There was once a miller, who, at his death, had nothing to leave to his three children but his mill, his ass, and his cat; so he called in no lawyer, and made no will. The eldest soon took the mill; the second the ass; while the youngest had nothing but the cat, who seemed more likely to prove a burden than a boon to his new master. The poor fellow was quite downcast and said to himself: "My brothers, by putting their goods together, will be able to earn an honest livelihood; but as for myself, when I shall have eaten my cat, and sold his skin, what is there left? Then I shall die of hunger."
The cat, who was sitting on the window-seat, overheard these words, without seeming to do so, and, looking up, said to him with a very serious, sober air,—"Nay, dear master, do not be downcast at your future prospects. Only give me a bag, and get me a pair of boots made, such as other folks wear, so that I may stride through the brambles, and you will soon see that you have a better bargain than you think for."
Although the cat's new master did not put much faith in these promises, yet he had seen him perform so many clever tricks in catching rats and mice,—such as hanging stiff by his hind legs, to make believe he were dead, and concealing himself in the meal-tub, as if he were nowhere about,—that he did not quite despair of his helping him to better his fortunes. Besides, he knew not what else to do, and there was no harm in trying this.
As soon as the cat was provided with what he asked for, he drew on his boots, and, slinging the bag round his neck, took hold of the two strings with his fore-paws, and set off for a warren that he knew of, plentifully stocked with rabbits. He filled his bag with bran ad sow-thistles, and then stretched himself out as stiff as though he had been dead, waiting patiently till some simple young rabbit, unused to worldly snares and wiles, should see the dainty feast and never think of the cat. He had scarcely lain a few moments in ambush before a thoughtless young rabbit caught at the bait, and went headlong into the bag, whereupon the cat drew the strings, and immediately strangled the foolish creature. The cat was vastly proud of his victory, and immediately went to the palace and asked to speak to the king. He was shown into the king's cabinet, when he bowed respectfully to his majesty, and said, "Sire, this is a rabbit from the warren of the Marquis of Carabas (such was the title the cat took it into his head to bestow on his master), which he desired me to present to your majesty."
"Tell you master that I am obliged by his courtesy, and that I accept his present with much pleasure," replied the king, looking graciously at him.
Another time the cat went and concealed himself in a cornfield, and held his bag open as before, and, very shortly after, two partridges were lured into the trap, when he drew the strings and made them both prisoners. He then went and presented them to the king, as he had done the rabbit. The king received the partridges very graciously, and ordered the messenger to be rewarded for his trouble.
For two or three months, Puss continued to carry game every now and then to the king, always presenting it in the name of his master, the Marquis of Carabas, who he said was a famous sportsman. At last he happened to hear that the king was going to take a drive on the banks of the river, in company with his daughter, who was the most beautiful princess in the world; and he said to his master, "If you will but follow my advice, your fortune is as good as made. You need only go and bathe in the river at the spot that I shall point out, and leave the rest to me."
The Marquis of Carabas did as his cat advised him, though it was too much for him to say what it was all coming to. Just as he was bathing, the king came driving past, when Puss began to bawl out as loud as he could, "Help! help! the Marquis of Carabas is drowning! Save him!"
On hearing this, the king looked out of the carriage-window, and, recognizing the cat who had so frequently brought him game, ordered his body-guards to fly to the assistance of my Lord Marquis of Carabas.
While the poor marquis was being fished out of the river, Puss stepped up to the royal carriage, and informed his majesty, that, during the time his master was bathing, some robbers had stolen his clothes, although he had cried out "Stop thief!" with all his might. The rogue had really only hidden them under a large stone. The king immediately ordered the gentlemen of his wardrobe to go and fetch one of his most sumptuous dresses for the Marquis of Carabas.
When the marquis, who was a well-grown, handsome young fellow, came forth gaily dressed, he looked so elegant that the king took him for a very fine gentleman, and said the politest things in the world to him, while the princess was so struck with his appearance, that my Lord Marquis of Carabas had scarcely made his obeisance to her, and looked at her once or twice with a very tender air, before she fell over head and ears in love with him.
The king insisted on his getting into the carriage and taking a drive with them. Puss, highly delighted at the turn things were taking, and determined that all should turn out in the very best way, now ran on before, and having reached a meadow where some peasants were mowing the grass, he thus accosted them: "I say, good folks, if you do not tell the king, when he comes this way, that the field you are mowing belongs to the Marquis of Carabas, you shall all be chopped as fine as mince-meat."
When the carriage came by, the king put his head out, and asked the mowers whose good grassland that was. "It belongs to the Marquis of Carabas, please your majesty," said they in a breath, for the cat's threats ha dfrightened them mightily.
"Upon my word, marquis," observed the king, "that is a fine estate of yours."
"Yes, sire," replied the marquis, with an easy air, "it yields me a tolerable income every year."
Puss, who continued to run on before the carriage, presently came up to some reapers. "I say, you reapers," cried he, "mind you tell the king that all this corn belongs to the Marquis of Carabas or else you shall, everyone of you, be chopped into mince-meat."
The king passed by a moment after, and inquired to whom those cornfields belonged.
"To the Marquis of Carabas, please your majesty," replied the reapers.
"Faith, it pleases our majesty right well to see our beloved marquis is so wealthy!" quoth the king.
Puss kept still running on before the carriage, and repeating the same instructions to all the laborers he met, and the king was astounded at the vast possessions of the Marquis of Carabas, and kept congratulating him, while the new-made nobleman received each fresh compliment more lightly than the last, so that one could see he was really a marquis, and a very grand one too.
At length Puss reached a magnificent castle belonging to an ogre, who was immensely rich, since all the lands the king had been riding through were a portion of his estate. Puss having inquired what sort of a person the ogre might be, and what he was able to do, sent in a message asking leave to speak with him, adding that he was unwilling to pass so near his castle without paying his respects to him.
The ogre received him as civilly as it is in the nature of an ogre to do, and bade him rest himself. "I have been told," said Puss, "that you have the power of transforming yourself into all sorts of animals, such for instance, as a lion, or an elephant." "So I have," replied the ogre, sharply; "do you disbelieve it? Then look, and you shall see me become a lion at once."
When Puss saw a lion before him, he was seized with such a fright that he scrambled up to the roof, although it was no easy job, owing to his boots, which were not intended for walking in a gutter and over tiles.
At last perceiving that the ogre had returned to his natural shape, Puss came down again, and confessed he had been exceedingly frightened.
"But I have also been told," said Puss, "only I really cannot believe it, that you likewise possess the power of taking the shape of the smallest animals, and that, for instance, you could change yourself into a rat or a mouse; but that is really too much to believe; it is quite impossible."
"Impossible, indeed!" quoth the ogre, now put upon his mettle; "you shall see!"
So saying, he immediately took on the shape of a mouse, and began frisking about the floor, when Puss pounced upon him, gave him one shake, and that was the end of the ogre. By this time the king had reached the gates of the ogre's magnificent castle, and expressed a wish to enter so splendid a building. Puss hearing the rumbling of the carriage across the drawbridge, now ran out to meet the king, saying, "Your majesty is welcome to the Marquis of Carabas's castle."
"What! my lord marquis," exclaimed the king, "does this castle likewise belong to you? Really, I never saw anything more splendid than the courtyard and the surrounding buildings; pray let us see if the inside be equal to the outside."
The marquis gracefully handed out the princess, and, following the king, they mounted a flight of steps, and were ushered by Puss, who danced before them, into a vast hall, where they found an elegant feast spread. Some of the ogre's friends were to have visited him that day, but the news went about that the king had come, and so they dared not go. The king was positively delighted, the castle was so magnificent and the Marquis of Carabas such an excellent young man; the princess, too, was evidently already in love with him so; after drinking five or six glasses of wine, his majesty hemmed and said,—
"You have only to say the word, my lord marquis, to become the son-in-law of your sovereign."
The marquis bowed and looked at the princess, and that very same day they were married, and the old king gave them his blessing. Puss, who had brought it all about, looked on mightily pleased, and ever after lived there a great lord, and hunted mice for mere sport, just when he pleased.