72:  A Young Skoller

Small close-up of Gib's face.I had told my niece that I would fetch her when I found pens, ink, and paper left readie.  I was not wholly truthful.

First, I writ a page or two of my diurnal [journal].

Then, having nowt else to write of, I went to the kitchen for refreshments.

There I saw my niece, sat bold-arst by the kitchen door.

“What do you here?” I arrkst.

“I have employment in the wash-house [laundry].  You told me to creep in by degrees, and so I shall.” 

A quill being trimmed with a small knife.
Cutting a quill – not a task for a cat. From Jan van Bijlert (c1597-1671) – St Luke the Evangelist.

I led her to the book room where she arrkst more questions, too tedious to set down here.

She sayt the pen was nowt but a feather, and feared the ink was poyson.  I bore this with patience.

Then I gave her a tap on the head, as my mother did when she wished me to take heed.

I took the pen in my mouth, thrust it in the ink, seated myself as I would to cleanse my belly, and put the pen between my toes.

“Many in this household speak of me as the young Earl’s Gib,” I sayt. “My lord calls me Bevis.  I will show you how I write the sounds for Gib and Bevis.”

I made the marks for Gib.  Slow.

She watched me at my work. “I see the worms come forth.”

Then she grew fearful, and arrkst, “Will they creep into my head?  And there grow wings, as you sayt when you showed me the book?”

I’m sorry I told her that, for she cannot conceive it.

How else could I explain the sounds turned into marks that change to images in our mind’s eye?

Title page of Arthur Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, published 1567.
Arthur Golding’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis – one of Gib’s sources for his tales.

Metaphor, metamor, metamorphosis: one thing becomes another.  Fit matter for a sonnet.

But I fear I might confound myself.

So I sayt to her, “They worms will not enter your head unless you invite them.”

That cheered her, so I writ the marks for Bevis.

“Now,” sayt I, “Do you have a name?  Has any called you by one?”

“A wash-wench calls me Puss,” sayt she. “Though I may choose a better.”

A better name than Puss.  Did you ever hear the like?

“Puss,” sayt I, “will do very well.  It is one of the names of the Queen Cat of Heaven, and all cats may use it in her honour.  Now I will show you the marks for it.”

I writ it fair.  And then I told her to sit so I could put the pen between her toes.

“Now,” sayt I, “Make a mark with it.  Any will do.”

My little skoller [scholar] scratched a few.  But she became so eager of writing Puss that she had not the patience to wait for me to dip the pen for her.  She must attempt it herself, and splattered the ink.

When I reproved her she struck the ink-holder a blow that knocked it from the table.

I sayt, as I seized our paper and prepared to flee, “I’ll be blamed for that.”

“No,” sayt she. “I’ll make haste to catch a mouse or rat, and leave its corpse here.  All will think you knocked the ink while in hot pursuit.”

Oh, she is suttle.  I too am suttle, as was my lord when we were kits together.  A quality most needful in young skollers.

A drawing from 16th century France, by an anonymous artist. Held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A drawing from 16th century France by an anonymous artist. Held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The man at the table has a number of the necessities for writing: a knife for trimming pens, what looks like a spare pen in the ink jar, and a sand-caster for sprinkling sand over recent writing to dry the ink. (Not something Gib bothered with.)

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.I’ve often wondered why Gib had such easy access to the library, books being the expensive items they were.  He wrote of causing a certain amount of what we would call damage when he was living in a different household:  Cowdray House, belonging to the young Earl of Southampton’s grandfather, Viscount Montague.

The answer’s rats and mice who might have chewed the books.  An even more expensive problem in the days before books were printed.  Check out this delightful post on medieval cats with literary aspirations and notions of ownership.