105:  Scandal and the Citie

When I first met Onix, he sayt he was so necessary in his employment he had scant leisure.  I think the truth of it was, he had few friends.  His scents were so uncatly.

Once he knew Linkin and I did not distain him, he came to visit us by day.

We three were sat peaceable in our yard when I saw two lean shadows creep along the wall.

“Greetings, friends,” they called.  “We thought it time we was better akwaynted with the new stars in our fundament.”

A lean grey tabby with an intense green stare licks her nose.
Picker, a wicked cat.
– from Shubhankar Sharma via Unsplash.

Linkin and I let that pass.

“I call myself Picker,” sayt one.

And the other, “All know me as Stealer.”

Picker sayt, “We bring newes of your lord, the Right Honourable Earl of Southampton, Baron of Itch-Filled.”

“Titchfield,” sayt I.

“Cry you mercy!” sayt Stealer.  “We meant no offence.  You’re spoke of here as the Itch-Filled queen.”

Oh, I itched.  I itched to have at the saucie sluts.

But I narrowed mine eyes most courteous, and sayt, “Titchfield is a hard word for they that have no education.”

A lean grey tabby cat with an intense green stare and the tip of one ear missing.
Stealer, an equally wicked cat.
– from Shubhankar Sharma via Unsplash.

Stealer sayt, “Not so hard as the thought of your new Countess lying in prison at the pleasure of Her Majestie and the expense of her cousin, the Earl of Essex.”

“That’s not newes,” sayt I.  “All know Her Majestie hates any fair lady loved by a young lord.”

“Has Lady Essex a place at Court?” arrkst Linkin, rhetorickal.  “Will old Lady Lester [Leicester] ever be forgiven?”

“Or Mistress Rawly [Ralegh]?” sayt Onix. “First she was in the Tower, now she molders in the country.”

“Who trod on your tail?” arrkst Stealer.

Picker continued, “We also hear your Earl makes as great of a fool of hisself in Paris as he ever did here.  He does nowt but play [gamble] at games he rarely wins.”

“Surely, all know that lords love to play?” I arrkst.  “I once did battle with a great rat in the court [courtyard] at Titchfield, while my lord and his friends hung from the windows and laid wagers on us.  I earned my lord three hundred crowns.”

“Praise the day!” cried Stealer.  “But he’s lost three thousand since.”

“Doing battle at tennis and ballon with French lords,” added Picker.

“My lord is suttle,” sayt I. “The more money he loses in France, the better their King will love him.”

They fell silent then.  One clawed at her fleas, while the other cleansed her filthie paws.

Truth to tell, I enjoyed that bout of wits.

’Twas not long ere they came me again.

“Haply, you can answer this,” sayt Stealer.  “A cat in the household of a learned doctor tells of another fair lady who’s hot for your Earl.  How stands she in his affections now he’s wed?”

“Old newes,” sayt I.  “Nigh on a year has passed since I heard she was pursuing him.  Is one husband not enough for her?”

“Perchance she hoped her husband dead,” sayt Stealer.  “And herself a widow rich enough to hook any Earl.”

Picker arrkst, “Did your lord tell of the letter she sent him before he went to France?”

Linkin cut in quick.  “He did, and he chose not to answer her.  You may guess why.”

“We can,” they sayt.  “We do.  Your lord is Essex’ creature to the core.”

And away they flew.

“When heared you of that letter?” I arrkst Linkin.

“Never,” swore he.  “But if Picker and Stealer knew more than we, they would have put a different question to us.”

Then he rose and walked about our yard, setting his mark here and there to rid us of their presence.

I sayt to Onix, “I marvel that Paws, so sober and statelie, admits those dawkins to her parlement.”

“Did you not know?” he cried.  “They’re her daughters, and her spies.  Many fear them.”

Fear them?  Not I.  Like His Harryship, I loved to play.

When I was scarce more than a kit, I oft leapt into the yard where his hunting dogs lodged.  Most were in their house.  One or two might be free for exercise.  I watched them from afar ere I entered.

Oh, the joy when I cleared the wall again with their hubbubs in my ears and their hot breaths behind me!

I guessed my love of excitations would serve me well in this citie.

A drawing of the Earl’s house – The Place – at Titchfield.
The dog yard Tricks found so exciting is shown upper right.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorTricks and Linkin defended the Earl of Southampton well.

He certainly didn’t seem to be doing much to help himself – apart from maintaining the position that he’d done nothing dishonourable, and his only error was to marry without Queen Elizabeth’s consent.

However, lingering in Paris and pleading poverty while losing huge sums of money wasn’t a good look.  In late September 1598 Sir Robert Cecil had word from France that the Earl was making wagers of 2,000, 3,000, and even 4,000 crowns.

And what of Mrs Prannell (nee Frances Howard), whom Tricks last heard of in 1597? She had consulted astrologer Simon Forman again in early February 1598, when the Earl first left for France.  She asked: Would the Earl like her any better?  Did he tell of the letter she’d sent him?  When would he return?

By late September many people must have been asking that last question.

A late Elizabethan grey stone house, surrounded by parkland.
A view of Sir Walter Ralegh’s Sherborne Castle today.
Completed in 1594, and not so large then, it was where his wife Elizabeth  “Mistress Rawly” lived.  There are worse places to “molder”!  Anyway, she would have been kept busy.



97:  An Unfortunate Traveller

When we came to our first night’s lodging, Linkin and little dog Wattie were carried into the house.  I remained in the stable, and slipped from my basket to ease myself.  With much relief, for I’d held all in that day.

Two wooden buckets with handles made of rope.The boy was busy with the hens.

Then I went into the yard and took a drink from a bucket he’d left ready to wash the horses’ legs.

The boy lay in the straw that night, as did I, but he never saw me.

It was in the stable at our second night’s lodging that I was struck by the pains we queen cats know too well.

That were no marvel, but these pains came untimely.  I hied me to a quiet corner, where I brought forth three kits with neither fur nor breath.  I covered them with straw, much troubled in my mind and body.

Had I imbreathed some poyson from the herbs?  Or did the kits guess I had no safe place to bear and rear them, so chose to leave me and this world together?

Sure, they were more safe with the Queen Cat of Heaven than they could be with me.

A black, white and orange cat walking across some hay.We set forth again at first light and continued without any further mishap.  Until the fourth day, that is, when I was discovered.

“I must see,” sayt the mistress, “how my little garden is faring.”  She lifted the lid of my basket, and gaped on me.

Then she sayt, “Good Lord.”  And, “Oh, no.”

I do not think she could believe her eyes.  I narrowed mine, to sweeten my looks.

Her maidservant laid rough hands on me and pulled me out.  I offered no resistance.

The mistress told the boy to take the basket down.  When he set it before her she fell on her knees, lifted first one pot then another, and heaved great sighs.

Then all began to speak as if I were not present.

The servants sayt they’d seen me while they were making ready, and that I was oft in the yard with Linkin.  They swore they’d thought I’d run off when Wattie came out.

Wattie, hearing his name and knowing all were displeased, put on a face of shame.

The boy also wore a sorry face.  “I tended to the horses and the fowls,” he sayt. “But I know nowt of herbs, and never thought of them.”

“The fault’s not yours,” sayt the mistress. “I should have looked to them myself.” 

Her maidservant sayt, “Some may yet be saved.”

“And therein lies the lesson for us all,”  sayt the mistress.

She rose and dusted down her gown.  “Well, we go to a house in mourning, but here’s a tale and a task to cheer my little grandchildren.”

True enough.  Though I believe my late uncle would have found fit matter for a sonnet on all things broken in the bud.

The servants fell to marvelling that I’d lain so quiet, and not leapt out along the way.

The mistress sayt, “We can’t abandon her here, so nigh unto the citie.  She’ll never find her way home.”

Musick to mine ears.  But what came next was not so pleasing.  “Put her in with Linkin, and let us hope they will not fight.”

Linkin raised his voice in protest, but none took his meaning.  So he contented hisself with giving me evil looks.

I contented myself with thinking on all I hoped to see.  The houses where Queen Puss [Bess] dwells.  Queen Puss herself.  A play.  The Tower.  The bridge with bad men’s heads on spikes.

Heads on Spikes, somewhat out of proportion. A detail from Claes Visscher’s panorama of London from the south bank of the Thames.

Linkin took my thoughts, and made mock of me.

“You think you may walk one little way to see a palace, and another little way to see some other thing?  You country clot.  The citie is vast, and a cat can scarce go safe about the streets.  Masterless ruffians [dogs] haunt every corner, and set upon us for sport.  We must leap along the walls and leads [rooves] when we go abroad.”

“May we not go by water?” I arrkst.  “I’ve read many in the citie do.”

“How?” arrkst Linkin.  “Slip aboard a boat as Nero does, knowing none will harm you for love of your master?  You’re not in Titchfield now, you mooncat.  Creep onto a citie boat, and you’ll be cast in the river.  What a Know-Nowt.”

I lost patience then.  “You know nowt of what we queen cats must endure to make our ways in this wicked world,” I cried.  “Keep your unkind thoughts to yourself, you fat slug, or get you to hell where you was hatcht.”

“Why, I was hatcht in the citie,” sayt Linkin, soft and sly.  “You may well find it hell.”

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.The house in mourning Linkin’s mistress refers to is that of her lawyer son, whose wife has died.  Linkin’s mistress is going to run his household, presumably until he remarries.