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.

94:  Linkin Gives Strange Newes

Head and shoulders portrait of a ginger and white cat.
Linkin, a lover of politicks.

At our next assembly Linkin sayt, “You may have heard me speak of the London lawyer that was my master before I joined his mother’s household.”

(T’were a marvel if any of us had not.)

“Well,” sayt Linkin, “his wife has died, sudden.”

“What of her motherless kits?” called an old queen cat. “Who will nourish them?”

“More of those little yowlers later,” sayt Linkin. “First, I’ve newes from Sir Rabbit’s ambassage to France.”

I’d guessed that Mr Secretary would gain nowt there, but kept my thoughts well-hid.

A thin-faced, bearded man in dark clothes, with papers and an official red, embroidered, dispatch bag beside him.
Sir Rabbit, better known as Mr Secretary or Sir Robert Cecil, leader of the English delegation. Via Wikimedia Commons.

All pricked their ears most courteous, though few love politicks as Linkin does.

He sayt, “Sir Robert and his company made landfall at Dieppe. When they reached Paris, the French King was gone to Brittany to correct a wicked Duke who fancies hisself a Prince.”

“Where’s Brittany?” arrkst a young cat, curious.

“In France,” sayt Nero.  “I’ve viewed it from the sea, but ne’er set foot there.  Nor would I.”

Linkin sayt:  “They travelled many wearisome miles to find the King.  He received them most courteous, and expressed his love for Queen Puss.  Sir Rabbit presented our Earl, saying he’d come to France to serve the King, and the King embraced him.”

“I hear tell the French King is much given to scruffing,” came a call.  “Did Sir Rabbit say owt of that?”

Linkin (deaf) sayt, “The King was not so amiable when it came to talk of Spain, our common enemie.  He believes we English scorn him.  Sir Rabbit assured him that Queen Puss did not seek to disswade him from his plans, nor was she opposed to a general peace.  She merely wished to know what the offers were.

A sketch of a grave-faced but attractive woman with bouffant hair.
Madame – Henri IV’s sister, Catherine de Bourbon (1559-1604). Via Wikimedia Commons.

“The King sent all to meet Madame his sister.  Sir Rabbit gave her a letter from our Queen.  Madame is a good Protestant, and has a seat on the King’s Council.

“Sir Rabbit sayt she was well-painted, ill-dressed, and strangely jewelled, but accompanied by many great ladies.

“The next morning the King was indisposed, but after dinner he entreated our ambassadors to visit his son, and the lady the King wishes to marry.

“Sir Rabbit writ that she’s very fair, well-spoken and courteous, and has another kit in her belly.  He had no letter for her (though I believe she would have liked one) so did not spend much time there.”

“Was any French lady so courteous as to hoist her tail and permit one of our gentlemen to seize her by the scruff?” arrkst a lusty young cat.

“Did Sir Rabbit make a report of what was ate at dinner?” arrkst another, hopeful.  “Does the French King keep a good table?”

Linkin, tiring of their foolerie, turned rhetorickal.

“Who would not prefer a war of righteousness to a peace of peril?  Will the Spanish keep that peace?  What of our Dutch friends, who wish to drive them from the Low Countries?  They’ll not countenance a truce, much less a treaty.

“And once the Spanish cease fighting with the French, they’ll come at us again.  They have all the gold and silver of the Indies in their claws, and will make a new Armada.”

Henri IV (1553-1610).  Also known as Henri of Navarre, he was raised as a Protestant, but converted to Catholicism to ensure his acceptance as King of France. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Hot words.  But the more Linkin spake against peace, the better I liked that French King.

If he could not get what he wanted from purse-moanious [parsimonious?] Puss of England, he would have it from Philip of Spain.

“With France lost to our cause, will Queen Puss friend the Spanish too?” called Linkin, carried away.  “’Tis not I alone who fears so.  I believe the most noble and heroick Earl of Essex is of like mind.  I hope to hear more of this in London soon.”

“What?” came a saucie call.  “Lord Essex has offered you a place in his household?  Or is it Sir Rabbit that craves your wise counsel?”

That set all a-screeching.

“My mistress will go to lodge with her son,” sayt Linkin.  “And have care of his motherless kits.  I shall accompany her.”

“I may join you,” sayt Nero.  “Your mistress was ever kind to cats.  Once in London, I’ll friend a Turkey merchant and take ship to Constantinople.”

“Last I heard,” sayt Linkin, “you was bound for Fence [Venice].”

“I go wherever the winds command me,” sayt Nero.  “And cats eat well in Constantinople.”

Many called for Nero to tell us more of that citie.  And some young cats sayt they’d never heared his famous Turkey tale.

Nero promised to give it out when next we met.

That’s one assembly I did not trouble to attend.  I’ve heard those lies so oft I could give them out myself.

As I walked home, I feared I may have been too hasty in my dealings with Linkin.  I vowed to say sorry for my unkind words.  And offer him a rat. 

And discover when his mistress would set forth for London.

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.Henri IV’s negotiations for peace with Spain were well down the track by the time the English legation arrived.

Henri faced a massive task in trying to unite France under his rule, impoverished as it was by war, and divided by bitter religious differences and the ambitions of powerful nobles.

Brittany was a pro-Spanish stronghold, and Henri had to bring its “governor” the Duke of Mercœur to heel.  From there he went to Angers, where the English met him in late March/early April 1598.

Henri’s domestic arrangements must have made Queen Elizabeth’s court seem very straitlaced.  Estranged from his wife, Marguerite de Valois, Henri had no legitimate heirs and was hoping to marry his long-term mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées (c1573-1599).

However, Henri’s sister Catherine de Bourbon (1559-1604) was probably the most powerful woman in France.  So no surprise that her make-up and dress sense were subject to close scrutiny, just as Elizabeth I’s were.  Some things never change.