Beautiful Joe
Chapter 12


Please be aware that this book was originally published in 1894 and may contain words, descriptions, or other passages that may be considered offensive today.


The first time I had a good look at the Morris cat, I thought she was the queerest-looking animal I had ever seen. She was dark gray — just the color of a mouse. Her eyes were a yellowish green, and for the first few days I was at the Morrises' they looked very unkindly at me. Then she got over her dislike and we became very good friends. She was a beautiful cat, and so gentle and affectionate that the whole family loved her.

She was three years old, and she had come to Fairport in a vessel with some sailors, who had gotten her in a far-away place. Her name was Malta, and she was called a maltese cat.

I have seen a great many cats, but I never saw one as kind as Malta. Once she had some little kittens and they all died. It almost broke her heart. She cried and cried about the house till it made one feel sad to hear her. Then she ran away to the woods. She came back with a little squirrel in her mouth, and putting it in her basket, she nursed it like a mother, till it grew old enough to run away from her.

She was a very knowing cat, and always came when she was called. Miss Laura used to wear a little silver whistle that she blew when she wanted any of her pets. It was a shrill whistle, and we could hear it a long way from home. I have seen her standing at the back door whistling for Malta, and the pretty creature's head would appear somewhere — always high up, for she was a great climber, and she would come running along the top of the fence, saying, "Meow, meow," in a funny, short way.

Miss Laura would pet her, or give her something to eat, or walk around the garden carrying her on her shoulder. Malta was a most affectionate cat, and if Miss Laura would not let her lick her face, she licked her hair with her little, rough tongue. Often Malta lay by the fire, licking my coat or little Billy's, to show her affection for us.

Mary, the cook, was very fond of cats, and used to keep Malta in the kitchen as much as she could, but nothing would make her stay down there if there was any music going on upstairs. The Morris pets were all fond of music. As soon as Miss Laura sat down to the piano to sing or play, we came from all parts of the house. Malta cried to get upstairs, Davy scampered through the hall, and Bella hurried after him. If I was outdoors I ran in the house, and Jim got on a box and looked through the window.

Davy's place was on Miss Laura's shoulder, his pink nose run in the curls at the back of her neck. I sat under the piano beside Malta and Bella, and we never stirred till the music was over; then we went quietly away.

Malta was a beautiful cat — there was no doubt about it. While I was with Jenkins I thought cats were vermin, like rats, and I chased them every chance I got. Mrs. Jenkins had a cat, a gaunt, long-legged, yellow creature, that ran whenever we looked at it.

Malta had been so kindly treated that she never ran from any one, except from strange dogs. She knew they would be likely to hurt her. If they came upon her suddenly, she faced them, and she was a pretty good fighter when she was put to it. I once saw her having a brush with a big mastiff that lived a few blocks from us, and giving him a good fright, which just served him right.

I was shut up in the parlor. Some one had closed the door, and I could not get out. I was watching Malta from the window, as she daintily picked her way across the muddy street. She was such a soft, pretty, amiable-looking cat. She didn't look that way, though, when the mastiff rushed out of the alleyway at her.

She sprang back and glared at him like a little, fierce tiger. Her tail was enormous. Her eyes were like balls of fire, and she was spitting and snarling, as if to say, "If you touch me, I'll tear you to pieces!"

The dog, big as he was, did not dare attack her. He walked around and around, like a great clumsy elephant, and she turned her small body as he turned his, and kept up a dreadful hissing and spitting. Suddenly I saw a Spitz dog hurrying down the street. He was going to help the mastiff, and Malta would be badly hurt. I had barked and no one had come to let me out, so I sprang through the window.

Just then there was a change. Malta had seen the second dog, and she knew she must get rid of the mastiff. With an agile bound she sprang on his back, dug her sharp claws in, till he put his tail between his legs and ran up the street, howling with pain. She rode a little way, then sprang off and ran up the lane to the stable.

I was very angry and wanted to fight something, so I pitched into the Spitz dog. He was a snarly, cross-grained creature, no friend to Jim and me, and he would have been only too glad of a chance to help kill Malta.

I gave him one of the worst beatings he ever had. I don't suppose it was quite right for me to do it, for Miss Laura says dogs should never fight; but he had worried Malta before, and he had no business to do it. She belonged to our family. Jim and I never worried 'his' cat. I had been longing to give him a shaking for some time, and now I felt for his throat through his thick hair, and dragged him all around the street. Then I let him go, and he was a civil dog ever afterward.

Malta was very grateful, and licked a little place where the Spitz bit me. I did not get scolded for the broken window. Mary had seen me from the kitchen window, and told Mrs. Morris that I had gone to help Malta.