158:  We Vow Vengeance

A black, white, and orange cat against a background of flamesI’d been so busy, first with rebelling and then with revelling, I’d set aside mine own quarrel. 

Now ’twas time to seek out Snakes-Purr.

I knew I could not act alone.  I needed complices.

I bethought me of the cats that I could trust.

Linkin.  Onix.  Scabface.  Kettie the Turkey Cat.

Linkin was the last of my uncle’s friends.  He was old.  As winter drew on he passed his time in sleeping, and I knew he could not help me.

My friend Onix was timorous.  True, he knew much of poyson, but how could we carry poyson to Snakes-Purr if not in our mouths?

A cat reclining on top of a set of shelves containing large jars of herbs and spices.
Onix, employed in his apothecary’s shop.

Scabface was fierce, but also fool.  His manor lay in Westminster.  He would never leave it long enuff to find Snakes-Purr and assalt him.

Kettie was the best climber and leaper that ever I saw, and from the roof of his print shop nigh unto Paws [St Pauls] he saw all that passed.  But how would he know Snakes-Purr when he saw him?

How would any of us?

I had better hopes of the cats I did not trust.

A grey tabby cat leaping across a gap between two stone walls to join its companion.
Picker and Stealer, usually in search of something.

Picker and Stealer did not like me, but they knew the ways of thieves.  They’d gone in search of Snakes-Purr once, and brought word he might be found across the river.

Luvvie the Player was a cat unakwaynted with truth.  One who haunted playhouses, but aspired to live among the better sort.  Certes, he knew more of Snakes-Purr than he’d told.


I called those three together.  They had questions.

All knew why I hated Snakes-Purr, but Picker and Stealer wisht to know how he’d akwired my uncle’s verses.

I sayt, “Seven winters past, before I was born, my uncle saw a play in my Earl’s great house at Titchfield.  I believe Snakes-Purr were among the players there.  He slipped into the book-chamber while others took refreshment.”

“What!” cried Picker.  “He stayed not to eat?  Unnatural.”

“Belike he crammed his mouth and pockets before he went a-thieving,” sayt I.  “He hid a book or two in his jerkin, and then his eye fell on my uncle’s basket with his fine broidered cushion.  He went to take that too.”

“We see it now!” cried Stealer.  “Your uncle kept his verses safe beneath, and Snakes-Purr nosed them out.”

“Nosed and eyed them,” sayt I.  “And slipped some into his jerkin with the books, most like.  He left the cushion where it lay.”

Picker and Stealer vowed vengeance then and there.

“I marvel,” sayt Luvvie, “that your uncle did not nose the taint of Snakes-Purr on his cushion.”

“The house was throng,” sayt I.  “Sure, my uncle’s nose was fouled by too many odours.”

Then Luvvie arrkst when my uncle had made his play of Young Hampton.”

“Later that year,” sayt I.  “Or the next.  But how did Snakes-Purr get his claws on it?  I never heard tell of players in my Earl’s house again.  Murderers came next.

“If Snakes-Purr took your uncle’s verses, why doth he speak so ill of cats?” arrkst Luvvie, doubtful.  “And put kind words of us into a villain’s mouth?  Heark this, from a fool play where one man hopes to cut collops off another.  The villain says, Some men there are love not a gaping pig.  Some that are mad if they behold a cat.”

“A gaping pig?” arrkst Picker.

Cat was my kew,” sayt Luvvie. “The players did not see me enter.  They thought the mad applauds were for them.  The villain continued: There is no firm reason to be rendered why he cannot abide a gaping pig, why he a harmless necessarie cat.  The beholders all screeched in feigned fear, calling to him: Look behind you.  And I fled before he cut a collop off me to show what a true villain he were.”

“So,” sayt I.  “What we’ve learnt is, some need no reason to hate us poor cats.  But we know Snakes-Purr’s reason.  My uncle writ better than he, and you win more applauds.”

“Then I’ll hate him, and aid you,” swore Luvvie. 

The title page of The Most Excellent History of the Merchant of Venice.
Luvvie’s cue is in Act IV Scene I.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorShakespearean scholar Sir Jonathan Bate suggests, “There is a strong possibility that Shakespeare spent part of the plague year in some form of service in Southampton’s household at Titchfield in Hampshire.”[1]

I must confess to feeling excited as I transcribed this page of Tricks’ memoirs.  Is it the long-awaited evidence of Shakespeare being at Place House in 1593?  Though I don’t know what sort of service would involve rifling a cat’s basket.

Incidentally, a gaping pig would be one roasted whole.  Shylock, being Jewish, wouldn’t have eaten pork, but there may have been Elizabethans who found the sight of a whole roast pig off-putting.

[1] Jonathan Bate: Soul of the Age – The Life, Mind and World of William Shakespeare (Penguin 2009) p.20.