A MY BEST CAT STORY, A Symposium of Cat-Lovers and Cat-Fanciers (1910)
HOW many astonishing stories have been told of the courage and the sagacity of dogs ! For every story concerning a cat it is safe to say there are ten relating to a dog, which is rather extraordinary when you come to think of it, considering that there are people who opine that cats are far cleverer than their sworn enemies, the canine creation. Not only that, there are, it is said, four times as many cats as dogs. There are six hundred thousand cats in London alone. Does not that argue a greater popularity for the cat ? At all events, the question of the best cat story extant must interest a very wide circle of readers. Every cat-lover doubtless has his own favourite story, but the anecdotes of those who are notably, and in some cases almost exclusively, occupied with cats ought to possess a double interest
"A family I once knew in Callander," writes Lady Lyall, “owned a tom-cat of striking character, to whom they gave, and not undeservedly, the name of Nap. I cannot recall, for they were so numerous, all the instances of Nap’s extraordinary sagacity, but there is one which exhibits his generalship in a strong light. While the cook was off her guard the cat appropriated a piece of meat, and was just making off when cook saw him. Intending to catch and punish him she instantly followed on tip-toe. She saw him go to a corner of the yard where there was a rat hole, and, instead of eating it himself, place the morsel of meat by the side of the hole. Nap then deliberately marched away a few steps and, hiding himself, awaited developments. These were not long coming, in the shape of a large rat. Nap was instantly on the qui vive. The rat began to labour with the piece of meat, but not until the proper moment had arrived did Nap make a mighty spring and fix his talons unerringly in the rat's hide. He then moved the bait some distance away and left it, going off with the carcass of his prey.”
“The cat story I like best,” according to Mr. Louis Wain, who is not only an inimitable delineator of cats but one of their closest students, "is that in which figure a well-known monastery, a cat, and a dinner-bell. At a certain hour each day the bell was rung, and the monks and Grimalkin marched into the refectory and dined in company. One day, however, the cat was locked in a room at the other end of the building when dinner was announced. Later in the afternoon, when she was released, she darted straightway to the refectory. Lo and behold I it was filled with bare tables only. In a few moments a loud summons from the dinner-bell startled the monks at their devotions. A number of them came hurrying to the spot, to find the cat swinging, suspended on the bell-rope. It was the soundest feline logic ; there was never any dinner without bell-ringing, therefore one had only to ring the bell to produce dinner.”
It is alleged against cats that they are not “sportsmen” ; but Mrs. Burstall, the well-known exhibitor, of Bury St Edmunds, sends The Strand an anecdote to disprove this. Her big Persian, Little Black Sambo, was very fond of sparrow-flesh, but far fonder of catching the birds. After a time the amusement seemed to pall, probably owing to a plentifulness of sparrows. Having become an adept at the sport, he was filled with a new ambition. The sight of two sparrows fighting invariably attracted him. He had a long time to wait, but one day his chance came under his mistress’s eye. Leaping from a window noiselessly at the proper moment, he sprang into the air and caught both birds, one in each paw. After dispatching both he stalked into the house with the air of a champion revolver-shot who is able to bring down his prey with both hands, and expected to be made a great deal of. And he was.
“We noticed once,” continues Mrs. Burstall, “that our daily newspaper had acquired a habit of disappearing soon after it was left at the house ; and, though carefully searched for in all the likely places, it could never be found. At last, one day I observed the cat opening a cupboard door with one paw, and I helped her, as it was rather stiff, and there inside I discovered all the missing newspapers, torn up into shreds to make a cosy bed for her kittens. The cat was not satisfied with the bed provided for her, which was a basket in a cupboard in the pantry, but each day for about a week she carried whole newspapers to a cupboard in the dining-room, there proceeding to make a bed more to her liking.”
Mrs. P. Millar, a frequent Crystal Palace exhibitor, sends us the following contribution: “ One member of my cattery, which was nicknamed the 'Devil,' had an extraordinary musical taste, and was known as my musical cat I do not mean that she would sit on the tiles during the small hours of the night and sing ‘Meet Me By Moonlight Alone,' but that music, instrumental or vocal, had a strange fascination for her, wherever she might be, if anyone sang or played upon a musical instrument. As a kitten she delighted to sit on the piano-keys by herself and gently pat them up and down. As she grew older she would invariably sit down beside my daughter during her practising as if fascinated. When the music ceased she would emit a prolonged wailing cry, and if no notice was taken she would climb upon the player's shoulder, giving vent to her strange cry and loudly purring. Finally she would jump upon the keys of the piano and play a walk up and down. Braga’s Serenata was my musical cat’s favourite tune, and had the same effect as the call of the cat’s-meat man ; it would at once bring her upon the scene. Singing had the same effect upon her; and when I began to sing she would bound into my lap and express her appreciation by rolling and rubbing and purring until the purr became a scream. To show she wanted more music she had the habit of biting at my chin, as being the nearest she could get to the source of the sounds. Her taste for music was, of course, a source of amusement to friends and callers. In many ways I considered her the most brainy cat I have had, as she in other ways displayed distinct individuality of a superior kind. When her kittens were babies she had her own sanctuary for them in the kitchen, and woe betide any cat who would venture inside. During the kitten period she was very savage ; but when that stage had passed nothing delighted her more than to gather together all the kittens she could lay her paws on and clean and nurse them on the lawn whilst their various mothers would be airing. One of her tricks used to cause much amusement, not only to members of my family but to herself apparently. This was the deft appropriating to herself, as she sat by my husband’s left hand at meals, of the contents of his fork which he was conveying to his mouth. She would snatch the meat by her claws and put it in her mouth."
" My grandmother,” writes Miss Loudoun, herself the owner of several prize cats, “owned a fine cat whose leg got damaged by the wheel of a perambulator. Of course, a great fuss was made over the injured limb, and nothing was too good for Richard. Milk, with a strong infusion of rich cream, was a favourite form of sympathy. Everyone noticed that the leg was a long time healing, but at last the surgeon declared it perfectly healed. Off his guard, Richard used to scamper and play, but the moment he saw my grandmother coming with a saucer of milk, up would come his paw from the ground and he would hobble about on three legs as if in great pain. He knew how sympathetic she was, but he never tried the ruse on other members of the family.”
Mrs. F. W. Western, of Sandy, tells an interesting story of how a cat’s fidelity averted a possible disaster. She says :— “ ‘A cat is a cat whose chief interest is his own comfort — two for himself and one for his fond mistress.’ Is it not the opinion of a great many people who do not interest themselves in the study of poor puss ? I hope the following story will do much to show how very wrong these people are, and in some way, help to create a kindlier feeling towards the so-often-despised little animal, who, when occasion arises, uses to the utmost of its ability the intellect God has given it to aid those to whom it is devoted.
" It has always been my custom to give my little girl Winnie a final ‘Good night’ kiss before night, and on this particular occasion she was sleeping in a separate bed in the maid’s room. Beppo, the great pet of the family, and especially devoted to Winnie, was a lovely imported Siamese cat, who always slept at the foot of Winnie’s bed. As usual, I lit the candle placed on the chest of drawers just inside the room, and finding the maid, Winnie, and Beppo sound asleep, went out of the room, leaving the door half open for Beppo’s convenience. About two o'clock my husband and I were startled with cries of ' Fire ! ’ from the maid, and, rushing into her room, discovered to my dismay that I had forgotten to blow the candle out The melted wax had ignited, catching the draperies around it, and huge flames were reaching to the ceiling. But for the timely aid of Beppo, the result would have indeed been serious. Beppo, smelling danger, had jumped from Winnie’s bed on to the maid’s chest, and, with yells as only Siamese can produce, pawed her face vigorously, and her alarming cries woke the girl As we entered the room, and while extinguishing the flames, we still heard Beppo yelling from under the bed, but the noise stopped as danger fled. Little wonder is it that the main subject for several days was Beppo’s fidelity, especially by the maid, who could think of nothing else. No money would have tempted us to part with our dear Beppo — nothing but death could part us.”
Mrs. Western also tells the following story of a friendship between a cat and a dog :— “It is eleven years since I possessed a little half-bred Manx, whose pet name was Tipsy Ann, and much of my present enthusiasm originated from the win of a third prize by Tipsy Ann at some very small show. Tipsy Ann had not been in my possession long before I discovered her to he a very intelligent cat She was intensely fond of Toby, the fox-terrier dog, who, in spite of his devotion to Tipsy Ann, was a terror to all other cats. The two were constant friends, and shared the same cosy bed in a large hamper in an adjoining barn. It happened, however, much to the grief and dismay of poor Toby, on one occasion, that a separate bed had to be found for him elsewhere and the barn door kept closed for a day or two. I could not help noticing during these two days that the two held constant whispered conversations under the barn door, as I repeatedly found Master Toby intent on listening and Tipsy Ann intent on purring all her news to him. It was only on these occasions that she would leave her babies, for she absolutely refused to come out of her hamper to be fed, and yet she pleadingly gazed into my face, mewing loudly all the time. I could see she wanted to have a chat with Toby, and at once opened the barn door. Toby, wagging his tail joyfully and licking the babies, allowed Tipsy Ann to rub her head against his ; and, understanding her significant purr, stood back whilst she jumped out of the hamper and watched him take her place by the side of the kittens. In this way Toby kept the babies warm until their devoted mother had enjoyed her hitherto refused meal. This incident occurred for several days, Toby taking great care that they were in no way molested until they could well take care of themselves."
Miss Beardsley (“Auntie Nell”) sends us a true incident in the life of a short-haired north-country brown tabby cat : “ Flick never would kill a mouse; and, strange to say, at two different houses we had a mouse in the garden who used to come out and play with him, and, when tired, would go into their holes. They seemed to play hide-and-seek amongst the ferns, and were quite at home with the cat. The same cat came to me one day after he had been fed and worried me to go with him to the larder for more fish, and refused to eat it, but took me into the garden and there disappeared. I went into the kitchen to watch, and shortly he reappeared with a mangy, thin, half-starved, dreadful-looking cat, to whom he showed the fish, I suppose, for it came and eagerly ate it up, while Flick sat a little distance off, watching it. We then always put food out, till that stray became a fine cat. But I suppose it told others, for in a few days we had three or four more.”
Miss Chamberlayne, of Southall, writes: “ A lady I know once owned a pet cat that every morning came up into her bedroom ; and when she got into her bath the cat proceeded to jump in and splashed about, with evident delight and amusement This is quite true. “I have myself owned a large brown tabby Persian, whose chief delight was to get soaked through in the rain or very wet grass ; and, when a young cat, if missing, he was generally found playing with some puddle, patting the water and scooping it up with his paws. Cats are extremely faithful when they really know you ; they never, never forget ; and the love and unselfishness are more approaching the human than in any other animal.”
The feline world has its organ as well as other communities, and the Editor of Our Cats contributes the following :—
“A beautiful chinchilla queen, Ashbrittle Pearl (daughter of the late His Majesty of Whitehall), recently had a family snugly kennelled in the room known as the ‘cat kitchen,’ where the food for the animals is prepared. The other day, when these kittens were nearly three weeks old, loud cries of distress were heard proceeding from Pearl and her progeny, and on hastening to the door the room was found to be full of dense smoke^ and with a most disagreeable and alarming smell of burning ; so thick, indeed, was the smoke that it was difficult to cross the room to open the window. Pearl flew forward with a cry of joy and brought out a kitten soaking wet, and when the smoke cleared slightly the other kittens — for whom Pearl returned — were all found to have been placed by their mother in the milk bowl, as she evidently considered they were less likely to be burnt or smothered there. The cause of the fracas was the attendant having been called away and detained, during which time the food on the fire had burnt dry, the bottom of the pan being burnt out and the food reduced to cinders. Of course, the little things were carefully dried and warmed at the fire, and happily suffered no ill-effects from their milk bath.”
A successful breeder, Mr. R. G. Mivart, of Edinburgh, writes : “ The best cat story I know is that of a cat belonging to a well-known theological seminary. This sagacious animal discovered that when a certain bell rang the cook left the kitchen to answer it, leaving a number of dishes ready to be served unprotected. The cat, apparently after much reflection, adopted the plan of ringing the bell herself, not a difficult feat, considering the handle hung, outside the kitchen window, but requiring great agility, after doing so, to leap through the window and get back unobserved. The plan was so successful that it was conducted for some time undetected, although in the meantime two or three servants had been suspected of purloining the food, and one of them punished. Say what you will, this was certainly a cat with brains, if not one with morals."
“ A good deal has been said and written,” writes Lady Harris, “ concerning the cruelty of cats, especially towards mice and similar vermin. But I have owned many cats which were not in the least cruel to such animals as they caught, and never ‘rejoiced in their sufferings,’ to use the language of a professed dog. I once nursed a fine tortoiseshell male cat, a rare kind, through a long illness, during which time it would hardly ever accept food save from my own hand. Some months after it had completely recovered I myself fell ill. For a full fortnight I was not allowed even to see Charley or to have him in my room. But one morning, after stroking him languidly for a few minutes, much to his delight, he disappeared, and was gone for some hours. When he returned he bore a fat mouse in his jaws, which he gravely deposited on my bed. The next day he did the same, and no doubt exists in my mind that Charley fondly imagined he was bringing me dainties suitable to an invalid’s consumption. I wouldn’t have discouraged him for the world, but I learnt afterwards the nurse did, so that I have no notion how many marks of Charley’s gratitude and sympathy were brought to my door.”
A lifelong cat-fancier, Mr. E. R. Montagu, sends us the following as the most striking cat story he has ever heard :—
“There was a murder of a woman at Lyons. When the police came and inspected the body, which lay in a pool of blood, one of them drew attention to a large white cat on the top of a cupboard. The eyes of the cat were fastened on its murdered mistress with an expression of terror. No attempt was made to disturb it, and the cat was still there motionless the next morning. During the day the detectives brought in two suspected persons. They had scarcely entered the room when the cat sprang up, with bristling fur and glaring eyes, and, descending to the floor, began acting in the most astonishing manner. Both the suspected persons turned pale, and one of them in a kind of panic tried to strike at it. The cat then disappeared. A short time afterwards one of the murderers made a confession, in which the cat figured as the only witness of the crime which he and his companion had perpetrated. Both men were executed. This story was, I believe, authenticated by the late Mr. Frederic Myers.”
There are numerous stories of dogs rearing kittens and cats rearing puppies, a number of which have been sent us. But Mr. A. Packett, one of the best-known fanciers in the South of England, tells us of a cat which took a great fancy to another species of small quadruped. A friend of his near Eastbourne ploughed up a nest of young hares, unhappily killing the mother in so doing. Someone thought of putting the infant leverets under the care of a greengrocer’s cat Pussy took to them at once, and, as an advertisement, the greengrocer placed the happy family in his window. This was resented by the foster-mother, who promptly hid her foster-young as cats do their kittens, and nothing would induce her to allow them to be shown off. After a time the hares were turned down on a farm and the nurse was inconsolable. She had developed a greater love for hares than she probably would have done for her own kittens, while her disgust (or is it grief?) at the sight and smell of a dead hare is surprising to all who witness it”
NOTE.— These articles consist of a series of perfectly authentic anecdotes of animal lift, illustrated by Mr. J. A. Shepherd, an artist long a favourite with readers of The Strand Magazine. We shall be glad to receive similar anecdotes, fully authenticated by names of witntesses, for use in future numbers. While the stories themselves will be matters of fact, it must be understood that the artist will treat the subject with freedom and fancy, more with a view to an amusing commentary than to a mere repre¬sentation of the occurrence.
THREE LEGGED TOMMY
THIS is a tale of true love that no social distinctions could hinder ; of a love that persisted in spite of misfortune, disfigurement, and poverty ; of a love that ruled not merely the camp, the court, and the grove, but the back garden also : of a love that (as M r. Seaman sings) “ was strong love, strong as a big barn-door”; of a love that, no doubt, would have laughed at locksmiths had the cachinnation been necessary ; that, in short, was the only genuine article, with the proper trade-mark on the label.
“ Pussy ” was the name of a magnificent Persian cat - a princess among cats, greatly sought by the feline nobility of the neigh¬bourhood. She was the sort of cat that no merely individual name would be good enough for ; her magnificence soared above all such smallnesses, and, as she was the ideal cat, combining all the glories and all the beauties of cat-hood in herself, she was called, simply and comprehensively, “ Pussy.” She con¬descended to reside at the house, and at the expense, of Mr. Thomas C. Johnson, of The Firs, Alford, Lincolnshire, and all the most aristocratic Toms of the vicinity were suitors for the paw of this princess. Blue Persians, buff Persians, Manx cats, Angora cats — all were her devoted slaves, and it was generally expected that she would make a brilliant match.
She had a house (or palace) of her own at the back of Mr. Johnson’s. Here were her bed, her larder — an elegant shelf supporting her wire meat safe, and her special knife and fork—for her meat must be cut up for her — and her plate and saucer. And here, by the door, many suitors waited to bow their respects as she came forth to take the air. But Pussy, who trod the earth as though the planet were far too common for her use, turned up her nose at the noble throng, and dismissed them with effective and sudden language, conjectured to be a very vigorous dialect of Persian.
Then came, meekly crawling and limping to her door, one Lamech, a cat of low degree and no particular breed. His only claim to distinction of any sort was that he had lost a leg — perhaps in a weasel-trap. He was ill-fed, bony, and altogether dis¬reputable ; his ears were sore, and his coal unkempt. He came not as a suitor, but as a beggar, craving any odd scraps that the princess might have no use for. So low was he esteemed, indeed, that nobody called him Lamech, his proper name, and he was familiarly and contemptuously known as “ Three-legged Tommy.” When the princess’s human friends saw Three-legged Tommy hanging about, they regarded him as a nuisance and a probable offence in the sight of the princess. Wherefore they chased him mercilessly, tempering their severities, how¬ever, by flinging him scraps of food, as far out into the road as possible.
But presently a surprising thing was ob¬served. Pussy actually encouraged Three-legged Tommy! More, she fed him, and her last drop of new milk and her last and tenderest morsel of meat were reserved for his regalement. There was intense com-motion among the scorned feline nobility. Three-legged Tommy was actually admitted into that sacred palace, from the portals of which the most distinguished cats in Alford had been driven away !
As for Three-legged Tommy himself, he grew not only more confident, but more knowing. He came regularly at meal times. More, he grew fatter, and less ragged. The princess enjoyed her self-sacrifice for a time, but presently she set herself to get a double ration. Sharing her provisions was all very loving and all very well, but she began to feel that there were advantages in a full meal ; and Three-legged Tommy, now grown much more respectable, though a hopeless plebeian still, distinctly gave her to understand that he could do with a bit more.
Three-legged Tommy was the princess’s first and only love, but next in her affections ranked Mr. Johnson. It was her habit to follow him about the house and garden, and to confide her troubles to him, sitting on his knee. But now she tried stratagem. Five or six times a day she would assail him with piteous mews, entreating caresses, beseeching eyes, and the most irresistibly captivating manners she could assume. “ What can she want?” he would say. “She has not long been fed. Is it meat, old girl?" And, powerless to resist her, he would rise and follow.
Meat it was, of course. And when it was out she would attack it with every appearance of ravenous hunger till the master’s back was turned. Then “ Come, my love, the feast is' spread for thee ! ”
Out would limp Lamech from behind some near shrub, and Pussy would sit with supreme satisfaction and watch her spouse’s enjoyment of the meal she had cajoled for him. And so Three-legged Tommy waxed fat and prospered, and the Beautiful Princess was faithful to him always. Miss Mary Johnson, who was so kind as to send us the story, calls Pussy “a devoted helpmeet.” We trust she meant no pun.
A FORCED EXCHANGE
YEARS ago Mrs. Lipscomb had a dog — a bitch, to be exact — of Pomeranian breed, or something very near it, and of an original and eccentric sagacity. Its fore¬most personal characteristics, however, were an intense hatred of all cats — with an excep¬tion — and a constant industry in catching and exterminating the species. The exception was in favour of Mrs. Lipscomb’s own cat, the housemate of Fan (the dog’s name was Fan), and, although it was no doubt originally dictated by common prudence and fear of punishment, in time there grew up evidence of a real regard for the cat on Fan's part — a regard testified to by more than one quaint proof. But these facts — Fan’s hatred of cats as a species and her one exception — make the more curious her behaviour when first she became a mother, and revelled in a large basketful of pups and maternal pride. This was at Nutfield Marsh, near Redhill, where Mrs. Lipscomb was then living.
For a fortnight Fan’s pride and delight received no check, and she frankly admitted herself the most important and triumphant creature in the world. Then a cloud came. First it took the shape of a comfortably padded basket, not far from that devoted to Fan and her family ; then it developed into another family - the cat's! Yes, without a doubt, there was the cat with a litter of kittens, as fortunate as Fan herself, as proud and triumphant ! Fan's feelings were hurt. This would never do. Should another creature — a mere cat, too — be allowed also to have a family ? Never ! Fan arose in virtuous indignation, and annexed the kittens herself. She stalked across to that other basket bundled her presumptuous rival out and curled herself up to feed the kittens.
The cat stood for a while, wistful but timid, hoping for an opportunity to return to her charge. But no, Fan had got the new litter, and she meant to keep it. The kittens, for their part, were well content, and sucked away hungrily, while the pups lamented un¬heeded. Till at last the poor cat gave up hope and turned her attention to Fan's basket. Here was a litter, of a sort, and a hungry one. She would make the best of a bad job. So she followed the example that Fan had set, climbed in among the puppies, herself. And soon their clamour was quieted, and their noses buried in the cat’s warm fur. And so it went till both pups and kittens could begin life for themselves. Fan turned out into the world a well-nurtured family of kittens, and the cat could point with proper pride to an excellently brought-up row of Pomeranian puppies.