For so great was my fear I did forget this cat was full-fed on broiled herring, and believed that hungrie Lion Rampant had me.
“My name is not Lion,” he sayt. “You may call me Grey, as the saying goes. Do you know it?”
I did not. So he spake in a strange tongue that was like to the Latin I had learnt in the school room. I heared something about night and a cat, but could not take his meaning.
“Forgive me, Master Grey,” I sayt, “I have small Latin.”
“That was not Latin, but the tongue of wicked papistical men who wish to rule us all. The English of it is: By night all cats are grey.”
“Very true,” sayt I, most respective, but he did not lift his paw from my head.
“I hear you go freely about the Earl’s house, and are privy to its secrets,” he sayt. “I hear you gave newes of the old Earl’s will.”
“I did. Shall I tell it?”
“I know it,” sayt he.
And I thought, this must be the cat for whom my uncle gathers newes.
“Then how may I be of service, Master Grey?”
“I hear,” he sayt, “that you saw maggots leap from the old Earl’s head and turn into little devils that carried off his soul.”
That set me about, I must confess. My uncle was gone before I spake of maggots. This Grey had ears everywhere.
“An innocent embellishment.” I sayt. “A divertisement for my friends.”
“Understand,” he sayt, in his sweet little voice, “I want no diversion from you. If you lie to me, we will stretch you. Have you ever seen the fullers at their work, stretching their cloth upon the tenter frame? So will you be stretched, my young friend. Then we will leave you at Lord Purrlie’s door that he may use your spotty pelt to mend the lining of his robe.”
I was too affrighted to speak a word.
“I do think it a pity,” sayt Grey, “that Lord Purrlie did not take the old Earl’s head off his shoulders when he had him prisoner. That’s the best remedy for a maggot that I know.”
I had heared this Lord Purrlie spoke of as an evil error-tick [heretic].
I bethought me of the Bevis book, and understood that the heathens, that is the error-ticks, were ready to take my lord.
And this Grey was likely one of them.
“What I would have you do,” he sayt, “is keep close to the old Earl’s daughter. Lord Purrlie will have your lord. He and his learned lady like to get their claws on little Earls with no fathers. And they like it even better when those Earls are little papists in need of correction.”
“Forgive me, Master Grey,” I sayt, “I know nowt of papists.”
“Then I will tell you. For henceforth, my young friend, you will watch papists as you never learnt to watch a mouse, and you will keep your newes for me.”
The “strange tongue” Grey speaks is Spanish: De noche todos los gatos son pardos. Fears of a Spanish/Catholic invasion (the “wicked papistical men”) were rife well before the Spanish Armada set sail in 1588.
When Grey threatens Gib with stretching he’s thinking of the rack, but uses an image Gib would understand. Fullers prepared woollen cloth by cleaning and felting it before stretching it on a frame to dry, where it was fastened with tenterhooks.
“Lord Purrlie” is William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520-1598), Queen Elizabeth’s chief adviser. His “learned lady” is his second wife, the scholar and translator Mildred Cooke (1526-1589).
The 2nd Earl of Southampton was a prisoner in the Tower from October 1571 until May 1573 as a result of his Catholic connections. Had he not died he may well have been there again, because he was said to have been in contact (via the ubiquitous Thomas Dymock) with the Jesuit Edmund Campion (b. 1540) who was captured in late July, and executed in December 1581.