THROUGH

Richard Waghorn was among the cleverest and most popular of professional
mediums, and a never-failing source of consolation to the credulous.
That there was fraud, downright, unadulterated fraud mixed up with his
remarkable manifestations it would be impossible to deny; but it would
have been futile not to admit that these manifestations were not wholly
fraudulent. He had to an extraordinary degree that rare and inexplicable
gift of tapping, so to speak, not only the surface consciousness of
those who consulted him, but, in favourable circumstances, their inner
or subliminal selves, so that it frequently happened that he could speak
to an inquirer of something he had completely forgotten, which
subsequent investigation proved to be authentic.

So much was perfectly genuine, but he gave, as it were, a false frame to
it all by the manner in which he presented these phenomena. He
pretended, at his séances, to go into a trance, during which he was
controlled sometimes by the spirit of an ancient Egyptian priest, who
gave news to the inquirer about some dead friend or relative, sometimes
more directly by that dead friend or relative who spoke through him.

As a matter of fact, Waghorn would not be in a trance at all, but
perfectly conscious, extracting, as he sat quiescent and with closed
eyes, the knowledge, remembered or even forgotten, that lurked in the
mind of his sitter, and bringing it out in the speech of Mentu, the
Egyptian control, or of the lost friend or relative about whom inquiry
was being made. Fraudulent also, as purporting to come from the
intelligence of discarnate spirits, were the pieces of information he
gave as to the conditions under which those who had “passed over” still
lived, and it was here that he chiefly brought consolation to the
credulous, for he represented the dead as happy and busy, and full of
spiritual activities. This information, to speak frankly, he obtained
entirely from his own conscious mind. He made it up, and we cannot
really find an excuse for him in the undoubted fact that he sincerely
believed in the general truth of all he said when he spoke of the
survival of individual personality.

Finally, deeply dyed with fraud, and that in crude, garish colours, were
the spirit-rappings, the playing of musical boxes, the appearance of
materialized spirits, the smell of incense that heralded Cardinal
Newman, all that bag of conjuring tricks, in fact, which disgraces and
makes a laughing-stock of the impostors who profess to be able to bring
the seen world into connection with the unseen world. But to do Waghorn
justice, he did not often employ those crude contrivances, for his
telepathic and thought-reading gifts were far more convincing to his
sitters. Occasionally, however, his powers in this line used to fail
him, and then, it must be confessed, he presented his Egyptian control
with every trapping and circumstance of degrading device.

Such was the general scheme of procedure when Richard Waghorn, with his
sister as accomplice in case mechanical tricks were necessary, undertook
to reveal the spirit world to the material world. They were a pleasant,
handsome pair of young people, gifted with a manner that, if anything,
disarmed suspicion too much, and while futile old gentlemen found it
quite agreeable to sit in the dark holding Julia’s firm, cool hand,
similarly constituted old ladies were the recipients of thrilling
emotions when they held Richard’s, the touch of which, they declared,
was strangely electric. There they sat while Richard, breathing deeply
and moaning in his simulated trance, was the mouthpiece of Mentu and
told them things which, but for his indubitable gift of thought-reading,
it was impossible for him to know; or, if the power was not coming
through properly, they listened, hardly less thrilled, to
spirit-rappings and musical boxes and unverifiable information about the
conditions of life where the mortal coil hampers no longer. It was all
very interesting and soothing and edifying. And then one day there
occurred an irruption of something wholly unexpected and inexplicable.

Brother and sister were dining quietly after a busy, but unsatisfactory
day when the tinkling summons came from the telephone, and Richard
found that a loud voice, belonging, so it said, to Mrs. Gardner, wanted
to arrange a sitting alone for next day. No address was given, but he
made an appointment for half-past two, and without much enthusiasm went
back to his dinner.

“A stranger,” he said to his sister, “with no address and no reference
or introduction. I hope I shall be in better form to-morrow. There was
nothing but rappings and music to-day. They are boring, and also they
are dangerous, for one may be detected at any time. And I got an
infernal blow on my knuckles from that new electric tapper.”

Julia laughed.

“I know. I heard it,” she said. “There was quite a wrong noise in one of
the taps as we were spelling out ‘silver wing.’”

He lit his cigarette, frowning at the smoke.

“That’s the worst of my profession,” he said. “On some days I can get
right inside the mind of the sitter, and, as you know, bring out the
most surprising information; but on other days–to-day, for
instance–and there have been many such lately–there’s a mere blank
wall in front of me. I shall lose my position if it happens often;
nobody will pay my fees only to hear spirit-rappings and generalities.”

“They’re better than nothing,” said Julia.

“Very little. They help to fill up, but I hate using them. Don’t you
remember, when we began investigating, just you and I alone, how often
we seemed on the verge of genuine supernatural manifestations? They
appeared to be just round the corner.”

“Yes; but we never turned the corner. We never got beyond mere
thought-reading.”

He got up.

“I know we didn’t, but there always seemed a possibility. The door was
ajar; it wasn’t locked, and it has never ceased to be ajar. Often when
the mere thought-reading, as you call it, is flowing along most
smoothly, I feel that if only I could abandon my whole consciousness a
little more completely, something, somebody would really take control of
me. I wish it would; and yet I’m frightened of it. It might revenge
itself for all the frauds I’ve perpetrated in its name. Come, let’s play
piquet and forget about it all.”

* * * * *

It was settled that Julia should be present next day when the stranger
came for her sitting, in order that if Richard’s thought-reading was not
coming through any better than it had done lately, she should help in
the rappings and the luminous patches and the musical box. Mrs. Gardner
was punctual to her appointment, a tall, quiet, well-dressed woman who
stated with perfect frankness her object in wishing for a séance and her
views about spirit-communication.

“I should immensely like to believe in spirit-communication,” she said,
“such as I am told you are capable of producing; but at present I
don’t.”

“It is important that the atmosphere should not be one of hostility,”
said Waghorn in his dreamy, professional manner.

“I bring no hostility,” she said. “I am in a state, shall we say, of
benevolent neutrality, unless”–and she smiled in a charming
manner–“unless benevolent neutrality has come to mean malevolent
hostility. That, I assure you, is not the case with me. I want to
believe.” She paused a moment.

“And may I say this without offence?” she asked. “May I tell you that
spirit-rappings and curious lights and sounds of music do not interest
me in the least?”

They were already seated in the room where the séance was to be held.
The windows were thickly curtained, there was only a glimmer of light
from the red lamp, and even this the spirits would very likely desire to
have extinguished. If this visitor took no interest in such things,
Waghorn felt that he and his sister had wasted their time in adjusting
the electric hammer (made to rap by the pressure of the foot on a switch
concealed in the thick rug underneath the table) behind the
sliding-panel, in stringing across the ceiling the invisible wires on
which the luminous globes ran, and in making ready all the auxiliary
paraphernalia in case the genuine telepathy was not on tap. So with
voice dreamier than before and with slower utterance as he was supposed
to be beginning to sink into trance, he just said:

“I can’t foretell the manner in which they may choose to make their
presence known.”

He gave one loud rap, which perfectly conveyed the word “No” to his
sister, indicating that the conjuring tricks were not to be used.
Subsequently, if really necessary, he could rap “Yes” to her, and the
music and the magic lights would be displayed. Then he began to breathe
quickly and in a snorting manner, to show that the control was taking
possession of him.

“My brother is going into trance very quickly,” said Julia, and there
was dead silence.

Almost immediately a clear and shining lucidity spread like sunshine,
after these days of cloud, over Waghorn’s brain. Every moment he found
himself knowing more and more about this complete stranger who sat with
hand touching his. He felt his sub-conscious brain, which had lately
lain befogged and imperceptive, sun itself under the brilliant clarity
of illumination that had come to it, and in the impressive bass in which
Mentu was wont to give vent to his revelations he said:

“I am here; Mentu is here.”

He felt the table rocking beneath his hands, which surprised him, since
he had exerted no pressure on it, and he supposed that Julia had not
understood his signal, and was beginning the conjuring tricks. One hand
of his was in hers, and by the pressure of his finger-tips he conveyed
to her in code, “Don’t do it.” Instantly she answered back, “I wasn’t.”

He paid no more heed to that, though the table continued to oscillate
and tip in a very curious manner, for his mind was steeped in this flood
of images that impressed themselves on his brain.

“What shall Mentu tell you to-day?” he went on, with pauses between the
sentences. “Someone has come to consult Mentu. It is a lady, I can see
her. She wears a locket round her neck, below her coat, with a piece of
black hair under glass between the gold.”

He felt a slight jerk from Mrs. Gardner’s hand, and in finger-tip code
said to Julia, “Ask her.”

Julia whispered across the table:

“Is that so?”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Gardner, and Waghorn heard her take her breath quickly.
He just remembered that she was not in mourning; but that made no
difference. He knew, not guessing, that Mrs. Gardner wished to know
something from the man or woman on whose head that hair once grew which
was contained in the locket that rested unseen below her buttoned
jacket. Then the next moment he knew also that this was a man’s hair.
Thereafter the flood of sun and precise mental impressions poured over
him in spate of bright waters.

“She wants to know about the boy whose hair is in the locket. He is not
a boy now. He is, according to earth’s eyes, a grown man. There is a D;
I see a D. Not Dick, not David. There is a Y. It is Denys. Not Saint
Denys, not French. English Denys–Denys Bristow.”

He paused a moment, and heard Mrs. Gardner whisper:

“Yes; that is right.”

Waghorn gave vent to Mentu’s jovial laugh.

“She says it is right,” he said. “How should not Mentu be right? Perhaps
Mentu is right, too, when he says that Denys is her brother? Yes; that
is Margaret Bristow who sits here, though not Margaret Bristow now.
Margaret—-”

Waghorn saw the name quite clearly, but yet he hesitated. It was not
Gardner at all. Then it struck him for the first time that nothing was
more likely than that Mrs. Gardner had adopted a pseudonym. He went on:

“Margaret Forsyth is Denys’s sister. Margaret wants to know about Denys.
Denys is coming. He will be here in a moment. He has spoken of his
sister before. He did not call her Margaret. He called her Q–he called
her Queenie. Will Queenie speak?”

Waghorn felt the trembling of her hand; he heard her twice try to speak,
but she was unable to control the trembling in her voice.

“Can Denys speak to me?” she said in a whisper. “Can he really come
here?”

Up to this moment Waghorn had been enjoying himself immensely, for after
the days in which he had been unable to get into touch with this rare
and marvellous gifts of consciousness-reading, it was blissful to find
his mastery again, and, besieged with the images which Margaret
Forsyth’s contact revealed to him, he had been producing them in Mentu’s
impressive voice, revelling in his restored powers. Her mind lay open to
him like a book; he could read where he liked on pages familiar to her
and on pages which had remained long unturned. But at this moment, as
sudden as some qualm of sickness, he was aware of a startling change in
the quality of his perceptions. Fresh knowledge of Denys Bristow came
into his mind, but he felt that it was coming not from her, but from
some other source. Some odd buzzing sang in his ears, as when an
anæsthetic begins to take effect, and opening his eyes, he thought he
saw a strange patch of light, inconsistent with the faint illumination
of the red lamp, hovering over his breast. At the same moment he heard,
though dimly, for his head was full of confused noise, the violent
rapping of the electric hammer, and already only half conscious, felt an
impotent irritation with his sister for employing these tricks. He
struggled with the oncoming of the paralysis that was swiftly invading
his mind and his physical being, but he struggled in vain, and next
moment, overwhelmed with the onrush of a huge, enveloping blackness, he
lost consciousness altogether. The trance that he had often simulated
had invaded him, and he knew nothing more.

* * * * *

He came to himself again, with the feeling that he had been recalled
from some vast distance. Still unable to move, he sat listening to the
quick panting of his own breath before he realized what the noise was.
His face, from which the sweat poured in streams, rested on something
cold and hard, and presently, when he opened his eyes, he saw that his
head had fallen forward upon the table. He felt utterly exhausted and
yet somehow strangely satisfied. Some amazing thing had happened.

Then as he recovered himself he began to remember that he had been
reading Mrs. Gardner’s, or Mrs. Forsyth’s mind when some power external
to himself took possession of him, and on his left he heard Julia’s
voice speaking very familiar words.

“He is coming out of his trance,” she said. “He will be himself again in
a moment now.”

With a sense of great weariness he raised his head, disengaged his hands
from those of the two women, and sank back in his chair.

“Draw back the curtains,” he said to Julia, “and open the window. I am
suffocating.”

She did as he told her, and he saw the red rays of the sun near to its
setting pour into the room, while the breeze of sunset refreshed the
air. On his right still sat Mrs. Forsyth, wiping her eyes, and smiling
at him; and having opened the window, Julia came back to the table,
looking at him with a curious, anxious intentness.

Then Mrs. Forsyth spoke.

“It has been too marvellous,” she said. “I cannot thank you enough. I
will do exactly as you, or, rather, Denys, told me about the test; and
if it is right, I will certainly leave my house to-morrow, taking my
servants with me. It was so like Denys to think of them, too.”

To Waghorn this meant nothing whatever; she might have been speaking
Hebrew to him. But Julia, as she often did, answered for him.

“My brother knows nothing of what happened in his trance,” she said.

Mrs. Forsyth got up.

“I will go straight home,” she said. “I feel sure that I shall find just
what Denys described. May I telephone to you about it at once?”

“Yes, pray do,” said Julia. “We shall be most anxious to hear.”

Richard got up to show her out, but having regained his feet, he
staggered, and collapsed into his chair again. Mrs. Forsyth would not
hear of his attempting to move just yet, and Julia, having taken her to
the door, returned to her brother. It was usual for him, when the
sitting was over, to feign great exhaustion, but the realism of his
acting to-day had almost deceived her into thinking that something not
yet experienced in their séances had occurred. Besides, he had said such
strange, detailed, and extraordinary things. He was still where she had
left him, and there could be no reason, now that they were alone, to
keep up this feigned languor.

“Dick,” she said, “what’s the matter? And what happened? I couldn’t
understand you at all. Why did you say all those things?”

He stirred and sat up.

“I’m better,” he said. “And it is you who have to tell me what happened.
I remember up to a certain point, and after that I lost consciousness
completely. I remember thinking you were rocking the table, and I told
you not to.”

“Yes; but I wasn’t rocking it. I thought you were.”

“Well, it was neither of us, then,” said he. “I was vexed because Mrs.
Gardner–Mrs. Forsyth had said she didn’t want that sort of thing, and I
was reading her as I never read any one before. I told her about the
locket and the black hair, I got her brother’s name, I got her name and
her nickname Queenie. Then she asked if Denys could really come, and at
that moment something began to take possession of me. I think I saw a
light as usual over my breast, and I think I heard a tremendous
rapping. Did you do either of those, or did they really happen?”

Julia stared at him for a moment in silence.

“I did neither of those,” she said; “but they happened. You must have
pressed the breast-pocket switch and trod on the switch of the hammer.”

He opened his coat.

“I had not got the breast-pocket switch,” he said, “and I certainly did
not tread on the hammer-switch.”

Julia moved her chair a little closer to him.

“The hammer did not sound right,” she said. “It was ten times louder
than I have ever heard, and the light was quite different somehow. It
was much brighter. I could see everything in the room quite distinctly.
Go on, Dick.”

“I can’t. That’s all I know until I came to, leaning over the table and
bathed in perspiration. Tell me what happened.”

“Dick, do you swear that is true?” she asked.

“Certainly I do. Go on.”

“The light grew, and then faded again to a glimmer,” she said, “and then
suddenly you began to talk in a different voice: it wasn’t Mentu any
longer. Mrs. Forsyth recognized it instantly, and I thought what
wonderful luck it was that you should have hit on a voice that was like
her brother’s. Then it and she had a long talk; it must have lasted half
an hour. They reminded each other how Denys had come to live with her
and her husband on their father’s death. He was only eighteen at the
time and still at school. He was killed in a street accident, being run
over by a bicycle two days before her birthday. All this was correct,
and I thought I never heard you mind-reading so clearly and quickly; you
hardly paused at all.”

Julia was silent a moment.

“Dick, don’t you really know what followed?” she asked.

“Not in the smallest degree,” he said.

“Well, I thought you had gone mad,” she said. “Mrs. Forsyth asked for a
test, something that was not known to her, and never had been known to
her, and you gave it instantly. You laughed, Denys laughed, the voice
that spoke laughed, and told her to look behind the row of books beside
the bed in the room that was still known as Denys’s room, and she would
find tucked away a little cardboard box with a gold safety-pin set with
a pearl. He had bought it for her birthday present, and had hidden it
there till the day came. He was killed, as I told you, two days before.
And she, half sobbing, half laughing, said, ‘O Denys, how deliciously
secretive you used to be!’”

“And is that what she is going to telephone about?” asked Waghorn.

“Yes, Dick. What made you say all that?”

“I don’t know, I tell you. I didn’t know I said it. And was that all?
She said something about leaving her house to-morrow and taking the
servants. What did that mean?”

“You got very much distressed. You told her she was in danger. You
said—-” Julia paused again. “You said there was something coming, fire
from the clouds, and a rending. You said her country house, which I
gathered was down somewhere near Epping, would be burst open by the fire
from the clouds to-morrow night. You made her promise to leave it and
take the servants with her. You said her husband was away, which again
is the case. And she asked if you meant Zeppelins, and you said you
did.”

Waghorn suddenly got up.

“‘You meant,’ ‘you said,’ ‘you did,’” he cried. “What if it’s ‘he
meant,’ ‘he said,’ ‘he did’?”

“It’s impossible,” she said.

“Good Lord! What’s impossible?” he asked. “What if I really am that
which I have so long pretended to be? What if I am a medium, one who is
the mysterious bridge between the quick and the dead? I’m frightened,
but I’m bound to say I’m horribly interested. All that you tell me I
said when I was in trance never came out of Mrs. Forsyth’s mind. It
wasn’t there. She didn’t know about the pearl pin; she had never known
it. Nor had I ever known it. Where did it come from, then? Only one
person knew, the boy who died ten years ago.”

“It yet remains to be seen whether it is true,” said she. “We shall
know in an hour or two, for she is motoring straight down to her house
in the country.”

“And if it turns out to be true, _who_ was talking?” said he.

* * * * *

The sunset faded into the dusk of the clear May evening, and the two
still sat there waiting for the telephone to inform them whether the
door which, as Waghorn had said, had seemed so often ajar, and never
quite closed, was now thrown open, and light and intelligence from
another world had shone on his unconscious mind. Presently the tinkling
summons came, and with an eager curiosity, below which lurked that fear
of the unknown, the dim, mysterious land into which all human creatures
pass across the closed frontier, he went to hear what news awaited him.

“Trunk call,” said the operator, and he listened.

Soon the voice came through.

“Mr. Waghorn?” it said.

“Yes.”

“I have found the box in exactly the place described. It contained what
we had been told it would contain. I shall leave the house, taking all
the servants away, to-morrow.”

* * * * *

Two mornings later the papers contained news of a Zeppelin raid during
the night on certain Eastern counties. The details given were vague and
meagre, and no names of towns or villages where bombs had been dropped
were vouchsafed to the public. But later in the day private information
came to Waghorn that Forsyth Hall, near Epping, had been completely
wrecked. No lives, luckily, were lost, for the house was empty.

It was during the month of May some nine years ago that the beginning of
the events that concerned Puss-cat took place. I was living at the time
on the green outskirts of a country town, and my dining-room at the back
of the house opened on to a small garden framed in brick walls some five
feet high. Breakfasting there one morning, I saw a large black and white
cat, with a sharp but serious face, observing me with studied attention.
Now at the time there was an interregnum, and my house was without a
mistress (in the shape of a cat), and it at once struck me that I was
being interviewed by this big and pleasing stranger, to see if I would
do. So, since there is nothing that a prospective mistress likes less
than premature familiarity on the part of the householder whom she may
be thinking of engaging, I took no direct notice of the cat, but
continued to eat my breakfast carefully and tidily. After a short
inspection, the cat quietly withdrew without once looking back, and I
supposed that I was dismissed, or that she had decided, after all, to
keep on her present household.

In that I proved to be mistaken: she had only gone away to think about
it, and next morning, and for several mornings after that, I was
subjected to the same embarrassing but not unfriendly scrutiny, after
which she took a stroll round the garden to see if there were any
flower-beds that would do to make ambushes in, and a convenient tree or
two to climb should emergencies arise. On the fourth day, as far as I
remember, I committed an error, and half-way through breakfast went out
into the garden, to attempt to get on more familiar terms. The cat
regarded me for a few moments with pained surprise, and went away; but
after I had gone in again, she decided to overlook it, for she returned
to her former place, and continued to observe. Next morning she made up
her mind, jumped down from the wall, trotted across the grass, entered
the dining-room, and, arranging herself in a great hurry round one
hind-leg, which she put up in the air like a flagstaff, proceeded to
make her morning toilet. That, as I knew quite well, meant that she
thought I would give satisfaction, and I was therefore permitted to
enter upon my duties at once. So I put down a saucer of milk for her,
which she very obligingly disposed of. Then she went and sat by the
door, and said “A-a-a-a,” to show that she wished the door to be opened
for her, so that she might inspect the rest of the house. So I called
down the kitchen stairs, “There is come a cat, who I think means to
stop. Don’t fuss her.” In this manner the real Puss-cat–though I did
not know that–entered the house.

Now here I must make a short defence for my share in these things. I
might, by a hasty judgment, be considered to have stolen her who soon
became Puss-cat’s mamma, but anyone who has any real knowledge of cats
will be aware that I did nothing of the kind. Puss-cat’s mamma was
clearly dissatisfied with her last household and had, without the least
doubt, made up her mind to leave them all and take on a fresh lot of
servants; and if a cat makes up her mind about anything, no power on
earth except death, or permanent confinement in a room where neither
doors nor windows are ever opened, will stop her taking the contemplated
step. If her last (unknown) household killed her, or permanently shut
her up, of course, she could not engage fresh people, but short of that
they were powerless to keep her. You may cajole or bully a dog into
doing what you want, but no manner of persuasion will cause a cat to
deviate one hair’s breadth from the course she means to pursue. If I had
driven her away she would have gone to another house, but never back to
her own. For though we may own dogs and horses and other animals, it is
a great mistake to think that we own cats. Cats employ us, and if we
give satisfaction they may go so far as to adopt us. Besides, Puss-cat’s
mamma did not, as it turned out, mean to stay with me altogether: she
only wanted quiet lodgings for a time.

So our new mistress went discreetly downstairs and inspected kitchen,
scullery, and pantry. She spent some time in the scullery, so I was
told, and felt rather doubtful. But she quite liked the new gas-stove in
the kitchen, and singed her tail at it, as nobody had told her that
lunch was a-cooking. Also she found a mouse-hole below the wainscoting,
which appeared to decide her (for, as we soon found out, she liked
work), and she trotted upstairs again and sat outside the drawing-room
door till somebody opened it for her. I happened to be inside, with
Jill, a young lady of the fox-terrier breed, and, of course, did not
know that Puss-cat’s mamma was waiting. Eventually I came out and saw
her sitting there. Jill saw her, too, and eagerly ran up to her only to
talk, not to fight, for Jill likes cats. But Puss-cat’s mamma did not
know that, so, just in case, she slapped Jill smartly first on one side
the head, and then on the other. She was not angry, but only firm and
strong, and wished that from the first there should be no doubt whatever
about her position. Having done that, she allowed Jill to explain, which
Jill did with twitchings of her stumpy tail and attitude provocative of
gambols. And before many minutes were up, Puss-cat’s mamma was kind
enough to play with her. Then she suddenly remembered that she had not
seen the rest of the house, and went upstairs, where she remained till
lunch-time.

It was the manner in which she spent the first morning that gave me the
key to the character of Puss-cat’s mamma, and we at once settled that
her name had always been Martha. She had annexed our house, it is true,
but in no grabbing or belligerent spirit, but simply because she had
seen from her post on the garden wall that we wanted somebody to look
after us and manage the house, and she could not help knowing how
wonderful she was in all things connected with a mistress’s duties.
Every morning when the housemaid’s step was heard on the stairs during
breakfast (she had a very audible step), Martha, even in the middle of
fish or milk, ran to the door, said “A-a-a-a” till it was opened, and
rushed after her, sitting in each bedroom in turn to see that the slops
were properly emptied and the beds well and truly made. In the middle of
such supervision sometimes came other calls upon her, the front-door
bell would ring, and Martha had to hurry down to see that the door was
nicely opened. Then perhaps she would catch sight of somebody digging in
the garden, and she was forced to go out in this busiest time of the
morning, to dab at the turned-up earth, in order to be sure that it was
fresh. In particular, I remember the day on which the dining-room was
repapered. She had to climb the step-ladder to ascertain if it was safe,
and sit on the top to clean herself. Then each roll of paper had to be
judged by the smell, and the paste to be touched with the end of a pink
tongue. That made her sneeze (which must be the right test for paste),
and she allowed it to be used. That day we lunched in the drawing-room,
and it is easy to imagine how busy Martha was, for the proceeding was
very irregular, and she could not tell how it would turn out. Meal-times
were always busy: she had to walk in front of every dish as it was
brought in, and precede it as it was taken out, and to-day these duties
were complicated by the necessity of going back constantly to the real
dining-room to see that the paper-hangers were not idling. To make the
rush more overpowering, Jill was in the garden wanting to play (and to
play with Jill was one of Martha’s duties) and some young hollyhocks
were being put in, certain of which, for inscrutable reasons, had to be
dug up again with strong backward kicks of the hind-legs.

She had settled that there was but one cat, which was, of course,
herself. Occasionally alien heads looked over the wall, and the cries of
strangers sounded. Whenever that happened, whatever the stress of
housework might be, Martha bounded from house into garden to expel and,
if possible, kill the intruder. Once from my bedroom window I saw a
terrific affair. Martha had been sitting as good as gold among
hair-brushes and nail-scissors, showing me how to shave, when something
feline moving in the garden caught her eye. Not waiting for the door to
be opened, she made one leap of it out of the window into the
apple-tree, and whirled down the trunk, even as lightning strikes and
rips its way to the ground, and next moment I saw her, with paw
uplifted, tearing tufts of fur from the next-door tabby. She was like
one of those amazing Chinese grotesques, half-cat, half-demon, and
wholly warrior. Shrill cries rent the peaceful morning air, and Martha,
intoxicated with vengeance, allowed the mishandled tabby to escape. Then
with awesome face and Bacchanalian eye she ate the tufts of bloodstained
fur, rolling them on her tongue and swallowing them with obvious
difficulty, as if performing some terrible, antique and cannibalistic
rite. And all this from a lady who was so shortly to be confined. But it
was no use trying to keep Martha quiet.

A second minute inspection of her house was necessary before she decided
which should be the birth-chamber. She spent a long time in the
wood-shed that morning, and we hoped that it was going to be there; she
spent a long time in the bath-room, and we hoped it wasn’t. Eventually
she settled on the pantry, and when she had quite made up her mind we
made her comfortable. Next morning three dappled little blind things
were there. She ate one, for no reason, as far as we could judge, but
that she was afraid that Jill wanted to. So, as it was her kitten, not
Jill’s, she ate it.

With all respect for Martha, I think that here she had mistaken her
vocation. She should never have gone in for being a mother. The second
kitten she lay down upon with fatal results. Then, being thoroughly
disgusted with maternity, she went away and never was seen any more. She
deserted the only child she had not killed; she deserted us who had
tried so hard to give satisfaction; and in the basket there was left,
still blind, still uncertain whether it was worth while to live at all,
Puss-cat.

Puss-cat was her mother’s own child from the first, though with much
added. She wasted no time or strength in bewailing her orphaned
condition, but took amazing quantities of milk administered on a
feather. Her eyes opened, as eyes should do, on the seventh day, and she
smiled at us all, and spat at Jill. So Jill licked her nose with anxious
care, and said quite distinctly, “When you are a little older, I will be
always ready to do whatever you like.” Jill says the same sort of thing
to everybody except the dustman.

Soon after, Puss-cat arose from her birth-bed and staggered across the
pantry. Even this first expedition on her own feet was not made without
purpose, for in spite of frequent falls she went straight up to a
blind-tassel, and after looking at it for a long time, tested it with a
tiny paw to make sure of it, thus showing, while scarcely out of the
cradle, that serious purpose which marked her throughout her dear life.
Her motto was, “Do your work,” and since she remained unmarried in spite
of many very eligible offers, I think that her unnatural mother must
have impressed upon her, in those few days before she deserted her,
that the first duty of a cat is to look after the house, and that she
herself didn’t think much of maternity. Puss-cat inherited also, I
suppose, her fixed conviction that she ought to have been, even if she
was not, the only cat in the world, and she would allow no one of her
own race within eyeshot of house or garden. Some of her duties, though
they were always conscientiously performed, I think rather bored her,
but certainly she brought to the expulsion of cats an exquisite sense of
enjoyment. On the appearance of any one of her own nation she would go
hastily into ambush with twitching tail and jerking shoulder-blades,
teasing and torturing herself with the postponement of that rapturous
stealthy advance across the grass, if the quarry was looking the other
way, or the furious hurling of herself through the air, if a frontal
attack had to be delivered. And I often wondered that she did not betray
her ambush by the rapture and sonorousness of her purring, as the
supreme moment approached.

Jill, I am afraid, gave her a lot of worry over this duty of the
expulsion of aliens, for Jill would sooner play with an alien than expel
it, and her plan was to gambol up to the intruder with misplaced
welcome. It is true that the effect was just the same, because a
trespassing cat, seeing an alert fox-terrier rapidly approaching,
seldom, if ever, stops to play, so that Jill’s method was really quite
effective, too. But Puss-cat had high moral purpose behind her: she
wanted not only to expel, but to appal and injure, and like many
moralists of our own species, she enjoyed her fulminations and
onslaughts quite tremendously. She liked punishing other cats, because
she was right and they were wrong, and vigorous kicks and bites would
help them perhaps to understand that.

But though Puss-cat resembled her mother in the matter of the high sense
of duty and moral qualities, she had what Martha lacked: that
indefinable attraction which we call charm, and a great heart. She was
always pleased and affectionate, and went about her duties with as near
an approach to a smile as is possible for the gravest species of animal.
Martha, for instance, played with Jill as a part of her duty, Puss-cat
made a pleasure out of it and played with the ecstatic abandon of a
child. Indeed, I have known her put dinner a quarter of an hour later,
because she was in the lovely jungle of long grass at the end of the
garden, and was preparing to give Jill an awful fright. This business of
the jungle deserves mention, not because it was so remarkable in itself,
but because it was so wonderful to Puss-cat.

The jungle in question was a space of some dozen yards, where in spring
daffodils grew in clumps of sunshine and fritillaries hung their
speckled bells. There were pæonies also planted in the grass, and a
briar-rose, and an apple-tree; nothing, as I have said, was remarkable
in itself, but it was fraught with amazing possibilities to the keen
imagination of Puss-cat. At the bottom of this strip of untamed jungle
the lawn began, and it was one of Puss-cat’s plans to hide at the edge
of the jungle, flattening herself out till she looked like a shadow of
something else. If luck served her, Jill, sooner or later in the pursuit
of interesting smells, would pass close to the edge of the jungle
without seeing her. The moment Jill had gone by, Puss-cat would stretch
out a discreet paw, and just touch Jill on the hind-quarters. Jill, of
course, had to turn round to see what this inexplicable thing meant, and
on the moment Puss-cat would fling herself into the air and descend
tiger-like on Jill’s back. That was the beginning of the game, and it
contained more vicissitudes than a round of golf. There were ambushes
and scurryings innumerable, assaults from the apple-tree, repulsions
from behind the garden roller, periods of absolute quiescence, suddenly
and wildly broken by swift flanking movements through the sweet-peas,
and at the end a failure of wind and limb, and Jill would lie panting on
the bank, and Puss-cat, having put off dinner, proceed to clean herself
for her evening duties. She had to be smart at dinner-time, whether we
were dining alone, or whether there was a dinner-party, for she was
never a tea-gown cat, and she dressed for her dinner, even if we were
dining out. She was not responsible for that; what she was responsible
for was to be tidy herself.

Puss-cat, without doubt, was a plain kitten; but again, like many
children of our own inferior race, she grew up to be a very handsome
cat. With great chic she did not attempt colours, but was pure black and
white. Across her broad, strong back there was a black saddle, but the
saddle, so to speak, had slewed round and made a black band across her
left side. There was an arbitrary patch of black, too, on her left
cheek, a black band on her tail, and a black tip to it. Otherwise she
was pure white, except when she put out a pink tongue below her long,
snowy whiskers. But her charm–the outstanding feature of Puss-cat–was
independent of this fascinating colouring. Martha, for instance, had
been content that dishes were carried into the dining-room, and
subsequently carried out. That and no more was her notion of her duties
towards dinner. But Puss-cat really began where Martha ended. Like her,
she preceded the soup, but when those who were present had received
their share, she always went round with loud purrings to each guest, to
congratulate them and hope that they liked it. For this process, which
was repeated with every dish, she had a particular walk, stepping high
and treading on the tips of her toes. This congratulatory march was
purely altruistic: she did not want soup herself; she was only glad that
other people had got it. Then when fish came, or bird, she would make
her congratulatory tour just the same, and then sit firmly down and say
she would like some too. Occasionally she favoured some particular guest
with marked regard, and sometimes almost forgot her duties as mistress
of the house, choosing rather to sit by her _protégée_ and purr loudly,
so that a dish would already be half-eaten before she went her round to
see that everyone was pleased with his portion. Finally, when coffee was
brought, she went downstairs to the kitchen and retired for the night,
usually sharing Jill’s basket, where they lay together in a soft
slow-breathing heap of black and white.

Puss-cat, like the ancient Greeks, was never sick or sorry; never sick,
because of her robust and stalwart health; never sorry, because she
never did anything to be sorry for. From living with Jill, and never
seeing a cat, except for those short and painful interviews which
preceded expulsion from the garden, she grew to have something of the
selfless affection of a dog, and when I came home after an absence she
would run out into the street to meet me, stiff-tailed, and really not
attending to the debarkation of luggage, but intent only on welcoming me
home. Eight busy, happy years passed thus, and then one bitter February
morning, Pussy-cat disappeared.

* * * * *

The weeks went on, and still there came no sign of her, and when winter
had passed into May I gave up all hopes of her return, and got a fresh
cat, this time a young blue Persian with topaz-coloured eyes. Another
month went by, and Agag (so-called from his delicate walk) had
established himself in our affections, on account of his extraordinary
beauty, rather than from any charm of character, when the second act of
the tragedy opened.

I was sitting at breakfast one morning, with the door into the garden
thrown wide, and Agag was curled up on a chair in the window (for,
unlike Puss-cat and Martha, he did no housework at all, being of proud
and aristocratic descent), when I saw coming slowly across the lawn a
cat that I scarcely recognized. It was lean to the point of emaciation,
its fur was disordered and dirty, but it was Puss-cat come home again.
Then suddenly she saw me, and with a little cry of joy ran towards the
open door. Then she saw Agag, and, weak and thin as she was, she woke at
once to her old sense of duty, and bounded on to his chair. Never before
in her time had a cat got right into the house, and such a thing, she
felt determined, should not occur again. Round the room and out into the
garden raged the battle before I could separate them–Puss-cat inspired
by her sense of duty, Agag angry and astonished at this assault of a
mere gutter-cat in his own house. At last I got hold of Puss-cat and
took her up in my arms, while Agag cursed and swore in justifiable
indignation. For how could he tell that this was Puss-cat?

They never fought again, but it was a miserable fortnight that followed,
and all the misery was poor Puss-cat’s. Agag, in spite of his beauty,
had no heart, and did not mind how many cats I kept, so long as they did
not molest him, or usurp his food or his cushion. But Puss-cat, though
she understood that for some inscrutable reason she had to share her
house with Agag, and not fight him, was a creature of strong affections,
and her poor little soul was torn with agonies of jealousy. Jill, it is
true, who was always treated with contemptuous unconsciousness by Agag,
was certainly pleased to see her friend again, and had not forgotten
her; but Puss-cat wanted so much more than Jill could give her. She took
on her old duties at once, but often when she escorted the fish into the
dining-room and found Agag asleep on his chair, she would be literally
unable to go through with them, and would sit in a corner by herself,
looking miserably and uncomprehendingly at me. Then perhaps the smell of
fish would wake up Agag, and he would stretch himself and stand for a
moment with superbly-arched back on his chair, before he jumped down,
and with loud purrings rubbed himself against the legs of my chair to
betoken his desire for food, or even would jump up on to my knees. That
was the worst of all for Puss-cat, and she would often sit all dinner
through in her remote corner, refusing food, and unable to take her
eyes off the object of her jealousy. While Agag was present, no amount
of caresses or attentions offered to her would console her, so that,
when Agag had eaten, we usually turned him out of the room. Then for a
little while Puss-cat had respite from her Promethean vulture; she would
go her rounds again to see that everybody was pleased, and escort fresh
dishes in with high-stepping walk and erect tail.

* * * * *

We hoped, foolishly perhaps, that in course of time the two would become
friends; else, I think, I should have at once tried to find another home
for Agag. But indeed, short of that, we did all we could do, lavishing
attentions on dear Puss-cat, and trying to make her feel (which indeed
was true) that we all loved her, and only liked and admired Agag. But
while we still hoped, Puss-cat had had more than she could bear, and
once again she disappeared. Jill missed her for a little while, Agag not
at all. But the rest of us miss her still.

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