86: The Fates of Nero

Our ships came safe home.  The Spanish rogues were coming to attack Fowl Mouth, but (as we hoped) the immortal wrath of the Queen Cat of Heaven wrought against them.  She would not suffer the rascals near our fowl.

A delicately coloured drawing of a small harbour with several ships, but only a small human settlement.
A section from a map of Fowl Mouth (better known as Falmouth, on the coast of Cornwall). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Our heroick Essicks has also fled.  He went to the country to scape the mortal wrath of Queen Puss [Bess].

The voyage yielded small profit for her, and she blames him for it.  But Siffrans Fear [Sir Francis Vere] found her taking the air in her garden at White Hall, and spake so loud in defence of Essicks that many standing by heared all.

A black and white drawing of a palce in semi-rural surrounds, fronting on to the river.
A 16th century sketch of the palace of Whitehall from the Thames, by Antony van den Wyngaerde. Via Wikimedia Commons.

I do not know if my lord is condoling with Essicks, or in London.  I dare say the Queen’s young Pusses think him heroick.

Some here say he sunk one of the King of Spain’s ships.  I know not the truth of that.

But, in the matter of truth, I reproved my niece for telling the stable cats that Linkin had murdered Nero.

“That was no lie,” sayt she.  “It was a poetick fiction.  Is it my fault they believed me?”

She told me her tale.  Too tedious to set down here, save that a cat named Lankin sought revenge on one called Miro, who had seemed his friend.

Then Lankin nosed Miro’s scents in his mistress’ bed.  So he waited in a secret place where none could witness what he did.  When Miro came by, Lankin leapt out and seized him by the throat, and made an end to him.

Next, Lankin took revenge on his false mistress.  He caught a mouse and dropped it by her petticoats.  The mouse ran under them.  Lankin did the like and, feigning hot pursuit of the mouse, he gave his mistress’ legs and bum a mighty clawing.

“Now, uncle,” sayt my niece, “if there were none to witness Lankin’s wicked murder, how could my report of it be true?”

A close-up of the nose and squinting eyes of Gib's niece - a blacl, white, and orange cat.She gave me the look direct.

I struck her on her saucie face, and she crept off.

Then I made my way to Linkin’s house, for I feared word of her slanders may have reached him.

But Linkin had his own tale to tell.

He sayt that a friend of Nero’s late master, knowing the Spanish were coming, went to Portsmouth to give what aid he could.  When all danger was passed, he lingered there rejoicing.

Then (sayt this man) what did he see but a black cat eating a crust in the gutter.  This cat was so thin, scabbed, and rusted, he knew him only by his lack of tail. 

He offered the cat a morsel of cheese, and captured him.  Once aboard the boat, the cat started whurring.  (The man shared this boat with Nero’s old master.)

And the man told Linkin’s mistress he believes that when last he went to Portsmouth, poor old Blackie (as he called him) lay hidden on the boat.  And slipt ashore, perchance to seek his master, then but recently deceased.

And he (the man), not knowing Blackie had been aboard, returned without him.

This cat now lies at Linkin’s house, where his mistress tends him.  Then he’ll go to lodge with the man who found him.

“So all’s well that ends well,” sayt I to Linkin.

Linkin knew not what to think.  He feared an imposture.  “He may well gull my poor mistress and that old pirate,” he sayt. “He shall not trump me.”

But whene’er Linkin goes to nose him and take what scents might lie beneath the stinks of gutter, this cat swears at him most horrible.

Linkin led me to the impostor, who lay resting in a scrap of winter sun.

A rusty-furred black cat. lying on his side.

I troubled not to nose him.  I arrkst, poetickal, “How now, you secret, black, and midnight cat?”

And he replied:

I held the Fates clamped tight betwixt my teeth,

And with my paw turned Fortune’s wheel about.

“What mean you by that, you clown?” arrkst Linkin.

“I mean my luck held,” sayt Nero.  “And with it the Garland’s.  But none heeded my advice, so we lost the King of Spain’s treasure by a whisker.  I will say no more.”

Certes, he’ll have much to say when he’s made his verses.  I hope I may live to hear them, true or false.

When I was private in my house again, I counted the winters I’ve seen.  I believe this to be my seventeenth.

I am of sound mind and in good heart, though my joints ake.  I have not lost my personal attractions.  Unlike Queen Puss who has few teeth remaining.  Or Nero, who Linkin’s mistress sayt should be new-named Rustie.

But sometimes I’m troubled by sharp pains in my loins, the like of which I never felt before.  Ask for me in spring, and you may find me a grave cat.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorA few quick points:

The Spanish hadn’t mustered the 30,000 men King Philip of Spain deemed necessary for an invasion, but they hoped to use Falmouth Harbour as a base from which to destroy the English navy.

The Earl of Essex, having little to show for his voyage, withdrew to his house at Wanstead.  A bad move, because it gave his enemies at Court a chance to work against him.

Sir Francis Vere seems to have been an honourable man.  He left a brief and business-like account of the Islands Voyage in his Commentaries, where he mentions his argument with the Queen.  Despite his annoyance with Essex over the level of command he was given, he didn’t want to see him unfairly blamed for the failure.

Gib’s niece has a lighter taste in her reading than her uncle does.  The ‘mouse under the petticoats’ incident is a steal from Beware the Cat.

54:  A Performance

A black cat's face, barely visible, but for the wide-open eyes.As if my lord’s dressings were not performances enough, we’ve had another.  Many came to see it.

Even that cunning rogue Nero crept in, concealed hisself in a dark corner, and saw all.

My lady Moll was here and I took my seat upon her lap, beside my lord.

After, when refreshments were served, I sayt to Nero, “Best you be off before any see you and take you for a fat rabbit and set a dog to catch you for their sport.”

Though in truth, the place did stink so high of strangers it were a very cute hound that could nose Nero out.

He snapt a wing of fowl that was tossed to me and leapt away, muttering of his happy apprehensions.

I heared my lord say, like unto a kitchen wench, “Ooh, look!  That cat has no tail.”

I fear my lord doth common grow.  If I catch Nero in my lord’s bedchamber his fur will fly, I promise you.

But I go too fast.  I must set down my thoughts more orderly.

Gib looking up, thoughtfully.We have seen a play.  At first I thought: What nonsense is this?

For it seemed that the players did nowt but jet it about, aping their betters and telling each other things that surely all with brains would know before the story started.

Then it come to me that this was easy work for a poet.  You need do no more than write the words, while others prance around and voice them.

And if, at the end of the performance, some call your tale fool you can say:  Friends, the fault is not mine.  I writ well, but those clowns could not carry it away.

Were I not sworn to tell no more tales for the lackwit cats here, I’d make a play.  Certes, there can be no great art to it when you see the puffed-up parasites that pen them.

But the little maggot in my head will not be still, and I fear that even as I write this his rival may be buzzing in Nero’s head.

I recall my maggot whispering of revenge when the fool cats who scorned my most excellent romance called for a tale of ghosts.  And how Nero pricked his envious ears when they did.

Does Nero now hope to make a play?  And will there be a ghost in it?  Happy apprehensions indeed.

Now here’s a thing.

My lord has had another dedication.  You never heared the like.  It comes from that common player who writ of the Queen of Love molesting an unhappy boy.

Dedication page of the Rape of Lucrece.His new piece tells of a wicked man who scruffed a woman who was not hot for him.

And he contrived an insult to me.  Yes.  He called that wicked man a “foul night-waking cat”.  After which I read no more.

Was he ever in this house?  Was his the filthie cloak that so offended me I raised my tail and set my mark against it?

Here’s what he writ to my lord:  “The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end; whereof this pamphlet, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety.”

“A superfluous moiety.”  That’s to say, too much of not much.  How true.

“The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance.”  (Or so he hopes.)

“What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours.  Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your lordship, to whom I wish long life, still lengthened with all happiness.”

What a claw-poll.

“Well,” sayt my lord, “at least he kept it short.  What say you, Bevis?” (Bevis is the name my lord and his lady sister gave me when we was kits together.)

I offered a performance of mine own.  I hoist one leg in the air, and licked mine arse.

My lord took my meaning, and laughed.

He’s gone to the city, but I’m content to bide here.  I have plans.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorWilliam Shakespeare’s second long narrative poem Lucrece (his follow-up to the previous year’s Venus & Adonis) with its dedication to Gib’s Earl was published sometime after 9 May 1594.

Both dedications to the young Earl have been pawed through by far more learned readers than Gib and I.  There may be genuine gratitude in this one.  By midsummer 1594 the plague had burnt itself out, the London theatres re-opened, and Shakespeare could resume his budding career.  The young Earl may have helped him through the lean period.  Otherwise Shakespeare (by now 30 years old, with three growing children to support) might have had to give up his theatrical ambitions and get a proper job.