A Tale of Two Kitties

updated 02/22/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/22/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES. ONE CHILLY NOVEMBER DAY IN 1990, two kittens—a brother and sister, both black with green eyes—stood shivering on Nancy Wilcox's patio in Little Rock. At first, Wilcox thought the frightened felines belonged to a neighbor. But no! They had been abandoned, and fate had sent them to her door. "They were so pretty, I couldn't understand why someone would have dumped them," she says. "I guess they kind of warmed my heart."

For a time, Wilcox kept the kittens outside in a warm towel-lined box, safe from her jealous cocker spaniel (named, remarkably, Chelsea). At night, the male stray, the one with the white paws, proved a good brother, draping himself protectively over his sleeping sister. During the day, though, he was less exemplary. "He was always the aggressive one," Wilcox says. "He kept trying to eat his sister's food."

Meanwhile, Wilcox was trying to find the duo permanent homes. She asked for help from neighbor Anita Reasoner, a piano teacher, and once again fate intervened. The Governor's wife, Hillary Clinton, brought her daughter, Chelsea, then 10, to Reasoner's house for a piano lesson. At the time the Clintons were still mourning Zeke, Chelsea's beloved cocker spaniel, who had died in a car accident. "They were raving about the cute little cats," says Reasoner. "Hillary asked for the one with white toes." Hence the name Chelsea chose for him: Socks.

The adoption may have warmed Chelsea's heart, but it was a wrenching experience for the sister Socks left behind. "She looked pitiful," says Wilcox of the lonesome kitten. So Wilcox pressed harder to find her a home. She dressed the young feline in a red-and-green Gucci bow and visited her best friend, Carolyn Hartstein, whose dog had recently died. "My granddaughter Courtny took one look and fell in love," says Hartstein. Courtny named the all-black cat Midnight.

Now it is the best of times for Midnight. She lives in luxury, lazing on soft pillows, dining on canned salmon and chicken. Like her brother, she has a sense of adventure—and a keen eye for squirrels. Unlike Socks, however, she has been declawed and spends her days lounging indoors, pawing at her prey through a window. She seems blissfully unaware of her brother's newfound fame, and that is just as well. Because Midnight, you see, is a Republican; her mistress voted for George Bush.

Hartstein says she has never given much thought to Socks' new life as a press-plagued celebrity. "We call Socks the aristo-cat," she says, with just the hint of a curled lip. But every now and then she can't resist teasing her own pet with a catty comment about the vagaries of fate. "We tell Midnight," she says, " 'You could have been in the White House now, and Socks could have been here with us.' " Midnight, true to her species, has never deigned to reply.

LINDA SATTER in Little Rock

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