Hic Mulier: or, Disarmed and Dangerous
"Bobtail tike or trundle-tail,
Tom will make them weep and wail." King Lear, III.6.73-74
It was Kit’s idea to write our story in a book: I take no responsibility for it. My brother is afflicted with a kind of madness, ever craving attention even as women great with child crave coals and tainted meat. He hath been much engrossed of late in a great tome by a French fellow called Monsieur Montaigne, who set down the smallest, commonest details of his life and had them printed so that all the world might hear of him. Kit, who laps up each new Frenchified frippery that flits across the channel even as his cursed spaniel laps up milk, became greatly enamoured of the work and suggested that we, being more remarkable far than this Monsieur of his, should do likewise.
I hardly know how he persuaded me to agree, unless it be but with those great brown eyes of his, for I am as far from desiring to expose myself to the public’s gaze as he is from desiring to hide from it. Nonetheless, though I am not one of the great ones of whom the project of (as one might say) autobiography hath hitherto been the prerogative, and though there is little enough of beauty or delight about me, I flatter myself that I am at least one of those extraordinary ordinary persons whose life hath as much pleasurable strangeness in it as a romance, yet also the profit that pertains to a true narrative. We will not, I think, be short of readers.
How to begin? With a record of our illustrious ancestors, perchance: Sir George Brownley who fought at Agincourt; his brother John who married a Russian woman and sailed with her across the sea; my grandfather William Brownley who served as a groom in the household of Sir Thomas More; Lady Anne Brownley, the renowned beauty who killed a man when he tried to violate her honour. I grew up with their portraits all about me, and their faces are more familiar to me than my own (I am not fond of mirrors.) In our minds eyes I could lead you through the halls and chambers of my lovely home and tell you of the lives that lie behind those faces: together we could unweave the threads of being that wind through my ancestors and into myself.
The lives that lie behind those faces, and the lies that live there. No. I would become tangled in conceits, striving to connect that which is unconnectable. They are dead, and I am alive. We could not be more different. Besides, Joan tells me she has no patience with romances that begin thus, and I would not be a burden to my readers.
Then perchance I should emulate the epic poets and begin my discourse in the midst of the action, at the moment that my brother and myself are exiled forever from our home, the home of George and John, William and Alice and many dozens of other Brownleys before us, with nought to our name but the clothes in which we were standing up, and a great long spaniel with little legs. I could describe the servants as they lined up to bid us farewell: the boys variously shouting ‘huzzah for Mistress Tom and Master Kit’ and ‘huzzah for Mistress Kit and Master Tom’, the maids pressing little keepsakes into my brother’s hand, the women weeping, old Hodge the gardener comforting us with some incomprehensible saw about rooks returning home to roost, Simeon the steward smiling and…. But that too has its complexities. And, though remarkable, we are hardly the stuff of epics. The Brownleiad. Not even Kit is that conceited.
No. I should begin simply, by telling you who I am. My name is Thomasine Brownley, oft-times called ‘Tom’ and lately ‘Kit’. My brother is Christopher Brownley, often called Kit, and lately ‘Thomasine’. It is with the consequences of this unnatural state of affairs that this work of ours is chiefly concerned.
I have seen twenty-two summers. I have dark brown hair and am tall, thin and graceless…
It is no use. This sort of thing is well enough for Frenchmen and boys with theatres in their heads, but the notion of filling a notebook with pages of me seems the height of vanity. I will have no more of it.
If only untrained boys were allowed to stand up in court and do the office of a lawyer we should have our house and lands back in a matter of minutes. If he were not my own brother I would swear Kit’s powers of persuasion were witchcraft. I will persevere with the dreary task of presenting me to the world.
Alas that I have not the power of making words obey me. Kit knows not how fortunate he is. Give me a sword and I will show you grace and… yes… beauty even in a body and soul like mine, but my pen shows me as vile as does my visage. And all Christendom knows which weapon is mightier.
In this, as in so much else, Kit resembles our mother. She was a poet, and a most proficient one at that, though it was for an ugly piece of doggerel that she enjoyed brief renown: ‘Aurora’s Glory’, a paean in praise of our old queen (no, not James – Elizabeth – shame on you). She was even summoned to court to be presented to Her Majesty, where her dainty face and shapely figure were much admired, and mine were…
But I run ahead of myself. I must first explain that we had at that time in our household my cousin Ambrose, who having nine summers was some two years older than myself. He was an orphan, and I think father (having despaired of begetting a son by the usual means) had some idea of adopting him as his heir. It was decided that Ambrose should accompany my mother to court as her page, but the day before they were due to leave, he became ill with a fever. The whole household was thrown into disarray: Ambrose was consigned to his chamber and forgot as all and sundry sought one to take his place. Suddenly it seemed as though another Herod had descended upon us and made off with all the boy-children in the county. Girls there were, and babes in arms aplenty, and tall youths, but not one lad of gentle birth and pageboy’s age.
Our servants’ livery is dark grey wool, but for the sojourn at court, my mother had commanded her tailor to make Ambrose a doublet in dark grey silk, slashed to reveal its scarlet lining and embellished (contrary to the sumptuary laws) with gold thread. The sleeves were scarlet too, close-fitting and fastened with little gold buttons. The shirt was of the finest linen and the ruffs around the neck and wrists were trimmed with costly lace. There was a matching pair of Venetian hose, likewise of scarlet-lined dark grey silk, a tall feathered hat, fine silk stockings and finally, scarlet shoes, made from the softest leather, and slashed to show a dark grey silk lining. Together, I thought the ensemble the most beautiful thing I ever had seen.
It was from pure vanity that I entered my cousin’s sickroom and put it on. I had no thought of taking his place, none of helping my poor distracted parents, all I wanted was to see myself in a mirror (I had no dislike of them then – quite the opposite. Sometimes I think I was put on this earth as an emblem of the pride that cometh before a fall.) It was Eleanor – my mother’s gentlewoman – who found me. At first she thought I was an angel-boy sent by God in answer to her ardent prayers. I disabused her of this notion even as she knelt to give thanks. Then she turned red and scolded me and told me that it was a sin (and hideous unnatural withal) for women to put on the clothes of men. The noise of her scolding brought in my father, who took one look at me and loudly laughed. For a moment I burned with anger and shame, then I realised he was not laughing at me, but for sheer joy that our problem was solved and (as I later discovered) that his daughter had something in her of the son and heir he had always desired.
It felt passing strange to look down and see my legs all day, and the stockings felt tight and uncomfortable against my thighs. But soon I felt – as most newly breeched boys do, I suppose – as though I had never dressed any other way. It was excellent to be able to run about without getting tangled in my skirts, and to wear my hair chin-length and loose (the housekeeper, Mistress Judith, had been called in to relieve me of my tresses) rather than tightly pinned up. And the queen herself told me I was beautiful.
The journey to court had been so full of new sights and new sensations that I savoured every moment of it, but on the journey back again I was listless and melancholy, and when we were about a day from home my head and neck began to ache most sore. Mother said it was but fatigue from travel and from excitement: she told me to rest, and added withal that should I quit my complaining I would be like to feel the benefit of it. Eleanor took up the theme, chiding me for a rude impatient girl and telling me that my pains and sorrows were not half hers, which she proceeded to describe at length, beginning with a bunion on her foot (which she removed her stocking to show us) and ending with a hole in the carriage roof though which rain dripped without cease, soaking straight through her linen coif. She refused to move (‘nay, nay, I would not put you to trouble,’) or to wear a hat (‘for it would surely be ruined.’)
I think that each one of us was pleased when the roads and hedgerows began to wax familiar, and the air, though no less damp, began once again to smell like home. As we approached the manor, however, we saw that something was wrong. The curtains were drawn, and when Mistress Judith came to greet us at the gate, she was dressed all in black. My cousin Ambrose had died of a brain fever. A message had been sent but we had not received it. This (of course) put my own symptoms in a different light, and I was sent at once to bed, pleased to have in part been vindicated. I knew it was a serious matter when they did not send for the local physician, who was a fat, red-faced man rather too fond of French brandy, but for my Uncle Jude.
From infancy I had known that I had three Uncles: Uncle Godfrey, my mother’s twin and poor Ambrose’s father, who had died many years ago; Uncle Benjamin, my father’s brother, who belonged to a puritan sect called ‘The Brotherhood of the Elect’ and who had long since disowned his reprobate family and gone to live in America, where (my father said) all are as mad and fanatical as he. Neither of these had I ever met. Uncle Jude was my mother’s only other surviving brother.
He was some fifteen years older than her, and was already at university when she was born. When he had attained the degree of Master of the Arts he went unto the Royal College of Physicians for some years before returning to Cambridge to become a fellow of Peterhouse. My mother could tell me little more about him than this, for she was not close to him and nor (to her knowledge) was anyone else. I met him for the first time when I was five and he unexpectedly came to stay with us. Physically, he made an enormous impression upon me. He was a tall man, but held his shoulders in a way that made him stoop a little. His dark hair was ragged and somewhat too long, and on his right cheek there was a long scar stretching from just beneath his eye to the corner of his mouth, which was (consequently?) fixed in a sort of half-frown. Also he walked with a heavy limp and was never without his walking stick. He had a natural air of authority to him, and yet when there was a sudden noise or such he tensed as though he were sore afeared – it was a tiny movement, and one that he quickly controlled so that none but the most careful observer would see it, but to me it was very plain.
The first words he spoke to me were these: “Get out of my way, girl, I do not like childer.” Wise beyond my years, I said, “But you were once a child yourself.” He grunted in place of a reply, but still I continued, “Sir, when you were my age, did you halt even as now, and did you have such a scar upon your cheek and…” but then my mother had the sense to take me into another room and warn me to trouble him no further. However, my fascination with my uncle was such that I refused to heed her, and the next day asked him again why he liked not children. I must have caught him in a better mood, for this time he answered me. “Because,” he said in a voice without emotion, “they do grow into men and into women, and in the hearts of men and women lie all the wickedness of the world. I am not half so wicked as many that I know, and yet there is enough within here (he beat his breast with his hand) justly to convict me hundred times over.” Then he left the room and I had no further converse with him before he went on his way.
For the next two years I hoped that he would visit us again, but he did not until summoned on account of my illness, and by the time he arrived I was barely conscious enough to register his presence. I recall feebly protesting as he ordered that my lovely scarlet and grey suit be burnt, for that it contained the evil influence which caused the disease. I recall also my mother lamenting that it was God’s punishment for dressing me as a boy, and him chiding her sharply as a propagatress of superstitious nonsense. At this I woke well enough to make my mother promise that when I had my health again I should have another suit like unto the one that was burnt, which, being utterly distraught, she did without protest. But the effort of speech caused me to fall into a faint, whether hours or days I know not.
When I awoke, I wished that I had not. My arms and legs were in extraordinary pain, and when I looked at my left hand, I was horrified to see that it had turned entirely black. Uncle Jude was in my room: much later I learnt that he had seldom left my bedside during that week, but continued ministering to me day and night, for, as he explained, my disease was one of which he had not seen the like before and he wished to make a study of it and perchance write of it in a book (I do not think he ever did this, but for many years it was nevertheless a source of great pride to me.) My mother and father were there also, speaking in hushed voices – so hushed that it was several moments before I realised they were discussing the amputation of my arm. My mother thought that on the whole it would be a bad idea, Uncle Jude vehemently disagreed and father had turned green and was not saying much. Thinking I ought to have a strong opinion about the matter, but not being entirely sure what that opinion should be, I shouted, ‘I protest!’ All turned to stare at me. Mother began to weep, and Father looked as though he were like to faint, but Uncle Jude only laughed. ‘That’s the spirit!’ he said, lifting me from my bed (I was surprised at his strength,) sitting me on a chair and shortly afterward placing a damp sponge upon my head.
I at once felt heavy with sleep, for the sponge contained a potent decoction of opium, henbane and mandragora, which was recommended by no less an authority than Arnold of Villanova “to produce a sleep so profound that the patient may be cut and will feel nothing.” It worked most excellently, for when I awoke, I discovered that my father’s man, Nathaniel, who had been entrusted with the task of holding me in position, had fainted dead away, and Uncle Jude himself (who hath the strongest constitution of any I have ever met) was so affected as to be unable to perform the operation.
While Uncle Jude worked on a weaker solution, I passed the next few hours in utmost torment, oblivious to all but my pain. I cannot describe how slowly they passed. Of the operation itself, I remember nothing (thanks be to God,) and when I awoke I was lying down in my own bed, my mind still heavy with the opium and the stump of my left arm (which had been cut to just beneath the elbow) neatly wrapped in linen bandages. Uncle Jude was once more by my side, writing in a quarto sized vellum-bound notebook (I know it is strange that I remember it so clearly – that was just how it was – though the whole was hopelessly muddled, certain details were clearer than aught I have seen before – I think perhaps it was the opium that did it.)
“Thou art awake,” he said, and paused as though for an answer. I made none. Of a sudden, the very sight of him was causing me great annoy. “Good.” There was a pause.
“How dost thou feel?” he asked, still writing in his notebook. Again, I made no reply. “The authorities state that oft-times persons whose limbs are removed do not cease to feel them, but are on the contrary inflicted with very great torment in their imaginary flesh. Is it so with thee?”
Of a sudden, his presence was intolerable to me and I was furious for the injury he had caused me (for in that moment I ignorantly blamed him for causing me hurt, and understood not that it was done but to preserve my life.) I could contain my anger no more. In spite of the pain and the opium, and with loud complaint at his ill-usage of my youth, I endeavoured to raise myself and lash out at him. I could not, of course, and began to faint. As I struggled with oblivion, I heard him mocking me with a jest about the ladies at court who would give their right arms to have a famous physician such as himself operate upon them, whereas I had but to part with that on my sinister side. My last thought as the darkness took me was this: that I would never forgive him.
I will spare you the sad details of my recovery, though one incident remains pertinent. I did not easily forget my oath to hate my uncle. For a month I would not willingly suffer him to enter my chamber, and though oft-times his presence was forced upon me, I could not be persuaded to speak a word to him. Neither did I forget my mother’s promise that I should have another suit of clothes made like unto that which was burnt. My mother, on the other hand, flatly refused to hear of such a thing, still half-convinced that the whole affair was a direct punishment for my former unnatural attire. It was the first time someone I trusted had failed to honour a promise to me, and caused me greater sadness than all my physical pains and discomforts added together.
The matters were both resolved together one winter morning as uncle Jude strode into my room before I was full awake.
“Rouse yourself and dress,” he said, “for I have waited on you long enough. From this day you will be my apprentice and work off the debt you owe me.”
With that, he flung something on my bed and left. It was a grey and scarlet suit exactly like the one that I had lost.
I do not wish to vindicate those misogynists who say the female sex can easily be won over with gifts of fine apparel, but from that moment was my hatred turned to love of the most devoted kind. In my defence I say that though I loved the suit well (and loved also the permission he had obtained from my parents for me to wear it,) it was the jesting offer of ‘apprenticeship’ (which I took in utmost seriousness) that pleased me most. In truth I thought for years afterward that I was in his employ when in fact my parents were paying him to be my tutor.
For my tutor he indeed was from that day on. He taught me about physic and chymistry and astronomy and mathematics and philosophy and theology and how in very truth they are all one. The happiest days of my life were spent in his laboratory, watching the bubbling alembics for him while he lay down and told me about Maria the Prophetess, Hermes Trismegistus, Nicholas and Pernella Flamel or Phillipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, after whom I resolved to name my firstborn, whether boy or girl.
I never again wore a woman’s robe or kirtle, and my parents became resigned to the fact that their daughter was also their son. My father (who had always longed for a boy of his own) positively relished it. He was a fencing teacher to the nobility, and even for a time to the two young princes, but I quickly became his favourite and (forgive my immodesty) best student. Natural philosophy is my greatest delight, but it does not come easily to me. Each fact and formula, each story and system must with great pains be drilled into my head. But I fence as though I were born with a sword in my hand. I must practice, of course, as everyone must, but I have, as it were, an instinct for it. No-one but my father (and once or twice Simeon the steward) has beaten me since the age of eighteen (though in fairness, few have fought me.) And yet I never felt my filial bond more closely than when fencing with my father.
My mother, having heard of a lady in France who somehow became a famous seamstress with only one hand, endeavoured in vain to teach me again how to sew. However, I was ill enough at the art with two hands and with one I was hopeless. Soon she gave up and began to share with me her greater passion – foreign tongues. Her father had been for a while in the household of Sir Thomas More, who had educated his own daughters to be the most learned women in all England. My Grandfather (who died before I was born) had consequently developed a passion for imparting learning to the female members of his own household. It transpired that my mother had a great talent for languages, and until her death delighted to read Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish and even some Hebrew, all of which she endeavoured to pass on to me. It was not an easy task, for my brother Kit had inherited all of her skill, and what I learnt, I learnt by simple hard work.
Kit was born when I was nine years of age. Mother had been told that she would bear no more children after me, and swears (though I know not how this can be) she knew not she was with child. One morning she went to bed with a sore belly (it pleased me greatly, for my lessons were cancelled that Uncle Jude could attend on her) and that evening my brother made his sudden dramatical entrance into the world. When I saw this squalling little ball of humanity, I announced that it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen and resolved to hate it. It was intolerable to me that my place as son and heir should be usurped by such a tiny, useless thing.
Kit was not ugly long. By the age of two he had the face of an angel, and a mass of auburn curls. Though I made a great show of not caring about my looks (that was a matter for maids, I said, and I was a boy,) I was in truth sorely vexed that I had changed from a beautiful infant to a plain child to a downright ugly youth. Sundry scars remained on my face after my illness. My golden hair had darkened to dark brown, my small nose had become large and somewhat hooked, and worse still, my face was pitted with scars from the spots of my illness. Besides, I know of no famous beauty who did not bear an arm on either side of her body.
Worse still (because better still) than his face was his voice. He was never quiet long, but his hideous squalling was soon changed into notes of such sweetness as would make the angels proud. He sang before he could talk, almost: strange little songs of his own devising. This only made me hate him all the more. I love music and, there being no instrument I can play with one hand alone, have always spent much of my recreation time in song. I can keep time well enough, and my tone is a pleasant tenor – as unfeminine as my attire, but likewise well suited to me – but the very devil haunts my attempts to keep in tune. I can manage it now if I put my whole mind to it, but I will never sweetly lose myself in music as he does. And then I could not do it at all. It was a matter of absolute torment to hear an infant picking up perfectly by ear tunes I had struggled for weeks and failed to hammer into my poor mind and throat.
Even as the boy unwittingly tormented me, I tormented him with all the malice and venom I could muster: holding him upside down over the moat until he screamed with fear, spoiling his clothes that Mistress Judith would punish him, stealing his little childish treasures, eating his treats, and cruelly pinching him, punching him and pulling out his hated tresses by the handful. And in truth he was a most satisfying victim: weeping, screaming, trembling like a cobweb and begging for mercy (even at that tender age) with a dramatic eloquence of which any stage heroine would have been proud. He had a particular way of acting like a frightened dog when physically threatened: curling up or lying down on his back or slinking into a corner. He would never fight back though, and when mother, father or one of the servants came to seek out the cause of all his noise, he would stand up brave and vehemently would he deny that I had done him any hurt. His very weakness inspired my spite, and his Christian forbearance my most wicked malice. It took his eventual resistance for us to make our peace.
It was late in the spring of my sixteenth year (Kit was seven) and I was preparing some simples for the household, working alone in the stillhouse. Alas that I have not the words to describe the splendour of that place, and three times alas that it is now in the hands of such a knave as my Uncle Benjamin. Very like he hath burnt all our precious stuff and turned it into a chapel that he may prate his pharisee’s prayers in peace. If it be so, then my pen, poor as it is, must serve as monument to those three rooms, the glory of our manor, my realm of adventure and my safe retreat. Once more alas, I say. I verily think that could I but have the stillhouse back I would not weep one whit for all the rest of my estate.
I will begin with the upper room, rightly called the solar for that there were casements in three of its walls wherethrough sol delighted to fling his golden beams, illuminating whitewashed walls and a fresco showing Moses and his sister Miriam the Prophetess, the first to whom God gave the gift of alchemy. This room was where the ladies and maids of the house came to prepare remedies, sweetmeats, perfumes – all manner of needful and delightful things, and oft-times to sew withal, for it had more light than any other room on the manor. As a child it was my delight to sit there for many hours and watch Malkin, our undercook, make her fabulous subtleties of marchpane and other stuff. I was entranced to see the delicacy with which her huge hands fashioned the formless lump of almond paste into tiny flowers and great castles alike – knights and dragons, fairies and mermaids, and on occasion the likenesses of members of our household. Last Christmastide Kit and I persuaded her to make the image of Simeon the steward, and she captured his half-elegant, half-ridiculous hauteur better than any sculptor. Mother and Father laughed so merrily that he was obliged to laugh with them, but we could tell he was sorely vexed.
Malkin was ever something of a mystery, for she seldom spoke at all, and never about herself. When she did speak it was with a deep voice – deeper than mine – and she had a beard like unto a man. The boys and maids oft-times taunted her cruelly, singing crude versions of ‘Malkin was a country maid’, and once I overheard Mother and Eleanor speaking of whether it were she who put it into my head that a woman may be as a man. Though I took this as an insult, and patently untrue withal, I did oft-times wonder whether she and I were the same kind of thing, neither man nor woman, but somewhat like unto the hermaphrodites set forth in Uncle Jude’s alchemical books below.
For his library was the second room in the stillhouse – on the ground floor, joining us to the manor itself. It was my playground and schoolroom both, my companion in loneliness, my solace in sadness, and a whole world when I was of a mind to explore. What I liked best were the books of alchemical emblems: the kings and queens, peacocks, dragons, lions, and yes, the hermaphrodites, sliced down the middle and painfully (or so I thought) divided into sun-man and moon-woman, yet standing sceptred atop whole worlds. At first they were a beautiful mystery to me, merely pleasing to the eye, but then, taught by instinct and by my Uncle, I learned to read their mute language, and afterwards to read the world in a like manner – to see each leaf, each brick, each mundane atom of the earth as heavy, bursting, dripping with meaning and life.
And what I learnt there, I put to practice in the third room of our stillhouse: Uncle Jude’s laboratory, where oft-times he laboured through the night over the athanor or at the great still. I was not allowed in but on his sufferance, and no other was allowed in at all. There were three benches, one ‘clean’ whereon no noxious thing was ever placed, one into which a thousand deadly poisons must have seeped, and a third which was the home of a great and intricate system of limbecs and the like. The shelves were lined with bottles and packets, many familiar to me, many more forbidden to my touch. What treasures were there: fragrant ambergrice, yellow sulphur, quicksilver – first a toy, and then as I grew in understanding both a tool and a figure for my very being (now and again Uncle Jude referred to me as ‘my mercury’, an epithet which thrilled me to the core.)
On that day of which I speak, I was not there but in the solar, grinding earthworms to make oil of puppy, which is most efficacious as a plaster to treat all manner of wounds and the like. I had already distilled a great deal of violet oil, and I think it was the sweet smell of that which brought my brother to me.
“How now Tom,” said he, “art thou making sweetmeats?”
Wickedly, I smiled, “aye, brother, wouldst thou taste of them?”
As I offered him a fingerful of earthworm, his angelic face lit up in ecstasy to be received with such apparent courtesy by me whom he adored and who was wont to treat him so ill.
“Does it savour well?” I asked, grinning as he spat on the floor.
“Nay, it is most foul and bitter. What is it, in truth?”
“In truth? It is to make plasters for those who are hurt or wounded.”
“Then I will forgive thee for tricking me, for thou doest an act of charity.”
Pious little knave.
“May I help thee?”
Always he fell into my little traps.
“Of course thou mayest. I will mix the oil of violets with the… with what I have just given thee, and thou must go unto the garden and ask Hodge for… for what he hath for me.”
“Is it a surprise?”
“Aye, that it is.”
He ran off as swift as he could, always eager to do me service, and returned not long after with a small wooden box.
“Gramercies,” said I, “thou mayest open it.”
That he did ever so gently and lifted out a tiny spaniel puppy with great brown eyes much like unto his own. He held it close to his heart, and it nestled even closer, thrusting its nose into the slashes of his doublet and making small movements with its paws. When I saw that there were tears in his eyes, I thought it must be that he had guessed my purpose, but I was wrong.
“Oh Tom, is he for me? Is he for us? See how he doth look upon me! I shall call him… but he is crying. Oh Tom, art thou certain he is big enough to be taken from his mother?”
To see them thus made me almost repent of my cruelty, but I forced a laugh and said:
“Foolish boy! He is for the oil of puppy. Have you forgot already my great charity in preparing that which will make the wounded well?”
“But thou wilt not kill him?”
“Of course I will. Though I cannot decide whether to cut his throat before throwing him thither.” (I gestured to a great vessel of boiling water.) “Paré is silent upon the matter.”
“Nay sister, thou dost but jest.”
“Nay brother, see?” I gestured to the book I had open before me whereon the receipt was writ.
With that I took the puppy from his bosom and carrying it by the scruff of its neck (whereat it began to mewl most piteously) took it to the cabinet where the sharpest knives were kept.
But before I could take one, my brother with a great cry did launch himself at my back and, caught off balance, I was knocked to the floor. The puppy wisely bit me on the chin and fled, the whilst my brother tore out a handful of my hair. It took me but a few seconds to subdue him, but for some reason the very effort of resistance had kindled in me a new loving respect for the child.
“Kill me if thou wilt,” said he, “and boil my bones, for Mistress Judith doth oft-times say that I am more puppy than boy, but thou shalt not hurt that innocent creature the whilst I live.”
And I could see that this was no hyperbole, but loving bravery, and for reasons far beyond my comprehension it did engender in me its counterpart in loving respect, and all at once I repented sore of every hurt I had caused him. Thus it was that on that day my brother did gain his two greatest friends: myself and the dog Trundletail (whom we found cowering beneath a basket of feverfew.) Nevertheless, I did not change my wicked ways entirely, and oft-times when he came to the stillroom to pester the maids (who verily did dote upon him) for remedies for sundry fanciful complaints, I did smile to think about the sweet-smelling paste they smeared upon his limbs, and about the part in it of Trundletail’s sister.
[xvi December - edited following ixwin's comment and further proof-reading.]
[xvii December - addition of epigraph & changes to description of the delightful Dr J.]