HERE WAS ONCE a King who had three sons, all handsome and brave, but it came to his ears that they wished to reign now instead of waiting until he died, he therefore determined to divert their minds by making promises the fulfilment of which he would always be able to evade. So he called them to his room and spoke: "You must agree with me, my dear children, that at my great age I cannot manage the business of my kingdom as I used to do, and as I am intending retiring into the country, it seems to me that a clever, faithful dog would be very good company, and I promise you that whichever brings me the most beautiful little dog at once succeeds to the kingdom."
|THE BODY OF THE WHITE CAT GREW LARGE AND WAS TRANSFORMED INTO THAT OF A GIRL.|
The Princes were much surprised to hear their father's wish for a little dog, but agreed with pleasure to go in search of one. They said goodbye to the King, who gave them money and jewels, announcing that in a year he should expect them to return, all on the same day and at the same hour, bringing to him their little dogs.
Then the Princes set out, each by a different road, agreeing in a year's time to meet at a certain place a short distance from their home.
The two elder met with many adventures, but it is only the youngest that we shall follow.
This youngest Prince was very courteous, merry, clever and accomplished, he was tall, handsome, and all that a prince should be.
Very seldom a day passed without his buying dogs, little dogs, big dogs, sporting dogs, spaniels, hounds, dogs of all sorts. When he found a beautiful one and then came across a still better, he let the first one go, for being alone—the Princes had declined to take any attendants—he could not take charge of thirty or forty thousand dogs.
He travelled on, keeping to one road, until on a certain night, during a storm of thunder and rain, he lost his way, and after some wandering arrived at a most superb castle where nobody was to be seen but about a dozen hands all holding torches. Other hands pushed him forwards, and guided him through one apartment after another, all so rich in precious stones and beautiful paintings, that it was like enchantment.
After passing through sixty rooms, the hands stopped him, and here the wet garments of the Prince were taken away, and he was clad in raiment of the most exquisite description. The hands then conducted him into a banqueting hall, where entered a little figure, not two feet high, covered with a long black crepe veil, followed by a great procession of cats.
The Prince was too much astonished to move. The little figure approached him, raising the veil, and he saw the most beautiful White Cat he had ever beheld.
Addressing the Prince she said:
"King's son! welcome! my Feline Majesty sees you with pleasure!"
"Madame Cat," replied the Prince, "it is very good of you to receive me thus, but you are not an ordinary cat; being able to speak, and possessing this superb castle, are proof of that."
After they had conversed a little while, supper was served to them, during which the Prince entertained the Cat by telling her all sorts of news, and he discovered that she was well informed as to what was taking place in the world.
Supper over, various cats came in, dressed in fancy costumes, and danced a ballet, then the White Cat bid her visitor good-night, and the hands which had conducted him before, led him to a bed-chamber.
Early the next morning the hands awoke him, and dressing him in a handsome hunting costume, led him to the courtyard, where he found the White Cat upon a splendid monkey, with about five hundred other cats assembled, all ready for the chase; and never had the Prince enjoyed anything so much, for although mounted only upon a wooden horse, he rode at a great pace.
Day after day passed in such delights as made the Prince almost forget his own country.
"Alas!" said he to the White Cat again and again, "how sad I shall be to leave you! I love you so dearly! Either become a woman, or change me into a cat!"
A year passes very quickly when one has no care or trouble, and is enjoying life. But the White Cat knew when the Prince should return home, and reminded him, saying, "Don't you know you have only three days to look for the little dog for your father, and that your brothers will have found the most beautiful?"
Then the Prince came to himself, and cried, "By what charm have you made me forget what is so important? Where shall I find the dog, and a horse swift enough for such a journey?" And he was in great distress.
The White Cat comforted him, however, saying that the wooden horse would take him to his journey's end sufficiently quickly, and that she would herself also provide the little dog; then she handed to him a walnut, saying, "Put your ear to this shell and you will hear him barking."
So the Prince met his brothers, and they came into the King's presence.
The two elder sons had brought little dogs so delicate and small that one hardly dared to touch them, and none could decide which should have the kingdom. Then the youngest took from his pocket the nut the Cat had given to him, and there was seen a little dog so tiny that it could go through a ring without touching it; he was also able to dance, and play the castanets, while his ears touched the ground. The King was embarassed, for it was impossible to find a flaw in this lovely little creature.
However as he did not desire to part with his crown, he declared that they had succeeded so well in their first quest that now he should like them to search, by land and sea, for a piece of linen so fine that it would pass through the eye of a very small needle.
Then the three Princes set out once more, but the youngest mounted his wooden horse and repaired at once to the White Cat, who was rejoiced to see him, and the second year passed by as the first had done.
When the day came round appointed by the King for the return of his sons, the two elder appeared before him, and, without awaiting the arrival of their brother, displayed their pieces of linen, which were of a fineness quite astonishing. But although they would pass through the eye of a large needle, through the small needle the King had selected they would not go.
There was much murmuring at this, and while the brothers were disputing the King's decision, a charming sound was heard of trumpets and other musical instruments.
It was the youngest Prince who arrived in a chariot with out-riders and numerous attendants, all of which had been provided for him by the White Cat.
After respectfully greeting his father and embracing his brothers, he took out of a jewelled box a nut which he broke. On breaking the nut he found a cherry stone, the stone was broken and there was the kernel, in the kernel was a grain of corn, in the grain of corn a millet seed, and within that a piece of linen so fine that it passed six times through the smallest needle's eye, and moreover on it were exquisite paintings of people and places without number.
The King heaved a deep sigh, and turning to his children said,
"Nothing pleases me, in my old age, so much as your deference to my desires, and I wish to prove you once more. Travel for a year, and he who at the end of the year brings home the most beautiful girl shall marry her, and be crowned king on his marriage. I promise you that I will not defer this reward any longer."