I did not venture to Paws [St Paul’s] that night.
Onix told me that Picker and Stealer, the lean sisters I sought, would not be there.
That was because it was the Fasting Time [Lent], when they made progresses about the citie and beyond for the good of their souls.
And (sayt he) there’d been singing boys on the roof of Paws to greet the King. Had those sisters wished to see the Procession, they’d have found a quieter place.
“When next comes a fat moon,” sayt Onix, “I’ll lead you to Picker and Stealer myself. All cats – yes, and their kits too – that were friends to the noble Earl of Essex are welcome.”
And so we went to Paws yard, where many cats were loitering. Some gave us sour looks. Others whispered as we passed, but none offered insults.
Picker and Stealer were sat high on the steps. After I’d made my obeisance, I begged them to tell me more of their assalt on Snakes-Purr.
“Nothing comes of nothing,” they sayt. “What newes have you for us?”
I sayt, most courteous, “Could I know more of any matter in this citie than your ladyships do?”
“’Tis newes from Court we seek,” they sayt. “Mark that well, or ’twill be the worse for you.”
I was of a mind to mark the very steps on which they sat, but kept my looks submiss and peaceable.
Then they told of Snakes-Purr. They spake in turns and had perforce to stop at times, so loud were the applauds of their minions.
Here is what they sayt, to the best of my remembrance.
“Before we set forth on our progress, there came to us Luvvie the player-cat. He told us he believed Snakes-Purr dwelt not far from here.
“Luvvie swore he’d heard the villain’s voice in Black-Fries, followed him to Cheap-Sight and then ran across the rooves to see which house he entered.
“We were curious. We arrkst him to lead us thither. He did, then fled away. We stayed some days to make a survey.”
“We looked in all the windows we could. Then we sought an entry. There came both menservants and maids to the door, and they left bearing baskets or boxes.”
“We guessed it were a shop. We knew we could slip in and find many places to hide. Which we did, then crept upstairs to nose about while the household made ready for supper.”
“Fish it were, most savoury. It set our empty guts a-griping.”
“There were women in that household, but we sought a man’s chamber. Then we concealed ourselves in the shadows, and awaited his coming.”
“First came the maidservant, who oped the door and set little breads and a covered dish of fish upon the table. Then Fortune favoured us. She was called from below, and ran to the stairs to call back.”
“We were in and under the bed before she closed the door. That sound caused a different griping in our guts. We were confined!”
“Soon the man came in. He did not nose us. We crouched beneath the bed, each in her own corner, while he settled to his supper. Then my sister shat. Choice!”
“He nosed my offering soon enough and ran to ope the window, as we’d hoped. Then he looked under the bed and saw me. He seized his sword and made to thrust me out. My sister had at him.”
“Yes – that were my kew, as players say. I sank my teeth into his paw. He dropped his sword and together we enacted a fine scene, I hanging by my teeth upon one hand and he trying to strangle me with the other.”
“Then entered I to seize my cut of fish, and exit. Through the window.”
“I gave that strangling hand a mighty clawing. He sought to beat my brains out by dashing me against the wall. But I untoothed him, fell upon the table, took my fish and so away.”
“We ate well that night. Enough to keep our bodies and souls together for another year!”
I waited for their minions to stop screeching. Then I arrkst, “How know you this man was Snakes-Purr? He may have been the ’prentice. Were there quills and rough papers in his chamber?”
“The ’prentice? With a sword? Taking his supper private? This were the thieving clown that thinks hisself a gentleman.”
“Do not question us, you know-nowt. Pray that the villain’s wounds poyson him.”
“And remember, when next we call at your house in the fields, we desire meats from your lord’s table or safe passage to your pantry so we may serve ourselves.”
Well, we know Shakespeare didn’t die of blood-poisoning in 1604. However, his bitten hand might have been permanently damaged. This could explain why his signatures often look so messy alongside those of his literate contemporaries.
Shakespeare’s earliest surviving signature dates from 1612, when he was 48. He died four years later, so other possible explanations might be health-related, but damage-by-cat is worth serious consideration.
The 1612 signature is on Shakespeare’s deposition in a court case over Christopher Mountjoy’s failure to pay his daughter’s marriage portion. In 1604 Shakespeare had a part in arranging the marriage. (The Mountjoys were French Protestant refugees, and no relation to Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy.)
Eight years later when the matter came to court, Shakespeare couldn’t (or wouldn’t) remember the amount of money promised. There are facsimiles of some of the documents and background to the court case here, though I don’t agree that Shakespeare’s involvement was “minor”. In 1604 he must have known what the promised sum was, even if his memory failed him in 1612. Can stress-by-cats cause memory loss?
They hadn’t finished with him. Harry’s few remaining papers tell of the last, extraordinary, strike against him. I’m still transcribing those papers, so will not be posting again until late June, but I’ll keep up (and catch up) with my blog-reading.