182:  Horrid Thoughts and Fears

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

The night being warm, I lingered at the Cats’ Field.  Many wished to friend me, and my mother pressed me for word of citie cats she knew.

Alas, I could tell her only of Onix.  She spake of two more, a Turkey cat named Kettie that kept a print shop, and Luvvie a player cat.

“Oh!” I cried.  “I’ve heard of him.  ’Twas Luvvie that led Picker and Stealer to where Snakes-Purr  could be found.  I have yet to friend him, but I swear I will.”

“Do so,” sayt she.  “And never turn your back to him.  He’s treacherous, but he will lead you to Snakes-Purr if he thinks he’ll gain by it.”

“What gain has he from Picker and Stealer?” arrkst I.

My mother snorted.  “The freedom of Black-Fryes [Blackfriars] and parts thereabout.  If Luvvie’s their creature, no cat will molest him.”

Luvvie. Harry’s mother Tricks once made the mistake of turning her back on him.

I sayt, “A preacher was speaking at Paws’ Cross [Paul’s Cross] not long since.  A cuckoo came and flew about his head crying out against him. Think you that bird was another of their creatures?”

“Belike the sermon was too long, and the bird was out of patience,” sayt my mother.

I should have heeded those words “out of patience” but I did not.  My head was too full of witches.

I sayt, “Picker and Stealer might have the power to make great winds.  Else, what meant Picker when she sayt the King, Queen, our Earl and all may be raised so high before this year is out they’ll never come to earth again?”

“Enuff of your fool questions!” my mother cried.  “Great winds are sent by the Queen Cat of Heaven, none other.  Now I must to my town house, else Wattie our dog will have my breakfast.”  And away she ran.

I passed the better part of the day resting in my lord’s chamber.  Indeed, so desirous was he of my company that I was not permit to leave, e’en though his other servants went back and forth.  My lord had much business to attend to.

I was not troubled, for I had much to think on.  I believed we would not return to the citie before leaf fall, and I knew the cats here would beg more tales from me.

Could I tell of the lions in the Tower?  I’d feared them when I was emprisoned, but had learnt much of them since.  The King loved them right well.

And should I have ready a tale for All Hallow E’en?  King James hisself had sayt that some folk in Scotland – those with the sight – had seen a bloodie head floating in the air well before his mother had hers cut off.  Could I make a tale of that?

An imagined portrait of the young James (b.1566) with his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, who was executed in England in 1587.
In reality, she was forced to abdicate in favour of James when he was only a year old. They never met again.

As I lay dreaming, my thoughts turned again to witchery.

King James had writ that three passions are met with in witches: curiousity, thirst for revenge, and greediness.

All cats are curious and greedy, but my mother was the only one I knew with a thirst for revenge.

Was she a witch?  Were that why she warned us kits to let none know we could read and write?

Worser, was I?  Could one be a witch, all unknowing?

I was so ’mazed by this strange and horrid thought, I started from my bed and gazed about me.

My lord was ending a letter to Sir Rabbit – the Earl of Sauce-Berrie, I should say – but my mother always called him Sir Rabbit, and so did I.  I did not think rabbit would taste well with a berrie sauce.

Then I heard my lord say that after dinner we would go to sea!

To sea?  Yes, but not in sieves.  We was removing to our island, where I hoped there would be no witches.  Only naughty Catlicks and the like.

There we would dwell until we returned to London for the King’s parlement.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe removal to the Isle of Wight is one of the few events in Harry’s life that we can put an exact date to: 29 June 1605.  That day the Earl wrote to Robert Cecil, now Earl of Salisbury, updating him on the investigations he was making into attempts to raise troops in the city of Southampton and the island for Spanish service. 

Dinner was eaten early in the afternoon, so the Earl must have been planning to leave from Titchfield Harbour, now gone and replaced by a Nature Reserve. 

Harry doesn’t say how he came to hear of the severed head apparition that King James spoke of, but Sir John Harington left a lively account of a meeting with the King. 

James – always on the lookout for fellow intellectuals – grilled Sir John about his learning and also made a great show of his own “as made me remember my examiner at Cambridge” says Sir JohnThe King also told Sir John that his mother’s death had been visible in Scotland before it happened, and spoken of in secret by those “whose power of sight presented to them a bloodie head dancing in the air.

The cuckoo at the open air pulpit of Paul’s Cross who “very lewdly called and cried out with open mouth” must have excited any cat lurking about.  It amused letter-writer John Chamberlain, who mentioned it in a letter of April 30, 1605.

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