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.
White Cat owned by Mrs. Leland Norton,
"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."
Mary E. Wilkins's Cats:
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 Merimée 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'ésprit et de discrétion. 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."