My friends are called Puss [Bess], Moll, and Harry. Those are the names of Her Majestie, our Earl’s sister, and our Earl hisself. I believe their mother and father are ignorant, and know no other names.
We went towards the bridge.
There was more folks about than usual. Or more young wenches, I should say.
I kept my eyes wide and my ears pricked for strange dogs. My friends’ eyes were wide, too. They looked back often. I guessed they feared their mother might come after them. I’ve seen her pulling weeds in the garden, and know her to be fierce.
Then I caught the sound of horses. But no wild musick, as there was when Her Majestie last came hither.
I nosed the air as best I could.
Above the leafy scents of my conveyance and my company, I caught a whiff of tobacco smoke. And another of old man. Two scents that Nero always has about him.
My friends halted. Moll and Harry sat with me by the road while Puss took the cart some way off.
I know Nero does not love Her Majestie, she being so careless of all the poor sailors who have suffered hurts and maims for her sake. I was of a mind to join him and learn why he waited there.
“Hold him,” called Puss. “Don’t let him run away.”
I knew they could not hold me if I chose to flee, so I lingered, ever watchful.
Puss sayt that ivy signified fidelity and it looked well.
I believe ivy is a fit garnish for a poet. (As are bays, though I know not what they are.)
But I feared that, had I need to run, my garland might slip low and trip me.
All heared the sound of horses then. Moll lifted me. She clasped me tight about my breast, but my belly was exposed (unseemlie) and my toes touched the ground. Harry seized my feet, and so I hung between them.
I felt fool, but kept my countenance lest Nero should make a song of this to spite me.
Then what do I see but a knot of young gentlemen riding towards us. I do not like young men, gentle or otherwise. They oft take pleasure in setting their dogs on us cats.
Time to take my leave. As I gathered my strength to break free, Puss stepped into the road, and made a curtsey.
One gentleman raised his hand, and all drew rein.
“Well,” sayt he, “what have we here?” And oh, I knew that voice.
Puss made another curtsey, and sayt, “Your lordship, we have brought your cat to greet you.”
“My cat?” sayt he. And again, “My cat?”
All with him laughed.
My friends seemed dismayed. Then, of a sudden, my lord handed his reins to another and sprang down from his horse.
He was most gracious. He arrkst my friends their names, which he sayt were excellent. And then their father’s name, and what he did.
He praised my garland of ivy so high that little Harry was overwhelmed, addressed him as Mr Earl, dropped my feet, and fell down on his bum.
My lord helped him rise. Then he took me from Moll, and held me with one arm about my back. I was affrighted, and gripped his shoulder with my claws. His hair was ticklesome, and so long I could see nowt behind us.
When he remounted his horse and took his reins in his free hand my heart near failed me.
My lord told another to give my friends each a penny for their pains.
“So much, your lordship?” arrkst the saucie rogue. “You may be offered cats where’re you go.”
“Their father is my servant,” sayt my lord, most cool.
I never rode by horse before. I’d done no more than sit upon them while they stood in field or stable. I knew my uncle travelled in a knapsack on his cook’s back, to the great wonderment of all. And I’d told of how the cankered cat rode behind Sir Waine, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
So I took courage, as we poets must when we find ourselves in the midst of things that once were marvels or mere fancies.
I knew Nero had his eyes on me. And I remembered how he sayt ’twas passing brave to be the cat that walked in triumph through Constantinople.
Well, I’m the cat that rode in triumph to Place House.