Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, July 20, 2021


 "Kootchie" by H. D. Umbstaetter  (first published in The Black Cat, December 1895, under the pseudonym "Harold Kinsabby"; reprinted in Umbstaetter's collection The Red-Hot Dollar and Other Stories from "The Black Cat", 1911)

Here's a brief sketch that has all the makings of an Aesop fable.  It's early on a summer evning where the temperature registers at 95 in the shade of the stately elms in Boston Common.  Since it is summer many families have left the city for the country, including one who left their pug Buttons with their butler to remain in the city.  Buttons is sleek and fat, with a harness studded with ornaments, hence the name.   The butler is also sleek and fat, brimming with self-importance, and carrying a "wicked little cane with a loaded head."  The two are taking a walk for an evening's airing.  Then there was the cat.  Not just any cat, mind you, but one that had been left behind by another family off for the summer and left to fend for its own on the city's streets.  Now hungry, thin, and bedraggled, the cat has wandered into the Common in search of food -- a sparrow, perhaps, or maybe an unaware frog from the pond.

On seeing the cat, Buttons gave chase, driving the cat to a nearby tree.  The butler then shook the branh, dislodging the cat, which then managed barely to escape the dog by gaining a perch on a nearby fence, where the poor animals stared at its tormenter, terrified.  A nearby man, sitting on a bench with a little girl, asked the butler why he would torture the cat.  Just "having a bit of fun," was the answer.  "Buttons is death on cats."  The man got up, freed the cat, allowing it to escape, and sat back down on the bench.  The cat went hungry that night while its faraway owner was presiding at the one hundred eleventh seaside anniversary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The next evening, the butler and Buttons went ouot for another walk, looking for fun.  They came across the same gentleman and little girl on the bench.  This time, however, there was a large paper bag placed between the two.  There was a rustling and the bag moved.  This got the pug's attention.  Buttons came closer to investigate.  The bag moved again and Buttons retreated a little bit and began barking.  The butler, not seeing the bag move, said, " Cat, Buttons.  where's the cat?"  This seemed to give the dog courage and he charged toward the bag.  The gentleman twisted open the bag and a furred head popped out.  The gentleman said, "Hi, hi, Kootchie!" and a bobcat jumped out and had at Buttons, with fur and buttons flying.  The butler tried to smash the feral cat with his stick but the man held his arm, saying, "Buttons is death on cats.  Kootchie is death on pugs.  You like fun.  I like fair play."  The butler ended up taking what was left of Buttons away.  Kootchie then went up to the little girl whi cradled the big cat in her arms.  "Kootchie is my little puddy tat, she proclaimed."

Exactly how a bobcat became a pet is not explained, nor need it be.  Sometimes one bad turn deserves another and this little story of the biter bit is a nice example, told with sly humor and with a negative view on those who would bully.

Herman Daniel Umbstaetter (1851-1913) had lost a fortune by the time he was forty.  He recouped the fortune and more by publishing The Black Cat, a popular fiction magazine from 1895 to 1913.  He was noted for nurturing authors, including Jack London, who wrote the introdusction to Umbstaetter's collection.  Umbstaetter published fifteen stories in the magazine, many under the pseudomyns of "Harold Kinsabby" and "Barnes MacGreggor."  Although a general fiction magazine, The Black Cat published its share of fantasy and is considered by some to be a precursor to later magazines like The Thrill Book and Weird Tales.

The Red-Hot Dollar and Other Stories from "The Black Cat" is available to read online, as are many issues of The Black Cat.


  1. I'm familiar with BLACK MASK but not THE BLACK CAT. I'll have to check it out. And, I also like fair play!

  2. A story about a pug is interesting but it gets to violent for me. I am too squeamish.