The fireside sphinx/The Dark Ages

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2056563The fireside sphinx — The Dark AgesAgnes Repplier

Chapter II

"O gin my sons were seven rats
Runnin' o'er the castle wa',
And gin that I were a great gray cat,
Fu' sune wad I worry them a'."

A POPULAR tradition was wont to maintain that the cat was brought from the East, and introduced into northern Europe by the first Crusaders. It is one of those delightful misstatements which lend colour and charm to history. Who would not love to feel that we owe this pleasant debt—as we owe so many others—to those splendid soldiers who fought under Godfrey de Bouillon, and carried the Cross to Palestine? The Crusaders brought back to their rude and warlike homes many of the refinements of life, many dim appreciations of an older civilization, of beauty, of learning, of subtleties that had no place within the stern barriers of Feudalism. But they did not bring back the cat. Long before Peter the Hermit preached to the loyal sons of Christendom, Pussy slept by English firesides, and was held in high esteem in English nunneries, alike for her gentleness and valour. A canon enacted in 1127 forbade all nuns, even abbesses, to wear any costlier skins than those of lambs and cats; and the "Ancren Riwle" of 1205 denied them possession of flocks, cattle, swine, or other domestic animals, save only the cat. "Ye, my dear sisters, shall have no beast but a cat," says this excellent ordinance;—"no best bute kat ane," is the old Saxon manuscript. "An Anchoress that hath herds seemeth a better housewife (as was Martha) than an Anchoress, and in no wise may she be Mary with peacefulness of heart."

To have sheep in the fold, cows in the barn, mules in the stable, was to sin against holy Poverty,—Our Lady Poverty, mother of all monastic virtues; but the cat stood for no such excess of indulgence. Her value was small, but her services were great. She gave to convents chill and bare that look of home, that sweet suggestion of domesticity, which all women, even cloistered women, love; she played with her kittens in the sun, affording a welcome distraction from work and prayer; and she held herself ever in joyful readiness to

"Combat with the creeping Mouse,
And scratch the screeking Rat."

The nuns were not so badly off who were permitted to keep a cat.

No one knows the date, and no one knows the route of Pussy's westward voyage, a voyage fraught with peril and disaster. From Cyprus she came,—so say most authorities,—and there is an ancient tradition of a Christian monastery near Paphos, where the Greek monks kept a little colony of highly trained and valorous cats, whose duty it was to destroy the serpents that infested the island. These cats hunted their prey daily "with admirable zeal and address,"—I quote from Moncrif,—and to the great benefit of the neighbourhood. But when the Turks snatched Cyprus, they burned the monastery, and turned the homeless pussies, not to speak of the homeless monks, adrift upon the world;—a strange piece of ill-doing for Moslems, who, however contemptuous of cloisters, have always cherished cats with exceeding tenderness. The love which Mohammed bore for his fair white cat, Muezza, has thrown a veil of sanctity over the whole feline race; and no good Ottoman ever forgets that when Muezza slept one day upon her master's flowing sleeve, the Prophet—being summoned to the Council—cut off his sleeve, rather than disturb her slumber.

Proud then, and justly proud, was that true believer upon whom was conferred the title—at once magnificent and tender—of "Father of Cats." Great was the solicitude manifested throughout all Islam for the welfare of these favoured animals, whose brooding reserve and wise impassiveness seemed but a reflection of the unchanging and uncommunicative East. M. Prisse d'Avennes tells us that the Moslem warrior, El-Daher-Beybars, "brave as Cæsar and cruel as Nero," had so true an affection for cats that he bequeathed a fertile garden called Gheyt-el-Quottah (the cat's orchard) for the support of homeless and necessitous pussies. This garden lay close to his own mosque, and but a short distance from Cairo. With the revenue it yielded, food was bought and distributed every noon in the outer court of the Mehkémeh to all cats who, wishing to live in freedom, were yet driven by hunger or neglect to accept the generous alms. There is an admirable permanence about Oriental customs which we of the West—unstable citizens of a protean world—regard with envious scorn. Seven centuries have elapsed since El-Daher-Beybars atoned for the misdeeds of his fierce life by gentle charity. His gilded mosque has crumbled into ruins, the site of his orchard is unknown, his legacy has lapsed into oblivion. Yet as late as 1870 the cats of Cairo received their daily dole, no longer in memory of their benefactor, but in unconscious perpetuation of his bounty.

"How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world."

It is rather disconcerting, when we are dwelling so complacently upon the love of the Moslem for his cat, to remember that the only bit of verse upon the subject which has floated down to us from the dim East is not more flattering or more kindly than the epigrams of Agathias, Ibn Alalaf Alnaharwany, a poet of Bagdad who died about 930, celebrated the misdeeds and the punishment of his cat in a strain of such uncompromising morality that we are still uncertain as to whether he meant what he said, or was referring in veiled language to some tragedy of the harem. Alalaf's pussy steals forth to rob a dove-cote, "fearing nothing save the loss of his prey," and is pierced by an avenging arrow ere he can escape with the bird. "Alas!" muses the virtuous chronicler, "had he but contented himself with the lawful pursuit of mice, no such evil fate had befallen him. Cursed be the refined taste which led him to seek a daintier quarry, and cursed be the forbidden joy which brings destruction in its wake."

To be slain in the moment of victory—even though death turns triumph to defeat—is not, in Moslem eyes, the worst of woes. The robber cat of Bagdad—if he were a cat, indeed, and not an adventurous lover—had doubtless enjoyed many a moonlight raid before retribution overtook him; and this reflection should have soothed Alalaf's soul.

The Turk, although he enjoys scant reputation for humanity, has never been, and is not now, cruel to animals. He could teach that lesson of kindness to every Christian nation in the world. But his benevolence has in it a curious element of caprice. While the Pariah dog struggles from puppyhood to old age for the bare livelihood yielded him by immemorial usage, the cat is still, as she has always been, a pampered plaything, smothered in luxury, surfeited with indulgence. Who that has ever seen the cats of Stamboul can forget those beautiful Persians, snow-white, indolent, amber-eyed, carried in the arms of Nubian slave-women, and clawing ungratefully at their careful guardians! And who that has watched a surly little Turkish soldier soften and brighten into smiles over the antics of a litter of kittens, snugly domiciled in his sentry-box where surely kittens had no right to be, can doubt the love the Moslem bears—in imitation of the Prophet—for Muezza's furry kindred!

Travellers in the Orient have brought back strange and delightful tales of Pussy's dignities and high estate. According to these, probably fabulous, but always pleasing reports, the cats belonging to the Shah of Persia rival in numbers and in beauty the wives of King Solomon. At Persian banquets, troops of cats, stately and soft-footed, glide in and out among the guests with silent courtesy, offering no disturbance, but merely honouring with their presence the master of the feast. In Siam and Burmah these thrice fortunate animals are treated with becoming deference; and the Hungarian scientist, Vambery, tells of a Buddhist convent in eastern Thibet, where there were so many pussies, all sleek and fat, that he could not forbear asking the pious inmates why they deemed it necessary to keep such a feline colony. "All things have their uses," was the serene reply. "Cats are carnal-minded, clamorous, and far from cleanly; but they atone for their sins by destroying rats, mice, and weasels, and thus spare us the temptation of imbruing our hands in the blood of our fellow creatures."—For the delicate refinements of casuistry, one must still turn to the subtle and contemplative East.

It was an ill day for Pussy when she left this land of ease, and began her bleak northwestern journey. Sir John Lubbock asserts that there is no proof of her domestication in Great Britain or in France before the ninth century; but the dim records of those far-off years leave much untold, and she may have arrived quietly and without ostentation a hundred years or so earlier. That her usefulness was recognized, and that she was highly prized as long as her rarity enhanced her value, is shown by an ancient statute ascribed to Howel Dda, or Howel the Good, a Welsh prince whose life is otherwise shrouded in obscurity. This admirable ruler—assuredly the Wise as well as the Good—made a law in 948, regulating the market price of cats; a penny for a kitten before its eyes were open, twopence until it had caught its first mouse, fourpence when it was old enough for combat. He who stole a cat from the royal granaries forfeited either a milch ewe with its fleece and lamb, or as much wheat as would cover the body of the cat suspended by its tail, with its nose touching the ground. A pleasant, picturesque old law, discerning the artistic possibilities of punishment, and insuring to Pussy her place in economics. A penny was a vastly respectable coin in the tenth century.

There are few golden pages, however, in the broken annals of the cat during the long dark years of mediæval history. Feudalism with its splendours and discomforts, its swift alternations of magnificent loyalty and fierce rebellion, its restless ambitions and perpetual warfare, offered little but misery to a cat. Change of any kind has ever been abhorrent to her spirit, and those were days when nothing was permanent save death. Order and tranquillity are essential to her well-being; and the world, seething with strife, exulted in its own measureless confusion. The dog, faithful follower of man's scattered fortunes, and trusted guardian of all that was held dear, reached his apotheosis in these troubled times. Baron and knight, burgher and serf united in recognition of his merits. In castle hall, by cottage hearth, at the door of my lady's chamber, he kept loyal watch and ward. Poets praised him, kings caressed him, beggars bound him to their wretchedness; and nuns, on whom the rule of Poverty weighed not too heavily,—like Chaucer's Prioresse,—carried him upon blessed pilgrimages, and fed him daintily

"With rosted flessh, or mylk and wastel breed."

Carved in stone and moulded in bronze, we see him on beautiful old tombs, couchant at the feet of mailed knights and noble dames, sharing the still magnificence of death as he shared the glory and the tumult of life. Mother Church took him under her protection, for it was well known that when Saint Roch appeared at Heaven's court, his dog stood by his side; and Saint Peter, who values faithful service, smiled as he opened wide the gates. From countless altars of Catholic Christendom, Saint Roch—most pitiful because most suffering of Saints—showed, and still shows to poor humanity the plague spot on his knee; and still at his feet is the dumb friend whom no excess of misery could alienate, the animal in whose heart God has implanted a steadfastness of affection which is one of the kindly miracles of creation.

The colder temperament of the cat, her self-sufficing independence of character, her impenetrable reserve, her love of gentleness and luxury, unfitted her for the stern rude life of the Middle Ages. She was no loyal servant, no follower of camps, no votaress of martial joys. Only in the cities, where some semblance of order was usually preserved, and some snug comforts guaranteed, could she have found a home. It is a significant circumstance that the commercial legend of Dick Whittington is the only pleasant story in which the English cat figures with prominence during several centuries; and surely no tale could better illustrate the exact nature of her position.

In the first place, she was of trifling value. A poor boy, who owned nothing else in the world, owned a cat. Like the miller's son in "Puss-in-Boots," Dick possessed something which nobody thought it worth while to take from him. That he had little love for this cat is proven by the alacrity with which he parted from her, sending her away upon a long and perilous voyage, on the bare chance of her yielding him a profit. She was in no wise his friend and companion; she was merely his property, to be disposed of as any other piece of merchandise. Dick was a tradesman to his finger tips, and worthy of all the civic honours heaped upon him. That his first speculation proved successful was due wholly to the accident which carried poor Pussy to a catless land, overrun by rats and mice. Utilitarianism, commercialism, a flavour of export and import pervade the tale. There is no graceful sentiment to hallow it; and the utmost we can claim for young Richard is that he was not a weakling like the miller's son, who had to be dragged by his cat to affluence and a throne. Once started on the way, Dick built up his own fortunes with a steady hand. Indeed, a boy who could so lightly part with the only living thing he might have held by his side, was in no danger of being outstripped in the hard race for wealth.

Commonplace as is the story of Whittington's cat, it is nevertheless a legacy which we have no mind to lose; and all conscientious chroniclers should protest against the grovelling preciseness which would banish it from England's annals. There are records to show that "Richard Whityngdon" was thrice Lord Mayor of London, serving in 1397, 1406, and 1409; that he was born in Gloucestershire, was a mercer by trade, that he married Alice Fitzwarren, and that he lent one thousand pounds—doubtless at goodly interest—to King Henry the Fourth. There is also the evidence of that venerable stone which was found in the garden of a house in Westgate Street, Gloucester, where the grand-nephew of the Lord Mayor is known to have lived in 1460. This stone represents in bas-relief a boy holding in his arms a cat, the ever-famous cat that lifted her young master from penury; and it is a pleasant proof that the Whityngdons were not unmindful of the source whence sprang their wealth and distinction.

What makes the historian so eager to dwell long and lovingly upon every page gilded by Pussy's triumphs is the deepening gloom through which we see her little figure steal frightened and forlorn. For centuries she is hidden from our sight; and, when she emerges out of the unknown, a strange and melancholy change has come over her fortunes. Here and there we find such scanty proof as I have offered of toleration, and even of esteem, on the score of usefulness; but, as she grew in time to be a familiar object in the homes of men, they looked at her askance with cruel and troubled eyes. The god of Egypt, the plaything of Rome, became, by some sad ill chance, a symbol of evil things. Her beauty, her grace, her gentleness availed her nothing. She was the witch's friend, and on many a murky midnight had gazed unblinkingly upon shameful spells. The Prince of the Power of Darkness had taken her for his own, and she dwelt by the hearths of men to lure them to destruction. The cat that served seven masters, each for seven years, carried the soul of the seventh into Hell. Like the were-wolf, she set free the primitive, bestial impulses of humanity. The wife who left her sleeping husband's side to share the obscene revels of warlocks and of witches, stole through the lattice window as a sleek black cat. Perchance some passing traveller, seeing her glide by, wounded her with stone or sword; and the next morning she was found maimed and bleeding beneath the counterpane. In ruined churches, pillaged and desecrated by the unsparing wickedness of war, there assembled, on the eve of Saint John, hags and wizards and young girls caught in Satan's toils, all creeping through the darkness under the forms of cats, and all afire with impious relish for sorcery and sin.

Innumerable legends cluster around the cat during these picturesque centuries of superstition, when men were poor in letters, but rich in vivid imaginings; when they were densely ignorant, but never dull. Even after the Dark Ages had grown light, there was no lifting of the gloom which enveloped Pussy's pathway, there was no visible softening of her lot. The stories told of her impish wickedness have the same general character throughout Europe. We meet them with modest variations in France, in Germany, in Sweden, Denmark, England, Scotland and Wales. It was a belated woodcutter of Brittany who saw with horror-stricken eyes thirteen cats dancing in sacrilegious glee around a wayside crucifix. One he killed with his axe, and the other twelve disappeared in a trice. It was a charcoal-burner in the Black Forest who, hearing strange noises near his kiln at night, arose from bed and stepped into the clearing. Before him, motionless in the moonlight, sat three cats. He stooped to pick up a stone, and the relic of Saint Gildas he carried in his bosom fell from its snapt string upon the ground. Immediately his arm hung helpless, and he could not touch the stone. Then one of the cats said to its companions: "For the sake of his wife, who is my gossip, sisters, let him go!" and the next morning he was found lying unconscious, but unharmed, across the forest road.

From Scandinavia, where the fair white cats of Freija were once as honoured as were Odin's ravens and Thor's goats, comes the tale of the haunted mill in which dreadful revelry was heard at night, and which had been twice burned to the ground on Whitsun Eve. The third year, a travelling tailor, pious and brave, offered to keep watch. He chalked a circle on the floor, wrote the Lord's prayer around it, and waited with patience until midnight. Then a troop of cats crept stealthily in, carrying a great pot of pitch which they hung in the fireplace, lighting the logs beneath it. Soon the pitch bubbled and seethed, and the cats, swinging the pot, tried to overturn it. The tailor drove them away; and when one, who seemed to be the leader, sought to pull him gently outside the magic circle, he cut off its paw with his knife. Upon this they all fled howling into the night; and the next morning the miller saw with joy his mill standing unharmed, and the great wheel turning merrily in the water. But the miller's wife was ill in bed; and, when the tailor bade her good-by, she gave him her left hand, hiding beneath the bedclothes the right arm's bleeding stump.

There is also a Scandinavian version of the ever famous story which Sir Walter Scott told to Washington Irving, which "Monk" Lewis told to Shelley, and which, in one form or another, we find embodied in the folk-lore of every land,—the story of the traveller who saw within a ruined abbey a procession of cats lowering into its grave a little coffin with a crown upon it. Filled with horror, he hastened from the spot; but when he reached his destination, he could not forbear relating to a friend the wonder he had seen. Scarcely had the tale been told, when his friend's cat, who lay curled up tranquilly by the fire, sprang to its feet, cried out, "Then I am the King of the Cats!" and disappeared in a flash up the chimney.

In the Norwegian tale, which lacks the subtle suggestiveness of the German, the cat is a young Troll, who, hiding from the jealous wrath of Knurremurre, lived for three years as a peaceful pussy in the house of a Jutland peasant. One day this man, toiling to market with his basket of eggs, was met by a Troll from Brönö, who sang out to him lustily:—

"Hör du, Plat,
Siig til din Kat
At Knurremurre er död."

("Hark you, Plat,
Tell your cat
That Knurremurre is dead.")

In no way enlightened by this message, the peasant went home and repeated it to his wife; whereupon his cat leaped from the hearth, cried joyously, "Then I am the Master Troll," and overturned the pot of soup in his haste to scramble up the chimney, and be gone.

In Sternberg's "Legends of Northamptonshire," we have the story of a woodman whose dinner was stolen from him daily by a cat. After many vain attempts, he succeeded in waylaying the creature and cutting off one of its paws, only to find, when he reached home, that his wife had lost her hand. The curious deviltry which provoked witches to plague their husbands, in preference to other men, is one of the interesting points in the annals of sorcery. Those were wild times, when strength ruled the world roughly; and the witch wife—once innocent and weak—had doubtless a long score of insults to avenge before she took to burning her husband's mill, or stealing his daily bread.

As for the poor cat, her fate was sealed; and we can hardly wonder at the deep suspicion with which men regarded an animal so mysterious, and so closely allied to the supernatural. Even when her behaviour was harmless or beneficial, they feared a lurking malice which never lacked the power for evil things. M. Champfleury tells us of a French woman, a native of Billancourt, who was peacefully cooking an omelette, when a black cat strayed into her cottage, and sat upright on the hearth. She took no notice of the creature, but went on with her work. The cat watched the omelette attentively for a moment, and then said: "It is done. Turn it over." Indignant at advice from such a quarter, the woman hastily flung her half-cooked eggs at the beast's head, and the next morning had the satisfaction of seeing a deep red burn on the cheek of an evilly disposed neighbour.

The trials for witchcraft—always of absorbing interest—offer ample proof of Pussy's wicked associations. Again and again she figures with direful prominence in the records of demonology. A black-hearted Scottish witch confessed in the year 1591 that she had impiously christened a cat; and that she and other witches had carried this animal "sayling in their Riddles or Gives into the middest of the sea, and so left it before the towne of Leith; whereupon there did arise such a tempest at sea, as a greater hath not been seen." Nor was this all. It was against King Jamie—pious enemy of witchcraft—that these hags worked their will. "Againe it is confessed that the said christened cat was the cause that the Kinges Majestie's shippe, at his coming forthe of Denmarke, had a contrairie winde to the reste of the shippes then being in his companie; which thing was most straunge and true, as the Kinges Majestic acknowledgeth. For when the rest of the shippes had a fair and good winde, then was the winde contrairie, and altogether against his Majestie."

Evidence of a most disastrous character was brought against the cat in countless other trials. The famous Scotch witch, Isobel Gowdie, "convict and brynt"—so saith the record—in 1662, confessed that it was a common habit of the sisterhood to change themselves into cats, and in that guise to prowl at night over the country-side, stealing into all the farmhouses that were not fenced against them by prayer and charms. She herself had a foolish preference for the form of a hare; and, as a consequence, had been twice hunted by hounds, narrowly escaping death. Joan Peterson was hanged at Wapping, ten years earlier, for visiting and plaguing her neighbours under the semblance of a black cat; and a sister witch met the same fate at Lynn, for sending an impish pussy to sit at night upon the bed of one Cicely Balyer with whom she had grievously quarrelled.

This kind of visitation was not infrequent,—nor altogether surprising when one considers the nocturnal habits of cats, and the accessibility of cottage chimneys,—but the horror of it brought many an old wife to the scaffold. Janet Wishart and Alice Kyteler were both convicted of sending a "wantoune cat" to work evil upon such as had offended them; and a nameless English witch, hanged in King Jamie's reign, confessed that she wrought all her charms with the help of a dun-coloured cat, that came one night to her cottage when she was cowering over her fire, nursing angry thoughts against a farmer's wife. This beast dwelt with her for months, stealing forth night after night to obey her foul behests, until there was scarce a woman in the village who had not suffered from its malignity.

Apparently there was no piece of mischief too great or too trivial for an energetic and evilly disposed cat. The mere presence of Isobel Grierson's pussy in broad daylight would turn sound ale sour; and the most damning evidence brought against John Fian, a Scottish schoolmaster, strangled as a warlock in 1591, was that he had been seen by neighbours in hot pursuit of a cat, leaping over hedges and ditches like one with wings, so furious was the chase. When questioned as to why he hunted the animal, he unwisely admitted—or so at least deposed several garrulous witnesses—that Satan had need of all the cats his servants could bring him, being unable without their aid to raise storms or to wreck ships,—a curious limitation of diabolic power.

The trial which of all others, however, established the Scotch cat's reputation for sorcery was that of Margaret Gilbert and Margaret Olson, two women of Caithness, who were accused of bewitching the household of a stone-mason named Montgomerie by means of a number of cats. No bolts nor bars could exclude these emissaries of evil, nor could they be killed like ordinary animals. When run through by a sword, or cleft in twain by a hatchet, they merely disappeared, to return again at some more convenient opportunity. Moreover, they had a habit of conversing together at night with human voices, but in an unknown tongue;—a habit which seems to have thrilled the unfortunate Montgomeries with terror, and which, it may well be admitted, was calculated to try the nerves. No wonder that a little maid servant fled from the house in mid-term, and would enter it no more, after she had heard these cats talking by the kitchen fire. No wonder that villagers came in time to look askance upon all pussies as possible imps of Belial;—a possibility which assumed definite shape and malevolence when the ever famous witch-finder, Matthew Hopkins, admitted that he himself had beheld at dusk an evil spirit in the shape of a "white kitlyn." This innocent looking object speedily proved its diabolic nature by routing the pious man's greyhound, which turned tail and fled before the tiny creature; while Hopkins, unmindful for once of his serious duties, lost no time in following his dog. It was certainly a "kitlyn" of pluck and spirit that roamed the English lanes that pleasant summer eve.

Continental cats were as deeply incriminated as were those of Great Britain. A witch of Grandcour, named Elizabeth Blanche, confessed at her trial that she was in the habit of rubbing her body with a black ointment which transformed her into a cat, and enabled her to steal unnoticed through the darkness, when summoned to devilish rites. German witches trooped to the Brocken on Walpurgis night under the semblance of cats; and many were the witnesses who swore that they had tracked the little footmarks for miles to the place of meeting. El Gato Moro—the Moor-Cat—prowled in the moonlight about the citadel of Toledo, and pious Christians who beheld it prayed with exceeding fervour to be delivered from its spell. Jean Bodin, author of Demonomanie des Sorciers, tells us with sympathetic gravity a number of stories so curious and so startling that we envy the readers who were fortunate enough to believe them. It is from Bodin that we learn of the witch cats who in 1566 assembled in such numbers in the forests near Vernon that they terrorized the neighbourhood, and no man ventured to assail them. After a time they became so bold that they attacked a party of labourers, returning at nightfall from their work. The men, seeing themselves thus horribly beset, fought with desperation for their lives; and, though covered with wounds, managed to escape, having killed one of the cats, and injured a number of others. This battle proved the undoing of the witches, for the next morning a dozen women of Vernon were found bleeding and mutilated in their beds; and, being brought promptly to trial, made full confessions, denouncing half their neighbours in the country-side.

Bodin is also responsible for the statement that the heretical Waldenses, when hard pushed by the royal troops, summoned to their aid a demon cat, under whose leadership and direction they again and again escaped unwhipt of justice. This is especially worth hearing, because it seems to be one of the few instances in which any practical assistance was lent by the Powers of Darkness. Nothing is more striking than the supreme impotence of sorcerers and sacrilegists, when summoned to answer for their ill-doing. With all the vast machinery of Hell to back them, they could neither outwit nor outstrip the clumsy pursuit of man. A rare exception to this rule was the case of a baker's wife in Köln, who cruelly bewitched her husband's little apprentice. When accused of the crime, she manifested the unconcern of one who had nothing to fear; and neither threats nor exhortations could move her to repentance. She was sentenced to the stake; but, to the end, defied the judge, laughed at the executioner, and mocked the priest with appalling blasphemies. The fagots were fired, the smoke enveloped her thickly, the priest lifted his voice in prayer,—when, with a wild exultant screech, there leaped from out the flames a black cat, which disappeared in a trice amid the terrified throng. The witch had escaped; but one trembles to think what suspicion must have fallen for a time on all the black pussies of Köhn.

Perhaps, however, it was impossible to enhance the guilt of an animal already credited with such frightful depths of malignity. The very word Grimalkin, or Greymalkin, which now we use so lightly, was the name of a fiend, and bore a fearful significance in the annals of witchcraft.

"Now I go, now I fly,
Malkin, my sweet spirit, and I,"

sings Hecate in Middleton's fantastic play. A still deeper horror clings to "Rutterkin," for by that name was known one of the sinfullest of cats,—a terrible cat, black, sinister, malevolent,

"with eyne of burning coal,"

who helped his most wicked mistress in the "sorrowful bewitchment" of the Countess of Rutland and her two young sons, and who did more to blast the fair fame of his race than any puss in Christendom.

The record of the extraordinary trial in which Rutterkin figures so darkly is to be found in the "Churche Boke of Bottesford." Here is set forth with many curious details the story of the witch, Joan Flower, who conceived a venomous hatred of the Earl of Rutland, and of his "noble Countess,"—a woman so gracious, good, beautiful and kind, that she was reverenced alike by rich and poor, friends, servants and dependents. Joan, knowing full well that she could strike the mother most deeply through her son, stole a glove belonging to the heir, soaked it in scalding water, pricked it with pins, and rubbed it on the back of her "familiar," the black cat, Rutterkin. In consequence of this deviltry, Henry, Lord Ross, sickened with strange consuming pangs, which racked him in incessant torture until he died. The hag, ill content even with so dire a vengeance, next tried her arts upon the younger boy, Francis, Lord Ross, who had succeeded to his brother's title and inheritance. Him, too, she bewitched, with the ready aid of Rutterkin, and the poor child, wasting in hideous pain, died in his mother's arms. Then, to complete the ruin she had wrought, and to insure the downfall of a noble house, Joan possessed herself of some feathers from the bed of the Countess, and rubbed them upon Rutterkin's belly, that the now childless woman might never again give birth to a living infant. The feathers and the gloves she obtained through her daughter, Margaret, who was a servant in the castle, and who shared her mother's animosity, and her mother's crimes.

Both Margaret and a younger sister, Phyllis Flower,—what charming names this witch's brood possessed!—gave their evidence unreservedly at the trial; admitting all the circumstances related, and hoping perhaps that, by freely incriminating their parent, they might themselves escape. In this hope they were deceived, and the two girls were hanged in the year of grace 1618. Joan, however, who was either a stout-hearted old sinner or a deeply calumniated saint, refused to make any confession, and maintained her innocence steadfastly, in the face of her daughters' accusations. Even in prison she persistently and solemnly denied the charges brought against her, praying that the bread she ate might choke her if she had ever been guilty of sorcery. Whereupon,—according to the chronicle,—the bread, as it had been a living thing, stuck in her throat, and slowly strangled her, to the supreme edification of the bystanders, who refused to impiously interfere with the manifest workings of Providence. In the parish church of Bottesford may still be seen the beautiful tomb of the Earl and Countess of Rutland, with the two little boys kneeling at their parents' feet; but what became of Rutterkin, after his guilt had been established, is nowhere mentioned, even in the garrulous "Boke."

Cats played a prominent part in that most pitiful of all such pitiful tales,—the bewitchment of the children of Mohra. In 1669 this tranquil Swedish village was cast into fearful consternation. Over three hundred boys and girls, from six to sixteen years of age, had been seduced, it was believed, by charms and cajolery to visit nightly the witches' meetings, and enroll themselves in Satan's ranks. The poor children freely and even eagerly confessed their guilt, clinging with tenacity to all the painful and grotesque details involved in such a story; babbling with infant tongues of things too evil for their understanding; and adding touch after touch of loathsome extravagance, as their imaginations became heated in the riotous atmosphere of credulity. Among other particulars, they affirmed that the Devil gave to each of them "a beast about the bigness and shape of a young cat," which creature was called a "carrier," its especial duty being to steal the butter, cheese, milk, and bacon which constituted their simple offerings to the Prince of Darkness. These thievish cats accompanied them to "Blockula," the palace of Satan, and shared such entertainment as was given them.

The readiness of the children to incriminate themselves was surpassed by the infatuation of their judges. Fifteen of the poor little culprits were actually condemned to death and executed for their hallucinations. Thirty-six were whipped every Sunday for a year before the church doors, and others were punished with varying degrees of severity. So widespread was the interest awakened in this trial, that it extended even to England, then much occupied with witches of her own. The Duke of Holstein attempted to acquaint himself with all the particulars; but was discouraged by the Swedish authorities, who deemed it best to bury the matter in oblivion.

Girt with mystery, burdened with subtle associations of evil, abhorred by the timorous and devout, how was the cat to escape from the long martyrdom which awaited her? The Church offered no asylum to this poor fugitive, albeit she was not without her advocates in Heaven, since both Saint Ives, patron of lawyers, and Saint Gertrude, gentlest of mystics, had deigned to take her under their protection. Moreover a pretty Italian legend softened in some degree the asperity of her lot in that chosen land; for it was whispered that she was created—not to mitigate the discomforts of the Ark—but to minister to the still greater needs of Saint Francis de Paula, when the holy recluse was living in the austere loneliness of his hermitage. Satan, having failed many times to beguile the Saint from a rapt ecstasy of prayer, sent, as a last resource, hundreds of mice to torment him. They swarmed in his narrow cell, gnawed his garments, nibbled at his feet, and behaved with the shameless audacity of vermin that knew their diabolic origin, and feared no retribution. The monk's prayers seemed ended, when suddenly there sprang from his loose sleeve a small furry animal that attacked the invaders with incredible speed and fury. So vigorous was its onslaught, that only two mice escaped by hiding in a crack of the wall; and it is to find these fugitives that the cat's descendants still sit motionless before every little hole and crevice, waiting, as they have waited ever since, for their appointed prey.

But neither the gratitude of Saint Francis, nor the lukewarm patronage of Saint Ives and Saint Gertrude could save poor Pussy from black calumny and persecution. Deeper and deeper into the hearts of men sank the belief that she was allied with demons, and that not only witches and wizards, but their most terrible Master might be seen by guilty mortals under the disguise of a cat. The unhesitating acceptance of a personal Devil, as an important factor in life, made our ancestors exceedingly alert to defeat his designs. No broad-minded doubts softened their fear and detestation; and Saint Dominic was not the only powerful preacher who figured Satan as a black cat, that he might thrill his startled hearers into a trembling abhorrence of sin. One result of this darkening of Pussy's character is that she can seldom be found in church architecture or decoration, where more innocent animals have frisked and gambolled for centuries. Indeed there are antiquarians who maliciously assert that her rare appearance—distorted out of grace and beauty—in some dim corner of a very old cathedral, is due, not to any softening of a universal prejudice, but to that sombre Manichean heresy which constantly found expression in symbolizing triumphant evil. They profess to believe that mediæval stone-masons, tainted with this unholy creed, yet discreet enough to conceal their errors from the Church's chastening hand, indicated the nature of their views by carving, on pulpit and on pillar, ravenous monsters,—lions, leopards, cats, all equally unrecognizable, but all alike glutted with prey. Thus they handed down to posterity the disquiet of their souls, without risking the short, stern shrift of an ecclesiastical court.

The theory, like most theories, is entertaining; but even heresy can hardly be said to have given the cat her due. She was practically banished from cathedrals, save at Rouen, where we find her bravely chasing a mouse around one of the pillars in the nave. A careful search will also reveal her occasional presence in the beautiful old choir stalls, where the genius of the mediæval wood-carver resolved itself into an infinite capacity for taking pains. Amid the riotous groups of greyhounds, monkeys, and birds, we may see her—though very rarely—curled up in a recess, or springing with splendid freedom amid a network of oaken leaves. There are two very droll cats in the choir of the old Minster in the Isle of Thanet; and on one of the stalls of Great Malvern church a pair of rats are engaged in the congenial task of gibbeting a cat,—"le monde bestorné," as this reversal of a natural law was called in ancient France.

Venice gives us a much finer exception in the superb choir-stalls of San Georgio Maggiore, carved by Albert de Brule at the very close of the sixteenth century, when prejudice and superstition were losing their ancient hold. They represent scenes from the life of Saint Benedict; and the Flemish sculptor, deeming no convent complete without its cat, has slyly introduced several into his pious work. One stall shows us Pussy quarrelling in a most unsanctified spirit with Benedict's blessed raven; and, in another, we see her eating a mouse under the bed of a sleepy brother whom the Saint is vainly endeavouring to arouse. The elaborate oak panellings which surround the altar in the upper sala of the Scuola di San Rocco are of a much later date, so that we are hardly surprised at the frank admission of a cat into Saint Roch's company. She sits on a well-curb, regarding him with thoughtful indifference. The anxious solicitude of his dog, the sleepy affection of Saint Jerome's lion, the humble fidelity of Saint Anthony's pig, find no reflection in her steadfast gaze. She merely stares at the Saint, as she stares at Venice from one of the columns of the Ducal Palace. Some subtle lack of sentiment renders her curiously ill-adapted for pious parts, notwithstanding her constant and very charming presence in Italian art, of which much may be said. Certain it is that she was deliberately ignored throughout those earlier years, when the great cathedrals rose slowly and superbly into being. We cannot believe with M. Champfleury that the sculptors of the Middle Ages failed to recognize the cat's beauty and grace; she must have leaped as lightly then as now upon her quivering prey; but hers was a sinister loveliness which they deemed unfit to adorn the splendid monuments of Christendom.