There was once an old miller, and when he died he left nothing to his three sons except his mill, an ass, and a cat. The eldest son took the mill, the second son took the ass, and so the cat fell to the youngest. This poor fellow looked very sober, and said:—
"What am I to do? My brothers can take care of themselves with a mill and an ass. But I can only eat the cat and sell his skin. Then what will be left? I shall die of hunger." The cat heard these words and looked up at his master.
"Do not be troubled," he said. "Give me a bag and get me a pair of boots, and I will soon show you what I can do."
The young man did not see what the cat could do, but he knew he could do many strange things. He had seen him hang stiff by his hind legs as if he were dead. He had seen him hide himself in the meal tub. Oh, the cat was a wise one! Besides, what else was there for the young man to do?
So he got a bag and a pair of boots for the cat. Puss drew on the boots and hung the bag about his neck. Then he took hold of the two strings of the bag with his fore paws and set off for a place where there were some rabbits.
He filled his bag with bran and left the mouth of the bag open. Then he lay down, shut his eyes, and seemed to be sound asleep. Soon a young rabbit smelled the bran and saw the open bag. He went headlong into it, and at once the cat drew the strings and caught the rabbit.
Puss now went to the palace, and asked to speak to the king. So he was brought before the king. He made a low bow and said:—
"Sire, this is a rabbit which my master bade me bring to you."
"And who is your master?"
"He is the Marquis of Carabas," said the cat. This was a title which Puss took it into his head to give to his master.
"Tell your master that I accept his gift," said the king, and Puss went off in his boots. In a few days he hid himself with his bag in a cornfield. This time he caught two partridges, and carried them to the king. The king sent his thanks to the Marquis of Carabas, and made a present to Puss.
So things went on for some time. Every week Puss brought some game to the king, and the king began to think the Marquis of Carabas a famous hunter. Now it chanced that the king and his daughter were about to take a drive along the banks of a river. Puss heard of it and went to his master.
"Master," said he, "do just as I tell you, and your fortune will be made. You need only go and bathe in the river, and leave the rest to me."
"Very well," said his master. He did as the cat told him, but he did not know what it all meant. While he was in the river, the king and the princess drove by. Puss jumped out of the bushes and began to bawl:—
"Help! help! the Marquis of Carabas is drowning! save him!" The king heard and looked out of his carriage. There he saw the cat that had brought him so much game, and he bade his men run to help the Marquis. When he was out of the river, Puss came forward, and told what had happened.
"My master was bathing, and some robbers came and stole his clothes. I ran after them and cried, 'Stop, thief!' but they got away. Then my master was carried beyond his depth and would have drowned, if you had not come by with your men."
At this the king bade one of his servants ride back and bring a fine suit of clothes for the Marquis and they all waited. So, at last, the Marquis of Carabas came up to the carriage, dressed much more finely than he ever had been in his life. He was a handsome fellow, and he looked so well that the king at once bade him enter the carriage.
Puss now had things quite to his mind. He ran on before, and came to a meadow, where some men were mowing grass. He stopped before them, and said:—
"The king is coming this way. You must tell him that this field belongs to the Marquis of Carabas, or you shall all be chopped as fine as mince-meat." When the carriage came by, the king put his head out, and said to the men:—
"This is good grass land. Who owns it?"
"The Marquis of Carabas," they all said, for Puss had thrown them into a great fright.
"You have a fine estate, Marquis," said the king.
"Yes, Sire," he replied, tossing his head; "it pays me well." Puss still ran before the carriage, and came soon to some reapers.
"Tell the king," he cried, "that all this grain belongs to the Marquis of Carabas, or you shall all be chopped as fine as mince-meat." The king now came by, and asked the reapers who owned the grain they were cutting.
"The Marquis of Carabas," they said. So it went on. Puss bade the men in the fields call the Marquis of Carabas their lord, or it would go hard with them. The king was amazed. The Marquis took it all with a grand air. It was easy to see that he was a very rich and great man. The princess sat in the corner of the carriage and thought the Marquis no mean fellow.
At last they drew near the castle of the one who really owned all the fields they had passed through. Puss asked about him, and found he was a monster who made every one about him very much afraid. Puss sent in word that he should like to pay his respects, and the monster bade him come in.
"I have been told," said Puss, "that you can change yourself into any kind of animal. They say you can even make yourself a lion."
"To be sure I can," said the monster. "Do you not believe it? Look, and you shall see me become a lion at once." When Puss saw a lion before him he was in a great fright, and got as far away as he could. There he stayed till the lion became a monster again.
"That was dreadful!" said Puss. "I was nearly dead with fear. But it must be much harder to make yourself small. They do say that you can turn into a mouse, but I do not believe it."
"Not believe it!" cried the monster. "You shall see!" So he made himself at once into a mouse, and began running over the floor. In a twinkling Puss pounced upon him and gave him one shake. That was the end of the monster.
By this time the king had reached the gates of the castle, and thought he would like to see so fine a place. Puss heard the wheels, and ran down just as the king drove up to the door.
"Welcome!" he said, as he stood on the steps of the castle. "Welcome to the castle of the Marquis of Carabas!"
"What! my lord Marquis," said the king, "does this castle, too, belong to you? I never saw anything so fine. I should really like to enter."
"Your majesty is welcome!" said the young man, bowing low, taking off the cap which the king had given him. Then he gave his hand to the princess, and they went up the steps. Puss danced before them in his boots.
They came into a great hall, and there they found a feast spread. The monster had asked some friends to dine with him that day, but the news went about that the king was at the castle, and so they dared not go.
The king was amazed at all he saw, and the princess went behind him, just as much pleased. The Marquis of Carabas said little. He held his head high and played with his sword.
When dinner was over, the king took the Marquis to one side and said:—
"You have only to say the word, my lord Marquis, and you shall be the son-in-law of your king."
So the Marquis married the princess, and Puss in Boots become a great lord, and hunted mice for mere sport, just when he pleased.