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                                                     PUSS AND BOOTS


ONCE upon a time there was a miller, who was so poor that at his death he had
nothing to leave to his three children but his mill, his ass, and his cat. The eldest
son took the mill, and the second the ass, so there was nothing left for poor Jack
but to take Puss.


Jack could not help thinking that he had been treated shabbily. "My brothers
will be able to earn an honest livelihood," he sighed, "but as for me, though Puss
may feed himself by catching mice, I shall certainly die of hunger."
The cat, who had overheard his young master, jumped upon his shoulder, and,
rubbing himself gently against his cheek, began to speak. "Dear master," said he,
"do not grieve. I am not as useless as you think-me, and will undertake to make
your fortune for you, if only you will buy me a pair of boots, and give me that old
bag."


Now, Jack had very little money to spare, but, knowing Puss to be a faithful old
friend, he made up his mind to trust him, and so spent all he possessed upon a
smart pair of boots made of buff-colored leather. They fitted perfectly, so Puss put
them on, took the old bag which his master gave him, and trotted off to a
neighboring warren in which he knew there was a great number of rabbits.
Having put some bran and fresh parsley into the bag, he laid it upon the
ground, hid himself, and waited. Presently two foolish little rabbits, sniffing the
food, ran straight into the bag,' when the clever cat drew the strings and caught
them.


Then, slinging the bag over his shoulder, he hastened off to the palace, where
he asked to speak to the King. Having been shown into the royal presence, he
bowed and said:


"Sire, my Lord the Marquis of Carabas has commanded me to present these
rabbits to your Majesty, with his respects."


The monarch having desired his thanks to be given to the Marquis (who, as
you will guess, was really our poor Jack), then ordered his head cook to dress the
rabbits for dinner, and he and his daughter partook of them with great enjoyment.
Day by day Puss brought home stores of good food, so that he and his master
lived in plenty, and besides that, he did not fail to keep the King and his courtiers
well supplied with game.


Sometimes he would lay a brace of partridges at the royal feet, sometimes a
fine large hare, but whatever it was, it always came with the same message: "From
my Lord the Marquis of Carabas"; so that everyone at Court was talking of this
strange nobleman, whom no one had ever seen, but who sent such generous
presents to his Majesty.


At length Puss decided that it was time for his master to be introduced at Court.
So one day he persuaded him to go and bathe in a river near, having heard that
the King would soon pass that way. Jack stood shivering up to his neck in water,
wondering what was to happen next, when suddenly the King's carriage appeared in sight. At once Puss began to call out as loudly as he could:


"Help, help! My Lord the Marquis of Carabas is drowning!"


The King put his head out of the carriage window and, recognizing the cat,
ordered his attendants to go to the assistance of the Marquis. While Jack was being
taken out of the water, Puss ran to the King and told him that some robbers had run
off with his master's clothes whilst he was bathing, the truth of the matter being that
the cunning cat had hidden them under a stone.


On hearing this story the King instantly despatched one of his grooms to fetch
a handsome suit of purple and gold from the royal wardrobe, and arrayed in this,
Jack, who was a fine, handsome fellow, looked so well that no one for a moment
supposed but that he was some noble foreign lord.


The King and his daughter were so pleased with his appearance that they
invited him into their carriage. At first Jack hesitated, for he felt a little shy about
sitting next to a Princess, but she smiled at him so sweetly, and was so kind and
gentle, that he soon forgot his fears and fell in love with her there and then.
As soon as Puss had seen his master seated in the royal carriage, he whispered
directions to the coachman, and then ran on ahead as fast as he could trot, until he
came to a field of corn, where the reapers were busy.


"Reapers," said he fiercely, "the King will shortly pass this way. If he should ask
you to whom this field belongs, remember that you say, 'To the Marquis of
Carabas.' If you dare to disobey me, I will have you all chopped up as fine as
mincemeat." The reapers were so afraid the cat would keep his word that they
promised to obey. Puss then ran on and told all the other laborers whom he met to
give the same answer, threatening them with terrible punishments if they disobeyed.
Now, the King was in a very good humor, for the day was fine, and he found the
Marquis a very pleasant companion, so he told the coachman to drive slowly, in
order that he might admire the beautiful country. "What a fine field of wheat!" he
said presently. "To whom does it belong?" Then the men answered as they had
been told: "To our Lord the Marquis of Carabas." Next they met a herd of cattle, and
again to the King's question, "To whom do they belong?" they Were told, "To the
Marquis of Carabas." And it was the same with everything they passed.


The Marquis listened with the greatest astonishment, and thought what a very
wonderful cat his dear Puss was; and the King was delighted to find that his new
friend was as wealthy as he was charming.


Meanwhile Puss, who was well in advance of the Royal party, had arrived at a
stately castle, which belonged to a cruel Ogre, the richest ever known, for all the
lands the King had admired so much belonged to him. Puss knocked at the door
and asked to see the Ogre, who received him quite civilly, for he had never seen
a cat in boots before, and the sight amused him.


So he and Puss were soon chatting away together.


The Ogre, who was very conceited, began to boast of what clever tricks he could
play, and Puss sat and listened, with a smile on his face.
"I once heard, great Ogre," he said at last, "that you possessed the power of
changing yourself into any kind of animal you chose--a lion or an elephant, for
instance."


"Well, so I can," replied the Ogre.


"Dear me! how much I should like to see you do it now," said Puss sweetly.


The Ogre was only too pleased to find a chance of showing how very clever he
was, so he promised to transform himself into any animal Puss might mention.


"Oh! I will leave the choice to you," said the cat politely. Immediately there
appeared where the Ogre had been seated, an enormous lion, roaring, and lashing
with its tail, and looking as though it meant to gobble the cat up in a trice.
Puss was really very much frightened, and, jumping out of the window, managed
to scramble on to the roof, though he could scarcely hold on to the tiles on account
of his high-heeled boots.


There he sat, refusing to come down, until the Ogre changed himself into his
natural form, and laughingly called to him that he would not hurt him.
Then Puss ventured back into the room, and began to compliment the Ogre on
his cleverness.


"Of course, it was all very wonderful," he said, "but it would be more wonderful
still if you, who are so great and fierce, could transform yourself into some timid little
creature, such as a mouse. That, I suppose, would be quite impossible ?"


"Not at all," said the vain Ogre; "one is quite as easy to me as the other, as I will
show you." And in a moment a little brown mouse was frisking about all over the
floor, whilst the Ogre had vanished.


"Now or never," said Puss, and with a spring he seized the mouse and gobbled
it up as fast as he could.


At the same moment all the gentlemen and ladies whom the wicked Ogre had
held in his castle under a spell, became disenchanted. They were so grateful to
their deliverer that they would have done anything to please him, and readily
agreed to enter into the service of the Marquis of Carabas when Puss asked them
to do so.


So now the cat had a splendid castle, which he knew to be full of heaped-up
treasures, at his command, and ordering a magnificent feast to be prepared, he
took up his station at the castle gates to welcome his master and the royal party.
As soon as the castle appeared in sight, the King enquired whose it was, "For,"
said he, "I have never seen a finer."


Then Puss, bowing low, threw open the castle gates, and cried:


"May it please your Majesty to alight and enter the home of the most noble the
Marquis of Carabas."


Full of surprise, the King turned to the Marquis. "Is this splendid castle indeed
yours?" he asked. "Not even our own palace is more beautiful, and doubtless it is
as splendid within as without."


Puss then helped his Majesty to alight, and conducted him into the castle, where
a group of noble gentlemen and fair ladies were waiting to receive them. Jack, or
the Marquis as he was now called, gave his hand to the young Princess, and led
her to the banquet.


Long and merrily they feasted, and when at length the guests rose to depart,
the King embraced the Marquis, and called him his dear son; and the Princess
blushed so charmingly and looked so shy and sweet, that Jack ventured to lay his
heart and fortune at her feet.


And so the miller's son married the King's daughter, and there were great
rejoicings throughout the land.


On the evening of the wedding-day a great ball was given, to which princes and
noblemen from far and near were invited. Puss opened the ball, wearing for the
occasion a pair of boots made of the finest leather, with gold tassels and scarlet
heels. I only wish you could have seen him.


When the old King died, the Princess and her husband reigned in his stead, and
their most honored and faithful friend at Court was Puss himself, for his master
never forgot to whom he owed all his good fortune: He lived upon the daintiest meat
and most delicious cream, and was petted and made much of all the days of his life,
and never again ran after mice and rats, except for exercise and amusement.

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AUTHOR UNKNOWN
FROM THE BOOK:
<THE YOUNG FOLKS TREASURY>
VOLUME 1
THE UNIVERSITY SOCIETY INC.
1909

 

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