Once upon a time there lived a miller who had three sons, and when he died he left all that he had to be divided amongst them. It was only fair that the eldest son should have the mill, and of course the second son claimed the donkey and cart, so all that was left for the youngest was the miller's black cat.
"Dear me!" said the boy as he took the cat in his arms and stroked her gently, "I am very fond of you, Pussy dear, but I can't see how I am to make a living out of you."
"Just leave that to me, dear Master," said the cat, rubbing his head against the boy's shoulder. "If you can manage to get me a large bag and a pair of top-boots you will see how I can serve you."
So the miller's son took the last few shillings he had and bought a large bag with a string run round the top of it. And then at the shoemaker's he bought a pair of yellow top-boots, which he thought would go well with the cat's black coat.
Puss was very much pleased with the yellow boots, and she put them on at once. Then she ran to the garden and cut some fine young lettuces, and put them in the bottom of her new bag, and went off to the woods. As soon as she came to a nice large rabbit hole she put the bag down with its mouth open, so that the lettuces could be seen, and then she crept away and hid behind some ferns close by.
Presently a fat grey rabbit came peeping out. He smelt the lettuce, and his white tail sat straight up with joy as he hopped into the bag to begin his feast. But Puss-in-Boots crept quickly round the other side and drew the strings together swiftly, so that the grey rabbit was safely caught.
Then Puss slung the bag over her shoulder and set off walking in her yellow boots until she came to the King's Court. The sentinel stood in the way and wanted to stop her, but Puss-in-Boots held her head very high and said in a grand voice, "A Cat may look at a King." And so she passed on until they presented her to the King himself.
"Your Majesty," said the Cat, bowing very low, "I have brought you a fat rabbit from the estate of my master, the Marquis of Carabas."
The King could not help smiling as he looked at the black cat in yellow boots, but he accepted the present graciously and Puss-in-Boots left the Court with great dignity.
The next day Puss took her bag again, and this time she put a handful of grain in it and took it out to the fields. Then she stretched herself out close by and pretended she was dead. Very soon two partridges came and began to pick up the corn, and when they were very busy Puss crept round softly and pulled the string so suddenly that they were both caught in the twinkling of an eye. Then she shouldered the bag and set off once more for the palace. This time the sentinel knew Puss-in-Boots and let her pass with a smile, and every one made way for her until she came to the King.
"My master, the Marquis of Carabas, begs your acceptance of these two partridges," said Puss-in-Boots, bowing gracefully to the King.
"Tell your master, the Marquis, that I am pleased to accept his present," said the King. "He must have a fine estate."
Puss said it was a very fine estate indeed, and bowed herself out. But before leaving the palace she managed to find out that the King was going to drive past the river that afternoon, and that the Princess, his daughter, was to be with him.
Without losing a moment Puss-in-Boots scampered back to her master and began to tell him all about her visit to the palace.
"Now, dear Master," she continued, "will you do exactly as I ask you? I want you to go and bathe in the river this afternoon, and if any one should ask you what your name is, will you promise me to say it is the Marquis of Carabas?"
The miller's son smiled at the strange request, but he felt so sad and hopeless that he was quite ready to do whatever the cat advised. So he went off to bathe in the river, and left Puss to guard his clothes on the bank.
Now that was exactly what Puss-in-Boots wanted, and she quickly gathered her master's clothes together and hid them behind a great stone. And at that very moment the King's golden coach came bowling along the road.
"Help! Help!" cried Puss. "The Marquis of Carabas is drowning."
The King commanded the coach to be stopped at once, and ordered the servants to rescue the drowning Marquis. Then Puss went up to the carriage and stood, hat in hand, bowing to the King and the Princess.
"It is indeed a happy chance for my master that you happened to be passing just now," she said. "But, alas! some thief has stolen all the clothes which the Marquis left on the bank when he went to bathe, and it is too far to send to his castle for others."
"One of my men shall fetch a suit from the palace instantly," said the King. And before long the miller's son was dressed in a gold-embroidered suit and a plumed hat.
"This is my master, the Marquis of Carabas," said Puss-in-Boots, gracefully introducing him to the King and the Princess. "We trust your Majesty will drive on and dine with the Marquis."
"With the greatest of pleasure," said the King, and he invited the Marquis to sit opposite the Princess in the royal carriage.
Then Puss disappeared in front and ran like the wind, taking a short cut, so that she left the carriage far behind. And first she came to a field of hay, where the haymakers were busy working in the bright sunshine.
"See here," cried Puss-in-Boots as the haymakers stopped to stare at a black cat in yellow boots, "when the King passes this way and asks to whom this field of hay belongs, you are to say, "To the Marquis of Carabas, your Majesty." If you do not say exactly these words you shall be hanged and chopped into mincemeat."
Then she ran on until she came to a field of wheat which the reapers were busy cutting. "Look here, my fine fellows," said Puss-in-Boots, shaking a paw at them, "the King will soon pass by, and when he asks who is the owner of this wheat-field, you are to say, "It all belongs to the Marquis of Carabas, your Majesty." If you say anything else you will be chopped up into small pieces, and that is a very painful death, I assure you."
Then off she ran again until she came to a great castle where a terrible Ogre lived. He was such a fierce and powerful Ogre that he lived all alone and no one would ever come near him. But Puss-in-Boots pulled the bell boldly, and when the Ogre opened the door and glared out she bowed politely and walked in with little, mincing steps, showing off her yellow boots. And the Ogre was so astonished to see such a visitor that he could only stare with his mouth open.
"Good-afternoon, your Mightiness," said Puss calmly. "I have heard so much about you that I thought I would call and see you. Is it really true that you can turn yourself into a wild beast?"
"Just wait and see!" said the Ogre, much gratified, for he was very proud of the wonderful things he could do.
And in a second he had vanished, and a great, ramping, roaring lion sprang towards Puss-in-Boots, who disappeared swiftly up the chimney.
"Ha, ha!" laughed the Ogre when he had changed himself back again. "How do you like me when I am a lion?"
"Not very much, thank you," said Puss, cautiously creeping out. "Of course, it is very wonderful for such a great Ogre as you are, to turn yourself into a big beast, but I suppose it would be quite impossible to change into a tiny animal, such as a mouse, for instance?"
"Pooh! that would be quite as easy for me," said the Ogre proudly. And in a moment he had vanished and a little sleek mouse ran across the floor.
With one pounce Puss was on him. She seized him with her teeth, gave one shake, and the Ogre was dead.
Meanwhile the royal carriage came rolling along the road, and when it came to the hayfield the King called to the haymakers and asked, "To whom does this fine hay belong?"
"To the Marquis of Carabas," said the haymakers, trembling with fear, for they were sure the cat with the yellow boots was listening close by.
Then the carriage drove on until it came to the wheat-field, and again the King stopped and asked who was the owner of this fine crop.
"It all belongs to the Marquis of Carabas, your Majesty," said the reapers in trembling tones.
"You really have a splendid estate," said the King, turning to the miller's son. And he thought to himself, "This young man is almost good enough to marry the Princess."
And by-and-by they came to the Ogre's castle, and there Puss-in-Boots helped them to alight and showed them into the banqueting-hall, where a splendid dinner had been prepared for the Ogre.
"My dear Marquis," said the King, "your title is not fit for this splendid castle. You shall no longer be called a Marquis but the Prince of Carabas."
So the miller's son knelt before the King, and under the stroke of the royal sword he became a Prince. And as he loved the Princess and the Princess loved him, they were married and lived together happily in the Ogre's castle.
Of course, Puss-in-Boots lived with them, and was made Mistress of the Robes. And though she never needed to go hunting again, she always kept the bag which her master had given her, and always wore top-boots of yellow leather.