UR PRINCE SAW the injustice of all this; his little dog and piece of linen were worth ten kingdoms, not only one; but he was too well brought up to go against his father's wishes, and, mounting into his chariot, with his retinue, he returned to the White Cat's Castle.
"Well! King's son!" said the White Cat, "you have returned once more without your crown?"
"Madam," answered the Prince, "your gifts should have gained it for me, but I am convinced that the King would have more pain in giving it up than I should have pleasure in possessing it!"
"Never mind," she replied, "you shall not neglect anything that may deserve it; and if you must conduct a beautiful girl to your father's court, I will look for one so that you may gain the prize. Meanwhile let us be happy."
If the Cat had not taken pains to remember the time when he must return to the court, the Prince would surely have forgotten it. On the evening before, she told him that she would bring him to one of the most beautiful Princesses in the world, that at last the hour had arrived to destroy the fatal work of an evil fairy, and to do this he must make up his mind to cut off her head and tail, which he was at once to throw into the fire.
"I," cried the Prince, "Blanchette that I love: do you think I should be cruel enough to kill you? No doubt, you wish to prove my heart which will certainly never forget what I owe to you for your kindness."
"No! King's son," she continued, "I don't think you are ungrateful. Do this that I beseech you, and then we shall begin to be happy with one another, by the faith and honour of a cat, believe that I am truly your friend."
Tears flowed from the Prince's eyes even at the thought, and he said all that he could to avoid it, but she urged him so vehemently that at last he took his sword and tremblingly cut off the head and tail of his dear friend the Cat.
In the same moment took place the most marvellous change imaginable.
The body of the White Cat grew large, and was transformed into that of a girl; how, one could not say; one only knew it was so. Her figure was majestic, her manners charming, her whole appearance beautiful beyond words.
Then there entered an immense number of lords and ladies, who carrying their cats' skins, or with them thrown across their shoulders, came and cast themselves at the feet of the Queen, expressing their joy at seeing her again in her rightful form.
She received them all with a kindness which showed the goodness of her heart, and then turning to the Prince she told the story of her life, and how by a wicked enchantment she had been transformed into a White Cat.
"But it is you, my Prince, who have freed me," she concluded; "as soon as I saw you I knew my troubles were at an end."
They set out forthwith in a splendid carriage. As they drew near the castle, at the place where the three brothers were to meet, the Queen entered into a little crystal rock ornamented with precious stones, and this was carried by richly dressed young men.
The Prince who had remained in the carriage, saw his brothers, approaching with wondrously beautiful ladies.
On being questioned he told them that all he had brought was a little White Cat.
They began to laugh at him, and drove on followed by the young Prince, while after him was brought the crystal rock.
Arrived at the Palace the two elder Princes dismounted with their marvellous Princesses.
The King received them graciously, and did not know to which to award the prize.
He looked at his youngest son and said, "This time, then, you have come alone." "Your Majesty will see in this rock a little White Cat who mews sweetly and has soft little velvet paws," answered the Prince.
The King smiled, and himself went to open the rock. But, as he came near, the Queen, with a touch, made it shatter to pieces, and from out of it she appeared like the sun that has been hidden by clouds; her fair hair was spread over her shoulders, and fell in waves to her feet, and she was robed in a gown of white and rose-colour.
She made a deep curtsey to the King who, struck with admiration, could not help exclaiming,
"Here is one who is matchless, and she deserves my crown."
"Sire," she answered, "I have not come to take away the throne that you fill with such dignity; I was born heir to six kingdoms, allow me to offer you one, and one of them I give to each of your sons. In return all I ask of you is this young Prince for my husband. We shall still have three kingdoms."
The King and all the Court uttered loud cries of joy. The marriage was at once celebrated, also that of the other two Princes; and in such a manner that the Court spent several months in fÍtes of all sorts.
Then each one of them departed to govern his kingdom, the White Cat making herself ever remembered as much by her kindness and generosity as by her rare merit and beauty.