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 DO not love a Cat," says a popular author, often quoted; "his disposition is mean and suspicious. A friendship of years is cancelled in a moment by an accidental tread on the tail. He spits, twirls his tail of malignity, and shuns you, turning back as he goes off a staring vindictive face full of horrid oaths and unforgive-ness, seeming to say, 'Perdition catch you! I hate you for ever.' But the Dog is my delight. Tread on his tail, he expresses for a moment the uneasiness of his feelings, but in a moment the complaint is ended: he runs round you, jumps up against you, seems to declare his sorrow for complaining, as it was not intentionally done, - nay, to make himself the aggressor, and begs, by whinings and lickings, that the master will think of it no more." No sentiments could be more popular with some gentlemen. In the same way there are those who would like to beat their wives, and for them to come and kiss the hand that struck them in all humility. It is not only when hurt by accident that the dog comes whining round its master. The lashed hound crawls back and licks the boot that kicked him, and so makes friends again. Pussy will not do that though. If you want to be friendly with a cat on Tuesday, you must not kick him on Monday. You must not fondle him one moment and illtreat him the next, or he will be shy of your advances. This really human way of behaving makes Pussy unpopular.
I am afraid that if it were to occur to one of our legislators to tax the Cats, the feline slaughter would be fearful. Every one is fond of dogs, and yet Mr. Edmund Yates, travelling by water to Greenwich last June, said that the journey was pleasingly diversified by practical and nasal demonstrations of the efficient working of the Dog-tax. "No fewer than 292 bodies of departed canines, in various stages of decomposition, were floating off Greenwich during the space of seven days in the previous month, seventy-eight of which were found jammed in the chains and landing-stages of the "Dreadnought" hospital ship, thereby enhancing the salubrity of that celebrated hothouse for sick seamen." And I cannot venture to repeat the incredible stories of the numbers said to have been taken from the Regent's Canal.
There are some persons who profess to have a great repugnance to Cats. King Henry III. of France, a poor, weak, dissipated creature, was one of these. According to Conrad Gesner, men have been known to lose their strength, perspire violently, and even faint at the sight of a cat. Others are said to have gone even further than this, for some have fainted at a cat's picture, or when they have been in a room where such a picture was concealed, or when the picture was as far off as the next room. It was supposed that this sensitiveness might be cured by medicine. Let us hope that these gentlemen were all properly physicked. I myself have often heard men express similar sentiments of aversion to the feline race; and sometimes young ladies have done so in my hearing. In both cases I have little doubt but that the weakness is easily overcome. As for a hidden and unheard Cat's presence affecting a person's nerves, I beg to state my conviction that such a story is utterly ridiculous; and I was vastly entertained by the following narrative, written by a lady for a Magazine for Boys, and given as a truth. Such a valuable fact in natural history should not be allowed to perish; she calls it, A TALE OF MY GRANDMOTHER.
My maternal grandmother had so strong an aversion to Cats that it seemed to endow her with an additional sense. You may, perhaps, have heard people use the phrase, that they were "frightened out of their seven senses," without troubling yourselves to wonder how they came to have more than five. But the Druids of old used to include sympathy and antipathy in the number, a belief which has, no doubt, left its trace in the above popular and otherwise unmeaning expression; and this extra sense of antipathy my grandmother certainly exhibited as regarding Cats.
When she was a young and pretty little bride, dinner parties and routs, as is usual on such occasions, were given in her honour. In those days, now about eighty years ago, people usually dined early in the afternoon, and you may imagine somewhere in Yorkshire, a large company assembled for a grand dinner by daylight. With all due decorum and old-fashioned stately politeness, the ladies in rustling silks, stately hoops, and nodding plumes, are led to their seats by their respective cavaliers, in bright coloured coats with large gilt buttons.
With dignified bows and profound curtsies, they take their places, the bride, of course, at her host's right hand. The bustle subsides, the servants remove the covers, the carving-knives are brandished by experienced hands, and the host having made the first incision in a goodly sirloin or haunch, turns to enquire how his fair guest wishes to be helped.
To his surprise, he beholds her pretty face flushed and uneasy, while she lifts the snowy damask and looks beneath the table.
"What is the matter, my dear madam? Have you lost something?"
"No, sir, nothing, thank you; - it is the Cat," replied the timid bride, with a slight shudder, as she pronounced the word.
"The Cat?" echoed the gentleman, with a puzzled smile; "but, my dear Mrs. H- , we have no Cat!"
"Indeed!that is very odd, for there is certainly a Cat in the room."
"Did you see it then?"
"No, sir, no: I did not see it, but I know it is in the room."
"Do you fancy you heard one then?"
"What is the matter, my dear?" now enquires the lady of the house, from the end of the long table; "the dinner will be quite cold while you are talking to your fair neighbour so busily."
"Mrs. H- says there is a Cat in the room, my love; but we have no Cat, have we? "