96:  A Lesson for Wattie before Our Going

After I had done with Linkin, I remained in the stable.  I did not conceal myself, but sat bold-arst in the straw.

’Twas not long before little dog Wattie frisked in, and saw me.

A head and shoulders portrait of a soulful looking young brown and white spaniel against a carved wooden chair back.
Little Dog Wattie.

I lay on my side and stretched myself to show my belly.

He sprang towards me.  I did not move.  The nearer he drew, the shorter and higher he leapt, because he did not wish to fall on me.

Next he gambolled around me.  I gazed at the roof-beams.

He grew bold and nosed my belly.  This familiarity troubled me, and I was tempted to strike him a blow, but I forbore.

That set him about.  He ceased snorting and snuffling in my fur, and crept behind me.

I lay fast, but my tail twitched of itself.  The young imp took its tip between his teeth and pulled.

The horses were joyed to see me so discomforted.  “Say, do we not think that cat is fool?” arrkst one.

“Yea,” came the answer.  “That cat is fool.”

Then Wattie tugged my tail so fierce he shifted me in the straw.  Twice.

The horses marvelled at my forbearance.

“Were that dog to use us in like manner,” sayt one, “would we not kick him?”

“In sooth, we would,” came the reply.

But Wattie understood the lesson.  Viz, I would run from him only when I chose.

So he returned to my belly, thrust his nose deep into my fur, and spake a word that was full of sound and fury but signified nothing.  Then he went in search of better sport.

Why did I not spare myself this strange usage by telling Wattie I hoped to travel with him?

No dog can keep a secret.  They blab others’ secrets with their noses, and their own with their eyes and tails.  All I desired from Wattie was his silence.

That evening I went forth and caught a rabbit.  I ate all for my supper, because I knew I might not eat for many days.

The servants came before dawn, and set down their bundles, bags, and baskets in the yard.  I walked among them in broad view.

The horses were brought forth.

Linkin sat in a large basket, lamenting aloud.  The lid had been made fast.  He could do no more than thrust out a paw.

“Be of good cheer,” sayt I, and continued my inspections.  

Other baskets held favourite hens, lest London eggs prove unwholesome.  And bottles of wine, and choice pasties.  Gifts for the friends Linkin’s mistress would lodge with on the way.

Then I nosed a basket scented with fresh soil.  Its lid was loose, and I raised it.  This basket was lined with damp mosses, and held many little plants in pots packed close together.

I guessed these were the herbs that Linkin’s mistress brewed to make her broths and oyntments.

Her servants were busy with saddles, or the harness for the pair of horses that were to bear the baggage.  None was watching me.

I slipped in, and settled myself on the pots.  Some plants were tied to little sticks that shifted readily.  Others were no more than slips or twigs that broke beneath my weight.

I alone heard that.  The servants were loud in their talk of balancing the loads, bring me that bundle, truss these two together, hang that from here, etcetera.

The boy who lifted my basket sayt, “That’s heavier than I thought ’twould be.”

A man came to help him, saying, “The pots are full of good soil, and all have been well-watered.”

None looked in on me.

Then came Linkin’s mistress with Wattie, too intoxicate with his own excitations to pay me any heed.

The mistress was handed to her horse.  A man helped her maidservant onto his, and she held the leading rein of the horse that bore me.  Another manservant was mounted with the boy.  They led the other horse.

As we crossed the bridge I looked back through my basket at our Earl’s great house, and glimpsed Nero lying low atop a wall, watching all.

A rusty black cat lying on top of a wall.

He did not seem grieved to see us go, but I’d known him since I learnt one cat’s scent from another’s.  I could not believe I might never see him more.

Wattie had wished to run behind us until his legs tired.  Then I guessed he would ride with the mistress or on the luggage.

I prayed the horses would not think he meant to seize their tails, and take pleasure in kicking him.  I was sure I could find a use for Wattie.

I well recall how sweet the air smelled that spring morn.  And the herbs that lay crushed beneath me.

I could scarce believe what I had done.



81:  Of Wenches and War

Oh, what times we’ve had at our Field of late.  Nero is in a humour blacker than his coat.  He told me (privily) that his old master has been sick again, and like to die.

Nero fears he will be offered a place in Linkin’s house.  He swore he’d as lief drown hisself.

“There is a willow grows aslant our brook,” sayt he.  “I could climb it and cast myself in.  But water’s an element I’m native and indued to.”

Native and indued.  What fine words.

“Because you was birthed in Fence [Venice]?” I arrkst.

An early view of Venice, by Gabriel Bucelin (17th Century).
A view of Venice, by cartographer Gabriel Bucelin (17th Century). Via Wikimedia.

“And because I swim too well to drown,” sayt Nero, most tragickal.

“Then best you content yourself with making a scene for all to marvel at,” I sayt.  “Come floating by us decked with waterish weeds, and singing sad songs.”

Linkin told me (privily) that he does not fancie Nero as a chamber-fellow, but if his mistress wills such a thing then he must suffer it. 

Ophelia in her wet element.  From Sir John Millais' famous painting, held by Tate Britain.  Were Nero to attempt so tragickal a scene, he would probably have to put his feet as well as his paws above water, and his lack of tail might affect his balance.
Ophelia in her element, singing.  From Sir John Millais’ famous painting, held by Tate Britain.  Were Nero to attempt so tragick a scene, he’d probably have to put his feet as well as his paws above water.  Plus, his lack of tail might affect his balance.

I made all merry with my newes of the shameless Pusses I writ of previous.  And I told of another young wench that Queen Puss [Bess] does nowt but complain of.  Her name is Mary Howit [Howard].

“That very name,” sayt Linkin, “is trouble writ large.”

Nero let out a screech, and bristled up.  He believed Linkin spake against the Lord Admiral (another Howit) who is much loved by mariners.

Other cats called for peace.  They wisht to hear more scandal.  None of us loves Queen Puss.  Her very name is blasphemious.  ’Tis one of the names of the Queen Cat of Heaven, and we never heared that women may take it.

And all know Queen Puss distains our Earl.  It seems he can do nowt to please her.

Linkin told how Mary Howit attires herself most fine, hoping to take the eye of our Earl.  Some say she has received much favour and marks of love from him.

“Marks of love?” came a call.  “What are they?”

“Spittle on scruffs,” one cried.  All screeched so loud I feared we might be chased from our Field.

Queen Puss called Mary Howit an ungracious flouting wench.

Mary was unwilling to carry Her Majestie’s mantle when she took the air in her garden.  Nor was she ready in the Privy Chamber with Her Majestie’s cup.

An elegant but weary looking woman in silvery white, wearing magnificent jewels,
Queen Elizabeth in her sixties – from a portrait unlikely to have been seen by many before her death. The original is held by The Elizabethan Gardens in North Carolina. Visit them (or their website) for the whole painting and the story of its purchase and authentication.

In truth, she’s never where she should be for her duty to Queen Puss.

“She slips out to call for our Earl,” sayt a young queen cat.

“And he runs to her, as all lusty fellows should,” cried a stone-cat.

I sayt, “I hope she has a loud voice, for my lord will soon take ship against Spain.”

True.  He had leave to travel, but now I hear he will join our newest expedition.  Those Spanish rogues are making readie to come at us again, so we will strike at them.

All were mazed to hear of this.

“What?” they cried.  “Old Puss has oped the door?  Our Earl may go forth and fight any that seeks to come into our land?”

I sayt, “Old Lord Purrlie’s son Sir Rabbit [Robert] spake a word for him.”

At last my lord can prove his valour.  And keep hisself safe from the saucie strumpets that serve Queen Puss.

I pray he comes safe home.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorOn 23 May 1597 a William Fenton wrote to Queen Elizabeth’s godson John Harington (of water-closet fame) expressing his dismay at Lady Mary Howard’s attempts to “win” the “young earl.”

Mr Fenton appears to have been a friend of Mary’s, and was concerned that she might lose her place at Court.  He doesn’t name the earl.

I’m happy to take the cats’ word that it was Southampton.  Essex was a more frequent topic of gossip, but he was 31.  Not old, but unlikely to be specified as young.  Also, he was married.  Any winning of him would have been very temporary.

Not only had Mr Fenton attempted to placate the Queen, he also hoped John Harington might help smooth things over, and even arrange for a word on Mary’s behalf to be dropped in Lord Burghley’s ear.

Poor Lord Burghley.  Seventy-six years old and with deteriorating health, he’d have had more important things to worry about.  Such as: famine in parts of the country because of the bad harvests, the ongoing war with Spain, growing resistance in Ireland…