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.
OF all the great big stories that have been told of Cats, that which describes the origin of Cat's-head apples is surely the greatest biggest one. The legend runs thus: "The Widow Tomkins had a back room, on the second floor; Her name was on a neat brass plate on one side of the door: Companion she had only one - a beautiful Tom Cat, Who was a famous mouser, the dickens for a rat:
His colour was a tabby, and his skin as soft as silk, And she would lap him every day while he lapped the milk. One day she was disturbed from sleep with double rat-tat-tat, And she went in such a hurry that she quite forgot her Cat.
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Poor Thomas, soon as day-light came, walked up and down the floor, And heard the dogs'-meat woman cry "Cats'-meat" at the door; With hunger he got fairly wild, though formerly so tame - Another day passed slowly, another just the same. With hunger he so hungry was - it did so strong assail, That, although very loath, he was obliged to eat his tail. This whetted quite his appetite, and though his stump was sore, The next day he was tempted (sad) to eat a little more. To make his life the longer then, he made his body shorter, And one after the other attacked each hinder quarter. He walked about on two fore legs, alas! without beholders, 'Till more and more by hunger pressed, he dined on both his shoulders. Next day he found (the cannibal!) to eating more a check, Although he tried, and did reach all he could reach of his neck. But as he could not bite his ear, all mournfully he cried, - Towards the door he turned his eyes, cocked up his nose, and died. The widow did at last return, and oh! how she did stare, She guessed the tale as soon as she saw Tom's head lying there. Quite grief sincerely heart-felt as she owned his fate a hard'un, She buried it beneath an apple-tree just down her garden. So mark what strange effects from little causes will appear, The fruit of this said tree was changed, and strangely, too, next year. The neighbours say ('tis truth, for they're folks who go to chapels), This Cat's head was the sole first cause of all the Cat's-head apples!"
The Cat And The Conjuror.
Gottfried Heller, in Die Leute von Seldwyla, tells a droll story. This is an abridgement of a popular author's version of it, published some years ago: "One day, once upon a time, or thereabouts, the witch-finder of a certain Swiss town - himself secretly a wizard - was taking his afternoon's walk, when he came across a Tom Cat, looking very thin and miserable. This Cat had once been the chief favourite of a rich old lady, who had trained him up in luxurious living. Now she was dead, and Tom's happy days were over: he was as shaggy and meagre, as he had formerly been sleek and plump. Now, you must know that Cats' grease was, in those days, an invaluable ingredient for certain magical preparations, provided the Cat to whom it belonged willingly made a donation of it. This proviso rendered good efficient Cats' grease an exceedingly rare commodity; for though there might be no great difficulty in finding a fat Cat, to find one willing to part with its fat was, of course, difficult enough.
"Here, however, was an animal in desperate circumstances, who might be accessible to reason; therefore, says the magician "'How much will you take for your fat?'
"'Why, I haven't got any,' replied Tom, who, to tell the truth, was as thin as a hurdle.
"'You may have, though, if you say the word,' said the magician; 'and I'll tell you how.'
"You see, he knew from experience that Tom was a Cat who was capable of making flesh, for he had known him as round as a dumpling; so he made this bargain:- 'He offered Tom a whole month's luxurious living on condition that at the expiration of that time he should voluntarily lay down his life and yield up all the fat he had acquired during the four weeks. Of course Tom agreed, and the contract was signed on the spot. The apartment provided for Tom's lodging was 'fitted up as an artificial landscape. A little wood was perched on the top of a little mountain, which rose from the banks of a little lake. On the branches of the trees were perched dainty birds, all roasted, and emitting a most savoury odour. From the cavities of the mountain peered forth sundry baked mice, all seasoned with delicious stuffing and exquisitely larded with bacon. The lake consisted of the newest milk, with a small fish or two at the bottom. Thus, to the enjoyment of the epicure, was added the excitement of imaginary sportsmanship. Tom ate his fill, and more, and soon became as fat as the magician could wish, but before long he became thoughtful. The month had nearly expired; at the end he was to die if fat enough. Ah! a bright thought, he would get thin again. With a wondrous strength of mind he refrained from eating the luxuries provided, took plenty of exercise on the house-tops, and kept himself in excellent health, but much thinner than suited the wizard's fancy.
"Before long, this gentleman remonstrated with Tom, pointing out to him very plainly, that he was bound by all the laws of honour to get fat by the month's end. To this, Tom had little to urge of any moment, and the magician informed him that he would kill him at the appointed period, let him be in what condition he might. Tom, therefore, would gain nothing by being thin, and it was hoped that his good taste, unchecked by other considerations, would induce him to make up for lost time. Time rolled on, Tom behaved worse than ever, and when the fatal day arrived 'he looked in worse condition than ever - a dissipated, abandoned, shaggy scamp, without an ounce on his bones.' The wizard could not stand this, so he thrust Tom into an empty coop and fed him by violence. In course of time, the wizard was satisfied, and began to sharpen his knife; but no sooner did Tom perceive this act, than he began to utter such singular expressions of contrition, that his proprietor paused to ask him to explain them. The Cat in wild terms alluded to a certain sum of ten thousand florins lying at the bottom of a well, and the wizard wanted to know more about them. It appeared then, that Tom's late mistress had thrown the sum he named to the bottom of a well, and informed her Cat that 'should he find a perfectly beautiful and a penniless maiden, whom a perfectly honest man was inclined to wed in spite of her poverty, then he should empty the contents of the well as a marriage portion.'