75:  Of my Lord, and a Filthie Book

Small close-up of Gib's face.My lord has been here, very mopish.  

I’ve not seen my lady Moll of late, but I hear tell she too is full of discontentments.  Has there been some unkindness from Her Majestie?  Or a scandal?  This is a thing I must discover.

I know what it is to be dumpish.  I pitie my lady Moll, and my lord.

My niece arrkst me, “What ails his Harryship?”

I reproved her.  “Our Earl’s name is Harry, but few may call him that.  Least of all you.”

Her words grieved me, I must confess, for it come to me that now my sister is gone none will ever call me, in jest, your Gibship.

And what ails our Earl?  Well, the great fleet that is to have at Spain sailed without him.  He could not go.

I heared tell that when he wished to join the Earl of Essicks and save Calley [Calais] from the Spanish, Her Majestie sayt: No.  But then Essicks did not go neither.

Perchance my lord hoped Her Majestie might change her mind.  Certes, he kept close to the Lord Admiral, but nowt came of that.

’Tis cruel to have a door closed in your face and no window to slip through.  As we cats know.

At the Cats’ Field, Nero gave A black cat looking excitednewes of the expedition.  There was over one hundred ships, and more sailors and soldiers than he could number.  Many fine gentlemen sailed with them.

“They’ll be sick and spewing now,” sayt Nero.  “Let’s hope their stomachs settle before they have to draw their swords.”

Some were mazed to see Nero with us, because he’d spake of going.

Nero sayt his old master was much recovered from his illness, and it was his dutie to stay with him.  And still he would not tell whither they ships were bound, though he claims to know.

I gave better newes.  I rose up and called, “Friends, I have in my house a book of filth, which I believe my lord brought with him.  In short, friends, it shows a new way for men and women to rid theirselves of their turds.”

“What’s wrong with the old way?” called a queen cat.

“Come they from their mouths now?” called another.  “Who’d have thought it?”

That got a great screech from all. 

Linkin cried, “What?  Dare we speak of lords and ladies intricated in so nastie a business?”

A man and woman in full Elizabethan dress with impressively large white ruffs.
The fellow that writ the book: John Harington, with his wife Mary Rogers.  Portrait by Hieronymus Custodis.

“We do,” sayt I.  “For lords and ladies do it.  And cats too.”

Another screech.

“The fellow that writ this book tells men and women to follow our example and cover their filthiness.  Indeed, he loves us cats so well he has made a strange device for them that we may fish in.”

“Fish for what?” arrkst my niece.

A diagram of the water-closet invented by John Harington.
Gib was obviously impressed by the fish swimming in the privy’s cistern.  I suspect they’re in the diagram to show the water’s clean.

All screeched mightily when I sayt our Earl was privy to this great effusion of knowledge.  We made such a merrie night of it I fear I must pass the morrow sleeping.

Oh, I grow old.  I believe I’ve seen fifteen winters.  In truth, seating myself and holding my pen makes my bones to ache.  So I write less, while my young skoller is fire-hot to learn more.  Why, I do not know.  Soon she will have kits to rear.

Come winter when she’ll be at leisure, I shall show her the filthie book I told of.  It may be more to her liking than poesie or flossfy [philosophy].


Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.If Gib and his niece managed to work their way through John Harington’s New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596) they did well. Though short, it’s not an easy read.  

His booklet outlines a design for a water-closet, forerunner to our flushing toilet, and is full of classical allusions, references to events and people, digressions, doubles-entendres and puns.  Ajax = a jakes (slang for a toilet, or what the Elizabethans called a privy).

John – later Sir John – Harington (1560-1612) was one of Elizabeth I’s many godchildren.  She appears to have been very fond of him, though he often infuriated her.  She was offended by this work, probably because of its satirical references rather than its subject matter.  However, John was forgiven, and a water-closet was installed in Richmond Palace.  There’s an artist’s vision in the Folger Shakespeare Library of how the finished product might look.

And the Southampton connection?  John Harington claimed to have first discussed the idea of his privy at Wardour Castle, the home of Sir Matthew Arundell.  Sir Matthew was the father-in-law of Gib’s Lady Moll (the Earl’s sister Mary).

The Earl, Lady Mary, her husband Thomas Arundell, and Sir Henry Danvers – the same Sir Henry who was later sought for murder – were all there.  No doubt they had as much fun as Gib and his friends did.

66:  My Little Niece

Gib, a cat with blue dapples, looking startled.My lord has gone to London.  I can call my house mine own.

This morning, as I passed through the kitchen, a boy gave me a fish head.  It was not to my liking, so I took it to my sister’s barn.

The kitlings there (my little niece, and two birthed by a niece full-grown) nibbled it most happy.

My sister and I sat a while together, peaceful.  We marvelled at how far we’ve come since we were kits in the old Earl’s stable.

I’m a poet and cat of the young Earl’s bedchamber.  My sister is a barn queen with many kin-cats most respective to her.

“In truth, Queen Puss [Bess] herself should envie you,” sayt I.  “Now she’s old, all who know her hate her.  She has no kit to take her place when she goes from this world.  That may bring us to strife, as in the old time.  Hers is a place many will fight for.  Or the Spanish may come at us, for their king thinks hisself our king too.”

I saw my little niece was listening prick-eared.  When I left for home she followed me.

“I wish to see your house,” sayt she.  “I wish to see the book room where you find your tales.  Will you show me how to find a tale?”

“I find my tales in books, not rooms.”

“What’s a book? I wish to see one.”

I walked fast.

“I have newes,” she called.  “I wish to give it at the Cats’ Field.  When shall we all meet again?”

I sayt, “If wishes were fishes, no cat would starve.”

"If wishes were fishes..." A still life by Pieter Claesz (c1597-1660)
“If wishes were fishes…”
A still life by Pieter Claesz (c1597-1660)

Then I added, “We shall not meet before the spring, unless any has great matter to report.  And kits may not give newes at our Field.  What do kits know that all would hear?”

“I know of the murder you spake of,” she sayt.

“Stale newes,” sayt I.  “Our stable cats saw seven horses go out at night.  Four returned, and now they’re in London with my lord.  All know the Daffers [Danvers] brothers and their servant are over the sea.”

She sayt, “My newes is not from these parts.  I heared it from a stranger cat who came by our barn.  He had it from another cat, who had it from another, and so across this country [county] and the next.”

“Gossips’ talk,” sayt I, but had patience.  I know what it is to be a kitling most curious.

She sayt, “The stranger cat told me that the gentleman who was slain is named Harry Long.  He came from a household where all are scoundrels.  Their servants murdered one of the Daffers’ men, and gave many insults and injuries besides.

“Then Harry Long writ unto the elder of the Daffers brothers, offering to whip his bare arse.  This brother set forth and gave him a beating.  As he turned to go, Harry drew his sword and wounded him.  The younger brother had no choice but to shoot the villain.”

Sayt I, “This report came from a cat in the Daffers household, most like.  Poets may tell lies, but we must also seek the truth.”

A small black, white, and orange kitten
Gib’s Little Niece

My little niece sayt, “I told the stranger cat that if he could swear to the truth of it, then come spring I would hoist my tail and let him put a kit in my belly.  And so he swore.”

“Well,” sayt I, “he would, wouldn’t he.”  

She gave me a pert look.  “Come spring, I will have as many sworn reports as I choose and a bellyful of kits.  But you will know no more than I, and have no kits at all.”

Then she ran off.

Oh, I pray those kits will settle her, else she may prove more rebellous than ever her mother and I were.