6: I Learn of Bevis of Hampton

A spotted kitten on a green-colored backgroundMy lord’s sister (Lady Moll) often took her lessons with us, and when my lord was with his father I attended upon her.

She was better grown than he, so I thought she had been her mother’s favourite and sucked more milk.

Later I learnt that she was born sooner than my lord, and what both those innocent children had been fed on was the pap of Error.  (I know this Error not, but I will tell more of that later).

My young lady called me pretty Bevis, sweet Bevis.  She told me there was a Bevis in the old time who did great deeds.

I was fire-hot to learn more of him.

One day, when I was pulling down books to see what was writ in them (and in that house none wished to drown me for it as that bloodie knave does here), I came upon newes of this Bevis.

An open book on a shelf - from Barthelemy d'Eyck painting.My paw was surely guided by the Queen Cat of Heaven, she whose miriet [myriad?] eyes shine forth upon the night, even when it is clowdie and we cannot see them.  This is why we must never think we can creep about unseen, doing mischiefs in the dark.  Or so my mother told me.

The Bevis book was big, and full of words I did not know.  It took me many moons to fathom it, but I will be brief.

Bevis was the little son of the Earl of Southampton.  And the Earl’s Countess was a vile woman who hoist her tail for another man.

I already knowed this.  But there was more to come.

For the Countess sayt to the Earl:  Oh, I will die if I cannot have some boar to eat.

She was cunning, for we all know what a grief it is to want choice meat when there is none to be had.

The Earl, thinking no harm, went into the forest to kill a boar.  There the other man had hid hisself, and he killed the Earl.

When Bevis heared of this he yowled lamentable.  Then he spake sharp words to his mother the Countess, and swore to kill the villain that slew the Earl.

The Countess gave Bevis a blow on the ear, and told a man to kill him.

A woodcut depicting shephers with their sheep.
An illustration from a 1630 edition of Bevis of Hampton. Gib would have read a much earlier version.

Instead, that man killed a pig and dipped the boy’s clothes in its blood and took them to the Countess.  And he gave Bevis employment as a shepherd.

But Bevis wished to kill the villain, so he returned home (which I thought showed a lack of sutiltie).

This time the Countess had him took and sold for money to the heathens.

I know not what heathens be, but in that house I had heard talk of error-ticks [heretics] and I thought they must be the same.

This Bevis book seemed most marvellous to me, for it told not only of what passed in the old time, but also of what we would come to very soon.

My little lord was but seven winters old, and so was Bevis when his father was slain.

I could not keep this to myself.  That night I crept about the house saying very low, “Newes, newes,” and then out into the yard and all around, calling, “Newes, newes.”

I knowed that on the next night all cats who had ears to hear would gather at our assembly place near the kitchen door.

And what a tale I had to tell them.


Toutparmoi - Editor's Note.There were numerous versions of the medieval romance of Bevis of Hamtoun, Hampton, or Southampton, and it was very popular.

Gib writes of taking “many moons to fathom it,” but it’s unclear whether he means many months, nights, or even moonlit nights – assuming he did his reading by moonlight.  However, he seems to have read only as much as he needed to satisfy his curiosity about the family life of the Southamptons.

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