The White Cat

There once was a ageing king who had three brave and clever sons. The king did not wish to give up his throne just yet, and was afraid that his sons would want to reign over the kingdom before he was dead. He decided to divert the minds of his sons by promises which he could always get out of when the time came for keeping them.

So he sent for them all, and, after speaking to them kindly, he added: “I’m sure you’ll agree that my great age makes it impossible for me to look after my affairs of state as carefully as I once did. Hence I wish that one of you should succeed me, but in return you should do something for me. I’m thinking of retiring into the country and it seems that a faithful little dog would be good company for me. Whichever of you brings me the prettiest little dog shall succeed me at once.”

The three princes were surprised by their father’s sudden fancy for a little dog, but as the challenge gave the two younger princes an unexpected chance of being king, and as the eldest was too polite to object, they eagerly accepted the challenge. They bade farewell to the king, who gave them presents of silver and gems, and he arranged to meet them in one year’s time, at the same time and place, to see the little dogs they had brought for him.

The princes and their retainers went together to a castle one league from the city, where they enjoyed a grand banquet. The three brothers promised to remain firm friends, to share whatever good fortune befell them, and not to be parted by envy or jealousy. Each one took a different road, and though the two eldest met with many adventures, this tale concerns the adventures of the youngest prince.

The young prince was handsome and merry, brave and versed in everything a prince should know. He wandered from place to place and hardly a day passed without his buying several dogs of all sizes and breeds. Each time he bought a pretty one he would spy one prettier still and then have to sell all the others for it was quite impossible for him to take a thousand dogs with him on his travels!

One nightfall, he reached a great, gloomy forest. He was quickly lost and, to make matters worse, a storm began. He took the first path he saw and, after walking for a long time, he saw a faint red light and hoped to find some woodcutter’s cottage where he could shelter for the night. At length, guided by the light, he reached the golden door of the most splendid castle imaginable. Its walls were fine porcelain in most delicate colours, and the Prince saw that all the stories he had ever read were pictured upon them. He was too wet and miserable to spend long looking about and he went to the great golden door.

There he saw a deer’s foot hanging by a diamond chain and he wondered who could live in this magnificent castle and not worry about diamond chain being stolen. He pulled the deer’s foot, and immediately a silver bell sounded and the door flew open. The Prince could see nothing but numbers of soft, pretty hands in the air, each holding a flaming torch. He was so surprised that he stood quite still until the hands pushed him into a hall paved with lapis-lazuli, while two lovely voices sang: “The hands you see floating above will swiftly your bidding obey; If your heart dreads not conquering Love, in this place you may fearlessly stay.”

No longer afraid, the prince allowed the hands to guide him towards a door of coral, which opened of its own accord, and he found himself in a vast hall of mother-of-pearl, out of which opened a many other brightly lit and fabulously equipped rooms. After passing through some sixty rooms, he reached a comfortable-looking armchair drawn up close to a hearth which sprang alight as he approached. The hands, which often appeared quite suddenly and unexpectedly, took off his wet, muddy clothes and dressed him in rich clothes embroidered with gold and emeralds.

The hands then led him to a splendid room, decorated with tapestries and paintings of Puss in Boots and other famous cats. The table was laid for supper with two golden plates, and golden spoons and forks, and the sideboard was covered with bejewelled dishes and glasses of crystal. The Prince wondered who the second place could be for. Suddenly in came about a dozen cats carrying guitars and music; they took their places at one end of the room, and under the direction of a cat who beat time with a roll of paper, the cat musicians began to mew in every imaginable key and to draw their claws across the strings of the guitars, making the strangest kind of music the prince had ever heard. At first he put his fingers in his ears, but soon he was overcome with laughter at the comical sight and he wondered what funny sight he would see next.

Instantly the door opened, and in came a tiny figure covered by a long black veil. It was conducted by two cats wearing black mantles and carrying swords, and a large party of cats followed, who brought in cages full of rats and mice. At first, the astonished prince thought he was dreaming, but the little figure came up to him and threw back its veil to reveal the loveliest little white cat imaginable. She looked very young and very sad, and in a sweet little voice that went straight to his heart she spoke to him.

“King’s son,” said the sad white cat, “You are welcome. The Queen of the Cats is glad to see you.”

“Lady Cat,” replied the prince, “I thank you for receiving me so kindly, but surely you are no ordinary cat? The way you speak and the magnificence of your castle prove it plainly.”

“King’s son,” said the white cat, “I am not used to such compliments. Let supper be served and let my musicians be silent, as the Prince does not understand what they are saying.”

The mysterious hands brought in the supper. First they put on the table two dishes, one containing stewed pigeons and the other a fricassee of fat mice. The sight of mice made the Prince feel uneasy, but the white cat assured him that his own dishes had been prepared in a separate kitchen and he could be certain they contained no rats or mice. Sure she would not deceive him, the prince began to eat.

Presently he noticed that the white cat wore on her little paw a bracelet containing a portrait. He begged to be allowed to look at it. To his great surprise he found the portrait depicted a handsome young man who bore an uncanny resemblance to himself. The white cat sighed and seemed sadder than ever, so the prince dared not ask about the portrait. Instead, he talked of other things and found that she was interested in the same subjects that interested him.

After supper they went into another room, which was equipped as a theatre, and the cats acted and danced for their amusement. At length, the white cat bade him good-night and the hands conducted him into a room hung with tapestry worked with butterflies’ wings of every colour and with mirrors from floor to ceiling and a little white bed with curtains of gauze tied up with ribbons.

In the morning he was awakened by a noise and confusion outside of his window, and the mysterious hands quickly dressed him in hunting costume. When he looked out, all the cats were assembled in the courtyard, some leading greyhounds, some blowing horns, for the white cat was going out hunting. The hands led a wooden horse up to the prince, and mounted him on it despite his protests. It at once pranced gaily off with him.

The white cat rode a monkey, which climbed even up to the eagles’ nests when she desired young eaglets. Never was there a pleasanter hunting party, and when they returned to the castle the prince and the white cat dined together as before. This time, after the meal was done, she offered him a crystal goblet, which must have contained a magic draught, for, as soon as he had swallowed its contents, he forgot everything, even the little dog that he was seeking for the king. His only thought was how happy he was to be with the white cat.

The days passed in every kind of amusement, until the year was nearly gone. The prince had forgotten about the meeting with his brothers and had even forgotten what country he belonged to. The white cat knew when he ought to go back, and one day she said to him: “Do you know that you have only three days left to look for the little dog for your father, and your brothers have found lovely ones?”

The prince’s memory returned at once and he cried, “What can have made me forget such an important thing? My whole fortune depends upon it! There is no time to find a dog pretty enough to gain me a kingdom and I am far more than three days away from my home!”

The prince was distraught, but the white cat said to him: “King’s son, do not fret. I am your friend and will make everything easy for you. Stay another day as the wooden horse can take you to your father in twelve hours.”

“Thank you, beautiful Cat,” replied the prince, “but there is little point as I have no dog to take to my father”

“See here,” answered the white cat, holding up an acorn, “This acorn holds a prettier one than in the Dogstar!”

The prince chastised the white cat for teasing him, but she held the acorn to his ear and he heard a tiny “woof woof” from inside it. The prince was delighted, for it must surely be the smallest dog ever. He wanted to take it out to see it, but the white cat told him to wait until he was before the king, and in any case the tiny dog might become cold on the journey. So he stayed with her another day and thanked her a thousand times.

At last, time came for him to return home and he sadly said goodbye and said to the white cat “The days here have passed so quickly! I wish I could take you with me.” But the white cat just sighed sadly and shook her head.

He was the first of the three princes to arrive at the castle. His brothers looked questioningly at the prancing wooden horse, but he kept quiet about his own adventures while listening to their stories. When they asked what dog he’d brought, he showed them a misshapen turnspit dog. The two elder princes smiled secretly, knowing their dogs to be far prettier than the ugly turnspit dog.

The brothers set out together in a coach. The elder brothers carried dogs so tiny and fragile they hardly dared touch them. The turnspit dog ran behind the coach and was filthy with mud by the time they arrived at the palace. The king could not decide which of the two tiny dogs was the prettier and while the elder brothers were arranging how to divide the kingdom up between them, their youngest brother stepped forward and opened the acorn. Inside, on a white cushion, was a dog so small that it could easily have jumped through a finger ring. The king complained that he could not decide which dog was prettiest and would therefore have to set another task in order to reach a decision.

He asked them to find him a piece of muslin so fine that it could be drawn through the eye of a needle. The brothers consented, though less willingly than before, and set out. The youngest mounted on his wooden horse and rode at full speed back to his beloved white cat. Back at the fabulous castle staffed by the mysterious hands, he found her asleep in a little basket on a white satin cushion. She was overjoyed at seeing him once more.

“How could I hope that you would come back to me King’s son?” she said.

As he stroked and petted her, he told her that the king could not reach a decision and had set a new task. The white cat looked serious and said she must think what was to be done, though luckily she knew cats in the castle who could spin very well. Then they danced and dined together, and watched magnificent fireworks from a gallery overlooking the river.

The days passed quickly as before and it was impossible to be bored as the white cat had a talent for inventing new amusements. When the Prince asked her how it was that she was so wise, she only said, “King’s son, do not ask me, but guess what you please. I may not tell you anything.” The Prince was so happy that he lost track of time until the white cat told him that the year was gone and it was time for him to return to his own palace. Her spinning cats had made the piece of muslin very well.

“This time,” she said, “I can give you a suitable escort,” and in the courtyard the prince found a golden chariot enamelled with red and drawn by twelve snow-white horses, harnessed four abreast. A hundred chariots followed, each drawn by eight horses, and filled with officers in splendid uniforms, while a thousand guards surrounded the procession.

“Go!” said the White Cat, “and when you appear before the King in such state he surely will not refuse you the crown which you deserve. Take this walnut, but do not open it until you are before him, then you will find in it the piece of stuff you asked me for.”

“Lovely Blanchette,” said the Prince, for that was what he had named the white cat, “however can I thank you for your kindness? Just say the words and I will give up all thought of kingship and stay here with you forever.”

“King’s son,” she replied, “you are kind to care so much for a little white mouse-catcher, but you must not stay.”

The Prince kissed her little white paw and set out. The enchanted chariots reached the king’s palace in just six hours. This time his brothers had arrived first and had impressed the king with their pieces of muslin which they felt sure would pass through the eye of a needle. However, the wily king sent for a particular needle with such a tiny eye that everyone could see the muslin would never pass through it.

The two princes were angry and began to complain that it was an unfair trick. Just then, the youngest prince came in and his father and brothers were quite astonished at his magnificence. He took out the walnut and opened it, expecting to find a piece of muslin. Inside the walnut he found a hazelnut and inside that was a cherry stone and inside that was a grain of wheat. The prince thought the white cat had played a joke, but he quite distinctly felt a cat’s claw scratch his hand so he opened the grain of wheat and found a millet seed. Inside the millet seed he drew out a piece of muslin four hundred ells long, woven with gorgeous colours and patterns. This muslin went through the needle’s eye six times with ease. The king turned pale and other princes were silent. No-one could deny that this was the finest piece of muslin that was to be found in the world

Presently the king turned to his sons, and said, with a deep sigh “If you are to rule my kingdom, you need a queen to rule beside you. Go forth once more and whoever at the end of a year can bring back the loveliest princess shall be king and queen.”

Though he had clearly won the challenge, the prince went back to his chariot and he and his escort returned to the white cat faster than he had left. This time she was expecting him. The path was strewn with flowers and a braziers of scented woods perfumed the air.

“Well, King’s son,” she said, “here you are again without a crown.”

“Madam Blanchette,” he sighed, “thanks to your generosity I have earned my crown twice over, but my wily father is so loath to part with it that it would give me no pleasure to have it.”

Blanchette replied, “As you must next take back a lovely princess with you I will be on the look-out for one for you. Meanwhile let us enjoy ourselves”

The year slipped away even more pleasantly than the previous ones. Sometimes the prince could not help asking Blanchette how it was she could talk, “Perhaps you are a fairy, or some enchanter changed you into a cat?”

The white cat only gave him answers that told him nothing and while they were together he was so happy he quite lost track of time. One evening, the white cat told him that if he wanted to take a lovely princess home with him the next day he must be prepared to do exactly what she told him. Although he loved no-one, but Blanchette, he knew he could not wed a cat and he agreed.

“Take your sword,” she said, “and cut off my head!”

“I cannot!” cried the prince, “How can you even ask such a thing?”

“Please do it,” Blanchette begged.

Though he begged her to ask him to set a different task to prove his devotion to her, nothing could change her mind. He took out his sword and with tears running down his cheeks and a trembling hand, he cut off her little white head. Suddenly a lovely princess stood before him.

While he was speechless with amazement, the door opened and a goodly company of knights and ladies entered, each carrying a cat’s skin. They each kissed the princess’s hand and congratulated her on being restored to her own form. After a short while she asked to be alone with the prince.

“You were right in supposing me to be no ordinary cat. My father reigned over six kingdoms. The Queen, my mother, whom he loved dearly, had a passion for travelling and exploring, and when I was only a few weeks old she obtained his permission to visit a certain mountain of which she had heard many marvellous tales. She set out, taking with her a number of her attendants. On the way they passed near an old castle belonging to the fairies. Nobody had ever been into it, but it was reported to be full of the most wonderful things and its garden was reputed to have such fruits as were to be found nowhere else. She wished to try these fruits for herself. Though her servants knocked and rang at the door, no-one answered and they believed the castle’s inhabitants either asleep or dead. By then she was determined to try the fruit so she ordered her servants to put ladders against the wall and climb over. Though the walls did not look very high, however many ladders they tied together, they could not reach the top.

The Queen was sick with disappointment. She ordered her servants to set up camp for the night so they could try something else in the morning. In the middle of the night she was suddenly awakened by a tiny, ugly old woman. The old woman said to my mother ‘It is somewhat troublesome of your Majesty to insist upon tasting our fruit. To save further annoyance, my sisters and I will give you as much as you can carry away, on one condition – you shall give us your little daughter to bring up as our own.’ Though the queen begged the old fairy to take some other gift in return – kingdoms to rule, or riches, the old fairy insisted that only the baby daughter would do. ‘She shall be as happy as the day is long, and we will give her everything that is worth having in fairy-land, but you must not see her again until she is married.’ The queen consented, for she thought she would die of despair if she did not taste the fruit and so would lose her baby daughter either way.

The old fairy led her into the beautiful castle and called for the fruit to be brought to her. Golden baskets of perfect apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, plums, pears, melons, grapes, apples, oranges, lemons, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries appeared at once.

The queen gave up her plan to visit the mountain and returned to her kingdom, but before she had gone very far she regretted her bargain. When the king came out to meet her she looked so sad that he guessed that something had happened, and asked what was the matter. The queen was afraid to tell him, but all at once five ugly dwarfs arrived to collect the baby princess and the queen told him about the fruit. In anger, the king drove the dwarfs away and had locked his queen and the baby princess in a securely guarded tower.

Then the fairies sent a great dragon which killed the king’s subjects and devastated the kingdom until the king agreed to hand over his baby daughter to the fairies. The fairies took away the baby daughter – that is myself – and led away the dragon. I grew up in a fine tower surrounded with everything that was beautiful and rare, and learning everything that is ever taught to a princess, but without any companions but a talking parrot and a talking dog. I was visited each day by one of the old fairies and believed myself to be the fairies’ own child, knowing nothing of my mother’s bargain.

One day, as I sat at my window I saw a handsome young prince who had come hunting in the forest around my tower. He saluted me with great deference and I was delighted to have some one new to talk to. Despite the height of my window, we talked until nightfall. He visited me many times and I consented to marry him, but the question was how was I to escape from my tower. The fairies always supplied me with flax for spinning so I made enough cord for a ladder that reached to the foot of the tower. Just as my prince was helping me descend it, the crossest and ugliest of the old fairies caught us and the young prince was swallowed up by the fairies’ dragon.

The fairies were furious at having their plans thwarted. They had intended me to marry the king of the dwarfs. When I utterly refused, they changed me into a white cat and brought me here. All the lords and ladies of my father’s court were here too, some made into cats and the ones of lowest rank made invisible except for their hands. The fairies then told me all my history and warned me that my only chance of regaining my natural form was to win the love of a prince who resembled in every way my unfortunate lover.”

“And you have won it, lovely Princess,” interrupted the Prince.

“You are indeed wonderfully like him,” said Blanchette, “and if you really love me all my troubles will be at an end.”

“I love you more than anything and my troubles will also be ended if you will consent to marry me,” said the prince, on bended knee.

They mounted into the golden chariot together and the journey was utterly delightful as they were together. At the prince’s father’s palace, four guards carried the princess in a crystal sedan chair with silk curtains drawn so that no-one could see her. The two older princes had each returned with a lovely princess, but the younger prince smiled and said he had returned with a rarer prize – a white cat. They just laughed at him and asked if had taken a cat for a wife because he was afraid of mice. Then the princes went to present their brides to their father.

“Are the ladies beautiful?” asked the king anxiously.

The two older princes answered that nobody had ever before seen such lovely princesses, which made the king quite annoyed. However the king could not choose which of their princesses was the most beautiful. Finally he turned to his youngest son.

“Have you come back without a bride?”

“Your Majesty, my father” replied the prince, “in that crystal chair you will find a little white cat, which has such soft paws, and mews so prettily, that I am sure you will be charmed with it.”

The king smiled and went to draw back the curtains himself, but at a touch from the Princess the crystal shattered and she stood in all her beauty. Her fair hair floated over her shoulders and was crowned with flowers. Her robe was purest white.

“Sire,” said Blanchette, “I will not deprive you of the throne you fill so worthily. I have already six kingdoms. Permit me to bestow one upon you and one upon each of your sons. I ask nothing but your friendship, and your consent to my marriage with your youngest son. We shall still have three kingdoms for ourselves.”

The king could not conceal his joy and astonishment and the three princes were married at once to their princesses. After many months of celebration, each king and queen departed to their own kingdom and lived happily ever after, but only one of their castles was ever after full of cats.


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