Dr. Brewer, in his "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable," thinks this "the corrupt for cratch cradle or manger cradle, in which the infant Saviour was laid. Cratch is the French cr�che (a rack or manger), and to the present hour the racks which stand in the fields for cattle to eat from are called cratches." Of this, however, I am doubtful, though there is much reason in his suggestion. In Sussex and Kent, when I was a boy, it was commonly played among children, but always called cat's, catch, or scratch cradle, and consisted generally of two or more players. A piece of string, being tied at the ends, was placed on the fingers, and crossed and re-crossed to make a sort of cradle; the next player inserted his or her fingers, quickly taking it off; then the first catching it back, then the second again, then the first, as fast as possible, catching and taking off the string. Sometimes the sides were caught by the teeth of the players, one on each side, and as the hands were relaxed the faces were apart, then when drawn out it brought the faces together; the string being let go or not, and caught again as it receded, was according to the will of the players, the catching and letting go affording much merriment. When four or five played, the string rapidly passed from hand to hand until, in the rapidity of the motion, one missed, who then stood out, and so on until only one was left, winning the game of cat's, catch, or scratch cradle. It was varied also to single and double cradle, according to the number of crossings of the string. Catch is easily converted into cat's, or it might be so called from the catching or clawing at, to get and to hold, the entanglement.
With the form of the trap our readers are, doubtless, acquainted; it will only be necessary for us to give the laws of the game. Two boundaries are equally placed at some distance from the trap, between which it is necessary for the ball to pass when struck by the batsman; if it fall outside either of them he loses his innings. Innings are drawn for, and the player who wins places the ball in the spoon of the trap, touches the trigger with the bat, and, as the ball ascends from the trap, strikes it as far as he can. One of the other players (who may be from two to half-a-dozen) endeavours to catch it. If he do so before it reaches the ground, or hops more than once, or if the striker miss the ball when he aims at it, or hits the trigger more than once without striking the ball, he loses his innings, and the next in order, which must previously be agreed on, takes his place. Should the ball be fairly struck, and not caught, as we have stated, the out-player, into whose hand it comes, bowls it from the place where he picks it up, at the trap, which if he hit, the striker is out; if he miss it the striker counts one towards the game, which may be any number decided on. There is also a practice in some places, when the bowler has sent in the ball, of the striker's guessing the number of bats' lengths it is from the trap; if he guess within the real number he reckons that number toward his game, but if he guess more than there really are he loses his innings. It is not necessary to make the game in one innings.
This is a very simple, but, at the same time, a very lively and amusing game. It is played by five only; and the place chosen for the sport should be a square court or yard with four corners, or any place where there are four trees or posts, about equidistant from each other, and forming the four points of a square. Each of these points or corners is occupied by a player; the fifth, who is called Puss, stands in the centre. The game now commences; the players exchange corners in all directions; it is the object of the one who stands out to occupy any of the corners which may remain vacant for an instant during the exchanges. When he succeeds in so doing, that player who is left without a corner becomes the puss. It is to be observed, that if A and B attempt to exchange corners, and A gets to B's corner, but B fails to reach A's before the player who stands out gets there, it is B and not A who becomes Puss.
This is a French sport. The toys with which it is played consist of two flat bits of hard wood, the edges of one of which are notched. The game is played by two only; they are both blindfolded and tied to the ends of a long string, which is fastened in the centre to a post, by a loose knot, so as to play easily in the evolutions made by the players. The party who plays the mouse occasionally scrapes the toys together, and the other, who plays the cat, attracted by the sound, endeavours to catch him.
The game of "Hunt the Slipper" used frequently to be called "Cat and Mouse-hunting." It is generally played with a slipper, shoe, or even a piece of wood, which was called the mouse, the centre player being the cat, and trying to catch or find the mouse. The "Boy's Own Book" thus describes the game, but not as Cat and Mouse: "Several young persons sit on the ground in a circle, a slipper is given them, and one—who generally volunteers to accept the office in order to begin the game—stands in the centre, and whose business it is to 'chase the slipper by its sound.' The parties who are seated pass it round so as to prevent, if possible, its being found in the possession of any individual. In order that the player in the centre may know where the slipper is, it is occasionally tapped on the ground and then suddenly handed on to right or left. When the slipper is found in the possession of any one in the circle, by the player who is hunting it, the party on whom it is found takes the latter player's place."
Is a game played with sticks of a certain length and a piece of wood sharpened off at each end, which is called the "cat." A ring is made on the ground with chalk, or the pointed part of the cat, which is then placed in the centre. One end being smartly struck by the player, it springs spinning upwards; as it rises it is again struck, and thus knocked to a considerable distance. It is played in two ways, one being for the antagonist to guess how many sticks length it is off the ring, which is measured, and if right he goes in; or he may elect to pitch the cat, if possible, into the ring, which if he succeeds in doing, he then has the pleasure of knocking the wood called the cat recklessly, he knows not whither, until it alights somewhere, on something or some one.
[N] Jamieson's "Scottish Dictionary."
The name of a game well known in Fife, and perhaps in other counties. If seven boys are to play, six holes are made at certain distances. Each of the six stands at a hole, with a short stick in his hand; the seventh stands at a certain distance, holding a ball. When he gives the word, or makes the sign agreed upon, all the six must change holes, each running to his neighbour's hole, and putting his stick in the hole which he has newly seized. In making this change, the boy who has the ball tries to put it into the empty hole. If he succeeds in this, the boy who had not his stick (for the stick is the cat) in the hole for which he had run is put out, and must take the ball. When the Cat is in the Hole, it is against the laws of the game to put the ball into it.
These are as plentiful as blackberries, and are far too numerous to be treated of here. Some are very old, such as "Puss in Boots," "Whittington and his Cat," "Hey, diddle, diddle!" etc. Some have a political meaning, others satirical, others amusing, funny, or instructive, while a few are unmeaning jangles. "Dame Trot and her Wonderful Cat," "The Cat and the Mouse," and, later, "The White Cat," "The Adventures of Miss Minette Cattina," are familiar to many of the present time. Of the older stories and rhymes there are enough to fill a book; not of or about the cat in particular, possibly; but even that—the old combined with those of modern date—might be done; and for such information and perusal the "Popular Rhymes," by J. O. Halliwell, will be found very interesting, space preventing the subject being amplified here. Nor do they come within the scope and intention for which I have written respecting the cat.