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.
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.
Jinnie the Third
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An unexpected attack
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.