194:  Old Cats Are Stealthiest

An alert-looking black and white cat
Harry, our narrator

Long as the way to Paws’ yard was, I went there as soon as I could.  Picker and Stealer greeted me civil.  None of their minions offered me insults.

I’d been out, now I was in again.  Such is the way of the world.

“You may recall,” sayt Picker, “that when we made our first assalt on Snakes-Purr, you arrkst how we knew ’twas he.”

Stealer sayt, “You arrkst if there were quills and papers in his chamber.”

“Your ladyships convinced me,” sayt I.  “I did not doubt your word.”

A lean grey tabby cat with an intense green stare and the tip of one ear missing.

“Nor should you, if you wish to live and do well,” sayt Stealer.

Then they told me that when there was pestilence in the citie, they’d gone again to his dwelling place.  He was gone.

“That were enuff for us,” sayt Picker.  “But Luvvie swore the villain would return.”

Luvvie came forward and cried, “He will.  I heard his voice in Black-Fryes not long since.  He and his thieving fellows were speaking of our playhouse.”

Then Luvvie turned dramatickal.  He sayt his companie had fallen out of favour.  The French ambassador took offense at one of their plays, and complained of it. Twice.

“What offended him?” came a call.

Henri IV of France (1553-1610). During Elizabeth’s I’s reign, his court served as a bolthole for Elizabeth’s disaffected courtiers, and was also a source of scandal for the stay-at-homes. The wife who was said to have become particularly angry about his mistresses was his second, Maria de Medici (1575-1642).

Luvvie sayt, “Our boys enacted a play of France, wherein the French Queen had at the King’s sweetheart and struck her a blow.”

“Belike that were true,” sayt I.  “I know nowt of any blow, but I heard tell that when the French Queen complained of the sweetheart, the King told her she was his daily bread, but he liked more than one dish.”

That set all a-screeching.

“There’s worse,” sayt Luvvie. “Our King was much offended to hear of a harmless interlude that showed a King with sweethearts who were nothing like the French King’s.  This King loved to hunt, and beat a man that harmed his hounds.  And he was drunk every day.”

“But why was our King offended?” called another.  “Who could be so fool as to mistake this Scot – I mean sot – for him?”

More screeches.

Luvvie would have sayt more, but Picker and Stealer had wearied of applauds that were not for them.  They called for order.

A lean grey tabby with an intense green stare licks her nose.

Picker sayt, “We knew we’d scotched Snakes-Purr, but not killed him.  And we’d not forgot he sought to kill us.”  

“We struck again,” sayt Stealer.  “When the river frosted, we set forth before first light and ran to the Glob.”

 Picker sayt, “There we hid ourselves and licked our chill paws until the door was oped. We concealed ourselves within.”

“Did we find Snakes-Purr?” arrkst Stealer rhetorickal.  “No.  But we know his stinks right well, and we found his papers.  We bore away all that we could carry, and returned for more.”

Applauds from their minions.

“Did I not say,” whispered Luvvie to me, “that Snakes-Purr was a thief, so thievery would bring him down?”

But what need had I of Snakes-Purr’s papers?  In truth, I could not conceive what purpose they would serve.

Picker cried, “What, you ingrate?  Thankless now?  We are old.  Cold paws, akeing joints, empty bellies – save for a frosted bird or two – and what say you?  Nowt.”

“Sure,” sayt Luvvie, “Is not old wine wholesomest, old pippins toothsomest, old wood burn brightest, old linen wash whitest?  Old soldiers, sweethearts, are surest, and old cats are stealthiest.”

“Who trod on your tail?” arrkst Stealer.

I cried, “May your ladyships forgive me!  I was too mazed to offer my thanks.  What are these papers?”

“How would we know?” arrkst Picker.  “You’re the one who can read.”

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorHarry mentions theatrical events that occurred in early 1608, so he must have been in St Paul’s churchyard that summer.  It’s disconcerting to think of Picker and Stealer as old, but my guess is that they would have been 11 or 12 in 1608 – old for city scavengers.

Luvvie couldn’t have been much younger.  (He made his stage debut at The Curtain playhouse in the autumn of 1598.)  However, he had the advantage of a comfortable place in Tricks’ former household in Blackfriars as well as his less secure employment as theatre cat in the Blackfriars playhouse. 

This playhouse was used by a children’s company, i.e. a company of boys with unbroken voices.  Allowing for a later average age of puberty back then, most of the boys were probably in their early to mid-teens.

The company seems to have pushed the performance boundaries further than the playhouses with adult actors did.  They’d caused offence in 1605 with Eastward Ho! for which playwrights Ben Jonson and George Chapman were jailed; a third, John Marston, skipped town.

The company also lost Queen Anne’s patronage. They’d been The Children of the Queen’s Majesty’s Revels; they became The Children of the Revels, or The Children of Blackfriars.

The theatre had a change in management too, but continued to stage risky plays.  Around February 1608 they performed George Chapman’s Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Biron. This had the scene that upset the French Ambassador, and the playhouse was temporarily closed.

As Luvvie knew, its future wasn’t looking good.  However, the owner of the site was Richard Burbage of the company known as The King’s Men (in which Shakespeare was a shareholder).  The King’s Men eventually took over the theatre, but not until August 1608.

Incidentally, Luvvie’s lines in praise of the old come from the play Westward Ho! by Thomas Dekker and John Webster.  It’s a cynical city comedy that pre-dates the more scandalous Eastward Ho! by a year or two. The original last line is “and old lovers are soundest.”  Luvvie, like any good actor, changed it to suit his audience.