164:  I Make a Vow

Our mother filled our heads with so many informacions I thought mine would burst.

“Two things,” sayt she, “are most becoming in a cat.  The killing of rats, and the writing of libels against our enemies.”

We were, at that time, too little to kill rats or have enemies.  We knew not what a libel was.

Then our mother sayt that we must never permit any man or woman to see us holding our pens proper, or know that we could read and write.

“Why?” I arrkst.

For once she did not call me fool.

She sayt, “There are many wicked folks in this world.  If they know you can write, they will make a show of you.  Do you wish to be taken to fairs and alehouses for the vulgar sort to gape at?  No.  That were slavery, fit only for dancing dogs and horses that feign to be arsemetrickal [arithmetical].”

“Might we not win praise thereby?” I arrkst.

“More like you’ll be took for a witch’s imp who writes the dictates of the devil,” sayt she.  “And hanged.”

Small wonder, then, that my brother and sisters paid so little heed to their lessons.  But great as was my fear of discovery, my longing for our mother’s praise was greater, and I practised scratching my ABC till my foot aked worser than my head.

A witch with her evil assistants (two toads and a cat?) from a 1579 pamphlet held in the British Library.

I had, as yet, no ink and paper, but many old quills were gifted to us.  The ladies of our household thought we loved to toy with them.

One day our mother spake of her uncle Gib, the Famous Poet who was Keeper of the Book-Chamber in our Earl’s fine house in the country.  She sayt he was most grievous wronged by a filthie player.

“Did the player carry him off and make a show of him?” arrkst my brother.

Our mother sayt the player stole Uncle Gib’s verses and gave them out as his own.

We did not think that a great crime, but our mother turned very fierce, saying she was her uncle’s heir and those verses were hers

“I am sworn to vengeance,” sayt she, “as are my friends.  And you too must swear on your lives to make an end to this player, Snakes-Purr by name, by what means you can.”

Affrighted, we all swore we would.  Then our mother left us, saying she had business to attend to.

My brother and sisters turned saucie.  They sayt that our Gib uncle was a country clod with muddie paws who never came to London and knew nowt worth writing of.  They’d grown wearie of hearing his old tales of monsters and witchery.  They wished to hear tales of our time.  Tales of citie cats.

I sayt nowt.  In my heart I vowed that I alone would win fame and our mother’s favour by bringing that Snakes-Purr down.  Even if I died in my attempt.

How I came to that (bringing him down, I mean, not dying) I shall set down here.

Another image from the British Library website: a well-dressed trio being rowed across the river below London Bridge.
– Michael van Meer’s Friendship Book (CC BY-NC-ND-4.0) © The University of Edinburgh.