When Onix next called, I meant to tell him of the quarrel betwixt His Harryship and his mother.
Before I could say owt, Onix arrkst me if I knew that Puss Fur-None [Elizabeth Vernon] had brought forth a pretty she-kit.
I was vexed that I did not.
I arrkst him if his mistress had been called to attend upon her.
He sayt she’d heard the newes from friends. And that Lady Southampton (as he called Puss Fur-None) had likely been attended by Lady Rich’s midwife.
(Onix, being a cat of the middling sort, always spake most respective of great folks.)
“By Lady Rich, mean you the lady Penelope? She that is cousin to Puss Fur-None and own sister to the Earl of Essex?” arrkst I, knowing I’d heard of that lady before.
“The same,” he sayt. “And certes, Lady Rich has brought forth so many fine kits she would be a fit companion for the young Lady Southampton in her first travail.”
“True,” sayt I, still displeased that he’d heard this newes before me.
I arrkst, “Know you why she has so many fine kits? It’s because she took a lesson from us queen cats, and has hoist her tail for more than one stout he. Lord Rich is still living, but Lord Mountjoy is her husband in all but name.”
“That’s wicked talk,” sayt Onix.
But he did not deny it, nor could he.
Then, as was ever the way when Onix and I were together, Picker and Stealer showed their saucie faces.
I swear they sat upon the citie wall watching for a chance to vex me.
“Well met!” called Picker, averting her eyes most courteous.
“We bring newes to glad your heart,” sayt Stealer.
When villains speak with honey tongues, ’tis time to sharp your wits and wear a face as sweet as their words.
“We thought you should know,” sayt Picker, “that your Earl is come from France.”
“And has been sent to lie in no less a lodging than the Fleet, so gracious is Her Majestie,” sayt Stealer.
“A dank, noisome, and unwholesome place,” sayt Onix.
“It speaks!” cried Picker. “Cry you mercy, friend. We took you for a scented nose-wipe.”
“Fresh spat into,” added Stealer. “By one with lung-rot.”
Onix should learn to sharp his wits or keep silent.
I sayt in haste, “Let us be thankful that Earls have better accommodation in prison than you’re ever like to see.”
“E’en so, he’s cursing Dame Fortune,” sayt Picker. “What did he win by wedding Puss Fur-None? No money, nor no land. An end to his travels. The wrath of his mother, and the malice of Queen Puss. And now a mere daughter, to crown all.”
“He told you so hisself, did he?” I arrkst.
“There’s no prison in this citie we can’t slip into,” boasted Stealer.
“Slipping into prison is no great matter,” sayt I. “Slipping out again requires more art.”
“As your Earl may well learn, if he don’t please Queen Puss,” sayt Picker.
“And how should he do that? Send her a sonnet in praise of her beauty?”
“Now there’s a merry thought,” sayt Stealer. “Worse lies are told every day. And all know poets are liars, in prison or out.”
“Was not your uncle a famous poet?” arrkst Picker. “And are you not a skoller? Best you pen a sonnet that your Earl can put his name to.”
“My Earl would not so abase hisself,” sayt I. “He would rather be a lion on the field of battle than a lamb in the Queen’s presence.”
“Then let us pray that he has a sword that cannot rust, a coat of well-greased leather, and a horse with swans’ feet.”
“Indeed,” sayt I.
Swans’ feet? On a horse? Those sly sisters knew more than they were telling.
Elizabeth Vernon gave birth to a daughter in early November 1598. (Like Tricks, I’ll keep on referring to her by her maiden name so as not to confuse her with the Earl’s mother, the Countess of Southampton senior.)
Around the same time, the Earl returned to England and was sent to the Fleet Prison.
Elizabeth Vernon may already have had a brief stay there, but this is uncertain. One London gossip reported in early September that the Queen had commanded that “the sweetest and best appointed chamber in the Fleet,” be provided for her.
However, I’m not convinced that Queen Elizabeth would have risked imprisoning an Earl’s wife so far into her pregnancy.
The London gossips were having a field day at the expense of Elizabeth Vernon and her Earl, but the Queen would have been blamed if a premature birth had resulted in the death of the child and perhaps the mother.