, a rich, full strain. But Phosphor purrs like a windmill, like an electric car, like a tea-kettle, like a whole boiled dinner. When Phosphor came, Lucifer, six weeks her senior (Phosphor's excellencies always incline one to say 'she' of him), thought the little live yellow ball was made only for him to play with, and he cuffed and tossed him around for all he was worth, licked him all over twenty times a day, and slept with his arms about him. During those early years Phosphor never washed himself, Lucifer took such care of him, and they were a lovely sight in each other's arms asleep. But of late years a coolness has intervened, and now they never speak as they pass by. They sometimes go fishing together, Lucifer walking off majestically alone, always dark, mysterious, reticent, intent on his own affairs, making you feel that he has a sort of lofty contempt for yours. Sometimes, the mice depositing a dead fish in the crannies of the rocks, Lucifer appears with it in the twilight, gleaming silver-white in his jaws, and the great eyes gleaming like fire-balls above it. Phosphor is, however, a mighty hunter: mice, rats by the score, chipmunks,—all is game that comes to his net. He has cleaned out whole colonies of catbirds (for their insolence), and eaten every golden robin on the island.
"It used to be very pretty to see them, when they were little, as El Mahdi, the peacock, spread his great tail, dart and spring upon it, and go whirling round with it as El Mahdi, fairly frantic with the little demons that had hold of him, went skipping and springing round and round. But although so fierce a fighter, so inhospitable to every other cat, Phosphor is the most affectionate little soul. He is still very playful, though so large, and last summer to see him bounding on the grass, playing with his tail, turning somersaults all by himself, was quite worth while. When we first happened to go away in his early years he wouldn't speak to us when we came back, he felt so neglected. I went away for five months once, before Lucifer was more than a year old. He got into no one's lap while I was gone, but the moment I sat down on my return, he jumped into mine, saluted me, and curled himself down for a nap, showing the plainest recognition. Now when one comes back, Phosphor is wild with joy—always in a well-bred way. He will get into your arms and on your shoulder and rub his face around, and before you know it his little mouth is in the middle of your mouth as much like a kiss as anything can be. Perhaps it isn't so well bred, but his motions are so quick and perfect it seems so. When you let him in he curls into heaps of joy, and fairly stands on his head sometimes. He is the most responsive creature, always ready for a caress, and his wild, great amber eyes beam love, if ever love had manifestation. His beauty is really extraordinary; his tail a real wonder. Lucifer, I grieve to say, looks very moth-eaten. Phosphor wore a bell for a short time once—a little Inch-Cape Rock bell—but he left it to toll all winter in a tall tree near the drawing-room window.
"A charm of cats is that they seem to live in a world of their own, just as much as if it were a real dimension of space; and speaking of a fourth dimension, I am living in the expectation that the new discoveries in the matter of radiant energy will presently be revealing to all our senses the fact that there is no death.
"We had some barn kittens once that lived in the hen-house, ate with the hens, and quarrelled with them for any tidbit. They curled up in the egg boxes and didn't move when the hens came to lay, and evidently had no idea that they were not hens.
"Oh, there is no end to the cat situation. It began with the old fellow who put his hand under the cat to lift her up, and she arched her back higher and higher until he found it was the serpent Asgard, and it won't end with you and me. I don't know but she is the serpent Asgard. I don't know if you have hypnotized or magnetized me, but I am writing as if I had known you intimately all my life, and feel as though I had. It is the freemasonry of cats. I always said they were possessed of spirits, and they use white magic to bring their friends together."
Mrs. Spofford's "barn kittens" bring to mind an incident related by Mrs. Wood, the beautiful wife of Professor C.G. Wood, of the Harvard Medical School. At their summer place on Buzzard's Bay she has fifteen cats, mostly Angoras, Persians, and coons, with several dogs. These cats follow her all about the place in a regular troop, and a very handsome troop they are, with their waving, plumy tails tipped gracefully over at the ends as if saluting their superior officer. Among the dogs is a spaniel named Gyp that is particularly friendly with the cats. There are plenty of hens on the farm, and one spring a couple of bantams were added to the stock. The cats immediately took a great fancy to these diminutive bipeds, and watched them with the greatest interest. Finally the little hen had a flock of chickens. As the weather was still cold, the farmer put them upstairs in one of the barns, and every day Gyp would take seven or eight of those cats up there to see the fluffy little things. Dog and cats would seat themselves around the bantam and her brood and watch them by the hour, never offering to touch the chickens except when the little things were tired and went for a nap under their mother's wings; and then some cat—first one and then another—would softly poke its paw under the hen and stir up the family, making them all run out in consternation, and keeping things lively once more. The cats didn't dream of catching the chickens, only wanting, evidently, that they should emulate Joey and keep moving on.
A writer in the London Spectator tells of a favorite bantam hen with which the house cat has long been accustomed to play. This bantam has increased and multiplied, and keeps her family in a "coop" on the ground,—into which rats easily enter. At bedtime, however, pussy takes up her residence there, and bantam, the brood of chickens, and pussy sleep in happy harmony nightly. If any rats arrive, their experience must be sad and sharp. Another writer in the same number tells of a cat in Huddersfield, England, belonging to Canon Beardsley, who helps himself to a reel of cotton from the work-basket, takes it on the floor, and plays with it as long as he likes, and then jumps up and puts the reel back in its place again; just as our Bobinette used to get his tape-measure, although the latter never was known to put it away.
Miss Sarah Orne Jewett is a cat-lover, too, and the dear old countrywomen "down in Maine," with whom one gets acquainted through her books, usually keep a cat also. Says she:—
"I look back over so long a line of family cats, from a certain poor Spotty who died an awful death in a fit on the flagstones under the library window when I was less than five years old, to a lawless, fluffy, yellow and white coon cat now in my possession, that I find it hard to single out the most interesting pussy of all. I shall have to speak of two cats at least, one being the enemy and the other the friend of my dog Joe. Joe and I grew up together and were fond companions, until he died of far too early old age and left me to take my country walks alone.
"Polly, the enemy, was the best mouser of all: quite the best business cat we ever had, with an astonishing intellect and a shrewd way of gaining her ends. She caught birds and mice as if she foraged for our whole family: she had an air of responsibility and a certain impatience of interruption and interference such as I have never seen in any other cat, and a scornful way of sitting before a person with fierce eyes and a quick, ominous twitching of her tail. She seemed to be measuring one's incompetence as a mouse-catcher in these moments, or to be saying to herself, 'What a clumsy, stupid person; how little she knows, and how I should like to scratch her and hear her squeak.' I sometimes felt as if I were a larger sort of helpless mouse in these moments, but sometimes Polly would be more friendly, and even jump into our laps, when it was a pleasure to pat her hard little head with its exquisitely soft, dark tortoise-shell fur. No matter if she almost always turned and caught the caressing hand with teeth and claws, when she was tired of its touch, you would always be ready to pat her next time; there was such a fascination about her that any attention on her part gave a thrill of pride and pleasure. Every guest and stranger admired her and tried to win her favor: while we of the household hid our wounds and delighted in her cleverness and beauty.
"Polly was but a small cat to have a mind. She looked quite round and kittenish as she sat before the fire in a rare moment of leisure, with her black paws tucked under her white breast and her sleek back looking as if it caught flickers of firelight in some yellow streaks among the shiny black fur. But when she walked abroad she stretched out long and thin like a little tiger, and held her head high to look over the grass as if she were threading the jungle. She lashed her tail to and fro, and one turned out of her way instantly. You opened a door for her if she crossed the room and gave you a look. She made you know what she meant as if she had the gift of speech: at most inconvenient moments you would go out through the house to find her a bit of fish or to open the cellar door. You recognized her right to appear at night on your bed with one of her long-suffering kittens, which she had brought in the rain, out of a cellar window and up a lofty ladder, over the wet, steep roofs and down through a scuttle into the garret, and still down into warm shelter. Here she would leave it and with one or two loud, admonishing purrs would scurry away upon some errand that must have been like one of the border frays of old.
"She used to treat Joe, the dog, with sad cruelty, giving him a sharp blow on his honest nose that made him meekly stand back and see her add his supper to her own. A child visitor once rightly complained that Polly had pins in her toes, and nobody knew this better than poor Joe. At last, in despair, he sought revenge. I was writing at my desk one day, when he suddenly appeared, grinning in a funny way he had, and wagging his tail, until he enticed me out to the kitchen. There I found Polly, who had an air of calling everything in the house her own. She was on the cook's table, gobbling away at some chickens which were being made ready for the oven and had been left unguarded. I caught her and cuffed her, and she fled through the garden door, for once tamed and vanquished, though usually she was so quick that nobody could administer justice upon these depredations of a well-fed cat. Then I turned and saw poor old Joe dancing about the kitchen in perfect delight. He had been afraid to touch Polly himself, but he knew the difference between right and wrong, and had called me to see what a wicked cat she was, and to give him the joy of looking on at the flogging.
"It was the same dog who used sometimes to be found under a table where his master had sent him for punishment in his young days of lawless puppy-hood for chasing the neighbor's chickens. These faults had long been overcome, but sometimes, in later years, Joe's conscience would trouble him, we never knew why, and he would go under the table of his own accord, and look repentant and crestfallen until some forgiving and sympathetic friend would think he had suffered enough and bid him come out to be patted and consoled.
"After such a house-mate as Polly, Joe had great amends in our next cat, yellow Danny, the most amiable and friendly pussy that ever walked on four paws. He took Danny to his heart at once: they used to lie in the sun together with Danny's head on the dog's big paws, and I sometimes used to meet them walking as coy as lovers, side by side, up one of the garden walks. When I could not help laughing at their sentimental and conscious air, they would turn aside into the bushes for shelter. They respected each other's suppers, and ate together on the kitchen hearth, and took great comfort in close companionship. Danny always answered if you spoke to him, but he made no sound while always opening his mouth wide to mew whenever he had anything to say, and looking up into your face with all his heart expressed. These affectations of speech were most amusing, especially in so large a person as yellow Danny. He was much beloved by me and by all his family, especially poor Joe, who must sometimes have had the worst of dreams about old Polly, and her sharp, unsparing claws."
Miss Mary E. Wilkins is also a great admirer of cats. "I adore cats," she says. "I don't love them as well as dogs, because my own nature is more after the lines of a dog's; but I adore them. No matter how tired or wretched I am, a pussy-cat sitting in a doorway can divert my mind. Cats love one so much: more than they will allow; but they have so much wisdom they keep it to themselves."
Miss Wilkins's "Augustus" was moved with her from Brattleboro, Vt., after her father's death and when she went to Randolph, Mass., to live. He had been the pet of the family for a long time, but he came to an untimely end.
"I hope," says Miss Wilkins, "people's unintentional cruelty will not be remembered against them." Since living in Randolph she has had two lovely yellow and white cats, "Punch and Judy." The latter was shot by a neighbor, but Punch, the right-hand cat with the angelic expression, still survives.
"I am quite sure," says his mistress, "he loves me better than anybody else, although he is so very close about it. Punch Wilkins has one accomplishment. He can open a door with an old-fashioned latch: but he cannot shut it."
Louise Imogen Guiney is famous for her love and good comradeship with dogs, especially her setters and St. Bernards, but she is too thoroughly a poet not to be captivated by the grace and beauty of a cat.
"I love the unsubmissive race," she says, "and have had much edification out of the charming friendships between our St. Bernards and our cats. Annie Clarke [the actress] once gave me two exquisite Angoras, little persons of character equal to their looks; but they died young and we have not since had the heart to replace them. I once had another coon, a small, spry, gray fellow named Scot, the tamest and most endearing of pets, always on your shoulder and a' that, who suddenly, on no provocation whatever, turned wild, lived for a year or more in the woods next our garden, hunting and fishing, although ceaselessly chased, and called, and implored to revisit his afflicted family. He associated sometimes with the neighbor's cat, but never, never more with humanity, until finally we found his pathetic little frozen body one Christmas near the barn. Do you remember Arnold's Scholar Gypsy? Our Scot was his feline equivalent.... Have you counted in Prosper Merimee among the confirmed lovers of cats? I remember a delightful little paragraph out of one of his letters about un vieux chat noir, parfaitement laid, mais plein d'esprit et de discretion. Seulement il n'a eu que des gens vulgaires et manque d'usage."
Mrs. A.D.T. Whitney, who has written so many helpful stories for girls, is another lover of cats. Cats do not lie curled up on cushions everywhere in her books, as they do in Mrs. Spofford's. But in "Zerub Throop's Experiment" there is an amusing cat story, which, she declares, got so much mixed up with a ghost story that nobody ever knew which was which. And the incident is true in every particular, except the finding of a will or codicil, or something at the end, which is attached for purposes of fiction.
A great deal has been written about the New York Sun's famous cats. At my request, Mr. Dana furnished the following description of the interesting Sun family. I can only vouch for its veracity by quoting the famous phrase, "If you see it in the Sun, it is so."
"Sun office cat (Felis Domestica; var. Journalistica). This is a variation of the common domestic cat, of which but one family is known to science. The habitat of the species is in Newspaper Row; its lair is in the Sun building, its habits are nocturnal, and it feeds on discarded copy and anything else of a pseudo-literary nature upon which it can pounce. In dull times it can subsist upon a meagre diet of telegraphic brevities, police court paragraphs, and city jottings; but when the universe is agog with news, it will exhibit the insatiable appetite which is its chief distinguishing mark of difference from the common felis domestica. A single member of this family has been known, on a 'rush' night, to devour three and a half columns of presidential possibilities, seven columns of general politics, pretty much all but the head of a large and able-bodied railroad accident, and a full page of miscellaneous news, and then claw the nether garments of the managing editor, and call attention to an appetite still in good working order.
"The progenitrix of the family arrived in the Sun office many years ago, and installed herself in a comfortable corner, and within a few short months she had noticeably raised the literary tone of the paper, as well as a large and vociferous family of kittens. These kittens were weaned on reports from country correspondents, and the sight of the six children and the mother cat sitting in a semicircle was one which attracted visitors from all parts of the nation. Just before her death—immediately before, in fact—the mother cat developed a literary taste of her own and drank the contents of an ink-bottle. She was buried with literary honors, and one of her progeny was advanced to the duties and honors of office cat. From this time the line came down, each cat taking the 'laurel greener from the brows of him that uttered nothing base,' upon the death of his predecessor. There is but one blot upon the escutcheon of the family, put there by a recent incumbent who developed a mania at once cannibalistic and infanticidal, and set about making a free lunch of her offspring, in direct violation of the Raines law and the maternal instinct. She died of an overdose of chloroform, and her place was taken by one of the rescued kittens.
"It is the son of this kitten who is the present proud incumbent of the office. Grown to cat-hood, he is a creditable specimen of his family, with beryl eyes, beautiful striped fur, showing fine mottlings of mucilage and ink, a graceful and aspiring tail, an appetite for copy unsurpassed in the annals of his race, and a power and perseverance in vocality, chiefly exercised in the small hours of the morning, that, together with the appetite referred to, have earned for him the name of the Mutilator. The picture herewith given was taken when the animal was a year and a half old. Up to the age of one year the Mutilator made its lair in the inside office with the Snake Editor, until a tragic ending came to their friendship. During a fortnight's absence of the office cat upon important business, the Snake Editor cultivated the friendship of three cockroaches, whom he debauched by teaching them to drink beer spilled upon his desk for that purpose. On the night of the cat's return, the three bugs had become disgracefully intoxicated, and were reeling around the desk beating time with their legs to a rollicking catch sung by the Snake Editor. Before the muddled insects could crawl into a crack, the Mutilator was upon them, and had bolted every one. Then with a look of reproach at the Snake Editor, he drew three perpendicular red lines across that gentleman's features with his claws and departed in high scorn, nor could he ever thereafter be lured into the inner office where the serpent-sharp was laying for him with a space measure. Since that time he has lived in the room occupied by the reporters and news editors.
"Many hundreds of stories, some of them slanderous have been told about the various Sun office cats, but we have admitted here none of these false tales. The short sketch given here is beyond suspicion in all its details, as can be vouched for by many men of high position who ought to know better."
CONCERNING STILL OTHER PEOPLE'S CATS
The nearest approach to the real French Salon in America is said to be found in Mrs. Louise Chandler Moulton's Boston drawing-room. In former days, at her weekly Fridays, Sir Richard Coeur de Lion was always present, sitting on the square piano amidst a lot of other celebrities. The autographed photographs of Paderewski, John Drew, and distinguished litterateurs, however, used to lose nothing from the proximity of Mrs. Moulton's favorite maltese friend, who was on the most intimate terms with her for twelve years, and hobnobbed familiarly with most of the lions of one sort or another who have visited Boston and who invariably find their way into this room. If there were flowers on the piano, Richard's nose hovered near them in a perfect abandon of delight. Indeed, his fondness for flowers was a source of constant contention between him and his mistress, who feared lest he knock the souvenirs of foreign countries to the floor in his eagerness to climb wherever flowers were put. He was as dainty about his eating as in his taste for the beautiful, scorning beef and mutton as fit only for coarser mortals, and choosing, like any gourmet, to eat only the breast of chicken, or certain portions of fish or lobster. He was not proof against the flavor of liver, at any time; but recognized in it his one weakness,—as the delicate lady may who takes snuff or chews gum on the sly. When Mrs. Moulton first had him, she had also a little dog, and the two, as usual when a kitten is brought up with a dog, became the greatest of friends.
That Richard was a close observer was proved by the way he used to wag his tail, in the same fashion and apparently for the same reasons as the dog. This went on for several years, but when the dog died, the fashion of wagging tails went out, so far as Richard Coeur de Lion was concerned.
He had a fashion of getting up on mantels, the tops of bookcases, or on shelves; and his mistress, fearing demolition of her household Lares and Penates, insisted on his getting down, whereupon Richard would look reproachfully at her, apparently resenting this treatment for days afterward, refusing to come near her and edging off if she tried to make up with him.
When Richard was getting old, a black cat came to Mrs. Moulton, who kept him "for luck," and named him the Black Prince. The older cat was always jealous of the newcomer, and treated him with lofty scorn. When he caught Mrs. Moulton petting the Black Prince, who is a very affectionate fellow Richard fiercely resented it and sometimes refused to have anything to do with her for days afterward, but finally came around and made up in shamefaced fashion.
Mrs. Moulton goes to London usually in the summer, leaving the cats in the care of a faithful maid whom she has had for years. After she sailed, Richard used to come to her door for several mornings, and not being let in as usual, understood that his beloved mistress had left him again, whereupon he kept up a prolonged wailing for some time. He was correspondingly glad to see her on her return in October.
Mrs. Moulton tells the following remarkable cat story:—
"My mother had a cat that lived to be twenty-five years old. He was faithful and fond, and a great pet in the family, of course. About two years before his death, a new kitten was added to the family. This kitten, named Jim, immediately conceived the greatest affection for old Jack, and as the old fellow's senses of sight and smell failed so that he could not go hunting himself, Jim used to do it for both. Every day he brought Jack mice and squirrels and other game as long as he lived. Then, too, he used to wash Jack, lapping him all over as a mother cat does her kitten. He did this, too, as long as he lived. The feebler old Jack grew the more Jim did for him, and when Jack finally died of old age, Jim was inconsolable."
Twenty-five years might certainly be termed a ripe old age for a cat, their average life extending only to ten or twelve years. But I have heard of one who seems to have attained even greater age. The mother of Jane Andrews, the writer on educational and juvenile subjects, had one who lived with them twenty-four years. He had peculiar markings and certain ways of his own about the house quite different from other cats. He disappeared one day when he was twenty-four, and was mourned as dead. But one day, some six or seven years later, an old cat came to their door and asked to be let in. He had the same markings, and on being let in, went directly to his favorite sleeping-places and lay down. He seemed perfectly familiar with the whole place, and went on with his life from that time, just as though he had never been away, showing all his old peculiarities. When he finally died, he must have been thirty-three years old.
Although in other days a great many noted men have been devoted to cats, I do not find that our men of letters to-day know so much about cats. Mr. William Dean Howells says: "I never had a cat, pet or otherwise. I like them, but know nothing of them." Judge Robert Grant says, "My feelings toward cats are kindly and considerate, but not ardent."
Thomas Bailey Aldrich says, "The only cat I ever had any experience with was the one I translated from the French of Emile de La Bedollierre many years ago for the entertainment of my children." [Footnote: "Mother Michel's Cat."] Brander Matthews loves them not. George W. Cable answers, when asked if he loves the "harmless, necessary cat," by the Yankee method, and says, "If you had three or four acres of beautiful woods in which were little red squirrels and chipmunks and fifty or more kinds of nesting birds, and every abutting neighbor kept a cat, and none of them kept their cat out of those woods—would you like cats?" which is, indeed, something of a poser.
Colonel Thomas W. Higginson, however, confesses to a great fondness for cats, although he has had no remarkable cats of his own. He tells a story told him by an old sailor at Pigeon Cove, Mass., of a cat which he, the sailor, tried in vain to get rid of. After trying several methods he finally put the cat in a bag, walked a mile to Lane's Cove, tied the cat to a big stone with a firm sailor's knot, took it out in a dory some distance from the shore, and dropped the cat overboard. Then he went back home to find the cat purring on the doorstep.
Those who are familiar with Charles Dudley Warner's "My Summer in a Garden" will not need to be reminded of Calvin and his interesting traits. Mr. Warner says: "I never had but one cat, and he was rather a friend and companion than a cat. When he departed this life I did not care to do as many men do when their partners die, take a 'second.'" The sketch of him in that delightful book is vouched for as correct.
Mr. Edmund Clarence Stedman, too, is a genuine admirer of cats and evidently knows how to appreciate them at their true value. At his home near New York, he and Mrs. Stedman have one who rejoices in the name "Babylon," having originated in Babylon, Long Island. He is a fine large maltese, and attracted a great deal of attention at the New York Cat Show in 1895. "We look upon him as an important member of our family," says Mrs. Stedman, "and think he knows as much as any of us. He despises our two other cats, but he is very fond of human beings and makes friends readily with strangers. He is always present at the family dinner table at meal-time and expects to have his share handed to him carefully. He has a favorite corner in the study and has superintended a great deal of literary work." Mrs. Stedman's long-haired, blue Kelpie took a prize in the show of '95.
Gail Hamilton was naturally a lover of cats, although in her crowded life there was not much time to devote to them. In the last year of her noble life she wrote to a friend as follows: "My two hands were eager to lighten the burden-bearing of a burdened world—but the brush fell from my hand. Now I can only sit in a nook of November sunshine, playing with two little black and white kittens. Well, I never before had time to play with kittens as much as I wished, and when I come outdoors and see them bounding toward me in long, light leaps, I am glad that they leap toward me and not away from me, little soft, fierce sparks of infinite energy holding a mystery of their own as inscrutable as life. And I remember that with all our high art, the common daily sun searches a man for one revealing moment, and makes a truer portrait than the most laborious painter. The divine face of our Saviour, reflected in the pure and noble traits of humanity, will not fail from the earth because my hand has failed in cunning."
One would expect a poet of Ella Wheeler Wilcox's temperament to be passionately fond of cats, just as she is. One would expect, too, that only the most beautiful and luxurious of Persians and Angoras would satisfy her demand for a pet. This is also justifiable, as she has several magnificent cats, about whom she has published a number of interesting stories. Her Madame Ref is quite a noted cat, but Mrs. Wilcox's favorite and the handsomest of all is named Banjo, a gorgeous chinchilla and white Angora, with a silken coat that almost touches the floor and a ruff, or "lord mayor's chain," that is a finger wide. His father was Ajax, his mother was Madame Ref, and Mrs. Wilcox raised him. She has taught him many cunning tricks. He will sit up like a bear, and when his mistress says, "Hug me, Banjo," he puts both white paws around her neck and hugs her tight. Then she says, "Turn the other cheek," and he turns his furry chops for her to kiss. He also plays "dead," and rolls over at command. He, too, is fond of literary work, and superintends his mistress's writing from a drawer of her desk. Goody Two-eyes is another of Mrs. Wilcox's pets, and has one blue and one topaz eye.
Who has not read Agnes Repplier's fascinating essays on "Agrippina" and "A Kitten"? I cannot quite believe she gives cats credit for the capacity for affection which they really possess, but her description of "Agrippina" is charming:—
"Agrippina's beautifully ringed tail flapping across my copy distracts my attention and imperils the neatness of my penmanship. Even when she is disposed to be affable, turns the light of her countenance upon me, watches with attentive curiosity every stroke I make, and softly, with curved paw, pats my pen as it travels over the paper, even in these halcyon moments, though my self-love is flattered by her condescension, I am aware that I should work better and more rapidly if I denied myself this charming companionship. But, in truth, it is impossible for a lover of cats to banish these alert, gentle, and discriminating little friends, who give us just enough of their regard and complaisance to make us hunger for more. M. Fee, the naturalist, who has written so admirably about animals, and who understands, as only a Frenchman can understand, the delicate and subtle organization of a cat, frankly admits that the keynote of its character is independence. It dwells under our roofs, sleeps by our fire, endures our blandishments, and apparently enjoys our society, without for one moment forfeiting its sense of absolute freedom, without acknowledging any servile relation to the human creature who shelters it.
"Rude and masterful souls resent this fine self-sufficiency in a domestic animal, and require that it shall have no will but theirs, no pleasure that does not emanate from them.
"Yet there are people, less magisterial, perhaps, or less exacting, who believe that true friendship, even with an animal, may be built up on mutual esteem and independence; that to demand gratitude is to be unworthy of it; and that obedience is not essential to agreeable and healthy intercourse. A man who owns a dog is, in every sense of the word, its master: the term expresses accurately their mutual relations. But it is ridiculous when applied to the limited possession of a cat. I am certainly not Agrippina's mistress, and the assumption of authority on my part would be a mere empty dignity, like those swelling titles which afford such innocent delight to the Freemasons of our severe republic.
"How many times have I rested tired eyes on her graceful little body, curled up in a ball and wrapped round with her tail like a parcel; or stretched out luxuriously on my bed, one paw coyly covering her face, the other curved gently inwards, as though clasping an invisible treasure. Asleep or awake, in rest or in motion, grave or gay, Agrippina is always beautiful; and it is better to be beautiful than to fetch and carry from the rising to the setting of the sun.
"But when Agrippina has breakfasted and washed, and sits in the sunlight blinking at me with affectionate contempt, I feel soothed by her absolute and unqualified enjoyment. I know how full my day will be of things that I don't want particularly to do, and that are not particularly worth doing; but for her, time and the world hold only this brief moment of contentment. Slowly the eyes close, gently the little body is relaxed. Oh, you who strive to relieve your overwrought nerves and cultivate power through repose, watch the exquisite languor of a drowsy cat, and despair of imitating such perfect and restful grace. There is a gradual yielding of every muscle to the soft persuasiveness of slumber: the flexible frame is curved into tender lines, the head nestles lower, the paws are tucked out of sight: no convulsive throb or start betrays a rebellious alertness: only a faint quiver of unconscious satisfaction, a faint heaving of the tawny sides, a faint gleam of the half-shut yellow eyes, and Agrippina is asleep. I look at her for one wistful moment and then turn resolutely to my work. It were ignoble to wish myself in her place: and yet how charming to be able to settle down to a nap, sans peur et sans reproche, at ten o'clock in the morning."
And again: "When I am told that Agrippina is disobedient, ungrateful, cold-hearted, perverse, stupid, treacherous, and cruel, I no longer strive to check the torrent of abuse. I know that Buffon said all this, and much more, about cats, and that people have gone on repeating it ever since, principally because these spirited little beasts have remained just what it pleased Providence to make them, have preserved their primitive freedom through centuries of effete and demoralizing civilization. Why, I wonder, should a great many good men and women cherish an unreasonable grudge against one animal because it does not chance to possess the precise qualities of another? 'My dog fetches my slippers for me every night,' said a friend, triumphantly, not long ago. 'He puts them first to warm by the fire, and then brings them over to my chair, wagging his tail, and as proud as Punch. Would your cat do as much for you, I'd like to know?' Assuredly not. If I waited for Agrippina to fetch me shoes or slippers, I should have no other resource save to join as speedily as possible one of the barefooted religious orders of Italy. But after all, fetching slippers is not the whole duty of domestic pets.
"As for curiosity, that vice which the Abbe Galiani held to be unknown to animals, but which the more astute Voltaire detected in every little dog that he saw peering out of the window of its master's coach, it is the ruling passion of the feline breast. A closet door left ajar, a box with half-closed lid, an open bureau drawer,—these are the objects that fill a cat with the liveliest interest and delight. Agrippina watches breathlessly the unfastening of a parcel, and tries to hasten matters by clutching actively at the string. When its contents are shown to her, she examines them gravely, and then, with a sigh of relief, settles down to repose. The slightest noise disturbs and irritates her until she discovers its cause. If she hears a footstep in the hall, she runs out to see whose it is, and, like certain troublesome little people I have known, she dearly loves to go to the front door every time the bell is rung. From my window she surveys the street with tranquil scrutiny, and if the boys are playing below, she follows their games with a steady, scornful stare, very different from the wistful eagerness of a friendly dog, quivering to join in the sport. Sometimes the boys catch sight of her, and shout up rudely at her window; and I can never sufficiently admire Agrippina's conduct upon these trying occasions, the well-bred composure with which she affects neither to see nor to hear them, nor to be aware that there are such objectionable creatures as children in the world. Sometimes, too, the terrier that lives next door comes out to sun himself in the street, and, beholding my cat sitting well out of reach, he dances madly up and down the pavement, barking with all his might, and rearing himself on his short legs, in a futile attempt to dislodge her. Then the spirit of evil enters Agrippina's little heart. The window is open and she creeps to the extreme edge of the stone sill, stretches herself at full length, peers down smilingly at the frenzied dog, dangles one paw enticingly in the air, and exerts herself with quiet malice to drive him to desperation. Her sense of humor is awakened by his frantic efforts and by her own absolute security; and not until he is spent with exertion, and lies panting and exhausted on the bricks, does she arch her graceful back, stretch her limbs lazily in the sun, and with one light bound spring from the window to my desk."