I did not fear the cannon.
When I was a kitling, snug beside my mother in our barn, I heard our sea-friend Nero tell of these monsters.
He sayt they were all sound and smoke and stinks like unto the mouth of Hell and the dogs that guard it.
Coward dogs. For even as they bark they spring back from where they stand, and would as lief kill those that tend them as their enemies.
They can do nowt when they’re not fed with shot and powder. Nero oft spake of a time when the Spanish came at us, and Queen Puss was too purse-moanious to buy her cannon vittles enough to assalt the Spanish ships.
Would she spend money to assalt Essex House? The courteous Captain in the garden seemed to think so.
While he begged us to yield, I thought a little more on my kitlinghood. Once, in an ill humour, I arrkst my mother if she’d ever wondered why she was born.
She sayt she knew the first time she brought forth her kits. As would I, in time.
In a worser humour, I went to my uncle Gib. He sayt, “I knew the first time I rose up to tell lies, and the words hatched unbidden in my head and flew forth as poesie.”
Now that were something.
The Captain was telling my Earl that if the cannon could not blast us out then the Lord Admiral would blow up our house. And us with it!
My Earl was no more gulled [fooled] than I. He sayt, “Let his lordship do his pleasure. We would rather die like men with swords in our hands than on the scaffold ten days hence.”
Brave words. I bristled up with my claws in my paws.
A chill wind pulled my tail one way and my fur another. It was now too dark for any soldier to see, but some held torches and lanthorns aloft. Their flames, like my fur and my Earl’s hair, twisted this way and that.
That was when I knew why I was born. And why my mother reared me, why my uncle taught me, why I hid in the herb basket and came to the citie. All for this.
Oh, what a night that were. And I was one with it, and with the wind, the smoke, the flames, the voice of the river rising beyond the wall.
Then crazie Essex joined us on the roof. I guessed he’d finished his letter-burnings.
He spake sweet to the Captain and the soldiers in the garden below.
He sayt how grieved he was that all should find theirselves here when they loved each other so well. It was the fault of his enemies. Etcetera.
Essex sayt that he hated his life and was not loathe to die. Indeed, he wished he had died when he was sick not long since.
None was so discourteous as to call, “We wish you had, too.”
(He were fortunate to be speaking to soldiers, not saucie cats.)
The Captain went away and returned to say the Lord Admiral had arrkst that the ladies and gentlewomen in the house be sent forth. He promised them safe conduct to any place of their choosing.
My Earl offered thanks, but sayt, “Pray pardon us if we prefer our safetie before their freedom. We spent much time fortifying this house, and if we make a passage to let out our ladies, we also make one to let you in.”
Then he sayt, most cunning, that if the Lord Admiral would grant us one hour to open the passage and another hour to make it fast again, the ladies could leave.
The Captain brought answer that this would be done. Musick to mine ears.
I made haste into the house and down the stairs in search of Onix. The table he’d hid under was now fixed against a window, but I nosed him behind a wall-cloth.
“The ladies are to leave,” sayt I. “Be readie to slip out among the petticoats. We’ll hide in the court, and flee when the soldiers make way for the cannon. Then we shall see whether this house stands or falls. The Lord Admiral has offered to blow it up!”
“If he do that,” sayt Onix, “Sure, the neighbours will seek compensation.”