A Spinning Woman, A Singing Magic, and A Cat

One of my all-time favorite cat tales was written by Rudyard Kipling and first published in the Ladies’ Home Journal in July 1902, then printed in his collected Just So Stories (1902) with the famous illustration by the author (also one of my favorite cat pictures). The story is available here with fascinating annotations.

The Cat that Walked by Himself

Originally all the tame animals were wild, but especially the Cat: he walked by himself and all places were alike to him. The Man was wild too until he met the Woman, who chose a Cave for them to live in, lit a fire in it and hung a horsehide over the opening. She cooked a meal of wild ingredients.

Then, while the Man slept, she took the bladebone of a shoulder of mutton and made a Singing Magic. This attracted the Dog, and on the next two nights she similarly lured the Horse and the Cow to visit the cave. They agreed to provide services to the couple, the Dog in exchange for roast meat and the other two for hay that she had dried by the fire. Each time the Cat followed and eavesdropped, called them fools, and went off to tell no one.

On the fourth night the Cat went to the cave and smelt the warm milk from the Cow. The Woman laughed at him and told him to go back to the woods. The Cat flattered her and asked if he might never come in the Cave, sit by the fire or taste the milk. She answered that if she praised him once, twice and three times, his three wishes would be granted, but swore she never would. The Cat left, but the Bat reported to him what was happening.

When he heard the Woman had a Baby, the Cat knew his time had come. He went and found that the Baby was crying outside the Cave. He rubbed himself against it till it laughed. The Bat told the Woman, who blessed whatever creature was responsible, whereupon the horsehide fell down and the Cat was admitted to the Cave. The Woman was annoyed. She began to spin, but the Baby cried again, and the Cat told her to tie her spinning-whorl to a thread to pull about the floor for him to chase. This made the Baby laugh, then it clutched the Cat, who purred it to sleep. The Woman thanked him, then the fire smoked and the Cat was found warming himself. She was furious, and made a Still Magic to prevent herself from granting the third wish. In the quiet, a mouse came out and she screamed. When the Cat killed the mouse, she thanked him, and the Milk-pot cracked open, allowing him to drink.

But he had made no bargain with the Man or the Dog. The Man said the Cat must always catch mice or have boots and other objects thrown at him. The Cat agreed, but defiantly, so was told that three things would still be thrown. The Dog threatened to bite the Cat if he were ever unkind to the Baby, and receiving a defiant consent, promised always to chase him up a tree. Man and Dog carried out their threats; most men and all dogs will do the same, though the Cat keeps his bargain. But on moonlit nights he roams the woods or the roofs, walking by his wild lone.

More Cats, Walking by Themselves


Gattina said...

I have read this story long time ago but translated into German of course it's a very cute but wise story. I am already up, but the house seems to be a dormitory in each bed lays a cat and in a little corner Mr. Gattino !

Mom Unplugged said...

Wonderful story, I don't know my Kipling very well and had never read it. The annotations were really interesting, my favorite:

"I am prepared to state my conviction that somewhere from that enigmatic myth arises the impression that the Horse, Dog and Cow at one level are meant to reflect Husband the lover, defender and provider; while at that point the Cat mirrors whatever else in him the Woman may never domesticate – though she is obliged to live with it, for it comes with the others!"

But really, I think the story explains the special relationship between women and cats (as I am sure you know, it seems that most men do not like cats - I am sure that Mr. O'Kitten is the exception!).

Thanks for a very interesting Cats On Tuesday!

Dragonheart said...

That's a great story! I have read this Kipling story before but it's been a while, so thanks for the refresher. :)

The cat photos are lovely too. :)

Chris said...

Thanks for the story! I love that illustration. And the picture of Isis, looking about as defiant as is felinely possible!

Deana said...

I've read Kipling but never this story and I so enjoyed it! Thanks!

FelineFrisky said...

One of my favorite books as a child, Just So Stories! I remember the pictures well.

thanks for the trip down memory lane! D :)

Kuanyin said...

Great story! Happy COT!

srp said...

What a great story and it so demonstrates the cunning of cats... they are smarter than dogs!

Puss-in-Boots said...

Aaah, the Just So stories. I loved them as a kid. I refer to Oscar as the Cat The Walks by Himself...as all cat are.

pins&needles said...

I love that story. Thanks for sharing! Also I tagged you so you've gotta check out my post for it. I think I've tagged you before.