PETER: A CAT O' ONE TAIL
By Charles Morley
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,
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
* * * * *
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
"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
"Look here, my boys, you can take her away. Now, be off. Quick
"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,"
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
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
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.