166:  The Terrors of the Tower

Face of a black and white kittenOh, how wretched were my first days in that strange place!

Our Earl was not pleased to see me.  He sayt, “I wanted the pretty she-cat that used to follow me like a little dog.”

His lady – her name is Puss [Bess] – sayt, “We searched high and low, but could not find her.  This is her kitling, very sportive.”

The Earl turned his meloncollie eyes away from me, and I concealed myself beneath his bed.  He began to complain of his akes and pains, while Puss spake to him most sweet.

So at odds they seemed, I wondered why one did not strike the other a blow.  He showed his discontentments, she chirruped to smooth him.  I knew little of the world, but I knew that when he-cats and she-cats meet, ’tis the he who does the smoothing.

When a bell gave a loud clamour I near leapt out of my skin.  Puss leapt too, and sayt she must be gone, else she too would be made prisoner that night.

And what a night it was.  I believed myself to be lodged in a place of ghosts and shadows.  Yes, and monsters too.

Worst were the two whisperers who crept to the door and taunted me.

“What do you here?” arrkst one.

I, mindful of my old nurse’s warning, sayt nowt.

“We know you’re within.  We seen you carried hither.  Tell us who your friends are,” sayt the other.

The first sayt, more amiable, “We shall send to them for a bed you can lie on.”

I did not think they could see me, so to sure myself I had a bed I crept out from under my lord’s and sprang onto it, concealing myself beneath his coverlid.

A black and white cat peering out from underneath a coverlet.

“We can make you answer us,” came a whisper.  “We have a worrint here.”

Then, “Are you not afeared?”

I knew not what a worrint was, and nothing could have made me more afeared than I was already.

“We know a chamber where they stretch folks.  Hang them up or lay them down, they’ll come out longer than they went in.  We would not wish to see any cat used so ill.” 

“When you are permit to have the range of our household,” sayt the other, “we shall show you the instruments.  If you tell us nowt, doubtless you’ll taste them all.”

They fell silent, but I heared them scratching theirselves and cleansing their paws.  “Belike that poor cat’s deaf,” sayt the one that seemed more amiable.

“Belike he came here to have his head cut off on the morrow,” sayt the other.  And then, to me, “Best you make your confession to us now.”

Next came an unkind whisper of, “You got ears, or no?”

They crept away, but I knew they would return.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorCats tend to share the interests of their households and pay close attention to tasks in hand, so I’m not surprised that the Tower’s resident mousers picked up a few pointers on how to conduct an interrogation.

The “worrint” they claimed to have would be a warrant from the Privy Council authorising Harry’s torture.  Showing prisoners the instruments used could be enough to make them talk.  I think that most, if not all, of the men tortured in the latter years of Elizabeth’s reign would have been captured Jesuit priests, with the aim of getting them to name their friends, i.e. other members of the Roman Catholic underground.

Harry, safe in the Earl of Southampton’s comfortable apartment, was well away from such doings, but he wouldn’t have known that.  The loud bell that so alarmed him was one rung to warn visitors and others admitted on lawful business that the Tower was about to be locked for the night.  Even back then the Tower was something of a tourist attraction with people coming in to see the animals in the menagerie. 

The Tower of London: fortress, royal lodging, armoury, secure treasure house, mini zoo, and a prison for political prisoners.  From Michael van Meer’s Friendship Book held in the British Library. (CC BY-NC-ND-4.0) © The University of Edinburgh.