The Cat by Francis C. Woodworth

Cats, say what you will against them, have some excellent traits of character. They are capable of the strongest attachment. A cat which had been brought up in a family, became extremely attached to the oldest child, a little boy who was very fond of playing with her. She bore with the utmost patience all the rough treatment of the mischievous child, without ever making the least resistance. As the cat grew up, she used to catch mice, and bring them alive into the room where the little boy was, to amuse him with her prey. If he showed an inclination to take the mouse from her, she let it run, and waited to see whether he was able to catch it. If he did not, she darted at it, caught it, and again laid it before him. In this manner the sport continued, as long as the child showed any taste for it.

At length, the boy was attacked with the small-pox, and during the early stages of his disorder, the cat rarely left his bed-side; but as his danger increased, it was thought necessary to remove the cat, and lock her up. The child died. On the following day, the cat, having escaped from her confinement, immediately ran to the apartment where she hoped to find her playmate. Disappointed in her expectations, she sought for him, with symptoms of great uneasiness and loud lamentations, all over the house, till she came to the door of the room in which the corpse lay. Here she lay down in silent grief, till she was again locked up. As soon as the child was buried, and the cat set at liberty, she disappeared; and it was not till a fortnight after that event, that she returned to the well-known apartment, sad and emaciated. She refused to take any nourishment, and soon ran away again, with dismal cries. At length, compelled by hunger, she made her appearance one day at dinner-time, and continued to visit the house after that, every day, at about the same hour, but always left as soon as she had eaten the food that was given her. No one knew where she spent the rest of her time, until she was found, one day, under the wall of the burying-ground, close to the grave of her favorite; and so strong was the attachment of the cat to her lost friend, that, till his parents removed to another place, nearly five years afterward, she never, except in the severest winter weather, passed the night any where else than in the burying-ground, at her little friend's grave.

Here is another story of a cat who exhibited in a similar way her love for her deceased master. The incidents of this story, which, it is believed, are strictly true, occurred in the north of Scotland. Some years ago, a poor man residing in that country, whose habits of life had always been of the most retired description, giving way to the natural despondency of his disposition, put an end to his existence. The only other inmate of his cottage was a favorite cat. When the deed was discovered, the cat was found assiduously watching over her late master's body, and it was with some difficulty she could be driven away. The appalling deed naturally excited a great deal of attention in the surrounding neighborhood; and on the day after the body was deposited in the grave, which was made at the outside of the church-yard, a number of school-boys ventured thither, to view the resting-place of one who had at times been the subject of village wonder, and whose recent act of self-destruction was invested with additional interest. At first, no one was brave enough to venture near; but at last, the appearance of a hole in the side of the grave irresistibly attracted their attention. Having been minutely examined, it was at length determined that it must have been the work of some body-snatcher; and the story having spread, the grave was minutely examined, but as the body had not been removed, the community considered themselves fortunate in having made so narrow an escape. The turf was replaced, and the grave again carefully covered up. On the following morning the turf was again displaced, and a hole, deeper than before, yawned in the side of the sad receptacle. Speculation was soon busy at work, and all sorts of explanations were suggested. In the midst of their speculations, alarmed, perhaps, by the noise of the disputants, poor Puss darted from the hole, much to the confusion of some of the most noisy and dogmatic expounders of the mystery. Again the turf was replaced, and again and again was it removed by the unceasing efforts of the faithful cat to share the resting-place of her deceased master. It was at last found necessary to shoot her, it being found impossible otherwise to put a stop to her unceasing importunities.

The enmity of the cat and dog is proverbial. Yet instances have been known in which the closest friendship has been formed between them. A French author of a work on the Language of Brutes tells the following story: "I had a cat and dog, which became so attached to each other, that they would never willingly be asunder. Whenever the dog got any choice morsel of food, he was sure to divide it with his whiskered friend. They always ate sociably out of one plate, slept in the same bed, and daily walked out together. Wishing to put this apparently sincere friendship to the proof, I one day took the cat by herself into my room, while I had the dog guarded in another apartment. I entertained the cat in a most sumptuous manner, being desirous to see what sort of a meal she would make without her friend, who had hitherto been her constant table companion. The cat enjoyed the treat with great glee, and seemed to have entirely forgotten the dog. I had had a partridge for dinner, half of which I intended to keep for supper. My wife covered it with a plate, and put it into a cupboard, the door of which she did not lock. The cat left the room, and I walked out upon business. My wife, meanwhile, sat at work in an adjoining apartment. When I returned home, she related to me the following circumstances: The cat, having hastily left the dining-room, went to the dog, and mewed uncommonly loud, and in different tones of voice; which the dog, from time to time, answered with a short bark. They both then went to the door of the room where the cat had dined, and waited till it was opened. One of my children opened the door, and immediately the two friends entered the apartment. The mewing of the cat excited my wife's attention. She rose from her seat, and stepped softly up to the door, which stood ajar, to observe what was going on. The cat led the dog to the cupboard which contained the partridge, pushed off the plate which covered it, and, taking out my intended supper, laid it before her canine friend, who devoured it greedily. Probably the cat, by her mewing, had given the dog to understand what an excellent meal she had made, and how sorry she was that he had not participated in it; but, at the same time, had explained to him that something was left for him in the cupboard, and persuaded him to follow her thither."

In Lawrence's History of the Horse occurs the following anecdote, in which the cat is quite as much concerned as the horse: "A celebrated Arabian horse and a black cat were for many years the warmest friends. When the horse died in 1753, the cat sat upon his carcass until it was buried; and then, creeping slowly and reluctantly away, was never seen again, till her dead body was found in a hay-loft."

Henry Wriothsly, earl of Southampton, having been some time confined in the tower of London, was one day surprised by a visit from his favorite cat, who must have reached her master by descending from the chimney of the edifice.

The following instance of a cat's courage and maternal affection is recorded in the Naturalist's Cabinet: "A cat who had a family of kittens, was playing with them one sunny day in spring, near the door of a farm-house, when a hawk darted swiftly down and caught one of the kittens. The assassin was endeavoring to rise with his prey, when the mother, seeing the danger of the little one, flew at the common enemy, who, to defend himself, let the kitten fall. The battle presently became dreadful to both parties; for the hawk, by the power of his wings, the sharpness of his talons, and the keenness of his beak, had for awhile the advantage, cruelly lacerating the poor cat, and actually deprived her of one eye in the conflict. But Puss, not at all daunted by this accident, strove with all her cunning and strength to protect her little ones, till she had broken a wing of her adversary. In this state she got him more within the power of her claws, the hawk still defending himself, however, according to the best of his ability. The fight continued for a long time. But at last victory favored the mother; and by a sudden movement, she laid the hawk motionless beneath her feet, when, as if exulting in her victory, she tore off the head of her vanquished enemy. Disregarding the loss of her eye, she immediately ran to her bleeding kitten, licked the wounds inflicted by the talons of the hawk, purring, while she caressed the little one, with the same affection as if nothing had happened to her."

Here is an instance of the ingenuity of a cat. Tabby was in the habit of visiting a closet, the door of which was fastened by a common iron latch. A window was situated near the door. When the door was shut, the cat, as soon as she was tired of her confinement, mounted on the sill of the window, and with her paws dexterously lifted the latch, opened the door, and came out of the room. This practice she continued for years.

A cat belonging to a monastery in France was still more ingenious. She was accustomed to have her meals served to her at the same time that the inmates of the monastery had theirs. These hours were announced by the ringing of the bell. One day it so happened that Puss was shut up in a room by herself, when the bell rang for dinner, so that she was not able to avail herself of the invitation. Some hours afterward she was released from her confinement, and instantly ran to the spot where dinner was always left for her; but no dinner was to be found. In the afternoon the bell was heard ringing at an unusual hour. When the inmates of the cloister came to see what was the cause of it, they found the hungry cat clinging to the bell-rope, and setting it in motion as well as she was able, in order that she might have her dinner served up for her. Was not this act of the cat the result of something very nearly related to what we call reason, when exhibited in man?

A French naturalist gives us an amusing incident connected with a cat in Prussia. This animal was quietly sleeping on the hearth, when one of the children in the family where she lived set up a boisterous crying. Puss left the place where she was lying, marched up to the child, and gave her such a smart blow with her paw as to draw blood. Then she walked back, with the greatest composure and gravity, as if satisfied with having punished the child for crying, and with the hope of indulging in a comfortable nap. No doubt she had often seen the child punished in this manner for peevishness; and as there was no one near who seemed disposed to administer correction in this instance, Puss determined to take the law into her own hand.

This story brings to my mind one which I saw in a newspaper the other day, about a cat who took it upon her to punish her children in a very singular manner. The story runs thus: "One Sabbath, a motherly old cat, belonging to one of our citizens, left her little family in quiet repose, while she went forth in pursuit of something to eat. On returning, she found them quarreling. She then very deliberately took the one most eagerly engaged in the combat by the nape of the neck, and not seeing any convenient place near by to administer what she considered a salutary reproof, went to a tub of water, upon the edge of which she raised her feet, and dropped the kitten into the water. She resisted all attempts at escape, and after repeatedly sousing it in the water till sufficiently punished, she took it again by the neck as before, and carried it back again, doubtless a thorough repentant for the wrong it had done. There has been no contention in the family since."

It must be a very difficult thing for a cat, when a tame bird is within her reach, to resist the temptation to make a dinner from it. But there are not wanting instances in which this disposition has been entirely overcome. More than this: a cat has been known to become the protector of a bird, when it was in danger. A lady had a tame canary, which she was in the habit of letting out of its cage every day. One morning, as it was picking crumbs of bread off the carpet, her cat, who had always before showed the bird the utmost kindness, seized it suddenly, and jumped with it in her mouth upon a table. The lady was much alarmed for the fate of her favorite; but on turning about, she instantly perceived the cause. The door had been left open, and another cat, a stranger, had just come into the room! After the lady turned out the neighbor, her own cat came down from the table, and dropped the bird, without doing it the smallest injury.

The following story was told me by my friend Dr. Alcott: A cat, in Northborough, Mass., with three very young kittens, having been removed to Shrewsbury, a distance of about four miles, continued to elude the vigilance of her mistress, and, during the hours of sleep, to transport these three kittens to their old mansion in Northborough.

Here is a story about a cat who was for some time supposed to be a musical ghost: A family residing a few miles from Aberdeen, Scotland—so says the Aberdeen Herald—and at the time consisting of females, were recently thrown for one or two successive nights into no small consternation, by the unaccountable circumstance of a piano being set a strumming about midnight, after all the inmates of the house were in bed. The first night the lady of the house rose when she heard the unseasonable sounds, thinking some member of the family had set about "practicing her music" over night. She went cautiously to the room door, which she found shut; but although she heard the tones of the instrument when her hand was upon the handle of the door, on entering she was astonished to find no one in the room. The piano was indeed open, as it was generally, for a young girl to practice when she had a mind. But where was the midnight musician? The room was searched, but to no purpose—there was no musician visible. Next night the same sounds were heard, and a search was made, but with no better success. One or two nights of quietude might intervene between those on which such sounds were heard; but they still broke at intervals through the stillness of midnight—at one time with note by note, slowly—at another, like the quick, loud thundering of a battle-piece; till the horrible conviction filled every mind, that the house was haunted. One morning, the piano was heard sounding away much louder than usual; and the dawn having begun to peep through the window-blinds, one or two of the family, summoning up the courage that comes with the light of day, resolved that, "ghost, if ghost it were," they should at all risks have a peep at it, and cautiously descended to the door of the apartment, which was slightly ajar. The musician was fingering the instrument with the greatest industry and energy, and apparently at his own entire satisfaction. Well, after much demurring, in they peeped; and most assuredly, through the dim dusk of the morning, a gray figure was seen exerting itself most strenuously. They looked closer, when, behold, there was—what think you?—the cat, pawing away, first with her fore feet, and then with her hind; now touching one note gently, and then dancing with all fours across the keys. There was a solution of the enigma—a bringing to light of the imagined ghost.

A traveler in one of the Western States relates the following humorous anecdote of a wild cat: "I was plodding once in a wagon from Toledo to Maumee, over an execrably level road, in the hot noon sun of a mid-June day. The driver was a hardy fellow, who looked as though he could outhug a bear, and loosen the tightest Maumee ague with a single shake, and yet he owned he had been frightened by a wild cat, so that he ran from it, and then he told the story, which I give you partly in his own words: 'I was driving along this road in a buggy, with as fast a horse as ever scorned the whip, when some ten rods ahead of us, just by that big oak, a wild cat, leading three kittens, came out of the wood, crossed the road, and went into those bushes on our left, and I thought what nice pets they would make, and wished I had one. When I came up, I noticed one of the young ones in the edge of the bushes, but a few feet off, and I heard, or thought I heard, the old one stealing along deep in the woods. I sprang out, snatched up the kitten, threw it into the buggy, jumped in, and started. When I laid hands on it, it mewed, and kept mewing, and, as I grasped the reins, I heard a sharp growl and a thrashing through the brush. I knew the old one was coming, and the next instant she streamed over a log, and alighted in the road. She ran with her eyes flaming, her hair bristling, and her teeth grinning. She turned as on a pivot, and gave an unearthly squall, as she saw me racing away, and bounded after, with such yells and fury, and gained on me so fast, that for very fear I threw the kitten out, and lashed the flying horse; but she scarcely paused for that, but bounded on a while, as though recovery of her young would not suffice without revenge. When I saw her at my very back, I scarcely breathed until her crying child recalled her. Here, at the top of this pitch, I looked back, and saw her standing, with her young one in her mouth, looking after me, as though she had half a mind to drop the kitten and give chase again. I gave the horse a cut, and did not feel quite safe until I had got some miles away. I made up my mind from that time forward to let young kittens alone, and mind my own business.'"