Fairy Tales by the Countess d'Aulnoy/The White Cat< Fairy Tales by the Countess d'Aulnoy
THE WHITE CAT.
Once upon a time there was a King, who had three brave and handsome sons. He was afraid they might become anxious to reign during his lifetime. There were even some whispers in circulation that they sought to make partizans with a view of depriving him of his kingdom. The King felt he was growing old; but his mental capacity being undiminished, he had no fancy for vacating in their favour a place he filled so worthily. He thought, therefore, that the best way to live in peace, was by amusing them with promises which he could always elude the performance of. He called them into his closet, and after having spoken very kindly to them he added, "You will agree with me, my dear children, that my great age forbids my applying myself to the business of the State with so much assiduity as formerly. I fear my subjects may suffer from this circumstance. I wish to transfer my crown to one of you; but to deserve such a gift, it is but just that you should on your parts seek to please me. Now, as I contemplate retiring into the country, it appears to me that a pretty, faithful, and intelligent little dog would be an excellent companion for me. So in lieu of preferring my eldest to my youngest son, I declare to you, that whichever of you three shall bring me the handsomest little dog shall forthwith become my heir."
The Princes were exceedingly surprised at the inclination the King expressed for a little dog; but the two youngest saw they might find their account in it, and accepted with pleasure the commission to go in search of one. The eldest was too timid or too respectful to urge his own right. They took leave of the King, who distributed amongst them money and jewels, adding that the following year, without fail, on the same day and hour they would return and bring him their little dogs.
Before setting out, they repaired to a castle within a league of the city, assembled therein their most intimate friends, and gave splendid banquets, at which the three brothers pledged to each other an eternal friendship, and declared that they would act in the affair in question without jealousy or mortification, and that the successful candidate would be always ready to share his fortune with the others. At length they departed, agreeing to meet on their return at the same castle, thence to proceed together to the King. They declined having any followers, and changed their names that they might not be known.
Each took a different road: the two eldest met with many adventures; but I shall only recount those of the youngest. He was well-mannered, of a gay and joyous temperament, had an admirable head, a noble figure, regular features, fine teeth, was very skilful in all exercise that became a prince, sang agreeably, touched the lute and the theorbo with a delicacy that charmed every one; could paint; in one word, was highly accomplished; and as to his courage, it amounted to intrepidity.
Scarcely a day passed that he did not buy dogs, big or little: greyhounds, mastiffs, bloodhounds, pointers, spaniels, water-dogs, lap-dogs; the instant he found one handsomer than the other, he let the first go to keep the new purchase; for it would have been impossible for him to lead about by himself thirty or forty thousand dogs, and he persevered in his determination to have neither gentlemen, nor valets de chambre, nor pages in his train. He continued his journey without having any fixed point to proceed to, when night, accompanied with thunder and rain, surprised him in a forest through which he was no longer able to trace a path.
He took the first he could find, and after having walked a long way, he saw a glimmer of light, which convinced him that there was some habitation near him in which he might find shelter till the morning. Guided by the light he came to the gate of the most magnificent castle that could ever be imagined. This gate was of gold covered with carbuncles, the pure and vivid light of which illuminated all the neighbourhood. It was this light which the Prince had perceived at a great distance. The walls were of transparent porcelain, of several colours, on which were represented the histories of all the Fairies from the beginning of the world to that day. The famous adventures of Peau d'Ane, Finette, the Orange-tree, Gracieuse, the Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, Green Serpent, and a hundred others, were not forgotten. He was delighted to meet amongst them, with Prince Sprite; for he was his uncle, according to the fashion of Brittany. The rain and storm prevented his staying longer on a spot where he was being wetted to the skin; besides which he could not see anything beyond where the light of the carbuncles extended to.
He returned to the golden gate. He saw a kid's foot attached to a chain of diamonds. He admired all this magnificence, and the security in which the owners of the castle appeared to live. "For, after all," said he, "what is to prevent thieves from coming and cutting down this chain and pulling the carbuncles off the gate? They would enrich themselves for ever."
He pulled the kid's foot and immediately heard a bell ring, which seemed by its sound to be of gold or of silver; a moment after, the gate was opened without his perceiving anything except a dozen of hands in the air, each of which held a flambeau. He was so astonished that he hesitated to advance; when he felt other hands which pushed him forwards with gentle violence. He moved on, therefore, with some distrust, and at all risks, keeping his hand on the hilt of his sword; but on entering a vestibule entirely encrusted with porphyry and lapis lazuli, he heard two enchanting voices which sang these words:
"Start not at the hands you see,
Nor fear in this delightful place
Aught, except a lovely face,
If from Love your heart would flee."
He could not believe that he was invited so graciously for the purpose of eventually injuring him; so that, feeling himself pushed towards a large gate of coral, which opened directly that he approached it, he entered a saloon of mother-of-pearl, and afterwards passed through several apartments variously ornamented, and so rich with paintings and jewels, that he was perfectly enchanted with them. Thousands and thousands of lights, from the vaulted roof of the saloon down to the floor, illuminated a portion of the other apartments, which were also filled with chandeliers, girandoles, and stages covered with wax-candles; in fact, the magnificence was so great that it was not easy to imagine the possibility of it.
After having passed through sixty rooms, the hands that conducted him stopped him. He saw a large easy-chair moving by itself towards the fireplace. At the same moment the fire was lighted, and the hands, which appeared to him very handsome, white, small, plump, and well-shaped, began to undress him; for he was wet through, as I have already told you, and they were afraid he would catch cold. They presented him, still without his seeing any one, with a shirt as fine as if it was for a wedding-day, and a morning gown of some rich stuff shot with gold, and embroidered with little emeralds in cyphers. The bodiless hands moved a table close to him on which his toilette was set out. Nothing could be more magnificent. They combed him with a lightness and a skill which was very agreeable to him. Finally, they dressed him again, but not in his own clothes; they brought him others much richer. He observed with silent wonder all that took place, and occasionally felt some slight alarm, which he could not altogether conquer.
After they had powdered, curled, perfumed, adorned, attired, and made him look handsomer than Adonis, the hands led him into a hall superbly gilt and furnished; around it were represented the stories of all the most famous cats, Rodillardus hung by the heels in the Council of Rats, Puss in Boots, Marquis of Carabas, The Writing Cat, The Cat that became a Woman, Witches in the shape of Cats, their Sabbat, and all its ceremonies. In short, nothing was ever more curious than these paintings.
The cloth was laid, and there were two covers, each accompanied by its golden cadenas. The buffet astonished him, by the quantity of cups upon it of rock crystal and a thousand rare stones. The Prince could not imagine for whom the two covers were placed, when he saw several cats take their places in a small orchestra, fitted up expressly for them. One held a music-book, the notes in which were of the most extraordinary kind; another a roll of paper to beat time with; and the rest had little guitars.
Suddenly each began to mew in a different tone, and to scratch the strings of their guitars with their claws. It was the strangest music that had ever been heard. The Prince would have thought himself in the infernal regions if he had not found the palace too marvellously beautiful to permit him to fall into such an error; but he stopped his ears and laughed heartily at the sight of the various postures and grimaces of these novel musicians.
He was meditating on the different things that had already happened to him in the chateau, when he saw a little figure enter the hall, scarcely a cubit in height. This poppet was covered with a long black crape veil. Two cats preceded it dressed in deep mourning and wearing cloaks and swords; a numerous train of cats followed, some carrying rat-traps full of rats, and others mice in cages.
The Prince could not recover from his astonishment; he knew not what to think. The little black figure approached, and lifting its veil he perceived the most beautiful little white cat that ever was or ever will be. She had a very youthful and very melancholy air, and commenced a mewing so soft and sweet, that it went straight to the heart. "Son of a King," said she to the Prince, "thou art welcome; my mewing majesty beholds thee with pleasure." "Madam Cat," said the Prince, "it is very generous of you to receive me with so much attention; but you do not appear to me to be an ordinary little animal. The gift you have of speech, and the superb castle you inhabit, are sufficient evidence to the contrary." "Son of a King," rejoined the White Cat, "I pray thee cease to pay me compliments. I am plain in my language and my manners; but I have a kind heart. Come," continued she, "let them serve supper and bid the concert cease; for the Prince does not understand what they are singing." "And are they then singing any words, Madam?" inquired he. "Undoubtedly," she answered; "we have poets here of considerable talent, and if you remain amongst us some little time, you will be convinced of the fact." "It is only for you to say so and to be believed," replied the Prince politely; "but I must also consider you, Madam, a cat of a very rare description."
The supper was served up. It was placed on the table by the hands of invisible bodies. First, there were two soups, one of pigeons and the other of very fat mice. The sight of the latter prevented the Prince from touching the former, believing that the same cook had concocted both; but the little cat, who guessed from the face he made, what was passing in his mind, assured him that their meals had been cooked separately, and that he might eat what was set before him with the perfect assurance that there were neither rats nor mice in it.
The Prince did not wait to be told twice, feeling satisfied that the pretty little cat had no wish to deceive him. He observed that she had on her paw a miniature set in a bracelet. This surprised him. He begged her to show it to him; supposing it to be that of Master Minagrobis. He was astonished to find it the portrait of a young man so handsome, that it was almost incredible nature could have formed such a being, and who resembled himself so greatly, that he could not have been better painted. The White Cat sighed, and becoming still more melancholy, she observed a profound silence. The Prince saw clearly that there was something extraordinary connected with the portrait, but did not venture to ask any questions, for fear of displeasing the cat or afflicting her. He entertained her with the relation of all the news he was in possession of, and found her intimately acquainted with the various interests of princes and other things passing in the world. After supper the White Cat invited her guest to enter a saloon, in which there was a theatre, wherein twelve cats and twelve monkeys danced a ballet. One party was dressed as Moors, the other as Chinese. It is easy to imagine the leaps and capers they executed; and every now and then they gave each other a scratch or two. Thus finished the evening. The White Cat said "Good night" to her guest; the hands who had been his conductors so far, took hold of him again and led him into an apartment quite different from any he had seen. It was not so magnificent as it was elegant. The hangings were all of butterflies' wings; the various colours of which formed a thousand different flowers. There were also the feathers of exceedingly rare birds, and which, perhaps, have never been seen elsewhere. The bed-furniture was of gauze, tied up with a thousand bows of riband. There were large mirrors from the ceiling to the floor, with frames of chased gold, representing a thousand little Cupids.
The Prince went to bed without saying a word, for there were no means of talking with the hands that waited upon him; he slept little, and was awakened by a confused noise. The hands immediately lifted him out of bed, and dressed him in a hunting habit. He looked into the court-yard of the castle, and perceived more than five hundred cats, some of whom led greyhounds in the slips, others were blowing the horn. It was a grand fête-day. White Cat was going to hunt, and wished the Prince to accompany her. The officious hands presented him with a wooden horse, which went full gallop and kept up the pace wonderfully. He made some objection to mounting it, saying that it wanted but little to make him a knight-errant like Don Quixote; but his resistance was useless; they placed him on the wooden horse. The housings and saddle of it were embroidered with gold and diamonds. White Cat rode a monkey, the handsomest and proudest that had ever been seen. She had thrown off her long veil, and wore a dragoon's cap, which made her look so bold that she frightened all the mice in the neighbourhood. Never was there a more agreeable hunting party. The cats outran the rabbits and hares, and as fast as they caught them White Cat had the curée made in her presence, and a thousand skilful feats were performed, to the great gratification of the whole company. The birds, on their part, were by no means safe, for the kittens climbed the trees, and the great monkey carried White Cat up even to the nests of the eagles, to place at her mercy their little highnesses the eaglets.
The hunt being over, the White Cat took a horn, about the length of one's finger, but which gave out a tone so clear and loud that it was easily heard ten leagues off. As soon as she had sounded two or three flourishes, she was surrounded by all the cats in the country. Some appeared in the air, riding in chariots; others came in boats by water; in short, so many were never seen together before. They were nearly all dressed in different fashions, and, attended by this splendid train, she returned to the castle, requesting the Prince to accompany her. He was perfectly willing to do so, notwithstanding that so much caterwauling smacked a little of a witch's festival, and that the talking cat astonished him beyond all the rest.
As soon as she reached home, she put on her great black veil. She supped with the Prince, who was hungry, and did justice to the good cheer. They brought him some liqueurs, which he sipped with much satisfaction, and they immediately effaced all recollection of the little dog he was to find for the King. He no longer thought of anything but mewing with White Cat, that is to say, remaining her kind and faithful companion. He passed his days in agreeable amusements, sometimes fishing, sometimes hunting. After which, there were ballets, carousals, and a thousand other things which entertained him exceedingly. Even the beautiful cat herself frequently composed verses and sonnets so full of passionate tenderness, that it seemed as if she had a susceptible heart, and that no one could speak as she did without being in love. But her secretary, who was an old cat, wrote such a vile scrawl, that, although her works have been preserved, it is impossible to read them.
The Prince had forgotten even the land of his birth. The hands, of which I have spoken, continued to wait upon him. He regretted sometimes that he was not a cat, to pass his whole life in such excellent company. "Alas," said he to White Cat, "how wretched it will make me to leave you! I love you so dearly!—Either become a woman, or make me a cat." She was amused by his wish, and returned him some mysterious answers, out of which he could scarcely make anything. A year flies away quickly when one has neither care nor pain, when one is merry and in good health. White Cat knew the time at which the Prince was bound to return, and as he thought no more of it, she reminded him. "Dost know," said she, "that thou hast only three days left to look for the little dog that the King, thy father, wishes for, and that thy brothers have already found several very beautiful?" The Prince's memory returned to him, and, astonished at his negligence, "What secret spell," he exclaimed, "could have made me forget a thing, the most important to me in the world?—My honour and my fortune are staked upon it. Where shall I find such a dog as will win a kingdom for me, and a horse swift enough to perform such a journey in so short a time?" He began to be very anxious and sorrowful.
White Cat said to him, with much sweetness, "Son of a King, do not distress thyself, I am thy friend. Thou mayest yet remain here one day longer; and, although it is five hundred leagues from this to your country, the good wooden horse will carry you there in less than twelve hours." "I thank you, beautiful Cat," said the Prince; "but it is not sufficient for me merely to return to my father; I must take him a little dog." "Hold," said White Cat, "here is an acorn which contains one more beautiful than the dog-star." "Oh, Madam Cat," cried the Prince, "your majesty jests with me." "Put the acorn to your ear," rejoined she, "and you will hear it bark." He obeyed her, and immediately the little dog went "bow, wow," which transported the Prince with delight, for such a dog as could be contained in an acorn was certain to be very diminutive indeed.
He was going to open the acorn, so eager was he to see the dog, but White Cat told him that it might catch cold on the journey, and it would be better for him to wait till he was in the presence of his royal father. He thanked her a thousand times, and took a most tender leave of her. "I assure you," he added, "that the days I have passed with you have flown so quickly, that I regret in some measure leaving you behind me; and although you are a sovereign here, and all the cats that compose your court possess much more wit and gallantry than ours, I do not hesitate to invite you to come with me." The Cat replied to this invitation only by a deep sigh.
They parted: the Prince was the first to reach the castle where he had appointed to meet his brothers. They arrived shortly after him, and were surprised to see a wooden horse in the court-yard which curvetted with more grace than any one sees in the riding schools.
The Prince came forward to receive them, they embraced several times, and recounted their travels to each other; but our Prince kept his principal adventures a secret from his brothers, and showed them an ugly turnspit, observing, that he thought it so beautiful that he had selected it for presentation to the King. Notwithstanding the friendship that existed between the brothers, the two eldest felt a secret joy at the bad taste of their younger brother. Being seated at table, they trod on each other's toes, by way of signifying that they had not much to fear on that account.
The next morning they set out together in the same coach. The King's two eldest sons carried in baskets some little dogs, so beautiful and delicate that one could scarcely venture to touch them. The youngest son carried the poor turnspit, which was so filthy that nobody could bear the sight of it. As soon as they set foot in the palace, everybody surrounded them to welcome them back to court. They entered the King's apartment. He was puzzled in whose favour to decide, for the little dogs which were presented to him by the two eldest were so nearly equal to each other in beauty; and they had already begun to dispute the right of succession, when their younger brother reconciled them by taking out of his pocket the acorn which the White Cat had given him. He opened it immediately, and then everybody beheld a little dog lying upon cotton. It passed through a ring without touching any part of it. The Prince placed it on the floor, and it began directly to dance a saraband with the castagnettes, as lightly as the most celebrated Spanish dancer. It was of a thousand different colours; its hair and its ears swept the ground. The King was dumbfounded, for it was impossible to find a word to say against the beauty of Toutou. Nevertheless, he was by no means inclined to resign his crown. The smallest fleur-de-lis in its circle was dearer to him than all the dogs in the universe. He told his children, therefore, that he was gratified by the trouble they had taken; but that they had succeeded so well in fulfilling the first request he had made to them, that he should test their ability again before he performed his promise. He therefore gave them a year to travel over land and sea, in quest of a piece of cloth so fine that it would pass through the eye of a needle used to make Venetian point-lace with. They were all three exceedingly chagrined to be obliged to go upon a new voyage of discovery. The two Princes, whose dogs were less beautiful than that of the youngest, consented. Each took his own way, without so many professions of friendship as before, for the turnspit had rather cooled their ardour.
Our Prince remounted his wooden horse, and without wishing to find other assistance than he might hope for from the friendship of White Cat, he set out at full speed, and returned to the castle where he had been so kindly received by her. He found all the doors open. The windows, the roofs, the towers, and the walls were all illuminated by a hundred thousand lamps, which produced a wonderful effect. The hands which had waited so well upon him advanced to meet him, and took the bridle of the excellent wooden horse, which they led to the stable, while the Prince entered White Cat's apartments.
She was lying in a little basket on a very neat mattrass of white satin. She was in her morning cap, and seemed low-spirited, but when she perceived the Prince she cut a thousand capers, and played as many gambols to testify her delight to him. "Whatever reason I had to hope you would return," said she to him, "I confess, Son of a King, that I dared not flatter myself by indulging in it, and I am generally so unfortunate in matters that concern me that this is an agreeable surprise." The grateful Prince caressed her a thousand times. He recounted to her the success of his journey, which she knew perhaps better than he did, and that the king wanted a piece of cloth which could pass through the eye of a needle; that in truth he believed it was impossible to find such a thing, but that he had not hesitated to make the attempt, relying implicitly upon her friendship and assistance. White Cat, assuming a more serious air, told him it was a matter that demanded consideration; that, fortunately, there were some cats in her castle who spun exceedingly well; that she would put a claw to it herself, and forward the work as much as possible, so that he might rest contented without going further in search of what he would more readily find in her castle than in any other place in the world.
The hands appeared, bearing flambeaux, and the Prince, following them with White Cat, entered a magnificent gallery running along the side of a large river, on which there was an astonishing display of fireworks. Four cats were to be burnt there, that had been tried and sentenced in due form. They were accused of having eaten the roast meat provided for the White Cat's supper, her cheese, her milk, and even of having conspired against her life with Martafax and L'Hermite, two famous rats of that country, and held as such by La Fontaine, a very faithful historian: but with all that, it was well known there was a great deal of cabal in the matter, and that the majority of the witnesses had been tampered with. However this might be, the Prince obtained their pardon. The fireworks did no injury to any one, and never yet were seen such splendid sky-rockets.
After this, a very nice supper was served, which gave the Prince more gratification than the fireworks, for he was very hungry, and the wooden horse had brought him at such a pace that he had never ridden so hard before in his life. The following days were passed like those that had preceded them, in a thousand various entertainments with which the ingenious White Cat regaled her guest. Our Prince is probably the first mortal who ever found so much amusement amongst cats, without any other society.
It is true that White Cat was possessed of agreeable, sweet, and almost universal talent. She was wiser than a cat is allowed to be. The Prince was sometimes astonished at her knowledge. "No," said he, "it is not natural for you to possess all these wonderful qualities I discover in you. If you love me, charming Pussy, explain to me by what miracle you are enabled to think and speak so perfectly, that you might be elected a member of the most famous Academy of Arts and Sciences?" "Cease to question me, Son of a King," said she to him; "I am not allowed to answer; and thou mayest carry thy conjectures as far as thou wilt without my contradicting thee. Let it suffice that I have always a velvet paw for thee, and that I take an affectionate interest in all that concerns thee."
The second year slipped away as insensibly as the first. The Prince could scarcely think of anything that the diligent hands did not instantly provide him with, whether books, jewels, pictures, antique medals; in short, he had but to say, I want a certain gem that is in the cabinet of the Great Mogul or of the King of Persia, or such a statue in Corinth or any part of Greece, and he saw it instantly before him, without knowing how it came or who brought it. This was not without its charms, and as a relaxation, it is sometimes very agreeable to see oneself the possessor of the finest treasures in the world.
White Cat, who was ever watchful for the Prince's welfare, warned him that the hour of departure was approaching, that he might make himself easy about the piece of cloth which he required, and that she had made a most wonderful one for him. She added, that it was her intention, this time, to furnish him with an equipage worthy his birth; and, without waiting for his reply, she compelled him to look into the great court-yard of the castle. He saw in it an open calêche, of gold, enamelled flame-colour, with a thousand gallant devices, which satisfied the mind as much as the eye. It was drawn by twelve horses as white as snow, four-and-four abreast, their harness being of flame-coloured velvet embroidered with diamonds and plated with gold. The calêche was lined to match, and a hundred coaches, each with eight horses, filled with noblemen of high bearing, very superbly attired, followed the calêche. There was also an escort of a thousand body-guards, whose uniforms were so covered with embroidery that you could not see the stuff they were made of. It was a remarkable feature of this cavalcade that the portrait of White Cat was to be observed in every part of it, either in the devices on the calêche or on the uniforms of the body-guard, or attached by a riband to the doublets of those who formed the train, as if it were a new order with which she had decorated them.
"Go," said she to the Prince, "go and appear at the court of the king, thy father, in such sumptuous state, that thy magnificence may make an impression upon him and prevent his again refusing to bestow on thee the crown thou deservest. Here is a walnut. Crack it but in his presence, and thou wilt find in it the piece of cloth thou hast asked me for." "Amiable White Cat," said he to her, "I protest to you that I am so penetrated by your bounties, that, if you would consent, I should prefer passing my life here with you to all the grandeur which I have reason to expect elsewhere." "Son of a King," replied she, "I am convinced of the kindness of thy heart. It is a rare article amongst princes. They would be loved by everybody, yet not love any one themselves. But thou art a proof that the rule has its exception. I give thee credit for the affection thou displayest for a little White Cat that after all is good for nothing but to catch mice." The Prince kissed her paw and departed. We should have some difficulty in believing the speed with which he travelled if we were not already aware of the way in which the wooden horse had carried him in less than two days a distance of five hundred leagues from the castle; so that, impelled by the same power, these other steeds travelled so swiftly that they were only four and twenty hours on the road, stopping nowhere till they reached the King's palace, to which the two elder brothers had already repaired, and, not seeing their youngest, congratulated themselves on his negligence, and whispered to each other, "Here's a piece of good luck! He is either dead or very ill. He will not be our rival in the important business which is about to be decided." They immediately displayed their cloths, which were, in truth, so fine, that they could pass them through the eye of a large needle, but not through that of a small one; and the King, very glad of this pretext for refusal, produced the needle he had previously selected, and which the magistrates, by his order, had brought out of the City Treasury, wherein it had been carefully kept in the meanwhile.
There was much murmuring at this objection. The friends of the Princes, and particularly those of the eldest, for his cloth was of the finest texture, protested that it was a downright piece of chicanery, in which there was equal ingenuity and Normanism. The King's parasites contended that he was only bound by the conditions he had proposed. At length, to settle the matter, a fine flourish was heard of trumpets, kettle-drums, and hautbois: it announced the arrival of our Prince in all his pomp and paraphernalia. The King and his two other sons were all equally astonished at such great magnificence.
After the Prince had respectfully saluted his father and embraced his brothers, he took out of a box covered with rubies, the walnut, which he cracked, expecting to find in it the boasted piece of cloth; but in lieu of it there was a hazel nut. He cracked that also, and was surprised to see in it a cherry-stone. Everybody looked at one another, and the King laughed in his sleeve, and jeered at the notion of his son being credulous enough to believe he could bring a whole piece of cloth in a walnut; but why should he not have believed it, when he had already given him a little dog that had come out of an acorn? He therefore cracked the cherry-stone, which was filled with its kernel. A great murmur then arose in the apartment. Nothing was heard but the opinion that the young Prince had been duped in this adventure. He made no answer to the raillery of the courtiers: he opened the kernel and found in it a grain of wheat, and in the grain of wheat a millet seed. Ah! In truth, he began to doubt, and muttered between his teeth, "White Cat, White Cat, thou hast fooled me!" At that moment he felt a cat's claw upon his hand, which gave him such a scratch that the blood came. He knew not whether this scratch was given to encourage or to dishearten him; nevertheless, he opened the millet seed, and great was the astonishment of the whole company when he drew out of it a piece of cloth four hundred ells in length, so wonderfully wrought, that all the birds, beasts, and fishes were seen in their natural colours, with the trees, fruits, and plants of the earth; the rocks, curiosities, and shells of the ocean; the sun, the moon, the great and lesser stars and planets of the sky. There were also the portraits of all the kings and other sovereigns at that time reigning in the world, with those of their wives, of their mistresses, of their children, and of all their subjects, not forgetting the tiniest little urchin;—every one, in his particular class of life, accurately represented, and dressed in the habit of his country.
When the King saw this piece of cloth, he became as pale as the Prince had become red with confusion at having been so long finding it. The needle was produced, and the Prince passed and repassed the cloth through the eye of it six times. The King and the two eldest Princes looked on in sullen silence, except when the beauty and curiosity of the cloth forced them occasionally to acknowledge there was nothing that could be compared to it in the universe.
The King heaved a deep sigh, and, turning towards his children, "Nothing," said he, "could give me so much consolation in my old age as observing the deference paid by you to my wishes. I am therefore desirous to put your obedience to a new test. Go and travel for another year, and he who, at the end of it, brings back with him the most beautiful maiden, shall marry her, and be crowned King on his wedding day. It is, besides, necessary that my successor should marry, and I swear, I pledge my honour, that I will no longer defer bestowing the reward I have promised."
All the injustice of this proceeding fell upon our Prince. The little dog and the piece of cloth were worth ten kingdoms rather than one, but he was so well bred that he would not dispute the will of his father, and without hesitation he reentered his calêche. All his train followed him, and he took the road back to his dear White Cat. She knew the day and the moment he would arrive. All the way was strewn with flowers; thousands of vases of perfume smoked on all sides, and particularly within the castle. White Cat was seated on a Persian carpet, under a pavilion of cloth of gold, in a gallery, from whence she could see him approach. He was received by the hands that had always attended upon him. All the cats climbed up into the gutters to welcome him with a desperate squalling.
"So, Son of a King," said White Cat to him, "thou hast returned once more without the crown." "Madam," he replied, "your bounties placed me in a position to gain it; but I am convinced that it would have given the King more pain to part with it than I could have received pleasure from its possession." "No matter," said she, "thou must neglect nothing to deserve it. I will assist thee in this matter, and as thou art bound to take back with thee a beautiful maid to thy father's court, I will find one for thee who shall gain thee the prize. In the meanwhile let us be merry. I have ordered a naval combat between my cats and the terrible rats of this country. My cats will perhaps be a little embarrassed, for they are afraid of the water; but otherwise they would have had too much the advantage, and one ought, as much as possible, to equalize matters." The Prince admired the prudence of Madam Puss. He praised her exceedingly, and accompanied her to a terrace which overlooked the sea.
The ships in which the cats were embarked were large pieces of cork, on which they sailed conveniently enough. The rats had joined together several egg-shells, and of these their navy consisted. The battle was cruelly obstinate. The rats flung themselves into the water, and swam much better than the cats, so that they were victors and vanquished alternately twenty times; but Minagrobis, admiral of the feline fleet, reduced the rattish race to the greatest despair. He devoured the general of their forces, an old rat, of great experience, who had been round the world three times, in capital ships, in which he was neither captain nor common sailor, but simply a lickspit.
White Cat would not permit the utter destruction of all these poor unfortunate creatures. She was an acute politician, and calculated that if there were no more rats or mice left in the country, her subjects would live in a state of idleness, which might become highly prejudicial to her. The Prince passed this year as he had the two preceding, that is to say, in hunting, fishing, or chess, at which White Cat played exceedingly well. He could not help occasionally questioning her anew as to the miraculous power by which she was enabled to speak. He asked her whether she was a Fairy, or whether she had been transformed into a Cat; but as she never said anything but what she chose, she also never made answers that were not perfectly agreeable to her, and consequently her replies consisted of a number of little words which signified nothing particular, so that he clearly perceived she was not inclined to make him a partaker of her secret.
Nothing runs away faster than time passed without trouble or sorrow, and if the Cat had not been careful to remember the day when it was necessary the Prince should return to Court, it is certain that he would have absolutely forgotten it. She informed him on the evening preceding it that it only depended on himself to take home with him one of the most beautiful Princesses in the world: that the hour to destroy the fatal work of the Fairies had at length arrived, and for that purpose he must resolve to cut off her head and her tail, and fling them quickly into the fire. "I!" exclaimed the Prince, "Blanchette!—My love!—I be so barbarous as to kill you! Ah! you would doubtless try my heart; but rest assured it is incapable of forgetting the love and gratitude it owes you." "No, Son of a King," continued she, "I do not suspect thee of ingratitude. I know thy worth. It is neither thou nor I who in this affair can control our destiny. Do as I bid thee. We shall both of us begin to be happy, and, on the faith of a Cat of reputation and honour, thou wilt acknowledge that I am truly thy friend."
The tears came several times into the eyes of the young Prince, at the mere thought of being obliged to cut off the head of his little kitten, so pretty and so amiable. He continued to say all the most tender things that he could think of, in order to induce her to spare him such a trial. She persisted in replying that she desired to die by his hand, and that it was the only means of preventing his brothers' obtaining the crown. In a word, she pressed him so earnestly, that all in a tremble he drew his sword, and, with a faltering hand, cut off the head and tail of his dearly beloved Cat. The next moment he beheld the most charming transformation that can be imagined. The body of White Cat increased in size and changed suddenly into that of a young maiden—one that cannot be described; there has never been any so perfect. Her eyes enraptured all hearts, and her sweetness held them captive. Her form was majestic, her carriage noble and modest, her spirit gentle, her manners engaging; in fact, she exceeded everything that was ever most amiable.
The Prince, at her sight, was so struck with surprise, and that surprise was so agreeable, that he fancied himself enchanted. He could not speak nor open his eyes wide enough to look at her. Tongue-tied, he was unable to express his astonishment; but it was still greater when he saw an extraordinary number of lords and ladies enter the apartment, who, each having his or her cat's skin flung over the shoulders, advanced, and threw themselves at the feet of their Queen, and testified their delight at beholding her restored to her natural form. She received them with marks of affection that sufficiently indicated the goodness of her heart, and after passing a short time in the circle, she desired them to leave her alone with the Prince, to whom she spoke as follows.
"Think not, my Lord, that I have been always a Cat, nor that my birth is an obscure one in the eyes of men. My father was king of six kingdoms; he loved my mother tenderly, and allowed her full liberty to do whatever she liked. Her ruling passion was travelling, and shortly before I was born she undertook a journey to a certain mountain of which she had heard a most surprising account. Whilst on her road thither she was told that near the spot she was then passing there was an old Fairy Castle, the most beautiful in the world;—at least so it was believed to be, from a tradition concerning it; for as no one entered it, they could not form an opinion; but they knew for certain that the Fairies had in their garden the finest, the most delicious and most delicate fruit that was ever eaten.
"The Queen, my mother, immediately took such a violent fancy to taste it, that she turned her steps towards the Castle. She arrived at the gate of that superb edifice, which blazed with gold and azure on all sides: but she knocked in vain. Nobody appeared to answer her; it seemed as if everybody in the Castle was dead. Her desire was increased by the difficulty. She sent for ladders in order that her attendants might get over the garden walls, and they would have succeeded in doing so if the said walls had not visibly increased in height though no one was seen to work at them. They lengthened the ladders by tying two or three together, but they broke under the weight of those who mounted them, and who either lamed or killed themselves.
"The Queen was in despair. She saw the great trees laden with fruit which looked delicious. She was determined to eat some, or die. She therefore had some very splendid tents pitched before the Castle, and remained there six weeks with all her court. She neither slept nor ate; she sighed unceasingly, she talked of nothing but the fruit of the inaccessible garden. At length she fell dangerously ill, without any one soever being able to find the least remedy for her complaint, for the inexorable Fairies had never so much as even appeared since she had established herself in front of the Castle. All her officers afflicted themselves exceedingly. Nothing was to be heard but sobs and sighs, while the dying Queen kept asking for fruit from her attendants, but cared for none except that which was denied her.
"One night, having felt a little drowsy, she saw on re-opening her eyes, a little old woman, ugly and decrepit, seated in an armchair at the head of her bed. She was surprised that her women had suffered a stranger to come so near her, when the old woman said to her, 'We think thy majesty very obstinate in persisting in thy desire to eat of our fruit: but since thy precious life depends upon it, my sisters and I consent to give thee as much as thou canst carry away with thee, as well as what thou mayest eat upon the spot, provided thou wilt give us something in exchange.' 'Ah! my good mother,' exclaimed the Queen; 'speak! I will give you my kingdoms, my heart, my soul! I cannot purchase such fruit at too high a price.' 'We wish,' said the Fairy, 'for the daughter that thou art about to bring into the world. As soon as she is born, we will come and fetch her: she will be brought up amongst us. There are no virtues, no charms, no accomplishments, with which we will not endow her. In a word, she will be our child; we will make her happy: but observe, that thy majesty will see her no more until she be married. If this proposal is agreeable to thee, I will cure thee instantly, and lead thee into our orchard. Notwithstanding that it is night, thou wilt be able to see well enough to pick the fruit thou mayest fancy. If what I have said do not please thee, good night, Queen; I am going to bed.'
"'Hard as the condition may be which you impose upon me,' replied the Queen, 'I will accept it sooner than die, for I am satisfied I could not live another day, and my infant would therefore perish with me. Cure me, wise Fairy,' continued she, 'and delay not a moment my enjoyment of the privilege you have promised to grant me.'
"The Fairy touched her with a little golden wand, saying, 'Let thy majesty be free from all the ills that confine thee to this bed!' It seemed immediately to the Queen as if some one were divesting her of a heavy and stiff robe which had oppressed her, and that some portions of it clung to her still. This was apparently in the places most affected by her disorder. She sent for all her ladies, and told them, with a smiling countenance, that she was quite well, that she was going to get up, and that at length the gates, so well bolted and barred, of the Fairy Palace, would be opened for her to enter and eat the fine fruit, and take away with her as much as she liked.
"There was not one of her ladies who did not believe the Queen to be delirious, and that her mind was at that moment running on the fruit she had so much wished for, so that instead of answering her, they began to weep, and went and woke all the physicians, that they might come and see the state her majesty was in.
"This delay exasperated the Queen. She ordered them to bring her clothes to her directly. They refused. She flew in a passion, and became scarlet with rage. They attributed it to the effect of fever: but the physicians having arrived, after feeling her pulse and going through the usual ceremonies, could not deny that she was in perfect health. Her women, who perceived the error into which their zeal had betrayed them, endeavoured to atone for it by dressing her as quickly as possible. Each of them asked her majesty's pardon; peace was restored, and the Queen hastened to follow the old Fairy, who was still waiting for her.
"She entered the palace, which required no addition to make it the most beautiful place in the world.
"You will easily believe it, my lord," added Queen White Cat, "when I tell you it was that in which we are at present: two other Fairies, a little younger than the one who conducted my mother, received her at the gate, and welcomed her very graciously. She begged they would lead her directly into the garden, and to those espaliers where she would find the best fruit. 'It is all equally good,' said they to her, 'and if it were not that you desired to have the pleasure of picking it yourself, we have only to call the fruit we wish for, and it would come to us here.' 'I implore you, ladies,' said the Queen, 'to gratify me by so extraordinary a sight.' The eldest Fairy put her finger into her mouth and whistled three times, then cried, 'Apricots, peaches, nectarines, brunions, cherries, plumbs, pears, begaroons, melons, muscatel grapes, apples, oranges, lemons, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, come at my call!' 'But,' said the Queen, 'all the fruit you have summoned is not to be found at the same season.' 'In our orchard,' they replied, 'we have all the fruits of the earth, always ripe, always excellent, and they never spoil or rot.'
"Meanwhile the fruit came rolling in over the floor pell-mell, but without being bruised or dirtied; so that the Queen, impatient to satisfy her longing, threw herself upon it, and took the first that came to hand, devouring rather than eating it.
"After having partly satisfied her appetite, she begged the Fairies to let her proceed to the espaliers, that she might have the pleasure of choosing the fruit on the tree, and then gathering it. 'We give thee free permission,' said they, 'but remember the promise thou hast made us, thou wilt not be allowed to recall it!' 'I am convinced,' said she, 'that you live so well here, and this palace appears to me so handsome, that if I did not love the King my husband dearly, I should propose to remain here with you as well as my daughter; you need have no fear, therefore, of my retracting my word.'
"The Fairies, perfectly satisfied, opened all their gardens and enclosures to her; she remained in them three days and three nights without wishing to go out again; so delicious did she find them. She gathered fruit to take home with her, and as it would not spoil, she had four thousand mules laden with it. The Fairies, in addition to the fruit, gave her golden baskets of the most exquisite make to put it in, and many rarities of exceeding value. They promised her that I should be educated like a princess, that they would make me perfection, and choose a husband for me; that she should receive notice of the nuptials, and that they hoped for her presence at them.
"The King was enraptured at the return of the Queen. All the Court testified its delight to her. There were nothing but balls, masquerades, runnings at the ring, and banquets, at which the Queen's fruit was served as a delicious treat. The King ate of it in preference to anything that could be presented to him. He knew not of the bargain the Queen had made with the Fairies, and often asked her into what country she had travelled to find such good things.
"At one time she told him they were found on an almost inaccessible mountain; at another she said they grew in some valleys; and at others, again, in a garden or in a great forest. The King was surprised at so many contradictions. He questioned those who had accompanied her: but she had so strictly forbidden them to tell any one of her adventure, that they dared not speak of it. At length the Queen, becoming uneasy respecting her promise to the Fairies, as the time approached for her confinement, fell into an alarming melancholy. She sighed eternally, and looked daily worse and worse. The King grew anxious; he pressed the Queen to reveal to him the cause of her sadness, and after a great deal of trouble she informed him of all that had passed between her and the Fairies, and how she had promised to give them the daughter she was about to bring into the world. 'What!' said the King, 'we have no children, you know how much I desire to have some, and for the sake of eating two or three apples you are capable of having given away your daughter? You can have no affection for me!' Thereupon he overwhelmed her with a thousand reproaches, which were almost the death of my poor mother; but that did not satisfy him, he had her locked up in a tower, and surrounded it with soldiers to prevent her having communication with anybody in the world except the officers of her household, and of these he changed such as had been with her at the Fairy Castle.
"The misunderstanding between the King and the Queen threw the whole Court into infinite consternation. Everybody changed their fine clothes for such as were more suitable to the general sorrow. The King, on his part, appeared inexorable. He never saw his wife, and as soon as I was born he had me brought into the palace to be nursed, while she remained a most unhappy prisoner. The Fairies knew all that took place; they became irritated, they would have me, they looked upon me as their property and my detention as a theft.
"Before they sought for a vengeance proportionate to their vexation, they sent a grand embassy to the King to warn him to set the Queen at liberty, to restore her to his favour, and to beg him also to deliver me up to their ambassadors in order that I might be nursed and brought up by the Fairies. The ambassadors were so little and so deformed (for they were hideous dwarfs) that they had not the power of persuading the King to comply with their request. He refused bluntly, and if they had not taken their departure instantly something worse might have happened to them. When the Fairies heard of my father's conduct, they were indignant to the greatest degree, and after having desolated his six kingdoms by the infliction of every ill they could think of, they let loose a terrific Dragon, that poisoned the air wherever he passed, devoured man and child, and killed all the trees and plants he breathed on.
"The King was in the deepest despair. He consulted all the wise men in his dominions, as to what he ought to do to protect his subjects from the misfortunes with which he saw them overwhelmed. They advised him to seek throughout the world for the best physicians and the most excellent remedies; and on the other hand, to offer a free pardon to all malefactors under sentence of death who would undertake to fight the Dragon. The King, approving this advice, acted upon it directly; but without success, for the mortality continued, and the Dragon devoured all who attacked him: so that at last the King had recourse to a Fairy who had been his friend from his earliest infancy. She was very old, and scarcely ever left her bed. He went to see her, and reproached her a thousand times over for permitting Fate to persecute him without coming to his assistance. 'What would you have me do?' said she. 'You have irritated my sisters. They are as powerful as I am, and we rarely act against one another. Try to appease them by giving up your daughter to them. The little Princess belongs to them of right. You have put the Queen into prison. What has that amiable woman done to you that you should treat her so severely? Make up your mind to redeem her pledge to the Fairies; I assure you, you will be greatly rewarded for it.'
"The King my father loved me dearly; but seeing no other mode of saving his kingdoms and delivering himself from the fatal Dragon, he told his friend he would take her advice; that he was willing to give me up to the Fairies, as she had assured him that I should be cherished and treated as a princess of my rank ought to be; that he would also take the Queen back to Court, and that she had only to name the person to whom he should confide the task of carrying me to the Fairy Castle. 'You must take her,' she said, 'in her cradle, to the top of the Mountain of Flowers. You may even remain in its vicinity, if you please, to witness the entertainment that will take place there.' The King told her that in the course of a week he would proceed thither with the Queen, and begged she would give notice to her sister Fairies of his intention, that they might make whatever arrangements they considered necessary.
"As soon as he returned to the palace he sent for the Queen, and received her with as much affection and distinction as he had exhibited haste and anger in her imprisonment. She was so wasted and depressed that he would scarcely have recognised her, had not his heart assured him she was the same person he had formerly loved so tenderly. He implored her, with tears in his eyes, to forget the misery he had caused her, assuring her it was the last she should ever experience on his account. She replied that she had brought it upon herself by her imprudence in promising her daughter to the Fairies, and if anything could plead in her favour it was only the condition to which she was reduced. The King then informed her that he had determined to place me in the hands of the Fairies. The Queen, in her turn, opposed this intention. It seemed as if some fatality attended the affair, and that I was doomed to be always a subject of dissension between my father and mother. After she had groaned and wept for a considerable time without obtaining her object, (for the King saw too clearly the fatal consequences of hesitating, and our subjects continued to perish as if they were answerable for the faults of our family,) she consented to all he desired, and every preparation was made for the ceremony.
"I was placed in a cradle of mother-of-pearl, ornamented with everything art could imagine that was most elegant. It was hung round with garlands and festoons of flowers, composed of jewels, the different colours of which reflected the rays of the sun with such dazzling splendour, that you could scarcely look at them. The magnificence of my clothing surpassed, if it could be possible, that of the cradle. All the bands of my swaddling clothes were formed of large pearls. Four-and-twenty princesses of the blood-royal carried me on a sort of very light litter. Their dresses were all different, but they were not allowed to wear any colour but white, in token of my innocence. All the Court accompanied me according to the order of precedence.
"While we were ascending the mountain a melodious symphony was heard more and more distinctly. At length the Fairies appeared to the number of thirty-six. They had invited their friends to accompany them. Each was seated in a pearly shell, larger than that in which Venus arose out of the ocean. Sea-horses, that seemed rather awkward in getting over the ground, drew these pearly cars, the occupants more sumptuous in appearance than the greatest queens in the universe, but at the same time excessively old and ugly. They carried olive branches, to signify to the King that his submission had found favour with them; and when I was presented to them, their caresses were so extraordinary, that it seemed as if they had no object in living, except to make me happy. The Dragon they had made the instrument of their vengeance on my father followed them in chains of diamonds. They took me in their arms, kissed me a thousand times, endowed me with various qualifications, and then began to dance the Fairy Brawl. It is a very lively dance, and you would scarcely believe how well these old ladies jumped and capered. After this, the Dragon that had devoured so many people crawled forward. The three Fairies to whom my mother had promised me seated themselves on it, placed my cradle between them, and striking the Dragon with a wand, it immediately spread its great scaly wings, finer than gauze, and glittering with all sorts of extraordinary colours, and in this way they returned to their castle. My mother, on seeing me in the air, upon this terrible Dragon, could not help screaming loudly. The King consoled her with the assurance his friend the old Fairy had given him, that no accident would happen to me, and that I should be taken as much care of as if I had remained in his own palace. She was pacified by this assurance, though she felt much distressed at the idea of being separated from me for so long a time, and having only herself to blame for it; for if she had not insisted on eating the fruit of that garden, I should have been brought up in my father's dominions, and never have suffered the misfortunes which I have still to relate to you.
"Know then, Son of a King, that my guardians had built a tower, expressly for my habitation, in which there were a thousand beautiful apartments suitable for each season of the year, magnificent furniture, and amusing books; but without a door, so that it could only be entered by the windows, which were placed prodigiously high. On the top of the tower was a beautiful garden, ornamented with flowers, fountains, and green arbours, where you might be cool in the hottest of the dog-days. In this place I was brought up by the Fairies with a care even beyond all they had promised the Queen. My dresses were made in the highest fashion, and so magnificent that any one to see me would have thought it was my wedding day. I was taught everything befitting my age and my rank. I did not give them much trouble, for there were few things I did not learn with the greatest ease. My docility was very agreeable to them, and as I had never seen, any other persons, I might have lived there in perfect tranquillity all the rest of my life.
"They always came to see me, mounted on the terrible Dragon I have already spoken of. They never talked to me about the King or the Queen. They called me their daughter, and I believed myself to be so. Nobody lived with me in the tower, but a parrot and a little dog, which they had given me to amuse me; for the creatures were endowed with reason, and spoke admirably.
"On one side of the tower was a hollow way, full of deep ruts and trees which choked up the road, so that I had not seen any one pass by since I had been shut up there. But one day that I was at the window, talking with my parrot and my dog, I heard a noise; I looked all about, and perceived a young cavalier who had stopped to listen to our conversation. I had never seen a young man before but in a painting. I was not sorry that an unlooked-for accident had afforded me this opportunity; so that, not dreaming of the danger that attends the gratification of contemplating a charming object, I came forward to gaze upon him, and the more I looked at him the more was I delighted. He made me a profound bow, fixed his eyes on me, and appeared greatly embarrassed to find some way of conversing with me, for my window was very high, and he feared being overheard, for he knew well enough that I was in the Fairies' Castle.
"The night came suddenly upon us, or, to speak more correctly, it came without our perceiving it; he blew his horn twice or thrice, and entertained me with a few flourishes upon it, and then took his departure without my being able to ascertain which way he went—so dark was the night. I remained very thoughtful; I no longer felt the same pleasure in talking to my parrot and my dog that I had been wont to do. They said the prettiest things in the world to me, for fairy creatures are very witty; but my mind was preoccupied, and I was too artless to conceal it. Perroquet remarked it. He was a shrewd bird; he betrayed no sign of what was running in his head.
"I did not fail being up as soon as it was light. I ran to my window, and was most agreeably surprised to perceive the young knight at the foot of the tower. He was magnificently attired. I flattered myself it was partly on my account, and I was not mistaken. He addressed me through a sort of speaking trumpet, by the aid of which he informed me, that having been up to that time insensible to the charms of all the beauties he had seen, he suddenly felt himself so strongly smitten by mine, that he could not imagine it was possible for him to live without seeing me every day of his life. I was mightily pleased with this compliment, and very much vexed that I did not dare reply to it, for I should have been compelled to bawl with all my might, and still run the risk of being better heard by the Fairies than by him. I threw him some flowers I had in my hand, which he received as a signal favour, kissing them several times, and thanking me. He then asked me if I should approve of his coming every day at the same hour under my windows, and if so, to throw him something else. I had a turquoise ring on my finger, which I pulled off instantly, and flung to him in all haste, making signs to him to decamp as quickly as possible, for I heard on the other side of the tower the Fairy Violent, who was mounting her Dragon to bring me my breakfast.
"The first words she uttered on entering my apartment were, 'I smell the voice of a man here. Search, Dragon!' Oh, what a state was I in! I was sinking with fear that the monster would fly out at the opposite window, and follow the cavalier, for whom I already felt deeply interested. 'Indeed, my good Mamma,' said I, (for the old Fairy would have me call her so,) 'you are jesting, surely, when you say you smell the voice of a man. Is it possible to smell a voice? And if so, what mortal would be rash enough to venture climbing this tower?' 'What you say is true, daughter,' replied she; 'I am delighted to hear you argue so nicely, and I fancy it is the hatred I have of all men that makes me sometimes imagine they are near me.' She gave me my breakfast and my spindle. 'When you have breakfasted do not forget to spin,' said she, 'for you did nothing yesterday, and my sisters will be angry with you.' In fact, I had been so occupied with the stranger that I had found it quite impossible to spin.
"As soon as the Fairy was gone, I flung away my spindle with a little rebellious air, and ascended the terrace to look out as far as I could. I had an excellent telescope; there was nothing to interrupt the view. I looked in every direction, and discovered my cavalier on the summit of a mountain. He was reposing beneath a rich pavilion of cloth of gold, and surrounded by a very numerous Court. I felt satisfied he was the son of some king who reigned in the vicinity of the Fairies' Palace. As I feared that if he returned to the tower he would be discovered by the terrible Dragon, I went and fetched my parrot, and told him to fly to that mountain, where he would find the person who had spoken to me, and beg him in my name never to come again, as I was alarmed at the vigilance of my guardians, and the probability of their doing him some mischief. Perroquet executed his commission like a parrot of sense. The courtiers were all surprised to see him come flying at full speed, perch upon their master's shoulder and whisper in his ear. The King (for such he proved to be) was both delighted and troubled by this message. My anxiety on his account was flattering to his heart; but the many difficulties there were in the way of his speaking with me, distressed without being able to dissuade him from the attempt to make himself agreeable to me. He asked Perroquet a hundred questions, and Perroquet asked him as many in return, for he was naturally inquisitive. The King gave him a ring to bring me in return for my turquoise. It was a turquoise also; but much finer than mine, and cut in the shape of a heart, and surrounded with diamonds. 'It is fit,' said he to the parrot, 'that I should treat you as an ambassador. I therefore present you with my portrait. Show it to no one but your charming mistress.' He tied the miniature under the bird's wing, who brought the ring to me in his beak.
"I awaited the return of my little green courier with an impatience I had never known before. He told me that the personage to whom I had sent him was a great king; that he had been most kindly received by him, and that I might rest assured he only lived for my sake; that, notwithstanding there was much danger in coming to the foot of the tower, he was resolved to brave everything sooner than renounce the pleasure of seeing me. These tidings perplexed me sadly, and I began to weep. Perroquet and my little dog Toutou did their best to console me, for they loved me tenderly; and then Perroquet gave me the King's ring, and showed me his portrait. I confess I had never been so delighted as I was by being thus enabled to contemplate closely the image of him I had only seen at a distance. He appeared to me much more charming than I had supposed. A hundred ideas rushed into my mind, some agreeable, some distressing, and gave an expression of great anxiety to my features. The Fairies who came to see me perceived it. They observed to each other that I was no doubt tired of my dull life, and that it was time for them to find a husband for me of Fairy race. They named several, and fixed at last upon little King Migonnet, whose kingdom was about five hundred leagues off; but that was a trifle. Perroquet overheard this fine council. He flew to give me an account of it, and said to me, 'Ah, how I pity you, my dear mistress, if you should become the Queen of Migonnet! He is a monkey that would frighten you! I am sorry to say so; but in truth, the King who loves you would not condescend to have him for his footman!' 'Have you seen him, Perroquet?' 'I believe so, indeed!' continued the bird; 'I was brought up on the same branch with him.' 'How! on a branch!' I exclaimed. 'Yes,' said he, 'he has feet like an eagle.'
"Such an account as this afflicted me extremely. I gazed on the charming portrait of the young King. I felt sure he had only bestowed it on Perroquet to give me the opportunity of seeing it, and when I compared it with the description of Migonnet, I felt I had nothing more to hope for in life, and I resolved to die rather than marry the latter.
"I had no sleep all night. Perroquet and Toutou talked matters over with me. I dozed a little towards daybreak, and as my dog had a good nose he smelt that the King was at the foot of the tower. He woke Perroquet; 'I will lay a wager,' said he, 'the King is below.' Perroquet replied, 'Hold thy peace, babbler; because thine own eyes and ears are almost always open, thou enviest the repose of others.' 'But bet something, then,' insisted the good Toutou; 'I am sure he is there.' 'And I am sure he is not there,' replied Perroquet. 'Have I not forbidden him to come here in my mistress's name?' 'Oh! truly thou art amusing, with thy forbiddings,' exclaimed my dog, 'a man in love consults only his heart;' and therewith he began to pull Perroquet by the wings so roughly that he made him angry. The noise they both made woke me; they acquainted me with the cause of it. I ran, or rather flew, to my window. I saw the King, who extended his arms towards me, and said through his trumpet that he could no longer live without me; that he implored me to find means to escape from my tower, or to enable him to enter it. That he called all the gods and all the elements to witness that he would marry me immediately, and that I should be one of the greatest queens in the world.
"I ordered Perroquet to go and tell him that what he desired appeared to me an impossibility; but, nevertheless, relying on the word he had pledged to me, and the oath he had taken, I would endeavour to accomplish his wishes. That I conjured him not to come every day, as he might at length be observed, and that the Fairies would have no mercy upon him.
"He retired full of joy at the hope I had flattered him with, and I found myself in the greatest embarrassment when I began to reflect on the promise I had made to him. How was I to escape from that tower in which there were no doors? And to have no one to help me but Perroquet and Toutou! I, so young, so inexperienced, so timid! I resolved therefore not to make an attempt I could never succeed in, and I sent word to that effect by Perroquet to the King. He was at first about to kill himself before the bird's eyes; but at length he charged him to persuade me either to come and witness his death or to bring him some comfort. 'Sire,' exclaimed my feathered ambassador, 'my mistress is sufficiently willing: she only lacks the power.'
"When the bird repeated to me all that had passed, I felt more wretched than ever. The Fairy Violente came to see me. She found me with my eyes red and swollen; she observed that I had been crying, and said, that unless I told her the cause she would burn me alive: her threats were always terrible. I replied, trembling, that I was tired of spinning, and that I wanted to make some little nets to catch the young birds in that came and pecked the fruit in my garden. 'Thou shalt cry no longer for that, daughter,' said she, 'I will bring thee as much twine as thou needest;' and in truth I received it that very evening; but she advised me to think less of working than of attending to my personal appearance, as King Migonnet was shortly expected. I shuddered at those fatal tidings, and made no reply.
"As soon as she was gone, I began to make two or three pieces of net; but my object was to construct a rope ladder, which I succeeded in doing very well, though I had never seen one. The Fairy, in fact, did not furnish me with as much twine as I wanted, and continually said to me, 'Why daughter, thy work is like that of Penelope; it never progresses, and yet thou art still asking for more material.' 'Oh, my good Mamma,' I replied, 'it is easy for you to talk. Don't you see that I am very awkward at my work, and burn a great deal of it. Are you afraid I shall ruin you in packthread?' My air of simplicity amused her, though she was a very ill-tempered and cruel creature.
"I sent Perroquet to tell the King to come on a certain evening under the window of the tower, where he would find the ladder, and that he would learn the rest when he arrived. In fact, I fastened it as securely as possible, being determined to make my escape with him; but the moment he saw it, without waiting for me to descend, he mounted it eagerly, and jumped into my apartment just as I was preparing everything for my flight.
"The sight of him delighted me so much that I forgot the peril in which we were placed. He renewed all his vows, and implored me not to delay becoming his wife. We took Perroquet and Toutou as witnesses of our marriage. Never was a wedding between two persons of such exalted rank celebrated with less publicity or noise, and never were two hearts so perfectly happy as ours."Day had not dawned when the King left me. I had related to him the dreadful intention of the Fairies to marry me to little Migonnet. I described to him his person, which horrified him as much as it had me. The hours seemed long years
The White Cat.—p.465
"Shortly afterwards, the Fairy Violent entered my apartment. 'I bring thee good news,' said she to me. 'Thy lover has arrived within these few hours; prepare to receive him. Here are dresses and jewels for thee!' 'And who has told you,' I exclaimed, 'that I desire to be married? It is very far from my intention. Send King Migonnet away again, I will not add a pin to my dress; let him think me handsome or ugly, I am not going to be his.' 'Hey day! Hey day!' rejoined the Fairy, 'Here's a little rebel! Here's a head without any brains in it! I am not to be trifled with, and I warn thee—' 'What will you do to me,' cried I, reddening at the names she had called me; 'can I be more miserably situated than I am already in this tower, with only a dog and a parrot, and seeing several times a day the horrible form of a dreadful Dragon!' 'Hah, thou ungrateful little wretch,' said the Fairy, 'dost thou deserve so much care and pains as we have taken with thee? I have too often told my sisters we should reap a sorry reward for it.' She departed to seek them; she related to them our quarrel; they were as much surprised at it as she was.
"Perroquet and Toutou remonstrated with me, and assured me, that if I continued refractory, they foresaw that I should suffer some terrible misfortunes. I felt so proud of possessing the heart of a great king, that I despised the Fairies and the advice of my poor little companions. I did not dress myself, and I took pleasure in combing my hair the wrong way, in order that Migonnet might think me ugly. Our interview took place on the terrace. He came in his fiery chariot. Never since dwarfs have existed has there been seen one so diminutive. He walked upon his eagle's feet and on his knees at the same time, for he had no bones in his legs, so that he was obliged to support himself on a pair of diamond crutches. His royal mantle was only half an ell long, and yet more than a third of it dragged on the ground. His head was as large as a peck measure, and his nose was so big, that a dozen birds sat upon it, whose warbling entertained him. He had such a bushy beard, that canary-birds made their nests in it, and his ears rose a cubit higher than his head; but they were not very perceptible, in consequence of the high-pointed crown that he wore to make him appear taller. The flames of his chariot roasted the fruit, scorched the flowers, and dried up the fountains in my garden. He approached with open arms to embrace me. I held myself bolt upright, and his principal equerry was compelled to lift him; but as soon as he was brought near me, I fled into my apartment, and fastened the door and the windows, so that Migonnet returned to the Fairies highly incensed against me.
"They begged his pardon a thousand times for my rudeness, and to appease him, for he was much to be feared, they determined to bring him into my chamber at night while I slept, to tie me hand and foot, and place me in his fiery chariot, to be taken away by him. Having decided on this plan, they scarcely said a cross word to me about my rude behaviour to him, but merely advised me to think of making amends for it. Perroquet and Toutou were astonished at such great kindness. 'Do you know, Mistress,' said my dog, 'my heart misgives me. My lady Fairies are strange personages, and particularly Violent.' I laughed at these fears, and awaited my dear husband's arrival with the greatest anxiety. He was too impatient to see me, to keep me long waiting. I threw him the rope-ladder, fully resolved to fly with him. He mounted it lightly, and said such tender things to me, that I dare not even now recall them to mind.
"While we were conversing together as calmly as if we had been in his own palace, the windows of my room were suddenly burst in. The Fairies entered upon their terrible Dragon. Migonnet followed them in his fiery chariot, attended by all his guards on their ostriches. The King fearlessly drew his sword, and only thought of saving me from the most dreadful fate that ever awaited mortal; for, in short, must I speak it, my Lord, those barbarous creatures urged their Dragon upon him, which devoured him before my eyes.
"Distracted at his fate and my own, I flung myself into the jaws of the horrible monster, hoping he would swallow me, as he had already swallowed all I loved in the world. He was equally willing to do so; but the Fairies, still more cruel than the Dragon, would not permit it. 'She must be reserved,' they cried, 'for more protracted agony; a speedy death is too mild a punishment for this unworthy creature!' They touched me, and I immediately found myself assume the form of a White Cat. They conducted me to this superb palace, which belonged to my father. They transformed all the lords and ladies of the kingdom into cats, left only the hands visible of the rest of his court, and reduced me to the deplorable condition in which you found me, after informing me of my birth, the death of my father and mother, and that I could only be released from my cat-like form by a prince, who should perfectly resemble the husband they had deprived me of. It is you, my Lord, who bear that resemblance," continued she; "you have the same features, the same air, the same voice. I was struck by it the moment I saw you. I was aware of all that has happened, and I am equally so of all that will happen. My troubles are about to end." "And mine, lovely Queen," said the Prince, flinging himself at her feet; "how long are they to last?" "I already love you more than my life, my Lord," said the Queen; "you must return to your father; we will ascertain his sentiments respecting me, and whether he will consent to what you desire."
She went out of the castle, the Prince gave her his hand; she got into a chariot with him. It was much more magnificent than those she had previously provided for him. The rest of the equipage corresponded with it to such an extent, that the horses were all shod with emeralds, the nails being diamonds; such a thing has perhaps never been seen except on that occasion. I shall not repeat the agreeable conversation that took place between the Queen and the Prince on their journey. If her beauty was matchless, her mind was no less so, and the young Prince was equally perfect, so that they interchanged all sorts of charming ideas.
When they reached the neighbourhood of the castle, in which the Prince was to meet his two elder brothers, the Queen entered a little rock of crystal, the points of which were ornamented with gold and rubies. It was completely surrounded by curtains, in order that no one should see it, and carried by some very handsome young men superbly attired. The Prince remained in the chariot. He perceived his brothers walking with two Princesses, who were exceedingly beautiful. As soon as they recognised him, they advanced to receive him, and inquired, if he had brought a lady with him. He replied, that he had been so unfortunate throughout his journey as to have met with none but very ugly ones, and that the only rarity he had brought back with him was a little white cat. They began to laugh at his simplicity. "A cat!" they exclaimed; "are you afraid the mice will eat up our palace?" The Prince admitted that he had been rather unwise in selecting such a present for his father; and thereupon they each took their road to the city.
The elder Princes rode with their Princesses in open carriages, all of gold and azure. Their horses' heads were adorned with plumes of feathers and aigrettes. Nothing could be more brilliant than this cavalcade. Our young Prince followed them, and behind him came the crystal rock, which everybody gazed at with wonder.
The courtiers hastened to inform the King, that the three Princes were coming. "Do they bring with them beautiful ladies?" asked the King. "It is impossible to find any that could surpass them," was the answer, which appeared to displease him. The two Princes eagerly ascended the palace-stairs with their wonderful Princesses. The King received them graciously, and could not decide which deserved the prize. He looked at his youngest son, and said to him, "Have you returned alone this time?" "Your majesty will perceive in this rock a little white cat," replied the Prince, "that mews so sweetly, and has such velvet paws, you will be delighted with it." The King smiled, and went to open the rock himself: but as soon as he approached it, the Queen, by means of a spring, made it fly in pieces, and appeared like the sun after it had been some time hidden in the clouds. Her fair hair fell in loose ringlets over her shoulders down to her very feet; she was crowned with flowers; her gown was of thin white gauze lined with rose-coloured. She rose, and made a profound curtsy to the King, who could not resist exclaiming in the excess of his admiration, "Behold the incomparable beauty who deserves the crown!"
"My Liege," said she to him, "I come not to deprive you of a throne you fill so worthily. I was born the heiress to six kingdoms; permit me to offer one to you, and to give one to each of your eldest sons. I ask of you no other recompense than your friendship and this young Prince for my husband. Three kingdoms will be quite enough for us." The King and all the court joined in shouts of joy and astonishment. The marriage was celebrated immediately, as well as those of the other two Princes, and the court consequently passed several months in entertainments and pleasures of every description. Finally, each couple departed to reign over their own dominions. The beautiful White Cat immortalized herself in, as much by her goodness, and liberality, as by her rare talent and beauty.
The youthful Prince was fortunate to find
Beneath a cat's skin an illustrious fair,
Worthy of adoration, and inclined
The throne, her friendship won for him, to share.
By two enchanting eyes, on conquest bent,
The willing heart is easily subdued;
And still more power to the charm is lent,
When Love's soft flame is fann'd by gratitude.
Shall I in silence pass that parent o'er,
Who for her folly paid so dear a price;
And for some tempting fruit—as Eve before—
The welfare of her race could sacrifice?
Mothers, beware! nor like that selfish Queen,
Venture to cloud a lovely daughter's lot
To gratify some appetite as mean.
Detest such conduct: imitate it not.
- A Fairy tale by Perrault, author also of the Sleeping Beauty. The rest are by the Countess herself, and contained in this volume.
- " à la mode de Bretagne," is the cousin-german of the father or the mother, but it is used to signify a very distant degree of relationship.
- La Fontaine, "Le Chat et le Vieux Rat."—Fable 18, liv. iii.
- "Le Chat Botté" of Perrault was then a new story.
- "Le Chat qui écrit:" a popular exhibition of the period.
- La Fontaine: "La Chatte Metamorphosée en Femme."—Fable 18, liv. ii.
- The Sabbat signifies a nocturnal meeting of witches, wherein the form feline was a favourite assumption.
- The cadenas was a box of gold, silver, or silver gilt, standing on three small metal balls, with a case in it which contained the knife, fork, and spoon of the king, or any other royal personage. It was probably so called from the lock under which it was kept as a security against poison. Even the saucepans were sometimes padlocked for the same reason. Madame d'Aulnoy, in her "Travels in Spain," tells an amusing story of the archbishop of Burgos going to bed supperless, because his cook, to prevent the gallant prelate sharing his Olla with the Countess, pretended to have lost the key of the silver saucepan in the snow.—Letter vi. 13th March, 1679.
- A cat's name derived from La Fontaine and Rabelais.
- Making the curée is a hunting term, which signifies the rewarding the hawks or hounds with portions of the prey upon the spot.
- These grand equestrian spectacles reached the height of their magnificence and popularity in the reign of Louis XIV.
- See Note to p. 79.
- A sort of peach.
- In French branle. The brawl was the dance with which balls were generally opened. The company took hands in a circle, and gave each other continual shakes, the steps changing with the time.
- This is a singular oversight. The White Cat has previously told the Prince, that the castle they are in is identical with the Fairy Castle. See page 453.