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.
Mr. Buckland relates the case of a gamekeeper who bought up all the Cats in the neighbouring town, cut off their heads, and nailed them up as trophies of veritable captures in the woods. In a gamekeeper's museum, visited by the same writer, were no less than fifty-three Cats' heads staring hideously down from the shelves. There was a story attached to each head. One Cat was killed in such a wood; another in such a hedge-row; some in traps, some shot, some knocked on the head with a stick; but what was most remarkable was the different expression of countenance observable in each individual head. One had died fighting desperately to the last, and giving up its nine lives inch by inch. Caught in a trap, it had lingered the night through in dreadful agony, the pain of its entrapped limb causing it to make furious efforts to free itself, each effort but lending another torment to the wound.
In the morning the gamekeeper had released the poor exhausted creature for the dogs to worry out what little life was left in its body. The head dried by the heat of two summers, the wrinkled forehead, the expanded eyelids, the glary eyeballs, the whiskers stretched to their full extent, the spiteful lips, exposing the double row of tiger-like teeth, envenomed by agony, told all this. The hand of death had not been powerful enough to relax the muscles racked for so many hours of pain and terror.
Another Cat's head wore a very different expression; she had neither been worried nor tortured. Creeping, stealthily, on the tips of her beautifully padded feet, behind some overhanging hedge, the hidden gamekeeper had suddenly shot her dead. In death her face was calm; no expression of fear ruffled her features; she had been shot down and died instantly at the moment of anticipated triumph. A third head belonged to a poor little Puss that had died before it had attained the age of cathood; her young life had been knocked out of her with a stick: her head still retained the kitten's playful look, and there was an appealing expression about it as though it had died quickly, wondering in what it had done wrong.
I find a writer upon Cats who speaks thus in their praise:"It has been said that the Cat is one of those animals which has made the least return to man for his trouble by its services; but it is certain that it renders very essential service to man."
And another says:"Authors seem to delight in exaggerating the good qualities of the Dog, while they depreciate those of the Cat; the latter, however, is not less useful, and certainly less mischievous, than the former."
Indeed, it would be unfair not to state that Pussy has had many able defenders, who have argued her case in verse as well as prose; for example, in Edmond Moore's fable of "The Farmer, the Spaniel and the Cat" the Spaniel, when Puss drew near to eat some of the fragments of a feast, repelled her, saying she does nothing to merit being fed, etc.:"'I own' (with meekness Puss replied) 'Superior merit on your side; Nor does my breast with envy swell To find it recompens'd so well. Yet I, in what my nature can, Contribute to the good of man. "Whose claws destroy the pilf'ring mouse? Who drives the vermin from the house?
Or, watchful for the lab'ring swain, From lurking rats secures the grain? For this, if he rewards bestow, Why should your heart with gall o'erflow? "Why pine my happiness to see, Since there's enough for you and me?' 'Thy words are just,' the Farmer cried, And spurned the Spaniel from his side."
And, again, the same idea occurs in Gay's fable of the "Man, the Cat, the Dog, and the Fly." The Cat solicits aid from the Man in the social state.
"'Well, Puss,' says Man, 'and what can you To benefit the public do?' The Cat replies, 'These teeth, these claws, With vigilance shall serve the cause. The Mouse, destroy'd by my pursuit, No longer shall your feasts pollute; Nor Rats, from nightly ambuscade, With wasteful teeth your stores invade. 'I grant,' says Man,'to general use Your parts and talents may conduce; For rats and mice purloin our grain, And threshers whirl the flail in vain; Thus shall the Cat, a foe to spoil, Protect the farmers' honest toil.'"
Mr. Ruskin says, "There is in every animal's eye a dim image and gleam of humanity, a flash of strange life through which their life looks at and up to our great mystery of command over them, and claims the fellowship of the creature, if not of the soul!"
Poor Pussy! on the whole she has had but few champions in comparison to the number of her foes. Let us see what anecdotes we can find which will show her in a favourable light; but my chapter is long enough, and I will conclude it with the epitaph placed over a favourite French Puss:"Ci repose pauvre Mouton, Qui jamais ne fut glouton; J'espere bien que le roi Pluton, Lui donnera bon gite et crouton."