ONCE upon a time there was a miller, who was so poor that at his death he had nothing to leave to his three children but his mill, his ass, and his cat. The eldest son took the mill, and the second the ass, so there was nothing left for poor Jack but to take Puss.
Jack could not help thinking that he had been treated shabbily. “My brothers will be able to earn an honest livelihood,” he sighed, “but as for me, though Puss may feed himself by catching mice, I shall certainly die of hunger.”
The cat, who had overheard his young master, jumped upon his shoulder, and, rubbing himself gently against his cheek, began to speak. “Dear master,” said he, “do not grieve. I am not as useless as you think me, and will undertake to make your fortune for you, if only you will buy me a pair of boots, and give me that old bag.”
Now, Jack had very little money to spare, but, knowing Puss to be a faithful old friend, he made up his mind to trust him, and so spent all he possessed upon a smart pair of boots made of buff-colored leather. They fitted perfectly, so Puss put them on, took the old bag which his master gave him, and trotted off to a neighboring warren in which he knew there was a great number of rabbits.
Having put some bran and fresh parsley into the bag, he laid it upon the ground, hid himself, and waited. Presently two foolish little rabbits, sniffing the food, ran straight into the bag, when the clever cat drew the strings and caught them.
Then, slinging the bag over his shoulder, he hastened off to the palace, where he asked to speak to the King. Having been shown into the royal presence, he bowed and said:
“Sire, my Lord the Marquis of Carabas has commanded me to present these rabbits to your Majesty, with his respects.”
The monarch having desired his thanks to be given to the Marquis (who, as you will guess, was really our poor Jack), then ordered his head cook to dress the rabbits for dinner, and he and his daughter partook of them with great enjoyment.
Day by day Puss brought home stores of good food, so that he and his master lived in plenty, and besides that, he did not fail to keep the King and his courtiers well supplied with game.
Sometimes he would lay a brace of partridges at the royal feet, sometimes a fine large hare, but whatever it was, it always came with the same message: “From my Lord the Marquis of Carabas”; so that everyone at Court was talking of this strange nobleman, whom no one had ever seen, but who sent such generous presents to his Majesty.
At length Puss decided that it was time for his master to be introduced at Court. So one day he persuaded him to go and bathe in a river near, having heard that the King would soon pass that way.
Jack stood shivering up to his neck in water, wondering what was to happen next, when suddenly the King’s carriage appeared in sight. At once Puss began to call out as loudly as he could:
“Help, help! My Lord the Marquis of Carabas is drowning!”
The King put his head out of the carriage window and, recognizing the cat, ordered his attendants to go to the assistance of the Marquis. While Jack was being taken out of the water, Puss ran to the King and told him that some robbers had run off with his master’s clothes whilst he was bathing, the truth of the matter being that the cunning cat had hidden them under a stone.
On hearing this story the King instantly despatched one of his grooms to fetch a handsome suit of purple and gold from the royal wardrobe, and arrayed in this, Jack, who was a fine, handsome fellow, looked so well that no one for a moment supposed but that he was some noble foreign lord.
The King and his daughter were so pleased with his appearance that they invited him into their carriage. At first Jack hesitated, for he felt a little shy about sitting next to a Princess, but she smiled at him so sweetly, and was so kind and gentle, that he soon forgot his fears and fell in love with her there and then.
As soon as Puss had seen his master seated in the royal carriage, he whispered directions to the coachman, and then ran on ahead as fast as he could trot, until he came to a field of corn, where the reapers were busy.
“Reapers,” said he fiercely, “the King will shortly pass this way. If he should ask you to whom this field belongs, remember that you say, ‘To the Marquis of Carabas.’ If you dare to disobey me, I will have you all chopped up as fine as mincemeat.” The reapers were so afraid the cat would keep his word that they promised to obey. Puss then ran on and told all the other laborers whom he met to give the same answer, threatening them with terrible punishments if they disobeyed.
Now, the King was in a very good humor, for the day was fine, and he found the Marquis a very pleasant companion, so he told the coachman to drive slowly, in order that he might admire the beautiful country. “What a fine field of wheat!” he said presently. “To whom does it belong?” Then the men answered as they had been told: “To our Lord the Marquis of Carabas.” Next they met a herd of cattle, and again to the King’s question, “To whom do they belong?” they were told, “To the Marquis of Carabas.” And it was the same with everything they passed.
The Marquis listened with the greatest astonishment, and thought what a very wonderful cat his dear Puss was; and the King was delighted to find that his new friend was as wealthy as he was charming.
Meanwhile Puss, who was well in advance of the Royal party, had arrived at a stately castle, which belonged to a cruel Ogre, the richest ever known, for all the lands the King had admired so much belonged to him. Puss knocked at the door and asked to see the Ogre, who received him quite civilly, for he had never seen a cat in boots before, and the sight amused him.
So he and Puss were soon chatting away together.
The Ogre, who was very conceited, began to boast of what clever tricks he could play, and Puss sat and listened, with a smile on his face.
“I once heard, great Ogre,” he said at last, “that you possessed the power of changing yourself into any kind of animal you chose—a lion or an elephant, for instance.”
“Well, so I can,” replied the Ogre.
“Dear me! how much I should like to see you do it now,” said Puss sweetly.
The Ogre was only too pleased to find a chance of showing how very clever he was, so he promised to transform himself into any animal Puss might mention.
“Oh! I will leave the choice to you,” said the cat politely.
Immediately there appeared where the Ogre had been seated, an enormous lion, roaring, and lashing with its tail, and looking as though it meant to gobble the cat up in a trice.
Puss was really very much frightened, and, jumping out of the window, managed to scramble on to the roof, though he could scarcely hold on to the tiles on account of his high-heeled boots.
There he sat, refusing to come down, until the Ogre changed himself into his natural form, and laughingly called to him that he would not hurt him.
Then Puss ventured back into the room, and began to compliment the Ogre on his cleverness.
“Of course, it was all very wonderful,” he said, “but it would be more wonderful still if you, who are so great and fierce, could transform yourself into some timid little creature, such as a mouse. That, I suppose, would be quite impossible?”
“Not at all,” said the vain Ogre; “one is quite as easy to me as the other, as I will show you.” And in a moment a little brown mouse was frisking about all over the floor, whilst the Ogre had vanished.
“Now or never,” said Puss, and with a spring he seized the mouse and gobbled it up as fast as he could.
At the same moment all the gentlemen and ladies whom the wicked Ogre had held in his castle under a spell, became disenchanted. They were so grateful to their deliverer that they would have done anything to please him, and readily agreed to enter into the service of the Marquis of Carabas when Puss asked them to do so.
So now the cat had a splendid castle, which he knew to be full of heaped-up treasures, at his command, and ordering a magnificent feast to be prepared, he took up his station at the castle gates to welcome his master and the royal party.
As soon as the castle appeared in sight, the King enquired whose it was, “For,” said he, “I have never seen a finer.”
Then Puss, bowing low, threw open the castle gates, and cried:
“May it please your Majesty to alight and enter the home of the most noble the Marquis of Carabas.”
Full of surprise, the King turned to the Marquis. “Is this splendid castle indeed yours?” he asked. “Not even our own palace is more beautiful, and doubtless it is as splendid within as without.”
Puss then helped his Majesty to alight, and conducted him into the castle, where a group of noble gentlemen and fair ladies were waiting to receive them. Jack, or the Marquis as he was now called, gave his hand to the young Princess, and led her to the banquet. Long and merrily they feasted, and when at length the guests rose to depart, the King embraced the Marquis, and called him his dear son; and the Princess blushed so charmingly and looked so shy and sweet, that Jack ventured to lay his heart and fortune at her feet.
And so the miller’s son married the King’s daughter, and there were great rejoicings throughout the land.
On the evening of the wedding-day a great ball was given, to which princes and noblemen from far and near were invited. Puss opened the ball, wearing for the occasion a pair of boots made of the finest leather, with gold tassels and scarlet heels. I only wish you could have seen him.
When the old King died, the Princess and her husband reigned in his stead, and their most honored and faithful friend at Court was Puss himself, for his master never forgot to whom he owed all his good fortune. He lived upon the daintiest meat and most delicious cream, and was petted and made much of all the days of his life, and never again ran after mice and rats, except for exercise and amusement.