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The Cat Woman 26/12/2010

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c. 1890

Now an odd creature approaches, and pauses to feed the cats with a dainty morsel taken from a capacious pocket. She is the English woman so familiar to Florence, and more mad than forestieri are usually supposed to be. The cats are her sole care. Poveretta! Some affair of the heart turned her brain in early maidenhood. Let her have her own way in peace. It is all the same to cat and citizen. The insane woman has a round, white, and vacant face, curiously resembling the physiognomy of Maggy in Little Dorrit. She wears a faded gown of a bygone fashion, a hoop-skirt, a flowered shawl, and a large poke bonnet of yellow straw, with the ribbons of white watered silk floating over her shoulders. She might have emerged from a woodcut of Cruikshank, in a city where eccentric waifs of all nationalities abound. The cats receive their gifts capriciously.

The vegetable-woman smiles compassionately. Surely it is an indication of remarkable refinement in a people, that no one mocks at nor molests her footsteps with an attendant, jeering rabble of boys, as might so readily happen in the large capitals of the world. Here is a limit to the street Arab’s witticisms, who sang beneath the windows of the archiepiscopal palace, when Pope Martin V was lodged there in an hour of misfortune, that he was not worth a penny, thereby laying up a future grudge of affronted dignity for the Flower City in the mind of the pontiff. The English woman rambles on, with the purposeless movements of an unsettled mind. Doubtless she will find her way to that palace courtyard of the Lung’ Arno Nuovo, which is a startling feline nightmare, where heads peer out of the shrubbery in every stage of cathood. Nor will she return home without pausing at the cloister of the Church of San Lorenzo, where homeless animals receive municipal bounty on occasion, possibly in imitation of the hospital once existing near the Gate of Victory at Cairo.