Sarah Orne Jewett's (1849-1909) "cooncat".
The large, fluffy, semi-longhair, natural domestic cat breed that originated in Maine was called
"cooncat" there in the 1800's as documented in this story by the celebrated Maine author Sarah
Orne Jewett. It was published in "Some Literary Cats" by Helen M. Winslow which appeared in St.
Nicholas (27:923-925) in August 1900.
Sarah Orne Jewett's Cat
from "Some Literary Cats"
by Helen M. Winslow
It has often been said that poets and artists, as well as the most refined women, are cat-lovers.
There is something about the cat's soft, quiet ways, their dignified reserve, their graceful
curves, and their artistic poses that appeals to all lovers of the beautiful in nature.
Miss Sarah Orne Jewett is a cat-lover, and the dear old country-women down in Maine, whom one
loves to encounter in her stories, usually keep a cat, though theirs are only the farmer's plain
"I look back over a long line of cats," says she; "from a certain poor 'Spotty,' who died in a
fit under the library window when I was less than five years old, to a lawless, fluffy cooncat
now in my possession. I shall tell you of two in particular: one the mortal enemy and the other
the friend of my dog 'Joe.' I may mention, by the way, that Joe and I grew up together, and were
fond companions until he died of far too early old age, and left me to take my country walks alone.
" 'Polly,' the enemy, was far the best mouser of all -- quite the best business cat we ever had,
with an astonishing intellect and shrewd way of gaining her ends. She caught birds and mice as if
she foraged for our whole family. She had an air of responsibility, and a certain impatience of
interruption and interference, such as I have never seen in any other cat, and a scornful way of
sitting before a person with fierce eyes and a quick ominous twitching of the tail. She seemed to
be measuring one's incompetence as a mouse-catcher in these moments, or else to be saying to
" 'What a clumsy, stupid person! How little she knows and how I should like to scratch her and
hear her squeak!'
"I sometimes felt as if I were a larger sort of helpless mouse in these moments. But sometimes
Polly would be more friendly, and even jump into one's lap, when it was a pleasure to pat her
hard little head with its exquisitely dark tortoise-shell fur. Polly was a small cat to have so
great a mind. She looked quite round and kittenish as she sat before the fire in a rare moment
of leisure; but when she walked abroad, she stretched out long and thin, and held her head high
over the grass as if she were threading a jungle. If she lashed her tail, one turned out of her
way instantly. If she crossed the room and gave you a look, you rose and opened a door for her.
She made you know what she wanted as if she had the gift of speech. At most inconvenient moments
you would go out through the house and find a bit of fish or open the cellar door. You
recognized her right to appear at night on your bed with one of her long-suffering kittens, which
she had brought in out of the rain, out of a cellar window and up a lofty ladder, across the wet,
steep roof, down through a scuttle into the garret, and still down into warm shelter. Here Polly
would deposit the kitten, and scurry away upon some errand that must have been like a border fray
of old times.**
"She used to treat poor Joe with sad cruelty, giving him a sharp blow on the nose that made him
meekly stand back and see her add his supper to her own. A child once complained that 'pussy had
pins in her toes.' Nobody knew this better than Joe. At last he sought revenge. I was writing at
my desk, one day, when he suddenly appeared, grinning in a funny way he had, and wagging his tail
until he enticed me out to the kitchen. There I found Polly on the cook's table, gobbling away on
some chickens which were waiting to be put in the oven. I caught and cuffed her, and she fled,
tamed and subdued for once, though she was usually so quick that nobody could administer justice
on these depredations of a well-fed cat. Then I turned and saw poor old Joe dancing about the
kitchen in perfect delight.
"He had been afraid to touch Polly himself, but he knew the difference between right and wrong,
and had called me to see what a wicked cat she was, and to give him the joy of looking on at the
"It was the same dog who used at odd times to be found under a table where his master had sent
him for punishment, in his young days of lawless puppy-hood, for chasing the neighbors' young
"These sins had been long overcome, but sometimes in his later years Joe's conscience would
trouble him, -- we never knew why, -- and then he would go under the table of his own accord, and
would remain there looking repentant and crestfallen, till some sympathetic friend would bid him
come out and be patted and consoled.
"After such a housemate as Polly, Joe found great amends in our next cat, yellow 'Danny,' the
most amiable and friendly pussy that ever walked on four paws. He took Danny to his heart at once.
They used to lie in the sun together, with Danny's yellow head on the dog's big paws, and I used
sometimes to meet them walking, as coy as lovers, side by side up the garden walk. When I could
not help laughing at their sentimental and conscious air they would turn aside into the bushes
for shelter. They respected each other's suppers, and ate together on the kitchen hearth, and took
exceeding comfort in close companionship. Danny was much beloved by all the family, especially
poor Joe, who must sometimes have had the worst of dreams about the days of old Polly (presumably
a polydactyl) and her sharp, unsparing claws."
"Some Literary Cats" by Helen M. Winslow appeared in St. Nicholas (27:923-925) in August 1900.
Sarah grew up and graduated from South Berwick, Maine high school in 1865.
Edited and annotated by: Terry Heller, Coe College with underscore added by Dirigo Maine Coon
Cats. "Polly" may be so-named presumably for being a polydactyl.