29: My Sister’s Story

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.

Two Spotted Cats with their faces togetherToday we were easier together.  We smelled noses.

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 did not like 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.

Uncle, guarding fish. From a painting by Clara Pieters.
Uncle, guarding fish.

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.

A Black Manx Cat - Photo by Albert Hester from The Book of the Cat-Frances Simpson-Public Domain-Wikimedia Commons
The Rival from Venice.

She sayt, “The cats here are so wild and wittie, I never heared 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 had feared as much.

Toutparmoi - Editor's NoteThe 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.


28: Newes of Queens, and More

The weather is foul, so I keep to my chamber and paw through books to find a new tale.  The cats liked Teasel Puss so well they expect much of me.  That mad cat apart.  He came to each telling and sayt all was sinful.

And roisterous cats made all the tellings hard.  When the wicked woman guises herself as a cow to deceive the bull, I sayt:  What happened then, all clever cats can guess.

But one cat called, “We be fool cats here.”  And another, “You must tell us in fair words.”

Likewise when the Man-Bull is slain and Teasel cries: Flee! one called, “Then scratch yourself.”

A Black cat on black background, looking watchfulAnd I know not what the black cat thinks.  He watches me most close, but keeps his ears high and his coat flat.  I looked to see how sat his tail, and saw he does not have one.

True.  (What became of it?)

Small wonder I cannot guess his mind. 

Yesterday the kitchen cat told me we were to meet this evening fair or foul.  The Night-Walker had brought newes.

I arrkst myself, could this Night-Walker be the spy cat Master Grey?

She sayt there was no newes hot enough to keep her bones from aching in the cold, so she would not go.  She hoped I would.

Many winters have passed since Grey first frighted me.  I am in my prime, while he’s surely old.  So I went, though the paths were wet and there was no moon nor the eyes of the Queen Cat of Heaven to light me on my way.

Not many cats attended.  They who did looked full-fed, with thick coats and well-fleshed bones. Night and silence.  Then came a low voice, and I knew it for the voice that once struck terror in my soul.  Grey (I swear ‘twas he) sayt that the Stew Queen’s head had been taken from her shoulders.

The Stew Queen, better known as Mary Stuart, former Queen of Scots. By Nicholas Hilliard c.1578
The Stew Queen, better known as Mary Stuart, former Queen of Scots. C.1578, by the English miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard c.1547-1619.

Some bold cats called, “Shame!” (I guessed they came from Catlick households.)

A young one arrkst if the Great Queen had bit her head off in a fight.  I thought Grey might bite that cat’s head off for so fool a question.

But Grey replied, most sweet, that the Stew Queen was no cat but a wicked woman, and her head was cut off with an axe.  So may all enemies of our Great Queen perish.

He sayt a cat that lodges in the house where justice was done knows a little dog that hid beneath the Stew Queen’s petticoats and accompanied her to death.

This cat had listened to the dog’s lament as its coat was cleansed of her blood.  Then the newes was carried hither along the great chain of cats who are our ears across this land.

An embroidery of a cat, done by Mary Stuart while in captivity in England.
An embroidery of “a catte”, by Mary Stuart while in captivity in England.  From the Royal Collection.  Does the colour of the cat (red, like Mary’s hair), hint at her and her dislike of captivity?  Or her patience in the waiting game?

“She was brought down by conspirators!” came a call from the dark.

“Men and women conspire,” sayt Grey. “We do but listen.  For as cats careful of our safety, we must be curious.”

The mad cat called his thanks to Grey.  There was no reply; he had slipt away.  Other cats ran off then, complaining of cold feet and paws.

The black cat lingered.  So did the mad cat and the young one who is his friend.  We four drew together, as gib cats do.

The mad cat was joyed, saying there was such fire in his ears his whole body was warmed.

The young cat (wise beyond his winters) had heared his master tell that the Great Queen was feigning sorrow, saying she’d done no more than sign the death warrant.  She’d not commanded that the thing be done.  She was raging at Lord Purrlie [Burghley].  The man who carried the warrant to him had been imprisoned.  And Siffrans [Sir Francis Walsingham] was out of the town, having sent word of illness.

“Then what,” I arrkst, “will come of this?”

The black cat cried, “The Spanish will come, none can doubt it.  Oh, that I had me a ship, and could face them like the true sea cat I am.”

Such newes, and all veracious.

I hastened home with a nose so cold I could take no scents, and a head strangely full of old remembrances.  My first house, my uncle and his ways, the stable where I was born, my mother’s milky fur, the snorts of reeking [steaming] horses.

Thus it was that I thought I heared, rather than nosed, a cat behind the wall I passed.  Was it Grey?  I bristled up and called, “Slink not by the wall, sir, like a filthie rat.  Come, be a cat and show yourself.”

Came the answer, “Peace, your Gibship.  Give that maggot in your brains a holiday.”

I could not believe my ears.

There is but one cat in this world who calls me your Gibship.  My sawcie sister.

Toutparmoi - Editor's NoteMary Stuart was executed on 8 February 1587.  She had been implicated in a plot (one of many) against Elizabeth I’s life.  Both William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and Sir Francis Walsingham were keen to be rid of her because of the threat she posed to the political and religious stability of England.  There’s a good account of her life on Wikipedia.

Gib says that he is “in my prime”.  I think he was born in early 1580, so he would now be 7.

(His lord, the young Earl of Southampton, turned 14 in October 1587.)