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).

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