This section is from the book "The Book Of Cats", by Charles Henry Ross. Also available from Amazon: The Book Of Cats: A Chit-Chat Chronicle Of Feline Facts And Fancies, Legendary, Lyrical, Medical, Mirthful And Miscellaneous.
I need not tell a kind master or mistress to use every precaution when drowning a Cat's kittens, to keep their mother in ignorance of the fact. It can easily be imagined that the poor creature will be in great distress if the slaughter be committed before her eyes; and I know of a case where the Cat having found her young ones which had been drowned and thrown carelessly in the corner of a yard, brought the bodies back to her nest, and mewing and licking them, seemed to use every endeavour to restore them to life. A friend of mine, too, once passing along the bank of a river one moonlight night found a Cat mewing piteously among the long grass at the water's edge. He came to a stand-still a dozen yards from the spot, and looked on curiously. At sight of him, the Cat turned round, and came running to his feet, looking-up appealingly into his face, and running back to the water side and then back again to him, seemingly to be entreating his assistance. Presently the moonlight showed him three or four kittens being borne away by the stream, and crying in small weak voices for their mother's help. He did everything in his power to reach them, but they were too far away from the bank, and very soon they came to a place where the current was stronger, and swept them out of sight. The mother's cries were then most heart-rending, and he was unable to induce her to come away. Indeed, having taken her in his arms, and carried her some distance, she struggled and fought violently to regain her liberty, and ran back again to the water's edge. This took place at some distance from any habitation, but he concluded that somebody must have thrown the kittens into the water, and that the Cat had followed them, and seen the deed done.
To The Rescue.
There are some children who will not cry, however much they are beaten; it is as difficult to make a Cat cry out when you chastise it. It will shrink; sometimes growl; but rarely cry: yet when beaten by another Cat, it will howl loudly. A dog on the contrary, very often cries at the bare sight of the whip, and screams at the lightest blow.
Some people say all Cats are thieves. I will not deny that a good many are: indeed, so are dogs. Neither will steal much if they are well fed, as they only take food when they are hungry. Here, however, is a plan by which, I think, you can generally ascertain whether or not a Cat is of a thievish disposition. Give the Cat a piece of meat an inch square, and if he is a dishonest rascal, he will not lay it down on the floor to pick it up again as is the usual way with his species, but keep tight hold of it with his teeth, and jerk it down his throat, sometimes using his paws to prevent its falling.
There is one ridiculous accusation brought against poor Pussy, which I have not yet referred to, namely, that she is in the habit, when the opportunity offers, of suffocating young babies by sucking their breath. Now, since the world began, I beg emphatically to state, no baby was ever so suffocated, and I say this in the face of numerous newspaper paragraphs, and a thousand old women's stories: For instance, the "Annual Register" January 25, 1791, says: A child of eighteen months old, was found dead near Plymouth; and it appeared, on the coroner's inquest, "that the child died in consequence of . a Cat sucking its breath, thereby occasioning a strangulation."
My friend Mr. Burrows, surgeon, of Westbourne
Park Place, who is a great lover of animals, gives me this note: "It is quite impossible for a Cat to suck a child's breath, as the anatomical formation of the Cat's mouth would prevent it. No doubt in some remote country places, among the ignorant, a popular superstition to that effect may exist, but when a child has been found dead from suffocation, in many cases the Cat may have lain on the infant's mouth, in the cot or cradle near the fire, for the sake of warmth - not with the slightest criminal intent of course, but purely for the sake of obtaining the latent caloric from the warm body and clothing of the infant, who would probably not possess sufficient muscular power to disencumber itself, or even to make any resistance."
But it is not only in remote country places that the superstition prevails, but here in London, among most of the upper middle classes. And after all, are not more ridiculous notions to be met with every day? Only a few months ago, a lady was seriously informed by a poor woman in a village near Bath, that a mother should never cut her child's nails before it is a year old. She should always bite them, otherwise the children would grow up thieves.
In Ireland, the following cure for warts is practised by even the most intelligent classes:-"Take a small stone, less than a boy's marble for each wart, and tie them in a clean linen bag, and throw it out on the highway. Then find out a stone in some field or ditch with a hollow in which rain or dew may have lodged (such stones are easily found in rural districts), and wash the warts seven times therein, and after this operation, whoever picks up the bag of stones will have a transfer of the warts."
Here again is a little bit of Devonshire Folk-lore which has its believers: - "When you see the new moon in the new year, take your stocking off from one foot, and run to the next stile; when you get there, between the great toe and the next, you will find a hair which will be the colour of your lover's." This must be rare sport while there is snow on the ground.
There is also a vulgar superstition to the effect that a Cat left in the room with a dead body will fly at and disfigure the face of the corpse. Some of my readers may remember the old man's death in "Bleak House," and how the Cat was carefully shut out of the room where the body lay. From what I recollect, Cats are not great favourites of
Mr. Dickens', though "Dickens' Dogs," a small collection from his canine heroes, published some years ago, showed him to be a great lover and close observer of that animal. Pope says: "But thousands die without or this or that - Die and endow a college or a Cat."