I had not been to the stable for a long time. When last I went there my mother chased me off because I spake unkindly of my brother, who was her favourite.
My brother was took not long after me, for all now wanted a cat that was kin to my lord’s.
Then he started spreading lies, saying he was the one my lord desired. But, he being spoke for, my lord had to be content with me.
My mother told me I was a fine one to say another lied, and came at me very fierce.
This time it was my sister who came out bristling when I called a greeting at the stable door. Then she sayt, “Oh, it’s you,” and sat herself down.
“What newes?” I arrkst, and offered her the choice little fish I had brought from my lord’s supper. (I did not tell her I had licked the sauce from it.)
She told me our mother was gone from this world. A fool horse had dropped down dead on her, and thus ended her life too.
“Heavy newes, indeed,” I sayt, and could have bit my tongue out. But my sister’s tongue was as wayward as mine own, and she did not reproach me.
“I’m the stable queen now,’ she sayt. “Though so many come looking to take her place my fur is never flat.”
My sister was worried, too, because everywhere the old Earl went he had with him more men than she could number. Now he was dead, there might be fewer men about, and fewer men meant fewer horses. Fewer horses meant less feed, and less feed? Not so many rats and mice.
“Where there’s a stable,” I told her, “there will always be employment for a cat. And our uncle will bring you something for your kitlings. Only remember to keep a rat for him to carry home.”
“Oh, he’s already been here to tell me that,” sayt she, very sour. “He has important work to do, and can’t be running about after rats and mice all night.”
“Then what does he do?” I arrkst.
“He goes,” sayt she, “to the alehouse.”
“What?” I cried, in a maze. “Is he looking for a place there? Does he hope to leave his cook?”
“No, no,” she sayt. “He goes to meet a friend with newes.”
My sister knew more than I thought. So I arrkst her, “Did the old Earl ride out with so many men because he feared a villain wished to kill him?”
“I think the old Earl liked to seem grand,” she sayt. “As our uncle do.”
Then she looked again at the little fish I gave her. “Our uncle sayt you won’t be wanting any mice from me, because you don’t have to catch nothing.”
I told her that was true.
“Then what do you all day?”
“I attend upon our young Earl,” I sayt.
“Oh, that must be hard work,” sayt she. “Then best you be off, your Gibship, in case his lordship has a great desire to scratch you behind your ears.”
That happens when you rise in the world. Your family hooks onto your tail to rise with you, or else they make mock of you.
But I always loved my sister, and we sat a while together in the straw.
Then I saw the old Earl’s horse seeming not to have a care in the world, and I remembered the chief purpose of my visit.
True, my conscience troubled me, for was it right to use a horse (dull-wits that they be) for mine own ends? Then it come to me that he never told me no scandal when he could have done.
So I sprang up on him and whispered in his ear, “Tonight you have the young Earl of Southampton’s cat upon your murkie back, but tomorrow you will have nowt there but the old Earl’s servant Tommik [Thomas Dymock], and he’s an evil man. I pray for your sake that he sits lighter on you than all his sins do sit on his murkie soul. Else he’ll weigh you down to hell.”
Then I left him to think on that, and of how he might rid himself of so loathsome a burden.
But that night I was to pay for my malice in a most horrible way.
Gib’s sister says that the late Earl had with him “more men than she could number”. The most quoted piece of information on the size of his retinue comes from a work entitled Honour in His Perfection (1624) by Gervase Markham (c.1568 – 1637).
The Earl is described as: “… bravely attended and served by the best Gentlemen of those Countries [Counties] wherein he lived; his muster role never consisted of four Lackeys and a Coachman, but of a whole troupe of at least an hundred well mounted Gentlemen and Yeomen; he was not known in the Streets by guarded [ornamented] Liveries, but by Gold Chains; not by painted Butterflies, ever running as if some monster pursued them, but by tall goodly fellows that kept a constant pace both to guard his person, and to admit any man to their Lord which had serious business.”
Gervase Markham is almost certainly exaggerating, but I like his scornful description of the retinues of his day. Particularly the painted Butterflies.
“That happens when you rise in the world. Your family hooks onto your tail to rise with you, or else they make mock of you.” Swish your tail, dear Gib. But honestly, let me rise in the world, and all those in my family who’ve been nice to me will get a free ride on my tail…but let me tell you, your Gibship, there haven’t been many of those. Most’ve been nasty…and for them I’ll just swish my tail…oops! Did I just break a cup?
Well, by the way Gib finished his latest “book”, it sounds like he’s going to get his comeuppance! And what is his uncle up to? Let’s hope Gib’s still-to-be-transcribed books reveal all.
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He’s quite a storyteller…and that piques my curiosity. What’s his uncle up to? Hmmm…
Alone but for humans–though Gib and his sister are true survivors, so I’m not too angst-ridden.
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