Our next assembly was a small one. Most stone-cats stayed away, for they guessed I would not bring a tale of blood and scruffing. The queen cats came. They knew something of the strange customs of men and women, and hoped to learn more.
I told what I had learnt of the old Earl’s written will.
My lord the young Earl would get most, and his sister my lady Moll a goodly sum of money provided she live with her aunt or another lady (but never with her mother the Countess), and marry who she was told by they who managed the will.
That set the queens off. One called, “Is it true that, were I a woman and some stinkard chanced to put a she-kit in my belly, he can say for whom that kit must hoist her tail when she be grown?”
“And,” called another, “do you now tell us that, should the stinkard die, he can gift that honour to his friends?”
“It is and I do,” I sayt. “But we need not fear for the young lady, because good Master Tommik has the say over all.”
They arrkst what the Countess would have. I looked to my uncle, because he had made me swear to say nowt of ladies and I knew by that he meant the Countess. But he gave me a nod.
So I told them that the Countess would get what was agreed to with her father in the time before she became wife to the old Earl, and little more.
“But Master Tommik,” I sayt, “a most deserving gentleman, will be made rich. He gets money, the old Earl’s horse, the use of a house and much land, and even more money in return for keeping close to my lord the young Earl.”
Oh, that did vex me, because I feared this rogue Tommik would take my place in my lord’s bed and at his table, but I gave no sign of it.
The queen cats grew roisterous. Some called that the Countess should have her kits, they being yet so young and silly. It was a scandal.
So, he gone, I agreed that the Earl’s will was a scandal. He had promised more than he owned.
“Though Master Tommik,” I sayt, “whom we all revere as we do the Queen Cat of Heaven, because he is a very god in this household, is not like to lack for nothing.”
Then I told them that the old Earl wanted a fine house built to lodge in now he was dead. No hole in the ground for him. And he wanted another house built for his dead mother, and his father to be dug out of his hole and brought there to lodge with her.
“And why all this foolerie?” I called. “Because the old Earl had a maggot in his brains that bred more maggots for company.”
Oh, that did make my hearers prick their ears.
Then I offered embellishments. I spake very large about maggots. I told how I saw them wriggle from the old Earl’s nose and ears and drop onto the floor, where they turned into a host of little devils that flew away with his soul.
“His soul was very holey,” I sayt, “because they maggots had ate well of it.”
Some cats called that they had seen those little devils go flying by. My sister sayt she mistook them for a crew of thieving bats that was carrying off a colander, and she thanked me for telling them the truth of it.
So all went away very merry.
And I arrkst myself how I might keep my place with the young Earl safe from the claws of this Tommik. I had not the strength to do him harm, but I knew of one who did.
The man Gib refers to as Tommik (the cats have difficulty with human names) is one of the Earl’s gentlemen, Thomas Dymock. See 8: A Painful Interview. However, it’s not clear if Gib knew which of the gentlemen he was!
The Countess, when she set out to contest the will, launched an attack against “gentle Mr Dymock, void either of wit, ability, or honesty.” She noted that her late husband had made Dymock “his wife, by giving him all and to myself nothing that he could put from me.” As his wife, she could have expected to be chief executor of his will.
She and the Earl had separated, so it’s not surprising that he excluded her from any administrative responsibility, but he also excluded her father with whom he had once been on good terms. Presumably, the Earl’s aim was to minimise his wife’s chances of access to their children, then aged 8 and about 10. His will made clear that their daughter would forfeit her inheritance if she went to live with her mother.
The Countess also thought that their daughter had been left not much better off than Thomas Dymock.