There came a sweet night with a fat moon. Linkin and I knew leaf fall was nigh, and we sat upon our roof tasting the air.
Many cats were a-stir. We watched them making their ways across the rooves to Paws [St Paul’s], and guessed this was the night for an assembly.
I caught a waft of cinnamon, and saw Onix. He checked hisself when he saw Linkin, but then (Linkin showing no objection to his presence) he joined us.
He abased hisself so low in friendship he near rolled off our roof. Then he righted hisself, addressing Linkin as Your Excellencie. Thinking (most like) that Linkin also served our Earl.
Linkin sayt nowt to correct him.
Onix told us his mistress was fetched out so sudden that her maid, running behind her with her stool, had no time to chase him back into their shop.
“Her stool?” I arrkst, in a maze. “Are citie cows milked so late?”
That made Onix and Linkin merry.
Onix sayt, “When next my mistress tells me I must bide in at night, I’ll tell her so should she, for the cows are all a-bed.”
Then he sayt his mistress was no milkmaid but a midwife sworn, of good report among all.
I was shamed that I’d not guessed this, even though there was no call for midwives in my mother’s barn, nor in my uncle’s bookroom.
Onix was going to Paws, and invited us to go with him.
I thought Linkin would not come, but he followed slow and statelie.
Then Onix turned instructive. Viz:
“First, all must do the bidding of Paws herself, for she keeps both church and yard and no cat may be received there without she say so.”
And, “None may speak unless they’re called upon by Paws, else there’ll be nowt but wauls and brawls and we shall go away no wiser than we came.”
And, “You may be arrkst to give an account of yourselves, so all may know you’re not from strange lands. There are some in this citie who hate strangers.”
And, “Say nothing against Her Majestie.”
In truth, my heart sank when I heared all this, but Linkin gave me the look that sayt: You’re not in Titchfield now. So I kept my thoughts well hid.
We leapt up the wall and down to the yard, where cats were gathering in a circle. A grey queen sat watching all.
Being new, Linkin and I took places at the back, as is courteous.
Before Onix left us, he arrkst if it were true that Her Majestie had sent Mistress Fur-None – her ladyship, as all must now call her – to the prison nigh unto the Stink River [the Fleet].
“For,” he sayt, “a woman in kit should not look on ugly things nor dwell in noisome places, lest the babe takes some hurt thereby. Or comes ugly and stinkish into this world.”
Was ever a babe born that was not ugly and stinkish? I sayt nowt.
Linkin told Onix that we’d heard that newes, but could not swear to it.
Then near me one whispered, “Sister, I could have sworn we was at Paws, but have we strayed among the fields? Can you not nose a country coney?”
There came the reply, “In truth, sister, I nosed nowt but a passing grocer’s fart that near struck me dead.”
That were Picker and Stealer, the cats that insulted me when first we met.
Onix looked back, hissing, “My master is no mere grocer, as you well know, and my mistress carries with her nowt that is not healthful.”
Then the grey queen cat, who I guessed was Paws herself, stepped forward and called all to order.
And no surprise that Tricks finds Onix prim and proper. Cats share the preoccupations of their households, and midwives were pillars of their communities.
Midwives were supposed to be licensed by the local ecclesiastical authority – though this didn’t always happen, particularly in country districts. There’s an example of an Elizabethan midwife’s oath printed in John Strype’s Annals of the Reformation… Vol 1 Part 2 (1824 ed).
In summary, Eleonor Pead swears to exercise her office according to her God-given knowledge and skill, help both poor and rich women, endeavour to ensure that only the true father of the child is named as such, permit no baby to be substituted at birth, use no sorcery or incantation, not destroy or dismember any child, and use only proper words and pure water when performing an emergency baptism (i.e. if the child is not likely to survive).
Onix’ announcement that his master was no mere grocer explains his master’s occupation.
Apothecaries (the equivalent of our pharmacists) both used and sold spices, which were considered to have medicinal value. At the end of the 16th century apothecaries were still members of the Grocers Company, but in 1617 The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London was incorporated.