VERY THING BEING ready, the horns sounded, and away they went; no hunting was ever more agreeable; the cats ran faster than the hares and rabbits; and when they caught any they were hunted in the presence of the white cat, and a thousand cunning tricks were played. Nor were the birds in safety; for the monkey made nothing of climbing up the trees, with the white cat on his back, to the nest of the young eagles. When the hunting was over, the whole retinue returned to the palace; and the white cat immediately exchanged her dragoon's cap for the veil, and sat down to supper with the prince, who, being very hungry, ate heartily, and afterwards partook with her of the most delicious liqueurs, which being often repeated made him forget that he was to procure a little dog for the old king. He thought no longer of any thing but of pleasing the sweet little creature who received him so courteously; accordingly every day was spent in new amusements. The prince had almost forgotten his country and relations, and sometimes even regretted that he was not a cat, so great was his affection for his mewing companions. "Alas!" said he to the white cat, "how will it afflict me to leave you whom I love so much! Either make yourself a lady, or make me a cat." She smiled at the prince's wish, but made him scarcely any reply. At length the twelvemonth was nearly expired; the white cat, who knew the very day when the prince was to reach his father's palace, reminded him that he had but three days longer to look for a perfect little dog. The prince, astonished at his own forgetfulness, began to afflict himself; when the cat told him not to be so sorrowful, since she would not only provide him with a little dog, but also with a wooden horse which should convey him safely in less than twelve hours. "Look here," said she, showing him an acorn, "this contains what you desire." The prince put the acorn to his ear, and heard the barking of a little dog. Transported with joy, he thanked the cat a thousand times, and the next day, bidding her tenderly adieu, he set out on his return.
The prince arrived first at the place of rendezvous, and was soon joined by his brothers; they mutually embraced, and began to give an account of their success; when the youngest showed them only a little mongrel cur, telling them he thought it could not fail to please the king from its extraordinary beauty, the brothers trod on each other's toes under the table; as much as to say, we have not much to fear from this sorry looking animal. The next day they went together to the palace. The dogs of the two elder princes were lying on cushions, and so curiously wrapped around with embroidered quilts, that one would scarcely venture to touch them. The youngest produced his cur, dirty all over, and all wondered how the prince could hope to receive a crown for such a present. The king examined the two little dogs of the elder princes, and declared he thought them so equally beautiful that he knew not to which, with justice, he could give the preference. They accordingly began to dispute; when the youngest prince, taking his acorn from his pocket, soon ended their contention; for a little dog appeared which could with ease go through the smallest ring, and was besides a miracle of beauty. The king could not possibly hesitate in declaring his satisfaction; yet, as he was not more inclined than the year before to part with his crown, he could think of nothing more to his purpose than telling his sons that he was extremely obliged to them for the pains they had taken; and that since they had succeeded so well, he could not but wish they would make a second attempt; he therefore begged they would take another year for procuring him a piece of cambric, so fine as to be drawn through the eye of a small needle.
The three princes thought this very hard; yet they set out in obedience to the king's command. The two eldest took different roads, and the youngest remounted his wooden horse, and in a short time arrived at the palace of his beloved white cat, who received him with the greatest joy, while the trunkless hands helped him to dismount, and provided him with immediate refreshments; after which the prince gave the white cat an account of the admiration which had been bestowed on the beautiful little dog, and informed her of his father's farther injunction. "Make yourself perfectly easy, dear prince," said she, "I have in my palace some cats that are perfectly clever in making such cambric as the king requires; so you have nothing to do but to give me the pleasure of your company while it is making; and I will procure you all the amusement possible." She accordingly ordered the most curious fireworks to be played off in sight of the window of the apartment in which they were sitting; and nothing but festivity and rejoicing was heard throughout the palace for the prince's return. As the white cat continually gave proofs of an excellent understanding, the prince was by no means tired of her company; she talked with him of state affairs, of theatres, of fashions; in short, she was at a loss on no subject whatever; so that when the prince was alone, he had plenty of amusement in thinking how it could possibly be that a small white cat could be endowed with all the powers of human creatures.
The twelvemonth in this manner again passed insensibly away; but the cat took care to remind the prince of his duty in proper time. "For once, my prince," said she, "I will have the pleasure of equipping you as suits your high rank;" when looking into the courtyard, he saw a superb car, ornamented all over with gold, silver, pearls and diamonds, drawn by twelve horses as white as snow, and harnessed in the most sumptuous trappings; and behind the car a thousand guards richly apparelled were in waiting to attend on the prince's person. She then presented him with a nut: "You will find in it," said she, "the piece of cambric I promised you. Do not break the shell till you are in the presence of the king your father." Then, to prevent the acknowledgments which the prince was about to offer, she hastily bade him adieu. Nothing could exceed the speed with which the snow-white horses conveyed this fortunate prince to his father's palace, where his brothers had just arrived before him. They embraced each other, and demanded an immediate audience of the king, who received them with the greatest kindness. The princes hastened to place at the feet of his majesty the curious present he had required them to procure. The eldest produced a piece of cambric that was so extremely fine, that his friends had no doubt of its passing the eye of the needle, which was now delivered to the king, having been kept locked up in the custody of his majesty's treasurer all the time, Every one supposed he would certainly obtain the crown. But when the king tried to draw it through the eye of the needle, it would not pass, though it failed but very little. Then came the second prince, who made as sure of obtaining the crown as his brother had done; but, alas! with no better success: for though his piece of cambric was exquisitely fine, yet it could not be drawn through the eye of the needle. It was now the youngest prince's turn, who accordingly advanced, and opening an elegant little box inlaid with jewels, he took out a walnut, and cracked the shell, imagining he should immediately perceive his piece of cambric; but what was his astonishment to see nothing but a filbert! He did not however lose his hopes; he cracked the filbert, and it presented him with a cherry-stone. The lords of the court, who had assembled to witness this extraordinary trial, could not, any more than the princes his brothers, refrain from laughing, to think he should be so silly as to claim with them the crown on no better pretensions. The prince however cracked the cherry-stone, which was filled with a kernel: he divided it, and found in the middle a grain of wheat, and in that grain a millet seed. He was now absolutely confounded, and could not help muttering between his teeth: "O white cat, white cat, thou hast deceived me!" At this instant he felt his hand scratched by the claw of a cat: upon which he again took courage, and opening the grain of millet seed, to the astonishment of all present, he drew forth a piece of cambric four hundred yards long, and fine enough to be drawn with perfect ease through the eye of the needle. When the king found he had no pretext left for refusing the crown to his youngest son, he sighed deeply, and it was easy to be seen that he was sorry for the prince's success. "My sons," said he, "it is so gratifying to the heart of a father to receive proofs of his children's love and obedience, that I cannot refuse myself the satisfaction of requiring of you one thing more. You must undertake another expedition; and whichever, by the end of a year, brings me the most beautiful lady, shall marry her, and obtain my crown."
So they again took leave of the king and of each other, and set out without delay, and in less than twelve hours our young prince arrived in his splendid car at the palace of his dear white cat. Every thing went on as before, till the end of another year. At length only one day remained of the year, when the white cat thus addressed him: "To-morrow, my prince, you must present yourself at the palace of your father, and give him a proof of your obedience. It depends only on yourself to conduct thither the most beautiful princess ever yet beheld, for the time is come when the enchantment by which I am bound may be ended. You must cut off my head and tail," continued she, "and throw them into the fire." "I!" said the prince hastily, "I cut off your head and tail! You surely mean to try my affection, which, believe me, beautiful cat, is truly yours." "You mistake me, generous prince," said she, "I do not doubt your regard; but if you wish to see me in any other form than that of a cat, you must consent to do as I desire. Then you will have done me a service I shall never be able sufficiently to repay." The prince's eyes filled with tears as she spoke, yet he considered himself obliged to undertake the dreadful task, and the cat continuing to press him with greater eagerness, with a trembling hand he drew his sword, cut off her head and tail, and threw them into the fire. No sooner was this done, than the most beautiful lady his eyes had ever seen stood before him: and before he had sufficiently recovered from his surprise to speak to her, a long train of attendants, who, at the same moment as their mistress, were changed to their natural shapes, came to offer their congratulations to the queen, and inquire her commands. She received them with the greatest kindness; and ordering them to withdraw, she thus addressed the astonished prince. "Do not imagine, dear prince, that I have always been a cat, or that I am of obscure birth. My father was the monarch of six kingdoms; he tenderly loved my mother, leaving her always at liberty to follow her own inclinations. Her prevailing passion was to travel; and a short time before my birth, having heard of some fairies who were in possession of the largest gardens filled with the most delicious fruits, she had so strong a desire to eat some of them, that she set out for the country in which they lived. She arrived at their abode which she found to be a magnificent palace, on all sides glittering with gold and precious stones. She knocked a long time at the gates; but no one came, nor could she perceive the least sign that it had any inhabitant. The difficulty, however, did but increase the violence of my mother's longing; for she saw the tops of the trees above the garden walls loaded with the most luscious fruits. The queen, in despair, ordered her attendants to place tents close to the door of the palace; but having waited six weeks, without seeing any one pass the gates, she fell sick of vexation, and her life was despaired of.