The corporal’s cat in Bulwer-Lytton’s Eugene Aram

Fearsome creature instructed in thievery.

“There now, fine fellow, fit for the forty-second;” said [Jacob] Bunting [retired corporal of “the 42nd”], clapping [local publican Peter Dealtry] on the back. “Well, and—a—nd—a beautiful cat, isn’t her?”

“Ah!” said Peter very shortly—for though a remarkably mild man, Peter did not love cats: moreover, we must now inform the reader, that the cat of Jacob Bunting was one more feared than respected throughout the village.

The Corporal was a cunning teacher of all animals: he could learn goldfinches the use of the musket; dogs, the art of the broadsword; horses, to dance hornpipes and pick pockets; and he had relieved the ennui of his solitary moments by imparting sundry accomplishments to the ductile [teachable] genius of his cat.

Under his tuition, Puss had learned to fetch and carry; to turn over head and tail, like a tumbler; to run up your shoulder when you least expected it; to fly, as if she were mad, at any one upon whom the Corporal thought fit to set her; and, above all, to rob larders, shelves, and tables, and bring the produce to the Corporal, who never failed to consider such stray waifs lawful manorial acquisitions.

These little feline cultivations of talent, however delightful to the Corporal, and creditable to his powers of teaching the young idea how to shoot, had nevertheless, since the truth must be told, rendered the Corporal’s cat a proverb and byeword throughout the neighbourhood.

Never was cat in such bad odour: and the dislike in which it was held was wonderfully increased by terror; for the creature was singularly large and robust, and withal of so courageous a temper, that if you attempted to resist its invasion of your property, it forthwith set up its back, put down its ears, opened its mouth, and bade you fully comprehend that what it feloniously seized it could gallantly defend.

More than one gossip in the village had this notable cat hurried into premature parturition, as, on descending at day-break into her kitchen, the dame would descry the animal perched on the dresser, having entered, God knows how, and gleaming upon her with its great green eyes, and a malignant, brownie expression of countenance.

Various deputations had indeed, from time to time, arrived at the Corporal’s cottage, requesting the death, expulsion, or perpetual imprisonment of the favourite. But the stout Corporal received them grimly, and dismissed them gruffly; and the cat still went on waxing in size and wickedness, and baffling, as if inspired by the devil, the various gins and traps set for its destruction.

But never, perhaps, was there a greater disturbance and perturbation in the little hamlet, than when, some three weeks since, the Corporal’s cat was known to be brought to bed, and safely delivered of a numerous offspring. The village saw itself overrun with a race and a perpetuity of Corporal’s cats!

Perhaps, too, their teacher growing more expert by practice, the descendants might attain to even greater accomplishment than their nefarious progenitor. No longer did the faint hope of being delivered from their tormentor by an untimely or even natural death, occur to the harassed Grassdalians. Death was an incident natural to one cat, however vivacious, but here was a dynasty of cats! Principes mortales, respublica eterna!

More to come on this remarkable cat . . .

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