As a family we were inveterate cat worshippers. For the first twenty two years
of my life our house was never without at least one adored goddess, and
frequently two, not to mention the ever recurring families of kittens and
variegated strays and adopteds. The earliest that I remember were two that we
had at Ealing, though I believe they accompanied us there from Chiswick. The
senior was a stout and sleepy lady named Jinnie, who had a long history behind
her. Many years before, my grandmother, Father’s mother, had had a cat named
Goodie, about whom Agnes told me many stories. Goodie had had a slightly
deformed fore-paw which she found very useful for hooking forbidden tit-bits off
the table or sideboard. Among Goodie’s many children was one named Jinnie, of
whom I have very faint recollections from my visits to my grandmother at Kew.
This was Jinnie the First, and our Jinnie (the Second) was one of her children.
Auntie Dick had another of Jinnie the First’s children, named Frisk. They were all handsome, dark marbled tabbies with short, thick fur.
The junior of our Ealing cats was Tony, another tabby, but small and gentle and conscientious. She invariably took entire charge of Jinnie’s kittens as well as her own, and fussed anxiously over them while their mother, having entirely washed her hands of her off-spring, slept placidly in front of the fire. Tony was a sweet and loveable little person, far more so than the stolid Jinnie. What became of these two I never knew.
After a brief hiatus, another personality was introduced, in the shape of a
small black Persian kitten which my brothers brought home from a holiday in the
country on which they had gone alone. This kitten we called Bagheera from his
resemblance to the black panther in the Jungle Books. Unfortunately, but
naturally, the dignified name rapidly degenerated into Baggy. He developed into
an enormous and magnificent creature with a huge fuff and plumy tail, and his
fur was so long that it was quite beyond his own powers of grooming. During
Father’s few hours at home on Sunday afternoons, it became the recognised
routine for him and me to give Baggy a thorough brushing and grooming, he
holding Baggy on his knees while I plied brush and comb, and frequently
the scissors, for the long fur often matted into unmanageable knots.
Baggy was so strikingly beautiful that we were in constant fear of his being stolen, and at last this actually happened. He entirely disappeared, and great was the devastation in the home, A black cloud of depression enveloped us, and we could talk and think of nothing else. My friend Dorothy and I searched the entire neighbourhood, and on one occasion we came upon a dead black cat under a wall in a near-by field. Such was my devotion to Baggy and my anxiety about him, that I forged myself to overcome my intense repugnance and to look closely to the poor corpse. Although almost certain that it was not Baggy, I agreed with Dorothy that we should take it home for identification. But how to carry a very dead cat? A terrible problem for two small girls. Eventually we constructed a sort of hammock with our skipping-ropes, and, though I admit with shame that I left to Dorothy the task of actually placing the corpse on the bier, we carried it home to Mother. What her feelings could have been on being presented with an extremely defunct cat, I daren’t think. However it was definitely identified as not being Baggy. Shortly after this, Mother called us one morning with the glad. news that Baggy had been found. On his way home the previous night at some time after eleven, Father had been greeted rapturously by a huge black shape which leapt upon him out of the darkness, and rolled and wept round his feet in an absolute ecstasy of delight. Hardly able to credit his senses Father had picked him up, and found that it was unmistakeably Baggy. He had obviously been stolen, as he was in excellent condition, well fed and well cared for. After a few blissful weeks however, he disappeared again, this time, alas, for ever. We concluded that the people who had stolen him before had taken him again, and, as we were then due to leave Ealing very shortly we never saw him again.
About this time our last and most beloved goddess joined the family. Auntie Dick’s cat, Frisk, had in extreme old age, and to everyone’s vast astonishment, produced one kitten. Owing probably to her age, Frisk had been unable to feed it, and Auntie Dick’s maids had reared the tiny thing by hand. She gave it to me just before we left Ealing. I had never had a kitten of my own before, and naturally she had to be Jinnie the Third. She was the pet and darling of my heart, and eventually took her proper place as ruler of the home, which position she held unquestioned till her death twelve years later. She was the last and greatest of her line, a cat of such amazing personality that both Father and Mother, out of their lifelong experience of cats, agreed that they had never come across one of such outstanding character.
Her physique was peculiar. For though to all appearances a female, she never
bore kittens, nor exhibited any characteristics of either sex. Many years later
I learned that Father was extremely interested in her from a physiological
standpoint; and he had come to the conclusion that she was a natural neuter,
probably due to her mother’s advanced age at her birth. Be that as it may, she
was the most perfect household pet, without any physical drawbacks whatever.
Although I was only ten when she was given to me I did at least know that cats
had kittens, and for some years would pathetically ask Mother at intervals why
my beloved Jinnie never had any. Mother, as ever, had some tactfully elusive
answer, and after a time I gave up wondering.
When Jinnie first joined the family M0ther and Father, still bewailing the loss of their beautiful and. adored Baggy, could take very little interest in the plain little short—haired tabby newcomer. This of course, made me champion her fiercely. However by degrees they both succumbed to her spell, and eventually became her grovelling slaves. She was only about three months old when we moved down to Gloucestershire, and I carried her in a little cardboard box, in which ventilation holes had been cut, never once letting the box out of my arms during the whole journey.
Father, like so many doctors and surgeons, was an excellent amateur carpenter, and the big notice board by the Church path stands as witness to his handicraft to this day, though his grave lies only a few yards away. He converted the old coach house into a carpenter’s shop, building his own bench and tool racks, and my brothers and I spent many hours working there with him. In spite of being “only a girl” as George was so constantly impressing upon me, I became as adept at using tools as either of them, and eventually under Father’s tuition, attained the honoured post of chisel sharpener in chief - quite a highly skilled job. After Jinnie had acquired her permanent position in the household, Father undertook to make her a sleeping hutch, to which she could retire when put out for the night. This hutch developed into a beautiful chalet, with a verandah and small hall on the ground floor, from which a staircase led to the sleeping apartment above. The roof consisted of two hinged flaps forming a gable, which could be opened to allow of renewing the bedding. Jinnie took the greatest interest in the building of her chalet, and would spend hours in the coach house watching the progress of the work. When the little staircase was ready, and before the roof was put on, Father showed it to Jinnie and instructed her how to enter the verandah, then through the doorway into the hail, then turn round the corner and go upstairs. She got the idea at once, and when the chalet was finally finished she had to supervise every movement as we carried it up from the coach house and set it in the yard. The sleeping apartment was filled with dry hay and most carefully draught proofed with felt. Jinnie was round our feet the whole time, giving little cries of impatience, and when at last it was ready for her, she at once ran in with croons of excitement, and went straight upstairs to her sleeping apartment. She never allowed any other cat to use her house, and woe betide any dog that happened to sniff round. The entrance was too small for any dog to get in, and the chalet was far too heavy to be knocked or blown over, and we children were sternly forbidden (though this applied specially to George) to open the roof or to annoy or tease Jinnie in any way when she was inside.
Some years later George and I were returning from a visit to the dentist at Ross, and found ourselves the sole occupants of a compartment on the little single-track railway that runs through the Forest. George’s fertile brain immediately decided that it was imperative that Jinnie should have a text in her bedroom. I quite agreed - but what text? George pointed to the “Do not spit” notice on the carriage wall. I protested that to take this would be stealing. George’s reply was that texts were holy things, that cats spit when they are angry, so to put the “Do not spit” notice in Jinnie’s bedroom would be just as good a deed as to put a “Love thy neighbour” text in an ordinary bedroom. To this ingenious logic I could find no adequate reply, so George forthwith unscrewed the notice and pocketed it, while I looked on with mingled dismay and approbation. The “text” was duly installed on the wall of Jinnie’s bedroom. Poor Mother was torn between horror at George’s theft, shock that he should make fun of texts, and her own sense of humour which so entirely appreciated his idea.
During the whole of his later life Father was subject to recurrent attacks of malaria, which he had contracted while acting as ship’s surgeon in the East. Jinnie very soon came to understand the procedure. As soon as she saw preparations being made for lighting the fire in the bedroom she at once assumed control. She had to watch carefully till the fire was going well, then run down to the kitchen to see that the hot water bottles were properly filled, then upstairs again to see them placed in the bed. Then she had to help Father undress, and when at last he was settled she would jump on to the bed and screw herself down firmly into a tight bun on the eiderdown, finally heaving a deep sigh as if to say, “Thank goodness we are settled here for the next few days”. To have anyone in bed was Jinnie's acme of bliss. She would act as their constant companion from early morning till last thing at night, always ready to purr or croon if spoken to, to play gently if the invalid felt so inclined, to share daintily in tit-bits from their tray or to lap a little cool tea from their saucer, to act as a foot-warmer, a hand-warmer or a neck and shoulder poultice as required, and always to give that gentle unobtrusive companionship and quiet undemanding love, which so few human beings ever deserve.
Probably owing to the fact that she had been reared by hand, and had been
accustomed to human companionship since birth, Jinnie seemed to have a far
greater capacity for devotion to her people than is found in most cats. In fact
in devotion and intelligence she was more like a dog than a cat. Once Father had
to take her to the vet to have a broken tooth extracted, and the vet told him he
had never, in all his experience, come across a cat that was so quiet and
amenable under treatment, or who seemed to understand so well that he was trying
to make her better.
When we all went out for a walk, the maids would report on our return that Jinnie had spent the whole time wandering about looking for us and “making the most horriblest noise”, and when we were all away at school Mother would find Jinnie searching our rooms carefully, jumping on the beds and sniffing round the cupboards in search of us. When Father went away, Jinnie invariably searched his study, jumping on the desk, and painstakingly turning over any papers left there, to make quite certain that he was not hidden anywhere.
But she also had the strong sense of independence and personal dignity so characteristic of all cats, and could show it very clearly. If one of us happened to offend her in any way she would sit bolt upright in front of the fire, giving the impression of drawing a shawl tight round her shoulders, for all the world like an offended Victorian dowager. The impression of the shawl was so unmistakeable that the attitude came to be known as “shawly”. On one occasion she was sitting looking extremely shawly when Father, in an outburst of regrettable exuberance, caught her up in his arms, gave her a small shake, and adjured her to “be jolly”. This was beyond endurance, and with a sharp little “wa-ah” of indignation, she slapped him hard on the cheek, at the same time seizing his nose in her mouth and giving it a smart nip. Neither the blow nor the bite drew blood, as they were obviously not intended to do, she merely meant to show him that, dearly as she loved him, there were limits to what her dignity could endure. Poor Father was so utterly crestfallen by this snub from his beloved Jane, as he usually called her, that it was a long time before he could recover his equanimity.
When Jinnie got lost one day it was a major tragedy, overshadowing even the loss of Baggy a few years before. She seldom went far from the house, and as she had, like her great grandmother Goodie, a slightly deformed forepaw, she was no tree climber. The whole family turned out and combed the neighbourhood for two long anxious days. By the third day most of the family had given up hope, and had come to the conclusion that she must have got caught in a rabbit snare. But I still persisted in the search, and roamed further and further a field, calling and calling her name, for I knew that even if she were trapped and dying, she would use her last breath to answer me.
I was walking along the edge of a field quite a long way from the house, with Father and the boys following me some distance behind, dejected and hopeless, when I suddenly heard a faint answer to my calls. Again I called her name, and again came the faint but unmistakeable reply. Shrieking to Father and the boys, “I’ve found hers I’ve found her!” I plunged straight through the hedge, tumbled headlong down a sheer drop into the lane, up the opposite bank and through the other hedge, and there she was, crying to me as eagerly as I was to her. She had apparently been chased and frightened, for she was far up a tree with a long, smooth trunk, the lowest branch of which was hardly more than a thin twig about twenty feet above the ground. On this she was perched, clinging precariously, and not daring to move either one way or the other. Father and the boys joined by rather less impulsive routes than the one I had taken, but torn arms and legs mattered nothing to me, now that I had found my darling. I hurled orders at them to go and get a long ladder and a box for her to step into, and don’t forget to put a cushion in the box, then as they raced off I stayed at the foot of the tree, talking to Jinnie and encouraging her to hold on just a little longer as rescue was coming. They soon returned accompanied by Mother and an assortment of helpful neighbours, for everyone in the cottages near our house had known of, and sympathised with, our anxiety.
Someone went up the long ladder and held the box where Jinnie could step into
it, for she herself was out of reach even from the top of the ladder. Very
nervously, and after several attempts, she at last ventured to step into the
box, and her rescuer carefully descended again. As soon as she was within reach,
she sprang straight into my arms, her paws round my neck and her head pressed
tight against my cheek, as I hugged her. She was trembling all over, purring and
choking, in fact we were both well nigh sobbing with joy over each other. She
was in a sad state, her usually sleek coat dirty and staring, and herself
starving, but as soon as she had had a good meal, she at once set to work to
groom herself, and soon was as clean and sweet as ever.
One of Jinnie’s most loveable habits was that of coming to visit me every morning before I got up. The maids would open the house at about half past six, and Jinnie would come straight in and up to my room, the door of which was always open at night. She would jump on the bed, whereupon I would sleepily haul her inside, and tuck her down tight at my side, when she would proceed to purr us both to sleep again. There Mother would find us when she came to call me about an hour later, Jinnie cosily inside the bedclothes, her head on my left shoulder, both sound asleep.
This was our unvarying routine, but trouble arose when a kitten was given to us by some of the Ealing cousins. Topsey was a lovely little black Persian, one of the prettiest, wildest and most scatter brained creatures I have ever known. She was utterly unmanageable with fright and excitement after the journey when she first arrived, so I took her, travelling basket and all, into the schoolroom, and carefully closed all window and doors before opening the basket. She was one mass of teeth and claws, spitting and swearing like a little black demon, and though I was too well accustomed to cats to mind the teeth and claws, I was quite nervous for a few moments lest she should fly straight into my face. After a long time of coaxing and soothing I eventually managed to quiet her sufficient1y for her to allow me to pick her up and take her to meet the family. I must have been about twelve at the time, and Jinnie had been sole and undisputed goddess of the house for two years, so the introduction of Topsey was a matter which called for great tact. Jinnie took an extremely poor view of the intruder, and we kept them carefully apart for the first evening.
Next morning I asked the maid to bring Topsey up to my bedroom before admitting
Jinnie. When I heard Jinnie coming I stuffed Topsey inside my pyjama jacket, out
of sight, where she scuffled happily round my ribs, in an agonizing flurry of
fluff and prickles.
Jinnie, however, knew immediately that Topsey was somewhere in the vicinity, and, seeing my foot move under the bed clothes, she flew at it, growling and cursing, obviously thinking it was Topsey, and bit it so hard that she quite hurt, even through the thickness of the blankets. Eventually I calmed her down, and got her into her usual position at my side, then carefully produced Topsey from inside my pyjamas. Jinnie was all ready to fly at her again, but by dint of much petting and soothing of both of them, Jinnie in particular, I managed to establish peace. In time they became very good friends and. would both come up to my bed in the mornings so that Mother would find our three sleeping heads in a row, the tabby head on my left shoulder, and the little black one on my right.
For several years my fiercest battles with George raged round the cats. He loved them dearly, but could never resist making them fight, chiefly, of course, to annoy me, I was naturally furious to find all my work towards establishing peace and friendship, wrecked within a few days of his coming home from school. But George has always had an uncanny, almost hypnotic, power over cats. He could tease and torment them, till his face and hands were torn to ribbons, yet both of them would always go to him, and put up with tormenting arid indignities from him, which they never would from anyone else. Neither of them ever hesitated to bite and scratch him with apparently genuine viciousness, and for years he invariably returned to school marked all over with their teeth and claws, but there was never any real ill feeling, and after a particularly savage session they would both be purring over him within a matter of minutes.
George has accumulated cats round him wherever he has been all his life, and at one time, while in a remote part of West Africa, he actually tamed a kitten, one of whose parents was a genuine wild cat. Topsey would sit on George’s knee under cover of the tablecloth, while we played round games in the evening, keeping up a non-stop subterranean rumble, which varied momentarily from growl to purr and back again, according as he either tweaked or petted her, but she never made any move to leave him.
Jinnie once gave me a most surprising exhibition of the lightning reaction of a cat to an unexpected attack. She was in the garden, hidden among the plants at the side of the lawn, engrossed upon some small prey, only the very tip of her tail showing beyond the cover. The tail was twitching with the excitement of the hunt. I crept up silently behind her, and took the tip of the tail gently between finger and thumb. In a flash a paw shot round and my thumb nail was torn open from base to tip. Apart from the slash of claws, the actual force of the blow astonished me, also the unerring aim. Directly afterwards Jinnie saw who it was she had struck, and her reaction was really most touching. She rubbed and crooned round my ankles, while I sucked my torn thumb, telling me as plainly as she possibly could that she didn’t realise it was I, or she wouldn’t have done such a thing for the world. I picked her up, and assured her that it was entirely my fault, and that. I did not blame her in the least. I carried her into the house, both apologising profusely to each other, and showed my nail to Father and Mother. Jinnie got far more sympathy than I did. Both were interested in the swift feline reaction, but Mother told me it was entirely my own fault, which was perfectly right, and Father, after a professional glance at my nail, merely gave me the interesting information that it would be six months before the nail had grown out, which also proved to be perfectly right.
Once Jinnie and I had concluded our mutual apologies, the matter was entirely dropped. A week or two later, however, I had the unpardonable tactlessness to show the nail to Jinnie, and ask her how it had happened. She gave me a long look of unspeakable reproach, as if she could not credit that I should ever refer to the painful subject, then opening her mouth wide, gave a prolonged swear of the most profound disgust at my bad manners, and turned and walked out of the room, leaving me completely annihilated. I had only done it to test her memory, and without the least intention of upsetting her, and I was absolutely amazed to find how clearly she remembered, and how deeply she felt about it. She certainly was a cat of most unusual intelligence.
Topsey was not with us for more than a very few years. She had numerous families of kittens, which she regarded as unmitigated nuisances. She could only remember to feed them when it affected her own comfort, and could seldom bother to wash them, leaving this task to Jinnie, who tended them like an anxious maiden aunt. When Topsey did remember to give them a wash, she did it with an air of acute boredom, just giving a few rapid licks over the poor little things, quite regardless of whether her impatient tongue flicked into their eyes, or brushed the fur the wrong way. After a moment or two of conscience smitten attention, she would prance off on her own affairs, leaving her family in the charge of the patient, attentive Jinnie. After the birth of one of her families something went wrong with the pretty, feather brained little Topsey, and she had to be put to sleep.
Jinnie, thus left in sole possession once again, was so obviously relieved to be on her own, that we never again had any other cat. During the long periods that Mother was alone at home, Jinnie was her constant companion, and those two developed a most remarkable affection and understanding.
By 1922, Jinnie was getting very old and feeble; I was then at college, and Mother wrote and told me that if I wanted to see Jinnie alive I must come home for a week-end, which I did. Her strength was failing fast, but she knew me and gave me her usual loving greeting. She died on Mother’s knee a few days later, and Mother was so utterly broken-hearted that she would never have another cat in the house. Father had Jinnie buried in the garden, and a little tombstone erected on which was her name and dates of birth and death, and the words, “A truly Christian Cat”. Round the kerb were the words spoken by one of the Early Fathers about the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, “Anima Naturalitur Christiania,” a soul by nature Christian.
The English language is very impoverished in some ways. I refer to the word “love”. In Greek there are at least three words which are all translated by the one word “love”, though each has a very different shade of meaning. I love all cats, but no other cat can ever rouse in me the deep love that I had for Jinnie. Towards the race of cats in general I fell the friendly and kindly affection expressed by the word “philos”, but towards Jinnie my feelings can best be expressed by the word “agape”, which is usually translated as “Brotherly love”, and which is a very different thing from that which one usually feels towards an animal, But Jinnie was more than an animal, and nothing will convince me that that sweet and loving little soul was merely snuffed out in death.
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