When we came to our first night’s lodging, Linkin and little dog Wattie were carried into the house. I remained in the stable, and slipped from my basket to ease myself. With much relief, for I’d held all in that day.
Then I went into the yard and took a drink from a bucket he’d left ready to wash the horses’ legs.
The boy lay in the straw that night, as did I, but he never saw me.
It was in the stable at our second night’s lodging that I was struck by the pains we queen cats know too well.
That were no marvel, but these pains came untimely. I hied me to a quiet corner, where I brought forth three kits with neither fur nor breath. I covered them with straw, much troubled in my mind and body.
Had I imbreathed some poyson from the herbs? Or did the kits guess I had no safe place to bear and rear them, so chose to leave me and this world together?
Sure, they were more safe with the Queen Cat of Heaven than they could be with me.
“I must see,” sayt the mistress, “how my little garden is faring.” She lifted the lid of my basket, and gaped on me.
Then she sayt, “Good Lord.” And, “Oh, no.”
I do not think she could believe her eyes. I narrowed mine, to sweeten my looks.
Her maidservant laid rough hands on me and pulled me out. I offered no resistance.
The mistress told the boy to take the basket down. When he set it before her she fell on her knees, lifted first one pot then another, and heaved great sighs.
Then all began to speak as if I were not present.
The servants sayt they’d seen me while they were making ready, and that I was oft in the yard with Linkin. They swore they’d thought I’d run off when Wattie came out.
Wattie, hearing his name and knowing all were displeased, put on a face of shame.
The boy also wore a sorry face. “I tended to the horses and the fowls,” he sayt. “But I know nowt of herbs, and never thought of them.”
“The fault’s not yours,” sayt the mistress. “I should have looked to them myself.”
Her maidservant sayt, “Some may yet be saved.”
“And therein lies the lesson for us all,” sayt the mistress.
She rose and dusted down her gown. “Well, we go to a house in mourning, but here’s a tale and a task to cheer my little grandchildren.”
True enough. Though I believe my late uncle would have found fit matter for a sonnet on all things broken in the bud.
The servants fell to marvelling that I’d lain so quiet, and not leapt out along the way.
The mistress sayt, “We can’t abandon her here, so nigh unto the citie. She’ll never find her way home.”
Musick to mine ears. But what came next was not so pleasing. “Put her in with Linkin, and let us hope they will not fight.”
Linkin raised his voice in protest, but none took his meaning. So he contented hisself with giving me evil looks.
I contented myself with thinking on all I hoped to see. The houses where Queen Puss [Bess] dwells. Queen Puss herself. A play. The Tower. The bridge with bad men’s heads on spikes.
Linkin took my thoughts, and made mock of me.
“You think you may walk one little way to see a palace, and another little way to see some other thing? You country clot. The citie is vast, and a cat can scarce go safe about the streets. Masterless ruffians [dogs] haunt every corner, and set upon us for sport. We must leap along the walls and leads [rooves] when we go abroad.”
“May we not go by water?” I arrkst. “I’ve read many in the citie do.”
“How?” arrkst Linkin. “Slip aboard a boat as Nero does, knowing none will harm you for love of your master? You’re not in Titchfield now, you mooncat. Creep onto a citie boat, and you’ll be cast in the river. What a Know-Nowt.”
I lost patience then. “You know nowt of what we queen cats must endure to make our ways in this wicked world,” I cried. “Keep your unkind thoughts to yourself, you fat slug, or get you to hell where you was hatcht.”
“Why, I was hatcht in the citie,” sayt Linkin, soft and sly. “You may well find it hell.”