20: Teasel Puss and the Man-Bull

A Brownie Kitling.
A Brownie Kitling

I have more paper, and can finish my tale of the monster in the laprint [labyrinth].

There was living at that time a young gib cat called Teasel.  He was nowt to look at, being of a brownie hue, but he was stout of heart.

Dried Teasel Heads. Didier Descouens Photo.
Dried Teasel Heads. Photo by Didier Descouens – Wikimedia Commons.

He had a good place with a spinster.

When he came to her house as a little kitling and first saw her dog, he bristled up.  She sayt he looked like one of the teasel heads that fullers use to brush their cloth, and so she named him Teasel Puss.

One night a cat gave newes that the Man-Bull’s mother was looking for more young cats.

And a cat who had employment in the alehouse sayt he heard that once she had cats enough, she lured them into the laprint where the Man-Bull was lodged.  She promised them games, and a good dinner.

Her monstrous son played with them a while, then changed hisself from bull above and man below to man above and bull below.  And ate them, every one.

But other cats sayt this was nowt but beer-talk.

Teasel offered to go to the laprint and learn the truth of it.

Some cats cried:  You have a place now. Wherefore [why] seek you one that another cat might have?

A wise few begged him to stay at home, saying the alehouse cat spoke true.

Teasel stood firm.    He called for eight young he-cats and nine young she-cats to join him.

Then he told all the bold cats who came forward to drink as much water as they might before their journey, and to hold it in as best they could.  And when he left his spinster’s house he carried in his mouth a great ball of her yarn.  He sayt it was a gift for the Man-Bull.  

The Man-Bull’s mother led the cats into the laprint.  Teasel walked beside her with the yarn.  The other cats came soft behind.  Teasel had told them to take it in turn to raise a tail or squat to mark each corner.  And to rub their faces against the wall along the way.

As they neared the centre of the laprint, they could hear the Man-Bull bellowing.  The wicked woman ran off, for now she feared her son.

Teasel sayt he would go first to greet him.

The monster was in bull shape above his middle, and seemed most amiable.  They played with the yarn, and Teasel wound it around his forelegs.

Then the Man-Bull tired of the game and changed hisself about, man above and bull below.  He made to seize Teasel with his hands and devour him.

But his wrists were bound tight with yarn.

Teasel gave a great screech, and leapt upon the monster’s back.  He sank his teeth into his neck.  The other cats came running.  They bit and clawed that Man-Bull till he fell, bleeding from a thousand wounds.

Then Teasel called:  Flee!  You’ve marked the corners we must turn, and left your scents along the walls.  Follow your marks to scape this laprint!

Part of a Roman Frieze showing a Minotaur with Felines.
Part of a Roman Frieze showing a Minotaur with Cats. Photo by Sailko – Wikimedia Commons.

All ran and came safe home.  Though, to speak true, some had mothers who were not joyed to see them.  They sayt: What?  You here again?  I thought you had employment.

But when word spread that they’d slain the Man-Bull, all were offered places in good households.

And Teasel’s mistress never arrkst where was her ball of yarn.

Toutparmoi - Editor's NoteWhen Gib describes Teasel’s mistress as a spinster he’s giving her occupation, i.e. a woman who earns her living by spinning.  She may have been unmarried, but could have been married, or a widow. 

In Gib’s day, the word was used with its traditional meaning, although its more “modern” one might have been creeping into use.  It became a legal definition of marital status in the 17th century.

I don’t know what sources (other than Ovid’s Metamorphoses) Gib derived his tale from.  The Minotaur is traditionally portrayed with a bull’s head.  Ovid describes him as half-bull and half-man, but doesn’t say which half was which.  Gib’s Minotaur seems to have a degree of choice.

The photo above showing a Minotaur with large felines may hint at a legend Gib knew, but we don’t.  Perhaps a cat called Teasel Puss was the true hero, but Theseus took the credit?


19: My Sweet Maggot Returns

Gib's BeeTrue.  I feared my maggot had forsaken me, but I was wrong.  When I awoke this morning, he was buzzing in my ears.

I leapt onto my young lady’s pillow and sat upon her head.

She pushed me off, so I went to her table and knocked first her comb and then her beads to the floor.  Her maidservant rose and cast me from our bedchamber.  Then I ran like a mad thing to find paper, pen, and ink.

This tale is one I read long since in the Book of Changes [Ovid’s Metamorphoses?].  There was a lady who loved a bull, and she bore a monstrous brat.

My uncle forbade me to tell it.  Even though I sayt I would make her no lady, but a milkmaid.  With eyes as green as grass, skin as smooth as cream, and hair like melting butter.

My uncle lives a way off now, and the cats here will surely love a tale of horrid murders and a wicked woman.  And it come to me that I could tell it over many of our assemblies, were I to embellish it and give out a little each time.

But I will set it down now as it lies seething in my head.

In the old time there lived a milkmaid, and she was daughter to the devil.  Oh, how men went running after her!  Only to die of sorrow, because she scorned them all.  The devil took their souls, and their wives and kits were left to starve.

A white bull, grazing.This milkmaid loved a fine bull, and promised him a pretty cow.

Then she donned her father’s leather jerkin, and braided her hair with wires so it looked like two fair horns.

You may guess what happened next.

She birthed an ugly babe that was a calf above and a boy below.  The midwife called for a bucket to drown him, but the wicked mother sayt, No.  She would rear her calf-boy.

And for some years he did no harm.  When he was weaned he ate nowt but grass, and was most mannerly.

After nine winters a strange thing happened.  He showed that he could change his shape. He became a boy above and a calf below, and in that guise he longed for meat.

Not the flesh of beasts that eat grass, for they were his kin.  He craved the flesh of those who also eat flesh.  And as all know, we cats do eat it.

Conímbriga-minotauro. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The Minotaur in his Labyrinth: a Roman mosaic at Conímbriga. Photo by Manuel Anastácio via Wikimedia Commons.

The woman and her father were affrighted, and built a great maze to contain the monster.  Learned folks do call this maze a laprint [labyrinth].

The laprint had stone walls within stone walls within stone walls.  They were too high to leap, and too sleek to climb.  There was but one way in and out, and that was hard to find.

And then the wicked woman went about the streets and fields, offering employment to half-grown cats that had none.

She took nine young she-cats and nine young he-cats, and away she went.

Nine winters after, that wicked woman returned, offering places in her household to more young cats.  They was never seen again.

What befell all they cats?  None could say.

But I have filled my paper.  I will tell what came next when I’ve found more.

Toutparmoi - Editor's NoteThe veto Gib’s uncle placed on a tale about the Minotaur is in 8: A Painful Interview.