If Mrs. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the poetess, should
undertake to create a coat of arms for an individual crest, there would
surely be a cat in it. Cats have been Mrs. Wilcox's favorite pets ever
since she was a small girl. Looking back to that early time in her life
in fond and sad reminiscence, she thinks of a little cemetery in Wisconsin,
the last home of many dear departed and much-beloved cats.
I must have buried as many as fifty cats," she says as she talks of her pets.
Then when the little Ella, who was even then a poetess as well as a lover of cats, had become a young lady and engaged to a man who had the unusual trait -- in a man -- a fondness for cats as the only really dozy, comfortable, domestic animal; all the family and friends said, " I told you so," and Mrs. Wilcox began her married life still with cats for her animal friends.
They were just every-day, common pussies, at first, but they did not prove altogether satisfactory, and a charming Parisian lady of the Angora family was imported. This elegant lady who was everything that could be desired in the way of grace and beauty, became immediately domesticated in Mrs. Wilcox's home, and the ancestor, with one exception, of the present feline members of her family.
The Parisian lady's name was Ref. That was an original composite name, and should be written with capitals. Madame Pussy, who, it may be explained was a magnificent blonde, pure white, with amber eyes, was purchased for Mrs. Wilcox in Paris by her friend and protogee, Miss Fanny Edgar Thomas. Madame Ref was received with equal delight by both Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox when she arrived in New York, and it was the former who conceived the idea of a name which combined initials of the two owners of the Parisian lady and that of the discoverer of her charms, Miss Thomas. So Ref was dubbed - "R" for Robert, Mr. Wilcox's name; "E" for Ella, Mrs. Wilcox, and "F" for Fanny.
Madame Ref is now numbered with the other dear departed though she has not found a resting place with them, the lower-class members of her race, and one-time recipients of her mistress's affections in Wisconsin. She left a considerable progeny to mourn her loss, and among these are two of the present members of Mrs. Wilcox's household, Banjo and Goody-two-eyes.
Banjo is a beautiful maltese and white animal, who, being the most amenable to the ways of society, has recently come to his mistress in her Winter home, in the Gerard, on Forty-fourth Street. Banjo has many tricks -- standing on his hind feet and putting up his paws to give his mistress an affectionate embrace, turning first one cheek and then the other to her to be saluted, and, as she holds him lying on his back on her hands, he reaches out his paws to the wall to show how long he is, and then, stretching out on the floor, becomes as dead as is possible for a cat which is very much alive.
But Banjo's best trick is playing statuary, and that he has taught himself. In Mrs. Wilcox's pretty reception room there is a high cabinet mantel, with small shelves on either side of the mirror in the center. On the highest one of these shelves Banjo delights to sit. and there Mrs. Wilcox's callers who are not familiar with the members of her household admire him as a wonderful representation of a cat, until Banjo, if he has become bored with the conversation, gives a yawn more lifelike than polite, and the astonished visitors are not sure whether the house is haunted or their senses are playing them false.
Miss Goody-two-eyes, the sister of Banjo, takes after both her parents in complexion. Her papa was a famous $1,000 prize cat, pure white, with blue eyes, and Miss Goody is white like him and her mamma, and has one paternal blue eye and one maternal amber eye, hence her name. Miss Goody spent last Winter in New York, but this year she will remain in the country.
The other children of Mme. Ref have been scattered in different directions, given away to Mrs. Wilcox's friends, all but one white brother, with blue eyes. A stranger who wanted just such a cat asked to buy him and he was sold.
"But I felt like a cannibal," says Mrs. Wilcox.
Now there is a new member of the family in Sultan, a black beauty from Maine who has not a white hair to be seen, and has eyes of the fashionable color of this season, a beautiful orange. He has also been left in the country.
Mrs. Wilcox's cats are not a fad, but she is fond of them and they are rather more easy to care for than any other member of the pet species. Banjo has a very human and easily satisfied taste in food. He delights in stewed tomatoes. Corn and peas are favorite dishes, and he would gladly eat asparagus all Winter, even if he had to take it canned. Oatmeal and cornmeal he takes as croquettes in a combination with fish, and he is not particular whether he has his meat raw, as it is given him in the Summer, or cooked, as it is served to him in Winter.
All the animals are with Mrs. Wilcox during the warm weather in her beautiful Summer home at Short Beach, six miles from New Haven, on the Sound. There they have assisted her this last Summer in the production of her new book, "Three Women," a long poem, which she considers her most ambitious work, and which is coming out in December. They have not been exactly an inspiration, but they curl up in her lap and lie there for hours while she is writing, giving her a pleasant sense of companionship.
But the Mademoiselle and Monsieur Pussies noses may be broken before long. Mrs. Wilcox is thinking now of altering her cottage to make it habitable during the Winter.
"Then," she says, "I shall have a caretaker in the house when I am away, and I shall have a big collie dog."