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.
MENTION has already been made of a Cat concert in Paris, but we should not forget that we once had an English actor of the name of Harris, who took part in the entertainments given by Foote at "the little Theatre," who was called Cat Harris, in consequence of the talent he displayed in imitating the mewing of the feline race. He burlesqued scenes from Italian operas, and probably at that time the squalling of a Cat was thought to be a very severe satire on the foreign singers. Only a year or two ago, however, I remember a music hall singer, since dead, who sang a song called the Monkey and the Nuts, - he being dressed something like a monkey; - with a peculiarly comic mewing and jabbering chorus. The since popular Perfect Cure is the air of this song, slightly altered, in the same way that the Whole Hog or none is altered from Love's young Dream.
The imitations of the singer I allude to (I think his name was McGown) were very good, and there was no occasion for him to tell you which was meant for the monkey and which the Cat, by no means superfluous information sometimes, when a young gentleman gives his notion of the voices of popular actors. By the way, do any of my readers remember the great Von Joel's celebrated "plack purd" and "trush," and how hard it was, occasionally, to tell which was "te trush" or which was "te plack purd"?
In talking of a Cat's fondness for fish (see page 73), I might also have mentioned the great liking these animals seem to have for the ends of asparagus, which I have often observed them devour with great eagerness.
Talking of fish-catching, an officer on board an Australian packet tells me that he has seen a Cat watch for hours on a windy night for flying fish, which jump on board if they see a light. From the same source I have learnt some curious facts relating to Puss at sea. "There are," he says, "generally two kinds of rats on board a ship, one kind going out, another coming home. While we were in the East India Docks, the rat-catcher caught twenty-five rats in his traps on board our ship, which we purchased and let loose in a malt bin extending the width of the ship. A Cat which we put among them killed all the brown rats, but did not touch the black ones, of which there were three. When she came in contact with a. black rat she drew back, and made no attempt to harm it, although the black rats were much the smallest. Our ship, coming home from Sydney, was swarming with black rats, but I never knew a Cat to kill one, or even go near it. The reason of this I cannot explain.
"I have seen a Cat imitate a monkey in climbing up a loose-hanging rope. Of course it took a longer time to do it, but it did do it in the end."
Aboard ship it would seem sometimes as though Pussy required to have all her nine lives at her disposal, and yet runs some risk of being killed even then. Upon the vessel in which this gentleman served there was a black Cat that had lost its tail in rather a singular manner.
"A squall came on one night, and I gave the order to let go the main-top-gallant halyard. The Cat was in the coil of rope, and in whizzing through the leading block the rope cut off its tail. She remembered the place which she had found so dangerous, and could never afterwards be induced to venture abaft the foremast.
"In Sydney we had hauled out from Campbell's Wharf to the stream, previous to sailing next day for England, and found, when the men had gone to bed, that the tailless black Cat was missing. It could not be below, as the hatches were battened down. About 3 A.M. next morning, the two men who kept anchor watch heard a piteous cry at the bows, and looking over saw a black object clinging to the chain cable, trying to get in at the hawse-pipe. One of them lowered himself down by a bowline, and handed up poor Pussy in an awful plight. She had swum off to the ship, - about three hundred yards. It took three or four days of nursing before she recovered, but she got round at last, and remained in the ship for more than five years afterwards.
"Sailors have the greatest objection to a Cat being thrown overboard. The captain one day found a Cat sitting on his chronometer in his cabin, and in a passion flung the Cat into the sea, although this cruel act was protested against by the man at the wheel and other men at work on the poop, who said that we should have an unlucky-passage of it. This proved to be the case. We lost three men and a boy, besides our jibboom and fore-top-gallant mast, and we also ran short of water. All this the sailors - (they were North country men) - ascribed to the Cat's murder.
"As a rule, sailors treat Cats well, as they are sources of great amusement on board. One of the boys once took a Cat to the fore royal mast-head, and left it there. In about half-an-hour it was on deck again. It came down backwards, crying pitifully all the time. It never allowed the boy to touch it afterwards."
The same gentleman tells me that in Coburg, Canada West, he knew a widow lady who had a Cat two feet in height, and beautifully marked. It was supposed to be a cross-breed between a wild and a domestic Cat, His youngest brother has often ridden on it when eight years old. It was very docile. It had been fed highly when young, and never showed the least desire to hunt mice or birds, or to leave the house.
With regard to the origin of the name "Cat-o'nine tails," referred to in a former chapter, a writer in Notes and Queries says:"As there appears to be some uncertainty about the number of cords or tails attached to this whip, it may be a question whether, like its namesake, the animal, it did not originally commence by having only one tail, and in course of time or fashion increase to nine, the number of lives proverbially allotted to our domestic friend Pussy.
"According to the Talmudists (Maccoth iii. 10), the Jews, in carrying out their sentences of scourges, employed for that purpose a whip which had three lashes (Jahn's Arch. Biblica, page 247), and it is stated in the Merlinus Liberatus, or John Partridge's Almanack for 1692, that in "May, 1685, Dr. Oates was whipt," and "had 2,256 lashes with a whip of six thongs knotted, which amounts to 13,536 stripes. "Sir John Vanbrugh, moreover, in the prologue to his play of the False Friend (written A.D. 1702), alludes to this scourge in these words: "You dread reformers of an injurious age, You awful cat-o'-nine tails of the stage."