31: The Mad Cat’s Story

A Cat standing in the moonlightThe Mad Cat kept calling for a goodly tale from which all might learn something.

So I, not being ready with a tale that would spite the Sea Cat Nero, told of the Fox and the Cat.   A tale I have writ of before.  All listened most respective, but Nero looked scornful.

Then a cat, in jest, arrkst the Mad Cat for a tale.

The Mad Cat sayt he would tell no lies, but could give a true account of his coming hither from the town of Cambridge.

I sayt I would be glad to hear it, because my lord the young Earl is in college there.  I wished to know more of the town and how its learned folk conduct theirselves.

He began, “Nine winters past, when I was but a kitling new-weaned, the Queen Cat of Heaven spake a word to me.  She told me to set forth and rid this world of Sin.”

That set all screeching.

The young cat that is wise beyond his winters sayt, most civil, “No, friend.  Sin is the province of men and women.  We cats do only what is needful to live, and to joy ourselves if we have time enough.”

“So some say,” replied the Mad Cat.  “But my mistress reads aloud to us of an evening, and I know there was once a time when all creatures dwelt most peaceable together in a beauteous garden.  There was no unkindness, nor killing, nor being killed.”

Albrecht Durer_1471-1528_ The Fall of Man, showing Adam and Eve with several different animals, including a cat and a mouse.
Albrecht Dürer’s The Fall. First the apple was eaten. Then the mouse?

“Then what did we cats eat?” called one.

The Mad Cat sayt, “Green herbs.”

I could not stop myself.  I called, “Was they served with gravy?”

A great screech went up.

Then I felt shamed for mocking this poor cat.

I sayt, “Friend, pray continue with your account of Cambridge town.”

He sayt, “I crept along the street, looking for Sin – “

“Like many before you, and since,” came a call.

“ – until I hungered and thirsted, so sat me down by what I took for an hospitable door.  A man in drink came out and cried: What’s that thing doing here?”

“Ridding you of Sin,” called some.

The Mad Cat did not heed them.  “The drunkard fetched a sack and dropped me in it.  I feared he meant to cast me in the river.”

The side of a river.

More screeches. “You tempted him.”

I rose and called for peace, saying, “We’ve had our mirth and merriment.  Now we must permit our friend to speak.”

A stone-cat glared at me.

I added, “If that mislikes any among you, then we may meet on the morrow and settle it like cats of honour.”

“What?” called another stone-cat, bristling up.  “You mean to fight us all?”

“No,” sayt Nero, rising.  “We mean to fight you all.”  Seeing my surprise, he hissed, “Some might say we poets are as hare-brained as he.  We must stick together.”

“I thank you,” sayt the Mad Cat, casting up his eyes to the moon (which to the best of my knowledge had not spake a word).  “But mockery is no discouragement.  Indeed, it fuels my fire.”

That silenced all.  We sat again, though many tails were twitching.  The Mad Cat continued his story.

“There were holes in the sack.  I thrust a paw through one, and put my eye to another.  I saw a gentlewoman, her maidservant, and her man, about to mount their horses.

“This gentlewoman, a widow as I later learnt, had a boy in college.  She’d come to see that he kept hisself clean in soul and body, wore warm clothes, and was not given to idleness.  Then she stayed to buy herself a book or two before her journey home.

“I reached out to hook her gown and called aloud for aid.  She turned and arrkst the drunkard what he did.  She sayt ’twere wickedness to use any creature ill, and told him she would take the sack.

“The wretch sayt he could not refuse her, because she had a pretty pair of bubs. Then he made to grope them.  Whereat her manservant gave him a shove that sat him down amidst the horses’ dung.

“A tavern door spewed forth its dregs, I mean his friends.  They set upon the manservant.  My mistress laid her riding switch about their ears, while he traded blow for blow.  The maid wrenched a stick from one, then beat him with it.

“A clot of scholars ran to help us, calling:  Aid!  Aid for the fair lady and her damsel!

“Other men called:  A fight! A fight!  Some hasted to join the wretch that caused the strife.  And in truth, ’twere he and his friends who now required aid. 

“Then some little boys and girls, who’d favoured none and thrown muck at all, called a warning and ran off.  All scattered, my mistress and her servants riding switch and spur [at full speed] with me jouncing in the sack.  I was offered refreshment at the house where we lodged that night, and so came here rejoicing.”

St John's College, where Gib's young Earl was studying.
St John’s College, where Gib’s young Earl was.

The other cats praised his report on the fight, and took their leave most amiable.

Sayt I to my sister, “Think you that cat is mad?”

“Mad?” sayt she.  “He’s a prating puritan, like to his mistress and all her household.”

“Then what learnt you from his goodly story?” I arrkst her.

“Never get into a fight with them,” sayt she.


24: Fortune’s Wheel

Folk say that Fortune is fickle.  When first I heared of her, I thought she was a haughty queen cat.  (I was but a kitling.)

Then I believed her to be what men and women call a goddess.  For they seek her favour, catlicks and error-ticks alike, when they play at cards or dice.

But there is more.

One time I saw in a book that she has a great wheel on which she do raise men and women up and cast them down, with no thought for their joys or sorrows.

And now I fear she will cast me down too.

Fortune's Wheel, showing blindfolded Dame Fortune and a diverse group of men and women.
Fortune’s Wheel, from La Danse aux Aveugles by 15th century poet Pierre Michault.  Artist unknown, via Wikimedia Commons.

First, my friend Smokie gave newes that his young mistress is to marry and go to a new place.

He sayt he too may be welcome there, because her sweet-heart is most affable.

This sweet-heart is a carrier who drives the roads hereabouts, carting goods and gear.

He brought a horse to Smokie’s shop [the smithy] for a shoe, and had his first sight of the young mistress.

She was drawing water from the well.  Her sweet-heart came by often after that.  The master sayt he never knowed horses to want for so many shoes.

Next, Smokie told me that the young mistress arrkst if she might take him with her when she wed.  The master and the mistress laughed, and sayt all should have a new son and a daughter such as theirs, who desire no greater marriage portion than a cat.

“But they will give her more than me,” sayt Smokie, “for they love her dearlie.”

I sayt, “They could give nothing to compare with you, for all love you dearlie.”

But I kept my countenance.  And, lest Smokie should think I was not so well-esteemed as he, I added that my young lady Moll was also to be married (this much is true), and I was like to go with her.

Or mayhap I would go with my lord to a college in Cambridge (a place of learning) and continue my education.

A blue cat sitting on a path.Smokie sayt that we were fortunate indeed.  And, were we to part, he never would forget me.

“Nor I you,” I sayt.

We agreed we never could forget, for we have passed so many days together I have his scents and he has mine.  And we have but one soul in our two bodies, as true friends do.  Or so the flossers [philosophers] say.

I know little of our soul, but oh, my heart is heavie.

My house is quiet, for my lady Moll and all are gone hence again.

Smokie’s household is a-buzz.  He heared the master and the mistress talking of him in their bed. 

The mistress sayt she were sorrie to lose him.  The master sayt he was a good cat in the shop for he kept hisself from underfoot, and was not affrighted by the noise nor the dogs that come in with their masters.

And the boy has been saying to his sister: Smokie is my cat, not yours.  So now Smokie believes he will remain here.

I arrkst him which would please him better, and he sayt it did not trouble him.  He would be content wherever he may dwell.  And I believe he spake true.

Smokie has the gift of happiness.

I do not.

This night a dog barked far off and I near leapt out of my skin, then made haste to conceal myself.  I know not why.  I’m not afeared of dogs.

But I fear what Fortune and the morrow may bring.

The Moon and Fortune. An oddly surreal picture showing a crescent moon at the edge of a blue face, a woman whose own face is covered by long hair, and a wheel which animals sit on.
The Moon and Fortune. By an unknown artist for Evert Zoudenbalch (1424-1503)

Toutparmoi - Editor's Note.This is one of the few pieces of Gib’s writing that can be dated.  Lady Mary Wriothesley married Thomas Arundell in June 1585 in London.  Later that year her brother the young Earl (he turned 12 in October) went to St John’s College in Cambridge.  So this must have been written mid-1585.