So when Scabface brought word that the ladies had returned to Essex House, I made haste to join them.
Puss Fur-None was telling all she craved the company of her dear lord (our Earl).
Pretty Penny was telling all she had wearied of the country.
Her sister was at Essex House too. She’d run away from her husband, and was telling all what a bastard he were.
Pretty Penny and her sister had been to see Queen Puss. They wore black to show their griefs for their poor brother, and begged to be allowed to visit him. He being nigh unto death, etcetera.
Queen Puss received them most civil, and sayt No.
So now Pretty Penny was writing to Sir Rabbit [Sir Robert Cecil] in hopes he would say Yes.
I, not wishing to appear unseemlie with my white ruff and fine patches of orrenge, sought out a chimney that had no fire in it.
I came forth sable-suited. I should say, sable-sooted.
Before I could show myself to the ladies, an ignorant maidservant shrieked to see me so begrimed (as she called it) and cast me from a window.
When I returned to my house the mistress would not let me enter. I had perforce to cleanse myself.
Linkin made great mock of me. “Why all these mourning weeds?” he arrkst. “I hear tell the Lady Essex was running about in a black gown too.”
“To good effect,” sayt I. “She may now visit Essex.”
“Some think the Lord Essex is dead,” sayt Onix, who’d come to hear my newes.
“True,” sayt I. “Our church gave voice for him.”
“In other churches, folk pray for his recovery,” sayt Onix. “I heard some at Paws Cross.”
“Doubtless they’ll be punished for it,” sayt I.
“Well, if Essex isn’t dead he soon will be,” sayt Onix, growing bold. “Her Majestie has sent her phisitians to him. Eight of them. Sure, their physick will finish what his crased brain and the Irish flux [dysentery] have begun.”
Then Onix looked shamed, for he usually speaks most respective of great folks.
Was Essex crasie?
I once glimpsed a letter he’d writ to our Earl.
In which he sayt that he (Essex) had been a Martha, paying heed to many things. Now he was a Mary, heeding one.
(What meant he? Linkin sayt it was a tale he’d heard the mistress read aloud of an evening.)
Then Essex told our Earl that he (our Earl) had nothing that he had not received, and must regard all he had as something he must give account for.
(“Like unto a good steward,” sayt Linkin.)
And he must not use these gifts in the service of the prince of this world. To serve that prince were to show injustice and ingratitude and treachery.
(We guessed the prince of this world was not Queen Puss, nor the King of Spain, nor even the arch-rebel Tire-Own. He was the devil, who loves to get his claws on sinful men and women. )
Then Essex writ he knew our Earl would say his words were but the vapor of melancollie and the style of a prisoner, but that was not so. He spake of his conversion, and wished such a thing upon our Earl, who had not lived as long nor as wickedly as Essex had.
I wished I’d stole this letter and dropped it in our house, for it’s the sort of talk the mistress comprehends. What our Earl made of it, I do not know. Conversion?
When last I saw him, he was conversing of his plat to help Essex ’scape the country, but Essex had sent word that it were cowardly to flee.
“There’s crasie for you,” sayt Onix. Then he added, “I see many dropped papers. Scarce a day goes by without the kits or the servants bringing one home to read or have read to them.”
“Libels against Sir Rabbit and his friends,” sayt Linkin. “Some are printed fair and nailed to publick doors. Others have been writ on the walls of Whitehall. And what was on the door of Sir Rabbit’s bedchamber? Here Lies the Toad.”
“After we read such filths,” sayt Onix, virtuous, “we cast them into the fire.”
A wicked thought came to me. I resolved to show my true colours and write some verses against Sir Rabbit. Then loose them on the streets for all to find.
Essex’s other sister, Dorothy (c1564-1619), had just left her husband Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (1564-1632). While she didn’t share Penelope’s taste for politics, she seems to have been equally good at pleasing herself.
The Earl of Northumberland was her second husband. He may not have been easy to live with, but I doubt she ever referred to him as a bastard. I suspect Tricks is using alley talk she learnt from Picker and Stealer.
By “our church” Tricks means St Clement Danes, almost opposite Essex House. The sexton tolled the bell on 18 December at the request of a Captain Parry – perhaps a mischief-making veteran from Ireland?
What with wayward bell-ringing, prayers and occasional pro-Essex sermons, graffiti at Whitehall, and anti-Cecil writings – some handwritten, some from illicit presses – the authorities had plenty to keep them occupied.