45:  Lackwits All

I feared the worst when I stepped into the centre of our circle to tell my newest tale.  That is, the romance of Sir Waine and the cankered cat.

Two young black cats standing in devil pose.Straightway some cats rose up on their legs and clawed at the air, feigning to be devils.  Or the souls of women.

It come to me that they might not wish to hear a romance.

They listened to the first part most respective, but I guessed they was hoping for a bloodie end to it.  They screeched with joy whene’er they thought Sir Waine might be slain.

All returned to hear the second part, but then came the snibs and scorns, the fleers and flouts.

One queen cat marvelled that Sir Waine’s servants were joyed by his return.  She arrkst, “Who would want him back after they had the house to theirselves?”

The lackwit does not understand the management of a great household.

I sayt that in Sir Waine’s absence the steward watched over all.

A serious looking ginger and white cat.

But Linkin the Law Cat (and Know All) sayt that the steward had been lining his own pockets, more like.  Stewards must be watched, too.

Another called that there never was such a cat as a hunting leopard, and my tale was all lies.

Lies?  The geck knows nowt of poetical fictions.

Nero the Sea Cat leapt up then.  He spake very large about leopards, saying he’d seen some in Italy, and many more in Constantinople.

A detail from a painting showing a youth with a cheetah seated behind him on his horse.
– from Benozzo Gozzoli c1461.

They were as his good friend and fellow poet (me) had told.

And while I was thinking of a courteous way to tell Nero I was not his fellow, but a far better poet than he, a cat called that doubtless Nero’s tail was bit off by a hunting leopard.

Nero answered, “True.  He snapt at my bum, but I outran the spotted clown.”

And so he got the screech that should have been mine.

My sister called that she liked my tale well, even though it was fool.  “It was,” sayt she, “a comedy.”

“A comedy?” arrkst another.  “With no blood, nor no scruffing?”

“Our mad friend’s the best for comedy,” came a call.  “I do love his preachings.”

The Mad Cat was not present to hear himself praised above me.  He’s seen fourteen winters, or something like, and keeps by his fire when the nights turn chill.

I believe he would have liked my tale, there being no scandal in it.

There was worse to come.

After all had run off, my saucie sister told me she’d thought of a better ending for my tale.

She sayt, “When Dame Cat leaps from the bed with the curse half-broke, and Sir Waine speaks of trickery, she bites his head off.  The lady in the bed becomes a hare again.  Dame Cat chases her about the house, and kills her.  Then the servants rejoice to have Dame Cat as their mistress, because she makes no work for them.”

It’s a sorry day when I must take counsel from the likes of my sister.

I sayt, “I wished to tell of virtue, not of vice.”

“Small wonder all found it tedious,” sayt she.

Well, those ingrates will get no more tales from me.

They may kiss mine arse, as my sweet friend Smokie was wont to say when any vexed him.

A dappled white and grey cat, looking thoughtful.
Gib contemplates a deep-brained sonnet.

I intend to live retired in my house and write deep-brained sonnets.  Which I will tell only to my private friends (when I have found some friends).

And I shall begin with one about Smokie, who never wronged me.

I have writ the first two lines.

Shall I compare thee to a puff of smoke?

Thou art more furred, and less fumiferous.

Oh, I think that will be good.


44:  Sir Waine is Wedded

Gib, the narrator.Herewith, the second part of my romance.  As writ by me, Gib.

Sir Waine’s household rejoiced when he rode through his gate.  They’d feared him dead.  But they gaped at the cankered cat that sat behind him on his horse.

“Show Dame Cat to the best bedchamber,” sayt Sir Waine.  “Offer her the freshest eggs and softest cheeses.  And whatever else she desires.”

His steward cried, “Must we have her in the house?  She can lodge in the woodshed.”

“Do as you’re bid.  And send for the priest.  Tomorrow she’ll be my bride.”

None durst speak then, for fear of laughing.

They were wedded at first light.  There was but the priest, and a glum old man as witness.  He’d ne’er been known to smile, before that day.

“Where are our guests, with gifts and good wishes?” arrkst Dame Cat.

“There was not time enough to send out letters,” sayt Sir Waine.  That was the truth, but only half, as she well knew.  Her black tears flowed afresh.

To cheer her, Sir Waine sayt they’d break their fast at high table in the Hall.  All the household would make merry and drink their health.

There was not time for roasts, but the servants brought forth cold cuts.  Dame Cat wept to see them, because she was sworn to eat no flesh.  But there was fish, fresh caught and broiled, which she could have.

She ate most delicate.  Her only fault was to take a drink from the bowl for cleansing her paws.  Like all us cats she licked them, then wiped her face.  The boy who served her smirked to see it.

A very handsome and sad-faced young man sitting at a table and holding a piece of fruit that he shows no interest in eating, in one hand. Behind him stands a youth with a slightly mocking smile.
– by Giorgione (1477-1510)

Sir Waine had no appetite.  He feared she’d call for musick and dancing, and he did not wish to foot it with a cat.

Dame Cat, being full-fed, desired no more than a walk in the garden, and then a rest in the shade.

All day Sir Waine hid hisself, he felt so fool.  At night Dame Cat came clawing at his chamber door.

He called, “You have the best bedchamber.  Are you not content there?”

“I’m your wedded wife.  You can’t deny me your bed.”

He had no choice but to admit her.  She arrkst, “What ails you now?”

True knights never lie, save when it’s a matter of a lady’s reputation.  Sir Waine sayt, “I’m wedded to an ugly cat.  Whoever had such a wife?  I wish I were dead.”

“But for me, you would be.  I crave your pardon.”  She curled herself at his side, and slept.

Hare by Hans Hofmann 1528. Adapted from Albrecht Durer's more famous work.
– by Hans Hoffmann 1528

In the morn, there was a live hare by his pillow.

“What’s this?” he cried, feigning joy.

“My gift to you,” sayt Dame Cat. “I crept out before dawn.  What have you for me?”

He had nowt.

“A kiss will suffice,” sayt she.  “And as I’m so ugly, you may quit the bed and draw the curtains.  I’ll thrust my paw between them.”

Sir Waine was truly shamed.   He sayt, “Offer me your paw.  I’ll kiss it now.”

Dame Cat insisted he stand well off.  Then from within the bed came a lady’s slender arm.

“What witchery is this?” cried Sir Waine, as he raised her fair fingers to his lips.

“’Tis we who are bewitched,” sayt a sweet voice.  And when he loosed her hand he glimpsed, between the bed curtains, a very goddess.  She drew the curtains close and sayt, “Come not near, Sir Waine, until you hear what I must say.

“Your poor cat was accursed until a true knight would marry her.  Now the curse is half gone.  She may be beauteous by day and loathly by night, or loathly by day and beauteous by night.  Which will you choose?”

Sir Waine thought long.  “For,” as he sayt, “were you beauteous by day, none would mock me.   We’d hunt together, and dine at the high table in sight of all.  Were you beauteous at night, we’d sup by candlelight and I’d be honoured by your presence in my bed.”

Then he sayt,  “The choice cannot be mine.  You must determine which you’ll be.”

“I thank you, Sir Waine.  Now your wife may have her way, she’ll be beauteous by night and day.”

And a great hunting leopard sprang from his bed and oped her mouth to show fine fangs. “Behold,” sayt she, “your cat.”

A close-up of a threatening cheetahIn truth, she was a beauty.  She had handsome spots where once her cankers oozed.

Her tears were dry, though they’d stained her face from eye to whisker.

“Where’s my lady wife?” cried Sir Waine. “You tricked me!”

“Not I.  Who sayt Dame Cat would turn woman?  None, as I recall.

“We’ll hunt together.  I’ll ride behind you on your horse, and when the game’s afoot none gives chase as swift as I.  Ladies will long to sup with us by candlelight, and even share our bed.  In the matter of women, I’m metal most attractive [magnetic].  And you may do what you will.”

Sir Waine could not be tempted. “You’re still my wedded wife,” he sighed. “I’ll not break my marriage vows.  And though it breaks my heart to think of the fair lady who offered me her hand, ’twas but a waking dream.”

“Not so, Sir Waine,” came a voice.  Dame Cat moved aside so he might ope the bed curtains.  There was the lady, free to tell him all.

She sayt, “The Red Knight came again and again to woo me.  I refused him with civilitie, and endured his jibes and jeers.  One day I lost patience, and told him he had a better chance of catching Dame Cat.

“He cursed us then.  He called me Witch, and changed me to a hare.  Dame Cat became a shrunken thing of wounds and weepings.  He sayt she could be free from her pain whene’er she chose.  All she need do was kill and eat me.

“Dame Cat swore she’d eat no flesh until we were our selves again.  The Red Knight sayt that would only be when a true knight wed her all unknowing, and proved a faithful husband.”

Two cheetahs standing side by side and looking out over a landscape.
– from Titian, 1523

Then Dame Cat released Sir Waine from his wedding vows.

Her mistress wed him, and they found what they called a husband for Dame Cat.

And though we cats care nowt for marrying, all were happy.




Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.

There are numerous versions of the story of Sir Gawain and the “loathly lady” he marries after she saves his (or King Arthur’s) life by revealing what it is that women really want.  After Sir Gawain demonstrates how well he understands this, the loathly lady becomes beautiful.

Gib makes a cat the hero of his tale.  I’m not aware of any cheetah, or “hunting leopards”, in Elizabethan England; Gib must have been in the library at Place House and seen a drawing or two.  Cheetah seem to have been a status symbol in Renaissance Italy, but they have a long history of being kept for hunting.  There’s an interesting article on this Zookeeper’s blog.