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The White Cat

from The Best Popular Stories Selected And Rendered Anew





There was once a king who had three sons, all handsome, brave and
noble of heart. Nevertheless, some wicked courtiers made their father
believe they were eager to wear his crown, which, though he was old,
he had no mind to resign. He therefore invented a plan to get them out
of the kingdom, and prevent their carrying out any undutiful projects.
Sending for them to a private audience, he conversed with them kindly,
and said: You must be sensible, my dear children, that my great age
prevents me from attending so closely as I have hitherto done to state
affairs. I fear this may be injurious to my subjects; I therefore
desire to place my crown on the head of one of you; but it is no more
than just that, in return for such a present, you should procure me
some amusement in my retirement, before I leave the capital for ever.
I cannot help thinking that a little dog, handsome, faithful, and
engaging, would be the very thing to make me happy; so that, without
bestowing a preference on either of you, I declare that he who brings
me the most perfect little dog shall be my successor.

The princes were much surprised at the fancy of their father to have a
little dog, yet they accepted the proposition with pleasure; and
accordingly, after taking leave of the king, who presented them with
abundance of money and jewels, and appointed that day twelvemonth for
their return, they set off on their travels.

Before separating, however, they took some refreshment together, in an
old palace about three miles out of town, where they mutually agreed
to meet in the same place on that day twelvemonth, and go all together
with their presents to court. They also agreed to change their names,
and travel incognito.

Each took a different road; but it is intended to relate the
adventures of only the youngest, who was the most beautiful, amiable,
and accomplished prince in the world. As he travelled from town to
town, he bought all the handsome dogs that fell in his way; and as
soon as he saw one that was handsomer than those he had, he made a
present of the rest; for twenty servants would scarcely have been
sufficient to take care of all the dogs he was continually purchasing.
At length, wandering he knew not whither, he found himself in a
forest; night suddenly came on, and with it a violent storm of
thunder, lightning, and rain: to add to his perplexity, he lost his
way. After he had groped about for a long time, he perceived a light,
which made him suppose that he was not far from some house: he
accordingly pursued his way towards it, and in a short time found
himself at the gates of the most magnificent palace he had ever
beheld. The entrance-door was of gold, covered with sapphires, which
shone so that scarcely could the strongest eyesight bear to look at
it: this was the light the prince had seen from the forest. The walls
were of transparent porcelain, variously coloured, and represented the
history of all the fairies that had existed from the beginning of the
world. The prince, coming back to the golden door, observed a deer's
foot fastened to a chain of diamonds; he could not help wondering at
the magnificence he beheld, and the security in which the inhabitants
seemed to live; For, said he to himself, nothing could be easier
than for thieves to steal this chain, and as many of the
sapphire-stones as would make their fortunes. He pulled the chain,
and heard a bell, the sound of which was exquisite. In a few moments
the door was opened; yet he perceived nothing but twelve hands in the
air, each holding a torch. The prince was so astonished that he durst
not move a step--when he felt himself gently pushed on by some other
hands from behind him. He walked on, in great perplexity, till he
entered a vestibule inlaid with porphyry and lapis-stone, where the
most melodious voice he had ever heard chanted the following words:--

Welcome, prince, no danger fear,
Mirth and love attend you here;
You shall break the magic spell,
That on a beauteous lady fell.

Welcome, prince, no danger fear,
Mirth and love attend you here.

The prince now advanced with confidence, wondering what these words
could mean; the hands moved him forward towards a large door of
coral, which opened of itself to give him admittance into a splendid
apartment built of mother-o'-pearl, through which he passed into
others, so richly adorned with paintings and jewels, and so
resplendently lighted with thousands of lamps, girandoles, and
lustres, that he imagined he must be in an enchanted palace. When he
had passed through sixty apartments, all equally splendid, he was
stopped by the hands, and a large easy chair advanced of itself
towards the fireplace; then the hands, which he observed were
extremely white and delicate, took off his wet clothes, and supplied
their place with the finest linen imaginable, adding a comfortable
wrapping-gown, embroidered with gold and pearls.

The hands next brought him an elegant dressing-table, and combed his
hair so very gently that he scarcely felt their touch. They held
before him a beautiful basin, filled with perfumes, for him to wash
his face and hands, and afterwards took off the wrapping-gown, and
dressed him in a suit of clothes of still greater splendour. When his
toilet was complete, they conducted him to an apartment he had not yet
seen, and which also was magnificently furnished. There was a table
spread for supper, and everything upon it was of the purest gold,
adorned with jewels. The prince observed there were two covers set,
and was wondering who was to be his companion, when his attention was
suddenly caught by a small figure not a foot high, which just then
entered the room, and advanced towards him. It had on a long black
veil, and was supported by two cats dressed in mourning and with
swords by their sides: they were followed by a numerous retinue of
cats, some carrying cages full of rats, and others mouse-traps full of
mice.

The prince was at a loss what to think. The little figure now
approached, and throwing aside her veil, he beheld a most beautiful
white cat: she seemed young and melancholy; and, addressing herself to
him, she said, My prince, you are welcome; your presence affords me
the greatest pleasure.

Madam, replied he, I would fain thank you for your generosity, nor
can I help observing that you must be an extraordinary creature to
possess, with your present form, the gift of speech, and the most
magnificent palace I have ever seen.

All this is very true, answered the beautiful cat; but, prince, I
am not fond of talking, and least of all do I like compliments; let us
therefore sit down to supper.

The trunkless hands then placed the dishes on the table, and the
prince and white cat seated themselves at it. The first dish was a pie
made of young pigeons, and the next was a fricassee of the fattest
mice. The view of the one made the prince almost afraid to taste the
other, till the white cat, who guessed his thoughts, assured him that
there were certain dishes at table which had been dressed on purpose
for him, in which there was not a morsel of either rat or mouse:
accordingly, he ate heartily of such as she recommended. When supper
was over, he perceived that the white cat had a portrait set in gold
hanging to one of her feet. He begged her permission to look at it;
when, to his astonishment, he saw the portrait of a handsome young
man, who exactly resembled himself! He thought there was something
most extraordinary in all this: yet, as the white cat sighed and
looked very sorrowful, he did not venture to ask any questions. He
conversed with her on different subjects, and found her extremely well
versed in everything that was passing in the world. When night was far
advanced, his hostess wished him a good night, and he was conducted by
the hands to his bedchamber, which was different still from anything
he had seen in the palace, being hung with the wings of butterflies
mixed with the most curious feathers. His bed was of gauze, festooned
with bunches of the gayest ribands, and the looking-glasses reached
from the floor to the ceiling. The prince was undressed and put into
bed by the hands, without speaking a word. He, however, slept little,
and in the morning was awakened by a confused noise. The hands took
him out of bed, and put on him a handsome hunting-jacket. He looked
into the courtyard, and perceived more than five hundred cats, busily
employed in preparing for the field--for this was a day of festival.
Presently the white cat came to his apartment; and having politely
inquired after his health, she invited him to partake of their
amusement. The prince willingly acceded, and mounted a wooden horse,
richly caparisoned, which had been prepared for him, and which he was
assured would gallop to admiration. The beautiful white cat mounted a
monkey; she wore a dragoon's cap, which made her look so fierce that
all the rats and mice ran away in the utmost terror.

Everything being ready, the horns sounded, and away they went: no
hunting was ever more agreeable. The cats ran faster than the hares
and rabbits; and when they caught any, they turned them out to be
hunted in the presence of the white cat, and a thousand cunning tricks
were played. Nor were the birds in safety; for the monkey made nothing
of climbing up the trees, with the white cat on his back, to the nests
of the young eagles. When the chase was over, the whole retinue
returned to the palace; the white cat immediately exchanged her
dragoon's cap for the veil, and sat down to supper with the prince,
who, being very hungry, ate heartily, and afterwards partook with her
of the most delicious wines. He then was conducted to his chamber as
before, and wakened in the morning to renew the same sort of life,
which day after day became so pleasant to him that he no longer
thought of anything but of pleasing the sweet little creature who
received him so courteously: accordingly, every day was spent in new
amusements. The prince had almost forgotten his country and relations,
and sometimes even regretted that he was not a cat, so great was his
affection for his mewing companions.

Alas! said he to the white cat, how will it afflict me to leave
you, whom I love so much! Either make yourself a lady, or make me a
cat. She smiled at the prince's wish, but offered no reply.

At length, the twelvemonth was nearly expired: the white cat, who knew
the very day when the prince was to reach his father's palace,
reminded him that he had but three days longer to look for a perfect
little dog. The prince, astonished at his own forgetfulness, began to
afflict himself; when the cat told him not to be so sorrowful, since
she would not only provide him with a little dog, but also with a
wooden horse, which should convey him safely home in less than twelve
hours.

Look here, said she, showing him an acorn, this contains what you
desire.

The prince put the acorn to his ear, and heard the barking of a little
dog. Transported with joy, he thanked the cat a thousand times; and
the next day, bidding her tenderly adieu, he set out on his return.

The prince arrived first at the place of rendezvous, and was soon
joined by his brothers: they mutually embraced, and began to give an
account of their success; when the youngest showed them only a little
mongrel cur, telling them that he thought it could not fail to please
the king, from its extraordinary beauty. The brothers trod on each
other's toes under the table, as much as to say, We have little to
fear from this sorry-looking animal. The next day they went together
to the palace. The dogs of the two elder brothers were lying on
cushions, and so curiously wrapped around with embroidered quilts,
that one would scarcely venture to touch them. The youngest produced
his cur, and all wondered how the prince could hope to receive a crown
for such a shabby present. The king examined the two little dogs of
the elder princes, and declared he thought them so equally beautiful
that he knew not to which, with justice, he could give the preference.
They accordingly began to dispute; when the youngest prince, taking
his acorn from his pocket, soon ended their contention; for a little
dog appeared, which could with ease go through the smallest ring, and
was besides a miracle of beauty. The king could not possibly hesitate
in declaring his satisfaction; yet, as he was not more inclined than
the year before to part with his crown, he told his sons that he was
extremely obliged to them for the pains they had taken: and since they
had succeeded so well, he wished they would make a second attempt; he
therefore begged they would take another year in order to procure a
piece of cambric, fine enough to be drawn through the eye of a small
needle.

The three princes thought this very hard; yet they set out, in
obedience to the king's command. The two eldest took different roads,
and the youngest remounted his wooden horse, and in a short time
arrived at the palace of his beloved white cat, who received him with
the greatest joy, while the trunkless hands helped him to dismount,
and provided him with immediate refreshment. Afterwards the prince
gave the white cat an account of the admiration which had been
bestowed on the beautiful little dog, and informed her of the further
injunction of his father.

Make yourself perfectly easy, dear prince, said she; I have in my
palace some cats who are perfect adepts in making such cambric as the
king requires; so you have nothing to do but to give me the pleasure
of your company while it is making, and I will procure you all the
amusement possible.

She accordingly ordered the most curious fire-works to be played off
in sight of the window of the apartment in which they were sitting;
and nothing but festivity and rejoicing was heard throughout the
palace for the prince's return. As the white cat frequently gave
proofs of an excellent understanding, the prince was by no means tired
of her company; she talked with him of state affairs, of theatres, of
fashions: in short, she was at a loss on no subject whatever; so that
when the prince was alone, he had plenty of amusement in thinking how
it could possibly be, that a small white cat could be endowed with all
the attractions of the very best and most charming of women.

The twelvemonth in this manner again passed insensibly away; but the
cat took care to remind the prince of his duty in proper time. For

once, my prince, said she, I will have the pleasure of equipping you
as suits your high rank. And, looking into the courtyard, he saw a
superb car, ornamented all over with gold, silver, pearls, and
diamonds, drawn by twelve horses as white as snow, and harnessed in
the most sumptuous trappings; and behind the car a thousand guards,
richly apparelled, were waiting to attend on the prince's person. She
then presented him with a nut: You will find in it, said she, the
piece of cambric I promised you: do not break the shell till you are
in the presence of the king your father. Then, to prevent the
acknowledgments which the prince was about to offer, she hastily bade
him adieu.

Nothing could exceed the speed with which the snow-white horses
conveyed this fortunate prince to his father's palace, where his
brothers had just arrived before him. They embraced each other, and
demanded an immediate audience of the king, who received them with the
greatest of kindness. The princes hastened to place at the feet of his
majesty the curious present he had required them to procure. The
eldest produced a piece of cambric so extremely fine, that his friends
had no doubt of its passing through the eye of a needle, which was now
delivered to the king, having been kept locked up in the custody of
his majesty's treasurer all the time. But when the king tried to draw
the cambric through the eye of the needle, it would not pass, though
it failed but very little. Then came the second prince, who made as
sure of obtaining the crown as his brother had done, but, alas! with
no better success; for though his piece of cambric was exquisitely
fine, yet it could not be drawn through the eye of the needle. It was
now the turn of the youngest prince, who accordingly advanced, and
opening an elegant little box inlaid with jewels, took out a walnut
and cracked the shell, imagining he should immediately perceive his
piece of cambric; but what was his astonishment to see nothing but a
filbert! He did not, however, lose his hopes; he cracked the filbert,
and it presented him with a cherry-stone. The lords of the court, who
had assembled to witness this extraordinary trial, could not, any more
than the princes his brothers, refrain from laughing, to think he
should be so silly as to claim the crown on no better pretensions. The
prince, however, cracked the cherry-stone, which was filled with a
kernel; he divided it, and found in the middle a grain of wheat, and
in that a grain of millet-seed. He was now absolutely confounded, and
could not help muttering between his teeth, O white cat, white cat,
thou hast deceived me! At this instant he felt his hand scratched by
the claw of a cat; upon which he again took courage, and opening the
grain of millet-seed, to the astonishment of all present, he drew
forth a piece of cambric four hundred yards long, and fine enough to
be threaded with perfect ease through the eye of the needle.

When the king found he had no pretext left for refusing the crown to
his youngest son, he sighed deeply, and it was easy to be seen that he
was sorry for the prince's success.

My sons, said he, it is so gratifying to the heart of a father to
receive proofs of his children's love and obedience, that I cannot
refuse myself the satisfaction of requiring of you one thing more.
You must undertake another expedition. That one of you, who, by the
end of a year, brings me the most beautiful lady, shall marry her and
obtain my crown.

So they again took leave of the king and of each other, and set out
without delay; and in less than twelve hours, our young prince
arrived, in his splendid car, at the palace of his dear white cat.
Everything went on as before till the end of another year. At length
only one day remained of the year, when the white cat thus addressed
him: To-morrow, my prince, you must present yourself at the palace of
your father, and give him a proof of your obedience. It depends only
on yourself to conduct thither the most beautiful princess ever yet
beheld, for the time is come when the enchantment by which I am bound
may be ended. You must cut off my head and tail, continued she, and
throw them into the fire.

I! said the prince, hastily--I cut off your head and tail! You
surely mean to try my affection, which, believe me, beautiful cat, is
truly yours.

You mistake me, generous prince, said she; I do not doubt your
regard; but if you wish to see me in any other form than that of a
cat, you must consent to do as I desire, when you will have done me a
service I shall never be able sufficiently to repay.

The prince's eyes filled with tears as she spoke, yet he considered
himself obliged to undertake the dreadful task; and the cat
continuing to press him with the greatest eagerness, with a trembling
hand he drew his sword, cut off her head and tail, and threw them into
the fire. No sooner was this done, than the most beautiful lady his
eyes had ever seen stood before him: and ere he had sufficiently
recovered from his surprise to speak to her, a long train of
attendants, who, at the same moment as their mistress, were changed to
their natural shapes, came to offer their congratulations to the
queen, and inquire her commands. She received them with the greatest
kindness, and ordering them to withdraw, thus addressed the astonished
prince:

Do not imagine, dear prince, that I have always been a cat, or that I
am of obscure birth. My father was the monarch of six kingdoms; he
tenderly loved my mother, and left her always at liberty to follow her
own inclinations. Her prevailing passion was to travel; and a short
time before my birth, having heard of some fairies who were in
possession of the largest gardens filled with the most delicious
fruits, she had so strong a desire to eat some of them, that she set
out for the country where they lived. She arrived at their abode,
which she found to be a magnificent palace, on all sides glittering
with gold and precious stones. She knocked a long time at the gates;
but no one came, nor could she perceive the least sign that it had any
inhabitant. The difficulty, however, did but increase the violence of
my mother's longing; for she saw the tops of the trees above the
garden-walls, loaded with the most luscious fruits. The queen, in
despair, ordered her attendants to place tents close to the door of
the palace; but, having waited six weeks without seeing any one pass
the gates, she fell sick of vexation, and her life was despaired of.

One night, as she lay half asleep, she turned herself about, and,
opening her eyes, perceived a little old woman, very ugly and
deformed, seated in the easy-chair by her bedside. 'I and my sister
fairies,' said she, 'take it very ill that your majesty should so
obstinately persist in getting some of our fruit; but since so
precious a life is at stake, we consent to give you as much as you can
carry away, provided you will give us in return what we shall ask.'
'Ah! kind fairy,' cried the queen, 'I will give you anything that I
possess, even my very kingdoms, on condition that I eat of your
fruit.' The old fairy then informed the queen that what they required
was, that she should give them the child she was going to have, as
soon as it should be born; adding, that every possible care should be
taken of it, and that it should become the most accomplished princess.
The queen replied that, however cruel the conditions, she must accept
them, since nothing but the fruit could save her life. In short, dear
prince, continued the lady, my mother instantly got out of bed, was
dressed by her attendants, entered the palace, and satisfied her
longing. Having eaten her fill, she ordered four thousand mules to be
procured and loaded with the fruit, which had the virtue of continuing
all the year round in a state of perfection. Thus provided, she
returned to the king my father, who, with the whole court, received
her with rejoicings, as it was before imagined she would die of
disappointment. All this time the queen said nothing to my father of
the promise she had made to give her daughter to the fairies; so that
when the time was come that she expected my birth, she grew very
melancholy; till at length, being pressed by the king, she declared to
him the truth. Nothing could exceed his affliction when he heard that
his only child, when born, was to be given to the fairies. He bore it,
however, as well as he could, for fear of adding to my mother's grief;
and also believing he should find some means of keeping me in a place
of safety, which the fairies would not be able to approach. As soon,
therefore, as I was born, he had me conveyed to a tower in the palace,
to which there were twenty flights of stairs, and a door to each, of
which my father kept the key, so that none came near me without his
consent. When the fairies heard of what had been done, they sent first
to demand me; and on my father's refusal, they let loose a monstrous
dragon, which devoured men, women, and children, and which, by the
breath of its nostrils, destroyed everything it came near, so that
even the trees and plants began to die. The grief of the king was
excessive; and, finding that his whole kingdom would in a short time
be reduced to famine, he consented to give me into their hands. I was
accordingly laid in a cradle of mother-o'-pearl, ornamented with gold
and jewels, and carried to their palace, when the dragon immediately
disappeared. The fairies placed me in a tower, elegantly furnished,
but to which there was no door, so that whoever approached was obliged
to come by the windows, which were a great height from the ground:
from these I had the liberty of getting out into a delightful garden,
in which were baths, and every sort of cooling fruit. In this place
was I educated by the fairies, who behaved to me with the greatest
kindness; my clothes were splendid, and I was instructed in every kind
of accomplishment; in short, prince, if I had never seen anyone but
themselves, I should have remained very happy. One day, however, as I
was talking at the window with my parrot, I perceived a young
gentleman who was listening to our conversation. As I had never seen a
man but in pictures, I was not sorry for the opportunity of gratifying
my curiosity. I thought him a very pleasing object, and he at length
bowed in the most respectful manner, without daring to speak, for he
knew that I was in the palace of the fairies. When it began to grow
dark, he went away, and I vainly endeavoured to see which road he
took. The next morning, as soon as it was light, I again placed myself
at the window, and had the pleasure of seeing that the gentleman had
returned to the same place. He now spoke to me through a
speaking-trumpet, and informed me he thought me a most charming lady,
and that he should be very unhappy if he did not pass his life in my
company.

I resolved to find some means of escaping from my tower, and was not
long in devising the means for the execution of my project: I begged
the fairies to bring me a netting-needle, a mesh, and some cord,
saying I wished to make some nets to amuse myself with catching birds
at my window. This they readily complied with, and in a short time I
completed a ladder long enough to reach to the ground. I now sent my
parrot to the prince, to beg he would come to the usual place, as I
wished to speak with him. He did not fail; and finding the ladder,
mounted it, and quickly entered my tower. This at first alarmed me,
but the charms of his conversation had restored me to tranquillity,
when all at once the window opened, and the Fairy Violent, mounted on
the dragon's back, rushed into the tower. My beloved prince thought of
nothing but how to defend me from their fury; for I had had time to
relate to him my story, previous to this cruel interruption; but their
numbers overpowered him, and the Fairy Violent had the barbarity to
command the dragon to devour my lover before my eyes. In my despair, I
would have thrown myself also into the mouth of the horrible monster;
but this they took care to prevent, saying, my life should be
preserved for greater punishment. The fairy then touched me with her
wand, and I instantly became a white cat. She next conducted me to
this palace, which belonged to my father, and gave me a train of cats
for my attendants, together with the twelve hands that waited on your
highness. She then informed me of my birth and the death of my
parents, and pronounced upon me what she imagined the greatest of
maledictions; that I should not be restored to my natural figure until
a young prince, the perfect resemblance of him I had lost, should cut
off my head and tail. You are that perfect resemblance; and
accordingly you ended the enchantment. I need not add, that I already
love you more than my life; let us therefore hasten to the palace of
the king your father, and obtain his approbation to our marriage.

The prince and princess accordingly set out side by side, in a car of
still greater splendour than before, and reached the palace just as
the two brothers had arrived with two beautiful princesses. The king,
hearing that each of his sons had succeeded in finding what he had
required, again began to think of some new expedient to delay the time
of his resigning the crown; but when the whole court were with the
king assembled to pass judgment, the princess who accompanied the
youngest, perceiving his thoughts by his countenance, stepped
majestically forward and thus addressed him:

It is a pity that your majesty, who is so capable of governing,
should think of resigning the crown! I am fortunate enough to have six
kingdoms in my possession; permit me to bestow one on each of the
eldest princes, and to enjoy the remaining four in the society of the
youngest. And may it please your majesty to keep your own kingdom, and
make no decision concerning the beauty of three princesses, who,
without such a proof of your majesty's preference, will no doubt live
happily together!

The air resounded with the applauses of the assembly: the young prince
and princess embraced the king, and next their brothers and sisters:
the three weddings immediately took place, and the kingdoms were
divided as the princess had proposed.





Next: Prince Cherry

Previous: The Frog-prince



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