I'm not sure if this story is vaguely creepy, sweetly touching, or just sad. Possibly all three. From the "New York Journal," April 25, 1907:
This is a plain statement of the facts in a peculiar case--a case illustrating one of the strange beliefs of theosophy, exemplified in an everyday, well-ordered, happy American home, not in India, where miracles, viewed from this distance, seem natural. That the souls of human beings, for purposes which men can hardly pretend to understand, may enter the bodies of the lower animals and dwell there for years is a conviction familiar to all who have ever read a word of Oriental mysticism.
But no one would expect to find the belief in the transmigration of souls specialized in the everyday affairs of plain people in the State of New York. The strangest things happen, however, and not always in faraway places. Sometimes they are at our very doors, as in the present instance. No opinion is expressed or even hinted at. This is a question of fact. This is the way the doctrine of metempsychosis appears when it is viewed at close quarters.
If one should hunt the whole country over it would be impossible to find a more firm believer in theosophy in all its forms and phases, than Mrs. Henry K. Gilette, of Vestal Centre, N.Y., for she is certain that the soul of her sister has taken refuge in the body of a Maltese cat. It is also safe to make the statement that no cat in the entire world receives more attention and better care than this same Maltese cat. It has a bedroom, fully furnished, for its own exclusive use, has its place at the family table, eats with the family and is guarded with as much care as it would be if it were one of Mrs. Gilette's own children.
The Journal sent one of its representatives to Vestal Centre to get a story of the affair, and to describe the cat's mode of life, etc. The account which follows proves that oft-repeated axiom, "Truth is stranger than fiction."
To begin with, Vestal Centre is a typical country village, situated in Brome County, about fifteen miles from Binghamton. The only public conveyance that stops at this village is an old stage, once painted red.
The Gilettes for several generations have been farmers, and the homestead, with its eighty acres of more, is situated on a branch road, nearly a mile from the cluster of houses and the country store and post office combined that forms the village of Vestal Centre. The farm house is a fair-sized, comfortable looking dwelling, two stories high, with a small lawn and numerous trees in front, a garden with currant and berry bushes in the rear and a cluster of barns, sheds and outhouses near it.
Mrs. Gilette is a rosy matron of thirty-five, and well educated. She is the mother of three children, two boys and a girl. A conspicuous place in the sitting room, into which the Journal man was invited to enter, was occupied by a large old-fashioned rocking chair, which had in it a silk-covered cushion, and on this cushion was sleeping a large Maltese cat. The object of the call was made known, and what Mrs. Gilette said, in substance, follows:
"You see, Minnie and I," nodding her head at the cat, "were sent to a school near Hudson, N.Y., after we had attended for a number of years the village school in Greene, Chenango County. While at Hudson we first heard of theosophy. I think I can say we studied theosophy. For several months we inquired what theosophists believe; correspondd with several devout believers in its themes, and in the end were convinced of the merit of the faith, if I may so term it. I have always been called an infidel, since my return from school, by the country folk about my old home in Chenengo County, and where I lived until I married, and by my neighbors here as well. My maiden name was Paddock.
"Minnie, my sister, was never very strong. She was four years younger than I am, and ever since I can remember she had a peculiar cough; consumption caused her death almost three years ago. I can remember the day she died almost as though it was yesterday. Minnie had her bed in the large front room, where there was plenty of light and air. In the early Spring she seemed to rally some, but on July 26 she passed away. About three hours before her death she asked all to leave the roome except myself, and of course her request was complied with. She called me close to her side, and taking my hand, she pointed to that cat"--again Mrs. Gilette indicated the object of her remarks by a nod of her head--"and said: 'Edna, you have been such a good sister to me that I always want to be near you. I shall die today. Until I am called to inhabit another form my spirit will enter the body of your kitten.'
"Before my sister's death the kitten was a most troublesome creature, getting into all kinds of mischief, upsetting milk pans and was a general nuisance, so much of one in fact, that I had threatened to have it drowned a dozen times. Almost immediately after my sister died, the disposition of the kitten changed, and it has since that event, been the best kitten you ever saw. I firmly believe the spirit of my sister is in that cat. We call it Minnie. That was, as I have told you, the name of my sister. We have given this pretty little creature the best of care."
While Mrs. Gilette was talking Minnie awoke from her nap, and after rubbing up against the Journal man's trousers, as sort of an introduction, jumped into his lap. After purring in acknowledgment of being stroked it settled itself down in his lap for another snooze. The cat was large, well fed. Later it did a number of tricks that showed its intelligence. Mrs. Gilette stated that Minnie was never taught to do those tricks, but did them when asked to from the very first.
The visitors asked questions regarding the cat's mode of life and was ushered into a large front room on the second story of the house. The furniture consisted of an old fashioned black walnut bedroom suite, with a marble topped dresser and a double bed. On the dresser lay combs and brushes and the windows were draped with chinz of a pretty pattern. The floor was carpeted and the room had the appearance of one that was used by some member of the household. It was, without doubt, the best located room in the house and appeared to be the best furnished.
"This is Minnie's room," announced Mrs. Gilette.
"What?" asked the Journal man, not thinking he understood aright.
"This is Minnie's room," she reaffirmed. "Every night about 8 o'clock Minnie comes to where I am, pulls on my dress, and then we come up here. She jumps on the bed and I cover her up with the bed clothes, leaving, of course, her head, which is on the pillow, exposed."
"You really mean what you are telling me?"
"Certainly I do. Why should not my sister have a bedroom of her own, I should like to know? When I put Minnie to bed we talk over old times for a while, and then I lock the door, for there is no telling what might happen during the night. Some crank of a scientist might try to steal Minnie. You should remember she is one of the family, and is entitled to all the care she receives. When I leave home to stay over night, I always take Minnie with me, and then she sleeps with me. When she goes out of the house some one is near her all the time to see that no harm comes to her. She has never shown any inclination to catch mice, but instead exhibits fear when my cat brings a dead mouse into the house."
At this time the hour for dinner had arrived, and Mr. Gilette and his farm hands were duly introduced. The Sunday Journal's representative accepted a cordial invitation to stay to dinner. He was not a little surprised when Minnie jumped into a high chair and sat down on her haunches. The plate had been placed in front of Minnie's chair. After serving the Journal man Mrs. Gilette next turned her attention to Minnie. Her meat was cut up and placed on a plate and milk was poured into a large open dish. The cat began eating and behaved itself very genteelly. It did not eat in a ravenous manner, as most animals do. When the meat was placed on the plate it formed an irregular pile. Minnie with her right front paw pulled each separate piece of meat to an unoccupied part of the plate and then ate it. The cat finished its meal before the rest of the family did, but remained in the chair until all left the table.
Mrs. Gilette is firmly convinced that the cat is possessed of her dead sister's spirit, and no power on earth could make her think otherwise.
I must confess that when I found this tale, my first thought was of Saki's short story "Laura." Let us hope Edna and Minnie had a happier ending than that ill-fated otter.