A Celebration of Women Writers

"Mistress Gurton's Cat. A Domestic Tale." by Mary Darby Robinson (1758-1800)

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Old Mistress Gurton had a cat,
   A tabby, loveliest of the race,
Sleek as a doe, and tame and fat,
   With velvet paws and whisker'd face;
The doves of Venus not so fair,
   Nor Juno's peacock half so grand
As Mistress Gurton's tabby Rose,
   The proudest of the purring band:
So dignified in all her paces,
She seem'd a pupil of the Graces!
There never was a finer creature
In all the varying whims of Nature!

All liked Grimalkin, passing well!
Save Mistress Gurtonand, 'tis said,
She oft with furious ire would swell,
When, through neglect or hunger keen,
Puss with a pilfer'd scrap was seen
Purring beneath the pent-house shed:
For, like some favourites, she was bent
On all things, yet with none content;
And still, whate'er her place or diet,
She could not pick her bone in quiet.

Sometimes, new milk Grimalkin stole,
And sometimesoverset the bowl!
For over eagerness will prove
Oft times the bane of what we love;
And sometimes, to her neighbour's home
Grimalkin like a thief would roam,
Teaching poor cats of humbler kind,
For high example aways the mind!
Sometimes she paced the garden wall,
Thick guarded by the shatter'd pane,
And, lightly treading with disdain,
Fear'd not ambition's certain fall!
Old china broke, or scratch'd her dame,
And brought domestic friends to shame!
And many a time this cat was cursed,
Of squalling thieving things the worst!
Wish'd dead, and menaced with a string,
For cats of such scant fame deserved to swing!

One day Report, for every busy,
Resolved to make Dame Gurton easy;
A neighbour came, with solemn look,
And thus the dismal tidings broke.

"Know you that poor Grimalkin died
Last night, upon the pent-house side?
I heard her for assistance call;
I heard her shrill and dying squall!
I heard her, in reproachful tone,
Pour to the stars her feeble groan!
Alone I heard her piercing cries
'With not a friend to close her eyes!'

"Poor puss! I vow it grieves me sore
Never to see thy beauties more!
Never again to hear thee purr,
To stroke thy back of zebra fur;
To see thy emerald eyes so bright,
Flashing around their lust'rous light
Amid the solemn shades of night!

"Methinks I see her pretty paws
As gracefully she paced along;
I hear her voice, so shrill, among
The chimney rows! I see her claws,
While like a tyger she pursued
Undauntedly the pilfering race:
I see her lovely whisker'd face
When she her nimble prey subdued!
And then how she would frisk and play,
And purr the evening hours away:
Now stretch'd beside the social fire;
Now on the sunny lawn at noon,
Watching the vagrant birds that flew
Across the scene of varied hue,
To peck the fruit. Or when the moon
Stole o'er the hills in silvery suit,
How would she chant her lovelorn tale,
Soft as the wild Eolian Iyre!
Till every brute, on hill, in dale,
Listen'd with wonder mute!"

"O cease!" exclaim'd Dame Gurton straight,
"Has my poor puss been torn away?
Alas! how cruel is my fate,
How shall I pass the tedious day?
Where can her mourning mistress find
So sweet a cat? so meek, so kind!
So keen a mouser, such a beauty,
So orderly, so fond, so true,
That every gentle task of duty
The dear domestic creature knew!
Hers was the mildest tenderest heart!
She knew no little cattish art;
Not cross, like favourite cats, was she,
But seem'd the queen of cats to be!
I cannot livesince doom'd, alas! to part
From poor grimalkin kind, the darling of my heart!"

And now Dame Gurton, bathed in tears,
With a black top-knot vast appears:
Some say that a black gown she wore,
As many oft have done before,
For beings valued less, I ween,
Than this of tabby cats the favourite queen!
But, lo! soon after, one fair day,
Puss, who had only been a roving,
Across the pent-house took her way
To see her dame, so sad and loving;
Eager to greet the mourning fair,
She enter'd by a window, where
A china bowl of luscious cream
Was quivering in the sunny beam.

Puss, who was somewhat tired and dry
And somewhat fond of bev'rage sweet,
Beholding such a tempting treat,
Resolved its depth to try.
She saw the warm and dazzling ray
Upon the spotless surface play;
She purr'd around its circle wide,
And gazed, and long'd, and mew'd, and sigh'd!
But fate, unfriendly, did that hour control,
She overset the cream, and smash'd the gilded bowl!

As Mistress Gurton heard the thief,
   She started from her easy chair,
And, quite unmindful of her grief,
   Began aloud to swear!
"Curse that voracious beast!" she cried,
   "Here, Susan, bring a cord
I'll hang the vicious, ugly creature
The veriest plague e'er form'd by nature!"
   And Mistress Gurton kept her word
And poor Grimalkindied!

Thus often we with anguish sore
The dead in clamorous grief deplore;
Who, were they once alive again,
Would meet the sting of cold disdain!
For friends, whom trifling faults can sever,
Are valued mostwhen lost for ever!

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