My Musical appears that the time is ripe Critic, for me to tell of George Washington and his ear for music. A short time ago, I would not have believed that the world had so progressed ; but since Mr. Janvier, under cover of serious biography, has dared to make the most shameless autobiographical exposé of affection for that Hebrew of the animal creation, the maligned, persecuted, and tabooed cat, I begin to see the glimmer of a millennial dawn ; and now that Miss Repplier’s kitten has been allowed to play its capers in the very adytum of the American Academy, I cannot but hope that my own pet may be tolerated at least within the outer court, where nameless Contributors unbosom their nameless selves. He surely deserves it ; he was — alas, was, for him
The land of shadows clasped ” —
he was a gifted being.
He had, as I said, an ear for music. Not that which is generally so understood, implying a love for the art. He hated music with a perfect hatred, — that is, vocal music,— and he particularly objected to my vocal music. This fact would make me melancholy, could I feel sure that his ear was correct. At any rate, it was keen, as keen as his claw, and, as will hereafter be shown, to play upon the one was to evoke the other.
I cannot tell at how early an age George Washington developed his peculiar lack of taste (surely, under the circumstances, I may denominate his views as peculiar, and him as lacking taste), for he came into my possession at the age of one year. He then stood over one foot in his stockings, which were white, and he weighed in pounds avoirdupois — to speak after the Dantesque fashion — three times as much as that number which an unskillful accountant fails to make of twice two. His muscular strength was tremendous, and his jaws were as strong as those of that athletic old man in the Wonderland version of Father William.
A being to have for a friend, not an enemy ! Well, a friendlier cat than George never wore whiskers. Bears are not more demonstrative, nor, it must be said, are sensitive plants more touchy. He had a temper like a tight-rope, and perilous was the footing thereof. He loved, — oh, how he loved! How he sprang into your lap and clung there, and snuggled, and susurred ! With what ecstatic manifestations did he welcome your fingers in his thickly tufted cheeks, rubbing hard against them, rolling his great soft head from side to side with a wild, luxurious joy, as if wallowing in catnip or hypnotic valerian ! But if you touched his crazy-bone, —and he seemed to have crazy-hones all over him, — woe betide you !
George was sensitive, also, to neglect. When he desired attention, and attention was not forthcoming, his manner became incisive ; he has frequently bitten through my boot by way of attracting my notice. I do not live in a lockjaw country, therefore my powers of speech remain unimpaired, but I wonder I have any Singstimme left. Certainly that animal did his best to frighten it out of me.
I never can forget the first time he heard me sing. (Were he alive, I doubt not he would make a remark of a similar nature.) I bad grown sleepy over my book, and went to the piano to get waked up, leaving George on the lounge in the back room, where he was making himself tidy after the manner of cats. I was having what our Western cousins would call a way-up time at the top of my lungs, when I felt the floor shake. It was George jumping from the lounge. He came and stood by my side, and fixed upon me a beseeching gaze which I interpreted as meaning, “ Please let me out.”
No, that was not his wish. Did he then want his head scratched ? Such courtesy never was out of season with him, and in good sooth, if he could have given me a name, I think it would have been either Peaseblossom or Mounsieur Cobweb. He did aceept a little tickling, with a grand air as if to say, “ I graciously permit your touch upon my royal person ; ” but evidently he was not hankering for it. I ran my fingers over the keys, and presently he returned to his wash-tub, as I called a certain depression in the lounge where he nightly licked himself from neck to tail-tip.
Before many moments I again burst forth in song. Instantly came the thump upon the floor, and once more George stood beside me, this time visibly excited. His body quivered, his eyes glared glassily, and he gasped as if trying to mew with a nightmare upon him. I was singing, I remember, The Clang of the Wooden Shoon, and I sang it as I believed it should be sung, — not in the style of a clattering jig, but with a gentle, sentimental swing, and with a tender, suppressed passipn, especially in the second part, where th movement changes, and the words grow regretful rather than reminiscent.
It was at this second part that I began to suspect what ailed George, I have always prided myself highly upon the middle register of my voice, particularly when employing the timbre sombre. Then “ let the audience look to their eyes,” for I would “ move storms.”
I had moved a storm indeed ! George rose upon his hind feet, emitting a cry of anguish. Then he sprang upon a chair near by, and struck my hand with his paw. I continued to sing. He jumped on the keyboard and struck my mouth. I pushed him off to the floor, still continuing my singing.
It was getting to be a match between George Washington and me. Generally, in such a case, I feel exactly as did the Rollicking Mastodon towards the unappreciative Peetookle : —
That shatters a song with a sneer.”
If George Washington had approached in a cold, calm, critical manner, the while twisting his tail delicately in lithe scorn, and had looked at me rebukingly, as much as to say,
, And a little advice for your throat,”
I should have desisted, being quite unable to stand up against ridicule ; but when he sought to bul— I should say, to intimidate me by violent, and unlawful means, I felt an inclination to finish my song, even should the result be to burst the ear-drums of my auditor, and to destroy forever the equilibrium of his nervous system.
Moved, then, by a strictly human impulse, I stretched my throat to the utmost, and exaggerated the sombrousness of timbre to veritable inkiness, infusing into my wailing tones the most unheard-of amount of pathos. Truly, it was a part to tear a cat in, and the cat was forthwith torn.
This exceeding piercingness of vocal quality must have penetrated his vitals like a vulture’s beak. But even now he would not proceed to extremities. He had already struck me, it is true, but successful appeal might yet be made to my better nature. So, to the clanging accompaniment of those wooden shoon, he mewed unearthly mewings, and pawed against me as if trampling down Satan.
I sang on. I marvel now at my own temerity, and, recalling what followed, I doubly value the sweet life that is left me. When, too, I reflect that George Washington first opened his eyes in the District of Columbia, under the shadow of the Senate Chamber (his mother was owned by the janitor of that department) ; moreover, that he ate animal food (cooked) but once a day, I can only admire the persistence of feral traits in him. Where he got his ear for music I do not pretend to conjecture, while as to his taste— But I must not forget how widely a cat’s standard in these matters may differ from our own,— as widely, no doubt, as a Chinaman’s ; or — the idea has just struck me — perhaps George Washington thought I was trying to ridicule his relatives. Could he, oh, could he have regarded my singing as a burlesque performance ?
Whatever the reason, the fact was patent : his state of misery was fast passing into a state of fury. I kept on singing, with inconceivable foolhardiness dwelling upon those notes which held qualities the most exasperating to George. I wanted to see what he would do.
And this is what I saw. He bounced from the chair, and began walking back and forth across the room with quick, uneasy, elliptical movements. From his open mouth came snorts of rage, thick, short puffs, as if his throat were on fire,—the tiger’s grace before (raw) meat. Each turn brought him nearer to me, his body ever swinging closer to the floor. Now his legs appeared to have telescoped, and he slid about like a reptile.
I had reached the end of my song, and was prolonging the last note upon “ shoon,” making a round O of my lips, whence the sound issued in beating, brazen tones. It isn’t every woman who can produce a tremolo below the staff. I was feeling very, very vain, meanwhile keeping an eye upon my audience. But my audience was already over the footlights. His whole body seemed to be in convulsions beneath its striped fur coat, the stripes themselves wavering horribly in long, uniform undulations, like serpents under drill.
Still I hung on to my “shoon.” (By the way, life insurance companies will have nothing to do with me, for they say it is surely abnormal to be so long-winded.) George’s gooseberry eyes had changed to fire-sapphires ; he ululated like the whole first circle of the Inferno ; his hinder parts were beginning to wriggle — slowly now — then quicker — quicker !
We sprang simultaneously, — I to my feet, he to my arm.
I was thickly clad, — it being winter time, — but twenty-four claws (George had six toes on each foot), four tusks (I mean canines), four incisors, ten maxilla— Really, at this critical moment you cannot expect scientific accuracy of terms ; I fear I have already spoiled the effect of a thrilling dénoûment. Let us say, then, that twenty-four claws and twenty-six teeth went through to my skin, thence penetrating the large, cushiony muscle upon the forearm. It was nip and tuck between us, but at length I shook him off, and — well, for a parallel in anticlimax we shall have to go to the king of France and his four thousand men ; but in less time than it takes to write this George Washington was in his bath-tub again, scrubbing as if for dear life. All he asked was to be let alone. And I let him alone. That night I sang no more, and afterwards, whenever the song mania seized me, I saw to it that George was out of the way.
Had this thing happened in these days,
I should probably have been dispatched straight to the Pasteur Institute. As it was, a witch-hazel pack soon restored my frayed flesh.
Whether any rabies remains in my system I know not. It were well to beware of me, for when I hear certain people sing I feel as George Washington must have felt on that fateful night. But I do not bite nor scratch these people, and above all, I try never to behave as the Little Peetookle did. It is not well to have too sensitive a soul.
George Washington’s sense of smell was not so discriminating as his ear for music. Once he mistook white paint for cream. It was a great disappointment to him, and one from which he never recovered.