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Title: Letters from a Cat
Author: Jackson, Helen Hunt, 1830-1885
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Letters from a Cat" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

 [Illustration: YOUR AFF PUSSY]

    Letters from a Cat.


    For the Benefit of all Cats



    BY H. H.,





    _Copyright, 1879,_ By Roberts Brothers.

[Illustration: Helen]


Dear Children:

I do not feel wholly sure that my Pussy wrote these letters herself.
They always came inside the letters written to me by my mamma, or other
friends, and I never caught Pussy writing at any time when I was at
home; but the printing was pretty bad, and they were signed by Pussy's
name; and my mamma always looked very mysterious when I asked about
them, as if there were some very great secret about it all; so that
until I grew to be a big girl, I never doubted but that Pussy printed
them all alone by herself, after dark.

They were written when I was a very little girl, and was away from home
with my father on a journey. We made this journey in our own carriage,
and it was one of the pleasantest things that ever happened to me. My
clothes and my father's were packed in a little leather valise which was
hung by straps underneath the carriage, and went swinging, swinging,
back and forth, as the wheels went round. My father and I used to walk
up all the steep hills, because old Charley, our horse, was not very
strong; and I kept my eyes on that valise all the while I was walking
behind the carriage; it seemed to me the most unsafe way to carry a
valise, and I wished very much that my best dress had been put in a
bundle that I could carry in my lap. This was the only drawback on the
pleasure of my journey,--my fear that the valise would fall off when we
did not know it, and be left in the road, and then I should not have
anything nice to wear when I reached my aunt's house. But the valise
went through all safe, and I had the satisfaction of wearing my best
dress every afternoon while I stayed; and I was foolish enough to think
a great deal of this.

On the fourth day after our arrival came a letter from my mamma, giving
me a great many directions how to behave, and enclosing this first
letter from Pussy. I carried both letters in my apron pocket all the
time. They were the first letters I ever had received, and I was very
proud of them. I showed them to everybody, and everybody laughed hard at
Pussy's, and asked me if I believed that Pussy printed it herself. I
thought perhaps my mamma held her paw, with the pen in it, as she had
sometimes held my hand for me, and guided my pen to write a few words. I
asked papa to please to ask mamma, in his letter, if that were the way
Pussy did it; but when his next letter from mamma came, he read me this
sentence out of it: "Tell Helen I did not hold Pussy's paw to write that
letter." So then I felt sure Pussy did it herself; and as I told you, I
had grown up to be quite a big girl before I began to doubt it. You see
I thought my Pussy such a wonderful Pussy that nothing was too
remarkable for her to do. I knew very well that cats generally did not
know how to read or write; but I thought there had never been such a
cat in the world as this Pussy of mine. It is a great many years since
she died; but I can see her before me to-day as plainly as if it were
only yesterday that I had really seen her alive.

She was a little kitten when I first had her; but she grew fast, and was
very soon bigger than I wanted her to be. I wanted her to stay little.
Her fur was a beautiful dark gray color, and there were black stripes on
her sides, like the stripes on a tiger. Her eyes were very big, and her
ears unusually long and pointed. This made her look like a fox; and she
was so bright and mischievous that some people thought she must be part
fox. She used to do one thing that I never heard of any other cat's
doing: she used to play hide-and-seek. Did you ever hear of a cat's
playing hide-and-seek? And the most wonderful part of it was, that she
took it up of her own accord. As soon as she heard me shut the gate in
the yard at noon, when school was done, she would run up the stairs as
hard as she could go, and take her place at the top, where she could
just peep through the banisters. When I opened the door, she would give
a funny little mew, something like the mew cats make when they call
their kittens. Then as soon as I stepped on the first stair to come up
to her, she would race away at the top of her speed, and hide under a
bed; and when I reached the room, there would be no Pussy to be seen. If
I called her, she would come out from under the bed; but if I left the
room, and went down stairs without speaking, in less than a minute she
would fly back to her post at the head of the stairs, and call again
with the peculiar mew. As soon as I appeared, off she would run, and
hide under the bed as before. Sometimes she would do this three or four
times; and it was a favorite amusement of my mother's to exhibit this
trick of hers to strangers. It was odd, though; she never would do it
twice, when she observed that other people were watching. When I called
her, and she came out from under the bed, if there were strangers
looking on, she would walk straight to me in the demurest manner, as if
it were a pure accident that she happened to be under that bed; and no
matter what I did or said, her frolic was over for that day.

She used to follow me, just like a little dog, wherever I went. She
followed me to school every day, and we had great difficulty on Sundays
to keep her from following us to church. Once she followed me, when it
made a good many people laugh, in spite of themselves, on an occasion
when it was very improper for them to laugh, and they were all feeling
very sad. It was at the funeral of one of the professors in the college.

The professors' families all sat together; and when the time came for
them to walk out of the house and get into the carriages to go to the
graveyard, they were called, one after the other, by name. When it came
to our turn, my father and mother went first, arm-in-arm; then my sister
and I; and then, who should rise, very gravely, but my Pussy, who had
slipped into the room after me, and had not been noticed in the crowd.
With a slow and deliberate gait she walked along, directly behind my
sister and me, as if she were the remaining member of the family, as
indeed she was. People began to smile, and as we passed through the
front door, and went down the steps, some of the men and boys standing
there laughed out. I do not wonder; for it must have been a very comical
sight. In a second more, somebody sprang forward and snatched Pussy up.
Such a scream as she gave! and scratched his face with her claws, so
that he was glad to put her down. As soon as I heard her voice I turned
round, and called her in a low tone. She ran quickly to me, and I picked
her up and carried her in my arms the rest of the way. But I saw even my
own papa and mamma laughing a little, for just a minute. That was the
only funeral Pussy ever attended.

Pussy lived several years after the events which are related in these

It was a long time before her fur grew out again after that terrible
fall into the soft-soap barrel. However, it did grow out at last, and
looked as well as ever. Nobody would have known that any thing had been
the matter with her, except that her eyes were always weak. The edges of
them never got quite well; and poor Pussy used to sit and wash them by
the hour; sometimes mewing and looking up in my face, with each stroke
of her paw on her eyes, as much as to say, "Don't you see how sore my
eyes are? Why don't you do something for me?"

She was never good for any thing as a mouser after that accident, nor
for very much to play with. I recollect hearing my mother say one day to
somebody,--"Pussy was spoiled by her experience in the cradle. She would
like to be rocked the rest of her days, I do believe; and it is too
funny to see her turn up her nose at tough beef. It was a pity she ever
got a taste of tenderloin!"

At last, what with good feeding and very little exercise, she grew so
fat that she was clumsy, and so lazy that she did not want to do any
thing but lie curled up on a soft cushion.

She had outgrown my little chair, which had a green moreen cushion in
it, on which she had slept for many a year, and of which I myself had
very little use,--she was in it so much of the time. But now that this
was too tight for her, she took possession of the most comfortable
places she could find, all over the house. Now it was a sofa, now it was
an arm-chair, now it was the foot of somebody's bed. But wherever it
happened to be, it was sure to be the precise place where she was in the
way, and the poor thing was tipped headlong out of chairs, shoved
hastily off sofas, and driven off beds so continually, that at last she
came to understand that when she saw any person approaching the chair,
sofa, or bed on which she happened to be lying, the part of wisdom for
her was to move away. And it was very droll to see the injured and
reproachful expression with which she would slowly get up, stretch all
her legs, and walk away, looking for her next sleeping-place. Everybody
in the house, except me, hated the sight of her; and I had many a
pitched battle with the servants in her behalf. Even my mother, who was
the kindest human being I ever knew, got out of patience at last, and
said to me one day:--

"Helen, your Pussy has grown so old and so fat, she is no comfort to
herself, and a great torment to everybody else. I think it would be a
mercy to kill her."

"Kill my Pussy!" I exclaimed, and burst out crying, so loud and so hard
that I think my mother was frightened; for she said quickly:--

"Never mind, dear; it shall not be done, unless it is necessary. You
would not want Pussy to live, if she were very uncomfortable all the

"She isn't uncomfortable," I cried; "she is only sleepy. If people would
let her alone, she would sleep all day. It would be awful to kill her.
You might as well kill me!"

After that, I kept a very close eye on Pussy; and I carried her up to
bed with me every night for a long time.

But Pussy's days were numbered. One morning, before I was up, my mamma
came into my room, and sat down on the edge of my bed.

"Helen," she said, "I have something to tell you which will make you
feel very badly; but I hope you will be a good little girl, and not make
mamma unhappy about it. You know your papa and mamma always do what they
think is the very best thing."

"What is it, mamma?" I asked, feeling very much frightened, but never
thinking of Pussy.

"You will never see your Pussy any more," she replied. "She is dead."

"Oh, where is she?" I cried. "What killed her? Won't she come to life

"No," said my mother; "she is drowned."

Then I knew what had happened.

"Who did it?" was all I said.

"Cousin Josiah," she replied; "and he took great care that Pussy did not
suffer at all. She sank to the bottom instantly."

"Where did he drown her?" I asked.

"Down by the mill, in Mill Valley, where the water is very deep,"
answered my mother; "we told him to take her there."

At these words I cried bitterly.

"That's the very place I used to go with her to play," I exclaimed.
"I'll never go near that bridge as long as I live, and I'll never speak
a word to Cousin Josiah either--never!"

My mother tried to comfort me, but it was of no use; my heart was nearly

When I went to breakfast, there sat my cousin Josiah, looking as
unconcerned as possible, reading a newspaper. He was a student in the
college, and boarded at our house. At the sight of him all my
indignation and grief broke forth afresh. I began to cry again; and
running up to him, I doubled up my fist and shook it in his face.

"I said I'd never speak to you as long as I lived," I cried; "but I
will. You're just a murderer, a real murderer; that's what you are! and
when you go to be a missionary, I hope the cannibals'll eat you! I hope
they'll eat you alive raw, you mean old murderer!"

"Helen Maria!" said my father's voice behind me, sternly. "Helen Maria!
leave the room this moment!"

I went away sullenly, muttering, "I don't care, he is a murderer; and I
hope he'll be drowned, if he isn't eaten! The Bible says the same
measure ye mete shall be meted to you again. He ought to be drowned."

For this sullen muttering I had to go without my breakfast; and after
breakfast was over, I was made to beg Cousin Josiah's pardon; but I did
not beg it in my heart--not a bit--only with my lips, just repeating the
words I was told to say; and from that time I never spoke one word to
him, nor looked at him, if I could help it.

My kind mother offered to get another kitten for me, but I did not want
one. After a while, my sister Ann had a present of a pretty little gray
kitten; but I never played with it, nor took any notice of it at all. I
was as true to my Pussy as she was to me; and from that day to this, I
have never had another Pussy!


My Dear Helen:

That is what your mother calls you, I know, for I jumped up on
writing-table just now, and looked, while she was out of the room; and I
am sure I have as much right to call you so as she has, for if you were
my own little kitty, and looked just like me, I could not love you any
more than I do. How many good naps I have had in your lap! and how many
nice bits of meat you have saved for me out of your own dinner! Oh, I'll
never let a rat, or a mouse, touch any thing of yours so long as I live.

I felt very unhappy after you drove off yesterday, and did not know what
to do with myself. I went into the barn, and thought I would take a nap
on the hay, for I do think going to sleep is one of the very best things
for people who are unhappy; but it seemed so lonely without old Charlie
stamping in his stall that I could not bear it, so I went into the
garden, and lay down under the damask rose-bush, and caught flies. There
is a kind of fly round that bush which I like better than any other I
ever ate. You ought to see that there is a very great difference between
my catching flies and your doing it. I have noticed that you never eat
them, and I have wondered that when you were always so kind to me you
could be so cruel as to kill poor flies for nothing: I have often wished
that I could speak to you about it: now that your dear mother has taught
me to print, I shall be able to say a great many things to you which I
have often been unhappy about because I could not make you understand. I
am entirely discouraged about learning to speak the English language,
and I do not think anybody takes much trouble to learn ours; so we cats
are confined entirely to the society of each other, which prevents our
knowing so much as we might; and it is very lonely too, in a place where
there are so few cats kept as in Amherst. If it were not for Mrs.
Hitchcock's cat, and Judge Dickinson's, I should really forget how to
use my tongue. When you are at home I do not mind it, for although I
cannot talk to you, I understand every word that you say to me, and we
have such good plays together with the red ball. That is put away now in
the bottom drawer of the little workstand in the sitting-room. When your
mother put it in, she turned round to me, and said, "Poor pussy, no more
good plays for you till Helen comes home!" and I thought I should
certainly cry. But I think it is very foolish to cry over what cannot be
helped, so I pretended to have got something into my left eye, and
rubbed it with my paw. It is very seldom that I cry over any thing,
unless it is "spilt milk." I must confess, I have often cried when that
has happened: and it always is happening to cats' milk. They put it into
old broken things that tip over at the least knock, and then they set
them just where they are sure to be most in the way. Many's the time
Josiah has knocked over that blue saucer of mine, in the shed, and when
you have thought that I had had a nice breakfast of milk, I had nothing
in the world but flies, which are not good for much more than just a
little sort of relish. I am so glad of a chance to tell you about this,
because I know when you come home you will get a better dish for me.

I hope you found the horse-chestnuts which I put in the bottom of the
carriage for you. I could not think of any thing else to put in, which
would remind you of me: but I am afraid you will never think that it was
I who put them there, and it will be too bad if you don't, for I had a
dreadful time climbing up over the dasher with them, and both my jaws
are quite lame from stretching them so, to carry the biggest ones I
could find.

There are three beautiful dandelions out on the terrace, but I don't
suppose they will keep till you come home. A man has been doing
something to your garden, but though I watched him very closely all the
time, I could not make out what he was about. I am afraid it is
something you will not like; but if I find out more about it, I will
tell you in my next letter. Good by.

     Your affectionate Pussy.

     [Illustration: "I felt very unhappy after you drove off yesterday."
     Page 28.]

     [Illustration: "I hope you found the horse-chestnuts which I put in
     the carriage for you. I had a dreadful time climbing up over the
     dasher with them."--Page 33.]


My Dear Helen:

I do wish that you and your father would turn around directly, wherever
you are, when you get this letter, and come home as fast as you can. If
you do not come soon there will be no home left for you to come into. I
am so frightened and excited, that my paws tremble, and I have upset the
ink twice, and spilled so much that there is only a little left in the
bottom of the cup, and it is as thick as hasty pudding; so you must
excuse the looks of this letter, and I will tell you as quickly as I can
about the dreadful state of things here. Not more than an hour after I
finished my letter to you, yesterday, I heard a great noise in the
parlor, and ran in to see what was the matter. There was Mary with her
worst blue handkerchief tied over her head, her washing-day gown on, and
a big hammer in her hand. As soon as she saw me, she said, "There's that
cat! Always in my way," and threw a cricket at me, and then shut the
parlor door with a great slam. So I ran out and listened under the
front windows, for I felt sure she was in some bad business she did not
want to have known. Such a noise I never heard: all the things were
being moved; and in a few minutes, what do you think--out came the whole
carpet right on my head! I was nearly stifled with dust, and felt as if
every bone in my body must be broken; but I managed to creep out from
under it, and heard Mary say, "If there isn't that torment of a cat
again! I wish to goodness Helen had taken her along!" Then I felt surer
than ever that some mischief was on foot: and ran out into the garden,
and climbed up the old apple-tree at the foot of the steps, and crawled
out on a branch, from which I could look directly into the parlor
windows. Oh! my dear Helen, you can fancy how I felt, to see all the
chairs and tables and bookshelves in a pile in the middle of the floor,
the books all packed in big baskets, and Mary taking out window after
window as fast as she could. I forgot to tell you that your mother went
away last night. I think she has gone to Hadley to make a visit, and it
looks to me very much as if Mary meant to run away with every thing
which could be moved, before she comes back. After awhile that ugly
Irishwoman, who lives in Mr. Slater's house, came into the back gate:
you know the one I mean,--the one that threw cold water on me last
spring. When I saw her coming I felt sure that she and Mary meant to
kill me, while you were all away; so I jumped down out of the tree, and
split my best claw in my hurry, and ran off into Baker's Grove, and
stayed there all the rest of the day, in dreadful misery from cold and
hunger. There was some snow in the hollows, and I wet my feet, which
always makes me feel wretchedly; and I could not find any thing to eat
except a thin dried-up old mole. They are never good in the spring.
Really, nobody does know what hard lives we cats lead, even the luckiest
of us! After dark, I went home; but Mary had fastened up every door,
even the little one into the back shed. So I had to jump into the cellar
window, which is a thing I never like to do since I got that bad sprain
in my shoulder from coming down on the edge of a milk-pan. I crept up to
the head of the kitchen stairs, as still as a mouse, if I'm any judge,
and listened there for a long time, to try and make out, from Mary's
talk with the Irishwoman, what they were planning to do. But I never
could understand Irish, and although I listened till I had cramps in all
my legs, from being so long in one position, I was no wiser. Even the
things Mary said I could not understand, and I usually understand her
very easily. I passed a very uncomfortable night in the carrot bin. As
soon as I heard Mary coming down the cellar stairs, this morning, I hid
in the arch, and while she was skimming the milk, I slipped upstairs,
and ran into the sitting-room. Every thing there is in the same
confusion; the carpet is gone; and the windows too, and I think some of
the chairs have been carried away. All the china is in great baskets on
the pantry floor; and your father and mother's clothes are all taken out
of the nursery closet, and laid on chairs. It is very dreadful to have
to stand and see all this, and not be able to do any thing. I don't
think I ever fully realized before the disadvantage of being only a cat.
I have just been across the street, and talked it all over with the
Judge's cat, but she is very old and stupid, and so taken up with her
six kittens (who are the ugliest I ever saw), that she does not take
the least interest in her neighbors' affairs. Mrs. Hitchcock walked by
the house this morning, and I ran out to her, and took her dress in my
teeth and pulled it, and did all I could to make her come in, but she
said, "No, no, pussy, I'm not coming in to-day; your mistress is not at
home." I declare I could have cried. I sat down in the middle of the
path, and never stirred for half an hour.

I heard your friend, Hannah Dorrance, say yesterday, that she was going
to write to you to-day, so I shall run up the hill now and carry my
letter to her. I think she will be astonished when she sees me, for I am
very sure that no other cat in town knows how to write. Do come home as
soon as possible.

     Your affectionate Pussy.

P. S. Two men have just driven up to the front gate in a great cart, and
they are putting all the carpets into it. Oh dear, oh dear, if I only
knew what to do! And I just heard Mary say to them, "Be as quick as you
can, for I want to get through with this business before the folks come

     [Illustration: "I climbed up the old apple-tree, and crawled out on
     a branch from which I could look directly into the parlor
     windows."--Page 38.]

     [Illustration: "I crept up to the head of the kitchen stairs, as
     still as a mouse, if I'm any judge, and listened."--Page 40.]


My Dear Helen:

I am too stiff and sore from a terrible fall I have had, to write more
than one line; but I must let you know that my fright was very silly,
and I am very much mortified about it. The house and the things are all
safe; your mother has come home; and I will write, and tell you all,
just as soon as I can use my pen without great pain.

Some new people have come to live in the Nelson house; very nice people,
I think, for they keep their milk in yellow crockery pans. They have
brought with them a splendid black cat whose name is Cæsar, and
everybody is talking about him. He has the handsomest whiskers I ever
saw. I do hope I shall be well enough to see him before long, but I
wouldn't have him see me now for any thing.

     Your affectionate Pussy.

     [Illustration: "They have brought with them a splendid black cat
     whose name is Cæsar, and everybody is talking about him. He has the
     handsomest whiskers I ever saw."--Page 46.]


My Dear Helen:

There is one thing that cats don't like any better than men and women
do, and that is to make fools of themselves. But a precious fool I made
of myself when I wrote you that long letter about Mary's moving out all
the furniture, and taking the house down. It is very mortifying to have
to tell you how it all turned out, but I know you love me enough to be
sorry that I should have had such a terrible fright for nothing.

It went on from bad to worse for three more days after I wrote you. Your
mother did not come home; and the awful Irishwoman was here all the
time. I did not dare to go near the house, and I do assure you I nearly
starved: I used to lie under the rose-bushes, and watch as well as I
could what was going on: now and then I caught a rat in the barn, but
that sort of hearty food never has agreed with me since I came to live
with you, and became accustomed to a lighter diet. By the third day I
felt too weak and sick to stir: so I lay still all day on the straw in
Charlie's stall; and I really thought, between the hunger and the
anxiety, that I should die. About noon I heard Mary say in the shed, "I
do believe that everlasting cat has taken herself off: it's a good
riddance anyhow, but I should like to know what has become of the plaguy

I trembled all over, for if she had come into the barn I know one kick
from her heavy foot would have killed me, and I was quite too weak to
run away. Towards night I heard your dear mother's voice calling, "Poor
pussy, why, poor pussy, where are you?"

I assure you, my dear Helen, people are very much mistaken who say, as I
have often overheard them, that cats have no feeling. If they could only
know how I felt at that moment, they would change their minds. I was
almost too glad to make a sound. It seemed to me that my feet were
fastened to the floor, and that I never could get to her. She took me up
in her arms, and carried me through the kitchen into the sitting-room.
Mary was frying cakes in the kitchen, and as your mother passed by the
stove she said in her sweet voice, "You see I've found poor pussy,
Mary." "Humph," said Mary, "I never thought but that she'd be found fast
enough when she wanted to be!" I knew that this was a lie, because I had
heard what she said in the shed. I do wish I knew what makes her hate me
so: I only wish she knew how I hate her. I really think I shall gnaw her
stockings and shoes some night. It would not be any more than fair; and
she would never suspect me, there are so many mice in her room, for I
never touch one that I think belongs in her closet.

The sitting-room was all in most beautiful order,--a smooth white
something, like the side of a basket, over the whole floor, a beautiful
paper curtain, pink and white, over the fire-place, and white muslin
curtains at the windows. I stood perfectly still in the middle of the
room for some time. I was too surprised to stir. Oh, how I wished that I
could speak, and tell your dear mother all that had happened, and how
the room had looked three days before. Presently she said, "Poor pussy,
I know you are almost starved, aren't you?" and I said "Yes," as plainly
as I could mew it. Then she brought me a big soup-plate full of thick
cream, and some of the most delicious cold hash I ever tasted; and after
I had eaten it all, she took me in her lap, and said, "Poor pussy, we
miss little Helen, don't we?" and she held me in her lap till bed-time.
Then she let me sleep on the foot of her bed: it was one of the happiest
nights of my life. In the middle of the night I was up for a while, and
caught the smallest mouse I ever saw out of the nest. Such little ones
are very tender.

In the morning I had my breakfast with her in the dining-room, which
looks just as nice as the sitting-room. After breakfast Mrs. Hitchcock
came in, and your mother said: "Only think, how fortunate I am; Mary did
all the house-cleaning while I was away. Every room is in perfect order;
all the woollen clothes are put away for the summer. Poor pussy, here,
was frightened out of the house, and I suppose we should all have been
if we had been at home."

Can you imagine how ashamed I felt? I ran under the table and did not
come out again until after Mrs. Hitchcock had gone. But now comes
the saddest part of my story. Soon after this, as I was looking out of
the window, I saw the fattest, most tempting robin on the ground under
the cherry-tree: the windows did not look as if they had any glass in
them, and I took it for granted that it had all been taken out and put
away upstairs, with the andirons and the carpets, for next winter. I
knew that there was no time to be lost if I meant to catch that robin,
so I ran with all my might and tried to jump through. Oh, my dear Helen,
I do not believe you ever had such a bump: I fell back nearly into the
middle of the room; and it seemed to me that I turned completely over at
least six times. The blood streamed out of my nose, and I cut my right
ear very badly against one of the castors of the table. I could not see
nor hear any thing for some minutes. When I came to myself, I found your
dear mother holding me, and wiping my face with her own nice
handkerchief wet in cold water. My right fore-paw was badly bruised, and
that troubles me very much about washing my face, and about writing. But
the worst of all is the condition of my nose. Everybody laughs who sees
me, and I do not blame them; it is twice as large as it used to be, and
I begin to be seriously afraid it will never return to its old shape.
This will be a dreadful affliction: for who does not know that the nose
is the chief beauty of a cat's face? I have got very tired of hearing
the story of my fall told to all the people who come in. They laugh as
if they would kill themselves at it, especially when I do not manage to
get under the table before they look to see how my nose is.

Except for this I should have written to you before, and would write
more now, but my paw aches badly, and one of my eyes is nearly closed
from the swelling of my nose: so I must say good-by.

     Your affectionate Pussy.

P. S. I told you about Cæsar, did I not, in my last letter? Of course I
do not venture out of the house in my present plight, so I have not seen
him except from the window.

     [Illustration: "Can you imagine how ashamed I felt? I ran under the
     table and did not come out again until after Mrs. Hitchcock had
     gone."--Page 54.]

     [Illustration: "I knew that there was no time to be lost if I meant
     to catch that robin, so I ran with all my might and tried to jump
     through."--Page 55.]


My Dear Helen:

I am sure you must have wondered why I have not written to you for the
last two weeks, but when you hear what I have been through, you will
only wonder that I am alive to write to you at all. I was very glad to
hear your mother say, yesterday, that she had not written to you about
what had happened to me, because it would make you so unhappy. But now
that it is all over, and I am in a fair way to be soon as well as ever,
I think you will like to hear the whole story.

In my last letter I told you about the new black cat, Cæsar, who had
come to live in the Nelson house, and how anxious I was to know him. As
soon as my nose was fit to be seen, Judge Dickinson's cat, who is a
good, hospitable old soul, in spite of her stupidity, invited me to tea,
and asked him too. All the other cats were asked to come later in the
evening, and we had a grand frolic, hunting rats in the Judge's great
barn. Cæsar is certainly the handsomest and most gentlemanly cat I
ever saw. He paid me great attention: in fact, so much, that one of
those miserable half-starved cats from Mill Valley grew so jealous that
she flew at me and bit my ear till it bled, which broke up the party.
But Cæsar went home with me, so I did not care; then we sat and talked a
long time under the nursery window. I was so much occupied in what he
was saying, that I did not hear Mary open the window overhead, and was
therefore terribly frightened when there suddenly came down on us a
whole pailful of water. I was so startled that I lost all presence of
mind; and without bidding him good-night, I jumped directly into the
cellar window by which we were sitting. Oh, my dear Helen, I can never
give you any idea of what followed. Instead of coming down as I expected
to on the cabbages, which were just under that window the last time I
was in the cellar, I found myself sinking, sinking, into some horrible
soft, slimy, sticky substance, which in an instant more would have
closed over my head, and suffocated me; but, fortunately, as I sank, I
felt something hard at one side, and making a great effort, I caught on
it with my claws. It proved to be the side of a barrel, and I succeeded
in getting one paw over the edge of it. There I hung, growing weaker and
weaker every minute, with this frightful stuff running into my eyes and
ears, and choking me with its bad smell. I mewed as loud as I could,
which was not very loud, for whenever I opened my mouth the stuff
trickled into it off my whiskers; but I called to Cæsar, who stood in
great distress at the window, and explained to him, as well as I could,
what had happened to me, and begged him to call as loudly as possible;
for if somebody did not come very soon, and take me out, I should
certainly die. He insisted, at first, on jumping down to help me
himself; but I told him that would be the most foolish thing he could
do; if he did, we should certainly both be drowned. So he began to mew
at the top of his voice, and between his mewing and mine, there was
noise enough for a few minutes; then windows began to open, and I heard
your grandfather swearing and throwing out a stick of wood at Cæsar;
fortunately he was so near the house that it did not hit him. At last
your grandfather came downstairs, and opened the back door; and Cæsar
was so frightened that he ran away, for which I have never thought so
well of him since, though we are still very good friends. When I heard
him running off, and calling back to me, from a distance, that he was so
sorry he could not help me, my courage began to fail, and in a moment
more, I should have let go of the edge of the barrel, and sunk to the
bottom; but luckily your grandfather noticed that there was something
very strange about my mewing, and opened the door at the head of the
cellar stairs, saying, "I do believe the cat is in some trouble down
here." Then I made a great effort and mewed still more piteously. How I
wished I could call out and say, "Yes, indeed, I am; drowning to death,
in I'm sure I don't know what, but something a great deal worse than
water!" However, he understood me as it was, and came down with a lamp.
As soon as he saw me, he set the lamp down on the cellar bottom, and
laughed so that he could hardly move. I thought this was the most cruel
thing I ever heard of. If I had not been, as it were, at death's door, I
should have laughed at him, too, for even with my eyes full of that
dreadful stuff, I could see that he looked very funny in his red
night-cap, and without his teeth. He called out to Mary, and your
mother, who stood at the head of the stairs, "Come down, come down;
here's the cat in the soft-soap barrel!" and then he laughed again, and
they both came down the stairs laughing, even your dear kind mother, who
I never could have believed would laugh at any one in such trouble. They
did not seem to know what to do at first; nobody wanted to touch me; and
I began to be afraid I should drown while they stood looking at me, for
I knew much better than they could how weak I was from holding on to the
edge of the barrel so long. At last your grandfather swore that oath of
his,--you know the one I mean, the one he always swears when he is very
sorry for anybody,--and lifted me out by the nape of my neck, holding me
as far off from him as he could, for the soft soap ran off my legs and
tail in streams. He carried me up into the kitchen, and put me down in
the middle of the floor, and then they all stood round me, and laughed
again, so loud that they waked up the cook, who came running out of
her bedroom with her tin candlestick and a chair in her hand, thinking
that robbers were breaking in. At last your dear mother said, "Poor
pussy, it is too bad to laugh at you, when you are in such pain" (I had
been thinking so for some time). "Mary, bring the small washtub. The
only thing we can do is to wash her."

When I heard this, I almost wished they had left me to drown in the soft
soap; for if there is any thing of which I have a mortal dread, it is
water. However, I was too weak to resist; and they plunged me in all
over, into the tub full of ice-cold water, and Mary began to rub me
with her great rough hands, which, I assure you, are very different from
yours and your mother's. Then they all laughed again to see the white
lather it made; in two minutes the whole tub was as white as the water
under the mill-wheel that you and I have so often been together to see.
You can imagine how my eyes smarted. I burnt my paws once in getting a
piece of beefsteak out of the coals where it had fallen off the
gridiron, but the pain of that was nothing to this. You will hardly
believe me when I tell you that they had to empty the tub and fill it
again ten times before the soap was all washed out of my fur. By that
time I was so cold and exhausted, that I could not move, and they began
to think I should die. But your mother rolled me up in one of your old
flannel petticoats, and made a nice bed for me behind the stove. By this
time even Mary began to seem sorry for me, though she was very cross at
first, and hurt me much more than she need to in washing me; now she
said, "You're nothing but a poor beast of a cat, to be sure; but it's
mesilf that would be sorry to have the little mistress come back, and
find ye kilt." So you see your love for me did me service, even when
you were so far away. I doubt very much whether they would have ever
taken the trouble to nurse me through this sickness, except for your
sake. But I must leave the rest for my next letter. I am not strong
enough yet to write more than two hours at a time.

     Your affectionate Pussy.

     [Illustration: "Judge Dickinson's cat, who is a good hospitable old
     soul, in spite of her stupidity, invited me to tea, and asked Cæsar
     too."--Page 60.]

     [Illustration: "When there suddenly came down on us a whole pailful
     of water." Page 61.]

     [Illustration: "He lifted me out by the nape of my neck, holding me
     as far off from him as he could."--Page 68.]


My Dear Helen:

I will begin where I left off in my last letter.

As you may imagine, I did not get any sleep that night, not even so much
as a cat's nap, as people say, though how cat's naps differ from men's
and women's naps, I don't know. I shivered all night, and it hurt me
terribly whenever I moved. Early in the morning your grandfather came
downstairs, and when he saw how I looked, he swore again, that same
oath: we all know very well what it means when he swears in that way: it
means that he is going to do all he can for you, and is so sorry, that
he is afraid of seeming too sorry. Don't you remember when you had that
big double tooth pulled out, and he gave you five dollars, how he swore
then? Well, he took me up in his arms, and carried me into the
dining-room; it was quite cool; there was a nice wood fire on the
hearth, and Mary was setting the table for breakfast. He said to her in
a very gruff voice, "Here you, Mary, you go up into the garret and
bring down the cradle."

Sick as I was, I could not help laughing at the sight of her face. It
was enough to make any cat laugh.

"You don't ever mean to say, sir, as you're going to put that cat into
the cradle."

"You do as I tell you," said he, in that most awful tone of his, which
always makes you so afraid. I felt afraid myself, though all the time he
was stroking my head, and saying, "Poor pussy, there, poor pussy, lie
still." In a few minutes Mary came down with the cradle, and set it
down by the fire with such a bang that I wondered it did not break. You
know she always bangs things when she is cross, but I never could see
what good it does. Then your grandfather made up a nice bed in the
cradle, out of Charlie's winter blanket and an old pillow, and laid me
down in it, all rolled up as I was in your petticoat. When your mother
came into the room she laughed almost as hard as she did when she saw me
in the soft-soap barrel, and said, "Why, father, you are rather old to
play cat's cradle!" The old gentleman laughed at this, till the tears
ran down his red cheeks. "Well," he said, "I tell you one thing; the
game will last me till that poor cat gets well again." Then he went
upstairs, and brought down a bottle of something very soft and slippery,
like lard, and put it on my eyes, and it made them feel much better.
After that he gave me some milk into which he had put some of his very
best brandy: that was pretty hard to get down, but I understood enough
of what they had said, to be sure that if I did not take something of
the kind I should never get well. After breakfast I tried to walk, but
my right paw was entirely useless. At first they thought it was broken,
but finally decided that it was only sprained, and must be bandaged. The
bandages were wet with something which smelled so badly it made me feel
very sick, for the first day or two. Cats' noses are much more sensitive
to smells than people's are; but I grew used to it, and it did my poor
lame paw so much good that I would have borne it if it had smelled twice
as badly. For three days I had to lie all the time in the cradle: if
your grandfather caught me out of it, he would swear at me, and put me
back again. Every morning he put the soft white stuff on my eyes, and
changed the bandages on my leg. And, oh, my dear Helen, such good things
as I had to eat! I had almost the same things for my dinner that the
rest of them did: it must be a splendid thing to be a man or a woman! I
do not think I shall ever again be contented to eat in the shed, and
have only the old pieces which nobody wants.

Two things troubled me very much while I was confined to the cradle: one
was that everybody who came in to see your mother laughed as if they
never could stop, at the first sight of me; and the other was that I
heard poor Cæsar mewing all around the house, and calling me with all
his might; and I knew he thought I was dead. I tried hard to make your
kind mother notice his crying, for I knew she would be willing to let
him come in and see me, but I could not make her understand. I suppose
she thought it was only some common strolling cat who was hungry. I have
always noticed that people do not observe any difference between one
cat's voice and another's; now they really are just as different as
human voices. Cæsar has one of the finest, deepest-toned voices I
ever heard. One day, after I got well enough to be in the kitchen, he
slipped in, between the legs of the butcher's boy who was bringing in
some meat; but before I had time to say one word to him, Mary flew at
him with the broom, and drove him out. However, he saw that I was alive,
and that was something. I am afraid it will be some days yet before I
can see him again, for they do not let me go out at all, and the
bandages are not taken off my leg. The cradle is carried upstairs, and I
sleep on Charlie's blanket behind the stove. I heard your mother say
to-day that she really believed the cat had the rheumatism. I do not
know what that is, but I think I have got it: it hurts me all over when
I walk, and I feel as if I looked like Bill Jacobs's old cat, who, they
say, is older than the oldest man in town; but of course that must be a

The thing I am most concerned about is my fur; it is coming off in
spots: there is a bare spot on the back of my neck, on the place by
which they lifted me up out of the soap barrel, half as large as your
hand; and whenever I wash myself, I get my mouth full of hairs, which
is very disagreeable. I heard your grandfather say to-day, that he
believed he would try Mrs. Somebody's Hair Restorer on the cat, at which
everybody laughed so that ran out of the room as fast as I could go, and
then they laughed still harder. I will write you again in a day or two,
and tell you how I am getting on. I hope you will come home soon.

     Your affectionate Pussy.

     [Illustration: "Then your grandfather made up a nice bed in the
     cradle, and laid me down in it."--Page 76.]

     [Illustration: "One day he slipped in between the legs of the
     butcher boy, but before I had time to say a word to him, Mary flew
     at him with the broom."--Page 81.]


My Dear Helen:

I am so glad to know that you are coming home next week, that I cannot
think of any thing else. There is only one drawback to my pleasure, and
that is, I am so ashamed to have you see me in such a plight. I told
you, in my last letter, that my fur was beginning to come off. Your
grandfather has tried several things of his, which are said to be good
for hair; but they have not had the least effect. For my part I don't
see why they should; fur and hair are two very different things, and I
thought at the outset there was no use in putting on my skin what was
intended for the skin of human heads, and even on them don't seem to
work any great wonders, if I can judge from your grandfather's head,
which you know is as bald and pink and shiny as a baby's. However, he
has been so good to me, that I let him do any thing he likes, and every
day he rubs in some new kind of stuff, which smells a little worse than
the last one. It is utterly impossible for me to get within half a mile
of a rat or a mouse. I might as well fire off a gun to let them know I
am coming, as to go about scented up so that they can smell me a great
deal farther off than they can see me. If it were not for this dreadful
state of my fur, I should be perfectly happy, for I feel much better
than I ever did before in my whole life, and am twice as fat as when you
went away. I try to be resigned to whatever may be in store for me, but
it is very hard to look forward to being a fright all the rest of one's
days. I don't suppose such a thing was ever seen in the world as a cat
without any fur. This morning your grandfather sat looking at me for a
long time and stroking his chin: at last he said, "Do you suppose it
would do any good to shave the cat all over?" At this I could not resist
the impulse to scream, and your mother said, "I do believe the creature
knows whenever we speak about her." Of course I do! Why in the world
shouldn't I! People never seem to observe that cats have ears. I often
think how much more careful they would be if they did. I have many a
time to see them send children out of the room, and leave me behind,
when I knew perfectly well that the children would neither notice nor
understand half so much as I would. There are some houses in which I
lived, before I came to live with you, about which I could tell strange
stories if I chose.

Cæsar pretends that he likes the looks of little spots of pink skin,
here and there, in fur; but I know he only does it to save my feelings,
for it isn't in human nature--I mean in cat's nature--that any one
should. You see I spend so much more time in the society of men and
women than of cats, that I find myself constantly using expressions
which sound queerly in a cat's mouth. But you know me well enough to be
sure that every thing I say is perfectly natural. And now, my dear
Helen, I hope I have prepared you to see me looking perfectly hideous. I
only trust that your love for me will not be entirely killed by my
unfortunate appearance. If you do seem to love me less, I shall be
wretched, but I shall still be, always,

Your affectionate Pussy.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Letters from a Cat" ***

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