Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/253

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ANIMAL AND PLANT LORE.

most every one is familiar with the time-honored belief that a cat must not be left alone in the room with a little child for fear that "the cat will suck the baby's breath." So general is the belief in this breath-sucking power of the cat that I have taken pains to consult several distinguished physicians in New England as to its probability, and have received from each a most unequivocal statement of disbelief in any such phenomenon. One eminent Boston physician suggests that the notion may be based on the fact that a cat likes warmth, and naturally might lie up close to the warm breath of a sleeping child. Any injury which the latter might receive would therefore come from breathing an impure air, charged with carbonic-acid gas, and if the cat were diseased—for instance, had consumption—there would be the possibility of inhaling the bacilli or germs of tuberculosis. But is it not more than possible that the popular apprehension is descended from the old-country dread of the animal's connection with witchcraft? De Gubernatis cites the fact that, in Monferrato, black cats, being thought to be witches, are carefully kept away from the cradles of children; and the same precaution is taken, for the same reason, in Germany. In the latter country, black cats are in general thought to be ill-omened creatures, and, if one is found on a sickbed, it foretells death; or if on a grave, it signifies that the soul of the departed is in the possession of the evil one. In earlier times, I conclude that black cats were usually considered to be especially evil-boding; but this notion has apparently undergone a change, so that now the white or light-colored cat is often reckoned the forerunner of evil, while the black one is the harbinger of good. There is a popular saying in various parts of New England that it betokens good luck to be followed by a black cat. A black or gray cat or kitten coming to a house will bring good luck, but a white one is a sign of calamity. "If you drive away a black cat that comes to you, you drive away your luck." The possession of a black-nosed, "smutty-nosed," cat brings wealth, while in Maine it is said the ownership of a white cat entails poverty. In Canada and parts of Michigan I find the notion is that lucky cats are those of three colors, and therefore the owner of one of the not uncommon variety, mottled with black, white, and orange, should keep her as a mascot, or luck-bringer. Among the negroes of Alabama it is believed that after death the spirits of old maids take possession of black cats. There is a popular belief in parts of Pennsylvania that, if by accident cats' hair be swallowed, it will turn into worms. In central Maine one may find a more generalized form of this superstition. The belief there is that, if any kind of a hair be allowed to enter the human stomach, it will gradually change into a snake—the species of the latter undefined. A native of Cumberland, England, has told me that there it is a common say-