28: Newes of Queens, and More

The weather is foul, so I keep to my chamber and paw through books to find a new tale.  The cats liked Teasel Puss so well they expect much of me.  That mad cat apart.  He came to each telling and sayt all was sinful.

And roisterous cats made all the tellings hard.  When the wicked woman guises herself as a cow to deceive the bull, I sayt:  What happened then, all clever cats can guess.

But one cat called, “We be fool cats here.”  And another, “You must tell us in fair words.”

Likewise when the Man-Bull is slain and Teasel cries: Flee! one called, “Then scratch yourself.”

A Black cat on black background, looking watchfulAnd I know not what the black cat thinks.  He watches me most close, but keeps his ears high and his coat flat.  I looked to see how sat his tail, and saw he does not have one.

True.  (What became of it?)

Small wonder I cannot guess his mind. 

Yesterday the kitchen cat told me we were to meet this evening fair or foul.  The Night-Walker had brought newes.

I arrkst myself, could this Night-Walker be the spy cat Master Grey?

She sayt there was no newes hot enough to keep her bones from aching in the cold, so she would not go.  She hoped I would.

Many winters have passed since Grey first frighted me.  I am in my prime, while he’s surely old.  So I went, though the paths were wet and there was no moon nor the eyes of the Queen Cat of Heaven to light me on my way.

Not many cats attended.  They who did looked full-fed, with thick coats and well-fleshed bones. Night and silence.  Then came a low voice, and I knew it for the voice that once struck terror in my soul.  Grey (I swear ‘twas he) sayt that the Stew Queen’s head had been taken from her shoulders.

The Stew Queen, better known as Mary Stuart, former Queen of Scots. By Nicholas Hilliard c.1578
The Stew Queen, better known as Mary Stuart, former Queen of Scots. C.1578, by the English miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard c.1547-1619.

Some bold cats called, “Shame!” (I guessed they came from Catlick households.)

A young one arrkst if the Great Queen had bit her head off in a fight.  I thought Grey might bite that cat’s head off for so fool a question.

But Grey replied, most sweet, that the Stew Queen was no cat but a wicked woman, and her head was cut off with an axe.  So may all enemies of our Great Queen perish.

He sayt a cat that lodges in the house where justice was done knows a little dog that hid beneath the Stew Queen’s petticoats and accompanied her to death.

This cat had listened to the dog’s lament as its coat was cleansed of her blood.  Then the newes was carried hither along the great chain of cats who are our ears across this land.

An embroidery of a cat, done by Mary Stuart while in captivity in England.
An embroidery of “a catte”, by Mary Stuart while in captivity in England.  From the Royal Collection.  Does the colour of the cat (red, like Mary’s hair), hint at her and her dislike of captivity?  Or her patience in the waiting game?

“She was brought down by conspirators!” came a call from the dark.

“Men and women conspire,” sayt Grey. “We do but listen.  For as cats careful of our safety, we must be curious.”

The mad cat called his thanks to Grey.  There was no reply; he had slipt away.  Other cats ran off then, complaining of cold feet and paws.

The black cat lingered.  So did the mad cat and the young one who is his friend.  We four drew together, as gib cats do.

The mad cat was joyed, saying there was such fire in his ears his whole body was warmed.

The young cat (wise beyond his winters) had heared his master tell that the Great Queen was feigning sorrow, saying she’d done no more than sign the death warrant.  She’d not commanded that the thing be done.  She was raging at Lord Purrlie [Burghley].  The man who carried the warrant to him had been imprisoned.  And Siffrans [Sir Francis Walsingham] was out of the town, having sent word of illness.

“Then what,” I arrkst, “will come of this?”

The black cat cried, “The Spanish will come, none can doubt it.  Oh, that I had me a ship, and could face them like the true sea cat I am.”

Such newes, and all veracious.

I hastened home with a nose so cold I could take no scents, and a head strangely full of old remembrances.  My first house, my uncle and his ways, the stable where I was born, my mother’s milky fur, the snorts of reeking [steaming] horses.

Thus it was that I thought I heared, rather than nosed, a cat behind the wall I passed.  Was it Grey?  I bristled up and called, “Slink not by the wall, sir, like a filthie rat.  Come, be a cat and show yourself.”

Came the answer, “Peace, your Gibship.  Give that maggot in your brains a holiday.”

I could not believe my ears.

There is but one cat in this world who calls me your Gibship.  My sawcie sister.


Toutparmoi - Editor's NoteMary Stuart was executed on 8 February 1587.  She had been implicated in a plot (one of many) against Elizabeth I’s life.  Both William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and Sir Francis Walsingham were keen to be rid of her because of the threat she posed to the political and religious stability of England.  There’s a good account of her life on Wikipedia.

Gib says that he is “in my prime”.  I think he was born in early 1580, so he would now be 7.

(His lord, the young Earl of Southampton, turned 14 in October 1587.)

22: I Am Friended

The strange cat and I sat a while.  We kept our eyes narrow, and looked not upon each other but on the night air, while I became akwaynted with his scent and he with mine.

I knowed he was a gib cat like myself.  But there was a smell about him that I could not place.  It come sharp to my nostrils and troubled me a little.

Then I caught the smells of leather, and of a man full-grown.  Two women next.  Fresh milk, a house dog, a boy.  And a whiff of horse.  None of these was an offence to me.

A Blue Cat by twilight.After a time he settled with folded paws, and I did the like.  We studied the grass beneath our noses.

I was still minded of the spy cat Master Grey, who told me he would find me.  Thinking this cat might have been sent to gather my spy newes (of which I have none), I spake first.

I sayt, “By night all cats are grey.”  For I believe this saw [saying] is how we spies know one another.

He kept his eyes to the ground and replied, “I am grey by day also, whilst you are spotted.”

That set me about, I do confess.  For if these were the next words we spies must say (or something like) I knew not how to reply.

Then it come to me that here might be the onlie chance I would have to rid myself of that bloodie knave who wished to drown me.

So I sayt, “There’s a knave in my household who guards the book room.  I heared him say that the sooner the Stew Queen chases the Great Queen from her place and takes it for herself, the better pleased he’ll be.”

All this cat sayt was, “I am not akwaynted with they queen cats, but if this knave meddles in their business then hanging were too good for him.”

And I thought: He knows nowt of policy nor papists, so he does not serve Master Grey.  Which meant I could not hope that Lord Purrlie [William Cecil, Lord Burghley] will take that bloodie knave hence and have him stretched.

A door with a cat hole dating from around 1450-1500.
This door with a cat hole dates from around 1450-1500, and came from France. It’s held in the Walters Art Museum.

Then this cat told me he has a very good place in the smith’s household, where all call him Smokie.  

When the weather is fair he keeps thieving birds and mice from the garden his mistress tends, and rats from the little house where her fowls are lodged.

But when it’s cold he stays in their shop [the smithy] and deals with rats and mice there.  He is accustomed to the shop noise, and there’s a hole cut in the door for him so he might go from shop to house as he pleases.

Then came musick to mine ears.

Smokie sayt that the men and women who come to the shop bring many tales and much newes, but he had never heared any so good as mine. 

He hoped we might be friends.

Smokie also sayt he knows a cow, and goes with the young mistress to milk her.  His young mistress sometimes squirts milk at him instead of in her bucket, and he tries to catch it in his mouth.

A sport that ends with him wiping his face with his paws and then licking them clean.  And he sayt I would be most welcome to join him at the milking and take a squirt of milk there.

Oh, what a sweet fellow this Smokie is.  I do love him alreadie.


Toutparmoi - Editor's Note

The “bloodie knave” and Gib clashed over territory (the library) in 1:  I Begin a True Relation of My Life.

The “Stew Queen” and the “Great Queen” are Mary Stuart Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I of England.  Gib learnt about politics and religion from the spy cat Master Grey in 14:  I Am Turned.