The fireside sphinx/Some Cats of France

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2056569The fireside sphinx — Some Cats of FranceAgnes Repplier



"Ella jouait avec sa chatte;
Et c'était merveille de voir
La main blanche et la blanche patte
S'ébattre dans l'ombre du soir."

IN the year 1865 juge de paix of Fontainebleau, from whom several householders had demanded legal protection for their cats, pronounced this admirable judgment.

"That the domestic cat is not a thing of naught, but the property of its master, and, as such, entitled to the shelter of the law;

"That the utility of the cat as a destroyer of mischievous rodents being indisputable, equity demands the extension of indulgence to an animal which the law tolerates and protects;

"That even the domestic cat is of a mixed nature; that is to say, a creature which is partly wild, and which must ever remain so, by reason of its destiny and purpose."

The decision further asserts that no citizen is justified in taking the life of a neighbour's cat, because of any depredations it may have committed; but the interesting clause is that which frankly acknowledges Pussy's independence of restraint. It is precisely because the French have always admitted this independence, and ungrudgingly granted to the cat her freedom, that they have learned to know her so well, and to cherish her so fondly. Buffon says she is the only brute which accepts the comforts, but rejects the bondage of domesticity; the only one which is tamed without servitude. M. Flourens maintains that she is not really domesticated at all, because she neither serves us nor associates with us, save capriciously, and as her own whims dictate. M. Fée, in his delightful book, "Etudes philosophiques sur l'Instinct et l'Intelligence des Animaux," defines domesticity as that change in the habits of a bird or beast which brings it within the scope of our influence, so that it lives contentedly, and without severe restraint, amid whatever surroundings we provide. According to this definition, the cat is truly domestic. No animal enjoys more keenly the luxury it is in our power to give, and no animal expresses its enjoyment with so much grace and courtesy. "The most untamable of the carnivora," says M. Fée, "is the panther; the most destructive is the cougar; the gentlest is the leopard; the most intelligent is the cat. This last consents to be our guest. She accepts the shelter we offer, and the food we provide. She even permits us to play with her, and fondle her, when she is in a responsive humour. But she never parts with her liberty. She will be neither our servant nor our friend."

True lovers of the race have been attracted rather than repelled by this spirit of equality, this attitude of reserve. "I value in the cat," says Chateaubriand, "the independent and almost ungrateful spirit which prevents her from attaching herself to any one, the indifference with which she passes from the salon to the housetop. When we caress her, she stretches herself, and arches her back responsively; but that is because she feels an agreeable sensation, not because she takes a silly satisfaction, like the dog, in faithfully loving a thankless master. The cat lives alone, has no need of society, obeys only when she pleases, pretends to sleep that she may see the more clearly, and scratches everything on which she can lay her paw."

This is what Chateaubriand called "labouring at the rehabilitation" of his favourite animal; but there have been those who felt he did her scant justice. According to M. Fée, the cat is capable of profound affection, though it is an affection difficult to win, and easy to forfeit. Moreover, the manifestations of her regard can never be forced. We must wait for her caresses until she is pleased to bestow them; she will accept ours, only when she is in the mood for endearments. In all this she offers a striking contrast to the dog, who, as Mme. de Custine wittily said, "seems condemned to love us,"—to love us, however contemptible or unworthy we may be. His steadfast, unreasoning loyalty is beautiful beyond measure; but we can hardly deny that it feeds our vanity. Here is a brave and intelligent animal with whom we can be always as lordly as we please; who never questions our godlike attributes; who accepts punishment meekly, and is exuberantly grateful for the smallest attention, the most trifling token of esteem. What wonder that we sound his praises, seeing that, in praising him, we reflect such credit on ourselves? What wonder that we are disposed to resent the self-sufficing nature of the cat, who will approach us only on equal terms, who cherishes no illusions concerning our goodness and greatness, and whose somewhat contemptuous indifference wounds our self-esteem? Why, it is asked, should we humble ourselves to win the fluctuating affections of a cat, when a dog stands ever ready to give us his faithful heart, without condition or reserve?

Why, indeed, save that some of us most desire that which is difficult to obtain; that some of us value most that which we fear to lose. When with delicate blandishments we have beguiled a cat from her reserve, when she responds, coyly at first, and then with graceful abandon to our advances, when the soft fur brushes our cheek, when the gleaming eyes narrow sleepily, and the murmurous purr betrays the sweetness of her content, we feel like a lover who has warily and with infinite precaution stolen from his capricious mistress the first tender token of possible surrender. One cannot woo a cat after the fashion of the Conqueror. Courtesy, tact, patience are needed at every step; and it may happen that when the victory seems fairly won, and we think the wayward little animal is about to spring upon our knee, she turns aside instead with pointed coldness, retreats to the other end of the room, and either demands to have the door opened that she may escape from our presence, or coils herself with humped and displeased back in some shadowy corner where she may forget that we exist. This is perhaps what Sir Thomas Browne called "four-footed manners," but Pussy is never rude. She contrives, on the contrary, to convey the impression that it is the offensive nature of our devotion which compels her to quietly and modestly withdraw.

All this, Chateaubriand understood, and accepted without protest, when he granted to the cat her freedom, and proclaimed himself the least exacting of her lovers. Even the mysterious nature of her past history allured rather than repelled him. He it is who tells us the fantastic story of Count Combourg's wooden leg, which, three hundred years after its owner's death, was wont to walk abroad on its own account, accompanied by a great black cat. When the moon waned, and sleepers woke trembling with the terrors of the night, they heard this leg hop slowly down the winding turret stairs, and they knew that, stealing before it in the darkness, crept the cat, with tail erect, and eyes of lambent flame. It would not have been a pleasant thing to meet that little phantom, guarding its impish prize.

The "Mémoires d'outre Tombe " contain some charming allusions to the many cats whom Chateaubriand loved and lost. Through all the vicissitudes of his changeful life, they were his solace, his diversion, his delight. The dreary days of his English exile were brightened and softened by the companionship of two beautiful pussies, "white as ermines, with black tips to their tails;"—pussies who possessed—or so at least the desolate Frenchman fancied—more Gallic vivacity than falls to the lot of most Saxon cats. For it was one of Chateaubriand's favourite theories that domestic animals share in an extraordinary degree the national traits of the people among whom their lives are spent. He delighted, when travelling, to observe their expressions and demeanour, declaring that he saw reflected in them the expressions and demeanour of their masters;—the gayety, the sadness, the intelligence, the stupidity which they daily encountered in man. Thus the German beasts had, he felt, "the temperate character of their reasonable owners;" while the serious silence, the subdued reserve of English animals oppressed his cheerful soul. "The London sparrow," he wrote in 1798, "all blackened with smoke, hops drearily about the streets. One seldom hears a dog bark, or a horse neigh, and even the free and independent cat ceases to mew upon the housetop."

The supreme egotism of Chateaubriand could hardly fail to find expression in his most generous utterances, and it is amusing to hear him proclaim himself to M. de Marcellus the champion and advocate of the cat, because she was "one of the works of God which is most despised by man."—"Buffon," he added, "has belied this animal. I am labouring at her rehabilitation, and hope to make her appear a tolerably good sort of beast."

In reality, men were far more occupied with cats about this time than they were with Chateaubriand, though he managed to play throughout life so prominent a part in the public eye. He followed the trend of popular enthusiasm, and thought he led it; but it cannot be denied that his devotion to his pets was sincere, intelligent, and interpretative. He stood midway between the harsh depreciation of Buff on and the ardent favouritism of M. Fée. Buffon declared the cat to be selfish, treacherous, and perverse; thievish by instinct; incapable of either domesticity or affection; and tolerated under men's roofs only because she destroyed an animal more disagreeable and more mischievous than herself. M. Fee, on the other hand, considered that whatever seemed lacking in Pussy was due to the stupidity or cruelty of her masters. She was, from his point of view, not only the most beautiful of beasts, but one of the most affectionate, if she could but find an object worthy of her regard. "The cat," he says proudly, "is not a commonplace creature when she loves."

Chateaubriand, free alike from antagonism or delusion, was the most clear-sighted of the three. He, at least, valued at her true worth the little Sphinx whose ways are gentle, whose heart is cold, whose character is inscrutable. Vain though he was, his vanity stopped short of any claim upon her confidence or devotion. He neither demanded the loyalty he knew she would not give, nor ignored the friendship she was sometimes ready to bestow. Therefore there was a peculiar fitness in his inheriting from Leo the Twelfth the superb cat who had been for several years the Pontiff's most intimate companion, and who had aroused the ambassador's admiration by his beauty, his dignified demeanour, and a certain ascetic charm, derived from contact with the papacy. The Pope was abstemious, after the admirable fashion of Italians; the cat, Micetto, was abstemious too, living on a little polenta, and wholly weaned from the carnivorous habits of his race. Chateaubriand, in a well-known passage of his "Memoires," has left us a pretty description of the pontifical pet, who lived in France to a serene old age, bearing his weight of honours with graceful propriety, and hardening into arrogance only when forced to repel the undue familiarity of visitors.

"My companion," he writes, "is a large grey and red cat, banded with black. He was born in the Vatican, in the loggia of Raphael. Leo the Twelfth reared him on a fold of his white robe, where I used to look at him with envy when, as ambassador, I received my audiences. The successor of Saint Peter being dead, I inherited the bereaved animal. He is called Micetto, and surnamed 'the Pope's cat,' enjoying, in that regard, much consideration from pious souls. I endeavour to soften his exile, and help him to forget the Sistine Chapel, and the vast dome of Michael Angelo, where, far from earth, he was wont to take his daily promenade."

Many Popes besides Leo have been ardently attached to their cats, since the far-off days when the great Gregory set them so honourable an example. One of those who bore his name most worthily, the gentle and learned Gregory the Fifteenth,—he who founded the Propaganda, yet forbade harsh treatment of the heretic,—was, as might be surmised, the friend and patron of the race, cherishing his own pets with exceeding fondness. Pius the Ninth so delighted in his cat that he shared his meals—simple as Leo's—with this little companion, whose dish was placed at his feet, and filled by his kind old hands.

Victor Hugo, as supreme an egotist as Chateaubriand, but one whose egotism was more strongly fortified by genius, found his path to humility lay in the comradeship of his cats. The world shouted itself hoarse over his greatness. France flung her homage at his feet, and dashed her applause into his face, until adamant would have softened into vanity. "The nineteenth century," cried M. Barbou in a wild access of hysteria, "will have but one title for posterity. It will be called the century of Victor Hugo."—"The twin towers of Notre Dame are the H of Hugo," said M. Vacquerie; and the remark seems to have been considered impressive, rather than exceptionally foolish. Even in childhood, this favourite of fortune was fed with sugared praise. His schoolboy verses on "The Happiness which Study Affords in all Situations of Life," were received with serious transport, as though so admirable a sentiment were newly born; and Chateaubriand, reading them, exclaimed fervently, "Cet enfant est un enfant sublime."

A man who is talked to and written about in this fashion all his life needs the corrective influence of cats, and happily Victor Hugo was blessed in his feline society. His pussies were one and all serene, supercilious, and inclined to ostentation, deeming themselves of more importance than the whole race of human scribblers. There was Mouche, a magisterial cat, defiant and reserved; and the beautiful Chanoine, too indolent for self-assertion, who spent most of her life sleeping gracefully and undisturbed, like the enchanted Princess in the fairy tale; and there was that superb beast, deep-eyed and silken furred, whom M. Méry stroked one day with cautious joy, observing: "God made the cat that man might have the pleasure of caressing the tiger." The curtained and cushioned dais in the salon of the Place Royale mansion, about which ill-natured critics laughed maliciously, was more frequently occupied by cats than by the august author of "Les Misérables." If he were well inclined to throne himself, so indeed were they; and the superior nature of their claims was readily granted by the man in whom their empire kept alive the saving grace of modesty. "When I was young," says M. Champfleury, "I had the honour of being received by Victor Hugo in a room with a big red dais, on which reposed a cat who seemed to await the homage of visitors. He had a huge ruff of white fur like a Chancellor's tippet, his whiskers resembled those of a Hungarian Magyar, and when he advanced in a stately manner, his brilliant eyes fixed full upon my face, I perceived that he had modelled himself on the poet, and was reflecting the majestic thoughts that seemed to fill the chamber."

Did the cat model himself on the poet, or the poet on the cat? When "each seemed either," it was a difficult matter to decide.

About the time that Victor Hugo was gathering his first rich crop of laurels, a certain M. Raton—unknown to fame—published in Paris a very serious little treatise, "Sur l'Education du Chat Domestique," preceded by "Son Histoire Philosophique et Politique," and followed by an elaborate "Traitement de ses Maladies." It is a book of amazing dulness. M. Raton did not love cats. How could one of his name be reasonably expected to love them! "They are," he says, "deceitful and treacherous by instinct, depraved and cruel by habit." The best that can be offered in their behalf is that their perversity is less criminal than that of men, being a natural trait instead of a premeditated ill-doing. Buffon's traducing cynicisms are quoted lengthily to prove that even the youngest kittens are little monsters of iniquity, filled with inborn malice, and with that propensity to evil which the catechism teaches us is the dark shadow cast by original sin. "Determined thieves, education only makes them more supple and alert. They know well how to conceal their purpose, to seize their opportunity, to cover their flight, and to escape retribution. They easily acquire the manners, but never the morals of society."

How far the morals of society are in advance of the morals of cats, it would be hard to determine.

"J'appelle un chat un chat, et Rolet un fripon;"

says Boileau, who plainly found little to choose between them.

The really curious thing about M. Raton's treatise is that it is embodied in a series of letters addressed to Madame la Supérieure du Convent des Visitandines; and one cannot help wondering why the good nun should have desired so much information upon such a subject. Is it possible that she did not know in what manner cats catch mice, and needed M. Raton's careful explanation? Was she educating little kittens as well as little girls in that particular Visitation convent, and did she feel the necessity for this manual of feline accomplishments, this Young Cat's Guide to Learning? Above all, why should the author have chosen the ear of a religious in which to pour the scandalous details of Pussy's moonlight courtship? The chapter entitled "Des Amours des Chats" appears hardly fit for cloistered readers. "I venture to say," writes the Frenchman blithely, "that this is not the least pleasant part of my narrative;" and one blushes at his temerity. What was Madame la Supérieure du Convent des Visitandines thinking about, when she permitted such unseemly particulars to receive the sanction of her name!

Neither Buffon, however, nor M. Raton—feebler exponent of a fast dying antagonism—could destroy the natural affinity between men of letters and their cats, an affinity strengthened by mutual understanding, and hours of silent companionship. Sainte-Beuve's cat was perhaps the finest type of his thoughtful race,—a studious animal, disinclined alike to careless dalliance or to gladiatorial joys. His pleasures were all of a meditative, sedentary character. He would sit for hours on his master's table, watching that swift and steady pen travelling down the page, and sometimes encouraging it with a soft approving pat. He would step gently backward and forward over the loose sheets; the delight which all cats take in the contact of crisp paper being doubtless enhanced in his case by appreciation of the Causeries with which those sheets were covered. He was a striking contrast in every regard to the vigorous animal that loved and scorned Christopher North; but then, if the cats were different, so were their masters. The verdicts of the great French critic were respected by his favourite; but what cat could be asked to respect the early criticisms of "Maga"?

M, Prosper Mérimée was one of the most ardent and enthusiastic cat-lovers of his day. He found no fault with these cherished creatures, save that they were exquisitely sensitive, and too easily disillusioned. Their intelligence amazed, their politeness enchanted him. M. Taine was inspired by his cats to rare poetic flights. Historian, essayist, and critic, he willingly abandoned the paths of studious prose to compliment in verse the suave little guests who sat purring in white tippets by his fire. Twelve sonnets prove the graceful nature of his attachment. They are dedicated, "To three cats, 'Puss,' 'Ebène,' and 'Mitonne,' residing at Menthon-Saint-Bernard, Haute-Savoie; "and they are signed, with mingled confidence and humility, "their friend, master, and servant, Hippolyte Taine." The prettiest of them all is aptly christened—

"La Pratique

"'Cultive ton jardin,' disaient Goethe et Voltaire;
Au-delà ton ouvrage est caduc et mort-né;
Enfermons nos efforts dans un cercle borné;
Point d'écarts; ne cherchons que le del sur la terre.

"Ainsi fait notre ami. Comme un vieux militaire,
Il brosse son habit sitôt qu'il a diné;
Dans son domaine étroit, librement confiné,
Ministre de sa peau, tout à son ministère.

"Il s'épluche, il se lisse, il sait ce qu'il se doit.
Pauvre petit torchon moins large que le doigt,
Sa langue est tour a tour éponge, étrille ou peigne.

"Son nez rejoint son dos; il lèche en insistant;
Pas un poil si lointain que la râpe n'atteigne.
Goethe, instruit par Voltaire, en a-t-il fait autant?"

No Frenchman, save Baudelaire and Gautier, have carried their appreciation to a higher pitch than did Taine; and, if his sentiment lacks the fervid grace of Baudelaire's, it is of a simpler, saner, and more comprehensible order. How far the author of "Fleurs du Mal" was sincere in his fantastic passion for cats; how far he diverted himself by provoking the curiosity of the world, or by alarming its prejudices; and how far the world—its curiosity and prejudices being well aroused—exaggerated the extravagant behaviour of the poet, are questions hard to determine, and perhaps not worth determining. M. Champfleury, who was a friend, admits the lack of discretion in all of Baudelaire's fancies. They began prettily, soon grew burdensome, and ended too often in the grotesque. "Many a time," he writes, "when he and I have been walking together, have we stopped at the door of a laundry to look at a cat, curled luxuriously on a pile of snow-white linen, and revelling in the fragrant softness of the newly-ironed fabrics. Into what moods of contemplation have we fallen, while the coquettish laundresses struck pretty attitudes at their ironing-boards, under the delusion that we were admiring them. If a cat appeared in a doorway, or crossed the street, Baudelaire would coax it softly, take it in his arms, and stroke its fur,—sometimes the wrong way. Although I may seem to confirm the stories that were circulated when the poet was attacked by hopeless paralysis, I must admit that his enthusiasm had in it something startling and excessive. This made him a charming companion for an hour or so, after which he became fatiguing, from the extreme excitability which all who knew him recognized as characteristic."

The foolish tales current at the time may easily be discarded. It is not probable that the poet, entering a friend's house, was "restless and uneasy" until he had seen the cat; or that, when the animal was presented, he became so absorbed in its society as to forget his hostess and her guests. But in his own home, and during his brief years of health, Baudelaire found an exquisite and soothing pleasure in the companionship of

"Those suave and puissant cats, the household's pride,
Who love the sedentary life, and glow of fire."

He sang their praises in verse as delicate as their gentle footfalls, as brilliant as their half-shut opal eyes, as mysterious as their ineffable and sphinx-like repose, which seems like the repose of centuries. He pleaded their cause with the fervour of a lover and the skill of an advocate. Their sweet and subtle charm, "lost on the vulgar," has never been more finely expressed than in the little poem called "Les Chats," which is simpler, even in its fantasies, than Baudelaire's verse is often wont to be.

"Les amoureux fervents et les savants austères
Aiment également, dans leur mûre saison,
Les chats puissants et doux, orgueil de la maison,
Qui comme eux sont frileux, et comme eux sédentaires,

"Amis de la science et de la volupté,
Ils cherchent le silence et l'horreur des ténèbres;
L'Erèbe les eut pris pour ses coursiers funèbres,
S'ils pouvaient au servage incliner leur fierté.

"Ils prennent en songeant les nobles attitudes
Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
Qui semblent s'endormir dans un rêve sans fin.

"Leur reins féconds sont plein d'étincelles magiques,
Et des parcelles d'or, ainsi qu'un sable fin,
Etoilent vaguement leur prunelles mystiques."

When the poet grows more personal, when he addresses himself in an ecstasy of adulation to a particular cat rather than to the whole beloved race, his lines become as extravagant in sentiment as they are harmonious in utterance. The little verses beginning—

"Viens, mon beau chat, sur mon cœur amoureux,
Retiens les griffes de ta patte,"

are riotous in their blandishments; and even this longer and finer poem, which I cannot forbear to quote entire, is the most fantastic, if the most felicitous, tribute ever laid at Pussy's little feet, the most highly imaginative verse that ever immortalized the memory of a cat.

"Dans ma cervelle se promène,
Ainsi qu'en son appartement,
Un beau chat, fort, doux et charmant.
Quand il miaule, on l'entend à peine.

"Tant son timbre est tendre et discret;
Mais que sa voix s'apaise ou gronde,
Elle est tou jours riche et profonde;
C'est là son charme et son secret

"Cette voix, qui perle et qui filtre
Dans mon fond le plus ténébreux,
Me remplit comme un vers nombreux,
Et me réjouit comme un philtre.

"Elle endort les plus cruels maux,
Et contient toutes les extases;
Pour dire les plus longues phrases,
Elle n'a pas besoin de mots.

"Non, il n'est pas d'archet qui morde
Sur mon cœur, parfait instrument,
Et fasse plus royalement
Chanter sa plus vibrante corde,

"Que ta voix, chat mystérieux,
Chat séraphique, chat étrange,
En qui tout est, comme en un ange,
Aussi subtil qu'harmonieux!


"De sa fourrure blonde et brune
Sort un parfum si doux, qu'un soir
J'en fus embaumé, pour l'avoir
Caressée une fois, rien qu'une.

"C'est l'esprit familier du lieu:
II juge, il préside, il inspire
Toutes choses dans son empire;
Peut-être est-il fée, est-il dieu?

"Quand mes yeux, vers ce chat que j'aime
Tirés comme par un aimant,
Se retournent docilement,
Et que je regarde en moi-même.

"Je vois avec étonnement
Le feu de ses prunelles pâles,
Clairs fanaux, vivantes opales,
Qui me contemplent fixement."

"The boast of our age," says a modern cynic, "is the reverse of simplicity;" but then the cat is not a simple animal. When poets have chosen to write simply about a creature so curiously complex, they have succeeded merely in portraying a single trait or aspect; something easily compassed by even a limited understanding, as Wordsworth described the gambols of the kitten on the wall. Nevertheless, there is a sweeter, homelier side to man's tenderness for any animal; there is affection distinct from infatuation. It does not inspire the poet,—how should it!—but it warms our hearts, as nothing save kindness and the knowledge of kindness can ever warm them in a world chilled by indifference to pain. Madame Michelet, the clever wife and collaboratrice of the historian, has told us in "L'Oiseau" a plain pathetic little story, which contains all the elements of tragedy and of consolation that go to make up life.

"My father," she writes, "had a strong sympathy for cats. This was the result of early experience. He and his brother, knocked pitilessly about in their childhood between the harshness of home and the cruelty of school, had, for solace and alleviation, two well-loved cats. Affection for these animals became a family trait. When we were young, each of us had a kitten. We gathered round the fire at night, and our sleek, well-fed pets sat at our feet, basking in the grateful warmth.

"There was one cat, however, that never joined the circle. He was a poor ugly thing, and so conscious of his defects that he held aloof with invincible shyness and reserve. He was the butt, the souffre douleur of our little society; and the inborn malignity of our natures found expression in the ridicule with which we pelted him. His name was Moquo. He was thin and weak, his coat was scanty, he needed the warm fireside more than the other cats; but the children frightened him, and his comrades, wrapped snugly in their furry robes, disdained to take any notice of his presence. Only my father would go to the dim, cold corner where he cowered, pick him up, carry him to the hearth, and tuck him safely out of sight under a fold of his own coat. There, warm, safe, and unseen, poor Moquo would take courage, and softly purr his gratitude. Sometimes, however, we caught a glimpse of him, and then, in spite of my father's reproaches, we laughed and jeered at his melancholy aspect. I can still recall the shadowy creature shrinking away, and seeming to melt into the breast of his protector, closing his eyes as he crept backward, choosing to see and hear nothing.

"There came a day when my father left us for a long journey, and all the animals shared our grief at his departure. Time after time his dogs trotted a little way along the road he had taken to Paris, howling piteously for their master. The most desolate creature in the house was Moquo. He trusted no one; but, for a while, would steal to the hearth, looking wistfully and furtively at my father's vacant place. Then, losing hope, he fled to the woods, to resume the wild and wretched life of his infancy; and, though we tried, we never could entice him back to the home where he no longer had a friend."

The faithful annalist is one who records with equal grace the life of court and cottage. Not like the gay old historians of the past who told of nothing but kings and the doings of kings, of battles and the glory of empire; nor like their modern descendants whose joyless work is confined to blue books and statistics, who devote pages to the amendments of some insignificant bill worrying its way through Parliament, but apologize to their readers for a chance allusion to the Queen. Rather should the chronicler pass con amore from high to low, and gladly back again; leaving the "suave and puissant" beasts of Baudelaire's fireside for their poor cousin of the woods, and returning with pleasure to the courtliest records of cat or kittendom ever penned by Frenchman, since Moncrif flattered the highborn pussies of Paris and Versailles.

The Black and White Dynasties that reigned over M. Théophile Gautier's hearth have been chronicled by him with surpassing gayety and grace. He is the true "historiogriffe," rather than poor Moncrif, who writhed under the ridicule implied by a title, which—albeit the pun is but a poor one—would have delighted Gautier's soul. The author of "Ménagerie Intime" was as catholic in his affection for animals as was Cowper or Lord Byron. To dogs he was ever faithfully attached, and was wont to make some boast of his friendship for them, finding, as so many of us have found, that when he said he liked dogs, people at once gave him credit for frank and generous sentiments. Magpies, chameleons, and white rats were also favourites, though he vaunted their charms less loudly to a prejudiced world. But cats were his supreme delight, the crowning passion of his life. Unswerving in his devotion, he loved them ardently from childhood; and tells with grateful pride how his mother's big grey cat invariably took his part when he was in disgrace, and used to bite Mme. Gautier's legs when she scolded her little son. If, later on, he transferred his allegiance lightly from one beautiful pet to another, he excuses this apparent fickleness by pleading the sad brevity of feline life, the incurable inconstancy of the human heart. "Dynasties of cats, as numerous as the dynasties of the Pharaohs, succeeded each other under my roof," he confesses. "One after another they were swept away by accident, by flight, by death. All were loved and regretted; but oblivion is our common fate, and the memory of the cats we have lost fades like the memory of men."

Which—or rather who—of these famous pussies reigned preëminent over the rest? To whom did Gautier grant his flattering preference? We cannot tell, though Madame Théophile, first and fairest of the group, held a more distinguished,—a more legitimate position I had almost said, in the poet's house. He acknowledges that he gave her his name to show the intimacy of their friendship, the closeness of their mutual regard. Like Chateaubriand's Micetto, Madame Théophile was a reddish cat, with snowy breast, soft blue eyes, and the pinkest of little pink noses. She slept at the foot of her master's bed; she sat on the arm of his chair while he wrote; she walked sedately up and down the garden by his side; she was present at all his meals, and frequently intercepted a choice morsel on its way from his plate to his mouth. She was the heroine of the delightful adventure with the parrot, which is so well known to readers, but which I cannot refrain from quoting once again. Indeed, though the whole history of the Black and White Dynasties has been told and retold until it is as familiar as fairy stories, it must bear yet one more telling, because of the melancholy incompleteness of any cat-book from which it were omitted. Like Gray's verses to the ill-fated Selima, like the legend of Dick Whittington, like Puss-in-Boots, or the oft-repeated tale of Mohammed's Muezza, it is part of the annals of cathood. To exclude this narrative because of its charming familiarity, would be like excluding the Crusades, the tournaments, the Cavaliers, from England's glorious chronicles. Great Pasht forbid that the history of pussies should be written from the blue-book and statistic point of view; or that the shades of Madame Théophile, of Eponine, of Don Pierrot, and Gavroche should ever cease to smile upon their little brothers and sisters who frolic by our hearths to-day.

The parrot that figures so dramatically in Gautier's story was not by rights a member of the ménagerie. It was sent to the poet's hospitable home to be entertained during its owner's absence from Paris, and the fact that Madame Théophile had never before seen such a bird, intensified the interest of their meeting. "Motionless as a cat mummy in its swathing-bands," says Gautier, "she fixed a profoundly meditative gaze upon the creature, summoning to her aid all the notions of natural history that she had picked up in the garden and on the roof. The shadow of her thoughts passed over her changing eyes, and we could plainly read in them the conclusion to which her scrutiny led: 'Decidedly this is a green chicken.'

"Having determined so much, Madame Théophile leaped from the table whence she had made her observations, and crouched flat on the ground, in the attitude of Gérôme's panther, watching the gazelles as they come down to drink. The parrot followed every motion with feverish anxiety. He ruffled his feathers, rattled his chain, lifted his feet nervously, and rubbed his beak against the side of his trough. Instinct told him that the cat was an enemy, and meant mischief. Madame Théophile's eyes were now fixed upon the bird with terrible intensity, and they said in language which the poor parrot distinctly understood: 'This chicken ought to be good to eat, although it is green.' We watched the little drama breathlessly, ready to interfere at need. The cat crept slowly, almost imperceptibly, nearer and nearer. Her pink nose quivered, her eyes were half closed, her claws moved in and out of their velvet sheaths, slight thrills of pleasure shivered along her spine at the thought of the repast that awaited her. Such novel and exotic food tempted her appetite. "Suddenly her back bent like a bow, and with a vigorous and elastic spring she leaped upon the perch. The parrot, seeing the imminence of his danger, cried in a voice as deep as M. Prudhomme's: 'As-tu déjeuné, Jacquot?'

"This utterance so terrified the cat that she fell backwards. The blare of a trumpet, the report of a pistol, could not have frightened her more thoroughly. All her ornithological ideas were overthrown.

"'Et de quoi?—Du rôti du roi?' continued the parrot.

"Then might we, the observers, read in the countenance of Madame Théophile: 'This is not a bird; it speaks; it is a gentleman.'"

The cat so loved and honoured by her master had other tastes less carnal, other instincts less murderous. She delighted in perfumes and in music. India shawls, lifted from their boxes of sandalwood, and exhaling faint aromatic odours of the East, intoxicated her voluptuously. She stretched her delicate limbs on their soft folds, and dreamed vague dreams of caravans, and of fair Persian pussies carried over the red sands of Arabia. The vibrations of the piano or of the human voice thrilled her with pleasure and with pain. She would listen drowsily while the music was faint and low; but high notes irritated her nerves, and if a soprano grew too piercingly sweet, she would leap up and lay a gentle, remonstrating paw upon the singer's lips. Again and again, says Gautier, this experiment was tried by guests who deemed such interruption an amusement; and again and again it had the same result. Beyond a certain pitch, their voices were never permitted to rise. "The dilettante in fur was not to be deceived."

After Madame Théophile, the cat who seems to have lain closest to his master's heart was Pierrot, so named in infancy because he wore spotless white; though later in life he won for himself a more distinguished title,—like Bentham's Sir John Langbourne,—and became known to Parisian society as Don Pierrot de Navarre. He was of an affectionate disposition, though tranquil and self-contained; never effusive, but delighting in the refinements of confidential and sympathetic intercourse. "He shared the life of the household," writes M. Gautier, "with that enjoyment of quiet fireside friendship which is a characteristic of cats. He had his own place on the hearth, and would sit there for hours, listening to conversation with a well-bred air of intelligence and interest. He glanced occasionally from speaker to speaker, and addressed them with little half-articulate sounds, as though protesting politely against their statements, or offering an opinion of his own upon the matter under discussion. He loved books, and, when he found one open upon the table, would lie down on it, turn over the edges of the leaves with his paw, and, after a time, fall asleep, for all the world as if he had been reading a fashionable novel. He gave a good deal of attention to my work, and, while I wrote, would follow the movement of my pen with serious scrutiny, taking note of each new line, and sometimes pushing the penholder gently from my fingers, as though anxious to add a few words of his own. He was an æsthetic cat, like Hoffmann's Murr, and had, I strongly suspect, been guilty of writing his memoirs; scribbling away probably at night, in some shadowy gutter, by the light of his own lambent eyes. Unhappily these invaluable reminiscences have been lost.

"Don Pierrot made a point of never going to bed until I came home. He used to wait for me in the hall, greet me with friendly purrs, and precede me to my chamber like a page. I have no doubt that, if I had asked him, he would have carried the candlestick. He slept on the back of my bedstead, carefully balanced like a bird on a bough, and, when I awoke in the morning, would jump down and nestle beside me until I arose. He was strict as a concierge, however, in his notions of the proper time for all good people to be indoors, and would tolerate nothing later than midnight. In those days I belonged to a little society, known as 'The Four Candles Club;'—the light in the room being restricted to four candles, burning in four silver candlesticks, at the four corners of the table. Sometimes the talk became so animated that, like Cinderella, I forgot the hour; and once or twice Pierrot sat up for me until two o'clock in the morning. This appeared to him unreasonable; therefore he ceased his attentions altogether, and retired to rest without me. I was touched by his mute protest against my innocent dissipation, and resolved to return thenceforth faithfully at twelve. Pierrot, doubtful at first of the permanency of my reform, waited until he saw that my conversion was sincere, and then resumed his old post by the door.

"It is a difficult matter to gain the affection of a cat. He is a methodical animal, tenacious of his own habits, fond of order and neatness, and disinclined to extravagant sentiment. He will be your friend, if he finds you worthy of friendship, but not your slave. His tenderness never costs him his freedom. Yet what confidence is implied in his steadfast companionship through hours of solitude, of melancholy, and of work. He lies for long evenings on your knee, purring contentedly, and forsaking for you the agreeable society of his kind. In vain, melodious mewings on the roof invite him to one of those animated assemblies where fish bones take the place of tea and cake. He is not to be tempted from his post. Put him down, and he will jump up again with plaintive murmurs of reproach. Sometimes he sits at your feet, looking into your face with an expression so gentle and caressing that the depth of his gaze startles you. Who can believe that there is no soul behind those luminous eyes!

"Don Pierrot de Navarre had a sweetheart as dazzlingly white as he was himself. By her side the ermine would have looked yellow. Seraphita, for so this lovely creature was named in honour of Balzac's Swedenborgian romance, was gentle, dreamy, and contemplative. She would sit motionless on her cushion for hours, wide awake, her eyes following, in a rapture of attention, sights invisible to us. She was the most luxurious of all my cats, and was ever to be found on the softest rug, or in the easiest chair. Though reserved, she was fond of caresses, and would return them with grace to those whom she favoured with her esteem. She devoted a great deal of time every day to her toilet, cleaning and polishing her glossy coat with her pink tongue until it shone like burnished silver. If any one rumpled the sleek fur, she would instantly and carefully lick it smooth again. To be dishevelled was beyond endurance. Perfumes delighted her, and she would thrust her little nose into bouquets, bite daintily at scented handkerchiefs, and walk with wary footsteps among the bottles on a toilet-table, smelling wistfully at the stoppers. No doubt she would have used the powder puff, had she been permitted.

"Don Pierrot, who came from Havannah, required a hothouse temperature, and in this he was always gratified. The house was surrounded, however, by spacious gardens, over the walls of which cats could easily climb. Pierrot would often take advantage of an open door, and go bird-hunting at dusk through the wet grass and flower beds. It even happened, now and then, that his cries for readmission were not heard, and he was compelled to spend the night out of doors. In this way he caught a heavy cold which rapidly developed into phthisis. Before the end of the year he had wasted to a skeleton, and his fur, once so silky, was of a dull harsh white. His eyes looked large in his shrunken face, the pink of his little nose had faded, and he dragged himself slowly along the sunny side of the wall, looking with melancholy listlessness at the yellow leaves as they danced and whirled in the wind. We did all in our power to save him. The doctor felt his pulse, sounded his lungs, and ordered him ass's milk. He drank it with ready obedience out of his own especial saucer. For hours he lay upon my knee like the shadow of a sphinx. I felt his spine under my finger tips like the beads of a rosary, and he tried to respond to my caresses with a feeble and rattling purr. On the day of his death he was lying panting upon his side, when suddenly, and as though by a supreme effort, he arose and staggered weakly towards me. His great eyes were wide-stretched, and raised to mine with a look of agonized supplication, as though they said: 'Save me, save me, you who are a man!' Then they glazed; he took a few faltering steps and fell down, uttering a cry so lamentable and full of anguish that I stood staring, dumb and horror-stricken, at his little corpse. He was buried in the garden under a white rose-tree which still marks his grave. Three years later, Seraphita died, and was laid by his side. With her the White Dynasty became extinct."

Of the Black Dynasty which succeeded, Gautier has much to say; but he never evinces for its small autocrats the same tenderness of affection lavished upon Pierrot and Madame Théophile. Nature, in a jesting mood, had bestowed on Seraphita and her mate three kittens, black as ebony. To indifferent eyes they looked as much alike as three ink-spots; but, from their earliest infancy, Gautier distinguished with ease the little faces, "sooty as Harlequin's mask, and lighted by discs of emerald with golden gleams." These kittens offered striking contrasts of character and disposition. Enjolras was solemn, pretentious, aldermanic from his cradle; even theatrical at times in his vast assumption of dignity. Gavroche was a born Bohemian, enamoured of low company, and of the careless comedies of life. Their sister Eponine—best loved of the three—was a delicate, fastidious little creature, with an exquisite sense of propriety, and of the refinements of social intercourse. Enjolras was a glutton, caring for nothing so much as for his dinner. Gavroche, more generous, would bring in from the streets gaunt and ragged cats, who devoured in a scurry of fright the food laid aside for him. "I was often tempted to remonstrate," writes Gautier, "and to say to the little scamp, 'A nice lot of friends you do pick up!' But I refrained. After all, it was an amiable weakness. He might have eaten his dinner himself."

Eponine was piquant rather than beautiful. Her little velvety nose looked like a fine truffle of Perigord. Her eyes had the oblique slant of the Orient, and were sea-green like the eyes of Pallas-Athene, or of that fair Dame de Fayel, to whom the Sire de Coucy, dying in the Holy Land, sent back his heart by a trusted squire, and whose husband, discovering the contents of the box, forced her to eat it, of which horror she died. In the Sire de Coucy's passionate verses, his lady's eyes are described as green "like a cat's;" for no other colour, cries the lover rapturously, can inspire ardour and adoration in the human heart.

Eponine, with her sea-green eyes, her narrow face, her impertinent nose, her small and delicate limbs, had an air of distinction which charmed Gautier's appreciative friends. She was a polite little cat, rather fond of company, and would receive his guests with cordial pleasure, purring as she stepped from one chair to another, as though to say: "Don't be impatient. Look at the pictures, or talk to me, if I amuse you. My master is coming down." On his appearance, she would retire discreetly to an armchair, or to a corner of the piano, and listen to the conversation without interrupting it, being French, and accustomed to good society.

If Gautier dined alone, Eponine's place was laid opposite to his; and, when he came into the dining-room, he found her always in her chair, waiting serenely for his arrival. She would place her forepaws daintily on the edge of the table, and present her smooth forehead to be kissed, "like a well-bred little girl who is affable and affectionate to relatives and old people." Even the best trained children, however, have their likes and dislikes in the matter of food, and Eponine sometimes found it a hard task to eat everything that was placed before her. Soup was her particular aversion, and once in a while she tried to omit that course from her dinner. Then Gautier would say to her courteously but firmly: "Mademoiselle, a young lady who is not hungry for soup is not expected to have any appetite for fish;"—whereupon—sensible to the reproof—she would obediently lap up her little plate of potage, and wait for her reward to come at fish time.

Eponine survived her brothers many years. Enjolras was tragically slain. Gavroche, seduced by wild companions, envying them the uneasy freedom of their lives, and agreeing, doubtless, with Meyerbeer's small daughter that it was a great misfortune to have had genteel parents, leaped one morning from an open window, and was never seen again. Little Bohemian of Paris, he bartered all the luxuries of home for the hardships, the perils, the sweet transient joys that the great, cruel, beautiful, and best loved city in the world gives to its vagabond children.

His place was filled by a silver-grey Angora named Zizi, who spent her days in a kind of comtemplative trance, like a Buddhist saint. Music alone could rouse her from her dreams. She would listen with sleepy satisfaction, and even exert herself so far as to walk up and down the keys of the piano, imitating, according to her fancy, the sounds that she had heard. Zizi had little of the tact and social grace which distinguished Eponine, and which never deserted that adorable cat, even in advanced age. Like so many famous Frenchwomen, she retained her sprightliness and charm until the end; and left behind her nothing but cheerful memories upon which it is a pleasure to dwell. She was the last of the Black Dynasty. In her corner of Elysium she plays forever with the other pussies of her royal race; and perhaps her urbane little shade was the first to greet and welcome two cats,—two fortunate and famous cats who died in France not very long ago; Moumoutte Blanche and Moumoutte Chinoise, immortalized by M. Loti's facile pen.

No one familiar with the "Vies de Deux Chattes," can hope to rival these short and exquisite biographies. Their perfection is at once the delight and the despair of other toilers in the field. Written, says the author, "for my son, Samuel, when he knows how to read," they have recompensed many of us for the sad labour of the alphabet; for the double labour of two alphabets, if we chance to be Saxon born. People to whom a primrose is a primrose, and a cat a cat, may be liberally educated by a sympathetic study of these delicate and discriminating memoirs. Less playful and amusing than M. Gautier's chronicles, they show a deeper insight into feline character; they are more close and accurate in their descriptions, more touching in their pathos, more clear-sighted in their generalizations. Gautier's cats have, each and all, a charming individuality. We feel their beauty, we acknowledge their virtues, we love their faults. But the two little creatures who shared between them the fickle heart of M. Loti have been painted for us in such generous colours, and with such consummate art, that they live in his pages as the Black Prince and Du Guesclin live in the heroic pages of Froissart.

Never were friends more widely separated by birth, breeding, or the accidents of early life. Moumoutte Blanche was a Persian pussy, beautiful as Scheherazade, gentle as Zobeide, discreet as Fatima,—the Prophet's fair daughter, not Bluebeard's prying wife. She was adopted by M. Loti in early kittenhood, when the innocence of infancy still lingered in her lovely eyes, and the playfulness of infancy prompted her to much "ground and lofty tumbling," wherein he took delight. She was not wholly white, as her name would imply; and her patches of black fur suggested to his fancy—which is a Gallic fancy always—a little bonnet shading her smooth brow, and a little pélerine thrown over her snowy shoulders. Her gentleness was reserved for her master and for his household. Like the beautiful and intrepid Menine of Mme. de Lesdiguières, she was

"Chatte pour tout le monde, et pour les Chats, Tigresse."

"Refined, correct, an aristocrat to the tips of her little claws," says Loti, "she so detested other cats, as to forget her manners sadly whenever a visitor ventured to call upon her. In her own domain she brooked no intrusion. If over the garden wall two little ears were raised, two little eyes peered furtively; if a rustle in the boughs, a trembling of the ivy leaves awakened her suspicion, she sprang at the stranger like a young Fury, her fur bristling to the point of her tail. It was impossible to hold her back, and presently we who listened would hear the sound of scuffling, a fall, and lamentable cries."

A wayward, spoiled, capricious beauty was Moumoutte Blanche, loving her master after the fashion of her race, steadfastly but without docility, and extending some portion of her careless regard to other members of the family. For five years she reigned without a rival. For five years M. Loti came and went, as the fortunes of war called him to sea or permitted his return; and ever she was the first to welcome him under the roof she deemed her own. Then came a day when, three thousand miles from France, fate flung across his path the strange and bizarre little creature known to us as Moumoutte Chinoise, and he made swift surrender of his affections.

"Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one cat constant never."

The new favourite—like so many favourites—was meanly born, poor and wretched. She was also, which is the unusual feature of the case, distressingly ugly. It was at the close of a long skirmish—hardly worthy to be called a battle—in the Yellow Sea, that she leaped from a Chinese junk to the French warship, and, guided by instinct or destiny, took refuge in Loti's cabin,—a piteous object, meagre, terrified, miserable, the most forlorn and desolate of intruders, but absolutely determined to remain.

Loti, to do him justice, did not yield without a protest. The strange Moumoutte was not attractive, and she was sadly in the way; but, when he put her out, she scuttled directly back again, always fixing on him a gaze so human and so imploring that he was fascinated by its intensity. In the end she triumphed, and was for seven months his close and constant companion; while Moumoutte Blanche, far away in France, drowsed in the sunny garden paths, and dreamed of his return. Propinquity, as we know, is the one sure road to love; and, during those seven months, master and cat had rare opportunities for intimate acquaintance. A man-of-war offers few distractions to the growing charms of companionship.

"I well remember," writes M. Loti, "the day when our relations became really affectionate. It was a melancholy afternoon in September. The first winds of Autumn roughened the sullen seas. We were sailing eastward, and the ship groaned and creaked as she slid into the hollow of the waves. I sat writing in the semi-obscurity of my cabin, which grew darker and darker as the green waters rose and broke into foam over my closed port-hole. Suddenly I saw a little shadow steal from under my berth, very slowly, and as though with infinite hesitation. There was something truly Oriental in its fashion of holding one paw suspended in air, as if uncertain where to place it for the next step. And always it regarded me with a look of fixed and plaintive interrogation.

"'What can the cat want?' I said to myself. 'She has had her dinner. She is not hungry. What is it she is after?'

"In answer to my unspoken question, la Chinoise crept nearer and nearer until she could touch my foot. Then, sitting upright, with her tail curled close about her, she uttered a gentle little cry, gazing meanwhile straight into my eyes which seemed to hold some message she could read. She understood that I was a thinking creature, capable of pity, and accessible to such mute and piteous prayer; and that my eyes were the mirrors in which her anxious little soul must study my good or bad intentions. It is terrifying to think how near an animal comes to us, when it is capable of such intercourse as this.

"For the first time I looked attentively at the little visitor who for two weeks had shared my lodgings. She was tawny as a wild hare, and spotted like a leopard. Only her face and neck were white. Certainly an ugly and attenuated cat, yet perhaps her very ugliness had in it a piquancy which appealed to the discriminating mind. For one thing, she was so unlike the beautiful cats of France." (Alas! poor Moumoutte Blanche!) "Stealthy and sinuous, with great ears standing erect, and a preposterously long tail, she had nothing attractive save her eyes,—the deep, golden orange eyes of the Orient, unquiet, and wonderfully expressive.

"While I watched her, I carelessly laid my hand on her head, and stroked for the first time the yellow fur. It was not mere physical pleasure that she felt in the caress; but a consciousness of protection, of sympathy in her abandonment. It was for this she had crept from her hiding-place; it was for this, and not for food or drink, that she had come to beg, after so much wistful hesitation. Her little cat soul implored some company, some friendship in a lonely world.

"Where had she learned this need, poor outcast Pussy, never before touched by a kindly hand; never the object of affection, unless, indeed, the paternal junk held some forlorn Chinese child, as joyless, as famished, as friendless as herself;—a child who, perishing of neglect, would leave in that miserable abode no more trace of its feeble existence than she had done.

"At last one small paw was lifted. Oh! so delicately, so discreetly; and, after a long anxious look, Moumoutte, believing the time had now come for venturing all things, took heart of grace, and leaped upon my knee.

"There she curled herself, but with subdued tact and reserve, seeming to make her little limbs as light as possible, a mere feather-weight,—and never taking her eyes from my face. She stayed a long while, inconveniencing me greatly; but I lacked the courage to put her down, as I might have done unhesitatingly, had she been pretty and plump and gay. Nervously aware of my least movement, she watched me with intentness; not as though fearing I would do her harm,—she was far too intelligent to believe me capable of such a thing,—but as though to ask, 'Is it possible that I do not weary or offend you?' After a time her expression softened from anxiety to cajolery, and her eyes, lifted to mine, said with charming distinctness: 'On this Autumn evening, so dreary to the soul of a cat, since we two are isolated, and lost in the midst of dangers I do not understand, let us bestow upon each other a little of that mysterious something which sweetens misery and softens death, which is called affection, and which expresses itself from time to time by a caress.'"

When M. Loti returned to France, he was met by Moumoutte Blanche, and was accompanied by Moumoutte Chinoise. It was an embarrassing situation, not unlike that of the Crusader who brought home a Saracen wife, and presented her to his Christian spouse. The poor little intruder was lifted from her basket amid outcries at her ugliness; and, with an anxious heart, her master awaited the result of the first crucial interview. It was unlike anything he had anticipated, and reflected credit on both rivals. The two cats flew to arms, and had a battle royal for supremacy. The kitchen was the scene of combat, desperate valour was shown by the combatants, and only a liberal and impartial application of cold water chilled their martial ardour, and put an end to hostilities. Once separated, they never fought again. Moumoutte Chinoise, wary and alert, Moumoutte Blanche, pensive and sombre, met each other in the daily intercourse of life, disdainfully at first, then with growing cordiality, and finally with an ardent friendship, beautiful to behold. Jealousy was banished from their little hearts. Intimate and inseparable, they dined and dozed and played together, even making their toilets in common, and licking and smoothing each other's fur with mutual tenderness and pride.

Summer came, and la Chinoise, born and bred upon the melancholy waters, revelled for the first time in the joyous garden life which all cats dearly love;—that life, partly of hermit-like meditation and repose, partly of venery and cruel sport. The odour of rose and jasmin; the tall trees, on whose branches unsuspicious birds nested and sang; the miniature rocks circling the fountain, amid which she lay concealed like a Liliputian tiger in its lair; all these wonders enraptured her sensitive soul. She became sleek and gay, her brilliant eyes lost their shadow of fear, her timidity vanished, her delicate limbs grew round and strong. Even her unconquerable ugliness lent a distinction of its own to her intelligence and grace. Moumoutte Blanche, once the proud and intolerant queen of this lovely place, now shared its delights generously with the stranger, with the little Mongolian who had come from the Yellow Sea to claim half of her master's home, and two thirds of his affection. I know of no nobler cat in Christendom than Moumoutte Blanche.

When summer waned, and the days grew short and chill, la Chinoise abandoned the garden walks for the greater luxury of the warm fireside. "It is with the approach of winter," says M. Loti, "that cats become in an especial manner our friends and guests. They sit in our chimney-corners, watch with us the dancing flames, and dream with us vague dreams, misty and melancholy as the deepening dusk. It is then, too, that they wear their richest fur, and assume an air of sumptuous and delightful opulence. With the first frost, Moumoutte Chinoise patched up her meagre coat, which no longer showed its old distressing rents; and Moumoutte Blanche adorned herself with an imposing cravat, a snow-white boa, which encircled her pretty face like a vast Medicean ruff. Their affection for each other was increased by their mutual love of warmth and repose. On the hearth, on their cushions, in the armchairs they slept for whole days, snugly rolled into one great round ball of white and yellow fur.

"It was Moumoutte Chinoise who, in an especial manner, courted this comfortable companionship. When, after a short and chilly stroll in the garden, she found her friend sleeping before the fire, she would steal up to her very, very softly, and with as much caution as if she were surprising a mouse. Blanche, always nervous, pettish, and averse to being disturbed, would sometimes resent intrusion, and give her a gentle slap by way of remonstrance. It was never returned. La Chinoise would merely lift her little paw with a mocking gesture, looking at me meanwhile out of the corners of her eyes, as though to say, 'She has a difficult temper, has n't she? But you know I never take her seriously.' Then, with renewed precaution, she would return resolutely to her purpose, which was always to nestle up against her slumbering friend, and bury her head in that warm, soft, snowy fur. This accomplished, she would compose herself to sleep, with a final glance of triumph in my direction, which said drowsily, but distinctly, 'This is what I was after, and here I am.'"

Assuredly there was never a sweeter cat in Christendom than the beautiful Moumoutte Blanche.

Readers who seek to preserve as far as possible the gayety of life may be pardoned for wishing that M. Loti had spared them some of the pathetic details in which his soul delights. The few short years allotted to a cat are spent so swiftly that we who linger on our way are perpetually mourning some little vanished friend,—

"doubly dead,
In that she died so young."

It would be kinder not to awaken our buried grief, nor probe our wounds afresh; but he who wrote "Le Livre de la Pitié et de la Mort," has no compassion for our selfishness. Every step the two cats took to their graves is described with minute and haunting melancholy. The black dejection that seized poor Moumoutte Chinoise as her end drew near; her last sad impulse to die away from pitying eyes and helping hands; the prolonged agony of Moumoutte Blanche who fought piteously for her fast ebbing life;—these things we have read in mournful moments, wishing them all the time untold, just as we wish their author would not suddenly intrude some unseemly jest upon us when we are least attuned to its reception.

Yet never has a cat of character been drawn with the careful and sympathetic art bestowed upon Moumoutte Chinoise. She is the Jane Eyre of pussies; ugly, intelligent, sensitive, passionate, self-controlled, intrepid, and vivacious. M. Loti can hardly be said to resemble Rochester; but, like that beatified barbarian, he had the quality of discernment, which enabled him to see the spirit and charm hidden beneath so mean and shabby an exterior.

"Elle a, dans sa laideur piquante,
Un grain de sel de cette mer,
D'où jaillit, nue et provocante,
L'âcre Venus du gouffre amer."