109: A Winter of Discontent

I feared the dead time of winter would prove tedious in the citie.  I was not mistaken.

A small brown and white spaniel, with a carved wooden chair back as background,
Little Dog Wattie

The better sort all have their spies, but little dog Wattie, who served as my intelligencer, brought me scant newes. 

He sayt the mistress did but visit friends when they went abroad, and he found their talk so wearisome he scarce troubled to ear it.

He told me our Earl had been loosed from prison, but knew not where he lodged.

I went to invite Onix to accompany me to Essex House, thinking our Earl might be there.  But Onix told me he durst not leave his shop, this being the season when rats and mice were most like to seek entry. 

I arrkst him where Picker and Stealer were.  I’d not seen them since they wished my Earl a sword that would not rust, a coat of well-greased leather, and a horse with swan’s feet.

He sayt they’d boasted of going to see a wicked man hanged. 

“Oh, where?” I cried.

“Many ways from here,” sayt Onix.  “They left long since, and we’re not like to see them soon.”

He told me this man was condemned to die a traitor’s death because he’d sought to poyson first Queen Puss [Bess] herself, and then the Earl of Essex!

“The fellow used such fool means,” he whispered, “sure, he must be mad.  Or else he was put to the question, and had no choice but to confess.  My master and my mistress say that all’s a pack of lies.” 

Then he fled from the window, afeared he’d sayt too much.

A black and white cat peering through an unglazed window in a timbered Elizabeth house.
Onix at the window.

That night I thought to go alone to Essex House, for I guessed our Earl was there.

But Linkin waylaid me.  He (now chief of the Irish committy) told me that Queen Puss had sayt nowt as yet, but there could be no doubting that Essex would go to Ireland.

Essex did not wish to go, but he had no choice.  It were a matter of his reputation.  And our Earl would go with him, if Queen Puss permitted it.

We feared she would say No.  (A pitie she scaped poysoning.)

“Is Ireland a rainy country?” I arrkst Linkin.  “Where none can go dry-foot?”

Linkin did not know.  He told me I must aid him in his investigations.

He’d learnt that the Spain committy had wrought against him.  Their chief had called for any wandering cat that brought newes of Ireland to be sent to her and none other.

“She’ll gain nowt by that,” sayt I.  “In winter no cat travels far.  And if the newes comes from sea cats, who would swear the truth of it?”

A plump, round-faced, ginger and white cat.
Linkin. Law cat, Member of Parlement, and now chief of the Irish Committy.

“Even so, I must do better,” sayt Linkin.  “I shall keep close to the master and our mistress and heed their talk.  You must seek informations from the books in this house.”

That were easier sayt than done, for we had no bookroom.

Law books lay open in the master’s chamber, but other books were kept in a great box, which was oped only when the master or the mistress wished to look on them.

So I could do nowt but haunt that box.  I leapt in every time the lid was lifted, and feigned to nose a mouse within.

I thought that if I did this oft enough, they might take out all the books and leave me time enough to find one about the Irishes.  If there were one to be found.

Such is the way of the world.

Picker and Stealer were gone to a hanging.  Onix lived in a house where he learnt much of poysoning.

Linkin was chief of the Irish committy.

Whereas I, the cleverest of all, who could both write and read, served as Linkin’s secretarie, wearying first my wits and next mine eyes for the sake of his reputation.

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.The hanging Picker and Stealer spoke of was probably that of Edward Squire, hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on 23 November 1598.

In 1595 Edward Squire had gone on Sir Francis Drake’s last voyage, been captured by the Spanish, allegedly “turned” by English Jesuits in Seville, and sent back to England as a potential assassin.

He then went on the ill-starred expedition to the Azores (the Islands Voyage), where he allegedly tried to kill the Earl of Essex by putting poison on his chair.  In 1598 he was arrested and charged with poisoning the pommel of Queen Elizabeth’s saddle.

Clearly, Onix’ apothecary master and midwife mistress were sceptical of the charges, and attributed his confession to torture.

Tyburn (near where Marble Arch now stands) was about 3 miles westward through open country.  I suspect Picker and Stealer went no further than Newgate – then a gate in the city wall that doubled as a prison – to see the unfortunate man brought out to begin the sorry journey along Holborn and the Tyburn Road (now Oxford Street).


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, 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”?

Nero could afford to make fun of Linkin.  He’d 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.