Be you with us, Bastet, My Treasure?
5. Not A Glorious Morning, Not By A Long Shot.
It was a glum group exiting the inn next morning.
The Friefrau had been handed a bill three times what she expected.
Questioning it, informed that she had supplied the dining room with bottomless beer at the direction of her advisor, and had treated one particular table to fine French brandy in addition, given an account of notable antics – and the story was spreading like wildfire – she climbed into her carriage a very, very unhappy woman. Dee and Heinz took their places, heavily hung-over. Not a word was uttered but for scattered remarks to Drusilla, who was engrossed in caressing another massively disgruntled individual.
Sly feels himself between a rock and a hard place, mistreated by Dee on the one hand, the recipient of an excess of unsolicited affection on the other. The girl is all over him. He tolerates being held, the Friefrau would not have him out of his box otherwise. But in her lap he is subjected to irritating manipulations of one body part after another.
The silence in the coach is oppressive. “You know,” Dee addresses the woman, who refuses to look at him, “you know I communicate with spirits. You’ve doubtless read of it in my tracts.” He doesn’t wait for a reply, certain none would be forthcoming. But he’s gotten the ball rolling. “Young lady,” he turns to Drusilla. “I communicate also with the cat. It’s quite extraordinary. I ask a question. He responds with a nod yes or no.”
“I believe you!” cries the girl. “He talks to me too. When I ask, do you love me, kitty-kin? he gives me a cross look. Oh! I adore you, my little bumblebee!” She forces his face next to hers and rubs noses with him.
“Child! Let the kitty sleep. He had a hard night.”
“Huh!” is Heinzie’s first vocalization of the day.
“Sweetheart, let the poor kit-cat be,” begs Dee. “Let’s play a game, you like games, don’t you? Back home I have a fine game. I call it automatic writing. You ask a question. A planchette moves across a board decorated with symbols, revealing a message. This little fellow,” he indicates the cat, “he and I have a good trick. He is a great hit at my séances. You have one of the devices with you, I believe.”
“We do!” squeals Drusilla. “Get it down, Mama!”
The Mama is in no mood. “Not now, dear. I have a headache. Later.”
“She speaks!” sings Dee. He has his opening. “Things got out of hand last night, I’m afraid.”
“So it seems.”
“May I explain?”
“Please. Let me try. My behavior of last night is so unlike me. I believe I can account for it, though not excuse it by any means. I was dead tired, ma’am” – he did not dare to address her Grübechen just then – “but the rule is, no one upstairs until all are ready to retire. Stupidest thing I ever heard. The price fixe dinner was abominable. I drank out of misery, on an empty stomach. I’m afraid I overdid.”
“What’s your excuse?” the irritated woman demands of Heinz.
Dee answers for him. “Any misbehavior on this fine young man’s part was done for my sake. I gave him orders. He followed them. I’m sure I appeared to be a maniac who needed to be calmed, and not challenged. Indeed, he convinced the staff to allow us upstairs in advance of the general exodus. He is to be commended, not chastised. Look at him, he’s in terror of you. Damn me, yes, I deserve it. This is a good boy. And he is devoted to you.”
What have I gotten myself into? thinks the Friefrau. Wild hair, poorly groomed. Ill made, ill fitting clothes. Did he wait on the English queen thus attired? His appearance had not bothered her when she’d first met him. She’d been awe-struck. The debaunch of the previous evening has caused her to have second thoughts.
But, she tells herself, he’s a genius, too involved with his scholarship to care about anything as trivial as fashion. She turns this over in her mind. If he were a fraud, he would certainly present himself with more care. Still, the drab, frayed-cuffs little man is nobody’s idea of what a Royal Astrologer should look like.
“Doctor, I must tell you, you are a sad sight. The people of Hameln are simples. Give me a fortnight and I’ll have you turned out in line with their expectations. We don’t want to let them down, do we?
“There’s this, also: You have put me in a delicate position, broadcasting my name as you did. You will steal into Hameln incognito. We explain you to my staff as Heinzie’s former professor, whom we invited to pass stop with us. We must see to it that no one confuses the celebrated John Dee with the drunkard of last night’s raree-show. You will by and by sail into town every inch the genteel scientist-astrologer.
“You don’t know, Doctor, no one does but for one or two. Your advance came out of my pocket. You would not venture forth otherwise. I longed to meet you, having followed you for years. I pledge an equal sum to see you home in the event of a fail, for you are, I fear, nearly a pauper.”
“Money is the bane of my existence,” admits Dee. “I thank you, ma’am. You have taken a weight off my shoulders.”1
The vehicle stops at a farmhouse.
The driver is sent to purchase bread, cheese, and fruit.
The Friefrau had intended to eat on the fly but, facing solid opposition, she relents. The meal will be nothing fancy, not like yesterday – a cloth on the bare ground, eat and run is what she has in mind. To her dismay, the Ouija board is produced. Drusilla ordered the coachman to pull it down while her mother’s back was turned.
“Darling,” she coaxes, “let’s postpone this fun until we’re home. We’ll be home tomorrow, where we will enjoy ourselves without worrying about the day slipping by.”
“I don’t worry about it.”
“I know you don’t, dear, but I do. I do not want to turn three days on the road into four. I believe these two gentlemen are with me on that.” The two gentlemen make sheepish noises to that effect.
“No!” objects the urchin. “You promised, Mama! You promised!”
The mama looks to Heinz for an intervention. He is not up to it just now.
“I didn’t promise.”
“As good as! You said later. Later is not tomorrow. Now, mama. Now!” Drusilla’s voice has risen. She is well on her way to one of her magnificent tantrums.
Dee proposes a solution. “This won’t take long, ma’am. I’ll give the merest peek. When we get home, young miss,” he soothes her, “you’ll have the whole show, the candles, the incense. Sweetheart! The cat wears a costume with stars on it. You must see him properly put together, and you shall. That is my promise. Now, calm down. To be composed is essential, or communication with the spirit world will not proceed.
“I have a particularly fine board back at Mortlake, that’s my home north of London. The sun sign, the moon sign, other symbols, all invoke a cat in one way or another. It is a great success,” he tells the mother, “with the children.
You should see me. Back home I dress – oh! I dress! Flowing robes, embroidered charms along the hem. A golden headdress. The cat is my assistant, got up also. We put on one hell of a show, really ham it up.
“Questions are submitted to me on paper, the proper way. I read them off one by one. This clever animal is trained to serve as the receptive, apprehending answers from the spirit world, making them known by means of the planchette. He points to various symbols, which I interpret, of course. Witnesses to the performance split their sides laughing. I will recreate that design for you. For now, we make do.”
He closes his eyes. Hands raised reverently, he croons, “Sweet spirit, advise us. Be you with us, Bastet, my treasure?”
“Who’s Bastet?” whispers the girl
He breaks his trance to answer. “Bastet was the protector goddess of Lower Egypt. Cats were very special to the Egyptians. When a cat died, the owner would mourn his passing by shaving off his eyebrows. What do you think of that, young lady?”
“Is Bastet here?”
“Not yet, I’m afraid. She’s having trouble locating me. I am very far from where I am usually to be found, at home in Mortlake. Bastet!” He nudges the cat, who is chewing unhappily on a piece of cheese, for him the only palatable part of the meal.
“Bastet!” Dee repeats, more insistently. “It is I, your old friend Adom. We must be patient,” he tells the child. “The spirits do not condescend to us at the snap of the fingers.” He gives the cat a pull on the tail.
The animal jumps to attention. He growls, as deeply as he can manage to do, one eye wide open, the other pinched shut, the ears flat back.
“I perceive Bastet to be with us,” proclaims Dee. “Child, you and the cat each rest two digits on the planch, as I call it. By tradition, it sits on the letter “G” to start. Well! To me that is a sign that our Grübechen must have the first question. Ready? Two fingers, lightly. We clear out minds and concentrate on the question at hand. If everyone is focused and attentive, the planch should respond. Madame! What is it you wish to know?”
“Will we have an easier time tonight?” asks the Mama, stony-faced. She is not enjoying this. The pointer makes a beeline to the word YES.
“Am I forgiven for last evening?” implores Heinz.
“I’ll take that one,” yells the mama. “NO! Most definitely not! Your behavior of last night was outrageous!”
“The spirit does not tolerate angry voices,” warns Dee. “Bastet! Are you still with us?”
The pointer wanders aimlessly, coming to rest, reluctantly it seems, again on the word YES.
“My turn?” asks Drusilla shyly, on her good behavior after Dee’s warning.
“Your turn, my pet,” confirms Dee.
“Does my cat-kin love me?”
The spirit has a lot to say on this one. The widget flies about the board, stopping at letter after letter, Dee taking it down.
A-B-E-R . . . P-U-S-T-E . . . N-I-C-H-T . . . I-M . . . M-E-I-N . . . O-H-R
The mama is at the end of her patience. “Don’t blow in my ear! What the blazes does that mean? Enough! We’ve lost enough time on this foolishness. Into the carriage! Now!”
“One moment, please,” begs Dee. “All Apprehending, All Understanding Bastet! I apologize for this unfortunate outburst. Sweet Spirit! Are you yet amongst us?” The planchette sits stone-still. He shakes his head. “He has abandoned us, I fear. Spirits are easily offended. This presence always bids me a polite farewell. You have irked him, ma’am. You need to be more civil.”
Drusilla interrupts. “You said Bastet was she. Now you say he. Which is it?”
“You have me there, young lady, you with your alert little ear and a magpie eye – yes, taking in everything. I see you sizing me up with those big, bright orbs of yours. I suspect you have quite a brain behind them. I suspect also that it will blossom,” he glared at Heinz, “if let be.”
“You forget the magpie mouth,” says the mama acidly. The child had been smiling. The smile is gone. A scowl has taken its place.
Odd, thinks Dee. She makes a show of valuing a lively mind. Her daughter has one, a delightful one, but she has no use for it other than to boast about it. Curious minds are unruly minds. She values her daughter as the proof of her own under-appreciated intelligence. Independent thinking and its attendant challenges, she abhors.
“You’re a sharp one, little lady. I am very taken with you. You are a charming little person, do you know that?”
Drusilla stares at him, stupefied. She does not know it. She has never heard this before, ever, from anyone.
“He, she,” he explains, “I use the pronouns somewhat casually. If Bastet is busy elsewhere, she sends her son, Maahes, the lion god, to fill in. From the ferocious face on the cat, I have deduced that it is Maahes who attends us today. Bastet is a more serene soul.”
“The straw that broke the camel’s back!” declares the Friefrau. “I’ve had my fill and then some! Civil! I’ll give you civil!” She makes as if to hurl the game board deep into the brambles, but Heinz tugs it away from her and tucks it safely under his arm.
“A tutor?” he mutters. “I’m a nursemaid, to the both of them.”
The woman sails the planchette into a gully, a lesser but still satisfying statement of displeasure. “It’s a stupid trick,” she spits. “I don’t know how you do it, but it is a trick.”
“It is no trick. Similar methods of spirit writing have been practiced in Greece and Rome. There is a proud history.”
“Don’t blow in my ear, what in Seven Devils can it mean?”
Drusilla understands what it means. She doesn’t know what to make of it, but she understands perfectly.
- Dee was hard up all his adult life. His father had been a wealthy merchant and gentleman courtier to Henry VIII until he was arrested in connection with one of the innumerable Catholic conspiracies of the time. He beat the rap but never recovered financially. After his inheritance vaporized, Dee repeatedly sought an appointment with a living (a salary) attached to it and was repeatedly denied, due to his reputation for sorcery.