154:  Fortune and Cats’ Eyes

The great house where Scabface thought Puss Fur-None [Bess Vernon] might lodge was not convenient for cats.

Not convenient for cats: the old Savoy Palace complex, where the dowager Countess of Southampton had an apartment.
The Savoy Hotel now occupies part of the site.

We had to leave the river wall and creep through a neighbour’s garden to gain entry to its yard.  That set the dogs a-barking.

And then Scabface could not tell me how to find Puss Fur-None.  But I thanked him, and we went our ways.

I had no choice but to haunt that house as once I’d haunted Essex House.  I nigh wore out my paws trudging back and forth between there and Black-Fryes [Blackfriars].

Some cats who were once respective to me hissed as I passed.

One whispered, “Your Earl’s a plain gentleman now, no better than any other.”

“Worser,” spat her friend.  “For he’s a traitor.”

I bristled up, and from behind a grating came a call, “Keep your head on.  It’s all you’ve got.”

A line from one of my uncle’s sonnets came to me then.

When in disgrace with fortune and all eyes

That much were true of me and my Earl.

Had I not seen Puss Fur-None step from a coach one day, I would have ceased my painful progresses to that house.  (I’d learnt it was my Earl’s mother who dwelt there.)

Puss greeted me most loving.  Then she carried me in, saying she hoped I brought good fortune.

“Good fortune!” cried the old Countess, eyeing me uncivil.

I remembered she’d sayt her son must have been bewitched to know nowt of the conspiracy until it happened.  Of a sudden I feared she might claim I’d done the witching.

But instead both ladies fell to lamenting my Earl’s plight.  He was ill of a sickness which had troubled him before.  Ake-you [Ague].

And swellings.  (Swol with discontentments at having to feign penitence and beg the Queen for mercy, most like.)

Puss Fur-None sayt how grieved she were that she could not visit him, else she would take me to cheer him.

Cheer him?  What of me?  ’Twere one thing to visit the Tower (a thing I’d always hoped to do) but who would wish to spend their days emprisoned?

Then and there I resolved to birth my kitlings in that house.  If Her Majestie ever did permit a visit, His Harryship could have one or all of the little darlings in my place.

And because I’m a cat of honour and Scabface had kept his word (more or less), I kept mine to him.  I held a Revel when next I were in Black-Fryes.

We had not time for tales.  Many cats wished to tell of their doings during the late trouble.  I will not set this down, for I’ve writ much of it before.  Save to say that Picker and Stealer brought newes from the Tower.

They swore Essex’s head was cut off private just to spite him.  They sayt, “Were it done publick, the citie would have showed its discontent.”

And they professed joy that my Earl and so many other rebels still lived.

Kind words?  I could scarce believe mine ears.  But Picker and Stealer were creatures of the citie, born and bred.  They knew which way its rivers ran.

Then Scabface told of his assalt on White-Hall, and how he’d affrighted Queen Puss’s hare from her head.

That brought great applauds.  All sayt we must have another Revel before the year was out.

I sayt we would, though I still feared what the year might hold for me.

Tricks would have been familiar with this rooftop view, looking east towards St Paul’s, and the precinct of Blackfriars.
Arundel House was next door to Essex House.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe Earl of Southampton’s ague – intermittent bouts of high fever accompanied by shivering and cold at onset – was probably malaria, still common in England at the time.  He was said to have a quartan ague, i.e. one that returns every fourth day (every 72 hours).  Plus he suffered from swollen legs and other parts.  I don’t know what could have caused that.

He’d also lost his earldom and become plain Henry Wriothesley, though most people still continued to refer to him as an earl.  Old habits die hard.