JUNO - Not She of Olympus, But One of Much Lower Degree.
The Times (USA), May 19, 1895
Juno was the cat. We all knew perfectly well that there never had been such a cat as Juno. Not that she was so fine-looking, or so expensive. She would never have taken a prize at a cat-show, unless it might have been the booby prize. She was the very plainest kind of a brindled cat, and she wandered into our house from the street during her early kittenhood and calmly established herself in mother's work-basket.
From that time on Juno had been the friend and playmate of the younger generation. She never seemed like an animal to any of us. Many a time I have heard Ned apologize for having unintentionally hurt Juno, with the exclamation: "Oh, excuse me, Juno, I didn't mean to do that!” After which Juno always purred softly and showed that she had forgiven him.
But the one thing that specially distinguished Juno from all the other cats that I ever knew was her big-hearted motherhood. If Juno had been a woman how many desolate orphans she would have cared for! She would have given them summer outings, no doubt, and would have filled their stockings brimful at Christmas time. Not being a woman, Juno did her best, nevertheless, to make the world a little easier for all the orphans she knew. What a heart must have beaten under that gray fur! Ned and I often talked of it, and were filled with regret that Juno could not understand our language so that we could talk to her and get her views on the subject.
There was the time when she adopted the chicken, for instance. We knew Juno so well that we felt perfectly certain how she looked at those things, and so when the old yellow hen declined to acknowledge the little black chicken as hers, and pecked its head whenever it went near her, we took the helpless and disowned orphan and put it in Juno's bed, between the two kittens. “There, Juno,” said Ned, by way of explanation to her look of astonishment, “there's a child that's been deserted by its unfeeling mother; I wish you’d look after it.” And Juno took the chicken and held it with one paw while she licked it all over, though I am not sure that she liked the taste of the soft down that covered the little stranger. She kept the chicken all that night and every night afterwards until it considered itself big enough to go alone.
How we used to laugh to see Juno walking about the yard with her foster-child chirping after her, or to see the chicken run to her and insist on being hovered! As time passed the adopted child became independent and needed no further guardianship, yet the friendliest relations existed between the two. Even after the chicken was grown and had chickens of her own they seldom met in their promenades about the place that Juno did not pause to rub her head affectionately against the neck of the orphan that she had brought up.
Juno was about a year older. I think, when there was a death in her family. The one little kitten that she loved with all her mother heart, died and left her desolate. It was a very sad occasion, I remember, but we had a great funeral. We dug the grave at the end of the garden. Johnny's express wagon was the hearse, and Johnny drew it and was very serious indeed. We borrowed Mrs. Martin's baby carriage and that was the mourning coach. Juno rode in it with Ned and Gimps walking one on each side and holding her in. I pushed the coach while a long procession of the neighbors’ children came behind, crying with all their might. We sung a hymn at the grave and did everything we could to soothe Juno's grief.
But Juno would not be reconciled. She trooped around and mewed so pitifully for several days that we could not endure it so we went to a neighbor’s cat that had more kittens than she needed and borrowed one of them for Juno. Dear me, how proud she was of it and how she took it in her arm and cuddled it up close to her! The whole family came out to look at her and the Colonel said: “And this is only a cat! What great tenderness there should be in the human heart when a poor little animal can be like this!”
And the next day Uncle Dick, who was a great favorite with all of us, rode up to the fence and shouted cheerily: “Hello, boys! Here is a present for you. I killed a mother fox at the mouth of her hole and here is one of her babies."
And he reached down into his pocket and drew out a baby fox about as large as an interrogation point, but the funniest and sharpest little thing you ever saw, though its eyes were not open yet. With one accord we shouted: "There’s a baby for Juno!” and away we ran with it and laid it beside the new kitten. Juno arose and looked the little stranger over with evident anxiety. She seemed to be troubled with some haunting suspicion that this was not an orthodox cat. The bushy red tail was a special subject of curiosity. She touched it up with her paw and looked at with her head on one side.
For several dreadful minutes we were afraid that Juno was going to leave an orphan on our hands, but we did not know her, after all. In a few moments she reached the conclusion that the fox was probably a cat of some new and interesting kind and she lay down again, purring softly and took the little stranger to her heart. Such a pair as those two did make! We named the fox Flash and he was the pride and the delight of the family. In a few days after his adoption Juno came to look on him a quite the most beautiful creature she bad ever seen and she showed a decided partiality for him. When she moved her family from the stable to mother’s room, which she did systematically every morning, she always carrie Flash in first and laid him on the rug with an air of pride impossible to describe.
“No, no, Juno,” mother would say, “he is very pretty, but I can’t have him here.” But Juno would run back after the kitten, and, having toiled up-stairs with it, would lay it on the rug also and lie down beside it as though she would say: “I’d like to see you move me now!”
Within a month Flash could run everywhere, and he was the brightest, the sharpest, the merriest little fellow that ever kept a respectable, cat in trouble with his escapades. That sharp nose of his was every-were at once it seemed to me, and those right eyes were peering into every corner in search of mischief. He trotted about the house with a swaggering impudence and went to bed in one of the Colonel’s shoes he liked, or played hide and seek in father’s hat when he found it convenient.
As for the life he led poor Juno, we often wondered why she did not turn grayer than ever, having to deal with this graceless young reprobate. If he found her trying to sleep a little he would bite her ears and pull at her tail, bracing himself back on all four of his absurd little feet and sometimes tumbling over in his excitement, and he rolled over her and growled and worried her until she must have been almost on the verge of insomnia! Yet she never boxed his ears once, much as he deserved it.
As the kitten grew older and able to take part in the play, what romps the three used to have! How many times I have seen them rushing through the house in wild pursuit of one another, making as much noise as a drove of horses, mother said, with the fox in the lead and the cats chasing him and all the children running to look.
But their favorite playground was in the yard, where the fountain was, with its big circular basin. Around and around this basin they flew and Flash always gained on his pursuers until he came up with them, vaulted over them and was in front again, slipping out of sight like a spirit. I suppose most animals enjoy themselves, but I am sure I never saw animals have a better time than Juno and those two children of hers.
And the good times went on without diminution for many a day. Flash grew to be almost as large as his mother, but if he ever realized that he was not a cat we never knew it. He was as familiar in the house as though he owned it. When Ned and I were going to bed in the dark one night and put out our bands to turn down the bedclothes we touched something soft and furry, and we had both tumbled half way down the stairs before we realized that Juno and Flash had gone to sleep In our bed.
And all the time, how Juno loved the fox! She scarcely ever came near him without stopping to rub her head against him affectionately or to lick his sharp little ears. She never did grow indifferent to this child of the forest that she had raised as her own. Perhaps it would have been better If she had not cared so much.
One day a strange dog slipped in at the gate while some one was passing out. The fox had never been hurt in his life and be felt no fear of anything. He trotted up to the dog with his inquisitive nose in the air, and before anyone could speak or move, the dog had seized him and was shaking the life out of him. I never shall forget how we ran from the sight of it, when the dog was beaten away. But when we stole back after awhile, Juno was with Flash and was licking his face and trying her best to help him. Even the Colonel could not bear to see her, but went away and shut himself up. As for poor Flash, his day was done, and he merry little heart was still. And a few hours later there was another grave at the foot of the garden.
We tried very hard after that to make Juno forget her loss, but she would not forget. She missed the child that she had loved so tenderly and broke away from our caresses to go mewing from room to room, or to sit by the fountain, filling the air with disconsolate wails. She would not touch the food we offered her, though we saved her the most tempting morsels.
Of course this could not go on long. One night, a week after the death of Flash, Juno stretched herself out on the rug and died as quietly as though she had fallen to sleep; and we all cried as though our hearts would break. “And this is only a cat." said the Colonel. “Think what human grief must be when a mere animal could grieve like this!"