Letters from a Cat/Introduction
DO not feel wholly sure that my Pussy wrote these letters herself. They always came inside the letters written to me by my mamma, or other friends, and I never caught Pussy writing at any time when I was at home; but the printing was pretty bad, and they were signed by Pussy's name; and my mamma always looked very mysterious when I asked about them, as if there were some very great secret about it all; so that until I grew to be a big girl, I never doubted but that Pussy printed them all alone by herself, after dark.
They were written when I was a very little girl, and was away from home with my father on a journey. We made this journey in our own carriage, and it was one of the pleasantest things that ever happened to me. My clothes and my father's were packed in a little leather valise which was hung by straps underneath underneath the carriage, and went swinging, swinging, back and forth, as the wheels went round. My father and I used to walk up all the steep hills, because old Charley, our horse, was not very strong; and I kept my eyes on that valise all the while I was walking behind the carriage; it seemed to me the most unsafe way to carry a valise, and I wished very much that my best dress had been put in a bundle that I could carry in my lap. This was the only drawback on the pleasure of my journey,—my fear that the valise would fall off when we did not know it, and be left in the road, and then I should not have anything nice to wear when I reached my aunt's house. But the valise went through all safe, and I had the satisfaction of wearing my best dress every afternoon while I stayed; and I was foolish enough to think a great deal of this.
On the fourth day after our arrival came a letter from my mamma, giving me a great many directions how to behave, and enclosing this first letter from Pussy. I carried both letters in my apron pocket all the time. They were the first letters I ever had received, and I was very proud of them. I showed them to everybody, and everybody laughed hard at Pussy's, and asked me if I believed that Pussy printed it herself. I thought perhaps my mamma held her paw, with the pen in it, as she had sometimes held my hand for me, and guided my pen to write a few words. I asked papa to please to ask mamma, in his letter, if that were the way Pussy did it; but when his next letter from mamma came, he read me this sentence out of it: "Tell Helen I did not hold Pussy's paw to write that letter." So then I felt sure Pussy did it herself; and as I told you, I had grown up to be quite a big girl before I began to doubt it. You see I thought my Pussy such a wonderful Pussy that nothing was too remarkable for her to do. I knew very well that cats generally did not know how to read or write; but I thought there had never been such a cat in the world as this Pussy of mine. It is a great many years since she died; but I can see her before me to-day as plainly as if it were only yesterday that I had really seen her alive.
She was a little kitten when I first had her; but she grew fast, and was very soon bigger than I wanted her to be. I wanted her to stay little. Her fur was a beautiful dark gray color, and there were black stripes on her sides, like the stripes on a tiger. Her eyes were very big, and her ears unusually long and pointed. This made her look like a fox; and she was so bright and mischievous that some people thought she must be part fox. She used to do one thing that I never heard of any other cat's doing: she used to play hide-and-seek. Did you ever hear of a cat's playing hide-and-seek? And the most wonderful part of it was, that she took it up of her own accord. As soon as she heard me shut the gate in the yard at noon, when school was done, she would run up the stairs as hard as she could go, and take her place at the top, where she could just peep through the banisters. When I opened the door, she would give a funny little mew, something like the mew cats make when they call their kittens. Then as soon as I stepped on the first stair to come up to her, she would race away at the top of her speed, and hide under a bed; and when I reached the room, there would be no Pussy to be seen. If I called her, she would come out from under the bed; but if I left the room, and went down stairs without speaking, in less than a minute she would fly back to her post at the head of the stairs, and call again with the peculiar mew. As soon as I appeared, off she would run, and hide under the bed as before. Sometimes she would do this three or four times; and it was a favorite amusement of my mother's to exhibit this trick of hers to strangers. It was odd, though; she never would do it twice, when she observed that other people were watching. When I called her, and she came out from under the bed, if there were strangers looking on, she would walk straight to me in the demurest manner, as if it were a pure accident that she happened to be under that bed; and no matter what I did or said, her frolic was over for that day.
She used to follow me, just like a little dog, wherever I went. She followed me to school every day, and we had great difficulty on Sundays to keep her from following us to church. Once she followed me, when it made a good many people laugh, in spite of themselves, on an occasion when it was very improper for them to laugh, and they were all feeling very sad. It was at the funeral of one of the professors in the college.
The professors' families all sat together; and when the time came for them to walk out of the house and get into the carriages to go to the graveyard, they were called, one after the other, by name. When it came to our turn, my father and mother went first, arm-in-arm; then my sister and I; and then, who should rise, very gravely, but my Pussy, who had slipped into the room after me, and had not been noticed in the crowd. With a slow and deliberate gait she walked along, directly behind my sister and me, as if she were the remaining member of the family, as indeed she was. People began to smile, and as we passed through the front door, and went down the steps, some of the men and boys standing there laughed out. I do not wonder; for it must have been a very comical sight. In a second more, somebody sprang forward and snatched Pussy up. Such a scream as she gave! and scratched his face with her claws, so that he was glad to put her down. As soon as I heard her voice, I turned round, and called her in a low tone. She ran quickly to me, and I picked her up and carried her in my arms the rest of the way. But I saw even my own papa and mamma laughing a little, for just a minute. That was the only funeral Pussy ever attended.
Pussy lived several years after the events which are related in these letters.
It was a long time before her fur grew out again after that terrible fall into the soft-soap barrel. However, it did grow out at last, and looked as well as ever. Nobody would have known that any thing had been the matter with her, except that her eyes were always weak. The edges of them never got quite well; and poor Pussy used to sit and wash them by the hour; sometimes mewing and looking up in my face, with each stroke of her paw on her eyes, as much as to say, "Don't you see how sore my eyes are? Why don't you do something for me?"
She was never good for any thing as a mouser after that accident, nor for very much to play with. I recollect hearing my mother say one day to somebody,—"Pussy was spoiled by her experience in the cradle. She would like to be rocked the rest of her days, I do believe; and it is too funny to see her turn up her nose at tough beef. It was a pity she ever got a taste of tenderloin!"
At last, what with good feeding and very little exercise, she grew so fat that she was clumsy, and so lazy that she did not want to do any thing but lie curled up on a soft cushion.
She had outgrown my little chair, which had a green moreen cushion in it, on which she had slept for many a year, and of which I myself had very little use,—she was in it so much of the time. But now that this was too tight for her, she took possession of the most comfortable places she could find, all over the house. Now it was a sofa, now it was an arm-chair, now it was the foot of somebody's bed. But wherever it happened to be, it was sure to be the precise place where she was in the way, and the poor thing was tipped headlong out of chairs, shoved hastily off sofas, and driven off beds so continually, that at last she came to understand that when she saw any person approaching the chair, sofa, or bed on which she happened to be lying, the part of wisdom for her was to move away. And it was very droll to see the injured and reproachful expression with which she would slowly get up, stretch all her legs, and walk away, looking for her next sleeping-place. Everybody in the house, except me, hated the sight of her; and I had many a pitched battle with the servants in her behalf. Even my mother, who was the kindest human being I ever knew, got out of patience at last, and said to me one day:—
"Helen, your Pussy has grown so old and so fat, she is no comfort to herself, and a great torment to everybody else. I think it would be a mercy to kill her."
"Kill my Pussy!" I exclaimed, and burst out crying, so loud and so hard that I think my mother was frightened; for she said quickly:—
"Never mind, dear; it shall not be done, unless it is necessary. You would not want Pussy to live, if she were very uncomfortable all the time."
"She isn't uncomfortable," I cried; "she is only sleepy. If people would let her alone, she would sleep all day. It would be awful to kill her. You might as well kill me!"
After that, I kept a very close eye on Pussy; and I carried her up to bed with me every night for a long time.
But Pussy's days were numbered. One morning, before I was up, my mamma came into my room, and sat down on the edge of my bed.
"Helen," she said, " I have something to tell you which will make you feel very badly; but I hope you will be a good little girl, and not make mamma unhappy about it. You know your papa and mamma always do what they think is the very best thing."
"What is it, mamma?" I asked, feeling very much frightened, but never thinking of Pussy.
"You will never see your Pussy any more," she replied. "She is dead."
"Oh, where is she?" I cried. "What killed her? Won't she come to life again?"
"No," said my mother; "she is drowned."
Then I knew what had happened.
"Who did it?" was all I said.
"Cousin Josiah," she replied; "and he took great care that Pussy did not suffer at all. She sank to the bottom instantly."
"Where did he drown her?" I asked.
"Down by the mill, in Mill Valley, where the water is very deep," answered my mother; "we told him to take her there."
At these words I cried bitterly.
"That's the very place I used to go with her to play," I exclaimed. "I'll never go near that bridge as long as I live, and I'll never speak a word to Cousin Josiah either—never!"
My mother tried to comfort me, but it was of no use; my heart was nearly broken.
When I went to breakfast, there sat my cousin Josiah, looking as unconcerned as possible, reading a newspaper. He was a student in the college, and boarded at our house. At the sight of him all my indignation and grief broke forth afresh. I began to cry again; and running up to him, I doubled up my fist and shook it in his face.
"I said I'd never speak to you as long as I lived," I cried; "but I will. You're just a murderer, a real murderer; that 's what you are! and when you go to be a missionary, I hope the cannibals 'll eat you ! I hope they 'll eat you alive raw, you mean old murderer!"
"Helen Maria!" said my father's voice behind me, sternly. "Helen Maria! leave the room this moment!"
I went away sullenly, muttering, "I don't care, he is a murderer; and I hope he 'll be drowned, if he isn't eaten! The Bible says the same measure ye mete shall be meted to you again. He ought to be drowned."
For this sullen muttering I had to go without my breakfast; and after breakfast was over, I was made to beg Cousin Josiah's pardon; but I did not beg it in my heart—not a bit— only with my lips, just repeating the words I was told to say; and from that time I never spoke one word to him, nor looked at him, if I could help it.
My kind mother offered to get another kitten for me, but I did not want one. After a while, my sister Ann had a present of a pretty little gray kitten; but I never played with it, nor took any notice of it at all. I was as true to my Pussy as she was to me; and from that day to this, I have never had another Pussy!