From Dora Roberts 17 December [1872 or later]1
The Greenways | Leamington
Charles Darwin Esqr.
May I trespass on your time while I try to relate a curious instance of misdirected maternal instinct which occured in our Hen House here?
A cat came to the cook mewing piteously and expressing both grief & excitement— The woman allowed her to pull her gown & then followed her to the Hen House where a hen—which had been very indignant because not provided with eggs to sit upon for some time past—was found in possession of two small & starving kittens— These she defended by beak & wings until fairly beaten off with a stick— She flew with fury at the mother cat especially— Some hours after the supposed restoration of the kittens the mother again came to her friend the cook exhibiting even greater despair—& on yielding to her entreaties once more the cook found that the hen had managed to convey the kittens to the very highest shelf of the Hen House—when a ladder had to be fetched in order to release the kittens again How they had been carried to such a height we never knew— The instinct which drew the cat to the cook was odd as the woman disliked cats & had never treated her kindly— It seemed her sense of justice to which the creature appealed2 With regard to the almost human scream of a horse in agony having heard it once I can never forget it In a crowd in London the horse fell & got under the wheel of a carriage the sounds rang in our ears for days after as the most expressive of agony we had ever heard—3 The cat & hen adventure occurred at Collin House six miles from Belfast—4
Yours obedly— | Dora Roberts.
A friend of ours was pursued by a pig once with wide open mouth Her description made the animal seem very terrible— A niece of mine can distinctly move her ears & draw them forward she cannot explain how it is done—5
Describes a case of maternal instinct, in which a hen protected kittens.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8683,” accessed on 27 March 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-8683