OLD CAT STORIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Here you will find various faerie stories from different countries, but they all have something in common - cats play an important role in each story.
THE BABY'S BREATH
Long, long ago in parts of Europe, it was believed that fairy folk stole babies from their cribs and left in their place a fairy child. They were called changelings and were unhappy in the human world. A fairy child grew up wild and fey, always looking for a way back into the summerlands; its green or blue eyes were slanted a little and its ears were a little more pointed than normal. And a changeling had a strange way of looking at the world, as though looking through the world to something hidden beyond.
But how? I hear you ask. How could fairies steal away babies?
Long ago, when fairies walked invisible in the world, only cats could see the fey folk. When a cat sat silently watching and there was nothing there to see, it was watching the fairies about their business. And when a cat sat on a mother's lap, the sound of the cat's purring was the sound of it spinning sleep so that the fairies could steal away her child to be their toy.
The purr was like the sound of spinning wheels steadily spinning and that's what it was - as humans slept in an enchanted sleep spun by a purring cat, the fairies stole away the human infant and left one of their own in its place.
It was in the cat's nature to be attracted to a changeling infant and to suck its breath as payment for spinning sleep. So at night, the cat settled down in the changeling's crib and sucked the changeling baby's warm milky breath. Sometimes a greedy cat stole too much of the baby's breath and the parents grieved over the child, not realising that their own baby had been stolen away long time before.
The ancient compact between cats and fairies ended long time ago when the wise cats realised that humans offered a far more comfortable home. Cats still sit and watch fairies about their invisible business, but they no longer spin sleep so that fairies can steal away human children to be their toys. Cats still like the warmth of a baby's crib and are still accused of stealing a baby's breath.
And of course, cats still purr like steady spinning wheels. When a cat is contented it purrs to itself in satisfaction, knowing that it has a far better compact with human folk than with fairy folk. In modern times, a cat only spins sleep if you let it.
THE CAT AND THE MOUSE IN PARTNERSHIP
A cat once became such good friends with a mouse that she invited the mouse to live with her. The mouse agreed to move in and to share with the housekeeping. However they agreed not to leave the house each without the other unless by mutual agreement. "We must provide for the winter or else go hungry," said the Cat, "but it is too dangerous for you to go looking for food in case you run into a mouse-trap."
The cat's advice was followed and they bought a little pot of fat, but they did not know where to put it. After a long discussion, the Cat said, "We can hide it safely in a corner of the church where no-one will disturb it. We won't touch it until we need it."
So they hid the little pot of fat in the church, but it wasn't long before the cat had a great longing to lick some fat. She said to the Mouse, "My cousin has just had a little son, white with brown spots, and she wants me to be the godmother. I will go to the christening while you look after the house - it would be dangerous for you to come with me as the other cats would surely eat you!"
"Certainly," replied the Mouse, "and when you eat anything good, think of me. If possible, I should very much like a drop of the red christening wine."
But the Cat had no cousin, and had not been asked to be godmother. She went straight to the church and licked the top off the little pot of fat. Then went walking and sunning herself on the roofs of the town, licking her lips whenever she thought of the little pot of fat. When evening came, she returned home.
"Did you have an enjoyable day?" the mouse asked her.
"Indeed," said the cat, "It all went very well." And of course, that was the truth.
"What was the child's name?" asked the mouse.
"Top Off," replied the cat drily.
"What a curious name!" exclaimed the mouse, "Is it a traditional name in you family?"
"What's odd about the name?" the cat asked, blinking, "It's no more curious than 'Breadthief' as your godchild is called."
Soon after, the cat had another great longing for some fat and she once more asked the mouse to take care of the house, "I have been asked a second time to be a godmother, and of course I cannot refuse as the child has a white ring around its neck."
The kind mouse agreed and the untruthful cat slunk under the town wall to the church where she ate up half of the pot of fat. "Nothing tastes better than what one eats by oneself," she said, greatly pleased with her day's work. Then she went sunning herself on the town roofs before returning home.
"What was this child named?" asked the mouse.
"Half Gone," answered the cat.
"Halfgone?!" exclaimed the mouse, "What a name! Why I have never heard such a name in my life."
Soon after, the cat once more had a great longing for some fat and she said to the mouse, "All good things come in threes and I have been asked to be godmother to my cousin's third child as well. It is coal black and has snow white paws, but not a single white hair on its body. Such a thing only happens once in two years, so you will let me go out?"
"Topoff! Halfgone!" said the mouse, "Such curious names and they make me very thoughtful."
"Oh, you sit here at home in your dark grey coat and your long tail," said the cat, "and it makes you fanciful. That comes of not going out in the day!"
The mouse cleaned and swept the house while the cat was gone, but the untruthful cat ate up every last bit of the fat and said, "When it is all gone one can be at rest" before returning home sleek and satisfied.
"And what did they name this child?" asked the mouse, "Something as curious as the others?"
"It won't please you any better," the cat told her, "they called him Clean Gone."
"Cleangone!" exclaimed the mouse, "Why don't believe such a name exists! Cleangone indeed! What can it mean?"
The mouse shook her head and curled up to sleep. From that time one, no-one asked the cat to be godmother, but when the winter came and there was no food to be got outside, the mouse remembered their precious pot of fat safely hidden in the church and said, "Come, cat, let's go to our pot of fat - it will taste very good."
"Indeed," answered the Cat, "it will taste as good to you as if you stretched your thin tongue out of the window," meaning that empty air has no taste at all.
When they reached the church, they found the pot in its place, but quite empty and the mouse guessed what had been happening each time the cat had gone to a christening.
"Now I know what has happened, you false friend!" she cried, "First you ate the top off, then half of it gone and then …"
"be silent!" hissed the cat, "Another word and I will eat you up as well."
But the word "Cleangone" was already on the poor mouse's tongue, and scarcely was it out than the cat punced on her and swallowed her whole.
"All gone," said the cat to herself. You see that is the way of the world.
THE WITCH'S CAT
Once upon a time there was a peasant whose wife had died and left him with two children; a twin boy and a twin girl. He decided to marry again and over the next few years his new wife had several children of her own, but she neglected and beat the twins and wanted nothing better than to get rid of them. Finally, she had a wicked thought and decided to send them out into the great gloomy wood where a wicked witch lived.
One morning she told the twins, "You have been such good children that I am sending you to visit my granny, who lives in a dear little hut in the wood. You will have to wait upon her and serve her, but she will give you the best of everything in return."
The children left the house together, but the little sister said to her brother, "First we will visit own dear grandmother and tell her where our step-mother is sending us." Which they did.
Their grandmother cried, "I wish I could help you, but I am old and poor. Your step-mother is sending you to the wicked witch of the wood. Listen to me - be civil and kind to everyone, never say a cross word to anyone and never touch a crumb belonging to anyone else. Help may be sent to you after all."
She gave them a bottle of milk, some ham and a loaf of bread and they set out for the wood. There they saw a queer little hut and knocked on the door.
"Who's there?"' snarled the witch in an awful voice.
"Good-morning, granny. Our step-mother has sent us to wait upon you, and serve you."
"If I am pleased with you, I'll reward you. If not, I'll cook you in my oven! See that you work hard!" growled the witch.
She set the girl down to spin yarn and she gave the boy a sieve in which to carry water from the well, then she herself went out into the wood. The girl sat weeping at the spinning wheel because she didn't know how to spin. Presently she heard the pattering of hundreds of little feet, and from every hole in the hut mice came squeaking: "Don't cry little girl. We'll help you if you give us some of your bread."
The girl gave them some the bread and the mice began to spin the yarn. The mice told her that the witch's grey cat would tell her how to escape if she gave it some of her ham. She went to find the cat, but instead she found her brother sobbing because the water kept running out of the sieve. Then they heard rustling wings and a flight of wrens alighted and said said, "If you give us some crumbs we'll help you keep that water in the sieve."
So they gave their remaining crumbs of bread to the wrens and the wrens showed the boy how to fill the holes of the sieve with clay to make it water-tight. They carried the water inside the hut without spilling a drop. Inside the hut they found the cat curled up on the floor, so they stroked her and gave her some ham and asked, "Pussy, grey pussy, how are we to get away from the witch?"
The cat thanked them for the ham and gave them a handkerchief and a comb. She told them that when the witch chased them, as she certainly would, they must throw the handkerchief on the ground and run as fast as they could. As soon as the handkerchief touched the ground, a deep broad river would spring up to hinder the witch's progress. If the witch managed to cross the river, they must throw the comb behind them and run for their lives, for where the comb fell a dense forest would start up, which would delay the witch so long that they would be able to get safely away. The cat had scarcely finished speaking when the witch returned.
"You have done your work well enough for today," she grumbled, "but tomorrow you'll have something more difficult to do, and if you fail it will be straight into the oven with you."
The terrified children barely slept a wink on their pile of straw. In the morning the witch gave the girl two pieces of linen to weave before night, and gave the boy a pile of wood to cut into chips. Then she went out into the wood. As soon as she was out of sight, the children took the comb and handkerchief and ran hand-in-hand away from the hut.
First they met the witch's fierce watch-dog, but they threw their remaining bread and ham to him and he let them go past. Then they were hindered by the tangled birch-trees, but little sister tied the twigs together with her ribbons, and they passed safely. At last they reached open fields. Meanwhile, the cat was busy weaving the linen and tangling the threads as it wove. When the witch returned to see how the children were getting on she crept up to the window and whispered, "Are you weaving, my little dear?"
"Yes, granny, I am weaving," answered the cat.
The angry witch saw that the children had escaped and began beating the cat. "Why did you let the children leave the hut? Why did you not scratch their eyes out?"
The cat hissed, "I have served you all these years and you never even threw me a bone, but the dear children gave me their own piece of ham."
Then the witch was furious with the watch-dog and with the birch-trees for letting the children escape. The dog told her "I have served you all these years and you never gave me so much as a hard crust, but the dear children gave me bread and ham." The birch tree rustled its leaves and said "I have served you longer than I can say with twigs for your broom, and you never tied a bit of twine even round my branches, but the dear children bound them up with bright ribbons."
The witch mounted on her broom and set off after the children, her broom sweeping the ground as it went. The children heard the sound of the broom close behind them and they threw the handkerchief over their shoulder. In an instant, a deep, broad river flowed behind them. It took the witch a long time to find a safe place to cross, but at last she found a place and she chased faster than before. When the children heard the broom behind them, they threw the comb down on the ground. In an instant, as the witch's cat had promised, a dense forest sprung up. It was so thick and tangled that the witch found there was nothing for it but to turn round and go back to her hut.
The twins ran until they reached their own home where they told their father what had happened. In anger, he drove their step-mother out of the house forever and he never again let a stranger into the house.
THE BRONZE RING
Once upon a time there lived a king whose palace was surrounded by a spacious garden. In spite of good soil and many gardeners, the garden never grew trees or plants, fruit or flowers. The king was in despair. One day, a wise old man told the king ""Your gardeners do not understand their business; they don't know how to cultivate gardens because their fathers were carpenters and cobblers. You need a gardener whose father and grandfather were gardeners before him. Then your garden will be full fruit and flowers."
The King sent messengers to every town and village in the land to look for a gardener father and grandfather had been gardeners before him. For forty days they searched until the found such a gardener. The man protested that he was poor and owed money, but the king gave him new clothes and paid his debts and insisted he become the royal gardener. The man had no difficulty in making the royal garden produce fruit and flowers and after a year the king showered gifts on him.
The gardener had a handsome and well-mannered son whose job it was to take the best fruit to the king and the choicest flowers to the king's sixteen year old daughter, the princess. The king considered it time his princess should marry and he had chosen the prime minister's son to be her husband.
"I will never marry the prime minister's son," protested the princess, "I love the gardener's son."
The king became very angry and then very sad. He declared that such a husband was not worthy of his daughter, but the Princess was determined to marry the gardener's son. So the king consulted his ministers.
"This is what you must do," they told him, "To get rid of the gardener you must send both suitors to a very distant country. The one who returns first shall marry your daughter."
The King followed this advice. He gave the minister's son a splendid horse and a purse full of gold. He gave the gardener's son an old lame horse and a purse full of copper coins. Everyone thought the gardener's son would never come back from his journey.
The day before they started the Princess met her lover and said, "Take this purse full of jewels and make the best use you can of them for love of me. Come back quickly and demand my hand."
The two suitors left the town together, but the minister's son went off at a gallop on his good horse was soon far out of sight. After some days he reached a fountain beside which sat a ragged old woman.
"Good morning young traveller," said the old woman, but the minister's son didn't reply. "Pity me, young man," she said, "I am dying of hunger; I've been here three days and no one has given me anything."
"Go away, old witch," replied the minister's son, "I can do nothing for you." With that he went on his way.
Much later that day the gardener's reached the fountain upon his old lame horse.
"Good-day, young traveller," said the beggar-woman, "Have pity on me for I've eaten nothing these past three days."
"Good-day, good woman," replied the gardener's son, "Take my purse and mount behind me, for your legs can't be very strong."
The old woman mounted behind him and in this style they reached the chief city of a powerful kingdom. The minister's son was lodged in a grand inn while the gardener's son and the old woman dismounted at the inn for beggars. The next day the gardener's son heard a great noise in the street, and the King's heralds passed, and crying: "The King is old and infirm. He will give a great reward to whoever will cure him and give him back the strength of his youth."
The old beggar-woman said to the gardener's son, "Go out of the town by the south gate, and there you will find three little dogs of different colours: one white, one black and one red. You must kill them and then burn them separately, and gather up the ashes. Put the ashes of each dog into a bag of its own colour, then go before the door of the palace and cry out 'A celebrated physician has come to cure the king and give him back the strength of his youth.' The king's physicians will call you an impostor before you can see the king himself. You must then demand as much wood as three mules can carry, and a great cauldron, and must shut yourself up in a room with the king. When the cauldron boils you must throw him into it and let him cook until his flesh is completely separated from his bones. Then arrange the bones in their proper places and throw the ashes out of the three bags over the bones. The King will come back to life as a young man. For your reward you must demand the bronze ring which has the power to grant you everything you desire."
The gardener's son followed the old woman's directions. First he killed and burnt the three dogs and gathered up their ashes. Then he presented himself to the palace as a physician. When he won admittance to see the king he carried out the old woman's instructions and from the boiled bones the king rose up as a young, vigourous man. The king offered him many treasures, but the gardener's son insisted on the magical bronze ring.
After bidding farewell to the old woman, the gardener's son instructed the bronze ring to prepare a splendid ship of silver and gold in which to continue his journey, a cargo of precious jewels and a crew of fine handsome sailors. In this ship he sailed to a great town and established himself in a fine palace. After a few days he met his rival, the minister's son. The minister's son had run out of money and was reduced to cleaning the streets of manure. He did not recognise the gardener's son and the gardener's son feigned ignorance also.
The gardener's son told him, "You are a stranger, but I will help you. I will give you a ship to carry you home, but you must accept it willingly whatever its condition."
The minister's son agreed and presently they both reached the palace where the palace servants had him strip. The gardener's son ordered the ring to become red hot and he branded his rival's back with it. He then ordered the ring to prepare a ship of black and rotten timbers with ragged sails and an ugly, sickly crew and a cargo of filth. In this dreadful vessel the minister's son arrived home first and, in spite of his condition, the king began to prepare for the wedding. The princess was in despair.
The next daybreak, a wonderful ship of silver and gold sailed into the harbour. The sailors were handsome and the captain appeared to be a prince. The king immediately welcomed the ship's captain to the palace as his guest for however long the man remained in the capital.
"My daughter is about to be married," said the king, "will you give her away?"
"I shall be charmed, sire," replied the young captain, but when he saw the minister's son he exclaimed "how can you marry your daughter to a man such as that?"
"He is my prime minister's son!"
"What does that matter? I cannot give your daughter away. The man she is betrothed to is one of my servants." The king doubted this, but the young captain went on, "I met him in a distant town reduced to sweeping muck from the streets and I engaged him as one of my servants out of charity."
"This is impossible!" cried the king.
"Do you wish me to prove what I say?" asked the young captain, "This young man returned in a vessel which I fitted out for him, a filthy and unseaworthy ship crewed by crippled sailors."
"It is quite true," said the king.
"It is false," cried the minister's son. "I do not know this man!"
"Sire," said the young captain, "You will find my brand on his back."
The minister's son admitted the truth of the matter and went away in disgrace. The young captain revealed himself as the gardener's son and that very day he married the princess.
The young couple were happy and the king was pleased with his new son-in-law, but presently the captain of the golden ship found it necessary to take a long voyage. In the outskirts of the capital there lived an old magician who had studied the dark arts. He knew that the gardener's son had only succeeded because of the genie who obeyed the bronze ring and he wanted the ring for himself.
The magician went down to the sea-shore and caught some pretty little red fishes. Pretending to be a peddler, he knocked on the princess's door and ask if she wished to buy the pretty fish.
"What will you take for your fish?" she asked him.
"A bronze ring," replied the peddler.
The princess didn't know the value of her husband's bronze ring, which he had left safely under his pillow, so she gave it to the peddler in exchange for the fishes. Hardly had the magician reached home than he commanded the ring to turn the golden ship to black wood and turn the handsome crew to hideous swarthy men and make the precious cargo into black cats. The ring obeyed him instantly and the young captain knew immediately that his ring had been stolen. In this ship he sailed miserably from shore to shore, but wherever he went people laughed at him and his ship. Soon his poverty was so great that he and his crew and the poor black cats had nothing to eat but herbs and roots. After sailing for a long time he reached an island inhabited by mice. The captain landed upon the shore and the hungry black cats set upon the mice at once.
The queen of the mice held a council, "These cats will eat every one of us if the captain of the ship does not shut the ferocious animals up. Let us send a deputation of our bravest mice at arms."
When the mice at arms found the young captain, they said, "Go away quickly from our island or we shall perish, every mouse of us."
"Upon one condition," replied the young captain, "You must first bring me back a bronze ring which some clever magician has stolen from me. If you do not do this I will land all my cats upon your island, and you shall be exterminated."
The mice were dismayed. "What is to be done?" said the Queen. "How can we find this bronze ring?" She held a new council, calling in mice from every quarter of the globe, but nobody knew where the bronze ring was. Suddenly three mice arrived from a very distant country. One was blind, the second lame, and the third had no ears.
"We come from a far distant country," said the newcomers, "An old sorcerer has the bronze ring and keeps it in his pocket by day and in his mouth by night."
"Go and take it from him, and come back as soon as possible," ordered the queen, "Else the cargo of black cats will eat us all."
The three mice set sail for the magician's country. When they reached the capital they ran to the palace, leaving the blind mouse on the shore to take care of the boat. That night they found the wicked old man asleep with the bronze ring into his mouth. The mouse with no ears dipped her tail in a pepper-pot and held it to the sorcerer's nose. The sorcerer sneezed and the ring shot out of his mouth, but he did not wake. The lame mouse snatched up the ring and the three mice set sail back to their own land.
Naturally they began to talk about the bronze ring.
"Which of us deserves the most credit?" they asked each other.
"I do," said the blind mouse, "for without my watchfulness our boat would have drifted away to the open sea."
"I do," cried the mouse with no ears, "did I not cause the ring to jump out of the man's mouth?"
"I do," cried the lame mouse, "for I ran off with the ring."
The three mice began to quarrel and in the argument the bronze ring fell into the sea.
"How are we to face our queen," said the three mice "when we have lost the ring and condemned our people to be utterly exterminated by black cats?"
So they landed on the first island they came to. The lame mouse and the mouse with no ears went to find nuts and roots, leaving their blind sister on the beach and she wandered sadly, eating whatever fish were washed up by the tide. Suddenly she let out a cry as her teeth bit something hard. It was the bronze ring, which had been swallowed by a fish. Joyfully, the three mice set sail for their own island and arrived just in time for the young captain was about to land his full cargo of hungry black cats to eat all the mice. With his ring returned, he turned his ship back to silver and gold, his crew back to handsome sailors and the hungry black cats became precious jewels once more.
The captain immediately sailed for home and took his revenge on the magician who had tricked the princess into giving over the ring. He seized the magician and tied him to the tail of a wild ass. The ass was set loose outside the city and dragged the magician behind him, breaking him utterly on the hard ground.
THE ENCHANTED WATCH
Once upon a time there lived a rich man who had three sons. When they grew up, he sent the eldest to travel and see the world, and three years passed before his family saw him again. The son returned, magnificently dressed, and his father was so delighted with his behaviour, that he gave a great family feast in his honour.
When the rejoicing had ended, the second son begged to travel and see the world also. The father agreed willingly and sent him on his way with plenty of money, promising a similar party if the son returned as well dressed and with similar good manners. The second son conducted himself well and on his return, the celebrations were even more splendid.
The third and youngest brother was named Johnny, and he was considered foolish and lazy. He spent his days at the stove and dirtied himself with the ashes. Johnny begged to follow in his brothers' footsteps and travel for three years.
"Go if you like, you idiot, but I don't see what good it will do," grumbled his father.
Johnny paid no attention to his father's grumbling and was pleased to get permission to go. His father gave him money and was pleased to get rid of his foolish son.
Johnny had many adventures along the way. On one occasion he chanced to cross a meadow where some shepherds were just about to kill a dog. Johnny begged them to spare its life and let him have the dog, which they did. Johnny went on his way with the dog following after him. A little further on, Johnny came upon a cat that someone was going to put to death. He implored them to spare it, which they did, and he went on his way with the dog and the cat following him. In another place, he came upon a snake about to be killed and he begged for its life to be spared. Johnny went on his way with the dog, the cat and the snake following him.
One day, the snake told Johnny to follow it. It was autumn, a time when snakes hid themselves in their holes. The snake was going in search of the king of snakes and said, "My king will scold me for being so late when everyone else is housed for the winter. I will explain how you saved my life. The king will ask what reward you would like so be sure you beg for the watch that hangs on the wall. This watch has all sorts of wonderful properties, you only need to rub it to get whatever you like."
All happened as the snake promised and Johnny was given the watch by the king of snakes. Johnny was hungry so he decided to test the watch by asking for a meal of bread and meat and a flask of wine. No sooner had he asked than the meal appeared before him. Johnny continued on his way until evening and, tired and hungry, he touched the watch and asked for a good supper and a comfortable bed. That night he slept very well and in the morning he set off back to his father's house.
When Johnny returned wearing the same old clothes he had set off in, his father flew into a rage and called him a fool. There was no celebration and Johnny returned to his place by the stove, dirtying himself in the ashes. After three days of sitting by the stove, Johnny was bored and thought it would be nice to see a three-storey house filled with beautiful furniture and with vessels of silver and gold. Johnny rubbed the watch and there it all was.
He went to his father and said "You gave me no welcoming feast, but let me give you a feast. Come and see what is on MY plate."
His father was astonished at the fine house and all the gold and silver and asked where all the wealth had come from. Johnny did not reply, but told his father to invite everyone for a grand banquet. All their friends and relatives were amazed at the fine house full of splendid things and the fine food (which Johnny also wished for from the watch).
After the first course Johnny asked his father to invite the king, queen and their daughter, the princess, to the feast. He rubbed the watch and wished for a fine gold and silver carriage drawn by six horses in jewelled harnesses. His father dared not ride in the carriage, but led it to the palace on foot. The king, queen and princess were surprised and impressed by the richness of the coach and at once agreed to attend Johnny's banquet. Johnny rubbed the watch again and wished that the road to the house should be paved with fine, smooth marble. The king was astonished; he had never travelled over such a gorgeous road.
When Johnny heard the approaching carriage, he rubbed his watch and wished for a still more beautiful house, four storeys high and hung with gold, silver and damask. It was filled with wonderful tables covered with exotic dishes that no king had ever eaten before. The royal family were speechless with surprise. They had never before seen such a splendid palace, nor such a high feast. At dessert the king offered Johnny the hand of the princess in marriage and they were married at once. The king and queen returned to their palace while Johnny and the princess lived in the enchanted house.
Though Johnny was not quite as foolish as his father believed, neither was a clever man. It was not long before his dullness began to bore the princess. The princess asked him how he had acquired such a beautiful palace and it was not long before she tricked the answer out of Johnny and learnt about the enchanted watch. As soon as she learnt of the watch she wanted it for herself. Johnny always slept well - the sleep of an honest man - and it was not hard for the princess to steal his magical watch.
The princess rubbed the watch and wished for a fine carriage drawn by four horses to take her to her father's palace. Once there, she bade her own attendants follow her into the carriage. She then drove straight to the sea-side where she wished that the sea might be crossed by a bridge and that a magnificent palace might arise in the middle of the sea. No sooner had she wished it than it was done. As soon as she had entered the palace, she rubbed the watch and wished for the bridge to be gone. Then she wished for Johnny's fine home to disappear.
Left alone and without his fine home, Johnny felt very miserable. His family and their neighbours and friends all laughed at him. He owned nothing but the cat and dog whose lives he had saved. Unable to bear living with his family, he took the cat and dog with him and travelled far away. By and by, Johnny reached a great desert where he saw some crows flying towards a mountain. One of the crows was a long way behind and when he caught up with the flock they asked why their brother crow was so late.
The late arrival told them that he had seen in the middle of the sea the most wonderful house that ever was built and had stopped to look at it. The fine house stood in the middle of the sea with no bridge to the land. On hearing this, Johnny realised where his wife was hidden. Johnny went to the shore with his dog and his cat.
When he arrived, he said to the dog and cat, "You are an excellent swimmer, and my friend the cat is very light. Cat, if you will jump on the dog's back he will take you to the palace. Once there, dog, you must hide near the door so that the cat can sneak in and get back my watch. Then we can live comfortably again."
The two animals crossed the sea and the dog hid near the house while the cat sneaked into it. However, the princess recognised the cat and guessed why it had come. She took the watch down to the cellar and locked it in a box. The cat wriggled its way into the cellar and the moment the princess turned her back, the cat scratched and scratched until there was a hole in the box. Taking the enchanted watch in its teeth, the cat waited quietly till the princess returned to admire the watch. The moment the princess opened the cellar door, the cat had dashed outside, carrying the watch in its teeth.
As soon as the cat reached the gates, she said to the dog "We are going to cross back to the shore - be very careful not to speak to me as I must carry the watch in my mouth for safety."
The dog laid this to heart and said nothing, but when they approached the shore he could not help asking, "Have you got the watch?"
The cat did not answer, she was afraid she might drop the watch. As soon as they touched the touched the shore the dog again asked "Have you got the watch?"
This time, believing them to be safely across, the cat said yes and the watch fell into the sea. Try as she might, the watch had fallen too deep for either animal to pull it out. The two animals began to accuse each other and both looked sorrowfully at the place where their treasure had fallen in. Suddenly a fish appeared near the edge of the sea. The cat immediately seized it and thought it would make a fine supper.
"I have nine little children," cried the fish, "Spare the father of a family! Once we lived in the deep sea where there is more to eat, but someone has built a palace there and I am forced to find food closer to land."
"Granted," replied the cat, "but only on condition that you find our watch. Then we will ask our master to do something about the palace."
Grateful to be spared from becoming supper, the fish dived to the bottom and retrieved the watch. The cat and dog returned to their master. Johnny rubbed the watch and wished that the palace, with the unfaithful princess and all her staff, should be swallowed up by the sea, making room for the fishes again. No sooner had he wished it than it was done. Johnny returned to his parents, and he and his watch, his cat and his dog, lived together happily to the end of their days and his parents never again called him a fool.
THE WAR OF THE WOLF AND THE FOX
There was once a man called Simon and his wife, Susan, who had an old cat and an old dog.
One day Simon said to his wife "Why should we keep our old cat any longer? She never catches any mice and is so useless that I should drown her."
His wife replied, "Don't do that; I'm sure she could still catch mice."
"Rubbish," replied her husband "The mice could dance on her and she'd never catch one. As soon as i find her i shall drown her."
Susan was most unhappy about this and so was the old cat, who had been hiding behind the stove and had overheard the conversation. When Simon went off to work, the poor cat miaowed so pitifully, and looked up so pathetically at Susan that the woman opened the door and told the cat to flee for her life before Simon returned home.
The poor old cat ran as quickly as her old legs would carry her into the wood, and when Simon came home for dinner, his wife told him that the cat had gone missing and had probably crawled away to die of old age.
"So much the better," her husband said, "It saves me the bother of drowning her. However, what are we to do with the old dog? He is deaf and nearly blind; he barks when there is no need, and he fails to bark when there is need. The best thing I can do with him is to hang him."
Soft-hearted Susan replied, "Please don't. I'm sure he's not as useless as you think."
But her husband just retorted "The yard could be full of thieves and he'd never discover it. As soon as I find him he shall be hanged and we'll be rid of him."
Susan was most unhappy at his words, and so was the dog, who had been hiding under a chair in the corner of the room and who had heard everything. As soon as Simon had gone back to work, the old dog stood up and howled so touchingly that Susan quickly opened the door and told the dog to flee for his life.
The poor old dog fled into the wood with his tail between his legs and when Simon returned, his wife told him that the dog had run off.
"That's lucky for him and lucky for me for it saves me the bother of tying a rope to hang him with," said Simon.
Susan sighed, for she had been very fond of the dog and the cat and there was now no-one at home to keep her company while Simon was at work.
It happened that the cat and dog met each other in the woods and though they had not been the best of friends at home, having kept to their own tasks, they were glad of each other's company. They sat down under a holly tree and told each other the tale of how they had ended up turned out of home.
Presently a fox passed by. Seeing the pair sitting together so sadly, the fox asked what they were grumbling about and why they were so sad.
The cat replied, "I have caught many mice in my day, but now that I am old and tired, my master wants to drown me and be rid of the trouble of feeding me."
The dog said, "Many a night have I watched and guarded my master's house, but now that I am old and deaf, he says i ame no more use and he wants to hang me and be done with me."
The fox answered, "That's the way of humankind, ungrateful creatures that they are. I'll help you to get back into your master's favour if you first help me in my own troubles."
The dog and cat promised to do their best, and the fox continued, "The wolf has declared war against me. He is at this moment marching to meet me in company with the bear and the wild boar, and tomorrow there will be a fierce battle between us. I need staunch comrades to stand against the wolf with me."
"All right," said the dog and the cat, "we will stand by you. If we are killed, as we are sure to be, it is at any rate better to die on the field of battle than to perish ignobly at home, drowned like a witch and hanged like a thief."
The fox sent word to the wolf to meet him at a certain place, and the fox, dog and cat set forth to the appointed place. The wolf, the bear and the wild boar arrived on the spot first. When they had waited some time for the fox, the dog, and the cat, the bear said, "I'll climb up into the oak tree and see if they are coming."
The first two times, the bear saw nothing, but on the third time of looking, the bear said "I see a mighty army in the distance, and one of the warriors has the biggest lance you ever saw!"
This was the cat, who was marching along with her tail erect. So they laughed and jeered and the bear said, "The enemy won't be here at this rate for many hours to come, so I'll just curl myself up in the fork of the tree and have a nap."
See the bear napping, the wolf curled up at the foot of the tree to nap as well. The boar buried himself in loose leaves until only one ear was visible.
By and by, the fox, the cat and the dog arrived. When the cat saw the boar's ear, she pounced upon it, thinking it was a mouse in the leaves. The boar was so pained and startled that he fled squealing in terror. The poor old cat was even more startled and, spitting with terror, she scrambled up into the fork of the tree, and right into the bear's face.
The bear was just as startled as the boar. Growling and swiping with his paws, he lost his balance and fell out of the tree. He landed on the wolf and killed it stone dead. The wolf died with such a yelp that the bear ran off into the woods, certain a whole army of foxes was after him.
The bargain having been kept, the fox told the dog and the cat to take him to the cottage where they had lived with Simon and Susan. On their way there, the fox caught a score of mice. When they reached the cottage he put them all on the stove and said to the cat, "Now go and fetch one mouse after the other and lay them down before your master."
The cat did exactly as the fox told her and when Susan saw this she said to her husband, "Our old cat has returned home and what a lot of mice she has caught!."
"Perhaps she is not so useless after all," said Simon, "I never thought the old cat would ever catch another mouse."
His wife replied "I always said our cat was an excellent creature, but you men always think you know best."
Meanwhile, the fox said to the dog, "Your master has just killed a pig. When it gets a little darker, you must go into the courtyard and bark with all your might."
As soon as it was dusk, the old dog began to bark loudly.
Susan said to her husband, "Our dog must have come back - I hear him barking with all his might. Do go out and see what's the matter - perhaps thieves are stealing our sausages."
But Simon answered, "The old brute is as deaf as a post and is always barking at nothing," and he refused to go and find out what was happening.
The next morning, Susan got up early to go to town, and she thought she would take some sausages to her aunt who lived there. When she went to her larder, she found all the sausages gone and a great hole in the floor. She called out to her husband, "I was right after all. Thieves have been here last night, and they have not left a single sausage. Oh! if you had only got up to see what our old dog was barking at when I asked you to!"
Simon scratched his head and said, "maybe he's not so useless after all. I never believed the old dog was so quick at hearing."
His wife replied, "I always told you our old dog was the best dog in the world, but as usual you thought you knew so much better. You men always think you know best."
So the dog and the cat settled back into their home and every time Simon suggested they were not earning their keep, his wife would stare at him until he admitted that the animals were not so useless after all. And the fox scored a point too, for he had carried away the sausages.
THE COLONY OF CATS
Long ago, in the days when animals spoke, there lived a community of cats in a deserted house not far from a large town. They had everything they needed for their comfort, they were well fed and well lodged, and an unlucky mouse stupidly ventured in their way, they hunted it for sport. The old people of the town spoke of a time long ago when the whole country was so overrun with rats and mice that all the corn had been eaten up. The people were saved from starvation by cats. It might have been gratitude that the descendants of the cats were allowed to live in peace in their house. No one knows where they got the money to pay for everything, nor who paid it, for all this happened so very long ago.
The cats were rich enough to keep a servant to the things the cats could not – the housework and cooking the meat (for they did not condescend to eat it raw). The cats were very difficult to please about the housework and most women quickly tired of living alone with only cats for companions so they never kept a servant long. It became a saying in the town, when anyone found herself reduced to her last penny: "I will go and live with the cats".
Lizina was unhappy at home; her widowed mother preferred Lizina’s older sister and often neglected Lizina while spoiling her sister. If Lizina complained, her mother beat her. One day Lizina could stand it no longer and she declared she was going to live with the cats. Her mother was all too pleased to see Lizina go and chased her away with the broom.
Lizina ran all the way to the cats’ house. The cats’ cook had left them that very morning, with her face all scratched from a quarrel with the head of the cats’ house. Lizina was therefore very welcome and she set to work at once to prepare the dinner, worried that she would not be able to satisfy her employers.
She was frequently hindered by a constant succession of cats who appeared one after another in the kitchen to inspect the new servant; one was in front of her feet, another upon a chair, a third sat on the kitchen table and several more prowled about the kitchen. They all purred, pleased with their new maid, but Lizina did not yet understand their language, and often she did not know what they wanted her to do. However, as she was a kind-hearted girl, she set to work to pick up the little kittens which tumbled about on the floor, she patched up quarrels, and nursed on her lap a big old tabby with a lame paw. This made a favourable impression on the cats, and it was even better after a while, when she had had time to grow accustomed to their strange ways. Never had the house been kept so clean, the meats so well served, nor the sick cats so well cared for.
After a while, the house of cats had a visit from an old cat, whom they called Father Gatto. Father Gatto by himself in a hilltop barn and sometimes came down to inspect the little colony. He was much taken with Lizina, and asked the cats "Are you well served by this nice, black-eyed little person?" to which they replied "Yes Father Gatto, we have never had so good a servant!" Each time he visited, Father Gatto asked the same question and, each time, the cats gave the same answer. However, after a time, the observant old cat noticed that the little maid was looking ever more sad.
"What is the matter, my child? Has any one been unkind to you?" he asked one day, when he found Lizina crying in her kitchen.
Lizina sobbed "No Father Gatto! They are all very good to me, but I long for news from mother and my sister at home."
Old Gatto, being a sensible old cat, understood her feelings and said, "You shall go home and you need not come back here unless you please. But first you must be rewarded for all your kind services to my children. Follow me down into the inner cellar, where you have never yet been, for I always keep it locked and carry the key away with me."
Lizina looked round her in astonishment as they went down into the great vaulted cellar underneath the kitchen. Before her stood the big earthenware water jars, one full of oil, the other full of a liquid that shone like gold.
"Which of these jars shall I dip you in?" asked Father Gatto, with a toothy, whiskery grin.
Lizina looked at the two jars and finally replied, "In the oil jar," for she did not think herself worht dipping in gold.
Father Gatto replied, "Oh no, my child, you deserve better than that!" and seizing her in his strong paws he plunged her into the liquid gold.
Lizina came out of the jar shining gold from head to foot, only her pink cheeks and long black hair keeping their natural colour. Father Gatto purred loudly with satisfaction.
"now you may go home to see your mother and sister," said old Gatto, "but take care that if you hear the cock crow you must turn towards it, but if you hear the ass bray, you must look the other way."
The little maid gratefully kissed Gatto's white paw and set off for home. Just as she got near her mother's house the cock crowed, and quickly she turned towards it. Immediately a beautiful golden star appeared on her forehead, crowning her glossy black hair. At the same time the ass began to bray, but Lizina took care not to look into the donkey field where the donkey was grazing. Her mother and sister, who were in front of their house, cried out in astonishment when they saw Lizina. They cried out in even greater admiration when she took her handkerchief from her pocket and drew out also a handful of gold.
For some days the mother and her two daughters lived very happily together, for Lizina had given them everything she had brought away except her golden clothing, for that would not come off, in spite of all the efforts of her jealous sister. The golden star could not be removed from her forehead, but all her gold pieces had ended up with her mother and sister.
"Maybe I will go and see what I can get out of the pussies," said Peppina, Lizina's older sister, taking Lizina's basket and fastening her pockets into her own skirt, "I should like some of the cats' gold for myself," and left the house before the sun rose. The cat colony had not yet taken another servant, knowing they could never get one as good as Lizina, but when they heard that Peppina was her sister, they all ran to meet her.
"She is not at all like Lizina," whispered the kittens among themselves.
"Hush!" the older cats said, "not all servants can be pretty."
But silently they all agreed she was not at all like Lizina. On her very first day she shut the kitchen door in the face of the tom-cats who used to enjoy watching Lizina working. A young and mischievous cat who jumped in by the open kitchen window and onto the table got such a blow with the rolling-pin that he yelled for an hour. Each day, the household became more and more aware of its misfortune. The work was as badly done and the servant was surly and disagreeable. Heaps of dust collected in the corners of the rooms and cobwebs hung from the ceilings and in front of the window-panes. The beds were hardly ever made and the feather beds, loved by the old and feeble cats, were never shaken or plumped up. At Father Gatto's next visit he found the whole colony in a state of uproar.
"Caesar has one paw so badly swollen that it looks as if it were broken," said one. "Peppina kicked him with her great heavy boots. Hector has an abscess in his back where a wooden chair was flung at him. Agrippina's three little kittens have died of hunger beside their mother, because Peppina forgot them in their basket up in the attic. There is no putting up with the creature - do send her away, Father Gatto! Lizina herself would not be angry with us, she must know very well what her sister is like."
"Come here," said Father Gatto, in his most severe tones to Peppina. He took her down into the cellar and showed her the same two great jars. "In which of these shall I dip you?"
Peppina answered at once, "In the liquid gold," for she was not at all modest and was greedy as well as unkind.
Father Gatto's growled angrily, "You have not deserved it!" and flung her into the jar of oil, where she was nearly suffocated. When she came to the surface screaming and struggling, the vengeful cat seized her again and rolled her in the ash-heap on the floor. When Peppina rose, dirty, blinded and disgusting to behold, he pushed her out of the door, saying, "Begone and when you meet a braying ass be careful to turn your head towards it."
Stumbling and raging, Peppina set off home. She was within sight of her mother's house when she heard the donkey braying in its field. Quickly she turned her head towards it and a donkey's tail sprang from her forehead. She ran the rest of the way home as fast as she could, shrieking in anger and despair.
It took Lizina two hours and two cakes of soap to get rid of the oil and ashes that Father Gatto had covered Peppina in, but the donkey's tail was impossible to get rid of - it was as firmly fixed on Peppina's forehead as was the golden star on Lizina's. Their furious mother blamed Lizina for all her sister's woes and beat the girl mercilessly with the broom, then she took her to the well and lowered her into it, leaving poor Lizina at the bottom of the well weeping and crying for help.
Before all this happened, however, the king's son had passed the house and had seen pretty Lizina sitting sewing in the parlour. He had passed the house several times to admire the golden girl with the pretty pink cheeks and the long black hair. Finally, he summoned up the courage to ask her hand in marriage and Lizina had gladly accepted. The next morning, when the prince arrived to claim his bride, he found her wrapped in a large white veil.
"This is how maidens are received from their parents' hands," said the mother, who hoped to make the king's son marry Peppina in place of her sister, and had fastened the donkey's tail round her head like a lock of hair under the veil.
The prince was young and shy, so he made no objections, and seated Peppina in the carriage beside him. Their way led past the old house inhabited by the cats, who had heard that the prince was to marry a beautiful golden maiden with a star on her forehead and knew it must be their own dear Lizina. They were all at the window and as the carriage slowly passed in front of the old house, the cats began to sing "Mew, mew, mew! Prince, look quick behind you! In the well is fair Lizina, And you've got nothing but Peppina!"
When he heard this the coachman, who understood the cat's language better than the prince, stopped his horses and asked if the prince had understood what the cats were singing. The prince threw back the veil and discovered the puffed-up, swollen face of Peppina, with the donkey's tail twisted round her head.
"Traitress!" he exclaimed and ordered the carriage to be turned round. He drove the greedy elder daughter, quivering with rage, back to the old woman who had tried to deceive him. With his hand on the hilt of his sword he demanded Lizina in so commanding a voice that the mother hastily pulled Lizina from out of the well. Lizina's clothing and her star shone so brilliantly that when the prince led her home to his father, the whole palace was lit up.
The next day Lizina and the prince were married and all the cats, from tiny kittens under their mothers' bellies to Old Father Gatto himself, were present at their wedding.
THE CAT'S ELOPEMENT
Once upon a time there lived a fantastically beautiful golden cat whose fur was as soft and shining as silk, and whose wise green eyes shone like emeralds. This cat's name was Gon, and he belonged to a music master, who was so fond and proud of his golden cat that he would not part with him for anything in the world.
Not far from the music master's house lived a lady who owned a charming little tortoiseshell pussy cat called Koma. Koma blinked her eyes so daintily, ate her supper so tidily and licked her pink nose so delicately with her little pink tongue, that her mistress sighed "Koma, Koma, whatever should I do without you?"
One day, both Gon and Koma went out for an evening stroll in the cherry blossom. By chance, they met under a cherry tree and immediately fell madly in love with each other. Golden Gon had wanted to find a wife, and though the other ladies in the neighbourhood paid him a great deal of attention, none of them appealed to him. But suddenly he found himself madly in love with the dainty tortoiseshell Koma and, to his joy, she was madly in love with him. However, both could see difficulties in their way since neither owner wished to part with their cat and neither cat wished to be parted from the other. Gon begged his master to set matters right by buying Koma, but her mistress would not part with the dainty little cat. Neither would the music master sell Gon to Koma's owner.
With their owners unable to resolve matters, the two cats decided to please themselves and seek their fortunes together. One moonlit night they crept out of their homes and ventured out into an unknown world. All that night and into the next day they marched resolutely on until they were far from home and certain that no-one would find them or part them from each other. Towards evening they found themselves in a large tree-filled park full of cool inviting shadows and soft grass. By this time, they were both hot and tired and longed to rest. Unknown to the cats, the park belonged to the princess. Just as they were looking for somewhere to rest, a huge, vicious guard dog sprang towards them, snarling and gnashing its teeth. Poor Koma shrieked in terror and rushed straight up a cherry tree while brave Gon stood his ground, ready to protect his beloved.
Alas, the dog was far bigger and fiercer than Gon, and all of Gon's courage was not equal to the dog's teeth. From her perch in the tree, Koma saw everything and she screamed with all her might, hoping that some one would hear her and come to rescue them. Luckily one of the princess's servants heard the commotion and he drove off the dog. The servant carried poor injured Gon back to his mistress, leaving Koma quite alone in her tree.
The princess herself nursed Gon and he took many days to recover from the guard dog's attack. The heartbroken Koma had not dared come down from the tree to follow the servant and she did not know where to find Gon. Sadly she went her own lonely way in the world, finding food and shelter where she could and always hoping that Gon would return to find her. Although Gon recovered from the attack, even the attention paid to him by the princess could not console him. The kindly princess was delighted with his beauty and pretty ways and was kind to him, but he was heartsick for Koma and did not know how to find her.
The kind princess would have led a happy life, had it not been for a serpent who had fallen in love with her. The serpent constantly crept up on her and though her servants drove it away as often as they could, but it wasn't hard for the wily serpent to slip inside the palace. Although the serpent loved the princess, the princess was terrified of it. One day, as she sat playing musical instruments in her room, the princess felt something slither across her leg. She saw her enemy making his way to kiss her cheek and she shrieked, throwing herself backwards away from the snake. Brave Gon, now fully recovered and curled up on a stool at the princess's feet, immediately sprang on the serpent and killed it with a single fierce bite.
No longer threatened by the serpent, the princess praised and caressed heroic Gon, carrying him in her arms and giving him the best food to eat and the softest beds to sleep on. Still Gon was not happy as his beloved Koma was missing from his life and he did not know how to find her or how she fared without him. As time passed, Gon grew into a large and stately cat.
Time passed on and one morning Gon lay before the house door, basking in the sun. He looked lazily at the world stretched out before him, and saw in the distance a big tabby ruffian of a cat teasing and ill-treating a much smaller tortoiseshell cat. Gon jumped up angrily and chased away the big cat. When he turned to comfort the little one his heart nearly burst with joy to find that it was Koma. At first Koma did not recognise him, but as soon as she did, her happiness knew no bounds. They rubbed their heads and their noses together again and again, while their purring could be heard a mile off.
Paw in paw, and tails intertwined, Gon and Koma appeared before the princess and told her the story of their life and how they had been parted when the guard dog had attacked Gon. The princess wept in sympathy and promised that they should never more be parted, but should live with her to the end of their days. By and by, the princess got married and her husband came to live in the palace in the park. She told the prince how brave Gon had saved her from the serpent and the prince swore that the two cats should never leave them, but should go with the princess wherever she went.
So at last Gon and Koma were together. They had many children, as did the prince and princess, and they all played together, and remained firm friends to the end of their lives. But what of the previous owners of Gon and Koma you might ask? Well, ask you might, but that is a different story.
THE BOY WHO DREW CATS (A JAPANESE FAIRY TALE)
A long time ago, in a small country village in Japan, there lived a poor farmer and his wife. They were good people with a number of children, although it was often hard to feed them all. At fourteen years old, the older son was strong enough to help his father around the farm while the little girls helped their mother almost as soon as they could walk. However, the youngest child, a little boy, was not fit enough for hard work. He was cleverer than his brothers and sisters, but was small and weak and could never grow very big so his parents thought it would be better for him to become a priest than to become a farmer. They took him to the village temple and asked the good old priest who lived there if he would have their little boy for his acolyte. The old man spoke kindly to the lad and asked him some hard questions. So clever were the answers that the priest agreed to take the little fellow into the temple as an acolyte and to educate him for the priesthood.
The young boy learned quickly what the old priest taught him and was very obedient in most things. However, he had one fault - he liked to draw cats during study-hours and to draw cats when cats ought not to have been drawn at all. Whenever he found himself alone, he drew cats. He drew them on the margins of the priest’s books, and on all the screens of the temple, on the walls, and on the pillars. Several times the priest told him this was not right, but still he did not stop drawing cats. He drew them because he could not really help it. He had what is called "the genius of an artist," and just for that reason he was not quite fit to be an acolyte. The priest reminded him that a good acolyte should study books, not drawn cats.
One day after he had drawn some excellent pictures of cats on a paper screen, his teacher spoke to him severely. "My boy, you must go away from this temple at once. You will never make a good priest, but perhaps you will become a great artist. Now let me give you a last piece of advice, and be sure you never forget it: avoid large places at night - keep to small."
The boy did not know what the priest meant by "Avoid large places - keep to small." He thought a great deal about this advice while he was tying up his little bundle of clothes to go away, but he could not make sense of it and was afraid to speak to the priest, except to say goodbye. He left the temple very sorrowfully and wondered what he should do. He was afraid to go straight home as he was certain his father would punish him for his disobedience to the priest. Then he remembered that the next village, twelve miles away, had a very big temple where there were several priests. He decided to go there and ask them to accept him as an acolyte.
What he did not know was that the big temple now stood empty because a goblin had frightened the priests away and had taken possession of the place. Some brave warriors had gone to the temple one night to kill the goblin, but none had been seen alive again. Not knowing any of this, the boy walked all the way to the village hoping the priests would treat him kindly. When he arrived it was already dark and all the villagers were in bed, but he saw the temple on the hill at the far end of the main street and he saw also that there was a light in the temple. He was not to know that the goblin made that light to tempt lonely travellers to ask for shelter at the temple. He set off at once to the temple and knocked on the door-post. There was no sound inside. He knocked again and again, but still nobody came so at last he pushed gently at the door and was glad to find that it had not been fastened. He went in and saw a lamp burning, but there was no priest in attendance.
He thought that some priest would be sure to come very soon so he sat down and waited. Then he noticed that everything in the temple was grey with dust and covered with cobwebs. He thought to himself that the priests would certainly like to have an acolyte to keep the place clean and wondered why they had allowed the temple to get so dusty. What most pleased him, however, were some big white screens, good to paint cats upon. Though he was tired, he looked at once for a writing-box, and finding a writing box, he ground some ink and began to paint cats.
He painted a great many cats upon the screens before becoming very sleepy. Still no priest had appeared and he was just on the point of lying down to sleep beside one of the screens when he suddenly remembered his former teacher's words: "Avoid large places - keep to small." The temple was very large and he was alone. Though he did not quite understand the advice, he began to feel afraid and looked for a small place in which to sleep. He found a little cabinet, with a sliding door, and went into it and shut himself up. Then he lay down and fell fast asleep.
Very late in the night he was awakened by the most terrible noises of fighting and screaming. It was so dreadful that he was afraid even to look through a chink of the little cabinet and lay very still, holding his breath for fright. The light that had been in the temple went out, but the awful sounds continued and became more awful, and all the temple shook. After a long time silence came, but the boy was still too afraid to move. He did not move until the light of the morning sun shone into the cabinet through the chinks of the little door and he cautiously got out of his hiding-place and looked about.
The first thing he saw was that all the floor of the temple was covered with blood. The next thing he saw, lying dead in the middle of it, was an enormous monstrous rat - a goblin-rat - bigger than a cow! But who or what could have killed it? There was no man or other creature to be seen. Suddenly the boy observed that the mouths of all the cats he had drawn the night before were red and wet with blood. Then he knew that the goblin had been killed by the cats which he had drawn. And then also, for the first time, he understood why the wise old priest had told him "Avoid large places at night - keep to small."
Afterwards, the boy went on to become a very famous artist. To this very day, some of the cats that he drew are shown to travellers in Japan.
A TALE OF THE TONTLAWALD
Long ago, in the midst of a country covered with lakes stood a vast stretch of moorland called the Tontlawald, on which no man ever dared set foot. From time to time a few bold spirits had been drawn by curiosity to its borders, and returned with tales of a ruined house in a grove of thick trees, and round about it were a crowd of dirty, ragged men, old women and half-naked children.
One night a peasant returning home from a feast wandered into the Tontlawald, and came back with the same story. A countless number of women and children were seated round a huge fire while others danced on the grass. One old crone had a broad iron ladle in her hand; every now and then she stirred the fire, but the moment she touched the glowing ashes the children rushed away shrieking and it was a long while before they ventured back again. Once or twice a little old man with a long beard had crept out of the forest, carrying a huge sack. The women and children ran by his side, weeping and trying to drag the sack from off his back, but he shook them off, and went on his way.
There was also a tale of a magnificent black cat as large as a foal, with teeth like daggers and eyes that shone red like burning coals, but men could not believe all the wonders told by the peasant, and it was difficult to make out what was true and what was false in his story, since he had drunk plenty of beer at the feast before wandering onto the Tontlawald. Nevertheless, strange things did happen there, and though the king gave orders to cut down the haunted wood, no one was ever brave enough to do so. A brave man had once struck his axe into a tree, but his blow was followed by a stream of blood and shrieks like a human creature in pain. The terrified woodcutter had fled as fast as his legs would carry him, and after that neither orders nor threats would drive anybody to the enchanted moor.
A few miles from the Tontlawald was a large village. A peasant there had recently married a young wife who had turned the whole house upside down, and the two quarrelled and fought all day long. The peasant's first wife had given him a daughter called Elsa; she was a good quiet girl, who only wanted to live in peace, but her stepmother beat the poor child from morning till night and the peasant was too scared of his wife to do anything to stop the ill-treatment.
For two years Elsa suffered all this ill-treatment, then one day she went strawberry-picking with the other village children. They wandered carelessly to the edge of the Tontlawald, where they found the finest strawberries. The children ate as many strawberries as they could, wandering further and further into the Tontlawald, until suddenly one of the older boys cried out "Run, run as fast as you can! We are in the Tontlawald!"
The children ran madly away, all except Elsa, who had strayed farther than the rest into the Tontlawald and did not want to give up picking the fine strawberries she had found. "The dwellers in the Tontlawald cannot be any worse than my stepmother," she said to herself, and besides she was very hungry as her stepmother didn't give her enough to eat.
Elsa looked up and saw a little black dog with a silver bell on its neck come barking towards her, followed by a maiden clad all in silk. The girl told the dog to be quiet then turned to Elsa and said "I'm so glad you didn't run away with the others. Stay here and be my friend, - we will play delightful games together and gather strawberries every day. No-one will dare to beat you if I tell them not. Come, let us go to my mother."
Taking Elsa's hand she led her deeper into the wood, the little black dog jumping up beside them and barking with pleasure. Elsa was astonished at the wonders and splendours before her. Trees and bushes stood before them, overburdened with fresh ripe fruit; bright birds darted among the branches and filled the air with song. The birds were not shy, but let the girls take them in their hands, and stroke their gold and silver feathers. In the centre of the garden, a house shone with glass and precious stones, and in the doorway sat a woman in rich garments.
The woman who turned to Elsa's companion and asked, "Daughter, what sort of a guest have you brought to me?"
"I found her alone in the wood," replied her daughter, "and brought her back as a companion. Will you let her stay?"
The mother laughed, but said nothing. She looked Elsa up and down sharply then stroked her cheeks kindly and asked if her parents were alive, and if she really would like to stay with them. Elsa stooped and kissed her hand, then, kneeling down, buried her face in the woman's lap.
Elsa sobbed to the woman "My mother died many years ago. My father is still alive, but doesn't care about me and his new wife, my stepmother, beats me all the day long. I can do nothing to her satisfaction, so please let me stay with you. I will look after the flocks or do any work you tell me. I will obey you, only please do not send me back to her. She will half kill me for not having come back with the other children."
The woman answered, "We'll see what we can do with you," and went into the house.
The daughter said, "Don't be afraid, I can tell by the way she looks at you that my mother will be your friend," and she told Elsa to wait while she went into the house to speak with her mother.
Half-afraid and half-hopeful, Elsa waited for her strange new friend to return. At length the girl returned holding a box in her hand and said that they could play together while her mother decided what must be done. "Have you ever been on the sea?" she asked.
"The sea?" asked Elsa, "I've never heard of such a thing!"
"I'll soon show you," answered the girl, opening the box.
At the bottom of the box lay a scrap of a cloak, a mussel shell and two fish scales. Two drops of water were glistening on the cloak and the girl shook the water onto the ground. In an instant, everything had vanished and as far as the eye could reach Elsa could see nothing but water. Only under their feet was a tiny dry spot. Then the girl placed the mussel shell on the water and took the fish scales in her hand. The mussel shell grew bigger and bigger, and turned into a small boat, large enough for several children to sit in. The girls stepped in, Elsa very cautiously, and her friend used the fish scales for a rudder. The waves rocked them softly, as if they were lying in a cradle, and they floated on till they met other boats filled with merry, singing men and the girl sang back to them, in a strange language. Elsa noticed they sang the word "Kisika" over and over and this turned out to be the girl's name.
Though they felt they could have played on the sea forever, by and by they heard a voice calling them home. Kisika took the little box out of her pocket, with the piece of cloth inside it, and dipped the cloth in the water. They were back where they had started, standing on firm, dry land close to the splendid house in the middle of the garden. Kisika put the mussel shell and fish scales back in the box and the girls went inside the house. They entered a large hall, where twenty-four richly dressed women were sitting round a table as if for a wedding feast. At the head of the table sat the lady of the house in a golden chair. Elsa did not know which way to look. She sat down with the others and ate some delicious fruit while the women talked softly in a language she did not understand. At length the hostess turned round and whispered something to a maid behind her chair. The maid left the hall and returned with a little old man whose beard was longer than himself. He bowed low to the lady and then stood quietly near the door.
"Do you see this girl?" said the lady of the house, pointing to Elsa. "I wish to adopt her for my daughter. Make me a copy of her, which we can send to her home to take her place."
The old man looked Elsa all up and down, as if he was taking her measure, then bowed to the lady and left the hall.
After dinner the lady said kindly to Elsa, "Kisika has begged me to let you stay with her, and you have told her you would like to live here. Is that so?"
Elsa fell on her knees at the lady's feet in gratitude for her escape from her cruel stepmother, but her hostess raised her from the ground and patted her head, saying, "All will go well as long as you are a good, obedient child. I will take care of you and see that you want for nothing till you are grown up and can look after yourself. You will be schooled with my own daughter, Kisika."
Not long after the old man came back with a mould full of clay on his shoulders and a little covered basket in his left hand. He put down his mould and his basket on the ground, took up a handful of clay, and made a doll as large as life. When it was finished he bored a hole in the doll's breast and put a bit of bread inside. Then, drawing a snake out of the basket, he forced it to enter the hollow body.
"Now," he said to the lady, "all we want is a drop of the maiden's blood."
"Don't be afraid," said her hostess, "this is not for any bad purpose, but rather to give you freedom and happiness."
She took a tiny golden needle, pricked Elsa in the arm and gave the blood-stained needle to the old man, who stuck it into the heart of the doll. When this was done he placed the figure in the basket, promising that the next day they should all see what a beautiful piece of work he had finished.
When Elsa awoke the next morning in a soft feather bed to see a beautiful dress lying over the back of a chair, ready for her to put on. A maid combed out her long hair, and brought the finest linen for her use. The thing that gave Elsa the greatest joy was the little pair of embroidered shoes, for her stepmother had always made her go barefoot. In her excitement, she gave no thought to the rough clothes she had worn the day before; they had disappeared as if by magic. The living doll, now full grown and identical to Elsa, had been dressed in her old clothes and had gone back to the village in Elsa's place. When Elsa saw the doll, she was both astonished and frightened.
"Don't be frightened," said the lady, when she noticed Elsa's terror, "this clay figure can do you no harm. It is for your stepmother, that she may beat it instead of you. Let her flog it as hard as she will since it can never feel any pain. And if the wicked woman does not come one day to a better mind, your double will be able at last to give her the punishment she deserves."
From that moment on, Elsa's life was that of an ordinary happy child and she began to forget the mistreatment at her stepmother's hands. The happier she grew, the deeper was her wonder at everything around her and the more firmly she was persuaded that some great unknown power must be at the bottom of it all.
In the courtyard stood a huge granite block about twenty steps from the house. At meal times, the long-bearded old man went to the block, drew out a small silver staff, and struck the stone three times, so that the sound could be heard a long way off. At the third blow, out sprang a large golden cock, and stood upon the stone. Whenever he crowed and flapped his wings the rock opened and something came out of it. First came a long table covered with dishes ready laid for the number of persons who would be seated round it; this flew into the house all by itself. When the cock crowed for the second time, a number of chairs appeared, and flew after the table; then wine, apples, and other fruit, all without trouble to anybody. After everybody had had enough, the old man struck the rock again. The golden cock crowed afresh, and back went the dishes, table, chairs, and plates into the middle of the block.
When, however, it came to the turn of the thirteenth dish, which nobody ever wanted to eat, a huge black cat the size of a foal, with pearl-white teeth and brilliant orange eyes ran up and stood on the rock close to the cock, while the dish was on his other side. There they all remained, till they were joined by the old man. He picked up the dish in one hand, tucked the cat under his arm, told the cock to get on his shoulder, and all four vanished into the rock. This wonderful stone contained not only food, but clothes and everything they could possibly want in the house. Over time, Elsa learnt to understand the strange language spoken at mealtimes though it took her years to learn to speak it. One day she asked Kisika why the thirteenth dish came daily to the table and was sent daily away untouched, but Kisika knew no more about it than she did. The girl asked her mother and a few days later her mother spoke to Elsa seriously about the thirteenth dish.
"The thirteenth dish is the dish of hidden blessings. If we ate it, our happy life here would come to an end. The world would be a great deal better if greedy men did not seek to snatch every thing for themselves, instead of leaving something as a thanks offering to the giver of the blessings. Greed is man's worst fault."
The years passed quickly, for there were always things to occupy the days, and Elsa grew into a lovely woman, with a knowledge of many things that she would never have learned in her native village. However, Kisika was still the same young girl that she had been on the day of her first meeting with Elsa and wanted to play childish games and complained that Elsa had grown too big for games. One day, after nine years, the lady called Elsa into her room. Elsa's heart sank when she saw the lady's eyes full of tears.
"Dearest child," she said, "you have grown into a woman and the time has come when we must part." Elsa begged to stay, perhaps as a maidservant to the gracious lady, but the lady said, "My child, it is time for you to return to the world of men, where joy awaits you."
"Please don't cast me out into the world. It would have been better if you had left me with my stepmother, than to have brought me to heaven and then send me back to a worse place."
"Do not talk like that, dear child," replied the lady sternly, but kindly, "You are a mortal, and unlike us you are growing older. Surely you've noticed that Kisika never ages? It's hard for me to let you go, but it is your destiny to have a husband and raise children."
Back in Elsa's home village, her stepmother had beat the Elsa doll night and day, though of course the doll felt no pain. When Elsa's father tried to stop her, the stepmother beat him as well. One day, in a rage, the stepmother had grabbed the Elsa doll by the throat and tried to throttle it. The snake came out from the doll's mouth and bit the woman's tongue, killing her at once. When Elsa's father came home, he found his wife's body swollen and disfigured and Elsa was gone. His neighbours had heard a commotion, but that was quite normal and they had taken no notice. Pleased to be free of his ill-tempered wife, he prepared her body for burial. Then, quite tired, he ate the piece of bread he found lying on the kitchen table. The next day, his neighbours found him sitting at the table, his face and body as disfigured as that of his wife and he was buried with his nagging wife. Everyone supposed that Elsa had finally fled from the beatings.
The morning Elsa was to leave, the lady placed a gold seal ring on Elsa's finger then strung a little golden box on a ribbon and placed it round her neck. The old man touched Elsa softly on the head three times with his silver staff. In an instant Elsa was transformed into an eagle. For several days she flew steadily south, neither tired nor hungry. One day as she flew over a dense forest, she heard hounds barking at her and then a sharp pain in her breast. The Elsa-eagle fell to the ground, pierced by an arrow. However, when Elsa recovered her senses, she found herself lying under a bush in her own proper form, quite uninjured.
As she was wondering what had happened, the king's son came riding by. Seeing Elsa, sprang from his horse, and took her by the hand, saying, "My lady, every night, for half a year, I have dreamed of finding you in this wood. I have searched it hundreds of times in vain and never given up hope. Today I was going in search of a large eagle that I had shot, but instead of the eagle I find the lady of my dreams!" He took Elsa on his horse, and rode with her to the town, where the old king received her graciously.
A few days later Elsa and the prince were married. The lady of the Tontlawald sent fifty carts laden with beautiful things to their wedding. In time, Elsa became queen of that land, but nothing more was ever heard of the Tontlawald nor of the fiery-eyed cat as big as a foal.