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Tip Cat

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TipCatWardLocksmall.jpg
Ward & Lock

"We welcome another tale by the anonymous author of 'Laddie.'  In this unassuming story genuine humor, pathos, and much observation of human, and especially children's nature are displayed, together with a delightful style." Saturday Review.

"It is not, as the name might indicate, the story of a cat, but of a young man who makes a brave effort to support his two little sisters.  The struggle might have been too great for him had not Tipton Cathcart, an eccentric old man, taken an interest in the orphans and come to the rescue.  The children's little amusements and artless way of relating them, and the brother's unselfish devotion, are both pathetic and amusing." Boston Traveller, from the publisher's (Robert's Brothers, 1891) advertisement at the back of Lil.

 "Humor and pathos are delightfully blended; and Dick, the hero, is the most adorable figure that has appeared in fiction for many a long day....  The whole story is wonderfully fresh and vigorous." Chicago Review, from the publisher's (Little, Brown and Company, 1903) advertisement at the back of my copy of Lassie

This title is available as a reprint of the 1884 edition by Roberts Brothers, Boston. Click Links on the navigation  bar for Kessinger Publishing.

Tip Cat (London: Walter Smith, 1884) has been digitized by Google.

Tip Cat (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1884)has been digitized by Google.

Synopsis:

The story begins in the nursery where two young sisters, Letty and Sybil, await the arrival of their brother Dick (who is at Oxford) following the death of their grandfather who has been their guardian since the death of their parents in India.  An unsigned will and an unkind uncle (or his shrewish, selfish wife) force the children from their home.  Dick refuses to send his sisters as charity students to a boarding school.  In his pride and in the rashness, enthusiasm, optimism, and affection of youth, Dick leaves Oxford to work as a clerk to keep the family together.  He appeals to his grandfather's attorney, Mr. Murchison for help finding a position.

"The old lawyer sat drumming reflectively on his blotting- paper...  He had it in his heart to say, "I have no chick nor child of my own, and a large balance at my bankers that grows every year without giving me either pleasure or profit, and I am willing to take your grandfather's place... and make my old age happier and brighter and fuller of interest than any other part of my life has been."  But it was utterly impossible to him to say the words; he had always been so prudent and business-like and far-sighted that he could not do a rash and open-handed act of generosity on the spur of the moment like any short-sighted, inconsiderate mortal.  Well, they say fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but sometimes, it seems to me, that the  fools get the best of it; and the old lawyer in his lonely chambers in his solitary old age, even with the consolation of the ever-increasing  balance at his banker's, was inclined, sometimes, to wish that he had not been so wise."

Jenkins, the old family retainer, is moved to actually give Dick his savings book with his life saving but Dick returns the book to its owner,

"...leaving Jenkins sobbing and stroking out the crumpled pages of his precious book, half disappointed, half relieved, and not  knowing how acts of self-sacrificing love are entered in another  account, and interest of untold value added." 

Dick and his sisters leave Bedford Place in London to live in Slowmill on 80 pounds per year.  They rent rooms above the shop of Joe Tysoe, grocer, cheese monger  and tea-dealer. His mother undertakes to care for the little girls while Dick is at work.

frontis: Ward & Lock
smalltipcatfrontiswardlock.jpg
illustrator: Randolph Caldecort

On a Sunday afternoon walk, Dick and the girls discover a pretty lodge and a park gate and further on a "delightful little wood, through which a stream ran, crossed by a plank bridge."  While the girls are playing with frogs, Dick remembers his former life at Oxford and a certain young lady, Kathie Dumbleton.  Here they meet a gruff man with a large sheep-dog.  The man offers no welcome and treats Dick as a trespasser until he sees the girls, especially Letty.  Thus, Letty and Sybil meet and befriend Tip-Cat, Squire Tipton Cathcart, and his dog, Kaiser.

Dick's work and his care with expenses are not sufficient to prevent "the serpent debt... beginning to wind its coils round him."  Dick considers asking Mr. Murchison and even Jenkins for help.  He debates whether his pride will cause his sisters to suffer.  Must he appeal to his uncle and give the girls up to the "cold charity" of their aunt? He decides they must move to a "clean cottage amoung the fields."  He finds such a place with the Ricketts, an old farm couple.

Before the move, Dick needs to get money to pay the debt (back rent) which he owes the Tysoes.    Dick takes an afternoon off work to go to Bristol to visit the "pawnbroker's...  the greasy counter and the frowsy, close smell and the dirty Jewish face, whose sharp eyes know in a second the value of the article offered, and whose heart must be long dead to all pity and respect for human nature." 

The little girls look forward to Dick's return thinking he will bring them chocolates as he used to do when he came home from Oxford.  But Dick will not be bringing home treats, he will instead be leaving the last of his treasures:  "a ring or two, some shirt-studs and a scarf-pin that had belonged to his father,"  the gold setting and pearls that had circled the miniature "of his fair, young mother, wonderfully like Letty," and the watch his grandfather had given him. 

On the streets of Bristol, Dick stands "for  a full ten minutes before a toy shop with vacant eyes... lost in serious contemplation."  Unseen by Dick, Tip Cat is inside the shop completing the purchase of two dolls.  He follows Dick to the pawn shop.  "What does this mean?" said the old man to himself...  "Nothing good!  Poor little Letty!"

When Letty and Sybil begin to understand the economic hardships they try to help by mending Dick's shirts, by trying to eat less (After Dick and Letty have a comforting conversation, Letty makes Sybil promise to "always eat as much as we possibly can, and take two helpings at dinner, for he says if we don't it will just break his heart."), and by cropping their hair when they realize that Mrs. Ricketts cannot manage their toilettes.

The move to the country goes well and Dick and the girls help with the haying.  The girls grow ever closer to Tip Cat and often visit Tipton Farm. 

One Saturday afternoon, Dick sits waiting for them on the plank bridge, thinking again of Kathie Dumbleton, when the lady herself appears. 

"The truth was they were re-opening this love-story of theirs at  different parts.  With Kathie it was only the opening numbers...  But with Dick it was different.  He had reached the beginning of the third volume...  But girls are quick readers, and, by the time Letty and Sybil           appeared... I think that Kathie was not very far behind Dick in that  pretty love-story, the pages of which they were turning together, while the sunbeams stole through the thick elm boughs... sparkling and dancing under Kathie's eyes, which found it did not do to meet Dick's too often." 

Kathie invites them to tea at Tipton Grange where she is visiting her aunt.  Dick ends the meeting with Kathie with a declaration of love and goodbye.

For her birthday, which falls on a Monday Bank-holiday, Letty receives a mysterious letter with a 5 pound note, "For Letty's birthday, to be spent as she likes."  The girls decide on a Sunday- Monday trip to Sandyshore, "not being a very long journey and not being a likely place to meet any of their former London or Oxford friends."  In that they are mistaken for they have a fateful meeting with the selfish aunt who is there because her daughters have scarlet fever.  And Dick and the girls are exposed.

When Sybil falls ill and Dick is overwhelmed, Letty appeals to Tip-Cat for help.  Tip-Cat remembers his long-lost love—Letty Vane, the children's mother.   So Tipton Cathcart—"he's the most extraordinary man I ever came across, and this is the biggest piece of generosity I have heard of"—rescues Dick and his sisters and provides for their care as they suffer and recover from scarlet fever.

After the children recover, Tip Cat wishes to adopt them as his own but Dick's pride stands in the way.  Tip Cat intervenes with Kathie Dumpleton to make it all come right in the end. 

Tip Cat's heart "was as tremulously happy as if the long, empty years had rolled back and he were young again...  "Letty, my love at last."

Views of Victorian life and culture:

language of flowers

"Letty fell back to pick some red and yellow ivy leaves" and meets Tip Cat  who has hidden ties to her

 "It was a beautiful Spring that year, and though the country round Slowmill is not particularly pretty or picturesque, it is a rare country for wildflowers, and to Sybil and Letty who had always been in London at that time of year, it was like fairyland as they followed the bright footsteps of Spring through violets and primroses, and soft springing grass and dainty opening leaves and grey velvet willow buds, and thrushes' nest with warm, blue eggs, and young lambs frisking on thick, young legs, and fragile, pure anemones, and bluebells as blue as they sky above, where the larks were singing, and dewy cowslips, and the cuckoo's cheerful notes, till the meadows burst into a blaze of golden buttercups to welcome King Summer.

"The little girls were quite happy."

They pick honeysuckle while Dick negotiates their move to the farm cottage of the Mr. & Mrs. Ricketts. They return with arms full of honeysuckle and wild roses and are "surprised at Dick's restored cheerfulness".

 Dick meets Kathie at the bridge under the elms.

The gardens at Tipton Grange while Dick and the girls have tea with Kathie:  elm, oaks, ivy and Virginia creeper, rose garden, black cedars

"What did they talk of?  Nothing worth telling—sorts of roses, London flower-shows, colours and tints, and sometimes they were silent, looking both of them into the deep, crimson, heart of a rose."

Dick presses some of these rose petals into his Mother's prayer book.

 

Tip-Cat remembers his love for Letty Vane under the horse chestnut.

Economy—Dick's job as a clerk is described, as are his attempts to balance his budget and reduce expenses

The Tysoe's grocery and the delivering of cheeses are described in detail as is the home.

The farm cottage of Mr. & Mrs. Ricketts is also described in detail.  In the past they have taken in mowers but "this is no place for gentlefolks."

Dick must have new boots "which made a dreadful hole in his money, and led him to wonder how working men can ever keep themselves and their large families in boots out of fourteen shillings a week, or sometimes less."

Children—the nursery at Bedford, its furnishings, toys and management is lovingly detailed.

Death & dying, funeral practices—the grandfather's funeral and its preparations are described (chapter one and two.)

The Ricketts display "funeral cards in cheap frames."

Medicine & public health—scarlet fever:  "He had half an hour before the train, and that must be devoted to disinfecting as well as he knew how.  How he wished had had paid more attention to the subject—attended ambulance lectures, or listened when his scientific friends held forth, but he had only his own reason to guide him, and that led him to walk quickly along the beach where the sea-breeze blew freshest... and wash his face and hands in the sea-water."

Sybil has scarlet fever and Dick must miss work to care for her and will not be paid on Saturday.  Dick wishes to send Letty to his aunt and uncle (whose daughters have both died) but Letty appeals to Tip Cat.

"Ricketts is afraid that people at the mill will find out that she's ill, and not let him go to his work, and he wanted Dick not to send for the doctor, as he says they make such a fuss nowadays about things being catching, and Dick thinks that perhaps he did not give his message, as Dr. Lee hasn't come all day."

"And then came Rickett's unwillingness to make the illness known, and his wish to keep it in the dark, lest the inspector should be down on them, messing about with sulphur and lime and all the rest of it; and not letting a chap go to his work for six weeks or more as he did with poor Wilson as pretty nigh starved along of him and his whimsies."

"Reader, do you know the look of a bedroom in which a man has been acting as nurse?  I mean, of course, ninety-nine out of a hundred, for here and there you man find a first-rate man nurse, who can bear comparison with the best of the woman-nurses.  They may be loving and anxious, tender and strong; patient and gentle, but hey are sure to get they room into a hopeless muddle."

Londonthe Zoological gardens are described in chapter 1.

train—a trip on the 3rd class carriage bring Dick and the girls to Slowmill.  Later on his way to Bristol, Dick had to hurry from work and in his goodbyes to his sisters "for there was not a moment to lose if he meant to catch the train, for the omnibus was far too expensive a luxury to be thought of, and he would have to walk three miles to the station."  At one station, Dick observes one of his former fellows from  Oxford boarding the train "with all the old fuss and circumstance that used to attend Dick when he travelled."  Some of the details of 1st class are contrasted with the 3rd class carriage.

religion

"There was a great deal of dissent in Slowmill.  The Tyscoes, as I said in the last chapter, went to chapel, having been Wesleyans for  several generations, and Mrs. Tyscoe was a little vexed when she found that he new lodgers intended to go to church, as she had pictured... the slight, but touching allusion to bereavement that Mr.    Parkins, the minister, would introduce into his prayer at the sight of   the crape on the children's hats.  Perhaps she would look over a hymn-book with Dick... And so she felt quite disappointed when Dick declared his intention of going to church and taking Letty and Sybil with him; and she was still further annoyed to find that he had not upheld the honour and glory of her lodgings , but he had sat in one of the free seats among the snuffy old men from the almshouses, though half the pews in the church were empty, and though... the ironmonger invited him to his seat.

"He also greatly shocked Mrs. Tysoe's prejudices by taking the little girls for a walk on Sunday afternoon.  Dick was quite willing to fall in with all the arrangements of the house for the observance of the Sabbath, and made no complaint as to his bath remaining unemptied    and his boots uncleaned, and he cheerfully partook of a scrupulously cold dinner without even a hot potato to relieve the frigidity of the meal; but he felt that a whole afternoon in the little sitting-room, with the smell of dinner hanging about and blending with the odours of the shop, and with the sun pouring in at the window, was more than he could stand.

"...they ran the gauntlet of Mrs. Tysoe's disapproving glances as  she sat at the table, very upright, in her Sunday cap, with a large Bible open before her..."

"Outside... there were parties of children hurrying to the various dissenting Sunday schools, leaving a whiff of peppermint and hair-oil as they passed..."

After the tea with Kathie Dumbleton when Dick has said good-bye to love, he stops going to church.

When Dick is recovering from fever, "Tip Cat offered to read him something, and Dick drew out from under his pillow, a little, old prayer book, that had belonged to his mother."

rural village life—Dick and the girls help with the haying on their first day at the Ricketts' farm.

Victorian novels

"Reader, do you know in Paul and Virginia the account of Virginia's death?  and how she preferred to die rather than cast off the clothing which impeded the swimming of the brave sailor who would have saved her, and this is treated as exquisite and refined modesty?  Even as a child, it struck me as a false sentiment and that, to pervert the words of Scripture, that life is more than raiment.  And do you know how many love stories in fiction (fewer, I fancy, in real life) end sadly because the heroine's modesty will not allow a word or look to reveal the love that is breaking her heart?  and so two people are made miserable and two lives spoilt?  Far be it from me to speak a work against modesty!  All honour to it!  There cannot be too much of it, but, for pity's sake, let it be real, not false!"

Evelyn Whitaker Library is a physical archive of print materials concerning a late Victorian author. This website is a digital exhibition of that archive. It is also the place where I publish the results of my research into the life and writings of Evelyn Whitaker.
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