Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag, Volume 5/Chapter 4
THEY all came uninvited, they all led eventful lives, and all died tragical deaths; so out of the long list of cats whom I have loved and lost, these seven are the most interesting and memorable.
I have no prejudice against color, but it so happened that our pussies were usually gray or maltese. One white one, who would live in the coal-bin, was a failure, and we never repeated the experiment. Black cats had not been offered us, so we had no experience of them till number one came to us in this wise.
Sitting at my window, I saw a very handsome puss come walking down the street in the most composed and dignified manner. I watched him with interest, wondering where he was going.
Pausing now and then, he examined the houses as he passed, as if looking for a particular number, till, coming to our gate, he pushed it open, and walked in. Straight up to the door he came, and finding it shut sat down to wait till some one opened it for him.
Much amused, I went at once, and he came directly in, after a long stare at me, and a few wavings of his plumy tail. It was evidently the right place, and, following me into the parlor, he perched himself on the rug, blinked at the fire, looked round the room, washed his face, and then, lying down in a comfortable sprawl, he burst into a cheerful purr, as if to say,
"It's all right; the place suits me, and I'm going to stay."—
His coolness amused me very much, and his beauty made me glad to keep him. He was not a common cat, but, as we afterward discovered, a Russian puss. His fur was very long, black, and glossy as satin; his tail like a graceful plume, and his eyes as round and yellow as two little moons. His paws were very dainty, and white socks and gloves, with a neat collar and shirt-bosom, gave him the appearance of an elegant young beau, in full evening dress. His face was white, with black hair parted in the middle; and whiskers, fiercely curled up at the end, gave him a martial look.
Every one admired him, and a vainer puss never caught a mouse. If he saw us looking at him, he instantly took an attitude; gazed pensively at the fire, as if unconscious of our praises; crouched like a tiger about to spring, and glared, and beat the floor with his tail; or lay luxuriously outstretched, rolling up his yellow eyes with a sentimental expression that was very funny.
We named him the Czar, and no tyrannical emperor of Russia ever carried greater desolation and terror to the souls of his serfs, than this royal cat did to the hearts and homes of the rats and mice over whom he ruled.
The dear little mice who used to come out to play so confidingly in my room, live in my best bonnet-box, and bring up their interesting young families in the store-room, now fell an easy prey to the Czar, who made nothing of catching half a dozen a day.
Brazen-faced old rats, gray in sin, who used to walk boldly in and out of the front door, ravage our closets, and racket about the walls by night, now paused in their revels, and felt that their day was over. Czar did not know what fear was, and flew at the biggest, fiercest rat that dared to show his long tail on the premises. He fought many a gallant fight, and slew his thousands, always bringing his dead foe to display him to us, and receive our thanks.
It was sometimes rather startling to find a large rat reposing in the middle of your parlor; not always agreeable to have an excited cat bounce into your lap, lugging a half-dead rat in his mouth; or to have visitors received by the Czar, tossing a mouse on the door-steps, like a playful child with its cup and ball.
He was not fond of petting, but allowed one or two honored beings to cuddle him. My work-basket was his favorite bed, for a certain fat cushion suited him for a pillow, and, having coolly pulled out all the pins, the rascal would lay his handsome head on the red mound, and wink at me with an irresistibly saucy expression that made it impossible to scold.
All summer we enjoyed his pranks and admired his manly virtues; but in the winter we lost him, for, alas! he found his victor in the end, and fell a victim to his own rash daring.
One morning after a heavy snow-fall, Czar went out to take a turn up and down the path. As he sat with his back to the gate, meditatively watching some doves on the shed-roof, a big bull-dog entered the yard, and basely attacked him in the rear. Taken by surprise, the dear fellow did his best, and hit out bravely, till he was dragged into the deep snow where he could not fight, and there so cruelly maltreated that he would have been murdered out right, if I had not gone to the rescue.
Catching up a broom, I belabored the dog so energetically that he was forced to turn from the poor Czar to me. What would have become of me I don't know, for the dog was in a rage, and evidently meditating a grab at my ankles, when his master appeared and ordered him off.
Never was a boy better scolded than that one, for I poured forth vials of wrath upon his head as I took up my bleeding pet, and pointed to his wounds as indignantly as Antony did to Cæsar's.
The boy fled affrighted, and I bore my poor Czar in to die. All day he lay on his cushion, patient and quiet, with his torn neck tied up in a soft bandage, a saucer of cream close by, and an afflicted mistress to tend and stroke him with tender lamentations.
We had company in the evening, and my interesting patient was put into another room. Once, in the midst of conversation, I thought I heard a plaintive mew, but could not go to see, and soon forgot all about it; but when the guests left, my heart was rent by finding Czar stretched out before the door quite dead.
Feeling death approach, he had crept to say good-by, and with a farewell mew had died before the closed door, a brave and faithful cat to the end.
He was buried with great pomp, and before his grave was green, little Blot came to take his place, though she never filled it. Blot's career was a sad and brief one. Misfortune marked her for its own, and life was one too many for her.
I saw some boys pelting a wretched object with mud. I delivered a lecture on cruelty to animals, confiscated the victim, and, wrapping her in a newspaper, bore the muddy little beast away in triumph. Being washed and dried, she turned out a thin black kit, with dirty blue bows tied in her ears. As I don't approve of ear-rings, I took hers out, and tried to fatten her up, for she was a forlorn creature at first.
But Blot would not grow plump. Her early wrongs preyed upon her, and she remained a thin, timid, melancholy little cat all her days. I could not win her confidence. She had lost her faith in mankind, and I don't blame her. She always hid in corners, quaked when I touched her, took her food by stealth, and sat in a forlorn bunch in cold nooks, down cellar or behind the gate, mewing despondently to herself, as if her woes must find a vent. She would not be easy and comfortable. No cushion could allure, no soft beguilements win her to purr, no dainty fare fill out her rusty coat, no warmth or kindness banish the scared look from her sad green eyes, no ball or spool lure her to play, or cause her to wag her mortified thin tail with joy.
Poor, dear little Blot! She was a pathetic spectacle, and her end was quite in keeping with the rest of her hard fate. Trying one day to make her come and be cuddled, she retreated to the hearth, and when I pursued her, meaning to catch and pet her, she took a distracted skip right into a bed of hot coals. One wild howl, and another still more distracted skip brought her out again, to writhe in agony with four burnt paws and a singed skin.
"We must put the little sufferer out of her pain," said a strong-minded friend; and quenched little Blot's life and suffering together in a pail of water.
I laid her out sweetly in a nice box, with a doll's blanket folded round her, and, bidding the poor dear a long farewell, confided her to old MacCarty for burial. He was my sexton, and I could trust him to inter my darlings decently, and not toss them disrespectfully into a dirt-cart or over a bridge.
My dear Mother Bunch was an entire contrast to Blot. Such a fat, cosey old mamma you never saw, and her first appearance was so funny, I never think of her without laughing.
In our back kitchen was an old sideboard, with two little doors in the lower part. Some bits of carpet were kept there, but we never expected to let that small mansion till, opening the door one day, I found Mrs. Bunch and her young family comfortably settled.
I had never seen this mild black cat before, and I fancy no one had ever seen her three roly-poly, jet-black kits. Such a confiding puss I never met, for when I started back, surprised, Mrs. Bunch merely looked at me with an insinuating purr, and began to pick at my carpet, as if to say,—
"The house suited me; I'll take it, and pay rent by allowing you to admire and pet my lovely babies."
I never thought of turning her out, and there she remained for some months, with her children growing up around her, all as fat and funny, black and amiable, as herself.
Three jollier kits were never born, and a more devoted mother never lived. I put her name on the door of her house, and they lived on most comfortably together, even after they grew too big for their accommodations, and tails and legs hung out after the family had retired.
I really did hope they would escape the doom that seemed to pursue my cats, but they did not, for all came to grief in different ways. Cuddle Bunch had a fit, and fell out of the window, killing herself instantly. Othello, her brother, was shot by a bad boy, who fired pistols at all the cats in the neighborhood, as good practice for future gunning expeditions.
Little Purr was caught in a trap, set for a woodchuck, and so hurt she had to be gently chloroformed out of life. Mother Bunch still remained, and often used to go and sit sadly under the tree where her infants were buried,—an afflicted, yet resigned parent.
Her health declined, but we never had the heart to send her away, and it wouldn't have done any good if we had tried. We did it once, and it was a dead failure. At one time the four cats were so wearing that my honored father, who did not appreciate the dears, resolved to clear the house of the whole family; so he packed them in a basket, and carried them "over the hills and far away," like the "Babes in the Wood." Coming to a lonely spot, he let them out, and returned home, much relieved in mind. Judge of his amazement when the first thing he saw was Mrs. Bunch and her children, sitting on the steps resting after their run home.
We all laughed at the old gentleman so that he left them in peace, and even when the mamma alone remained, feeble and useless, her bereavement made her sacred.
When we shut up the house, and went to the city for the winter, we gave Mother Bunch to the care of a kind neighbor, who promised to guard her faithfully. Returning in the spring, one of my first questions was,—
"How is old Pussy?"
Great was my anguish when my neighbor told me that she was no more. It seems the dear thing pined for her old home, and kept returning to it in spite of age or bad weather.
Several times she was taken back when she ran away, but at last they were tired of fussing over her, and let her go. A storm came on, and when they went to see what had become of her, they found her frozen, in the old sideboard, where I first discovered her with her kits about her.
As a delicate attention to me, Mrs. Bunch's skin was preserved, and presented when the tale was told. I kept it some time, but the next Christmas I made it into muffs for several dolls, who were sent me to dress; and very nice little muffs the pretty black fur made, lined with cherry silk, and finished off with tiny tassels.
I loved the dear old puss, but I knew the moths would get her skin if I kept it, and preferred to rejoice the hearts of several small friends with dolls in full winter costume. I am sure Mrs. Bunch would have agreed with me, and not felt that I treated her remains with disrespect.
The last of my cats was the blackest of all, and such a wild thing we called him the Imp. He tumbled into the garret one day through a broken scuttle, and took possession of the house from that time forth, acting as if bewitched.
He got into the furnace pipes, but could not get out, and kept me up one whole night, giving him air and light, food and comfort, through a little hole in the floor, while waiting for a carpenter to come and saw him out.
He got a sad pinch in his tail, which made it crooked forever after. He fell into the soft-soap barrel, and was fished out a deplorable spectacle. He was half strangled by a fine collar we put on him, and was found hanging by it on a peg.
People sat down on him, for he would lie in chairs. No one loved him much, for he was not amiable in temper, but bit and scratched if touched, worried the bows off our slippers in his play, and if we did not attend to him at once, he complained in the most tremendous bass growl I ever heard.
He was not beautiful, but very impressive; being big, without a white hair on him. One eye was blue and one green, and the green one was always half shut, as if he was winking at you, which gave him a rowdy air comical to see. Then he swaggered in his walk, never turned out for any one, and if offended fell into rages fit to daunt the bravest soul.
Yes, the Imp was truly an awful animal; and when a mischievous cousin of ours told us he wanted a black cat, without a single white hair on it, to win a wager with, we at once offered ours.
It seems that sailors are so superstitious they will not sail in a ship with a black cat; and this rogue of a cousin was going to send puss off on a voyage, unknown to any one but the friend who took him, and when the trip was safely over, he was to be produced as a triumphant proof of the folly of the nautical superstition.
So the Imp was delivered to his new master, and sailed away packed up in an old fishing-basket, with his head poked out of a hole in the cover.
We waited anxiously to hear how the joke ended; but unfortunately the passage was very rough, his guardian too ill to keep him safe and quiet, so the irrepressible fellow escaped from prison, and betrayed himself by growling dismally, as he went lurching across the deck to the great dismay of the sailors.
They chased, caught, and tossed the poor Imp overboard without loss of time. And when the joke came out, they had the best of it, for the weather happened to improve, and the rest of the voyage was prosperous. So, of course, they laid it all to the loss of the cat, and were more fixed in their belief than ever.
We were sorry that poor old Imp met so sad a fate, but did not mourn him long, for he had not won our hearts as some of our other pets had.
He was the last of the seven black cats, and we never had another; for I really did feel as if there was something uncanny about them after my tragical experiences with Czar, Blot, Mother Bunch's family, and the martyred Imp.