From "The Goldenrod Fairy Book" selected and translated by Esther Singleton; Dodd, Mead & Company; New York; pp.1-24.
He summoned them to his closet, and after speaking kindly, added: “You will agree with me, my dear children, that my advanced age does not permit me to attend to state affairs as closely as formerly; I fear my subjects may suffer, and wish therefore to give one of you my crown, but it is only fair that in return for such a gift you should seek ways of making my intention of retiring into the country pleasing to me. It 2 seems to me that a clever, pretty, and faithful little dog would be a pleasant companion for me; so without choosing my eldest son rather than my youngest, I declare that whichever of the three brings me the most beautiful dog shall be my heir.” The Princes were surprise at their father’s desire for a little dog. They took leave of the King; he gave them money and jewels, adding that in a year, without fail, they must return, and on the same day, and at the same hour, bring him their little dogs.
Before their departure they repaired to a castle about a league from the town; there they brought their most intimate friends, and gave a great feast, at which the three brothers swore eternal friendship, that they would conduct the matter in hand without jealousy, and that the successful one should share his fortune with the others. At length they set out, deciding that on their return they would meet at the same castle, and go together to the King. Each took a different route. The two eldest had many adventures, but I shall only relate those of the youngest. He was handsome and of a gay and merry disposition; he was tall, had a well-shaped 3 head, regular features, beautiful teeth, and was very skilful in all exercises befitting a prince. He sang pleasantly and played charmingly on the lute and theorbo. He could also paint; in short, he was extremely accomplished, and his valour reached almost to rashness.
He was walking on without knowing where he was going, when night, accompanied by thunder and rain, overtook him in a forest where he could no longer see the paths. He took the first road that offered and, after he had walked for a long time, saw a light, and felt sure there was a house near in which he could take shelter till the next day. Guided by the light, he came to the gates of a castle, the most magnificent imaginable. The gate was of gold, covered with carbuncles, whose bright and pure brilliancy lighted up all the surroundings. The walls were of transparent porcelain painted in many colours, illustrating the history of the fairies from the creation of the world; the famous adventures of Peau d’Ane, of Finette, of Orange Tree, of Gracieuse, of the Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, of Green Serpent, and a hundred others were not omitted.4
Upon the gold door he saw a stag’s foot fastened with a diamond chain. He pulled the stag’s foot and heard a bell ring, and from its sound judged it to be of gold or silver; in an instant the door was opened and he saw a dozen hands in the air, each holding a torch. He was so astonished that he hesitated to enter, when he felt other hands pushing him from behind somewhat violently. He walked on very uneasily and at great risk; he put his hand on his sword hilt. On entering a vestibule incrusted with porphyry and lapis lazuli, he heard two enchanting voices singing these words:
Feeling himself pushed towards a big, coral door that opened as soon as he approached it, he entered a saloon of mother-of-pearl, and then several rooms variously decorated, but so rich in paintings and precious stones that he was as if enchanted. Thousands and thousands of lights, hanging from the roof of the room, lighted some of the other apartments, which 5 contained just the same lustres, girandoles and shelves full of wax candles.
After passing through sixty rooms, the hands that were guiding him stopped; he saw a big commodious arm-chair approach the fire-place quite alone. At the same moment the fire was lighted, and the hands, which seemed to him very beautiful, white, small, plump, and well-proportioned, undressed him, for he was wet, and they feared he might take cold. He was presented with a shirt beautiful enough for a wedding-day, with a dressing-gown of some material frosted with gold, embroidered with small emeralds to form monograms. The bodiless hands pushed him to a table where everything necessary for the toilet was set out. They combed his hair with a lightness and skill that were delightful. Then they dressed him, but not in his own clothes; they brought him others much richer. He silently wondered at all that was taking place.
When he was powdered, curled, perfumed, adorned and made more beautiful than Adonis, the hands led him into a hall resplendent with gildings and furniture. Looking round, you saw the histories of the most famous cats; 6 Rodillardus hung up by the feet at the Council or Rats, Puss-in-Boots, Marquis of Carabbas, the cat who wrote, the cat who became a woman, the sorcerers who became cats, their nocturnal revels and all their ceremonies; nothing could be more curious than these pictures.
The table was lid for two, with gold knife, fork, and spoon for each; the sideboard with a number of rock-crystal vases and a thousand precious stones. The Prince did not know for whom the two covers were intended; he perceived cats taking their places in a little orchestra built on purpose; one held a book in which was written the most extraordinary music imaginable, another a roll of paper with which he beat time, and the rest had small guitars. Suddenly each began to mew in a different key and to strike the strings of their guitars with their sharp claws; it was the strangest music ever heard. The Prince stuffed up his ears and laughed heartily at the different postures and grimaces of the novel musicians.
He was thinking over his various adventures since his entrance into the castle, when he saw a little figure no bigger than your arm enter the 7 hall. The little creature was shrouded in a long, black, crape veil. Two cats conducted her; they were in mourning, with cloaks and swords at their sides; a numerous procession of cats followed; some carried rat-traps full of rats and others mice in cages.
The Prince was more astonished than ever; he did not know what to think. The little black figure approached him, and raising her veil, he saw the most beautiful white cat that ever was or ever will be. She looked very young and sad; she began to mew so softly and prettily that it went straight to the heart. She said to the Prince: “King’s Son, you are welcome; my cat-like majesty is glad to see you.” “Madam Cat,” said the Prince, “it is very kind of you to receive me so cordially, but you do not appear an ordinary animal; your gift of speech and your magnificent castle are strong proof to the contrary.” “King’s Son,” replied the White Cat, “I beg you to leave off making me compliments; I am very simple in speech and manner, but I have a kind heart. Come,” she continued, “let supper be served and the musicians cease, because the Prince does not understand what they say.” “Are 8 they singing anything, madam?” he replied. “Certainly,” she went on, “we have excellent poets here, and if you stay with us a little while you will be convinced of it.” “It is only necessary to hear you to believe it,” said the Prince politely; ‘you seem to be a most rare cat.”
Supper was brought, and the bodiless hands waited at table. First, two dishes were brought, one of young pigeons and the other of fat mice. The sight of the one prevented the Prince from eating the other, imagining that the same cook had prepared them both. But the little cat assured him that his kitchen was separate, and that he might eat what was given him without fear of its being rats or mice.
The Prince felt quite sure the beautiful little cat would not deceived him. He was surprised to see that on her paw she wore a miniature. He asked her to show it to him, and was astonished to see a handsome young man who resembled him closely. She sighed, and becoming melancholy, remained perfectly silent.
After supper White Cat invited her guest to enter a hall containing a stage, on which twelve cats and twelve monkeys danced a ballet. The 9 former were dressed as Moors and the latter as Chinese. Their leaps and capers may easily be imagined, and now and again they exchanged blows with their paws. Thus the evening ended. White Cat bade her guest good-night, the hands took charge of him again, and led him to an apartment just opposite the one he had seen. It was less magnificent than elegant. It was carpeted with butterflies’ wings, whose varied colours formed a thousand different flowers. There were also very rare birds’ feathers, never seen, perhaps, except in this place. There were beds of gauze, fastened by a thousand knots of ribbons. There were large mirrors reaching from the ceiling to the floor, and the chased gold frames represented a thousand little Cupids.
A year passes so quickly when you have neither cares nor troubles, and are in good health. White Cat knew when he ought to return, and as he had quite forgotten it, she reminded him. “Do you know,” she said, “that you have only three days in which to find the little dog your father wants, and your brothers have found beauties?” The Prince exclaimed: “By what 10 secret charm have I forgotten the thing more important to me than anything in the world? Unless I procure a dog wonderful enough to win me a kingdom and a horse speedy enough to travel so long a distance in time, it is all up with my fame and fortune.” He began to feel very anxious and distressed.
White Cat, to comfort him, said: “King’s Son, do not vex yourself, I am your friend. You can stay here another day, and although it is five hundred leagues from here to your country, my wooden horse will take you there in less than three hours.” “I thank you, beautiful Cat,” said the Prince, “But it is not enough to return to my father: I must take him a little dog.” “Stay,” said White Cat, here is an acorn which contains one more beautiful than the dog-star.” “Oh,” said the Prince, “Madam Cat, you are laughing at me.” “Put the acorn to your ear,” she continued, “you will hear it bark.” He obeyed and heard the little dog say bow-wow; the Prince was overjoyed, because a dog that could get into an acorn must be very tiny. He was so anxious to see it that he wanted to open it, but White Cat told him it might be cold on 11 the journey, and it would therefore be better to wait till he was with his father. He thanked her a thousand times and bade her a tender farewell.
The Prince was the first to arrive at the castle where the meeting with his brothers had been arranged to take place. They embraced each other affectionately. Our Prince did not tell his brothers his real adventures, and showed them a wretched dog which served as a turnspit, saying that it was the one he destined for the King.
The next day they went on together in the same coach. The King’s two eldest sons brought little dogs in baskets, so beautiful and delicate that one scarcely dared to touch them; the youngest brought the miserable turnspit. When they reached the palace they were welcomed by all. They entered the King’s rooms; he did not know in whose favour to decide, for the dogs brought by his two eldest sons were almost equally beautiful, and they were already disputing the succession, when the youngest drew out of his pocket the acorn White Cat had given him. He quickly opened it, and they saw a 12 little dog lying on cotton wool. He passed through a ring without touching it. The Prince put him on the ground, and he began to dance with castanets as lightly as the most famous Spanish girl. He was of a thousand different colours; his silky hair and ears dragged on the ground. The King was greatly puzzled, for it was impossible to say anything against the beauty of the little dog.
But he had not the least desire to give away his crown. The tiniest gem of it was dearer to him than all the dogs in the world. He told his children he was pleased with their labours, and they had succeeded so well that he wished to prove their skill further before fulfilling his promise; so that he gave them a year to look by sea and land for a piece of linen so fine that it would pass through the eye of a needle used for making Venice point lace.
Each departed his own way. Our Prince mounted the wooden horse again, and without caring to find other help than he might hope from White Cat’s friendliness, he speedily returned to the castle where he had been so kindly entertained. He found all the doors open and the 13 windows, roofs, towers, and walls lighted by a hundred thousand lamps that produced a marvellous effect. The hands came to meet him, and took the bridle of the wooden horse and led it to the stable, while the Prince entered the White Cat’s room.
She was lying in a basket on a very nice white satin mattress. Her toilette was neglected and she looked out of spirits; but when she saw the Prince, she leaped and jumped to show him her joy. “Whatever reason I had,” she said, “to hope that you would return, King’s son, I dared not expect too much, and I am usually so unfortunate in the things I wish, that this even surprises me.” The grateful Prince caressed her; he related the success of his journey, which she knew probably better than he, and that the King wanted a piece of linen fine enough to go through a needle’s eye; that in truth he thought the thing impossible, but he intended to rely on her friendship and help. White cat looked serious, said she would think over the matter; fortunately, there were cats in the castle who spun excellently; she would see that what he wanted was prepared.14
The second year passed as quickly as the first; everything the Prince wished for was immediately brought him by the hands. White Cat, who never ceased to watch over the Prince, warned him that the time of his departure was drawing near, that he need not be anxious about the linen he wanted, since she had had made for him a most wonderful piece; she added that she wished this time to give him an equipage worthy of his rank, and without awaiting his reply, she made him look out into the courtyard. He saw an open barouche enamelled with flame-coloured gold, with a thousand elegant devices. Twelve snow-white horses yoked together in fours drew it, harnessed in flame-coloured velvet embroidered with diamonds, and decorated with gold plates. The inside of the barouche was equally magnificent, and a hundred coaches with eight horses, filled with superbly dressed nobles, accompanied the barouche. It was also attended by a thousand body-guards, whose coats were so thickly embroidered that you could not see the material; and, what was strangest, White Cat’s portrait appeared everywhere: in the decoration of the barouche, on the coats of the guards, or fastened 15 with a ribbon, like an order, round the necks of those who formed the procession.
Go,” she said to the Prince, “appear at your father’s court in so sumptuous a manner that your magnificence may impress him with awe, so that he will not refuse you the crown you deserve. Here is a walnut; do not crack it until you are before him; it contains the piece of linen you asked of me.”
“Good White Cat,” he said, “I confess I am so deeply sensible of your kindness that if you would consent I would rather spend my life with you than amid all the glory I have reason to expect elsewhere.” “King’s Son,” she replied, “I am convinced of your good heart, — a very rare commodity among princes; they want to be loved by all without loving anything or any one but themselves; but you are the exception. I shall not forget the affection you show for a little White Cat, who is good for nothing but to catch mice.”
The Prince kissed her paw and departed. They halted nowhere till they reached the King’s palace, where the two elder brothers had already arrived. They exhibited their pieces of linen, 16 which were indeed so fine that they went through the eye of a big needle, but could not get through that of a small one.
At length, a delightful sound of trumpets, drums and hautboys was heard; it was the arrival of the Prince and his fine equipment. The King and his two sons were vastly astonished at its magnificence. After greeting his father very respectfully and embracing his brothers, he took the walnut out of a box ornamented with rubies, and cracked it, thinking to find in it the famous piece of linen, but instead there was a hazel nut; he cracked that and was surprised to see a cherry stone. They looked at each other; the King smiled and laughed at his son for believing that a walnut could contain a piece of linen; but why should he not have believed it, since he had already found a little dog contained in an acorn? He cracked the cherry stone, which contained its kernel; he opened the kernel and found a grain of wheat, and in the grain of wheat a millet seed. In truth, he began to get distrustful, and murmured between his teeth, “Why, Cat, White Cat, you have made game of me.” He felt at that moment a cat’s claw on his hand, which 17 scratched him so severely that he bled. He did not know if this were to encourage him, or to make him lose heart. However, he opened the millet see, and the people were greatly astonished when he drew from it a piece of linen four hundred ells long, so wonderful that all the birds, beasts, and fishes were painted on it, with trees, fruits, and plants of the earth, the rocks, the curiosities and shells of the sea, the sun, moon, stars, and planets of the heavens; further, there were the portraits of the kings and other sovereigns that had reigned in this world. The needle was brought, the piece of linen passed backwards and forwards through the eye six times. The King and the two elder brothers preserved a dismal silence, although the beauty of the linen compelled them to say that nothing in the world could be compared to it.
The King uttered a deep sigh, and turning to his children, said: “Nothing consoles me more in my old age than your deference to my wishes. I therefore desire to put you to further proof. Go and travel for a year, and at the end of that time he who brings back the most beautiful girl shall marry her and be crowned 18 King on his wedding day. It is absolutely necessary that my successor should marry. I swear, I promise, that I will not again put off the reward.”
Our Prince strongly felt the injustice. The little dog and the piece of linen deserved ten kingdoms rather than one, but he was too well bred to oppose his father’s will, and without delay got into the barouche again. The whole procession accompanied him, and he returned to his beloved White Cat. She knew the day and hour of his arrival. The road was strewed with flowers, a thousand perfume-bearers smoked on all sides, and especially in the castle. She was seated on a Persian carpet, under a canopy of cloth of gold, in a gallery whence she could see him coming. He was received by the hands that had always waited on him.
“Well, King’s Son,” she said, “you have again returned without a crown.” “Madam,” he replied, “your kindness has certainly given me the best chance of gaining it, but I am convinced that the King would be more troubled in giving it away than I should be happy in possessing it.” “No matter,” she said, “you must neglect nothing 19 that can make you deserve it. I will help you, and since you must take a beautiful girl to your father’s court, I will find you one who will cause you to win the prize.”
Nothing passes more swiftly than days spent without trouble or care, and if the Cat had not been wise enough to remember the time for returning to the court, it is certain that the Prince would have entirely forgotten it. She told him the evening before that it only rested with him to take to his father one of the most beautiful princesses the world had ever seen; that the time for destroying the fatal work of the fairies had at length arrived, and to do that it was necessary for him to cut off her head and tail, and throw them at once into the fire. “I!” he exclaimed, “White Cat, my love, am I to be cruel enough to kill you? Ah, you doubtless want to prove my heart, but be sure it will never be wanting in the affection and gratitude it owes you.” “No, King’s Son,” she continued, “I do not suspect you of ingratitude — I know your merit; it is neither you nor I who rules our fate in this matter. Do what I wish; we shall both begin to be happy, and you will know on the faith of 20 a rich and honourable Cat that I am indeed your friend.”
The tears came into the Prince’s eyes at the mere thought of cutting off his Cat’s pretty little head. He said everything loving and tender he could think of to dissuade her, but she obstinately replied that she wished to die by his hand, and that it was the only way to prevent his brothers from obtaining the crown; in fact, she urged him so ardently that, trembling, he drew his sword, and with a shaking hand cut off the head and tail of his good friend the Cat. Immediately the most charming change imaginable took place. White Cat’s body grew tall, and suddenly changed into a girl, whose beauty cannot be described; never was there any so perfect. Her eyes enchanted all hearts and her sweetness captivated them. Her stature was majestic, and her bearing noble and modest; her mind was versatile, her manners attractive.
The prince was so surprised that he thought he must be enchanted. He could not speak, he could only look at her, and his tongue was so tied that he could not express his astonishment; but it was a very different thing when he saw an 21 extraordinary number of lords and ladies enter the room, who, with their cat-skins thrown over their shoulders, bowed low to their queen, and testified their joy at seeing her again in her natural state. She received them with marks of kindness that were enough to prove the character of her disposition. And after holding her court for a few moments, she gave orders that she should be left alone with the Prince.
“I already love you more than my life,” said the Queen; “we must go to your father and see what he thinks of me, and if he will consent to what you desire.”
She went out, the Prince took her hand, and she stepped into a chariot more magnificent than those he had hitherto seen. The rest of the equipment equalled it in such a degree that all the horses’ shoes were of emerald with diamond nails. Probably this is the only time such a thing was seen. I do not relate the pleasant conversation of the Queen and the Prince; it was unique in its charm and intelligence, and the young Prince was as perfect as she was, so that their thoughts were most beautiful.
When they were near the castle where the 22 Prince was to meet his brothers, the Queen went inside a little crystal rock whose points were all adorned with rubies and gold. It had curtains all round, so that you could not see it, and it was carried by handsome young men magnificently attired. The Prince remained in the chariot and perceived his brothers walking with very beautiful Princesses. They asked him if he had brought a mistress with him. He said the most beautiful thing he had brought was a little white cat. They began to laugh at his simplicity. “A cat!” they said; “Are you afraid that our palace will be eaten up by mice?”
The elder Princes and their Princesses got into barouches of gold and azure; the horses wore feathers and aigrettes on their heads, and nothing could have been more brilliant than the cavalcade. Our young Prince followed, and then the crystal rock that everybody looked at with admiration.
The courtiers hastened to tell the King that the three Princes had arrived. “Do they bring beautiful women with them?” asked the King. “It is impossible that they should be surpassed,” was the reply. The two Princes entered with their 23 wonderful Princesses. The King welcomed them kindly and did not know to whom to award the prize. He looked at the youngest, and said: “This time you come alone.” “Your Majesty will see in that rock a little white cat,” said the Prince, “which mews so prettily and is so gentle that she will charm you.” The King smiled, and himself opened the rock, but, as he approached it, the Queen by a spring shattered it to pieces, and appeared like the sun which has been for some time hidden by a cloud; her fair hair was flowing over her shoulders, and fell in long curls to her feet; her head was wreathed with flowers; her gown was of a light, white gauze, lined with pink silk; she rose and made the King a low courtesy, who, in the excess of his admiration, could not help exclaiming: “This is the matchless woman who deserves my crown!”
“Sire,” she said, “I am not come to take from you a throne you fill so worthily. I possess, by inheritance, six kingdoms; allow me to offer you one, and give the same to each of your sons. As a reward, I only ask for your affection, and this young Prince for my husband. We shall have quite enough with three kingdoms.” The 24 King and the court uttered cries of joy and astonishment. The marriage was celebrated at once, and also the marriage of the two Princes, so that the court spent many months in amusements and delights. Then each went to rule his own kingdom. The beautiful White Cat was immortalised as much for her goodness and generosity as by her rare merit and beauty.