— There were already four cats on our premises, — four cats belonging to nobody in particular, — when the Marchioness elected to make her abode with us.
Now, besides the fact that four cats are rather more than a sufficiency for any wellregulated establishment, the Marchioness had no attractions to recommend her to our favor as a superfluity. She was what boys call a “ gutter kitten and, like the Marchioness of the immortal story, “she must have been at work from her cradle.” An unrelaxed “ striving for dear existence,” a bare, unbeautiful existence, had obliterated all the sleek feline graces. She was handicapped at the start by a coat of brindled gray ; the best wear, no doubt, for a gutter kitten, making of her an inconspicuous speck to escape observation ; but had she been “ a motley to the view,” appealing to the lust of the eyes in the variegated glory of sumptuous tortoise-shell, haply some cat-lover had rescued her from a fate forlorn before she forgot the frolic uses of a kitten’s tail.
The Marchioness was still a kitten when she came to us ; an old kitten, in whom the juvenile spirit had perished utterly. She had no mind to frisk, and she manifested a distinct aversion to petting. Superannuated by the uses of adversity, all she demanded was to be let to live. She did not seem to expect to be fed, always preferring to forage for herself at haphazard. Snatching Scraps and dodging missiles had been the two imperative problems of her existence, and she knew nothing else. But constant practice in these accomplishments had developed in her a wariness and a promptitude not to be excelled.
The little vagrant made it evident, from the first hour of her arrival, that she had come to stay; and because she was all skin and hone, with a voice that hardly exceeded a whisper, and eyes forever on the alert, we let her stay, for very pity, and we gave her a name that we loved. Very soon it was discovered that if the Marchioness had no beauty, she had in no small measure the gift of character : and character, though it does not assert its claims so immediately as beauty, excites a livelier curiosity, creates a keener interest, establishes a more lasting impression.
The four cats of old possession, the Jet, the two Snowballs, and the Tortoise-Shell, eyed the intruder with supercilious disdain, flaunting their prescriptive privileges as if to proclaim to the forlorn plebeian that her betters had arrived before her. But the Marchioness was not expecting to be adopted ; all she sought was a chance “ to squench her hunger ” a little less precariously than street vagabondage permitted. Brickbats and broomsticks, and such like violence, she had so long been habituated to that mere slights made no impression. As to the soft places, the cosy nooks, where luxurious naps were to be enjoyed on chair cushions or sofa pillows, the Marchioness, having no knowledge of such indulgences, did not aspire to them. It fulfilled her idea of comfort that she was left unmolested to snooze in the sunshine, on the piazza edge, outside the railing ; and in all her coming and going she maintained her isolated existence, in serene oblivion of the pampered quartette.
But the day of her supremacy was to dawn erelong. Hitherto the four associated cats had lorded it over the premises by right of having no rivals and no determinate owner, — a questionable advantage, indeed, since in such cases ownership means championship. But there came a rival at last, a formidable rival, accredited to a responsible master, —a magnificent young Newfoundland dog, so black that, until a more appropriate name suggested itself, he was known by the elaborate title of the Ace-of-Spades. The Ace-of-Spades “played the deuce” with the cats. Considering himself monarch of all he surveyed, his first decree was that all felines must go.
Cats, however, especially long-established cats, are obstinately loath to change their quarters. Neither the Tortoise-Shell, nor the Jet, nor either of the Snowballs, indeed, presumed to oifer battle ; they fled precipitately to the roof or the treetops, upon the first canine demonstration ; but they returned again and again. Yet could they never evade the vigilant Acc-ofSpades, ready to pounce upon them the instant they descended. Then would ensue a dash, a growl, a bark, a squall, a scamper, and a scurry for safety ; until, wearied out with this persistency of attack, the persecuted quartette took refuge permanently in the orchard, over the high fence of which it did not comport with the dignity of the Ace-of-Spades to follow.
While this lively warfare endured, the Marchioness pursued the even tenor of her way, protected by her insignificance ; but when at last the Ace-of-Spades had effectually banished his four adult aversions, his eyes were opened to the “ impertinent individuality ” of the little scrawny gray kitten. When first he took notice of her existence, she was performing her morning toilet where the sunshine flooded the piazza. The Ace-of-Spades approached for a nearer view of the microscopic object, and, recognizing his lawful prey, made a premonitory dash, with the short, sharp bark, his signal of attack, as he crouched, and brought his nose on a level with the midget.
It was a breathless moment, the crisis of her fate ; for one tap of his vigorous paw would have annihilated that mere anatomy. But the Marchioness was equal to the emergency. Before we could rush to the rescue, she had reared back upon her haunches, quivering in every fibre, but “ game ” every inch of her ; and stretching her meagre jaws to emit the faint squeak that served her on all occasions of protest, she raked the Aeeof-Spades severely across the nose.
The giant recoiled with a low whine of pain and astonishment, and stared at the audacious speck incredulously. The audacious speck stared back unflinchingly. Then, in the language of defiant kittenhood, with a voice that was but a sound this side of silence, she said plainly, “Now I hope you are satisfied, you great brute,” and soberly walked away to the other corner to resume licking her dingy fur.
The Ace-of-Spades gazed after her and pondered deeply, — or seemed to. When next he made advances to the Marchioness, they were of a pacific nature. But the Marchioness was a wary young one ; distrusting caresses, she first resented, and long steadily resisted, his friendly overtures. In the end, however, the indomitable subduer of felines prevailed ; and one day, the Marchioness, being minded to make experiment of a softer resting-place than the piazza floor, crept between the great black paws that once had threatened her life, curled herself up in comfortable security, and went to sleep. The Ace-of-Spades watched over her slumbers with dignified indulgence, and from that time forth became her pillow, her shelter, her protector, her friend. Needless to say what name the Newfoundland thus won for himself.