My sister and I seemed strange to each other. Many winters had passed since we was well-akwaynted. And that chill night neither of us wished to linger, so we agreed to meet when next the sun did shine.
She told me that when she heard of a new cat, spotted like herself and claiming to be the young Earl’s poet, she thought of me. (I liked not that word “claiming”.) She’d attended the assemblies where I told my Teasel tale, but feared I might not know her.
I scarce did. She’d been a slender cat when last I saw her, proud to be so young a stable queen. Now she was full-grown, nigh as big as me.
“How came you to this place?” I arrkst. “And what of our uncle?”
She told me that our uncle and his cook had left our old household not long after I did. The cook had found a new place. Our uncle was well-used to riding with him, and travelled in a knapsack with his head poked out, to the great wonderment of all.
This time, my sister sayt, our uncle was no sooner in the knapsack than he complained of the cramp, for the cook took a deal of vittals before they quit the kitchen. Fish, a roast fowl, a ham, pies and the like, which he crammed in with our uncle.
Whether they would eat all on the way or sell some to defray the costs of their journey, she did not know. Our uncle told her they were going to a household where he could keep on with his work.
By which (sayt she) he meant gathering newes, not catching rats and mice.
Once all were gone, she marvelled that such idle cats as he and I should see the world, while she, who killed six rats a night and set them by the stable door, must bide where she was born like a country clot. (I liked not “idle cats”.)
She arrkst if I remembered the man that was oft in the stable looking to the horses.
Sayt I, “You mean that smiler with a knife who cut me?” (In truth, I bore him no ill-will for he also saved me from my sowsing.)
“And made away with many of my kitlings,” sayt she, not to be outdone. “Twas his custom to come by when I was doing what we queen cats must, and inquire how I fared, but when I turned to count, there was never more than one. Well, they be with the Queen Cat of Heaven now.”
“True,” sayt I. But I thought she could have hid herself better, as our mother surely did.
“He brought me morsels from his own dinner,” sayt my sister. “So I forgave him. Then came the day that he was in the stable very merry, telling his horses to eat well. They were leaving on the morrow. I had a daughter grown, so told her to keep my place. If I returned I would have it again, but if not she would know I’d found another, or was gone from this world. Then I crept onto his cart, and so came hither.”
She sayt he laughed when he took off the cover and she leapt out. “What, little lady? You here too?” Then he called her a mighty huntress and most welcome.
She walked about, and saw there was but one lame and ancient stone-cat in the barn.
“I could have chased that old cat off,” she sayt, “but he wanted company, so I friended him. He told me his mother had kept the barn for many a winter. Then he and his late brother did. They were lustie lads. There was not a queen cat in miles who did not fancie them. But all he dreamt of now was fresh coney [rabbit] and a fat bird or two. He swore that if I brought him some he would not trouble me. Well, he’s gone since, the barn is mine alone, and I like this place full well. It satisfies my mind.”
“Oh, you have a mind,” sayt I, sarcastical. I owed her an insult.
She sayt, “The cats here are so wild and wittie, I never heard such tales. That black clown without a tail who feigns to be from Fence [Venice?] can tell all things but the truth. You have a rival, brother.”
I’d feared as much.
The man Gib’s sister travelled with would have been one of the old Earl’s servants, though I’ve no idea of his identity. He appears to have returned to his own farm, possibly inherited. Gib’s “sowsing” occurs in 15: We Go Our Ways.
Cats tend to share the interests of those they live with, and I suspect the cook was as keen to gather “newes” as was Gib’s uncle. The cook may have been an informant (or, depending on whose side you were on, a spy) working in noble households whose political/religious sympathies were suspect. Anyway, he and Uncle sound well-matched.