7: I Give Hot Newes

A dappled young cat standing on its hind legs.Oh, when I opened my mind I was fearful, for I had never before spake to so many cats together.  My sister was among them.

But I made a good beginning.  I sayt:

“Queens, stone-cats, and fellow gibs, prick up your ears, for I’ve a tale
more toothsome than a nightingale.  A sweet old song of blood and scruffing, rich repasts of roasted meats, and all spiced wondrous well with newes.

“Hot newes, my friends, of what will come about before my lord sees winters eight, and this year is out.”

 Drawing of a hedgehogAnd truly, I know not whence these words came, but they fell faster from my brain than fleas from an urchin.

Then I told my tale much as I set it down yesternight, but with mine own embellishments.

For I had the Earl kill a boar before the villain killed him, and the Countess and the villain ate of it with gravy.  They also feasted on the sheep (a change from pig) that was killed in place of Bevis.  They ate it all unknowing, with more gravy.

And I ended with:  “Mark well, my friends, the Earl will soon be dead.  The error-ticks will have my lord, and his sweet sister too.  The wicked Countess will take all that she can kill or sell.  Oh, look to yourselves, my friends, for sure none other will.”

Then I remembered the thing that I most wished to know but did not.  That was the name of the common fellow who had scruffed the Countess.

So I called, “Forgive me, friends, I did forget the villain’s name.  Does any here know owt of him?”

A Cat's face from a Clara Peeters painting.
The Look

With my eyes I sought my uncle, and saw he was giving me the look that all cats know.

It’s the look our mothers give us when we have learnt to stagger after them and they set forth to catch our supper. 

When they turn back and lower their heads to give that look, it signifies: Go no further.  And so we know to sit at home and wait on their return.

But it was too late for my uncle to give me the go-no-further look.

One cat called that the villain was a foreign cat named Purrer, while another sayt he was a stone-horse named All-mane.  That told me nothing, for I had seen words like these in the Bevis book.  I did not think they were his name, but I held my tongue.

My sister sayt the villain’s name was Doon or Done, which was newes to me.  I wondered if she’d heard it from the horses.

Then a stone-cat cried, “True, his name was Done, for he done some scruffing.”

That made us merry, and I thanked them all.

And they called their liking of my Bevis tale, saying they’d never heard it told so well before and they hoped to hear more from me.  Then all ran off, some to their night’s hunting, some home to their kits, others to go a-wooing, and a few to their beds.

Alas, my joy was of the briefest.

I saw my uncle coming at me with his ears down, his eyes black, and his heart engorged with hell.

Toutparmoi - Editor's Note.Gib’s use of the term “queen” for a female cat (he spells it “keween” or “kewene”) is interesting.  The earliest OED reference to a female cat as a “wheen” is late 17th century.

I haven’t come across Gib’s term “stone-cat” (spelled “stoncatt”) for what we would call a tomcat anywhere, though “stone-horse” (a stallion) was in common use in the 16th century.

An urchin is a hedgehog (think of sea-urchins).

The villain in the romance of Bevis of Hampton is the Emperor of Allmayne (Germany), hence the names “Purrer” and “All-mane” that Gib’s audience had heard.