Mimi MatthewsMimi Matthews

An Unlikely Friendship: The Cat and Mouse of Lord Lucan’s Bailiff

playing cat and mouse by john henry dolph 1835 1903

Playing Cat and Mouse by John Henry Dolph (1835-1903).

In the early 19th century, at the Earl of Lucan’s residence at Laleham, there was a very singular cat.  She belonged to Lord Lucan’s bailiff, Mr. Smith, and had the “constant habit” of curling up on the rug before the parlor fire.  According to a story related in multiple 19th century British newspapers, as well as in author Edward Jesse’s 1834 book, Gleanings in Natural History, after the death of her recent litter of kittens, this particular cat struck up a very close friendship with a mouse.  As Jesse explains:

“One evening as the family were seated round the fire they observed a mouse make its way from the cupboard which was near the fire-place, and lay itself down on the stomach of the cat, as a kitten would do when she is going to suck.  Surprised at what they saw and afraid of disturbing the mouse, which appeared to be full grown, they did not immediately ascertain whether it was in the act of sucking or not.  After remaining with the cat a considerable length of time it returned to the cupboard.”

The family witnessed the mouse visit the cat in this manner on several other occasions and it was soon observed that not only did the cat appear to expect the mouse, but that the cat actually called to the mouse in the same “greeting purr” which she would have used to summon a wayward kitten.  As Jesse writes:

Harvest, Wood Mouse by A. Thorburn, 1920.

Harvest, Wood Mouse
by A. Thorburn, 1920.

“When the cat, after being absent, returned to the room, her greeting call was made, and the mouse came to her.”

Upon the mouse’s arrival, he would lay beside the cat and give “every appearance of being in the act of sucking.”  But despite its preoccupation, the mouse remained vigilant and, at any attempt the family made to capture it, the little creature swiftly retreated back to the safety of the cupboard.

Jesse states that “the attachment” between the cat and mouse “could not be mistaken.”  Unfortunately, though their unique relationship continued for some time, it was not destined to last.  He writes:

“The fate of the mouse, like that of most pets, was a melancholy one.  During the absence of its nurse, a strange cat came into the room.  The poor mouse, mistaking her for its old friend and protectress, ran out to meet her, and was immediately seized and slain before it could be rescued from her clutches.”

As one might expect, the family cat had a significant reaction to the loss of her little companion.  Jesse reports:

“The grief of the foster-mother was extreme.  On returning to the parlour she made her usual call, but no mouse came to meet her.  She was restless and uneasy, went mewing about the house, and shewed her distress in the most marked manner.”

The cat did not die of grief, thank goodness, but there is no more information about her and nothing to indicate that she ever befriended another mouse.  However, Jesse does state:

“What rendered the anecdote I have been relating the more extraordinary is the fact of the cat being an excellent mouser and that during the time she was shewing so much fondness for the mouse, she was preying upon others with the utmost avidity.”

Curiosity by Horatio Henry Couldery, 1893.

Curiosity by Horatio Henry Couldery, 1893.

Thus concludes another of my Friday features on Animals in Literature and History.  If you would like to help a cat in need, either by providing a home or by donating your time or money, the following links may be useful as resources:

Alley Cat Rescue, Inc. (United States)

The Cats Protection League (United Kingdom)

If you would like to learn more about pet mice, the links below may be of use:

The American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association (United States)

The National Mouse Club (United Kingdom)

About Mimi Matthews

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library JournalPublishers Weekly, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.

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