21: I Tell My Tale of Teasel Puss

I’ve been so brisk about my business as a poet, I’ve had no time to pen my diurnal [journal].

And I have a new friend.  Smokie, he sayt they call him.  But I go too fast.

Our Hero Teasel Puss
Our Hero Teasel Puss

First, my tale.  I was most careful in my preparation.  For it come to me that I must start when things are about to change.  And tell of Teasel sooner than I did in my diurnal, because he’s our hero.

I broke my tale into five parts, and told it over five of our assemblies.

And I oped with a prowlook [prologue], so that they cats who never before heared a good tale could have an inkling of what was to come.  I sayt:

My tale’s of Teasel Puss, courageous cat,

In far off Krete where I do lay my scene,

A spinster’s joy, though scarce worth looking at,

He’s of a brownie hue and somewhat lean.

But here’s a green-eyed milkmaid whose chaste smile,

Did make men long to break their marriage vows,

Till from her fatal loins sprang one so vile,

All knew she’d set her hands on more than cows.

And what became of all the fair young cats,

Who left their mothers thinking they had places

In households where they’d keep down mice and rats,

Yet none e’er saw again their lovely faces?

I’ve puzzles here, enough to leave you dazed,

So prick your ears; prepare to be amazed!

Then I told of the woman who came offering places, and the alehouse talk about a monster with a taste for flesh.  And Teasel saying he’ll seek the truth of it.  The second part was about the wicked milkmaid and her son the Man-Bull in the laprint [labyrinth].  Yet Teasel says he’ll go there.

Oh, when I spake of how ’twas sayt that the Man-Bull seized young cats with his hands and bit their little heads off, some did scream aloud.

And many sayt they were afeared to go home, because their ways lay through fields with beasts in them, and who knew what those beasts might do?

A Field with a white, horned cow and calves in it.
A Field with Beasts in it.

But all ran off most merry, saying they would not fail our next assembly because they longed to hear what happened next.

They know I’m lying.  And I know that I’m lying.  But when I tell and they listen, we all think I speak true.  And that do maze me more than any laprint could.

Thirdly, I told of the bold cats that join Teasel and of their fearful walk to the Man-Bull’s lair, which Teasel enters first.  The fourth part was Teasel’s game with the Man-Bull, and the fight where all help slay him.  And fifth, I ended with their flight from the laprint to come safe home.

The cats here loved the tale so well they arrkst for it again.  I fear I’ll tire of it afore they do.

I was walking home thinking on this when it come to me that I was followed.   I bethought me of that spy cat Master Grey who’d so affrighted me when I was young, but all I saw when I looked back was a cat most courteous, with his ears forward and his tail held high.

He came on a little, then sat hisself down a proper distance from me.  I sat too.  True, I did wonder if he served Master Grey and wished to know if I had any newes, so I readied myself to be most suttle.

But I have not space enough on this paper for what sayt I to him and he to me, so I’ll tell more when next I write.

Toutparmoi - Editor's Note.Gib’s alarming encounter with the spymaster Grey, and his “recruitment” as a member of Grey’s spy ring, begins in 12:  I Am Followed and goes through to 14:  I Am Turned.


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?