96:  A Lesson for Wattie before Our Going

After I had done with Linkin, I remained in the stable.  I did not conceal myself, but sat bold-arst in the straw.

’Twas not long before little dog Wattie frisked in, and saw me.

A head and shoulders portrait of a soulful looking young brown and white spaniel against a carved wooden chair back.
Little Dog Wattie.

I lay on my side and stretched myself to show my belly.

He sprang towards me.  I did not move.  The nearer he drew, the shorter and higher he must leap, because he did not wish to fall on me.

Next he gambolled around me.  I gazed at the roof-beams.

He grew bold and nosed my belly.  This familiarity troubled me, and I was tempted to strike him a blow, but I forbore.

That set him about.  He ceased snorting and snuffling in my fur, and crept behind me.

I lay fast, but my tail twitched of itself.  The young imp took the tip between his teeth and pulled.

The horses were joyed to see me so discomforted.  “Say, do we not think that cat is fool?” arrkst one.

“Yea,” came the answer.  “That cat is fool.”

Then Wattie tugged my tail so fierce he shifted me in the straw.  Twice.

The horses marvelled at my forbearance.

“Were that dog to use us in like manner,” sayt one, “would we not kick him?”

“In sooth, we would,” came the reply.

But Wattie understood the lesson.  Viz, I would run from him only when I chose.

So he returned to my belly, thrust his nose deep into my fur, and spake a word that was full of sound and fury but signified nothing.  Then he went in search of better sport.

Why did I not spare myself this strange usage by telling Wattie I hoped to travel with him?

No dog can keep a secret.  They blab others’ secrets with their noses, and their own with their eyes and tails.  All I desired from Wattie was his silence.

That evening I went forth and caught a rabbit.  I ate all for my supper, because I knew I might not eat for many days.

The servants came before dawn, and set down their bundles, bags, and baskets in the yard.  I walked among them in broad view.

The horses were brought forth.

Linkin sat in a large basket, lamenting aloud.  The lid had been made fast.  He could do no more than thrust out a paw.

“Be of good cheer,” sayt I, and continued my inspections.  

Other baskets held favourite hens, lest London eggs prove unwholesome, and bottles of wine, and choice pasties.  Gifts for the friends Linkin’s mistress would lodge with on the way.

Then I nosed a basket scented with fresh soil.  Its lid was loose, and I raised it.  This basket was lined with damp mosses, and held many little plants in pots packed close together.

I guessed these were the herbs that Linkin’s mistress brewed to make her broths and oyntments.

Her servants were busy with the saddles, or the harness for the pair that were to bear the baggage.  None was watching me.

I slipped in, and settled myself on the pots.  Some plants were tied to little sticks that shifted readily.  Others were no more than slips or twigs that broke beneath my weight.

I alone heard that.  The servants were loud in their talk of balancing the loads, bring me that bundle, truss these two together, hang that from here, etcetera.

The boy who lifted my basket sayt, “That’s heavier than I thought ’twould be.”

A man came to help him, saying, “The pots are full of good soil, and all have been well-watered.”

None looked in on me.

Then came Linkin’s mistress with Wattie, too intoxicate with his own excitations to pay me any heed.

The mistress was handed to her horse.  A man helped her maidservant onto his, and she held the leading rein of the horse that bore me.  Another manservant was mounted with the boy.  They led the other horse.

As we crossed the bridge I looked back through my basket at our Earl’s great house, and glimpsed Nero lying low atop a wall, watching all.

A rusty black cat lying on top of a wall.

He did not seem grieved to see us go, but I’d known him since I learnt one cat’s scent from another’s.  I could not believe I might never see him more.

Wattie had wished to run behind us until his legs tired.  Then I guessed he would ride with the mistress or on the luggage.

I prayed the horses would not think he meant to seize their tails, and take pleasure in kicking him.  I was sure I could find a use for Wattie.

I well recall how sweet the air smelled that spring morn.  And the herbs that lay crushed beneath me.

I could scarce believe what I had done.


95:  My Doings at Linkin’s House

A black, white and orange cat against a background of flames.The day after Linkin told all that his mistress would go to London, I paid him another visit.

“I believe,” sayt I, setting down the fat rat I carried, “that I was too hastie in my first reading of my uncle’s Will.  I’ve seen now that he was most desirous for you to have a rat, even though you sought no fee from him.”

Linkin scarce looked at it.  I feared he was still offended with me.

“Caught this very morn,” sayt I. “In the malthouse.  A fragrant gift for your mistress.”

Linkin sayt nowt.

“My uncle,” sayt I, “set great store by your friendship.  He praised your wisdom many a time.  Even when there was none to hear him do it.”

Then I chanced to look up and saw that sly rogue Nero watching from behind the hedge.  He narrowed his eyes and turned away, but I knew he’d guessed what I was at.  I prayed he’d keep his thoughts to hisself.

Linkin sayt, “My house is turned topsy-turvy.  Our bed pulled down before mine eyes, and taken by a carrier.”

“Is your mistress still within?” I arrkst.

“No,” sayt Linkin, distracted.  “She rose early.”

(This answer so joyed Nero that he fell on his back and lay with his feet in the air.) 

“I mean,” sayt I, “is she still within the house?”  I feared I’d come too late and his mistress was gone.

“She’s making baskets ready,” sayt Linkin.  “And when I sat in one she spake a wicked word and cast me out the door.”   

“Are you not to go with her?” I arrkst, dismayed.

“I believe I shall.  She sayt that what she would not entrust to carriers will travel with her.  But I never thought to see the day when I’d share a horse with fowl.”

A brightly coloured rooster standing against a fence.

“You’ll go on horseback?”  I’d thought there’d be a cart I could slip aboard.

“I told you,” sayt Linkin.  “She’s preparing baskets.  But what if some calamity befalls us on the way, and I cannot free myself?  How can I flee robbers?  Our dog Wattie has sworn to protect me.  Well, he may talk fierce, but he is little.”

“Courage, friend,” called Nero, slipping through the hedge.  “Did not your mistress and her servants win the day when they gave battle in Cambridge-town?”

“That,” sayt Linkin, “was afore I was born.  I know no more of it than you do.”

“You know your mistress bought a brace of pistols when all feared the Spanish,” sayt Nero.  “Certes, she’ll carry them charged upon her saddle bow.  Best you tell her horse not to stumble, else they may discharge theirselves at him.  Or you.”

A black cat looking thoughtful.
Nero – Sea Cat, Adventurer, Poet, and Troublemaker.

He paused, then sayt, “Now tell me, friend, has your mistress prepared a basket for me?”

I knew Nero arrkst that in jest, but his words set Linkin about.  He wants no chamber-fellow.

“What?” cried Linkin. “Would you desert your master, who took you in after your old captain died?  You live well in his house.  He dropped by not long since with a bag of kitchen-eel [cochineal], and my mistress paid him in good coin.”

“True,” sayt Nero.  “We have a box of it that fell from a ship in Portsmouth.  And Queen Puss has so much to sell she’s forbid the import of more.  That keeps the price high, and us in choice vittles.  I thought to make a song of it, but verses on the Perilous Peregrinations of Mrs Quickfire and the Custard Cat will gather more applauds.”

I sayt, in haste, to Linkin, “You came safe here from London.  Sure, you can return safe.”

“I was little more than a kitling then,” sayt Linkin.  “I kept snug beneath my master’s coat, and we made good speed.”

“Then think not of this tedious journey, but of your destination.  Where will you lodge in the citie?”

That cheered him.  “I’ve never seen the house,” he sayt, “but I hear ’tis most commodious.  And nigh unto the Strand, where noble Essex dwells.  My mistress saw him ride by once.  He doffed his cap and bent his head to her.”

“Looking at her bubs, most like,” sayt Nero.  “Has she not a very fair pair?”

“Well, friend,” sayt I to Linkin, “All shall be sad to see you go.  When comes that day?”

“Soon,” sayt Linkin.  “If we have fair weather.”

“I’ll bide here till then,” sayt I.  “For ’twill grieve me to lose you so close upon my uncle.”

“Ah,” sayt Nero.  “Parting is such sweet sorrow.  As your uncle once sayt.”

“Didn’t he also say that a cat may whurr and whurr, yet be a villain?” I arrkst Nero.

Then I sayt to Linkin, “Best you offer your mistress this fine rat before Wattie your dog snaps it and wins the praise that should be yours.  And then I should like to make the akwayntance of the horse who’ll carry you.  Shall Wattie also ride with you?”

Wattie loved to chase me.  There was no malice in him; he thought I was his playfellow, but I feared he could end my voyage to the citie before it was begun.

A small section from a 1572 map of London.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorTravel wasn’t easy in Elizabethan England.  However, this is a journey Linkin’s mistress must have made many times, though with less luggage.

Nero thinks Linkin is over-anxious.  Custard Cat may have been a reference to Linkin’s ginger and white fur, but “custard” also meant “coward”.  Does anyone else remember the children’s chant of “Cowardy cowardy custard”?

Mind you, Nero had returned a hero from the Earl of Essex’ Islands Voyage the previous year, along with so much cochineal and indigo from captured Spanish cargoes that the market was at risk of being flooded.