168:  I Go Upon the Roof

Head of a startled-looking black and white catMy lord and his friends oft spent time telling each other how they could escape.  And in talking of two men who had done that very thing not long since.

One dark night those men crept up onto the roof of the chamber wherein they were lodged.

Then they clamb down a rope that was stretched from the roof across the moat to the outside wall of the Tower.  And so into a boat on the river and away.  (The moat, I learnt, was a body of water that lay all around our prison.)

At first their talk troubled me.  Our mother had taught us nowt of climbing ropes, and I feared I might be left behind.  Then it came to me that I could cling to my lord’s back while he clamb down, and I grew to love that tale so well I have it by heart.  I will set it down when next I write.

My lord and his friends loved to hear newes of Queen Puss.  Newes of her health, I mean.  We would all be free when she died.  We might have no need to escape. 

At Christmastide (my first) we heard she’d was very low.

A bowl of nuts and dried fruit, with a mouse concealed under its rim beside walnuts and sugar-candies.We made merry with choice meats, and with the comforts my lord’s lady had brought us.

But next we heard that Queen Puss was well again and of good cheer.  That were a blow. 

What if the good King [James] that loved us so well and would set us free died afore she did?  Who would free us then?

As spring drew on my lord spent much time walking on the leads [roof].  I was permitted to accompany him.  I rode upon his shoulder and I saw the moat.  I believed I could swim it if I fell from the rope whiles we were making an escape.

Later I began to creep along the roof and walls on my own feet, careful of my safetie.  I feared the Whisperers might attack me, but by day they kept theirselves well hid.

I did not doubt they were watching me.  There were watchers everywhere.

Now here’s a strange thing.

My lord would stop in his pacings to gaze about him, and I would spring upon his shoulder to see what he saw.  He oft looked beyond the wall to where the city lay.  And at a piece of high ground where he came nigh (as I learnt) to having his head cut off.

I never saw owt to remark there but a lank grey cat that came and went most swift, pausing only to glance up at our prison.   One time a wicked dog had at that cat.  Then another cat, most like unto the first, sprang forth, ran beside that dog and leapt to cling its belly!

All three fled together, the dog screeching most woeful.

After that I sometimes glimpsed those cats on the rooves of houses that lay nigh.  Why were they watching from beyond the wall?  Had they been sent by my mother to know if I lived and did well?

Oh, I did pray so, but they were too far off for me to take their thoughts.  Nor could they have taken mine, even had they seen me.

But I believed they were my friends, and was grieved when they came no more.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorWho else could these lank grey cats be but Picker and Stealer?  Harry’s not-so-loving mother Tricks had given them a completely false impression of him, but I doubt they were deceived for long.  They had good sources in the city’s prison network.   

Well before Picker and Stealer set off on their Lenten progress in early 1602, they’d informed Tricks of the talk of escape and other mischief in the Earl of Southampton’s prison apartment. 

Sir Robert Cecil knew of it, too.  He’d advised the troublemakers (old enemies of the Earls of Essex and Southampton) who wanted to tell the Queen of Southampton’s misdeeds that they’d do better to earn his gratitude by warning him and the Tower’s governor to be more careful.

By the time poor Harry learnt he too might have friends outside the Tower, his mother was probably on her way back to the country.