I had been wanting to do a post on animals for some time and when I ran across this feel-good article about the first London cat café (Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, chat n’ chatte…) it reminded me of my extensive file of cat stories.
Now, I like cats. I used to have a fluffy charmer named Norton and a twin-set of bouncy, pouncing kittens known as The Wampyrs. However, I’m afraid that feel-good is not in my nature, so no chat pelucheux over a nice cup of chai. Instead we look at a few choice cases of cats with malign motives who brood and then take revenge. You’ll never hear them coming on their little cat feet….
Cats are generally very bold and courageous, particularly in defence of their young; they are also revengeful, and seldom forgive an injury. I once knew an instance of a cat’s revenge, the effects of which I saw myself. My mother had a servant who disliked cats exceedingly, and particularly a large black cat which we had, which she was in the habit of beating whenever she had an opportunity. The cat disliked the girl, but was always afraid of her: one day, however, when the girls was carrying some dishes down stairs into the kitchen, and had both her hands full, the cat flew at her, and scratched her arms and face severely. Domestic pets: their habits and management, Jane Loudon, 1851
A “revengeful” mother cat from Ireland:
In Shark Island a peasant, whose only boy was dying of fever, was warned by the ghostly apparition of the dead mother to “Catch a crowing hen, and kill her, and sprinkle the blood over the bed, and take ten straws and throw the tenth away and stir the blood with the rest; then lay them on the child, and he will sleep and do well.” The father did as advised, and his child was quite recovered the next morning.
The sequel of the story is thus told by Lady Wilde.
“Now it happened that about three months after, a child of one of the neighbours grew sick, and was like to die. Then the man’s wife rose up and said: ‘See now, our child is like to die, hut look how Dermot cured his son through the sprinkling of blood. Let us do the like.’ So they caught a kitten and killed her, and sprinkled the blood over the sick child. But, lo, a terrible thing happened, for the door was flung open, and in walked two monstrous black cats. ‘How dare you kill my kitten? ‘* said one of them—’ my darling only kitten. But you shall suffer for it.’ ‘Ay,’ said the other, ‘ we’ll teach you how to insult a royal cat again, and kill one of our great race, just to save your own wretched child,’ and they flew at the man and tore his face and hands. Then the wife rushed at them with a churn-dash, while the man strove to defend himself with a spade. But all the same, the cats had the best of it, and clawed and tore and scratched, till the miserable pair could not see for the blood streaming down their faces.
“Luckily, however the neighbours, hearing the scrimmage, rushed in and helped to fight the cats, but soon they had to fly, for the cats were too strong for them, and not a soul could stand before them. However, at last the cats grew tired, and after licking their paws and washing their faces, they moved towards the door to go away, first saying to the man—’ Now we have done enough to punish you for this time, and your baby will live, for death can take but one this night, and he has taken our child. So yours is safe, and this we swear by the blood and by the power of the great king of the cats.’ So they whisked out of the house, and were never more seen by man or mortal on the island of Shark.” Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland: A Folklore Sketch, Volume 2,William Gregory Wood-Martin, 1902, p. 126
In the same vein as jokes about Shirley MacLaine reincarnating as a toaster, this cat owner thought, bizarrely, that his late cat returned to inhabit the timepiece which he held responsible for the cat’s death.
CAT GHOST IN ALARM CLOCK?
Resident of New Jersey Town Has an Astonishing Experience With Timepiece.
Montclair, N.J. Frederick G. Johnson, who lives at 9 Oxford street, thinks the ghost of a pet cat which he owned haunts his alarm clock. Up to a few weeks ago the clock behaved as well as any good domestic alarm clock should. On Nov. 13 the alarm clock which had been set inadvertently for the noon hour, went off. The Johnson cat was dozing near where the clock stood and the noise awakened her. She dashed about in a frenzy. The kitchen door was open and through it the cat ran. That evening Johnson found the cat dead in the yard back of his home.
The next night the alarm clock began its strange antics. The timepiece switched suddenly into the Ananias circuit. The hands would suddenly jump forward for several swings about the face and the alarm would go off at all hours without any apparent cause. Johnson says he does not remember having wound the clock before these untimely capers.
The climax came Tuesday night. Johnson was sound asleep. He had left the clock on a chiffonier in his room. About two o’clock he was awakened by something striking him in the chest. When he got his bearings he found it was the alarm clock. The thing was ripping out alarms. Johnson says that when he went to sleep the clock was at least four feet from the bed. The clock was finally relegated to Johnson’s cellars. The owner ascribes the strange actions to the transmigration of the spirit of his vengeful cat. Tipton [IN] Tribune 10 January 1911: p. 4
[The phrase “Ananias circuit” means that the clock became a liar, like the would-be disciple in Acts, Chapter 5, who withheld part of his offering, lied about it, and dropped dead.]
Another case of the transmigration of a cat’s spirit, from China:
As a small contribution to the folk-lore of cats, the following extract from the North China Herald, Nov. 1, 1881, will be of interest:—
“The Shin-pao contains a characteristic witch-story, curiously illustrative of a certain form of superstition, apparently of Buddhist origin, which enters widely into the popular folk-lore of the country. It is very generally believed that if any person kills an animal, from wantonness or cruelty, its soul will return and take possession of the murderer’s body until his guilt is expiated. An instance of this is said to have occurred recently at Yangchow. There were a man and his wife, who had a pet cat, the mother of three kittens. Like most other domestic animals, however, the feline family had somewhat thievish propensities, and were constantly stealing sundry tit-bits and delicacies that the servant-girl had put by for her own private eating. At last she got so exasperated that, after a course of systematically abusing the cats, she killed them, one after another, in different ways. But in a short time she was taken violently ill, mewing and scratching like a cat, and displaying all the symptoms of rabies. Her mistress, suspecting the true cause of the girl’s attack, thereupon, apostrophized the dead cat, demanding for what reason it had come to haunt her body. The cat, speaking through the girl’s mouth, then recounted the ill-treatment it had received from her during its life, and told her how its little ones had been killed before its eyes. One had been drowned, another worried by a dog. and a third burnt Last of all the cat herself had been killed, and its spirit had now come to inflict its fearful visitation upon the murderess. All this, be it understood, was said by the girl herself, in the character of the cat, between her paroxysms. At last, however, justice was satisfied, and the girl died in convulsions at the feet of her mistress. It is scarcely necessary to add that stories of this description are firmly believed in by the Chinese, who are, after all, no more superstitious than Europeans themselves were at a comparatively recent date. Indeed many similar survivals might, without much difficulty, be found at the present day among the peasantry of several countries in the West.” As there is a “soul of good ” even in evil things, we may hope that the cat has benefited by the belief in transmigration. Notes and Queries, William White , 1850, p. 85
The next story followed a description of a portrait of a black and white cat seen by H.V. Morton in an Italian museum. The portrait contained a scroll painted with a (probably) allegorical poem about the cat kissing a lady. You’ll find the story here at Dr Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog. Morton continues:
Let us hope she [the kiss giver] was not the countess in the old Roman story who, after her widowhood, doted on a cat and had a chicken cooked every day for him. One day she left home for a friend’s villa in the Campagna, and during her absence the servants decided to eat the chicken themselves and place the bones in the usual place. The countess was surprised, when she returned to notice that the cat did not run to welcome her, but sat looking the other way, deeply offended. ‘What’s the matter with the cat? Hasn’t he had his chicken?’ asked the countess. ‘Yes, Signor Countess,’ answered the servants, ‘see, the bones are on the floor where he always leaves them.’ The countess could not deny this, and shortly after went up to bed. The cat followed, for he slept on her bed. That night the cat suffocated and killed the countess. Romans explain this story by saying that a cat is intelligent, but selfish and cruel. He reasoned that if his mistress had not gone out and left him to the mercy of the servants, he would not have been so badly treated. Therefore she was to blame and must die. Dogs are faithful, say the Romans, and cats are traitors. I am sure, however, that there is no need to say that the loyalty of English and Siamese cats has never been questioned! Perhaps every country gets the cats it deserves. A Traveler in Rome, H.V. Morton
Some cats are loyal to their aged mistresses, like this Irish cat:
An old woman who died a few years ago in Ireland had a nephew, a lawyer, to whom she left by will all she possessed. She happened to have a favourite cat, who never left her, and even remained by the corpse after her death. After the will was read in the adjoining room, on opening the door the cat sprang at the lawyer, seized him by the throat, and was with difficulty prevented from strangling him. This man died about eighteen months after this scene, and on his death-bed confessed that he had murdered his aunt to get possession of her money. Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight: lady companion to the Princess Charlotte of Wales, Ellis Cornelia Knight, 1861, Vol. 2, p. 201
I once heard from a man whose wife’s cat, jealous of her paying attention to her spouse, shredded his neckties, which he left hanging on the door knob in his bedroom. The cat died and he wasn’t terribly upset about it; at least he wouldn’t have to worry about his neckwear any more. Until he watched something invisible batting and shredding his ties…
Which segues neatly into the following:
The Strange Tale of a Resentful Cat
A Story That the Reader May Think Requires an Affidavit
From the Boston Transcript, Reported in The New York Times April 14, 1895
Blossom is a big gray cat. She has been in the family for seven years, and her mistress thinks she was fully ten when she came uninvited and took possession. Her charms made her welcome, and visitors, as a rule, pet her to her heart’s satisfaction. Still, she shows her loyalty to her mistress by many feline felicities. One day a young man came for a short visit. He was an inveterate tease. As there was no one else for a victim, he took Bloom in hand, in spite of pleadings and protestations. Her ears were greeted with the strange terms, “Old rascal,” “Scapegrace,” “Tramp,” and kindred names, till the astounded cat did not know what had come to her. Her pretty ways disappeared, she fled from his approach, and hid whenever she could till he was out of the house. One morning she was missing for some hours, and was not to be found in any of her hiding places. A loud cry from the chambermaid revealed her whereabouts. Blossom had revenged herself on the visitor’s nightshirt, which lay in tatters on the floor. Pussy was scolded and everyone was cautioned to keep the door shut. In vain! The cat would find her way in and hide till the chambermaid was through for the day, and then the claws went to work, first on the visitor’s own clothes if any could be found, and then on the pillow cases. The young man tried to soothe her feelings, but she would have none of him, and he was glad to cut short his visit. Blossom quickly recovered her usual demeanor, and has never been known to destroy anything from that day to this.
Echoing the many contemporary newspaper stories of cats smothering babies in their cradles and eating corpses in their coffins, 19th and early-20th century fiction is also full of vengeful felines, like the “yaller cat” in “The Cat of the Cornbrake” by Wilbur Daniel Steele, where a cat engineers a particularly nasty end for his cruel mistress (search for it in Google Books), Poe’s Black Cat, and the truly horrible revenge of a mother cat in “The Squaw” by Bram Stoker.
Let us conclude with some sage words of advice from a linguistically more innocent age:
I love little pussy,
Her coat is so warm,
And if I don’t hurt her,
She’ll do me no harm…
I’ll not pinch her ears,
Nor tread on her paw,
Lest I should provoke her
To use her sharp claw.
I never will vex her
Nor make her displeased:
For pussy don’t like
To be worried and teased.
-Children’s nursery rhyme, c. 1830-
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.