THE HALF HUNDRED OR SO CATS OF MRS EDWARD NILES HARCOMB . . .
And How They Nearly Spoiled The Wedded Life Of Herself And Her Cat Hating Husband
(And How Uncle Dick Hit Upon A Possible Solution To The Problem)
All Pulborough, and for that matter half of the people in the country houses In West Sussex, in England, are aroused over the cat contest between Edward Niles Harcomb and his beautiful young wife, who was Miss Irene Elling of Petworth. Cats came near driving these two young leaders of Sussex and Kent society into the divorce court. Cats ruined their honeymoon and cats came near wrecking their life happiness. But so far they have triumphed over the cats and they live together with the animals in their beautiful country estate on the River Arun, just above Pulborough.
Miss Irene was - and is - a cat lover and a cat fancier and Edward hates cats worse than he hates anything except an enemy of England. And, to complicate matters, he knew nothing of her love of cats until after they were married and settled down to be happy forever afterward. Then - in the full of their honeymoon one of Irene’s beautiful blue Persians rubbed its fur against the legs of Edward and the honeymoon went into eclipse. Edward kicked - kicked with the determined kick of a millionaire younger son - and came near kicking his life happiness to pieces. Irene wept and the whole awful, terrible, fearful secret came out. She confessed that she owned - and loved forty-two different cats; perhaps more – because - well, anyway, Neill Belli was – well - anyhow, perhaps there were five or six more because -
Most young husbands would have, at that stage of the game, forgiven and told her to keep the cats in the other wing of the family castle, but not so Edward. Some husbands would have taken a club and settled the cat question - but not so In this case. Edward loved his bride. It was not that he loved her less, but hated cats more. Not only hated them, but feared and dreaded them. He had screamed and gone into at the sight of a cat when a child and grown up with an awful loathing and terror of anything feline and when he heard that his wife had not only caused her forty-two darlings to be shipped over from Petworth to her new home, but was vice president of the Southeastern Counties Cat club, exhibitor at the Crystal palace show, prize winner with her white chinchilla kittens at the Midlands county show, and honorable member of the National Cat club, Edward's honeymoon was eclipsed.
That was two years ago, the day after the bride and groom returned from their honeymoon tour through the Italian Alps. They had met the winter before at a house party near Haselmere - given by Lady Clarence Eustace - and had fallen in love at first sight, almost, while riding to hounds over the lovely rolling country. And neither ever spoke of cats, although it was the Lady Clarence's enthusiasm for cats that had resulted in her acquaintance with the beautiful Miss Elling and the consequent invitation to the house party.
The courtship was brief and beautiful. Harcomb went to Petworth, and, for the time being, Miss Elling forgot the scores of cats in their specially constructed quarters and even forsook them and let servants feed them. So it happened that during all their courtship and their honeymoon the subject of cats was not mentioned. Once, In Italy, they came near quarreling because Edward kicked at a cat, but he apologized and attributed his bride s tears to her tenderness of heart rather than to her love of cats.
Then came the astounding discovery - made within a few minutes after the cats, carefully boxed, arrived at Watersweet, the Harcomb country place. Harcomb was too considerate of his wife to use a club. But his life became a burden to him. Every time he touched a fur rug with his feet he leaped high in the air and even when he embraced his wife with her furs on the catty feeling sent cold chills down his spine. It so bad that they quarrelled - actually quarreled. Mrs. Harcomb steadfastly refused to give up her cats and Harcomb declared he would not stay in the house with them. Mrs. Harcomb threatened to take her cats and go back to her mother and Harcomb told her to take them to - but there he stopped. He was anxious to lose the cats - but not his wife. He urged upon her the necessity of yielding – which made her the more determined not to yield.
The situation became so tense that relatives came in and tried to arrange matters. Finally Mrs. Harcomb's Uncle Dick came down for the week end with them, and, having heard all about the catastrophe, as the neighbors called the quarrel, he set about righting the trouble.
“Irene should give up the cats,” he said.
“I won’t," responded Irene.
And Edward should let her keep a few cats," continued Uncle Dick.
“Not a blamed one - I haven't dared sleep for a month," said Edward, "for fear one of those infernal brutes would claw myy eyes."
"He's a brute to call my darlings brutes," sobbed Irene.
“There, there,” said Uncle Dick. “Why don’t you folks make a business arrangement of it instead of quarreling about it? Irene ought to agree to give up a cat or two every time Edward pleases her, and every time Irene pleases Eutward he should permit her to get a new cat. That'll put you both on your good behavior and put an end to your quarreling.'
"He can’t ever please me again,” sobbed Irene. I-le kicked at Tit Willow and he threw Minx out the dining room window Into the rose bush.'
“I couldn't stand it. I'll poison the whole lot of them,” said Edward.
But finally Uncle Dick prevailed and the plan was adopted. The subject of cats was, by agreement, tabbyooed - to make an awful pun - and the honeymoon began to rise again and shine with chastened, softened light upon the couple gazing out from their beautiful across the beautiful Sussex meadows. Occasionally a cat rubbed against Edward's legs and he rose suddenly and said things under his breath.
Nothing came of the arrangement except peace for one week. Then Edward, walking on the east terrace, overlooking the river, met Khorassan, the big orange Persian, and promptly kicked him into the river. Then, remembering his promise, he went to Portsmouth the following day and brought back Silver Glory - a prize winner In the silver class at Southampton. And he confessed the kick and his wife kissed him once for the confession and once for the kitten - the first two kisses in weeks. That raised the number of kittens to fifty-three - for the expected had happened In the case of Nelli Belli and also of Santatot, the prize winning chinchilla Persian.
The ten arrivals discouraged Edward, but he set to work In earnest, and on the following day he brought hack from London Just the ring that Irene had wanted when she saw it in Regent street, and for that Irene kissed all but two of Neill BeIli’s and Santatot's kittens good-by and shipped them to a friend. For that Edward kissed her twice for each kitten and they both blessed Uncle Dick. By Wednesday of the following week Irene had made nineteen sacrifices as rewards of merit. Then she asked Edward to do an errand in town to order three more yards of the champagne colored grenadine and he forgot. And to pay for his forgetting he brought back a blue eyed Maltese and presented it to Irene.
The entire countryside was astounded when Irene began to give away cats and they thought that the trouble was over and that the bride intended to make a complete sacrifice and break up the famous cattery. Then everybody was astounded to see Edward bringing home new cats, and so the story of the compact came out and everybody began to watch the strangest contest ever engaged in between man and wife. Both played fair, but the rules of the game changed at times. At the end of six months the excitement over the contest was great and the men, betting probably on their sympathies, were wagering 3 to 1 that Edward got rid of the cats - for the agreement was that if he were good enough to cause Irene to give away all her cats she would get no more. And he agreed that if his misdeeds raised the number to 100 he would live among cats all the rest of this life.
The number was down to twenty-one at the end of six months and Edward's man friends were making him presents of things they thought would please Irene so that he might win. Then came the blow. After all his goodness Edward flirted with Mrs. Henry Twombley, the arrant flint and noted beauty, at the Sussex hunt ball, and Irene, perceiving this, went the next day to London, attended a cat show, purchased twenty dark smokes and had them sent home without even asking Edward to pay his forfeit, and the following day Mimi, the magnificent specimen of the Felts Geoffrozi, was blessed with six little Geoffrozis and Edward was driven to the bad.
Edward's bad spell lasted until nearly the first anniversary of their wedding, and Mrs. Harcomb then owned seventy-four cats- a net gain of thirty-two and a huge gain in quality, according to her. The brown short hairs were the envy of the cat lovers of all south England and she showed them with success at the Portsmouth show. On the anniversary Edward's gift pleased Irene so much that she gave away five cats, including Blue Bells, the beautiful tortoise shell, and Amorata, the maltese winner. Encouraged again Edward began pleasing his wife more than ever and the supply of cats and kittens rapidly lowered. A distemper aided him by carrying off nine cats in a week, and be had high hopes of triumph when the number on hand reached eighteen Then Mrs. Harcomb became harder and harder to as she saw the when she must sacrifIce even Doudy Doody, the Angora. Tears came into her eyes time she gave up a cat until Edward cruel.
Despite his familiarity with cats and frequent contact with them he did not overcome his dread of them, which grew rather than decreased. He locked himself into his rooms when he read or wrote or slept. He worked hard to please his wife, and a month in town during the season, with a doubled allowance, brought the cat supply down to seven - the lowest It ever got, for Eeny Meeny added five to the number and some mistakes and blunders sent it up to nineteen-where it now is.
But Edward's friends, who have bet heavily on the outcome of the contest, have hints that it will never be finished, and that within a couple, of months Mrs. Harcomb will give away all her cats and never look at one again because, well - because who would play with a cat when - Well, anyhow, they’ve agreed if it s a boy it be called Richard after Uncle Dick.