site logo

A Cat-clock

The following curious incident is to be found in Huc's "Chinese Empire":

"One day, when we went to pay a visit to some families of Chinese

Christian peasants, we met, near a farm, a young lad, who was

taking a buffalo to graze along our path. We asked him carelessly

as we passed whether it was yet noon. The child raised his head

to look at the sun, but it was hidden behind thick clouds, and he
br />
could read no answer there. 'The sky is so cloudy,' said he; 'but

wait a moment;' and with these words he ran towards the farm, and

came back a few minutes afterwards with a cat in his arms. 'Look

here,' said he, 'it is not noon yet;' and he showed us the cat's

eyes by pushing up the lids with his hands. We looked at the

child with surprise; but he was evidently in earnest, and the

cat, though astonished, and not much pleased at the experiment

made on her eyes, behaved with most exemplary complaisance. 'Very

well,' said we, 'thank you;' and he then let go the cat, who made

her escape pretty quickly, and we continued our route. To say the

truth, we had not at all understood the proceeding, but did not

wish to question the little pagan, lest he should find out that

we were Europeans by our ignorance. As soon as we reached the

farm, however, we made haste to ask our Christians whether they

could tell the clock by looking into the cat's eyes. They seemed

surprised at the question, but as there was no danger in

confessing to them our ignorance of the properties of the cat's

eyes, we related what had just taken place. That was all that was

necessary; our complaisant neophytes immediately gave chase to

all the cats in the neighbourhood. They brought us three or four,

and explained in what manner they might be made use of for

watches. They pointed out that the pupils of their eyes went on

constantly growing narrower until twelve o'clock, when they

became like a fine line, as thin as a hair, drawn perpendicularly

across the eye, and that after twelve the dilatation


* * * * *

"Archbishop Whately once declared that there was only one noun in

English which had a real vocative case. It was 'cat,' vocative 'puss.' I

wonder if this derivation is true (I take it from a New York journal):

When the Egyptians of old worshipped the cat they settled it that she

was like the moon, because she was more bright at night, and because her

eyes changed just as the moon changes--from new, to crescent, and to

full. So they made an idol of the cat's head, and named it pasht,

which meant the face of the moon. Pasht became pas, pus,

puss."--Church Times, March 8th, 1888.