As these memoirs cover a period of seven or eight years, and as space is limited, my readers will kindly consent to take a seat on the convenient carpet of the magician, and be wafted gently to the next station on the road without further question. This is a pleasant byway in suburban London, greatly frequented by organ-grinders, travelling bears, German bands, and peripatetic white mice. This road is always associated in my mind with the mysterious disappearance of Peter. We had often laughed at the odd old lady who lived two doors higher up, for the anxiety which she displayed when any of her pets were missing. It was our turn now.
This same old lady was very fond of her cats, and had nine of them at the time I am writing of. Every morning when the weather was warm, she and her cats would come out and unconsciously form a succession of tableaux for our amusement. A rug was spread out under the pear tree in the middle of the tiny lawn, a great basket-chair was placed in the middle of this rug, and, these preparations having been made, the old lady, who was very stout, and always wore a monster poke bonnet and a shapeless black silk dress, came out, followed by her nine cats, and took possession of the basket-chair. A little maid then appeared with a tray, on which were nine little blue china saucers and a jug of milk. The nine little saucers were ranged in a semicircle, and filled with milk, whereupon the old lady cried out, "Who says breakfast, dearies? Who says breakfast--breakfast?" This invitation was immediately responded to by the nine cats. When they had done the old lady cried, "Who says washee, dearies? Washee, washee, washee?"
Whereupon the nine cats sat on their haunches and proceeded to make their toilettes. The requirements of cleanliness having been satisfied, and the nine basins having been taken away by the little maid, the old lady shouted out, "Who says play, dearies? Playee, playee, playee?" holding out her arms, and calling out, "Dido Dums, Dido Dums, come here, deary," when a fine Persian cat jumped on to her right shoulder. "Now Diddles Doddles, Diddles Doddles," and another Persian cat jumped on to her left shoulder. "Tootsy Wootsy," she called once more, and a black cat scrambled up to the crown of the poke bonnet. And one by one they were summoned by some endearing diminutive, until the nine cats had taken possession of every possible coign of vantage which was offered by the old lady's capacious person. There they sat, waving their tails to and fro, evidently very pleased by their mistress's little attentions. Mrs.
Mee was not very popular in the neighborhood, except with the milkman and the butcher. The cats'-meat-man, indeed, who supplied various families in our road, positively hated her--so I gathered from our servant,--and had been heard to say _sotto voce_ in unguarded moments, "Ha! ha! I'll be revenged." It was not unnatural, as the cats were fed on mutton cutlets and fresh milk, and cats' meat was at a discount. About three weeks before Peter disappeared, Mrs. Mee, in the short space of three or four days, had lost no less than five cats by a violent death, and five little graves had been dug, marked by five little tombstones, and the five dead cats had been laid in their last resting-places by the hands of the old lady herself. A funeral is not generally amusing, but I could not restrain a smile when I saw my eccentric old neighbor follow the remains of her dead pets, which were reverently carried on the tea-tray by the little serving-maid, the old lady herself leading the way, ringing a muffled peal with the dinner-bell, the remaining cats bringing up the rear, pondering over the fate of their dead comrades.
It happened that three of these unfortunate victims had been found on my doorstep. I felt very angry with the old lady, who blamed me for the destruction of her pets, adducing the fact that they were found dying on my doorsteps as proof conclusive. One morning I received an anonymous postcard. Although it bore the Charing Cross postmark, I felt sure it came from the old lady. It read as follows:
"The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold."
This was the last straw, for I felt that as regards the old lady's cats I had behaved in a sympathetic and neighborly spirit. I remember this post-card because the same afternoon that it came Peter disappeared, and I began to fear that he had yielded to the temptation of a poisoned pig's foot which had been found in my garden stripped of its flesh. This was a delicacy which Peter had never been able to resist, though why he should have preferred it to the choice foods that were daily piled upon his plate I cannot for the life of me say. We searched the neighborhood in vain, and at last I determined to advertise. Accordingly I addressed an advertisement to my favorite paper. It ran as follows:
"COME BACK, PETER. Lost, stolen, strayed, or poisoned, a white and black cat called Peter, who left his friends at--on Monday afternoon last. Round his neck he wore a blue ribbon with the word PETER embroidered upon it in red silk. Before retiring to rest he always says his prayers. Dead or alive, a reward of Two Pounds is offered to any one who will restore him to his mourning friends."
I little knew what I was bringing on my devoted head. I had been troubled enough before with dying cats, but now they were all alive. Cats were brought to me in baskets, in boxes, in arms; Manx cats and cats whose tails were missing for other than hereditary reasons; lame cats, blind cats, cats with one eye, and cats who squinted. Never before had I seen such an extraordinary collection.
My whole time was now taken up in interviewing callers with cats.
If the boys were bad before, they were a thousand times worse now.
Here is one example out of a score. He was a boy known as Pop, who carried the laundry baskets.
"'Ave yer found yer cat yet?"
"No, we haven't."
"Did yer say it was a yaller 'un?"
"No, I didn't."
"What did I say, Hop?" continued Pop, triumphantly turning to a one-legged friend who swept a crossing close by.
"Yer said, Pop, as it was a tortus," murmured the bashful Hop, who had sheltered himself behind Pop.
"A tortus, that's it. A tortus, and Hop and _I's_ found it, sir. We've got it here."
"You're wrong. My cat's _not_ a tortoise," I replied.
"Bless you, we know that, guv'nor. Just as if we didn't know Peter!
Ah! Peter was a cat as wants a lot of replacin', Peter does. But me and Hop's got a tortus as is a wunner, guv'nor. A heap better nor Peter. Poor old Peter! he's dead and gone. Be sure of that. This 'ere's a reg'lar bad road. A prize-winner, warn't 'e, Hoppy?" They held up the prize-winner, who was _not_ a tortoise, and was mangy.
"Look here, my boys, you can take her away. Now, be off. Quick march!"
"Yer don't want it, guv'nor. Jest think agin. Why, 'ow will you get along without a cat? The mice is 'orrible in this 'ere road. Come, guv'nor, I'll tell you what I'll do. You shall 'ave a bargain,"
I insisted that the tortoise prize-winner should be taken away, and the next day I stopped the advertisement and resigned myself to despair. A week after Peter had disappeared I heard the voice of my friend Pop at the door. "I say, mister, I've some noose. Come along o' me. I think I've found 'im. Real. A blue ribbon round 'is neck and says 'is prayers. Put on yer 'at and foller, foller, foller me." Mr. Pop led the way along the road, and turned off to the right, and we walked up another road until we reached a large house which had been unoccupied for many months. The drains were up, and two or three workmen were busy. Pop at once introduced me as "the gent as was lookin' for his cat." "Have you seen a cat with a blue ribbon round his neck?" I asked them, very dubious as to the honesty of Pop's intention. "Well, sich a cat _'as_ bin 'ere for some days," replied the workman to whom I had spoken. "He used to come when we were gettin' our bit of dinner. But we never know'd but wot it came from next door. You go upstairs to the first-floor front, and you'll see a sight." On the top of the stairs was Peter, who knew me at once, and began to purr and rub himself against my legs in a most affectionate manner, as if to appease any outburst of wrath on my part. I felt too pleased to be angry, and followed Peter into the empty room, which was littered with paper and rubbish, and the remains of forty or fifty mice lay strewn about the floor. Peter looked up to me as if to say: "Not a bad bag--eh, master?" In the corner of the room was a bit of sacking which Peter had used as a bed. Pop explained to me that he had heard the men talking about the funny cat that came and dined with them every day. This conversation induced him to search the house, with the happy result that Peter was restored to the bosom of his sorrowing family, and Pop gave up the laundry basket, and invested the reward in a small private business of his own.
Peter and I have had many homes in London and in the country.
Together we have lived in flats, in hotels, in farm-houses, and in lodgings for single gentlemen. In lodgings for single gentlemen we had many strange experiences which would occupy too much time to relate, and I will therefore touch but lightly upon this period of Peter's career. Peter, being a gentlemanly cat, never quarrelled with ladies, however hard they might be to please, and let them gird at him as they would. For did not that gracious animal, when Mrs. Nagsby was accusing him of stealing fowls, say--did he not arch his bonny back and purr against Mrs. Nagsby's ankles and endeavor to appease her? In her softer moods she did sometimes relax, and even allowed Peter to sit by her side as she read the paper. Peter was held responsible for every article that was lost in Mrs. Nagsby's apartments, and the amount of money I paid to that good lady for breakage in the course of six months would have furnished a small cottage. Mrs. Nagsby was a widow, and the late lamented Nagsby had supported her by his performances on the euphonium. This instrument was kept in a case in Mrs. Nagsby's little room, which was on the ground-floor back, and looked on to a series of dingy walls. Mrs. Nagsby used to polish up the euphonium every Saturday morning with a regularity which nothing prevented.
Did it not speak volumes for her affection for the late lamented?
On one of these Saturdays it happened that a German band stopped at the front door. Mrs. Nagsby could never resist the seductive power of brass music. She rushed upstairs to the first-floor front to listen to the performance. Fate ordained it that Mrs. Nagsby should leave the precious euphonium on the floor in her haste to hear the band. Fate ordained it also that Peter should come down stairs at this particular moment and wend his way to Mrs. Nagsby's parlor.
Fate also had ordained it that a mouse which lived in a hole behind Mrs. Nagsby's easy-chair should issue at this particular moment for a little bread-crumb expedition. Mrs. Nagsby was a careful housekeeper, and finding no crumbs about, the mouse roamed into the silent highway presented by the orifice of the euphonium. It was natural enough that Peter should follow the mouse. Unfortunately, Peter's progress was stopped, the girth of his body being too great to admit him; and my door being open, I at once rushed to the rescue, and found Peter with his head in the depths of the euphonium, and making fierce struggles to vacate the position. Mrs.
Nagsby came downstairs and entered her parlor just as I succeeded in extracting Peter from the musical instrument. Fiercely was I reproached for Peter's escapade, and humbly did I make his apologies, little knowing the secret of the plight from which I had rescued him. Having soothed my landlady, she at length took up the euphonium and proceeded to apply her eye to the main orifice to see if Peter had damaged it, handling the euphonium in the manner of a telescope. I was thinking of the reproaches in prospect, when I was startled by a loud shriek, to which the euphonium imparted a metallic vibration, and Mrs. Nagsby dropped the instrument on to the floor, the good lady herself following it with a thud. A wee mouse scuttled across her face, disappeared behind the easy chair, and doubtless rejoined his anxious family. Mrs. Nagsby recovered after her maid-of-all-work and I had burnt a few sheets of brown paper under her nostrils; but I had great difficulty in making the peace.
In vain I pointed out that the responsibility did not remain with me, or even with Peter. We agreed after some debate that it was the German band, which was never afterwards patronized by Mrs. Nagsby.
I got into further trouble with Mrs. Nagsby owing to a greyhound which I had bought at a sale. I had no character with him, for he had no character. If Mrs. Nagsby had killed him with the meat hatchet I would have held my peace, for never a day passed but King Arthur took his name in vain. The first night I brought him home Mrs. Nagsby gave me permission as a great favor to chain him to the kitchen table. In the morning two of the table legs had been mangled, and that is our reason why I called him King Arthur, of the Round Table. The next night King Arthur was taken upstairs and attached to the leg of my wash-stand. I was awakened out of my beauty sleep by a horrible clamor which caused me to think that the house had fallen in. I presently realized that King Arthur had mistaken the water-jug for a dragon. In any case it was smashed to bits, and the noise brought Mrs. Nagsby to my door in anger. I should be sorry to say what King Arthur cost me in hard cash for breakages and legs of mutton. Poor Peter! thou wast a saint when compared with that fiend on four legs.
The _denouement_ came at last, and it arose from King Arthur's fondness for the ladies. There was nothing remarkable in the appearance of the old lady who was Mrs. Nagsby's favorite lodger, who had held the rooms above mine for three years. Rut the lady had a most beautiful sealskin jacket, trimmed with tails of sable. King Arthur had unluckily a feminine affection for furs, and I never dared to take him into any of the fashionable thoroughfares, as he had a way of following the ladies, not for their own dear sakes, but for the fur which they might happen to be wearing. Whether they were only tippets or dyed rabbit-skins, it did not matter to King Arthur.
Well, one unfortunate afternoon, I was leading my greyhound home. A few yards in front of us was Mrs. Nagsby's first-floor lady, taking the sun in all the glories of her sealskin jacket and sable tails.
To my horror I dropped the chain in taking a match-box out of my pocket, and before I could take any steps to prevent him--_King Arthur was coursing Mrs. Nagsby's first-floor lodger at his highest rate of speed!!!_ King Arthur held on his course and literally took the old lady aback, and began to tear those choice sable tippets asunder. Nor was the base creature content to rest at the sable tippets. Before I reached his victim his mouth was full of sealskin. Let me pass on, merely saying that King Arthur was shot that night in the mews at the back of Mrs. Nagsby's, a victim to his own indiscretions.
And now I come to the fatal catastrophe which finally drove me and Peter from the shelter of Mrs. Nagsby's roof. That lady had a set of false teeth which she was in the habit of depositing on her dressing-table when she went to bed. I had learned this from Sarah when that damsel was in a confidential mood. Peter, I think I have told you, slept in my room. One very warm night Mrs. Nagsby left her door open, and her night light was burning as usual. I also slept with my door open, and Peter, being hot like the rest of us, left the room for a stroll, and visited Mrs. Nagsby's apartment.
Presently he came back with Mrs. Nagsby's teeth between his own--at least I suppose so, for I found them on the hearth-rug when I awoke. I was greatly amused, though a little puzzled to know how I could replace them. After some reflection I went down to breakfast, placed the trophy in a saucer, and showed it to Sarah, who screamed and traitorously ran up and informed her mistress. Mrs. Nagsby came down rampant, but of course speechless. I was thankful for this; but the violent woman, after sputtering spasmodically, caught sight of the missing article in the saucer, and, lost to all sense of shame, replaced it in position and poured forth a torrent of the most violent abuse.
Peter and I left.
JEFF THE INQUISITIVE
By General Rush C. Hawkins
Among the gunboats doing duty on the inland waters of North Carolina in the early spring of 1862, which composed what Commodore Goldsborough designated his "Pasteboard Fleet," was the _Louisiana_, commanded by Commander Alexander Murray, who was noted for his efficiency and good nature.
His treatment of his crew made him one of the most popular officers in the whole fleet. He entered into all of their sports and sympathized with the discomforts of forecastle life. He was fond of animal pets, and always welcomed the arrival of a new one. At the time of which I am writing, his ship carried quite a collection of tame birds and four-footed favorites. Among them was a singular little character, known as "Jeff." He was a perfectly black pig of the "Racer Razor Back" order, which, at that time, were plentiful in the coast sections of the more southern of the slave-holding States. They were called "racers" because of their long legs, slender bodies, and great capacity for running; and "Razor Backs"
on account of the prominence of the spinal column. The origin of this particular species of the porcine tribe is unknown, but there is a tradition to the effect that their progenitors were a part of the drove that came to the coast of Florida with De Soto when he started on the march which ended with the discovery of the Mississippi River. History records the fact that a large number of animals were brought from Spain for food, and that a considerable number of them succeeded in getting away from the expedition soon after the landing was effected.
Our particular specimen of this wandering tribe of natural marauders was captured by a boat's crew of the _Louisiana_ in one of the swamps adjacent to Currituck Sound when he was a wee bit of an orphaned waif, not much larger than an ostrich egg.
He was an ill-conditioned little mite that had probably been abandoned by a heartless mother, possibly while escaping from the prospective mess-kettle of a Confederate picket.
In those days Confederate pickets were not very particular as to the quality or kind of food, and I have a suspicion that even a "Razor Back" would have been a welcome addition to their meal.
When "Jeff" was brought on board, his pitiful condition excited the active sympathy of all, from the commander down to the smallest powder monkey, and numerous were the suggestions made as to the course of treatment for the new patient. The doctor was consulted, and after a careful diagnosis, decided there was no organic disease: want of parental care, want of nourishment and exposure, were held responsible for "Jeff's" unfavorable condition. It was decided to put him on a light diet of milk, which proved an immediate success, for, within forty-eight hours after his first meal, the patient became as lively as possible. As days and weeks went on, there appeared an improvement of appetite that was quite phenomenal, but no accumulation of flesh. His legs and body grew longer; and, with this lengthening of parts, there came a development of intellectual acuteness that was particularly surprising. He attached himself to each individual of the ship. He had no favorites, but was hail-fellow-well-met with all. He developed all the playful qualities of a puppy and reasoned out a number of problems in his own way. His particular admirers declared that he learned the meaning of the different whistles of the boatswain: that he knew when the meal pennant was hoisted to the peak; could tell when the crew was beat to quarters for drill, and often proved the correctness of this knowledge by scampering off to take his place by one particular gun division, which seemed to have taken his fancy.
I can testify personally to only one item in the schedule of his intellectual achievements. It is a custom in the navy for the commander of a ship to receive any officer of rank of either branch of the service at the gangway of the ship. In this act of courtesy he is always accompanied by the officer of the deck, and often by others that may happen to be at hand. After the advent of "Jeff,"
whenever I went on board the _Louisiana,_ he was always at the gangway, and seemingly was deeply interested in the event. It may be said of him, generally, that he was overflowing with spirits, and took an active interest in all the daily routine work of his ship.
He had a most pertinacious way of poking his nose into all sorts of affairs, not at all after the manner of the usual pig, but more like a village gossip who wants to know about everything that is going on in the neighborhood.
In the gradual development of "Jeff's" character, it was discovered that he had none of the usual well-known traits of the pig. He was more like a petted and pampered dog, was playful, good-natured, and expressed pleasure, pain, anger, and desire, with various squeals and grunts, delivered with a variety of intonations that were very easily interpreted. He was never so happy as when in the lap of one of the sailors, having his back stroked. His pleasure upon those occasions was evinced by the emission of frequent good-natured grunts and looking up into the face of the friendly stroker.
When on shore he followed his favorites like a dog and was never known to root. Except in speech and appearance he was the counterpart of a happy, good-natured, and well-cared-for household dog--possibly, however, rather more intelligent than the average canine pet.