195:  The Terrors of Paws

An alert-looking black and white cat
Harry, our narrator

As I have writ before, Paws [St Paul’s] is the church wherein the citie’s soul is lodged. 

Folks go there to hear sermons, pick pockets, hide from any they owe money, see where the corpses of great folks are laid, beg alms, and shelter from the rain.  There’s a brewhouse and a bakehouse not far off, for refreshments.

But what takes most folks to Paws daily is the love of newes.  That’s what’s traded there.  The truths and lies that are fit to print are sold in the shops thereabouts.  All other truths and lies are trafficked along Paws’ Walk.

The nave of (old) St Paul’s, familiarly known as Paul’s Walk.  By day it was packed with strollers exchanging news and gossip.

And Picker and Stealer told me they’d conveyed the papers they stole from Snakes-Purr into a corner of Paws.  

They’d hid them in a hole behind one of the little houses wherein the corpses of fine folks are lodged.  They sayt they’d been sleeping on them.  That had served to flat them, and keep all safe from rats and mice.

They told me that when next the weather proved fair, I must meet them in Paws’ yard by day.  We would slip in through the north door, and they would show me where to conceal myself.  At night, when all was quiet, I could survey the papers.

I durst not say, No.  That is not a word to be used to Picker and Stealer.

In truth, I did not want to see the papers.   I was afeared to go to Paws by day, because the place would be throng with idle folks and their dogs.  And I did not know which door was north. 

But I kept my thoughts well-hid, and offered their ladyships many assurances of my gratitude. 

How I cursed the day our mother made us innocent kitlings swear vengeance on Snakes-Purr! 

Sure, my uppish sister had forgot her vow, and only the Queen Cat of Heaven knew where my brother and my other sisters were.  Which of us now remained with no choice but to consort with thieves and players?  Me. 

And who, having endured the terrors of the Tower, must now prepare to crouch among the dead folks and endure the terrors of Paws?  Me.

So, after a perilous journey too tedious to recount here (dogs, wicked children, a law skoller with a pistol) that was where I came to rest. 

Chill and cramped, hating all, and hearing strange snips of newes from the folks that passed by my hiding place.

Who was in, who out.  Who was wedded, who bedded.  Who sought a place, and who had found one.  Who was come from their travels; who was about to set forth.

I even heard tell of a man who’d lived for many years among the black folks in Africk.  They’d never seen a white man before.  (Belike they thought he’d been peeled like an orringe.) 

This man saw herds of beasts like horses, streaked with colours.  And great apes, very strong, though they eat only of fruits and the like.  And crockerdills that will pull anything they choose into the water for their dinner.

I might have heard more, but others came by talking of politicks.  And trouble in Ireland.  (Why was that newes?)   

Sure, they do not clack half so much in the King’s parlement.

At last all was quiet.

Then Picker and Stealer took me further into Paws, and bade me stand watch while they brought the papers from their hiding place.  They set them before me.

The hiding place?  The tombs of King Edda and King Ethelred in St Paul’s.

In truth, I knew not what to say.  Some were writ clean and fair, but others had blotted lines and scratchings.

A few, I think, were pieces of a play.  (I’d never seen the pages players learn their words from, but I had seen printed playbooks.)

Others (I thought) were verses, but I could scarce make out a line.  They were writ in a penman’s hand.  Not a lord’s, like mine.

I sat there with my paws folded, wishing to seem skoller-like and fearing to seem fool.

“Well?” arrkst Stealer, hopeful.  “Have we owt that may cause Snakes-Purr to be hanged?

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorPoor Harry.  I can’t read “a penman’s hand” i.e. secretary script, either.   Harry, like his mother and Gib before her, writes in italic script, the precursor of our modern handwriting.  Here’s a page with reminders of the difference: click on its links for the Secretarie Alphabete and Italic Hand to see how each looks. 

I admit to having been sceptical about the ability of cats to steal several bundles of papers, but an internet search revealed a few instances of modern cats stealing newspapers.  This brief clip of one in action convinced me. (I think the ad at the start of the video is longer than the cat action.)