CUTTINGS FROM CHILDREN'S MAGAZINES
HOW BOB WON THE PRIZE
Leeds Times, 20th July 1895
A group of boys were standing one day by a village pond. They were evidently tormenting something in the water and enjoying themselves very much. Only now and then one less hardened than the others would exclaim "Let the poor little wretch be! Fortunately for the poor little kitten which was struggling in the water there was more grass than stones at hand, or it must have been killed, and then the great bull-dog Bob might never have won the prize.
Suddenly a deep-toned bark sounded near at hand. At the first notes, the bullies dropped the pebbles or grass they held and listened; but when the second bark - came nearer still, there was a cry from all - "It's Bob!” and all the boys took to their heels like the cowards that they were. Bob, the Squire's bull-dog, came bounding to the scene of action. He hated boys of any kind, but most of all he hated ragged, naughty boys, and he never saw a knot of them together without considering it was his duty to disperse them. He caught sight of the youngsters at the pond as he was starting for his morning walk, and he dashed up like a steam engine to see what they were after. The boys, meanwhile, had scrambled into various trees, and watched the enemy's proceedings.
Bob looked round with a sneer on his already well-turned-up nose, and was perhaps reflecting on the cowardice of bullies, when he caught sight of something struggling to climb up the edge of the pond.
"My!” exclaimed Jack Hunter, the boy who had pleaded for mercy, "I wouldn't give much for the little beggar's life if Bob gets hold of it." But Jack was wrong. Bob could be gentle as he was strong. He seized the poor, exhausted kitten and trotted gravely home with it in his mouth.
"No, Bob, no ; we don't want any drowned rats here," said the Squire as he met his favourite dog. But Bob trod majestically on till be reached his own kennel, then he dropped the poor kitten on the nice clean straw and began licking it all over. Half-an-hour afterwards Squire Strange, looking in, found Bob lying fast asleep with the kitten nestled between his big paws.
That was the beginning of the strange friendship between the wee kitten and the big bull-dog. Where Bob went, there pussie was bound to go too. Sometimes she would ride on his back, sometimes Bob would carry her in his mouth, and sometimes the kitten would leap about by his side; but wherever one was, there you would find the other. Now it happened one day that a dog show was to be held about three miles off, and Bob's master determined that he should go.
"He's bound to get a prize," the Squire said to his coachman. "Yes, sir, if he don't cut up rusty at being shut up in one of them csages. Bob's got a temper, sir, and if they do anything he don't like he'll let them know it."
The Squire laughed. "Never fear. Bob will be all right. You'd better take that kitten away overnight. Lock her up in the loft, and tell your boy George to feed her, but not to let her out all day tomorrow."
The kitten was taken away, and Bob spent the night howling, till the coachman got out of bed and whipped him. "I suppose it was the moon,'' he remarked next morning to the Squire, but his eight-year-old son knew better. He fed the kitten as his father had told him, then he tied a piece of blue ribbon round her neck and crept out of the loft very quietly with pussie in his arms.
Meanwhile Bob had been dragged most unwillingly to the show. He was accustomed to freedom, and resented the chain by which the coachman led him. Still more did he recent being thrust into a sort of cage, and having numbers of people staring at him. Finally he turned his back on everyone, curled himself up in the farthest corner of the box, giving an occasional growl if anyone rattled the bars to rouse him, and looking a perfect picture of sulkiness aud discontent.
"I thought Squire Strange's bull-dog was to be here," said one of the judges. "He ought certainly to take the first prize."
"He is here, I believe," was the reply ; " but he's in such a bad temper that no-one can get to look at his points. Hallo! what's that? This isn't a cat show !"
A tabby kitten with a blue ribbon round its neck was rushing about from cage to cage, mewing piteously, us if looking for something. Suddenly Bob gave a start, shook himself out of his bed , temper, and uttered one loud glad bark. The kitten sprang through the bars, and when the judges came round again, they had no difficulty in finding Squire Strange's Bob, for there wasn't another dog to equal him. As For the kitten, she was just bubbling over with delight at having found her big friend, and began playing with his tail as if it were a mere reel of cotton.
"How on earth did the kitten get here, I wonder? " said the Squire, when he saw them together. He did not know for a long time that little George had carried her all the way, and then given her a push in among the dog kennels to find her friend.
- E. M. Waterworth, in “Little Folks.”
Breakfast was over, Father had started for the City, and now was the time for Pussy's breakfast. Eva brought the saucer to her mother, and when it was filled with milk, Eva put it carefully on the floor. The kitten rushed up to it, and at once began lapping.
'Isn't she clever, Mother?' asked Eva, as she seated herself on her own footstool, and watched the dainty way in which the kitten licked up every drop of milk that fell on her fur. 'She knows how to keep herself so clean and tidy.'
Mrs. Polson was reading a letter which had just come by the post, but she looked up as Eva spoke, and said half-absently, for she was thinking more of her letter than the kitten, 'Yes, very clever! Listen, Eva, my letter is from Mrs. James: she wants us both to drive over to her this afternoon and have tea.'
'Oh, I shall like that,' said Eva, shaking out her long auburn hair like a cloud, as she joyfully nodded her head. 'I shall like to see Jessie again. Is she quite well now?'
'No, dear, she is not; her mother says she seems as if she could not shake off the effects of the whooping-cough.'
'Oh! and I had it at the same time, and I am quite well,' said Eva, in astonishment.
'Poor Jessie! she is a delicate little thing,' said Mrs. Polson. 'You must see what you can do to cheer her up, Eva.'
'Yes, Mother,' said Eva, thoughtfully.
When Eva and her mother arrived at Mrs. James's house, no Jessie was in the drawing-room to welcome them, and Mrs. James had to explain the reason.
'Poor Jessie, she is terribly upset,' she said, 'for only an hour ago her little cat was found dead in the garden. We are afraid it was poisoned. Jessie is fretting about it, and she is shy of showing herself with her red eyes, so she ran away to the nursery.'
'May I go to her?' asked Eva.
'Yes, dear, do,' answered Mrs. James; 'she will perhaps forget the poor cat in a game of play.'
Eva ran upstairs to the nursery, and did her best to comfort Jessie, but the poor child was languid and fretful, and could hardly put away the thought of her lost pet.
'It was such a dear little cat, and quite black all over,' she told Eva. 'There was not a white hair in it. I shall never see a quite black kitten again. Nurse says they are very rare; oh! I wish I had it back!' Again Jessie burst out crying, for she was worn out with grief, and hardly knew how to stop.
Eva was really sorry for Jessie, who, though two or three years older than herself, looked so small and frail, and throwing her arms around her, she whispered, 'Don't cry any more, Jessie! You shall have my kitten for your very own; it is quite black, too, and you will soon love it very much. I will ask Mother to let the groom bring it you to-night.'
'Oh, Eva! will you really? But it is a shame to take your kitten,' said Jessie, stopping her sobs, and looking up at Eva. 'You love it too; I know you do, Eva.'
'Yes, I do,' said Eva, slowly, 'but I want to give it you because you are ill, and cannot run about out of doors as I can, and this kitten will be your friend; and now you must stop crying.'
The black kitten was taken to its new home that same evening, and Jessie was so pleased to have a kitten once more that she went off cheerfully to bed, much to her mother's relief. Eva felt the parting from her pet, but there is a feeling in giving up for others that is a happiness in itself, and that happiness was Eva's.
All at once the matter was settled. Dr. Whitehead had given his orders—Mother must have change of air at once, and they were all going to Clifton for two months. The house was to be shut up, and in Edith's heart the question arose, 'What shall we do with Tabby?' Tabby was a pleasant, gentle cat, her especial property. 'Mother,' she said, 'might we not take Tabby with us? I could pay her railway fare with the half-crown Aunt Dora gave me. I should like it so much!'
'No, dear, it is quite impossible to do so,' replied her mother; 'but perhaps Mr. Merry, the milkman, would keep her for you; she would get plenty of milk, and you know she is a good mouser. Mr. Merry would be pleased with that; I have heard him say that his barn is over-run with mice.'
'Oh, there he is!' cried Edith; 'I will run and ask him at once.'
Very soon she returned, smiling and happy. 'Mother,' she said, 'I have given Mr. Merry my half-crown, and he says he will call to-morrow and take Tabby home with him, and keep her as long as we please.'
'And so you have no money now,' cried Evelyn; 'why, you will not be able to buy anything at Clifton.'
'Never mind, Edie,' said little Ina, kindly, 'I will give you a shilling out of my money; but I do think it was very unkind of Mr. Merry to take all that you had; don't you think so, Mother?'
But Mother would not tell her thoughts; she only smiled to herself and said, 'Run away, darlings, and pack up your dolls' clothes, and remember you must take nothing except what can be put into the dolls' trunk.' And away the children ran to look after this important matter.
Next day the cab was at the door. Mother had taken her seat, Jane had locked the hall door, and Mr. Merry, with Tabby in his arms, was just leaving the house, when, with an angry 'fuff,' and a desperate spring, she leaped to the ground and disappeared in a moment among the trees at the side of the house. What was to be done? Edith was ready to cry, but Mr. Merry comforted her by promising to return in the afternoon, when, no doubt, Tabby would be at the door, hungry enough. He would give her a saucer of milk, and, while she was lapping it, he would secure her and take her away. Edith was greatly relieved; she thanked him warmly, and, in the excitement of railway travel, Tabby was almost forgotten.
What a delightful place Clifton was! Such toy-shops, such Zoological Gardens with real lions and tigers! Could children ever weary of such a place? Certainly neither Edith nor her two sisters; and so it was with a feeling of disappointment that they saw the travelling boxes once more pulled out, and faithful Jane begin to pack again. Mother was much better, however—that was one great comfort, and, as she was longing to be home again at the Grove, the children were fain to be content. As they drew near Ventnor, the three girls began talking of home and Tabby. 'Do you think that Mr. Merry will be willing to give her back to me, Mother?' said Edith, anxiously. 'She is such a darling, perhaps he may want to keep her!'
'Don't be afraid, dear,' said her mother, smiling; 'I dare say he has a cat of his own, and will be quite glad to send Tabby back.'
'Oh, Edie!' cried Evelyn, 'here we are; there are the chimneys of the Grove. Mother, may we not run home and not wait for the cab?'
'Very well, dears, run away; Jane will go with you.'
And away the little girls ran. They had just opened the gate and entered the avenue, when they saw some object approaching them. It seemed to be the ghost of Tabby! Staggering weakly down the avenue to meet them, her ribs sticking out, her fur torn off her in patches, her eyes dim, her voice quite gone, and her tail almost bare of fur, came poor dear Tabby, feebly trying to welcome her little mistress home. Edith burst into tears as she lifted the poor cat into her lap, while kind-hearted Jane ran to the nearest cottage and returned with some warm milk. Oh, how greedily it was lapped up, and with what hungry eyes she looked for more! Jane had to warn the children lest in their compassion they should give her too much food at once, which would have been very hurtful to an animal so starved as the poor cat had been. Mr. Merry had only fulfilled one half of the agreement; he had taken the half-crown, but he had not taken the cat; and great was the anger of the children at his treachery and cruelty.
The next day, when he brought the milk as usual, they all ran down to scold him. But he was a man of composed manner and few words; he listened in silence, then he grinned at the sight of poor pussy's tail which Edith showed him, and, taking up his milk-cans, he departed, saying, 'Her should just have coom when I were willing to take her. Her deserves all she have got!'
'And, Mother,' said Ina, as she told the story, 'just think! he has kept poor Edie's half-crown. What a wicked man he must be!'
Chatterbox, a weekly paper for boys and girls, was first published December 1, 1866 and ceased publication in 1955. It was created by the Rev. John Erskine Clarke who was editor until 1902 and clearly designed to be read TO children rather than read BY children. It was mostly a story annual with an emphasis on solving mysteries. Current events, such as the cat show, were also presented in story format (or styled as correspondence). Most of the children depicted were, like its readership, from comfortable middle class backgrounds.
PLATO: THE STORY OF A CAT
By A. S. Downs
The Junior Classics Volume 8 Animal and Nature Stories, selected and arranged by William Patten
One day last summer a large handsome black cat walked gravely up one side of Main street, crossed, and went half-way down the other. He stopped at a house called The Den, went up the piazza steps, and paused by an open window. A lady sitting inside saw and spoke to him; but without taking any notice, he put his paws on the sill, looked around the room as if wondering if it would suit him, and finally gazed into her face. After thinking a minute he went in, and from that hour took his place as an important member of the family. Civil to all, he gives his love only to the lady whom he first saw; and it is odd to see, as he lies by the fire, how he listens to all conversation, but raises his head only when she speaks, and drops it again when she has finished, with a pleased air.
No other person in the house is so wise, for he alone never makes a mistake. The hours he selects for his exercise are the sunniest; the carpets he lies upon the softest, and he knows the moment he enters the room whether his friend will let him lie in her lap, or whether because of her best gown she will have none of him. No one at The Den can tell how he came to be called Plato. It is a fact that he answers to the name, and when asked if so known before he came there, smiles wisely. "What matters it," the smile says, "how I was called, or where I came from, since I am Plato, and am here?" He dislikes noise, and entirely disapproves sweeping. A broom and dustpan fill him with anxiety, and he seeks the soft cushions of the big lounge; but when these in their turn are beaten and tossed about, he retreats to the study-table. However, as soon as he learned that once a week his favorite room was turned into chaos, he sought another refuge, and refuses to get up that day until noon.
Many were the speculations as to Plato's Christmas present. All were satisfied with a rattan basket just large enough for him to lie in, with a light open canopy, cushions of cardinal chintz, and a cardinal satin bow to which was fastened a lovely card. It was set down before Plato, and although it is probable it was the first he had ever seen, he showed neither surprise nor curiosity, but looked at it loftily as if such a retreat should have been given him long ago, for could not any discerning person see he was accustomed to luxury? He stepped in carefully and curled himself gracefully upon the soft cushions, the glowing tints of which were very becoming to his sable beauty.
It was soon seen that Plato was very fond of his basket, and was unwilling to share it in the smallest degree. When little Bessie put her doll in, "just to see if cardinal was becoming to her," he looked so stern and walked so fiercely toward them that dolly's heart sank within her, and Bessie said, "Please excuse us, Plato." If balls and toys were carelessly dropped there he would push them out without delay, and if visitors took up the basket to examine it, he would fix his eyes upon them, thinking, "O yes, you would pick pockets or steal the spoons if I did not watch you."
As his conduct can never be predicted, great was the curiosity when one cold afternoon he was noticed walking up the avenue while a miserable yellow kitten dragged herself after him. She was so thin you could count her bones, and she had been so pulled and kicked that there seemed to be nothing of her but length and dirt.
When Lord Plato chooses, he enters the front doors, but as he waits no man's pleasure, unless it pleases him first, he has a way of getting in on his own account. Upon one of the shed doors is an old-fashioned latch, which by jumping he can reach and lift with his paw. Having opened the door, he pushed his poor yellow straggler in and followed himself. She laid down at once on the floor, and Plato began washing her with his rough tongue, while the lookers-on assisted his hospitality by bringing a saucer of milk. While she ate Plato rested, looking as pleased as if he were her mother at her enjoyment. The luncheon finished, the washing was resumed, and as the waif was now able to help, she soon looked more respectable. But Plato had not finished his work of mercy. He looked at the door leading to the parlor, then at her; and finally bent down tenderly to her little torn ears, as if whispering, but she would not move. Perhaps in all her wretched life she had never been so comfortable, and believed in letting well enough alone. Reason and persuasion alike useless, Plato concluded to try force and, taking her by the back of the neck, carried her through the house and dropped her close to his dainty cherished basket.
Then he appeared a little uncertain what to do. The basket was nice and warm; he was tired and cold; it had been a present to him; the street wanderer was dirty still; and the rug would be a softer bed than she had ever known. Were these his thoughts, and was it selfishness he conquered when at last he lifted the shivering homeless creature into his own beautiful nest?
PETER: A CAT O' ONE TAIL
By Charles Morley
The Junior Classics Volume 8 Animal and Nature Stories, selected and arranged by William Patten
Peter, the admirable cat whose brief history I am about to relate, appeared in the world on a terrible winter's night. A fierce snowstorm was raging, the sleet was driving at a terrific rate through the air, and the streets were banked up with snow-drifts. All traffic had been stopped, the roar of London was hushed, and every one who had the merest pretence of a fireside sought it on this memorable occasion. It was a wild night in the city, a wild night in the country, a wild night at sea, and certainly a most unpropitious night for the birth of a cat, an animal which is always associated with home and hearth. The fact remains that Peter was born on the night of one of the most terrible storms on record.
Our chairs were drawn up to the fire, the tea-things were on the table, and my mother was just about to try the strength of the brew, when Ann Tibbits, our faithful and well-tried maid-of-all-work, bounced into the room without knocking at the door. Her cap was all awry, her hair was dishevelled, and she gasped for breath as she addressed herself to my mother thus, in spasms:
"Please—ma'am—the cat has put her kittens—in—your—bonnet!"
Such a breach of discipline had never been known before in our prim household, where there was a place for everything, and everything had a place.
My mother pushed her spectacles on to her forehead, and, looking severely at Ann, said: "Which one, Ann? My summer bonnet, or—my winter bonnet?"
"The one with the fur lining, ma'am."
"And a most comfortable bonnet to live in, I'm sure!" replied my mother sarcastically, as much as to say that she wished all cats had such a choice under the circumstances. "Another cat would have chosen the one with the lace and the violets, out of sheer perverseness. But there—I knew I could depend on a cat which had been trained in my house."
My mother poured out a cup of tea, betraying no agitation as she dropped two lumps of sugar into the cup—her customary allowance—and helped herself to cream. In a minute or two, however, she took up her knitting, and I noticed that two stitches in succession were dropped, a sure sign that she was perturbed in spirit. Suddenly my mother turned her eyes to the fire.
"How many, Ann?" she continued, addressing our faithful servant, who still remained standing at the table awaiting her orders.
"Seven!" cried my mother. "Seven—it's outrageous. Why, my bonnet wouldn't hold 'em!"
"Three in the bonnet, ma'am, and two in your new m-u-f-f!"
"My new muff!" cried my mother. "I knew you were keeping something back." And the stitches dropped fast and furious. "That's only five, Ann," she continued, looking up from her work. "Where are the other two? I insist upon knowing."
"In the Alaska tail boa, ma'am," responded Ann, timidly.
Slowly my mother's wrath evaporated, and her features settled down to their ordinary aspect of composure.
"Well," she said, "it might have been worse. She might have put them in my silk dress. But there—it is evident that something must be done. I'm a kind woman, I hope, but I'm not going to be responsible for seven young and tender kittens. Ann Tibbits, England expects every woman to do her duty!"
"All? asked Ann.
"Four," replied my mother.
"Now?" asked Ann.
"The sooner the better," said my mother.
At this moment a sudden blast shook every window in the house, which seemed to be in momentary danger of a total collapse.
"Not fit to turn a dog out," murmured my mother. "Not fit to turn a dog out. Ugh! how cold it is, and here am I condemning to death four poor little kittens on a night like this—to snatch them away from their warm mother, my muff, and Alaska tail, and dip them in a bucket of ice-cold water. And yet they must go; but, Ann, I've an idea—WARM the water. They shall leave the world comfortably. They'll never know it."
The faithful, unemotional Ann carried out her instructions. Peter was one of the three kittens which were born in my mother's fur-lined bonnet, and the white marks on his body always remind me of the terrible snowstorm in the midst of which he sounded his first mew.
After several weeks the liberty which our cat Cordelia had taken with my mother's finery was forgotten, and the household had settled down into its usual humdrum routine. Tibbits had made the new arrivals a bed in the little box-room, and the doctor declared that Mrs. Cordelia was doing as well as could be expected. Every morning we had asked the usual question: "How is Cordelia?" "Quite well, thank you." "And the kittens?" "Also quite well." In due course Ann brought the welcome news that the three kittens had opened their eyes, and the kid glove was at once detached from the knocker of the front door. It was on the morning after they had obtained their blessed sight that I was invited by Tibbits to go downstairs and take my choice. I went down, but I could see nothing of the kittens; there was only Cordelia, with tail twisting, eyes aflame, and whiskers bristling, wheeling round and round a number of straw cases in which champagne had once been packed. Lo! one of the cases began to walk. The movement caught Cordelia's eye, and she knocked it over with her paw. A fluffy, chubby kitten, consisting of a black body with a patch of white on it, was revealed. The little one so captivated my fancy that I put him in my pocket, and without more ado took him upstairs, and publicly announced my determination to claim him as my property.
"What shall we name it?" asked my mother.
"Fiz," said one, alluding to the empty champagne cases,—a suggestion which was at once overruled, as we were a temperate family and little given to sparkling liquids. "Pop" was also voted against, not only as being vulgar, but as going to the other extreme, and leading people to suppose that we were extensively addicted to ginger-ale.
"I think, my dears, as Peter was born on a—" My mother's speech was interrupted by an exultant "Cock-a-doodle-do."
"That horrid fowl again!" exclaimed my mother.
The cock in question was the property of a neighbor, and was a most annoying bird. Even my kitten was disturbed by the defiant note. "M-e-w?" said he, in a meek interrogative, as much as to say, "What is that dreadful noise?"
"Cock-a-doodle-do," cried the bird again.
"Mew," replied the kitten, this time with a note of anger in his voice. "COCK-A-DOODLE," screamed the bird, evidently in a violent temper. "Mew," said the kitten again, in a tone of remonstrance. The remaining syllable of his war-cry and the kitten's reply were cut short by my mother, who put her fingers to her ears, and said:
"And the cock crowed thrice. My dears, I have it!"
"We'll call him PETER." cried the family.
"Peter the Great?"
"No," replied my mother, with a humorous twinkle, "Peter the Apostle," pointing to the Family Bible, which was always kept on a little occasional table in a corner of the sitting-room. "And let Peter be a living warning against fibbing, my dears, whether on a small scale or a large one."
A bowl of water was then placed on the table and, having sprinkled a shower upon his devoted back, I as his proprietor, looking at him closely, cried:
"Arise, Peter; obey thy master."
In the middle of my exhortations, however, Cordelia jumped on the table, took little Peter by the scruff of his neck, and carried him back to the nursery.
The day came when I put Peter into the pocket of my overcoat, and took him away to his new home. I had the greatest confidence in him, being a firm believer in the doctrine of heredity. His father I never knew, but his grandfather bore a great reputation for courage, as was indicated on his tombstone, the inscription on which ran as follows:
Here lies LEAR. Aged about 8 years. A Tom Cat killed in single combat with Tom the Templar whilst defending his hearth and home. England expects every cat to do his duty.
His mother Cordelia was of an affectionate nature, caring little for the chase, indifferent to birds (except sparrows), temperate in the matter of fish, timid of dogs, a kind mother, and had never been known to scratch a child. I believed then that there was every possibility of Peter's inheriting the admirable qualities of his relatives. The world into which he was introduced contained a large assortment of curios which I had bought in many a salesroom, such as bits of old oak, bits of armor, bits of china, bits of tapestry, and innumerable odds and ends which had taken my fancy. Picture, then, Peter drinking his milk from a Crown Derby dish which I had placed in a corner between the toes of a gentleman skeleton whom Time had stained a tobacco brown. The Crown Derby dish and the skeleton were, like the rest of my furniture, "bargains." At this period of his life Peter resembled a series of irregular circles, such as a geometrician might have made in an absent moment: two round eyes, one round head, and one round body. I regarded him much as a young mother would her first baby, for he was my first pet. I watched him lest he should get into danger; I conversed with him in a strange jargon, which I called cats' language; I played with him constantly, and introduced him to a black hole behind the skeleton's left heel, which was supposed to be the home of mice. He kept a close watch on the black hole, and one day, which is never to be forgotten, he caught his first mouse. It was a very little one, but it clung to Peter's nose and made it bleed. Regardless of the pain, Peter marched up to me, tail in air, and laid the half-dead mouse at my feet, with a look in his eyes which said plainly enough, "Shades of Caesar! I claim a Triumph, master."
He returned to the black hole again, and mewed piteously for more. Peter was very green, as you will understand, but he soon discovered that mewing kept the mice away, and having taken the lesson to heart, preserved silence for the future. The mouse-hunts occupied but a small portion of Peter's time. He was full of queer pranks, which youth and high spirits suggested to him. He took a delight in tumbling down the stairs; he hid himself in the mouth of a lion whose head was one of my chief treasures; he tilted against a dragon candlestick like a young St. George; he burnt his budding whiskers in an attempt to discover the source of the flame in the wick of the candle. He became, too, a great connoisseur of vases, ornaments, and pictures, sitting before them and examining them for an hour at a time. He was also very much given to voyages of discovery, dark continents having a peculiar fascination for him. Even the lion's mouth had no terror for him. I once produced him from the interior of a brand-new top hat like a conjurer an omelette. Again, we were very much surprised at breakfast one morning to see Peter walk out of a rabbit-pie in which he had secreted himself.
I used to let my canary fly about the room, and Peter chased him. The canary flew to an old helmet on a shelf, and thus baffled Peter. The canary seemed to know this, for when Peter was in the room he always flew to the helmet and sang in peace. If he perched elsewhere there was a chase. The linnet's cage I placed on the window-sill in sunny weather, and Peter took great interest in him. He could not see the musician, but he heard the music, and tried every means he knew to discover its source.
At last he peeped through a little hole at the back of the cage, and when he saw the bird he was quite satisfied, and made no attempt to disturb it.
In the matter of eating and drinking Peter was inclined to vegetarianism, being fond of beet-root and cabbage, but he soon took to carnal habits, always liking his food to be divided into three portions, consisting of greens, potatoes, and meat. In addition to such food as we gave him he by no means despised any delicacies he could discover on his own account. For instance he cleaned out a pot of glycerine. Having tilted the lid up, he pulled out the pins from a pincushion, but was saved in time; he was curious about a powder-box, and came mewing downstairs a Peter in white; he did not despise the birds out of a hat; he lost his temper when he saw his rival in the looking-glass, and was beside himself with rage when the glass swung round and he saw only a plain board. His most curious experience was his first glimpse of the moon, which he saw from our bit of back garden. He was rooted to the ground with wonder at the amazing sight, and we called him in vain. The only reply was a melancholy, love-stricken mew which went to my heart.
* * * * *
So Peter rejoiced in the days of his youth, and there was no end to his frolics. But do not think for a moment that his education was neglected, especially in the invaluable matters of manners and deportment, both of which are so essential to advancement in life. I taught him to sit at table; to enter a room with grace, and to leave it with dignity. Indeed, I spared no trouble, and Peter became as rigorous as a Chesterfield in the proper observance of all such matters. I can give you no better example of Peter's extensive knowledge of what was right and wrong in the ceremonial side of life than by telling you that when he felt an irrepressible sneeze forming he trotted out of the room and sneezed outside. When Peter played, too, he played gently, and did not disturb his elders by obtrusive attentions. He never required to be told twice to do a thing. Once was enough for Peter. Then again in the matter of breakages he was as virtuous a kitten as ever lived. I had thirty precious blue china vases on my sideboard, and through this fragile maze Peter always wound in and out without moving a vase. His virtues in this respect were well known to my servants, who never accused Peter of breaking the milk-jug, or the cups and saucers, I can assure you. Like the best of human beings, he had his faults, but upon these it would be impertinent to touch more than lightly.
Peter was partial to Fridays, because Fridays were devoted to cleaning up. If you have ever watched a woman washing the kitchen floor, you will have noticed that she completes one patch before she proceeds with the next, as if she took pride in each patch, regarding it as a picture. It was Peter's delight to sit and watch this domestic operation; and no sooner was the woman's back turned towards a fresh portion of her territory than Peter ran all over the freshly washed patch and impressed it with the seal of his paws, just as an explorer would indicate a great annexation by a series of flags. That was a mere frolic. It was about this time that I discovered Peter's power as a performing cat. I tied a hare's foot to a piece of string and dangled it before Peter's eyes. I hid the hare's foot in strange places. I flung it downstairs. I threw it upstairs. The hare's foot never failed to attract him. We used to roll on the floor together; we played hide-and-seek together. I noticed that he had a habit of lying on his back with his tail out, his head back, and his paws crossed. By degrees I taught him to assume this attitude at the word of command, so that when I said, "Die, Peter!" Peter turned on his back and became rigid until he received permission to live again.
I also taught him to talk in mews at the word of command. I hear some genial critic exclaim that this cannot be true. I decline to argue with any critic that ever lived, and repeat, fearlessly, and in measured terms, that Peter talked to me. Of course he would not drop into conversation with the first person who bade him "good-morning," but I assert again that Peter and I held many conversations together by means of the "mew," used with a score of inflections, often delicately shaded, each of which conveyed its meaning to me.
Peter took to reading, too, quite easily, and sat up with eye-glasses on his nose and a paper between his paws. It was, as you may well imagine, a red-letter day with me when Peter said his prayers for the first time; and I was better pleased when he put his little paws up and lifted his eyes up to the ceiling than with any other of his accomplishments, though they were more appreciated by unthinking friends. It was all very well to place a mouse at my feet and thus play to the gallery, but I felt that Peter's thirst for applause might be his ruin.
* * * * *
When the summer came, and the London pavements began to quake with heat, I determined to fly to the country. As delights are doubled when shared with those we care for, I determined to take Peter with me, so I packed him up in a specially constructed travelling saloon of his own, to wit, a flannel-lined basket containing all the necessary comforts for the journey, such as air-holes and feeding-bottles, and off we started in the highest of spirits. Peter found a new world opened to him, and the thousand and one beauties of the country fascinated us both. We were the guests of a burly farmer, who lived in a queer old house, half timber and half brick, with low-ceilinged rooms. The general living-room was the capacious kitchen, which looked mighty picturesque. Oak panels ran half-way up to the ceiling; the pots and pans were ranged neatly in an open cupboard, pleasantly suggestive of good fare and plenty of it. There were flowers in red pots in the windows, and my bedroom was a picture of coolness and cleanliness.
Amid these pleasant surroundings Peter soon made himself very happy, and became a great friend of a cat called Jack, who took him under his charge and showed him the ways of the country. Jack was a favorite on the farm. He was certainly given to roving, and did not always "come home to tea." As a mouser he had few equals in the countryside, and one evening when we were telling stories by the fireside the farmer told me that Jack had despatched no less than four hundred mice from one hay-rick.
Jack was a disciple of Isaak Walton. He would crouch on a mossy knoll by the edge of the river, and sometimes was successful in capturing a small trout. The farmer was himself a great fisherman. Jack was a study while the preparations were in progress, and, all intent, would follow close at his master's heels. He would crouch among the rushes whilst the tackle was being adjusted, and anxiously scan the water as the fly drifted along the surface. He took a keen delight in the sport, and when a fish was negotiating the bait he always purred loudly in anticipation of the feast in prospect. The trout landed and the line re-cast, he would seize his prey, and with stealthy gait slink off with his prize, leaving the old farmer to discover his loss when he might. Together Jack and Peter roamed over the meadow lands, and the poultry-run was an object of great interest to them. Together they fought the rats, and together they would lie in wait for the thrush and the blackbird,—I am happy to say in vain. The farmer told me that in his youth Jack once took up his residence in the hollow of an old oak, where he lived on the furred and feathered game. At last he returned home. For hours he wandered about his old home, fearful of discovery, now crouching amongst the flower-beds, and now flying in terror at the sound of the hall clock. At last he ventured into the kitchen, entering by the window and creeping to the kitchen hearth, where he dozed off to the music of the cricket, to be welcomed like another Prodigal Son.
Alas! these delights were cut short, for Peter and I were soon compelled to pack up our traps and proceed to the seaside for professional purposes. Peter was not fond of the sea. When I took him out yachting he was compelled to call for the steward; and one day when exploring the rocks at low water, gazing with rapture at his own charming face as it was reflected in the glassy surface of a deep pool, an inquiring young lobster nipped his tail, and the shore rang with piteous calls for help. Peter has never cared for the sea since then, and so deeply was the disaster impressed upon him that I have known him reject a choice bit of meat which happened to have a few grains of salt on it. It wafted him back to the ocean, the lobster, and the steward. What powers of imagination were Peter's!
* * * * *
As these memoirs cover a period of seven or eight years, and as space is limited, my readers will kindly consent to take a seat on the convenient carpet of the magician, and be wafted gently to the next station on the road without further question. This is a pleasant byway in suburban London, greatly frequented by organ-grinders, travelling bears, German bands, and peripatetic white mice. This road is always associated in my mind with the mysterious disappearance of Peter. We had often laughed at the odd old lady who lived two doors higher up, for the anxiety which she displayed when any of her pets were missing. It was our turn now.
This same old lady was very fond of her cats, and had nine of them at the time I am writing of. Every morning when the weather was warm, she and her cats would come out and unconsciously form a succession of tableaux for our amusement. A rug was spread out under the pear tree in the middle of the tiny lawn, a great basket-chair was placed in the middle of this rug, and, these preparations having been made, the old lady, who was very stout, and always wore a monster poke bonnet and a shapeless black silk dress, came out, followed by her nine cats, and took possession of the basket-chair. A little maid then appeared with a tray, on which were nine little blue china saucers and a jug of milk. The nine little saucers were ranged in a semicircle, and filled with milk, whereupon the old lady cried out, "Who says breakfast, dearies? Who says breakfast—breakfast?" This invitation was immediately responded to by the nine cats. When they had done the old lady cried, "Who says washee, dearies? Washee, washee, washee?" Whereupon the nine cats sat on their haunches and proceeded to make their toilettes. The requirements of cleanliness having been satisfied, and the nine basins having been taken away by the little maid, the old lady shouted out, "Who says play, dearies? Playee, playee, playee?" holding out her arms, and calling out, "Dido Dums, Dido Dums, come here, deary," when a fine Persian cat jumped on to her right shoulder. "Now Diddles Doddles, Diddles Doddles," and another Persian cat jumped on to her left shoulder. "Tootsy Wootsy," she called once more, and a black cat scrambled up to the crown of the poke bonnet. And one by one they were summoned by some endearing diminutive, until the nine cats had taken possession of every possible coign of vantage which was offered by the old lady's capacious person. There they sat, waving their tails to and fro, evidently very pleased by their mistress's little attentions. Mrs. Mee was not very popular in the neighborhood, except with the milkman and the butcher. The cats'-meat-man, indeed, who supplied various families in our road, positively hated her—so I gathered from our servant,—and had been heard to say sotto voce in unguarded moments, "Ha! ha! I'll be revenged." It was not unnatural, as the cats were fed on mutton cutlets and fresh milk, and cats' meat was at a discount. About three weeks before Peter disappeared, Mrs. Mee, in the short space of three or four days, had lost no less than five cats by a violent death, and five little graves had been dug, marked by five little tombstones, and the five dead cats had been laid in their last resting-places by the hands of the old lady herself. A funeral is not generally amusing, but I could not restrain a smile when I saw my eccentric old neighbor follow the remains of her dead pets, which were reverently carried on the tea-tray by the little serving-maid, the old lady herself leading the way, ringing a muffled peal with the dinner-bell, the remaining cats bringing up the rear, pondering over the fate of their dead comrades.
It happened that three of these unfortunate victims had been found on my doorstep. I felt very angry with the old lady, who blamed me for the destruction of her pets, adducing the fact that they were found dying on my doorsteps as proof conclusive. One morning I received an anonymous postcard. Although it bore the Charing Cross postmark, I felt sure it came from the old lady. It read as follows:
"The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold."
This was the last straw, for I felt that as regards the old lady's cats I had behaved in a sympathetic and neighborly spirit. I remember this post-card because the same afternoon that it came Peter disappeared, and I began to fear that he had yielded to the temptation of a poisoned pig's foot which had been found in my garden stripped of its flesh. This was a delicacy which Peter had never been able to resist, though why he should have preferred it to the choice foods that were daily piled upon his plate I cannot for the life of me say. We searched the neighborhood in vain, and at last I determined to advertise. Accordingly I addressed an advertisement to my favorite paper. It ran as follows:
"COME BACK, PETER. Lost, stolen, strayed, or poisoned, a white and black cat called Peter, who left his friends at—on Monday afternoon last. Round his neck he wore a blue ribbon with the word PETER embroidered upon it in red silk. Before retiring to rest he always says his prayers. Dead or alive, a reward of Two Pounds is offered to any one who will restore him to his mourning friends."
I little knew what I was bringing on my devoted head. I had been troubled enough before with dying cats, but now they were all alive. Cats were brought to me in baskets, in boxes, in arms; Manx cats and cats whose tails were missing for other than hereditary reasons; lame cats, blind cats, cats with one eye, and cats who squinted. Never before had I seen such an extraordinary collection. My whole time was now taken up in interviewing callers with cats.
If the boys were bad before, they were a thousand times worse now. Here is one example out of a score. He was a boy known as Pop, who carried the laundry baskets.
"'Ave yer found yer cat yet?"
"No, we haven't."
"Did yer say it was a yaller 'un?"
"No, I didn't."
"What did I say, Hop?" continued Pop, triumphantly turning to a one-legged friend who swept a crossing close by.
"Yer said, Pop, as it was a tortus," murmured the bashful Hop, who had sheltered himself behind Pop.
"A tortus, that's it. A tortus, and Hop and I's found it, sir. We've got it here."
"You're wrong. My cat's not a tortoise," I replied.
"Bless you, we know that, guv'nor. Just as if we didn't know Peter! Ah! Peter was a cat as wants a lot of replacin', Peter does. But me and Hop's got a tortus as is a wunner, guv'nor. A heap better nor Peter. Poor old Peter! he's dead and gone. Be sure of that. This 'ere's a reg'lar bad road. A prize-winner, warn't 'e, Hoppy?" They held up the prize-winner, who was not a tortoise, and was mangy.
"Look here, my boys, you can take her away. Now, be off. Quick march!"
"Yer don't want it, guv'nor. Jest think agin. Why, 'ow will you get along without a cat? The mice is 'orrible in this 'ere road. Come, guv'nor, I'll tell you what I'll do. You shall 'ave a bargain," said Pop.
I insisted that the tortoise prize-winner should be taken away, and the next day I stopped the advertisement and resigned myself to despair. A week after Peter had disappeared I heard the voice of my friend Pop at the door. "I say, mister, I've some noose. Come along o' me. I think I've found 'im. Real. A blue ribbon round 'is neck and says 'is prayers. Put on yer 'at and foller, foller, foller me." Mr. Pop led the way along the road, and turned off to the right, and we walked up another road until we reached a large house which had been unoccupied for many months. The drains were up, and two or three workmen were busy. Pop at once introduced me as "the gent as was lookin' for his cat." "Have you seen a cat with a blue ribbon round his neck?" I asked them, very dubious as to the honesty of Pop's intention. "Well, sich a cat 'as bin 'ere for some days," replied the workman to whom I had spoken. "He used to come when we were gettin' our bit of dinner. But we never know'd but wot it came from next door. You go upstairs to the first-floor front, and you'll see a sight." On the top of the stairs was Peter, who knew me at once, and began to purr and rub himself against my legs in a most affectionate manner, as if to appease any outburst of wrath on my part. I felt too pleased to be angry, and followed Peter into the empty room, which was littered with paper and rubbish, and the remains of forty or fifty mice lay strewn about the floor. Peter looked up to me as if to say: "Not a bad bag—eh, master?" In the corner of the room was a bit of sacking which Peter had used as a bed. Pop explained to me that he had heard the men talking about the funny cat that came and dined with them every day. This conversation induced him to search the house, with the happy result that Peter was restored to the bosom of his sorrowing family, and Pop gave up the laundry basket, and invested the reward in a small private business of his own.
* * * * *
Peter and I have had many homes in London and in the country. Together we have lived in flats, in hotels, in farm-houses, and in lodgings for single gentlemen. In lodgings for single gentlemen we had many strange experiences which would occupy too much time to relate, and I will therefore touch but lightly upon this period of Peter's career. Peter, being a gentlemanly cat, never quarrelled with ladies, however hard they might be to please, and let them gird at him as they would. For did not that gracious animal, when Mrs. Nagsby was accusing him of stealing fowls, say—did he not arch his bonny back and purr against Mrs. Nagsby's ankles and endeavor to appease her? In her softer moods she did sometimes relax, and even allowed Peter to sit by her side as she read the paper. Peter was held responsible for every article that was lost in Mrs. Nagsby's apartments, and the amount of money I paid to that good lady for breakage in the course of six months would have furnished a small cottage. Mrs. Nagsby was a widow, and the late lamented Nagsby had supported her by his performances on the euphonium. This instrument was kept in a case in Mrs. Nagsby's little room, which was on the ground-floor back, and looked on to a series of dingy walls. Mrs. Nagsby used to polish up the euphonium every Saturday morning with a regularity which nothing prevented. Did it not speak volumes for her affection for the late lamented?
On one of these Saturdays it happened that a German band stopped at the front door. Mrs. Nagsby could never resist the seductive power of brass music. She rushed upstairs to the first-floor front to listen to the performance. Fate ordained it that Mrs. Nagsby should leave the precious euphonium on the floor in her haste to hear the band. Fate ordained it also that Peter should come down stairs at this particular moment and wend his way to Mrs. Nagsby's parlor. Fate also had ordained it that a mouse which lived in a hole behind Mrs. Nagsby's easy-chair should issue at this particular moment for a little bread-crumb expedition. Mrs. Nagsby was a careful housekeeper, and finding no crumbs about, the mouse roamed into the silent highway presented by the orifice of the euphonium. It was natural enough that Peter should follow the mouse. Unfortunately, Peter's progress was stopped, the girth of his body being too great to admit him; and my door being open, I at once rushed to the rescue, and found Peter with his head in the depths of the euphonium, and making fierce struggles to vacate the position. Mrs. Nagsby came downstairs and entered her parlor just as I succeeded in extracting Peter from the musical instrument. Fiercely was I reproached for Peter's escapade, and humbly did I make his apologies, little knowing the secret of the plight from which I had rescued him. Having soothed my landlady, she at length took up the euphonium and proceeded to apply her eye to the main orifice to see if Peter had damaged it, handling the euphonium in the manner of a telescope. I was thinking of the reproaches in prospect, when I was startled by a loud shriek, to which the euphonium imparted a metallic vibration, and Mrs. Nagsby dropped the instrument on to the floor, the good lady herself following it with a thud. A wee mouse scuttled across her face, disappeared behind the easy chair, and doubtless rejoined his anxious family. Mrs. Nagsby recovered after her maid-of-all-work and I had burnt a few sheets of brown paper under her nostrils; but I had great difficulty in making the peace.
In vain I pointed out that the responsibility did not remain with me, or even with Peter. We agreed after some debate that it was the German band, which was never afterwards patronized by Mrs. Nagsby.
I got into further trouble with Mrs. Nagsby owing to a greyhound which I had bought at a sale. I had no character with him, for he had no character. If Mrs. Nagsby had killed him with the meat hatchet I would have held my peace, for never a day passed but King Arthur took his name in vain. The first night I brought him home Mrs. Nagsby gave me permission as a great favor to chain him to the kitchen table. In the morning two of the table legs had been mangled, and that is our reason why I called him King Arthur, of the Round Table. The next night King Arthur was taken upstairs and attached to the leg of my wash-stand. I was awakened out of my beauty sleep by a horrible clamor which caused me to think that the house had fallen in. I presently realized that King Arthur had mistaken the water-jug for a dragon. In any case it was smashed to bits, and the noise brought Mrs. Nagsby to my door in anger. I should be sorry to say what King Arthur cost me in hard cash for breakages and legs of mutton. Poor Peter! thou wast a saint when compared with that fiend on four legs.
The denouement came at last, and it arose from King Arthur's fondness for the ladies. There was nothing remarkable in the appearance of the old lady who was Mrs. Nagsby's favorite lodger, who had held the rooms above mine for three years. Rut the lady had a most beautiful sealskin jacket, trimmed with tails of sable. King Arthur had unluckily a feminine affection for furs, and I never dared to take him into any of the fashionable thoroughfares, as he had a way of following the ladies, not for their own dear sakes, but for the fur which they might happen to be wearing. Whether they were only tippets or dyed rabbit-skins, it did not matter to King Arthur.
Well, one unfortunate afternoon, I was leading my greyhound home. A few yards in front of us was Mrs. Nagsby's first-floor lady, taking the sun in all the glories of her sealskin jacket and sable tails. To my horror I dropped the chain in taking a match-box out of my pocket, and before I could take any steps to prevent him—King Arthur was coursing Mrs. Nagsby's first-floor lodger at his highest rate of speed!!! King Arthur held on his course and literally took the old lady aback, and began to tear those choice sable tippets asunder. Nor was the base creature content to rest at the sable tippets. Before I reached his victim his mouth was full of sealskin. Let me pass on, merely saying that King Arthur was shot that night in the mews at the back of Mrs. Nagsby's, a victim to his own indiscretions.
And now I come to the fatal catastrophe which finally drove me and Peter from the shelter of Mrs. Nagsby's roof. That lady had a set of false teeth which she was in the habit of depositing on her dressing-table when she went to bed. I had learned this from Sarah when that damsel was in a confidential mood. Peter, I think I have told you, slept in my room. One very warm night Mrs. Nagsby left her door open, and her night light was burning as usual. I also slept with my door open, and Peter, being hot like the rest of us, left the room for a stroll, and visited Mrs. Nagsby's apartment. Presently he came back with Mrs. Nagsby's teeth between his own—at least I suppose so, for I found them on the hearth-rug when I awoke. I was greatly amused, though a little puzzled to know how I could replace them. After some reflection I went down to breakfast, placed the trophy in a saucer, and showed it to Sarah, who screamed and traitorously ran up and informed her mistress. Mrs. Nagsby came down rampant, but of course speechless. I was thankful for this; but the violent woman, after sputtering spasmodically, caught sight of the missing article in the saucer, and, lost to all sense of shame, replaced it in position and poured forth a torrent of the most violent abuse.
Peter and I left.