33: Purrsa and Purrsie Triumph

A portrait of Gib, the narrator, a dappled blue and white cat.I now have paper enough to end my tale of the petrifying Witch, wherein all receive their just deserts.

The spy bat returned, and gave his report.  The Witch kept a maidservant with a chain about her feet.  He had clicked this maid by the woodpile, and later at the well.

 Then he scouted in the house.  The Witch’s bedchamber was at the top of the stairs, but the maid had a pallet in the Hall.

“Why has this maidservant not been turned to stone?” arrkst Purrsie. “Does she never see the Witch’s face?  Has she no eyes?”

“That I cannot tell,” the bat replied.  “But this I know.  The Witch snuffed the candles, dowsed the fire, and climbed hiss-haired to her bed.  There was no light in the Hall, yet the maidservant moved about as easily (but for her chain) as I.  Perhaps her sighs serve her as my clicks do me.  And could I click deep enough, I believe I’d find a heart swol with sorrow.”

A pipistrelle bat in flight against the night sky.
A pipistrelle bat in flight. CC photo by Barracuda1983.

“Together we’ll kill this Witch,” sayt Purrsa and Purrsie. “May the Queen Cat of Heaven protect us.”

“I call no cat heavenly,” sayt the bat.  “But the Great Bat who spreads her wings to dark the sun helps all who hang together.”

The next night Purrsa and Purrsie walked to the Witch’s house.  They carried with them the bag their mother’s old master tried to drown her in.

Purrsie waited at the woodpile, and Purrsa by the well.

The bat flew above.  There came the sound of the chain; the maidservant was in the yard.

She went to the woodpile.  Purrsie crept beneath her gown and rubbed against her legs.

“A cat?” sayt the maidservant.  And reaching down she ran her hand along his back.  “Best go, little friend, lest you be struck to stone.”

Purrsie stepped aside.  The maid fetched some logs, set one on the block, and split it.  When she turned for another, Purrsie leapt up on the block.  She all but put the log on him.

She sayt, “Bad cat!  You dice with death.  Be off!”  And clapped her hands.

A voice called from the house, “Who’s there?  Must I come and look on him?”

“’Twas but a gnat,” called the maidservant.  She set the log with care and split it clean, whispering, “And I wish this were your head.”

Purrsie sayt, “That maid has two fair eyes, but nowt enters there.  Though skilful, she sees not cat nor log.”

The maidservant took the wood into the house, and the bat flew in behind her.  Later, when she went to the well, he brought word that the Witch was in her bedchamber.

Purrsa and Purrsie slipped inside, carrying the bag they’d brought.  Purrsie hid hisself behind a wall-cloth at the top of the stairs.  Purrsa crouched in the bag at their foot.  Then she gave a yowl.

A bust of the Medusa by Bernini, showing her as a living woman rather than a severed head.
Bernini’s Medusa. CC photo by Livioandronico2013.

The Witch came forth, holding her candle.  She whispered, “Here, puss. Let me see you.”

Purrsa answered soft and sweet.

“Are you below?” arrkst the Witch.  “If you won’t come to me, then I must come to you.”

True words.  As she stepped onto a stair, the bat flapped out her candle and Purrsie twined about her feet.

She fell head first, and brake her neck.

The maidservant, who’d returned with her pail of water, heared all.  She started forward, saying, “Is she dead?”  Then drew back, because the hair-snakes hissed.

Purrsa sayt, “If they snakes still live, perchance her evil eyes do too.  Her head may be of use to us, and you are skilled in chopping.”

The maidservant fetched the axe.  Purrsa and Purrsie held the bag wide and pulled it over the Witch’s head.

“The snakes can’t bite now,” sayt Purrsie.

The maidservant felt for the Witch’s neck, and struck.  “Perfection through practice,” sayt she.

The bat, his work done, went to his supper.

A miniature portrait an unidentified lady painted c.1550.
A miniature by the Tudor court artist Levina Teerlinc c.1515-1576.

The maid sayt she’d been a limner, and painted portraits no bigger than a playing card.

But first one eye lost the light, then the other.  All was darkness.  She knew a few blind folk, and they could tell day from night and a window from a wall.  So she went to the Witch, seeking a remedy.

The Witch brought out the chain, saying it had power to heal.  The payment was but seven days of service.

All lies.

And after the Witch was cursed, the maidservant knew she might never go free, for she alone could not be petrified.

Purrsa sayt, “On the morrow we’ll bring the smith to strike off your shackles.  But first we must take this bag to him that owns it.”

Purrsa and Purrsie dragged the bag to the door of the man they’d sworn vengeance on.  When he opened the bag he saw snake-hair, and guessed whose head it was.  He spilled it out, thinking to boast of killing the Witch.  Instead her eye-beams turned him to stone.

Two young cats, one tabby and white, the other ginger and white, with their tails held high walking together.Purrsa and Purrsie came away well-pleased with their doings.

All rejoiced to hear the petrifying Witch was dead.

The maidservant became mistress of the house.  Purrsa and Purrsie joined her.  Their mistress returned the Witch’s statues of people to their families, who put them in the church.

Then she made a fragrant garden, using some bird and animal statues as adornments.  Others she sold to folk who came seeking remembrances of the Witch.

And Purrsa and Purrsie refrained from catching bats ever after.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe bat Purrsa caught (in the previous post) and used as a spy was probably a pipistrelle.  You can listen to one on the UK Bat Conservation Trust’s website.  That may not be how echolocation sounds to cats, who don’t need a bat detector. 


32:  Purrsa, Purrsie, and the Petrifying Witch

I have a new tale that will please all.  A most heroick historie.  I will set down the first part now.

The mother of Purrsa and Purrsie. A pretty female cat, orange tabby and grey tabby with white chest, socks and underbelly
Their Mother

Purrsa and her brother Purrsie had scarce oped their eyes to the light of day when their mother made them swear to avenge her.

She was beauteous, and her old master had kept her pent up in a tower.  There was a window, but it was barred.  She could not leap out, so spent her days in singing.

Many stone-cats came by, crying:

Mine ears! What voice through yonder window wails?

Why, ’tis the call of a most lovesome queen.

She answered:

This tower’s walls are high and hard to climb.

My master’s locked me in, and sworn to kill

all courting cats.  In sooth, I would be thine.

Or thine.  And even thine.  You’d know my will,

were I not jailed.  But Sirs, I pray you, flee,

lest there be tragick ends for you and me.

(To set down all in verse will use much paper, of which I have scant supply, so I will write in prose and keep my poesie for the telling.)

One of her suitors (his name was Soose) was akwaynted with a fair lady.  This lady’s hair was the colour of moonlight, and her eyes as yellow as the sun.  She was also a witch, as Soose well knew.  He begged her to turn him into wind so he could waft through that barred window.

White Valerian Flowers
Valerian – a fragrant flower to sniff.

The Witch sayt she would, with one condition.  She’d heard of a garden sacred to the Queen Cat of Heaven.  It was filled with fragrant flowers to sniff, and mints to roll in.

She promised that if Soose led her there, she would do all that he desired.  Oh, she was wicked.

For no sooner had Soose breezed off to seize his sweet queen by the scruff than the Witch and her franion [paramour] did the like in the sacred garden.  Underneath an elder tree.

The Queen Cat of Heaven saw all and waxed wroth. She cursed that Witch’s silver hair, making snakes of it.

Next she cursed her golden eyes, so that any who looked on her fair face and were touched by her eye-beams would turn to stone.

Thus it was that when the Witch’s franion cried out in horror at her hissing hair, the first she made a statue of was he.  Bare-arst.

A Cameo of the Medusa, via Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Saliko.
A Cameo of the Medusa, via Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Sailko.

The Witch ran home.  All creatures who looked upon her face as she passed were petrified.  Word of her wickedness spread.

The Queen Cat of Heaven doomed Soose to live as wind forever, and you may hear him on wild nights a-wailing at your walls.

She cursed the elder tree, too.  Its berries will poison us, even though we might love its flowers and the dust it sheds when a branch is cut.

And any who cuts an elder branch may also be curst, should they forget to say “Sorry” to the Queen Cat of Heaven.

Meanwhile, the queen in the tower grew fat, and her cruel master put her in a bag and cast her in the sea.

The Queen Cat of Heaven took pity on the two innocent kits in her belly.  She sent a great shoal of fish to swim beneath the bag and keep it afloat until a poor fisherman netted all, fish and cat together.

Purrsa and Purrsie were birthed in his hovel, and fed on fish.  They grew to be as light-foot as the air.

There came the day when they set forth to be revenged on the man who used their mother so ill.  They had not walked far when they came to a house with a yard full of statues.  Cats, birds, squirrels, foxes – Purrsa and Purrsie had never seen the like.  Many children, too.  And men and women with knives, clubs and staves; gentlemen with swords and pistols; great dogs with spiked collars.

Some were covered in moss or ivy.  Others were new-made.

Purrsa and Purrsie guessed whose house it was, and durst not raised their eyes from the earth.  They crept along swivel-eared, and when they heared footfalls and the rattle of a chain, they ran home.

A prettily marked female cat with a red tabby face, grey tabby back, and white socks and underbelly. Looking cross.
“Have I reared two coward cats?”

“Have I reared two coward cats?” arrkst their mother.

“You have not,” sayt Purrsa.  “But before we kill your old master we mean to kill the Witch who petrifies all.  And we must have a stratagem.”

The next evening Purrsa hid herself behind a tree and waited till a little bat came clicking by.  Oh, how that bat cried Mercy when Purrsa caught him with soft paws.

“I’ll spare you if you swear to serve me this night and the next,” sayt she.

The bat so swore.

Purrsa told him to fly to the Witch’s house and make a survey.  “And discover, if you can, who there wears a chain.  Does the Witch keep a dog, or some other living thing?  But beware.  You must keep your eyes tight shut, and find your way by clicks alone.”

“And did you teach your mother how to birth and suckle you?” arrkst the bat, but stayed not for Purrsa’s answer.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorGib’s latest tale is obviously inspired by the story of Perseus and the Medusa, which he probably came across in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  However, he’s adapted it to a rural English setting and introduced new characters.

In using Ovid as his main source of stories, Gib’s in good company.  Shakespeare did the same.