Once upon a time there was a king who had three brave and handsome sons. He feared they might be seized with the desire of reigning before his death. Certain rumours were abroad that they were trying to gain adherents to assist them in depriving him of his kingdom. The king was old, but as vigorous in mind as ever, and had no desire to yield them a position he filled so worthily. He thought, therefore, the best way of living in peace was to divert them by promises he could always escape fulfilling.
He summoned them to his closet, and after speaking kindly, added: “You will agree with me, my dear children, that my advanced age does not permit me to attend to state affairs so closely as formerly; I fear my subjects may suffer, and wish therefore to give one of you my crown, but it is only fair that in return for such a gift you should seek ways of making my intention of retiring into the country pleasing to me. It seems to me that a clever, pretty, and faithful little dog would be a pleasant companion for me; so without choosing my eldest son rather than my youngest, I declare that whichever of the three brings me the most beautiful dog shall be my heir.” The princes were surprised at their father’s desire for a little dog, but the two youngest thought they could turn it to their advantage, and gladly accepted the commission; the eldest was too timid and too respectful to press his rights. They took leave of the king; he gave them money and jewels, adding that in a year, without fail, they must return, and on the same day, and at the same hour bring him their little dogs.
Before their departure they repaired to a castle about a league from the town; there they brought their most intimate friends, and gave a great feast, at which the three brothers swore eternal friendship, that they would conduct the matter in hand without jealousy and annoyance, and that the successful one should share his fortune with the others. At length they set out, deciding that on their return they would meet at the same castle, and go together to the king; they would take no attendants with them, and changed their names in order not to be recognised.
Each took a different route. The two eldest had many adventures, but I shall only relate those of the youngest. He was handsome, and of a gay and merry disposition; he had a well-shaped head, great stature, regular features, beautiful teeth, and was very skilful in all exercises befitting a prince. He sang pleasantly, and played charmingly on the lute and the orbo. He could also paint; in short, he was extremely accomplished, and his valour reached almost to rashness.
A day scarcely passed that he did not buy dogs–big, little, greyhounds, bull-dogs, boar-hounds, harriers, spaniels, poodles, lap-dogs; as soon as he had a very fine one, he found one still finer, and therefore let the first go and kept the other; for it would have been impossible to take about with him, quite alone, thirty or forty thousand dogs, and he did not wish to have gentlemen-in-waiting, valets or pages in his suite. He was walking on without knowing where he was going, when night, accompanied by thunder and rain, overtook him in a forest where he could no longer see the paths.
He took the first road that offered, and after he had walked for a long time, saw a light, and felt sure there was a house near in which he could take shelter till the next day. Guided by the light, he came to the gates of a castle, the most magnificent imaginable. The gate was of gold covered with carbuncles, whose bright and pure brilliancy lighted up all the surroundings. That was the light the prince had seen from afar; the walls were of transparent porcelain painted in many colours, illustrating the history of the fairies from the creation of the world; the famous adventures of Peau d’Ane, of Finette, of Orange Tree, of Gracieuse, of the Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, of Green Serpent, and a hundred others were not omitted. He was delighted to recognise Prince Lutin, who was a sort of Scotch uncle. The rain anti the bad weather prevented him remaining longer in a place where he was getting wet through, and besides, in those places where the light of the carbuncles did not reach, he could not see at all.
He returned to the gold door; he saw a stag’s foot fastened to a diamond chain; he admired its magnificence, and the security in which the inhabitants of the castle must live; for he said: “What is there to keep thieves from cutting the chain and tearing out the carbuncles? they would be rich for ever.”
He pulled the stag’s foot and heard a bell ring, and from its sound judged it to be of gold or silver; in an instant the door was opened, he saw a dozen hands in the air, each holding a torch. He was so astonished that he hesitated to enter, when he felt other hands pushing him from behind somewhat violently. He walked on very uneasily and at great risk; he put his hand on his sword hilt. On entering a vestibule incrusted with porphyry and lapis lazuli, he heard two enchanting voices singing these words:–
“Within the bounds of this bright place
Is nought to fear and nought to flee,
Save the enchantment of a face,
If you would live still fancy-free”.
He could not imagine that if harm was intended to him later, so kind an invitation should be given now, and feeling himself pushed towards a big coral door that opened as soon as he approached it, he entered a saloon of mother-of-pearl, and then several rooms variously decorated, hut so rich in paintings and precious stones that he was as if enchanted. Thousands and thousands of lights, hanging from the roof of the room, lighted some of the other apartments, which contained just the same lustres, girandoles and shelves full of wax candles; indeed, such was the magnificence that it is difficult to believe it possible.
After passing through sixty rooms, the hands that were guiding him stopped; he saw a big and commodious armchair approach the fire-place quite alone. At the same moment the fire was lighted, and the hands, which seemed to him very beautiful, white, small, plump and well undressed him, for, as I already said, he was wet, and they feared he might take cold. He was presented, without seeing any one, with a shirt beautiful enough for a wedding-day, with a dressing-gown of some material frosted with gold, embroidered with small emeralds to form monograms. The bodiless hands pushed to a table where everything necessary for the toilet was set out. Nothing could he more magnificent. The combed his hair with a lightness and skill that were delightful. Then they dressed him, but not in his own clothes; they brought others much richer. He silently wondered at all that was taking place, and sometimes could not quite control a certain impulse of fear.
When he was powdered, curled, perfumed, adorned and made more beautiful than Adonis, the hands led him into a hail resplendent with gildings and furniture. Looking round you saw the histories of the most famous cats; Rodillardus hung up by the feet at the Council of Rats, Puss in Boots, Marquis of Carabbas, the cat who wrote, the cat who became a woman, the sorcerers who became cats, their nocturnal revels and all their ceremonies; nothing could be more curious than these pictures.
The table was laid for two, with gold knife, fork and spoon for each; the sideboard was magnificent with a number of rock crystal vases and a thousand precious stones. The prince did not know for whom the two covers were intended; he perceived cats taking their places in a little orchestra built on purpose; one held a book in which was written the most extraordinary music imaginable another a roll of paper with which he beat time, and the rest had small guitars. Suddenly each began to mew in a different key, and to strike the strings of their guitars with their sharp claws; it was the strangest music ever heard. The prince would have thought himself in hell, if the palace had not been too wonderful to give probability to such a thought, but he stuffed up his ears and laughed heartily at the different postures and grimaces of the novel musicians.
He was thinking over his various adventures since his entrance into the castle, when he saw a little figure no bigger than your arm enter the hall. The little creature was shrouded in a long, black crape veil. Two cats conducted her; they were in mourning, with cloaks and swords at their sides; a numerous procession of cats followed; some carried rat-traps full of rats and others mice in cages.
The prince was more astonished than ever; he did not know what to think. The little black figure approached him, and raising her veil, he saw the most beautiful white cat that ever was or ever will be. She looked very young and sad; she began to mew so softly and prettily that it went straight to the heart. She said to the prince: “King’s son, you are welcome; my cat-like majesty is glad to see you.” “Madam Cat,” said the prince, “it is very kind of you to receive rue so cordially, but you do not appear an ordinary animal; your gift of speech and your magnificent castle are strong proofs to the contrary.” “King’s son,” replied White Cat, “I beg you to leave off making me compliments; I am very simple in speech and manner, but I have a kind heart. Come,” she continued, “let supper be served and the musicians cease, because the prince does not understand what they say.” “Are they singing anything, madam?” he replied. “Certainly,” she went on, “we have excellent poets here, and if you stay with us a little while you will be convinced of it.” “It is only necessary to hear you to believe it,” said the prince, politely; “you seem to be a most rare cat.”
Supper was brought, the bodiless hands waited at table. First two dishes were put on the tables, one of young pigeons and the other of fat mice. The sight of the one prevented the prince from eating the other, imagining that the same cook had prepared them both. But the little cat, guessing by his expression what was passing in his mind, assured him that his kitchen was separate, and that he might eat what was given him without fear of its being rats or mice.
There was no need to repeat it; the prince felt quite sure the beautiful little cat would not deceive him. He was surprised to see that on her paw she wore a miniature. He asked her to show it him, thinking it would be Master Minagrobis. He was astonished to see a young man so handsome that it was scarcely creditable nature could have formed one like him and who resembled him so closely that it would not have been possible to paint his portrait better. She sighed, and becoming more melancholy, remained perfectly silent. The prince saw there was something extraordinary beneath; however, fearing to displease or annoy the cat, he dared not ask. He told her all the news he could think of, and found her well informed about the various interests of princes, and other things that happened in the world.
After supper White Cat invited her guest to enter a hail containing a stage on which twelve cats and twelve monkeys danced a ballet. The former were dressed as Moors and the latter as Chinese. Their leaps and capers may easily be imagined, and now and again they exchanged blows with their paws. Thus the evening ended. White Cat bade her guest good-night; the hands which had been his guides all along took charge of him again, and led him to an apartment just opposite the one he had seen. It was less magnificent than elegant. It was carpeted with butterflies’ wings, whose varied colours formed a thousand different flowers. There were also very rare birds’ feathers, never seen perhaps except in this place. The beds were of gauze, fastened by a thousand knots of ribbons. There were large mirrors reaching from the ceiling to the floor, and the chased gold frames represented a thousand little Cupids,
The prince went to bed in silence, for he could not carry on a conversation with the hands; he did not sleep well and was awakened by a confused noise. The hands took him out of bed, and dressed him in hunting costume. He looked out into the courtyard, and saw more than five hundred cats, some of whom led hounds in the leash, others sounded the horn; it was a great fête. White Cat was going hunting and wished the prince to join her. The helpful hands gave him a wooden horse, which galloped at full speed, and stepped grandly. He made some difficulty about mounting, saving that he was far from being a knight errant like Don Quixote; but his resistance was of no avail, and he was
put on the wooden horse. It had housings and saddle of gold and diamond embroidery. White Cat was mounted on the handsomest and finest monkey ever seen. She did not wear her long veil, but a dragoon hat, which lent her such a determined expression that all the mice of the neighbourhood were in terror. Never was there a pleasanter hunt; the cats ran quicker than the rabbits and the hares, so that when they caught them White Cat had the quarry made in front of her, and a thousand skilful and delightful tricks were done. The birds, too, were scarcely safe, for the cats climbed the trees, and the wonderful monkey carried White Cat even into the eagles’ nests, so that she might dispose of the eaglets according to her pleasure.
The hunt ended, she blew a horn about a finger’s length, but with so loud and clear a Sound that it could easily be heard ten leagues off. When she had blown it two or three times, she was surrounded by all the cats of the Country some were in the air driving chariots, others in boats came by water; never had so many been seen before. They were all dressed differently. White Cat returned to the castle with the pompous procession, and begged the prince to come too. He was most willing, although it seemed to him that so mans’ cats savoured somewhat of uproar and sorcery, and the cat who could speak astonished him more than all the rest.
As soon as she reached home she put on her long black veil; she supped with the prince. He was hungry and ate with a good appetite; liqueurs were served him which he drank with great pleasure, and immediately forgot the little dog he was to take the king. He only thought of mewing with the White Cat, that is, to keep her pleasant and faithful company; the days passed in pleasant fetes, fishing, hunting, ballets, feasts, and many other ways in which he amused himself capitally; sometimes the White Cat composed verses and songs of so passionate a character that it seemed she must have a tender heart, and that she could not speak as she did without loving; but her secretary, an elderly cat, wrote so badly that although her works have been preserved, it is impossible to read them.
The prince had forgotten even his country. The hands of which I spoke continued to serve him. He sometimes regretted he was not a cat, in order that he might spend his life in that pleasant company. “Alas!” he said to White Cat, “how grieved I shall he to leave you, I love you so dearly! Either become a woman or make me a cat.” She was much amused at his wish, and made mysterious answers of which he understood nothing.
A year passes so quickly when you have neither cares nor troubles, and are in good health. White Cat knew when he ought to return, and as he had quite forgotten it, she reminded him. “Do you know,” she said, “that you have only three days in which to find the little dog your father wants, and your brothers have found beauties?” The prince then remembered, and astonished at his carelessness, exclaimed: “By what secret charm have I forgotten the thing more important to me than anything in the world? Unless I procure a dog wonderful enough to win me a kingdom, and a horse speedy enough to travel so long a distance in time, it is all up with my fame and fortune.” He began to feel very anxious and distressed.
White Cat to comfort him said: “King’s son, do not vex yourself, I am your friend. You can stay here another day, and although it is five hundred leagues from here to your country, the wooden horse will take you there in less than twelve hours.” “I thank you, beautiful cat,” said the prince; “but it is not enough to return to my father: I must take him a little dog.” “Stay,” said White Cat, “here is an acorn which contains one more beautiful than the dog star.” “Oh!” said the prince, “Madam Cat, you are laughing at me.” “Put the acorn to your ear,” she continued, “you will hear it bark.” He obeyed, and heard the little dog say bow-wow; the prince was overjoyed, because a dog that could get into an acorn must be very tiny. He was so anxious to see it that he wanted to open it, but White Cat told him it might be cold on the journey and it would therefore be better to wait till he was with his father. He thanked her a thousand times, and bade her a tender farewell. “I assure you,” he added “time has passed so quickly with you that I somewhat regret leaving you, although you are queen here, and the cats who form your court are more intelligent and more gallant than ours, I cannot help inviting you to come with me.” The cat’s only reply to this was a deep sigh.
They parted; the prince was the first to arrive at the castle where the meeting with his brothers had been arranged to take place. They joined him very soon, and were surprised to see a Wooden horse in the courtyard that leaped better than all those in the riding schools.
The prince came to meet them. They embraced each other affectionately and related their adventures; but our prince did not tell his brothers his real ad ventures and showed them a wretched dog which served as turnspit saying he considered it so pretty that it was the one he destined for the king. No matter how they loved one another, the two eldest were secretly glad of the youngest’s foolish choice; being at dinner, one trod on the other’s foot as if to say there was nothing to fear on that score.
The next day they went on together in the same coach. The king’s two eldest sons brought little dogs in baskets, so beautiful and delicate that One scarcely dared to touch them; the youngest brought the miserable turnspit, which was so dirty that no one could bear it. When they reached the palace, they were greeted and welcomed by all; they entered the king’s rooms. He did not know in whose favour to decide, for the dogs brought by his two eldest sons were almost equally beautiful, and they were already disputing the succession when the youngest brought them into harmony by drawing out of his pocket the acorn White Cat had given him. He quickly opened it, and they saw a little dog lying on cotton wool. He passed through a ring without touching it. The prince put him on the ground, and he began to dance with castanets as lightly as the most famous Spanish girl. He was of a thousand different colours, his silky hair and ears dragged on the ground. The king was greatly puzzled, for it was impossible to find anything to say against the beauty of the little dog.
But he had not the least desire to give away his crown. The tiniest gem of it was dearer to him that all the dogs in the world. He told his children he was pleased with their labours, and they had succeeded so well in the first thing he had asked of them that he wished to prove their skill further before fulfilling his promise; so that he gave them a year to look by sea and land for a piece of linen so fine that it would pass through the eye of a needle used for making Venice point-lace. They were all vastly distressed to be obliged to go on a new quest. The two princes, whose dogs were not so beautiful as that of the youngest, agreed. Each departed his own way without so much affection as the former time, because the turnspit had greatly cooled their love.
Our prince mounted his wooden horse again, and without caring to find other help than that he might hope from White Cat’s friendliness, he speedily departed and returned to the castle where he had been so kindly entertained. He found all the doors open, the windows, roofs, towers and walls were lighted by a hundred thousand lamps that produced a marvellous effect. The hands that had waited on him so well came to meet him, took the bridle of the wooden horse and led it to the stable, while the prince entered White Cat’s room.
She was lying in a little basket on a very nice white satin mattress. Her toilette was neglected and she looked out of spirits; but when she saw the prince, she leaped and jumped to show him her joy. “Whatever reason I had,” she said, “to hope that you would return, king’s son, I dared not expect too much, and I am usually so unfortunate in the things I wish that this event surprises me.” The grateful prince caressed her; he related the success of his journey, which she knew probably better than he, and that the king wanted a piece of linen fine enough to go through a needle’s eye; that in truth he thought the thing impossible, but he intended to rely on her friendship and help. White Cat, looking serious, said she would think over the matter; fortunately, there were cats in the castle who spun excellently; she would see that what he wanted was prepared, thus he would have no need to go further afield in search of what he could more easily procure in her palace than in any other place in the world.
The hands appeared, carrying torches, and the prince and White Cat following them, entered a magnificent gallery that extended along the bank of a river, where a splendid display of fireworks took place. Four cats, who had been duly tried with all the usual formalities, were to be burned. They were accused of eating the roast meat provided for White Cat’s supper, her cheese, her milk, and of having plotted against her person with Martafax and L’Hermite, famous rats of the country, and held as such by La Fontaine, a truthful writer; but all the same it was known that there was a good deal of treachery in the matter, and that most of the witnesses were bribed. However it might have been, the prince obtained their pardon. The fireworks did no one any harm, and there never were more beautiful rockets.
A very excellent supper was afterwards served, which pleased the prince more than the fireworks, for he was very hungry, and his wooden horse travelled at the greatest speed possible. The days that followed were spent in the same way as those that preceded, with a thousand different fetes devised by White Cats ingenuity to amuse the prince. He is perhaps the first man who entertained himself so well in the company of cats.
It is true that White Cat had a charming, flexible and versatile mind. She was more learned than cats usually are. The prince was sometimes astonished. No,” he said, “what I see so surprising in you is not a natural thing. If you love me, charming puss, tell me by what miracle you think and speak so correctly that you would be received into the most famous academies of learned men?” “Cease to ask questions, king’s son,” she said, “I am not allowed to reply; you can carry your conjectures as far as you please, I shall not oppose them; be contented that I never show my claws to you, and take a tender interest in all that concerns you.”
The second year passed as quickly as the first; everything the prince wished for was immediately brought him by the hands; whether it was books, jewels, pictures, antique medals, he had only to say I want such and such a jewel that is in the cabinet of the Mogul or of the King of Persia, such a statue from Corinth or Greece, and he immediately saw before him what he desired, without knowing who brought it or whence it came. That was not without its charms, and it is sometimes a pleasant diversion to become possessed of the most beautiful treasures of the earth.
White Cat, who never ceased to watch over the prince’s interests, warned him that the time of his departure was drawing near, that he need not be anxious about the linen he wanted, since she had had made for him a most wonderful piece; she added that she wished this time to give him an equipage worthy of his rank, and without awaiting his reply, she made him look out into the courtyard. He saw an open barouche enamelled with flame gold, with a thousand elegant devices that pleased the intelligence as well as the eye. Twelve snow-white horses yoked together in fours drew it, harnessed in flame, coloured velvet embroidered with diamonds, and decorated with gold plates. The inside of the barouche was equally magnificent and a hundred coaches, with eight horses, filled with nobles of fine appearance, superbly dressed, accompanied the barouche. It was also attended by a thousand body-guards, whose coats were so thickly embroidered that you could not see the material; and what was strangest, White Cat’s portrait appeared everywhere: in the decoration of the barouche on the coats of the guards, or fastened with a ribbon, like an order, round the necks of those who formed the procession
“Go,” she said to the prince, “appear at your father’s court in so sumptuous a manner that your magnificence may impress him with awe, so that he will not refuse you the crown you deserve. Here is a walnut; do not crack it until you are before him; it contains the piece of linen you asked of me.” “Good White Cat,” he said, “I confess I am so deeply sensible of your kindness that if you would consent, I would rather spend my life with you than amid all the glory I have reason to expect elsewhere.” “King’s son,” she replied, “I am convinced of your good heart, a very rare commodity among princes; they want to be loved by all without loving anything or any one themselves, but you are the exception that proves the rule. I shall not forget the affection you show for a little white cat, who is good for nothing but to catch mice.” The prince kissed her paw and departed.
It would be difficult to understand the speed at which he travelled, if we did not know already that the wooden horse had taken less than two days to do the five hundred leagues to the castle, so that the same power that animated that horse worked in the others, and they were only twenty four hours on the road. They halted nowhere until they reached the king’s palace, where the two eldest brothers had already repaired, so that not seeing the youngest they applauded his forgetfulness and whispered: “This is very fortunate; he is either dead or sick, he will not be our rival in this important business”. They exhibited their pieces of linen, which were indeed so fine that they went through the eye of a big needle, but could not get through that of a small one, and the king, glad of the pretext, showed them the particular needle he meant, and which the magistrates by his orders brought from the treasury of the town, where it had been carefully preserved.
There was much grumbling over this. The princes’ friends, and particularly those of the oldest–for his piece of linen was the best–said that it was open chicanery, in which there was great cunning and evasion. The king’s supporters upheld that he was not compelled to keep to the proposed conditions. At length, to make them all agree, a delightful sound of trumpets, drums, and hautboys was heard; it was the arrival of the prince and his fine equipment. The king and his two sons were all vastly astonished at its magnificence.
After greeting his father very respectfully and embracing his brothers, he took the walnut out of a box ornamented with rubies, and cracked it, thinking to find in it the famous piece of linen, but instead there was a hazel nut; he cracked that, and was surprised to see a cherry stone. They looked at each other; the king smiled and laughed at his son for being credulous enough to believe a walnut could contain a piece of linen; but why should he not have believed it, since he had already found a little dog contained in an acorn? He cracked the cherry stone, which contained its kernel; then a loud murmur arose in the room, and nothing could be heard but that the youngest prince had been duped. He made no reply to the courtiers’ jests; he opened the kernel and found a grain of wheat, and in the grain of wheat a millet seed. In truth, he began to get distrustful, and murmured between his teeth “Why, cat, White Cat, you have made game of me”. He felt at that moment a cat’s claw on his hand, which scratched him so severely that he bled. He did not know if this was to encourage him or to make him lose heart. However, he opened the millet seed, and the people were no little astonished when he drew from it a piece of linen four hundred ells long, so wonderful that all the birds, beasts, and fishes were painted on it, with trees, fruits, and plants of the earth, the rocks, the curiosities and shells of the sea, the sun, moon, Stars and planets of the heavens; further, there were the portraits of the kings and other sovereigns that had reigned in the world, those of their wives, mistresses, children and subjects, not omitting the least important of them. Each in his condition assumed the character that suited him best, and wore the costume of his country. When the king saw the piece of linen, he became as pale as the prince was red from his prolonged efforts to find it. The needle was brought, the piece of linen passed backwards and forwards through the eye six times. The king and the two eldest princes preserved a dismal silence, although the beauty and rarity of the linen compelled them to say that nothing in the world could be compared to it.
The king uttered a deep sigh, and turning to his children, said: “Nothing consoles me more in my old age than your deference to my wishes. I therefore desire to put you to a further proof. Go and travel for a year, and at the end of that time he who brings back the most beautiful girl shall marry her and be crowned king on his wedding day. It is absolutely necessary that my successor should marry. I swear, I promise that I will not again put off the reward.”
Our prince strongly felt the injustice. The little dog and the piece of linen deserved ten kingdoms rather than one, but he was too well-bred to oppose his father’s will, and without delay got into the barouche again. The whole pro cession accompanied him, and he returned to his beloved White Cat. She knew the day and hour of his arrival. The road was strewed with flowers, a thousand perfume burners smoked on all sides, and especially in the castle. She was seated on a Persian carpet, under a canopy of cloth of gold, in a gallery whence she could see him coming. He was received by the hands that had always waited on him. All the cats climbed up to the gutters in order to welcome him with a terrible mewing.
“Well, king’s son,” she said, “you have again returned without a crown?” Madam,” he replied, “your kindness has certainly given me the best chance of gaining it, but I am convinced that the king would have more trouble in giving it away than I should have pleasure in possessing it” “No matter,” she said, “you must neglect nothing that can make you deserve it. I will help you this time, and since you must take a beautiful girl to your father’s court, I will find you one who will cause you to win the prize. Now let us amuse ourselves; I have ordered a naval combat between my cats and the terrible rats of the country. My cats will doubtless be uncomfortable, for they fear the water, but otherwise they would have had too great an advantage, and things ought before all to be fair.” The prince admired Madam Puss’s prudence; he praised her highly, and accompanied her to a terrace that looked on the sea.
The cats’ ships consisted of big pieces of cork, on which they floated comfortably enough. The rats had joined together several egg-shells to form their vessels. The combat was obstinately kept up; the rats threw themselves into the water, and swam far better than the cats, so that twenty times they were conquerors and conquered, but Minagrobis, admiral of the cats’ fleet, reduced the rats to the extremity of despair. He greedily ate up the leader of their fleet, an old experienced rat, who had been thrice round the world in good vessels, where he was neither captain nor sailor, but only a parasite.
White Cat did not wish those poor wretches to be entirely destroyed. She knew how to rule her people, and thought that if there should be no more rats or mice in the land, her subjects would live in an idleness very harmful to them. The prince spent that year like the others in hunting, fishing, and games, for White Cat played chess extremely well. Now and again he could not help asking her fresh questions as to the miracle by which she was able to speak. He asked her if she was a fairy, or if she had become a cat by some change of shape. But she always said only what she wanted to say, and replied only what she wished; and she did this by so many phrases that meant nothing at all, that he clearly saw she did not wish to share her secret with him.
Nothing passes more swiftly than days spent without trouble or care, and if the cat had not been wise enough to remember the time for returning to the Court, it is certain that the prince would have entirely forgotten it. She told him the evening before that it only rested with him to take to his father one of the most beautiful princesses the world had ever seen; that the time for destroying the fatal work of the fairies had at length arrived, and to do that it was necessary for him to cut off her head and tail, and throw them at once into the fire. “I,” he exclaimed, “White Cat, my love, am I to be cruel enough to kill you? Ah, you doubtless want to prove my heart, but be sure it will never be wanting in the affection and gratitude it owes you.” “No, king’s son,” she Continued, “I do not suspect you of ingratitude, I know your merit; it is neither you nor I who rule our fate in this matter. Do what I wish; we shall both begin to be happy, and you will know on the faith of a rich and honourable cat that I am indeed your friend.”
The tears came into the prince’s eyes at the mere thought of cutting off his cat’s pretty little head. He said everything loving and tender he could think of to dissuade her, but she obstinately replied that she wished to die by his hand, and that it was the only way of preventing his brothers from obtaining the crown; in fact, she urged him so ardently that trembling he drew his sword, and with a shaking hand cut off the head and tail of his good friend, the cat. Immediately the most charming change imaginable took place. White Cat’s body grew tall, and suddenly turned into a girl, whose beauty cannot be described; never was there any so perfect. Her eyes enchanted all hearts, and her sweet ness captivated them. Her stature was majestic, and her bearing noble and modest; her mind was versatile, her manners attractive; indeed, she was superior to everything that was most amiable.
The prince was so surprised, and so agreeably surprised at the sight, that he thought he must be enchanted. He could not speak, he could only look at her, and his tongue was so tied that he could not express his astonishment; but it was a very different thing when he saw an extraordinary number of lords and ladies enter the room, who, with their cats’ skins thrown over their shoulders, bowed low to their queen, anti testified their joy at seeing her again in her natural state. She received them with marks of kindness that were enough to prove the character of her disposition and after holding her court for a few moments, she gave orders that she should be left alone with the prince, and spoke to him thus
“Do not imagine, sir, that I have always been a cat. My father ruled over 5 kingdoms. He loved my mother dearly, and allowed her to do exactly as she liked. Her ruling passion was travel, so that shortly before I was born she set out to visit a certain mountain, of which she had heard the most wonderful accounts. On the way she was told that near the place where she then was, was an ancient fairy castle of very great beauty, so at least report said, for, as no one had ever entered it, it could not be proved a fact; but it was well known that the fairies’ garden contained the best and most delicately fruits ever eaten.
“The queen was seized with a violent desire to taste them, and turned her steps in the direction of the castle. She reached the gate of the magnificent building that shone with gold and azure on all sides. But she knocked in vain; none appeared, it seemed that everybody was dead. The difficulties only served to increase her desire, and she sent for ladders so that they might get over the garden wall. They would have succeeded if the walls had not visibly increased in height although no one worked at them; they tied the ladders together, but they gave way under the weight of the climbers, who were either crippled for life or killed outright.
“The queen was in despair. She saw big trees loaded with fruits that seemed delicious; she felt she must taste them or die; she ordered sumptuous tents to be pitched before the castle, and she and all her court remained there six weeks. She neither ate nor slept; she did no thing but sigh and talk of the fruit in the inaccessible garden. At length she fell dangerously ill, and no one could cure her, for the in exorable fairies had not as much as appeared since she had established herself near the castle. All her officers were greatly distressed. Only weeping and sighs were heard while the dying queen asked her attendants for fruits, but would only have what was denied her.
“One night, when she was somewhat drowsy, she saw when she woke a little ugly decrepit old woman seated in an armchair by her bedside. She was surprised her attendants should have allowed any one she did not know to come so near her. The old dame said ‘We consider your majesty very importunate in wishing so obstinately to eat of our fruits, but since your life is in danger my sisters and I have agreed to give you as many as you can carry away, and as many as you like while you remain here, provided you make us a present’. ‘Ah my dear mother,’ exclaimed the queen, ‘speak; I will give you my realms, my heart, my soul, provided I may have the fruit; no price is too great for it!’ ‘We desire your majesty,’ she said, ‘to give us the daughter shortly to be born to you; at her birth we shall come and fetch her away and bring her up among us. We shall endow her with all the virtues, with beauty and knowledge; in short, she will be our child; we shall make her happy, but remember you will see her no more until she is married. If you like the proposal I will cure you at once and take you to our orchards; although it is night, you will be able to see clearly enough to choose what you please. If you do not like what I have said good evening madam, I shall go home to bed.’ ‘Although the conditions you impose on me are very hard, I accept them rather than die, for it is certain I have not a day to live. Cure me, wise fairy,’ she continued, ‘and do not let me be a moment longer without enjoying the privilege you have just granted me.’
“The fairy touched her with a small gold wand, saying: ‘May your majesty be freed from the sufferings that keep you in this bed!’ It seemed to her immediately as though she had put off a very heavy and uncomfortable gown, which had oppressed her. In some places, seemingly where her malady had been most acute, the burden still weighed upon her. She called her ladies-in-waiting, and told them with cheerful looks that she felt extremely well, was going to get up, and that the gates of the fairy palace, so fast bolted and barricaded, would be open for her to eat and carry away as much of the fruit as she pleased.
“The ladies thought the queen was delirious, and dreaming of the fruits she longed for; instead therefore of answering her, they began to cry and awoke the physicians to come and see in what a condition she was. The delay exasperated the queen: she asked for her clothes and was refused; she got angry and I came very flushed, They thought it was the effect of the fever. However, the physician felt her pulse, went through the usual formalities and could not deny that she was in perfect health, Her ladies, seeing the fault their zeal had made them commit, tried to mend it by dressing her quickly. They asked her pardon and were forgiven: she hastened to follow the old fairy, who had been waiting for her all the time.
“She entered the palace, where nothing was wanting to make it the most beautiful place in the world. This you will easily believe, sir,” said Queen White Cat, “when I tell you it is the very castle in which we are; two other fairies, a little younger than my mother’s guide, received them at the door and welcomed them kindly. She begged them to take her at once into the garden, and show her the trees on which she would find the best fruit. ‘They are all equally good,’ they told her, ‘and if you were not so anxious to pluck them your self, we have merely to bid them come!’ ‘I entreat you, ladies,’ said the queen, ‘give me the pleasure of seeing so extraordinary a thing.’ The oldest put her fingers to her mouth, and whistled three times; then she shouted: ‘Apricots, peaches nectarines cherries, plums, pears, white heart cherries, melons, grapes, apples, oranges, lemons, currants, strawberries, raspberries, come at my biding!’ ‘But,’ said the queen, ‘those you summon, ripen at different seasons.’ “It is not so in our orchard,’ they said. ‘We have all the fruits the earth produces always ripe, always good; they never go bad!’
“Directly they all came, rolling, creeping along, pell-mell, without getting bruised or harmed; so that the queen, eager to satisfy her longing, took the first that offered, and rather devoured than ate them.
“When she was somewhat satisfied, she asked the fairies to let her go to the trees that she might have the pleasure of choosing the fruit with her eye, before plucking it. ‘We willingly consent,’ said the three fairies, ‘but remember your promise. You can no longer go back from it.’ ‘I am sure,’ she replied, ‘it is very pleasant here, and if I did not love my husband so dearly, I should ask you to let me live here too; so that you need have no fear I shall retract.’ The fairies, extremely pleased, opened all their gardens and enclosures; the queen stayed with them three days and three nights without wishing to go, so delicious was the fruit. She gathered some to take with her, and as it never spoiled she loaded four thousand mules with it. The fairies added to the fruit gold baskets of exquisite workmanship to put it in, and several curiosities of great value. They promised to give me the education of a princess, to make me perfect, choose a husband for me, and to inform my mother of the day of the wedding, to which they hoped she would come.
“The king was delighted at the queen’s return; the whole court rejoiced with him. There were balls, masquerades, running at the ring, and banquets, where the queen’s fruits were served as a delicious feast. The king ate them in preference to everything else that was offered him. He did not know the treaty she had made with the fairies, and he often asked her the name of the land from which she had brought such good things. She told him they were to be found on an almost inaccessible mountain; at another time, that they came from the valleys, then from a garden, or a big forest. So many contradictions surprised the king. He questioned those who had accompanied her, but as she had forbidden them to tell the adventure to any one, they dared not speak of it. As the time of my birth drew nearer, the queen, anxious about her promise to the fairies, fell into a terrible melancholy; she sighed every moment and changed colour rapidly. The king grew very uneasy, and urged the queen to tell him what distressed her. With great difficulty she told him what had passed between her and the fairies, and how she had promised her daughter to them. ‘What!’ exclaimed the king, ‘we are to have no children; you know how I long for them, and for the sake of eating two or three apples you were capable of promising your daughter. You cannot have any affection for me.’ He overwhelmed her with a thousand reproaches, which nearly caused my mother to die of grief; but he was not content with that: he shut her up in a tower and surrounded it with guards to prevent her having communication with anybody but the servants who waited on her, and changed those who had been with her at the fairy castle.
“The bad feeling between the king and queen threw the court into great consternation Everybody put off his rich clothes in order to don those suitable to the general grief. The king, on his part, seemed inexorable; he never saw his wife, and directly I was born, had me brought to his palace to be fed and cared for, while the queen remained a most unhappy prisoner. The fairies knew everything that was going on; they became angry, they wanted to gain possession of me; they looked Upon me as their property and that it was a theft from them to keep me. Before seeking a revenge in proportion to their anger, they sent an embassy to the king, asking him to set the queen at liberty, and take her into favour again, and to give me to their ambassadors in order to be brought up by them. The ambassadors were so small, and so deformed were ugly dwarfs they had not the gift of Persuading the king to do what they wished. He refused roughly, and if they had not speedily departed worse might have befallen them.
“When the fairies learned my father’s course of action, they became very indignant; and after inflicting the most desolating evils on his six kingdoms, they let loose a terrible dragon which poisoned all the places he passed through, devoured men and children, and killed the trees and plants by breathing on them.
“The king was in the depths of despair; he consulted all the wise men in the kingdom about what he ought to do to secure his subjects from these over whelming misfortunes. They advised him to seek through all the world for the cleverest physicians and the most excellent remedies, and to promise life to all the condemned criminals who would fight the dragon. The king, pleased with the counsel, followed it, but without result, for the mortality Continued, and every one who went against the dragon was devoured; then he had recourse to a fairy who had protected him from his earliest youth. She was very old, and scarcely ever left her bed; he went to her and reproached her for permitting fate to persecute him thus, and for not coming to his assistance. ‘What do you want me to do?’ she said; ‘you have annoyed my sisters; they are as powerful as I am, and we seldom act against each other. Appease them by giving them your daughter; the little princess belongs to them you have closely imprisoned the queen; what has she done that you should treat so amiable a woman so badly? Fulfil the promise she gave, and I undertake that good shall come of it.’
“My father loved me dearly, but seeing no other way of saving his kingdoms, and delivering himself from the fatal dragon, he told his friend that he would trust her, and give roe to the fairies since she declared I should be cherished, a treated as became a princess of my rank; that he would set the queen free, and that she had only to tell him who was to carry me to the fairy castle. ‘You must carry her in her cradle,’ said his fairy friend, ‘to the mountain of flowers; you can even remain near and see what will happen.’ The king told her that in a week he would go with the queen; meanwhile she might inform her sisters of his decision, that they might make what preparations they thought proper.
“When he returned to the palace, he released the queen with as much affection and ceremony as he had made her prisoner in anger and rage. She was so dejected and changed that he would hardly have recognised her if his heart had not assured him that it was the same woman he had so deeply loved. He entreated her with tears in his eyes to forget the troubles he had caused her, assuring her that they would be the last she would experience from him, She replied that she had brought them on herself by her imprudence in promising her daughter to the fairies, and if anything could excuse her, it was her present condition. The king then told her he intended to deliver me to their keeping. It was now the queen who objected; it seemed to be fated that I was always to be a subject for discord between my father and mother. She wept and groaned without obtaining her desire, for the king was too well aware of the fatal consequences, and our subjects continued to die as if they had been guilty of the faults of our family. At length she consented, and everything was prepared for the ceremony.
“I was put into a mother-of-pearl cradle ornamented with everything pretty that art could imagine. It was hung with wreaths and festoons of flowers made of precious stones, and the different colours catching the sun’s rays became so dazzling that you could not look at them. The magnificence of my clothing surpassed that of the cradle. All the fastenings of my robes were composed of big pearls, and twenty-four princesses of the blood carried me on a sort of light litter; their ornaments were not ordinary, and they were only allowed to wear white, as befitted my innocence. The whole court accompanied me, each in his rank.
“While they were ascending the mountain, the sound of a melodious symphony was heard coming nearer, and at length the fairies, thirty in number appeared. They had asked their good friend to accompany them; each was seated in a pearly shell bigger than that in which Venus rose from the sea and the shells were drawn by walruses that moved uneasily on dry land. The fairies were more magnificently escorted than great queens, but they were exceedingly old and ugly. They carried an olive branch to signify to the king that his submission found favour with them, and they covered me with such extraordinary caresses that it seemed they intended to live only to make me happy.
“The dragon who had avenged them on my father followed them fastened in diamond chains. They took me in their arms, kissed me, endowed rue with many precious qualities, and then began the fairy dance. It was very merry, and it is incredible how those old ladies leaped and sprang; and the dragon, who had eaten so many people, approached crawling. The three fairies, to whom my mother had promised me, seated themselves on him and placed my cradle in their midst, and striking the dragon with a wand, he unfolded his big, scaly wings, finer than crape, and of a thousand different colours; thus they repaired to the castle. My mother, seeing me in the air at the mercy of the furious dragon, could not help uttering loud cries. The king consoled her with the assurance given him by his good friend that no harm should come to me, and that I should be as well taken care of as if I had remained in the palace. She became calmer, although it was very sad to lose me for so long, and to be her self the cause of such a misfortune, for if she had not desired to eat the fruit in the garden, I should have remained in my father’s kingdoms and should not have suffered all the misfortunes I have still to relate to you.
“Learn then, king’s son, that my guardians had purposely built a tower in which were a thousand beautiful apartments for all the seasons of the ‘ear, magnificent furniture, interesting books, but no door, and you had to get in by the windows, which were extremely high up. On the tower was a beautiful garden adorned with flowers, fountains and arbours which procured shade even in the hottest season. Here the fairies brought me up with a care that surpassed everything they had promised the queen. My clothes were always in the fashion, and so splendid that if any one had seen me they would have thought it was my wedding-day. They taught me everything that belonged to my age and rank. I did not give them much trouble, for there was scarcely anything I did not understand with the greatest ease; they liked my gentleness, and as I had never seen any one except them I might have lived contented with them for the rest of my life.
“They always visited me, mounted on the furious dragon I have already mentioned; they never spoke of the king or queen; they called me their daughter, and I thought I was. No one lived with me in the tower except a parrot and a little dog they had given me for my amusement, for the animals were endowed with reason, and spoke perfectly.
“One of the sides of the castle was built on a deep road, so full of ruts and trees that it was almost impassable, so that since I had lived in the tower I had never seen any one there. But one day when I was at the window chatting with the parrot and dog I heard a noise. I looked all round and saw a Young knight who had stopped to listen to our conversation; I had never seen any one like him, except in pictures. I was not sorry that an unexpected meeting should afford me such an opportunity, and having no idea of the danger that is attached to the satisfaction of contemplating a pleasant thing, I came forward to look at him, and the longer I looked, the more pleasure I felt. He made me a low bow, and fixed his eyes on me, and seemed greatly troubled to know how he might speak to me; for my window was very high, and he feared to be overheard well knowing that I was in the fairy castle.
Night suddenly came on, or to speak more correctly, it came Without our perceiving it. He sounded his horn two or three times very prettily and then departed; it was so dark that I could not see which way he went. I was in a dream and no longer took the same pleasure as before in chatting with my parrot and dog. They told roe the prettiest things imaginable, for fairy animals are intelligent, but I was pre-occupied and knew not how to dissemble. Parrot noticed it; he was cunning and did not betray what was passing in his mind.
“I did not fail to rise with the dawn. I ran to my window and was agree ably surprised to see the young knight at the foot of the town. He was magnificently dressed. I flattered myself that it was somewhat on my account, and I was not mistaken. He talked to me through a kind of speaking trumpet, and by its aid told me that, having been hitherto insensible to all the beauties he had seen, he was suddenly so impressed with me, that unless he saw me every day of his life he should die. I was charmed with the compliment, and much distressed at not daring to reply to it, for it would have been necessary to shout with all my might, and so risk being better heard by the fairies than by him. I threw him some flowers I had in my hands he received them as a marked favour, kissed them several times and thanked me. He then asked me if I should like him to come every day at the same time to my windows, and, if so, I was to throw him something. I took a turquoise ring from my finger and hastily threw it him, signing him to go away quickly because I heard the Fairy Violent mounting her dragon to bring me my breakfast.
“The first words she said on entering the room were: ‘I smell the voice of a man here; search for him, dragons. Imagine my feelings. I was paralysed with fear lest he should go out by the other window and follow the knight in whom I was already greatly interested. ‘My dear mamma’ (for it was thus the old fairy liked me to call her), ‘you are joking when you say you smell a man’s voice; has a voice any smell? and even if it has, who is the mortal daring enough to ascend this tower?”What you say is true, my daughter,’ she replied; ‘I am delighted you argue so nicely, and I suppose it must be the hatred I have for men which sometimes makes me think they are not far from me.’ She gave me my breakfast and my distaff. ‘When you have finished eating, spin,’ she said, ‘for you are very idle and my sisters will be angry.’ I had been so taken up with my unknown knight that I had found it impossible to spin.
“As soon as she was gone, I saucily threw the distaff on the ground, and ascended the terrace to see farther over the country. I had an excellent spy glass; nothing impeded my view I looked on all sides, and discovered my knight on the top of a mountain. He was resting under a rich pavilion of some gold material, and was surrounded by a large court. I supposed he must be the son of some king who was a neighbour of the fairies’ palace. As I feared if he returned to the tower he would be discovered by the terrible dragon, I told my parrot to fly to the mountain, seek out the man who had spoken to me, and beg him on my part not to return, because I dreaded my guardians’ vigilance, and that they might do him some mischief.
“Parrot acquitted himself of the mission like a parrot of intelligence. It surprised everybody to see him come swiftly and perch on the prince’s shoulder and whisper in his ear. The prince felt both pleasure and pain at the message; my anxiety for his welfare flattered him, but the difficulty of seeing and speaking to me overwhelmed him, without, however, turning him from his purpose of pleasing me. He asked Parrot a hundred questions, and Parrot in his turn asked him a hundred, for he was curious by nature. The king entrusted him with a ring for me instead of my turquoise; it was formed of the same stones, but was much more beautiful than mine; it was cut in the shape of a heart, and ornamented with diamonds. ‘It is only right,’ he added, ‘that I should treat you as an ambassador; here is my portrait, only show it to your charming mistress.’ He fastened the portrait under his wing and brought the ring in his beak.
“I awaited my little messenger’s return with an impatience I had never before felt. He told me my knight was a great king; that he had received him most kindly, and that I might rest assured he only wished to live for mc; that in spite of the danger he ran in coming to my tower, he was determined to risk everything rather than give up the pleasure of seeing me. That news worried me greatly, and I began to weep. Parrot and Bow-wow consoled me as well as they could, for they loved me dearly; then Parrot gave me the prince’s ring and showed me the portrait. I confess I was extremely glad to be able to examine closely the man I had only seen in the distance. He seemed even more charming than I had imagined; a thousand thoughts, some pleasant, others sad, came into my mind, and gave me an extraordinary look of anxiety. The fairies perceived it, and said to each other that doubtless I was feeling bored, and they must, therefore, think about finding me a husband of fairy race. They spoke of several, and fixed on the little King Migonnet, whose kingdom was five hundred thousand leagues from their palace, but that was of no consequence. Parrot overheard this fine advice, and told me of it. ‘Ah!’he said, ‘I pity you, my dear mistress, if you become Migonnet’s queen; his appearance is enough to frighten an one. I regret to say it, but truly the king who loves you would not have him for a footman.’ ‘Have you seen him, Parrot?’ I asked. ‘I should think so,’ continued he; I have been on a branch with him.’ ‘What on a branch? ‘I replied. ‘Yes,’ he said; ‘he has the claws of an eagle.’
“Such a tale distressed me strangely, I looked at the charming portrait of the king; I thought he could only have given it to Parrot so that I might have an opportunity of seeing him, and when I compared him with Migonnet I could hope for nothing more in life, and determined to die rather than marry him.
“I did not sleep the whole night through. Parrot and Bow-wow talked to me. I slept a little towards morning; and as my dog had a keen scent he smelt that the king was at the bottom of the tower. He woke Parrot. ‘I bet,’ he said, ‘the king is down below.’ Parrot replied: ‘Be quiet, chatterbox; because your eyes are always open and your ear on the alert, you object to others resting’. ‘But let us bet,’ said Bow-wow again; ‘I know he is there.’ Parrot replied: ‘And I know very well he is not; did I not carry a message from my mistress forbidding him to come?’ ‘Truly, you’re imposing nicely on me with your prohibitions,’ exclaimed the dog. ‘A passionate man only consults his heart ‘; and thereupon he began to pull his wings about so roughly that Parrot grew angry. Their cries awoke me; they told me the cause of the dispute; I ran, or rather flew, to the window. I saw the king, who stretched out his arms, and told me, by means of his trumpet, that he could not live with out me, and implored me to find means to get out of the tower, or for him to enter it; he called all the gods and the elements to witness that he would marry me and make me one of the greatest queens in the world.
“I told Parrot to go and tell him that what he hoped seemed to me almost impossible; but that relying on the promise he had made me and on his oaths, I would attempt to do what he wished. But I implored him not to come every day, because he might be seen, and the fairies would give no quarter.
“He went away greatly rejoiced at the hope I held out; but when I thought over what I had just promised, I was in the greatest possible embarrassment. How to get out of a tower that had no doors, the only assistance being Parrot and Bow-wow! to be so young, inexperienced and timid! I therefore determined not to attempt a thing in which I could never succeed, and sent parrot to tell the king so. He almost killed himself then and there; but at length he ordered him to persuade me either to come and see him die, or to console him. ‘Sire,’ exclaimed the feathered ambassador, ‘my mistress has the will but lacks the power.’
“When he related to me all that had taken place I was more distressed than ever. Fairy Violent came and found my eyes red and swollen; she declared I had been crying, and that if I did not tell her the reason she would burn me, for her threats were always terrible. I replied, trembling, that I was tired of spinning, and that I wanted some small nets to catch the little birds that pecked the fruit in my garden. ‘What you desire,’ she said, ‘need cost you no more tears. I will bring you as much twine as you like ‘; and in fact I had it the same evening; but she advised me to think less of working than of making myself beautiful, because King Migonnet was expected shortly. I shuddered at the terrible news and said nothing.
“When she was gone, I began to make two or three pieces of netting; but what I really worked at was a rope ladder, and, although I had never seen one, it was very well made. The fairy did not provide me with as much twine as I wanted, and continually said: ‘But, my daughter, your work is like Penelope’s, it never advances, and you are never tired of asking me for more material’. ‘Oh! my dear mamma,’ I said, ‘it is all very well to talk, but don’t you see that I am not very skilful, and burn it all? Are you afraid I shall ruin you in twine?’ My look of simplicity rejoiced her, although she was of a very disagreeable and cruel disposition.
“I sent Parrot to tell the king to come one evening under the windows of the tower, that he would find a ladder there, and would know the rest when he arrived. I made it fast; determined to fly with him; but when he saw it lie did not wait for me to come down but eagerly ascended it, and rushed into my room just as I was preparing for my flight.
“I was so delighted to see him that I forgot the danger we were in. He repeated his oaths, and implored me not to delay making him my husband. Parrot and Bow-wow were witnesses of our marriage; never was a wedding between people of such high rank concluded with less splendour and fuss, and never was any couple happier than we were.
“Day had scarcely dawned when the king left me: I told him the fairies’ terrible plan of marrying me to the little Migonnet I described his appearance, and he was as horrified as I was. After his departure the hours seemed to me as long as years. I ran to the window, I followed him with my eyes in spite of the darkness, but what was my astonishment to see in the air a fiery chariot drawn by winged salamanders who travelled at such speed that the eye could scarcely follow them. The chariot was accompanied by several guards mounted on ostriches. I had not leisure enough to examine the creature which thus traversed the air; but I imagined it must be a fairy or a sorcerer.
“Soon after Fairy Violent entered my room. ‘I bring you good news,’ she said; ‘your lover has been here for some hours; prepare to receive him; here are clothes and jewels.’ ‘Who told you,’ I exclaimed, ‘that I wanted to be married? it is not at all my desire; send King Migonnet away. I shall not put on a pin more, whether he thinks me beautiful or ugly; I am not for him.’ ‘Oh! indeed,’ said the fairy, ‘what a little rebel! what a little idiot! I do not permit such conduct, and I will make you…’ ‘What will you do to me?’ I asked, quite red with the names she had called me. ‘Could any one be worse treated than I was, in a tower with a parrot and a dog, seeing every day the hideous and terrible dragon?’ ‘Oh! you ungrateful little thing,’ said the fairy, ‘did you deserve so much care and trouble? I have often told my sisters we should have a poor reward.’ She sought them and told them our dispute; they were all greatly surprised.
“Parrot and Bow-wow remonstrated with me, and said if I persisted in rebelling, they foresaw that bitter misfortunes would happen to me. I was so proud of possessing the heart of a great king that I despised the fairies, and the advice of my poor little companions. I did not dress myself, and did my hair all crooked so that Migonnet might find me unpleasing. Our interview took place on the terrace. He came there in his fiery chariot. Never since there were dwarfs had one so small been seen. He walked on his eagle’s feet and on his knees all at the same time, because he had no bones in his legs, and he supported himself on diamond crutches. His royal cloak was only half-an-ell long, and a third of it dragged along the ground. His head was as big as a bushel measure, and his nose so big that he carried a dozen birds on it, in whose chirping he delighted. His beard was so tremendous that canaries made their nests in it, and his ear projected an arm’s length beyond his head, but it was scarcely noticed because of a high, pointed crown he wore to make himself appear taller. The flame of his chariot roasted the fruits, and dried up the flowers and fountains of my garden. He came to me, arms open to embrace me; I held myself so upright that his chief squire had to lift him up, but directly he was near me I fled into my room, shut the door and windows, so that Migonnet went back to the fairies very angry with me.
“They asked him to forgive my rudeness, and to appease him–for he was to be feared–they determined to bring him into my room at night while I was asleep, to tie my hands and feet, and put me with him into his burning chariot, so that he might take me away with him. The matter once decided, they scarcely scolded me for my rudeness; they only said I must think how to make up for it. Parrot and Bow-wow were surprised at this gentleness. ‘Do you know, my mistress,’ said the dog, ‘I do not augur well from it; the fairies are strange creatures, and very violent,’ I laughed at these fears, and awaited my beloved husband most impatiently; he was too anxious to see me to be late. I let down the rope ladder, fully resolved to return with him; he ascended with light step, and spoke to me so tenderly that I dare not recall to memory what he said.
“While we were talking with as much security as if we had been in his palace, suddenly the windows of the room were darkened. The fairies entered on their horrible dragon, Migonnet followed in his fiery chariot, with all his guards and their ostriches. The king, without fear, laid hold of his sword, and only thought of protecting me from the most horrible calamity, for, shall I tell you, sir? The savage creatures set their dragon on him, and it devoured him before my very eyes.
“In despair at his misfortune and mine, I threw myself into the horrid monster’s mouth, wishing him to swallow me as he had just swallowed all I loved best in the world. He was very willing, but not so the fairies, who were more cruel than he was. ‘We must reserve her,’ they said, ‘for longer torment; a speedy death is too good for that unworthy girl.’ They touched me and I at once became a white cat. They brought me to this magnificent palace, which belonged to my father. They changed all the lords and ladies into cats; of some they allowed only the hands to be seen, and reduced me to the deplorable condition in which you found me, informing me of my rank, of the death of my father and mother, and that I could only be delivered from my cat-form by a prince who should exactly resemble the husband they had torn from me. You, sir, possess that likeness,” she continued, “the same features, same expression the same tone of voice. I was struck by it directly I saw you. I was informed of all that had happened and will happen; my troubles are at an end.’ “And mine, beautiful queen,” said the prince, throwing himself at her feet, “will they be of long duration?” “I already love von more than my life, sir,” said the queen. “We must go to your father and see what he thinks of me, and if he will consent to what you desire.”
She went out, the prince took her hand, and she stepped into a chariot more magnificent than those he had hitherto seen. The rest of the equipment equalled it in such a degree that all the horses’ shoes were of emerald with diamond nails. Probably that is the only time such a thing was seen. I do not relate the pleasant conversation of the queen and the prince; it was unique in its charm and intelligence, and the young prince was as perfect as she was; so that their thoughts were most beautiful.
When they were near the castle where the prince was to meet his two eldest brothers, the queen went inside a little crystal rock whose points were all adorned with rubies and gold. It had curtains all round, so that you could not see it, and it was carried by handsome young men magnificently attired. The prince remained in the chariot, and perceived his brothers walking with very beautiful princesses. When they recognised him they drew near to receive him, and asked him if he had brought a mistress with him. He said he had been unfortunate enough during all his travels only to meet very ugly women, and the most beautiful thing he had brought was a little white cat. They began to laugh at his simplicity. “A cat “they said; “are you afraid that our palace will be eaten up by mice.” The prince replied that he was certainly not wise to make his father such a present, and each then took his way to the town.
The elder princes and their princesses got into barouches of gold and azure, the horses wore feathers and aigrettes on their heads, and nothing could have been more brilliant than the cavalcade. Our young prince followed, and then the crystal rock that everybody looked at with admiration.
The courtiers hastened to tell the king that the three princes had arrived. “Do they bring beautiful women with them?” asked the king. “It is impossible that they should be surpassed,” was their reply. He seemed vexed at the answer. The two princes eagerly entered with their wonderful princesses. The king welcomed them kindly, and did not know to which to award the prize. He looked at the youngest, and said “This time you come alone?” “Your majesty will see in that rock a little white cat,’ replied the prince, “which mews so prettily and is so gentle that she will charm you.” The king smiled, and himself opened the rock, but, as he approached it, the queen by a spring shattered it to pieces, and appeared like the sun which has been for some time hidden by a cloud; her fair hair was flowing over her shoulders, and fell in long curls to her feet; her head was encircled with flowers; her gown was of a light white gauze, lined with pink silk; she rose and made the king a low curtesy, who, in the excess of his admiration, could not help exclaiming: “This is the matchless woman who deserves my crown”.
“Sire,” she said, “I am not come to take from you a throne you fill so worthily. I possess, by inheritance, six kingdoms allow me to offer you one and give the same to each of your sons. As a reward, I only ask for you) affection, and this young prince for my husband. We shall have quite enough with three kingdoms.” The king and the court uttered cries of joy and astonishment. The marriage ‘as celebrated at once, and also the marriage of the two princes, so that the court spent many months in amusements and delights Then each went to rule his own kingdom. The beautiful White Cat was immortalised as much by her goodness and generosity as by her rare merit and beauty.