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.


16: I Prove My Valour

A Brindled Cat
A Brinded Cat

Now I have writ of my birth and bringing up, and of how I came to be a poet and a spy, I will tell how I pass my days.

There is a brinded cat here that did nowt but torment me.

He did not bristle up when he saw me, but contented hisself with persecuting me most sly and suttle.  For wherever I found a pleasing place to sit, when next I went there he were in it.

And when I found another, he would claim that too.  This happened many times.

And he crept up to my young lady’s chamber, and left his mark on the door.  I over-marked him, but his misfeasances [ill doings] left me mopish.

Then it come to me that mayhap he too served that spy cat Master Grey.  So I sayt to him, most civil, “By night all cats are grey.”  (I thought that might be our watchword.)

He glared at me.

Today the sun came forth, so I stepped out to take the air upon the garden wall.  This brinded cat came and sat not far from me, with his paws folded under his breast and his tail wrapped neat about him.  Most peaceable.

I believed we might be friends.

Then he bent his head to sniff the wall beneath his nose, gave me an evil look, and sniffed the wall again.  Like the very stone whereon I’d trod was foul to him.

I never knowed such insolencie in all my life.

I puffed up, laid back my ears, and stepped most prideful along the wall.

A cat of honour (which I am) will advance slow and sideways so our enemie may see us well, reckon our strength, and yield if he so chooses.

Advancing in this wise was not easie, for though the wall is broad I am a long cat.  (And I never done this in earnest before, but had watched my uncle at it many times.)

The rascal rose to meet me.  His fur rose with him.

He gave me the look direct, and I returned it.

“Give way, sirrah!” I cried.  “I will have this wall.”

“The wall is mine, sirrah,” cried he.  “Make of that what thou wilt.”

He lashed his tail.

I had at him then, and knocked him flying.  We fell to the ground, righted ourselves, and went hard at it.  I gave him many good kicks in the belly, and he gave me some too.  Oh, how our fur did fly!

But I triumphed.  It was he who first cried, “Hold! Enough!”

I kept him down and whispered that if he did not tell me where in that house the cheese-wits [Jesuit priests] were hid, I would bite his head off.

He swore on his life that he knew nowt of cheese-wits, and I believed him.  (I know nowt of them myself, but am here to spy them out.)

I let the rascal rise, and stood firm while he walked away.  He stepped very slow, like one who went because he wished to, not because I beat him.

When he was at a distance, he turned and sayt, “The only cheese-wits I know of are those you have beneath your ears.”

“No, friend,” I sayt, “What I have beneath my ears is a most conceitful maggot.  But you will never know of such a treasure.”

A little BeeFor it come to me that my maggot was not an evil worm like the one that turned the old Earl’s wits and consumed him with wild fancies.  My maggot was like to a pretty bee that lent its honey to my tongue and its wings to my words.

But even as I spoke, I grew mopish again.  For that spy Master Grey had called me a country clown, and sayt my tales were fool.  I fear his unkind words have driven my maggot out.

And without my sweet maggot, how can I be the young Earl’s poet?

Three Cats Fighting - workshop of Franz Snyders (1579-1657).
Fighting Cats – workshop of Franz Snyders (1579-1657). This fight seems to be about who will have the food basket.