51: An Upcreeping Ear-licker

Gib, looking large-eyed and self important.Yes.  An upstart that thinks hisself a poet has been so bold as to come creeping after my lord.

I have his book before me.  “Right Honourable,” (writes he to my lord) “I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship.”

Thus he crawls, tail a-wag and belly to the ground, as such curs do.

“Only, if your honour seem but pleased,” (which is to say: reward me well) “I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours” (as I now take advantage of you) “till I have honoured you with some graver labour.”

Well, I hope that labour may be a grave one indeed.  Whose grave, you may guess.

The cover of the first edition of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, 1593.His poem was of Venus and Adonis.  The knave took it from the Book of Changes [Ovid’s Metamorphoses] wherein I have found some tales.

He changed the Adonis tale to suit hisself (as a poet should) but his embellishments are most lascivious. 

Adonis, a silly boy, goes hunting.  Venus, Queen of Love, calls to him, pulls him from his horse, drags him away, and flings him to the ground.

He hates her as I hate my empty bowl.  And he’s not willing to scruff her.  So she says he’s in love with himself like Narcissus. (Yes, he again.  Can these fools write of none other?)

A bed of wild violets.
“Be bold to play, our sport is not in sight:
These blue-vein’d violets whereon we lean
never can blab, nor know not what we mean.”

Adonis tries to flee, but his horse has run off after a hot mare.  Venus praises his horse most high.  All Adonis wants is to catch him.  And run away from Venus.  He’s too young to do what she wills.  His day is spoiled.

In truth, I found this tale so tedious I did but skim the rest.  There was a hare that was of interest to me, and later some sorry dogs.  Nowt else.

At last Adonis did go to kill a boar, but the boar killed him.  All know that, because the ends of these old tales may never be changed.  Up came a flower from his blood, which Venus picked.  Then she flew away with two doves.

Word of doves inflamed my appetite, I do confess.  By good fortune, there was baked pigeon for my supper.  With gravy.

When I told of this nonsense at the Cats’ Field, the queen cats could not believe it.  My sister marvelled that any hot queen would molest an innocent kitling.

Some were offended.  One arrkst why Adonis had not called to his mother.  She would have chased that nastie goddess off.

The Mad Cat lost no time in saying that my newes proved the wickedness of poesie. “A poet, a liar, a lecher.  Who can tell one from another?” arrkst he.

A black cat looking excited

That made us merry.  Nero leapt up and sayt, “Friend, I fear you may be right.”

I sayt, “I fear there may be more such fooleries to come.”

“There will,” sayt Linkin the Law Cat.  “Two winters more, and our young Earl will be of full age and get his claws on all his money.  The starveling poets know it.”

“They’ll swoop like glutton gulls,” sayt Nero.

“And who is this upcreeping ear-licker that writ so foul?” my sister arrkst.

A scarlet macaw, from an eighteenth century painting.“Certes, no cat,” sayt Nero.  “Nor no gentleman neither.”

“I hear tell he’s a mere player,” sayt I.  “One that never utters a line of his own invention, but spews forth those of others.”

“Like to the parrot my master keeps, and fowl it be,” sayt Nero.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe narrative poem Venus and Adonis was published some time after 18 April 1593 when it was entered in the Register at Stationer’s Hall.  William Shakespeare’s name is not on the cover, but beneath the dedication.  His first appearance in print.

It was a bestseller, and said to be very popular with the younger sort.  As Shakespeare’s Adonis sounds so young (a major change from Ovid’s version where Venus and Adonis are, briefly, a couple), modern readers are more likely to share the queen cats’ opinion.  But that wouldn’t have been how a lot of Elizabethans read it. 

The plague continued in London throughout 1593, and the theatres and other areas for public entertainment (such as bowling, and bear or bull baiting) were closed.  So what was Shakespeare doing that year?  Some have speculated that he may have entered the Earl’s service, and spent some time at Place House.  If so, Gib hasn’t confirmed his presence there.


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.