William Chambers.

Chambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) online

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which acquired delicacy by domestication lias in general pre-
vented cats from using', thoug'h tlieir desire of eating" fish con-
tinues in its original streng'th.


The attachment of the cat to particular persons and places,
and the fact of its often returning- to its original home after a
long absence, and over a great distance, prove the possession of a
pretty accurate memory. All the felinte seem well endowed in
this respect, and none more so, perhaps, than the domestic cat.
The following surprising instance we transcribe from the Scots-
man newspaper for 1819: — "A favourite tabby belonging to a
shipmaster was left on shore by accident, while his vessel sailed
from the harbour of Aberdour, Fifeshire, which is about half a
mile from the village. The vessel was about a month absent,
and on her return, to the astonishment of the shipmaster, Puss
came on board with a tine stout kitten in her mouth, apparently
about three V\'eek3 old, and went directly down into the cabin.
Two others of her young ones were afterAvards caught quite
wild in a neighbouring wood, where she must have remained
with them till the return of the vessel. The shipmaster did not
allow her again to g'o on shore, otherwise it is probable she
would have brought the whole litter on board. What makes
this the more remarkable is, that vessels were daily entering- and
leaving the harbour, none of which she ever thought of visiting*
till the one she had left returned." How wonderfully accurate
must this animal's recollection of the sliip have been ! The dif-
ferences, however trifling', between it and other vessels which
put in, must have been all closely observed and remembered ; or
we must suppose the creature to have had its recollections
awakened by the voice or figure of some of its shipmates passing
near to the wood where its family was located.

We have all heard of cats returning to the homes from which
they have been sent, and this we might readily conceive to be
the result of accurate observation and retentive memory; but
there are many instances, well authenticated, where they could
hardly have been aided by their faculties, and where they appear
to have been guided by some mysterious instinct. '• We have a
cat," says our lady correspondent already quoted, " who was a
very wild character, often committing depredations in the larder,
destroying our young pig'eons, and making g-reat havoc among
the birds. He was considered so lawless, that, after a consulta-
tion on what was best to be done, a decree of banishment was
issued against him, and he was sent in a thick linen bag to a
cottage at about two miles* distance, where he was offered shel-
ter, as he was an expert mouser. We thought we should never
see I^Ir Tib again, but found ourselves quite mistaken ; for late
one evening, about three weeks after, he walked into the kitchen,
and greeted everv one so kiudlv, that he met with a more favour-


able reception than his previous conduct could have warranted
him in expecting*. Whether he has repented of his late mis-
conduct, whether he is conscious that it was the cause of his
banishment, or whether he has passed throug'h scenes which
have broken his daring" spirit, we cannot say, but all his bad
habits are actually conquered, and he is now quite a pattern of
domestic propriety." Still more extraordinary is the instance
related by a gentleman who removed his establishment from the
county of Sligo to near Dublin, a distance of not less than ninety
miles. When about to change his residence, he and his children
regretted very much being obliged to leave a favourite cat be-
hind them, which had endeared itself to them by its docility and
affection. This gentleman had not been many days settled in
his new abode, when one evening", as the family were sitting
chatting after tea, the servant came in, followed by a cat so
precisely like the one left behind, that all the family repeated his
name at once. The creature testified great joy in his own way
at the meeting. He was closely examined, and no difference
whatever was discernible between the cat in Sligo and that now
beside them. Still, it was difficult to believe it was their poor
et ; for how could he have travelled after them, or how could
le have found them out ? And yet the exact resemblance, and
the satisfaction which the poor animal evinced as he walked
about, seemingly in all the confidence of being* among his friends,
with his tail erect, and purring- with pleasure, left but little
doubt upon their minds that this was indeed their own cat. The
g"entleman took him upon his lap, and examining him closely,
found that his claws were actually worn down, which at once
convinced him that poor Puss had really travelled the whole
ninety miles' journey.


Wliile we readily admit that the cat is inferior in docility and
intelligence to the dog, we are not of those who would exalt the
one at the expense of the other, and continue to harbour absurd
prejudices against the dispositions and manners of the former.
We have seen that it is by no means destitute of attachment,
gentleness, courage, memory, and other mental attributes ; and
if we regard it honestly, we shall also find that it exhibits in
many instances no small degree of sagacious ingenuity. " No
experiment," says an intelligent writer, " can be more beautiful
than that of setting a kitten for the first time before a looking"-
glass. The animal appears surprised and pleased Avith the resem-
blance, and makes several attempts at touching" its new acquaint-
ance ; and at length finding its efforts fruitless, it looks behind
the glass, and appears highly astonished at the absence of the
figure. It again views itself, and tries to touch the image with
its foot, suddenly looking at intervals behind the glass. It then
becomes more accurate in its observations, and begins, as it



were, to make experiments, by stretching out its paw in different
directions ; and when it linds that these motions are answered in
every respect by the lig'ure in the g"lass, it seems at leng'th to be
convinced of the real nature of the imag-e." If so acute and
intelligent in its very infancy, what may we expect whea its
faculties are matured by observation and experiment?

" A friend of mine," says the Rev. Mr Bingley, " possessed a
cat and a dog, which, not being able to live tog*ether in peace,
had several contentious struggles for the mastery ; and in th&
end the dog so completely prevailed, that the cat was driven
away, and forced to seek for shelter elsewhere. Several months
elapsed, during which the dog alone possessed the house. At
leno'th, however, he was poisoned by a female servant, whose
nocturnal visitors he had too often betrayed, and was soon after-
wards carried out lifeless into the court before the door. The
cat, from a neig-hbouring' soof, was observed to watch the motions
of several persons who went up to look at him ; and when all
were retired, he descended and crept with some deg'ree of caution
into the place. He soon ventured to approach ; and after having
frequently patted the dog" with his paw, appeared perfectly sen-
sible that his late quarrelsome companion could no more insult
him ; and from that time he quietly returned to his former resi-
dence and habits." Here there was only a reasoning process
exhibited; but in the following instance, related by Dr Smellie,
there was ingenuity of performance combined with the saga-
city : — "A cat frequented 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 gave herself no uneasiness ; for,
so soon as she was tired of her confinement, she mounted on the
sill of the window, and with her paws dexterously lifted the
latch and came out. This practice she continued for years."

Still more ingenious are several of the instances related by M.
Antoine in his Animanx Celebres : — In a cloister in France,
where the hours of meals were announced by the ringing of a
bell, a cat was always in attendance as soon as it was heard, that
she, too, according to custom, might be fed. One day it hap-
pened that Puss was shut up in a room by herself when the bell
rang, so she was not able to avail herself of the summons. Some
hours after she was let out, 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 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 to her. In this instance the cat must
have been in the habit of observing what went forward, and Avas
therefore led to associate the ringing of the bell with the serving
up of dinner ; and feeling the want of her meal, very naturally
applied herself to perform the act which had always preceded its



appearance. Anotlier anecdote evincing still greater ingenuity
and cunning', is related b^^ the same amusing- compiler. An
Angora cat belonging to the Charter-house of Paris, having
observed that the cook always left the kitchen upon the ringing
of a certain bell, and thus left the coast clear for his depredations,
soon acquired the art of pulling the bell, and during the cook's
absence regularly made oH' with some of the delicacies which
were left unprotected. This trick he repeated at intervals for
several weeks, till one day he was detected by a person who was
placed in wait for the purloiner.

The power of observation in the lower animals is much more
active and accurate than is generally supposed ; and to those who
have watched their conduct, they seem not only to observe per-
sons and events, but actually to know days, and if not to under-
stand our language, at least to comprehend the meaning of the
tones in which it is uttered. A very curious proof of the ob-
servant faculty in the cat is g'iven in the following story: — There
was a lady who lived at Potsdam with her children, one of vrhom
ran a splinter into her little foot, which caused her to scream out
most violently. At first her cries were disregarded, and supposed
to proceed from crossness ; but at length the eldest sister, who
had been asleep, w^as awakened by the screams, and as she was
just getting up to quiet the child, she observed a favourite cat,
with whom they Avere v/ont to i:)la.j, and who was of a re-
markably gentle disposition, leave its seat under the stove, go to
the crying girl, and give her such a smart blow on the cheek
with one of its paws, as to draw blood. After this the animal
v/alked back with the greatest composure and gravity to its
place, as if satisfied with having* chastised the child for crying,
and with the hope of indulg'ing' in a comfortable nap. No doubt
it had often seen the child punished for crossness, and as there
was no one near to administer correction, Puss had determined
to take the law into her own hand.

It is told that before the conquest of Cyprus by the Turks, a
g-arrison of disciplined cats was kept on that island for the pur-
pose of destrojdng the serpents wherewith it was infested. So
well trained were these feline hunters, that the}^ came in to their
meals at the sound of a bell, and upon a similar signal returned
in order to the chase, which they prosecuted wdth the most
admirable zeal and address.

Such are the accounts which we have been enabled to glean,
from a pretty wide range of authorities, respecting* the disposi-
tion and manners of the domestic cat. Exaggerated to some
extent they may be, but not greatly so ; for from all that we
have observed of the animal — and our experience has been neither
short nor partial — we are inclined to regard it as an attached,
gentle, and playful associate, and all the more so that it meets
with kindly treatment.




"^■Cf^F^ T was a cold winter's night, and thoiigli the cottag'e
^^ ' I .^1 "^here Ellen and Michael, the two surviving children
? , j,; ■>, 7 of old Ben Murphy, lived, was always neat and com-
;^^C fortahle, still there was a cloud over the brow of both
brother and sister, as they sat before the cheerful fire ; it had
X^ obviously been spread not by anger but by sorrow. The
^ silence had continued long, though it was not bitter. At
O last Michael drew away from his sister's eyes the checked
apron she had appHed to them, and taking her hand affectionately
within his own, said, " It isn't for my own sake, Ellen, though,
I shall be lonesome enough the long' winter nig'hts and the long
summer days without your wise saying, and your sweet song",
-and your merry laugh, that I can so well remember — ay, since
the time when our poor mother used to seat us on the new rick,
and then, in the innocent pride of her heart, call our father to look
at us, and preach to us against being conceited, at the very time
^he was making us proud by calling us her blossoms of beauty."

" God and the blessed Virgin make her bed in heaven now and
for evermore, amen ! "' said Ellen, at the same time drawing out
her beads. '• Ah, Mike," she added, " that ^cas the mother, and
the father too, full of grace and g-odliness."'

'' True for ye, Ellen ; but thafs not what I'm afther now, as
you well know, you blushing little rog'ue of the world ; and

* Part of this tale appeared originally in Chambers's Edinburgh Jour-
nal some years ago ; a large portion is now for the first time added. — Ed.
No. 56. 1 '

it's only a drop.

sorra a word I'll say against it in the end, though it's lonesome
I'll be on my own hearth-stone, with no one to keep me company
but the ould black cat, that can't see, let alone hear, the craythur !"
" Now," said Ellen, wiping her eyes, and smiling her own
bright smile, "lave off; ye' re just like all the men, purtending to
one thing whin they mane another ; there's a dale of desate
about them — all — every one of them — and so my mother often
said. Now, you'd better have done, or maybe I'll say something
that will bring, if not the colour to your brown cheek, a dale
more wannth to yer warm heart than would be convanient, just
by the mention of one Mary. Mary! what a purty name Mary
it is, isn't it 1 — it's a common name too, and yet you like it none
the worse for that. Do you mind the ould rhyme 1 —

' Mary, Mary, quite contrary.'

Well, I'm not going to say she is contrary — I'm sure she's any-
thing but that to you, anyway, brother Mike. Can't you sit
still, and don't be pulling the hairs out of Pusheen cat's tail ; it
isn't many there's in it ; and I'd thank you not to unravel the
beautiful English cotton stocking I'm knitting ; lave off your
tricks, or I'll make common talk of it, I will, and be more than
even with you, my fine fellow ! Indeed, poor ould Pusheen," she
continued, addressing the cat with great gravity, " never heed
what he says to you ; he has no notion to make you either head
or tail to the house, not he ; he wont let you be without a mis-
thress to give you yer sup of milk or yer bit of sop ; he wont let
you be lonesome, my poor puss ; he's glad enough to swop an
Ellen for a IMary, so he is ; but that's a sacret, avourneen ; don't
tell it to any one."

" Anything for your happiness," replied the brother somewhat
sulkily ; " but your bachelor has a worse fault than ever I had,
notwithstanding all the lecturing you kept on to me ; he has a
turn for the drop, Ellen ; you know he has."

" How spitefully you said that ! " replied Ellen ; " and it isn't
generous to spake of it when he's not here to defend himself."

" You'll not let a word go against him," said Michael.

" No," she said, " I will never let ill be spoken of an absent
friend. I know he has a turn for the drop, but I'll cure him."

"After he's married," observed Michael not very good-

" No," she answered ; " before. I think a girl's chance of hap-
piness is not worth much who trusts to ^if^^r-marriage reforma-
tion. 1 7vo)it. Didn't I reform you, Mike, of the shockin' habit
you had of putting everything off to the last 1 and after reform-
ing a brother, who knows what I may do with a lover ! Do you
think that Larry's heart is harder than yours, Mike ? Look what
fine vegetables we have in our garden now, all planted by yer
own hands when you come home from work — j)lanted during the
very time which you used to spend in leaning against the door-

it's only a drop.

cheek, or smoking your pipe, or sleeping over the fire : look at
the money you got irom the Agricultural Society."

" That's yours, Ellen," said the generous-hearted Mike ; " I'll
never touch a penny of it ; but for you I never should have had
it ; I'll never touch it."

" You never shall," she answered ; " I've laid it every penny
out ; so that when the young bride comes home, she'll have such a
house of comforts as are not to be found in the parish — white
table-cloths for Sunday, a little store of tay and sugar, soap,
candles, starch ; everything good, and plenty of it."

" My own dear generous sister," exclaimed the young man.

" I shall ever be your sister," she replied, " and hers too. She's
a good colleen, and worthy my own Mike, and that's more than
I would say to 'ere another in the parish. I wasn't in earnest
when I said you'd be glad to get rid of me ; so put the pouch,
every bit of it, off yer handsome face. And hush ! — whisht ! will
ye ? there's the sound of Larry's footstep in the bawn — hand me
the needles, Mike." She braided back her hair with both hands,
arranged the red ribbon that confined its luxuriance, in the little
glass that hung upon a nail on the di'esser, and, after composing*
her arch laughing features into an expression of great gravity,
sat down and applied herself with singular industry to take up
the stitches her brother had dropped, and j)ut on a look of right
maidenly astonishment when the door opened, and Larry's good-
humoured face entered with the salutation of "God save all
here ! " He " popped " his head in first, and, after gazing round,
presented his goodly person to their view ; and a pleasant view it
was ; for he was of genuine Irish bearing' and beauty — frank, and
manly, and fearless-looking. Ellen, the wicked one, looked up
with well-feigned astonishment, and exclaimed, " Oh, Larry, is it
you, and who would have thoug'ht of seeing* you this blessed
night ? Ye're lucky — just in time for a bit of supper afther your
walk across the m.oor. I cannot think what in the world makes
you walk over that moor so often ; you'll get wet feet, and yer
mother '11 be forced to nurse you. Of all the walks in the
county, the walk across that moor's the dreariest, and yet ye're
always going it ! I wonder you haven't better sense ; ye're not
such a chicken now."

"Well," interrupted Mike, "it's the women that bates the
world for desaving. Sure she heard yer step when nobody else
could; its echo struck on her heart, Larry — let her deny it;
she'll make a shove off if she can ; she'll twist you, and twirl
you, and turn you about, so that you wont know whether it's
on your head or your heels ye're standing-. She'll tossicate yer
brains in no time, and be as composed herself as a dove on her
nest in a storm. But ask her, Larry, the straightforward
question, whether she heard you or not. She'll tell no lie — she
never does."
Ellen shook her head at her brother, and laughed. And


it's only a DPtOP.

immediately after the happy trio sat down to a cheerful sup-

Larry was a g-ood tradesman, blithe, and " well to do " in the
world ; and had it not been for the one great fault — an inclination
to take the "least taste in life more" when he had already taken
quite enoug'h — there could not have been found a better match
for g'ood, excellent Ellen Murphy, in the whole kingdom of
Ireland. When supper was finished, the everlasting whisky-
bottle was produced, and Ellen resumed her knitting. After a
time, Lany pressed his suit to Michael for the industrious hand
of his sister, thinking, doubtless, with the natural self-conceit of
all mmik'md, that he was perfectly secure with Ellen ; but though
Ellen loved, like all my fair countrywomen, well, she loved, I am
compelled to say, wilike the generality of my fair countrywomen,
wisely, and reminded her lover that she had seen him intoxicated
at the last fair of Rathcoolin.

'• Dear Ellen !" he exclaimed, " it was ' only a drop,' the least
taste in life that overcame me. It overtook me unknownst, quite
aginst my will."

" Who poured it down yer throat, Larry ?"

"Who poured it dov/n my throat is it? why myself, to be
sure ; but are vou going to put me to a three months' penance
for that ?"

" Larry, will you listen to me, and remember that the man I
marry must be converted before we stand before the priest. I
have no faith whatever in conversions after "

" Oh, Ellen !" interrupted her lover.

" It's no use oh Ellen — ing me," she answered quickly ; " I have
made my resolution, and I'll stick to it."

" She's as obstinate as ten women !" said her brother. " There's
no use in attempting to contradict her ; she always has had her
own way."

" It's very cruel of you, Ellen, not to listen to raison. I tell
you a tablespoonful will often upset me."

"If you know that, Larry, why do you take the table-
spoonful ?"

Larry could not rejDly to tliis question. He could only plead
that the drop got the better of him, and the temptation and
the overcomingness of the thing, and it was very hard to be at
him so about a trifle.

" I can never think a thing a trifle," she observed, " that makes
you so unlike yourself; I should wish to respect jom always,
Larry, and in my heart I believe no woman ever could respect a
drunkard. I don't want to make you angry ; God forbid you
should ever be one ; and I hioiv you are not one yet ; but sin
grows mighty strong" upon us without our knowledge. And no
matter what indulgence leads to bad; we've a right to think
anything that docs lead to it sinful in the prospect; if not at the


" You'd have made a fine priest, Ellen," said the young- man^
determined, if he could not reason, to laug'h her out of her

" I don't think,'" she replied archly, " if I were a priest, that
either of you would have liked to come to me to confession."

"But, Ellen, dear Ellen, sure it's not in positive downright
earnest you are ; you can't think of putting" me off on account of
that unlucky drop, the least taste in life I took at the fair. You
could not find it in your heart. Speak forme, Michael; speak for
me. But I see it's joking you are. ^Yhy, Lent 'ill be on us in
no time, and then we must wait till Easter — it's easy talking- — "

" Larry," interrupted Ellen, " do not you talk yourself into a
passion ; it will do no good ; none in the world. I am sure you
love me, and I confess before my brother it will be the delig'ht of
my heart to return that love, and make myself worthy of you, if
you will only break yourself of that one habit, which yoii qualify
to your own undoing, by fancying-, because it is the least taste in
life makes vou what you ou2:ht not to be, that you may still take

" I'll take an oath against the whisky, if that will plase ye, till

" And when Christmas comes, get twice as tipsy as ever, with
joy to think yer oath is out — ^no !"

" I'll swear anything you plase."

" I don't want you to swear at all ; there is no use in a man's
taking an oath he is anxious to have a chance of breaking. I
want your reason to be convinced."

"My darling Ellen, all the reason I ever had in my life is

" Prove it by abstaining from taking even a drop, even the least
drop in life, if that drop can make you ashamed to look your poor
Ellen in the face."

" I'll give it up altogether."

" I hope you will, from a conviction that it is really bad in
every way ; but not from cowardice, not because you darn't
trust yerself."

" Ellen, I'm sure ye've some English blood in yer veins, ye're
such a raisoner. Irish women don't often throw a boy off be-
"cause of a drop ; if they did, it's not many marriage-dues his
reverence would have, winter or summer."

" Listen to me, Larry, and beheve that, though I spake this
way, I regard you triily; and if I did not, I'd not take the
throuble to tell you my mind."

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 47 of 59)