Return to the fairy tales - book two
A retelling by J. Kearns
A cat helps his master to marry a princess, through outwitting a rich, shape-shifting giant ogre who has control over much of the land.
nce upon a time there was a miller. What do
you know about millers and what they do? Not much, I imagine. Have you
ever seen a miller mill? I haven't. But that is what millers do. They
mill. If you meet someone whose surname is Miller, it's a good bet
that this name described an ancestor who milled for a living. He may
have milled grain so that it could be used for baking bread. Farmers
would take their grain to the miller, and he would mill the grain
until it was a flour, and then that flour could be used for baking.
All the bread that you eat is made of flour that is milled grain.
miller that I started to tell you about, who lived once upon a time,
well, he died. When someone dies, if they have any possessions, they
will likely have made out a will which says to whom they want these
possessions to go. A will is called a will because it states the will
of the person, who he wills his possessions to go to. Some people have
quite a lot to will, and some people have very little to will. This
miller had his mill to will, and he willed his mill to his eldest son.
He had two other sons as well. To the second son he willed his ass. To
the youngest son he willed his Cat. His Cat? Yes, his Cat. This was
all that he had to leave to his sons: the mill, the ass, and the Cat.
The three sons saw no reason to send for an attorney to declare the
will, for the fees of the attorney would have consumed the mill, the
ass, and the cat. It would have eaten them all up and left nothing to
the sons at all. As it was, only the eldest son had seemed to gain
anything of any value from his father. With the mill he could make a
living. I suppose the son who had been willed the ass could sell the
ass if it wasn't useful to him. But the youngest son, the one who had
gotten the Cat, well, he was quite a poor, young fellow indeed. He
knew his father's Cat, and knew it was not a special cat with a
special pedigree that he might be able to sell. It was nothing but an
ordinary cat which led the kind of ordinary life ordinary cats lead.
The Cat had made its living by catching mice at the mill, which was
how it had been useful to the father. The youngest son had no mill in
which the Cat could be useful by catching mice.
middle son, as it turned out, didn't sell his ass, for he was able to
team up with the older brother and put the ass to good work in
connection with the mill. These two brothers, however, had no use for
the youngest son's cat. They told him, "You expect us to give you
a share in our profits just for giving your cat a job catching mice at
the mill? We can find any old cat on the street who would love to live
at the mill and catch mice, and will do it for free."
Consequently, these two older brothers had no use for the younger
brother and sent him away.
younger brother had no choice but to go out into the world and seek
his fortune. He had few possessions and these he carried on his back.
The Cat, which his father had named Graymalkin, he carried under his
arm. When he had walked a little way, he sat down to the side of the
road, very depressed. "My brothers," he said, "will get
their living handsomely enough by joining their stocks together, but
for my part, when I have eaten up my cat, and made me a muff of his
skin, I must die of hunger."
a shock! Have you ever heard of a person eating their cat? For that
matter, have you ever heard of someone eating a cat at all? Well, some
people do eat cats because they have little else to eat. Indeed, in
some countries cat is considered a decent thing to eat.
which the boy had put down, and which did happen to be a gray cat, sat
down opposite the youth and asked, curious, "What's a muff? I
think I have a right to know what a muff is if you're going to eat me
and make my skin into this thing called a muff."
despondent, the boy seemed not to notice how peculiar it was that
Graymalkin had spoken to him. "A muff," he replied, "is
something you put your hands in to protect them from the cold. It's
shaped like a tube and in one end of it you put one hand and in the
other end of it you put your other hand."
answered, "That doesn't explain to me why it's called a muff. Is
it because your hands are muffled in the muff? They're all wrapped up?"
word muff supposedly comes from the word mitten," the boy
said Graymalkin. "I see. 'Three little kittens have lost their
mittens and they began to cry: meow, meow.' How you see cats has been
conditioned by that silly little rhyme. So, you think that cats have
to do with mittens and so you shall make me into a muff. That's silly
and shortsighted." In a grave and serious air, Graymalkin went
on, "Instead, you should give me a bag and get a pair of boots
made for me so I can scamper through the dirt and the brambles. Do
that and you'll see that you have not so bad a portion in me as you
imagine. Kittens may wear mittens, but I'm not a kitten. I'm a cat.
And I think I'd look good in a nice pair of white boots."
that, a cat wanting boots so it can scamper in the dirt and brambles.
What are brambles? You think, "Why do I need to know what
brambles are?" Well, you ought to know. Brambles are a variant
for the old word braam which meant broom. A bramble was any
rosaceous plant of the genus Rubus. A bramble was also any
rough and prickly plant, like the plant called the dog rose. You
really ought to know things like this and not let words you know
nothing about slip over your mind like water and run away without your
catching what they mean.
am on the threshold of such great poverty," the boy said, "that
I can think of nothing to do but eat you then sit down and die of
hunger after my stomach is through digesting you, and you expect me to
get you a bag and a fancy pair of white boots?"
answered, "Your imagination isn't so quick as mine is. I'd also
like a fancy hat with a feather in it, but that will come with time."
Cat's Master--for this was what the youth was, the Cat's Master--knew
that he had in his backpack just enough money to get a bag and boots
for the Cat. As for how it would benefit him to get the Cat his bag
and boots, the Cat's master did not build very much upon what he said,
for, come to think of it, he had often seen him play a great many
cunning tricks to catch rats and mice, as when he used to hang by the
heels, or hide himself in the meal, and make as if he were dead. Yes,
when he thought about it a little, the youth did not altogether
despair of his Cat affording him some help in his miserable condition.
how odd it must have been for the shoemaker to whom the Master took
his Cat to be fitted for a pair of boots. Here walks in an obviously
poor youth and hands the shoemaker some money and says to him to
measure his Cat for a pair of boots made of the finest, softest white
leather. A pair of boots with buckles. Because he was being paid, the
shoemaker did as he was asked and measured the Cat and made the boots.
The boots were expertly made and fit the Cat perfectly. Once he had
them on, he pranced all about, feeling quite debonair and very, very
proud of his appearance. Cats are like that, they take pride in their
appearance, which is why they're always cleaning themselves and get
irritated if their fur isn't just so.
his new pair of white boots, the Cat felt absolutely gallant. Feeling
very gallant and confident, he put the bag about his neck that his
Master had got for him and went into a warren where there was a great
abundance of rabbits. He put bran and sow-thistle into his bag, and
stretching out at length, as if he was dead, he waited for some young
rabbits, not yet acquainted with the deceits of the world, to come and
rummage his bag for what he had put into it. The Cat knew that rabbits
liked sow-thistle and bran, and scarce was he lain down but he had
what he wanted. A rash and foolish young rabbit jumped into his bag,
and Monsieur Puss (he was a French cat, which is odd because
Graymalkin is a Scottish word for cat), immediately drawing close the
strings of the bag, took and killed him without pity. Ouch. But this
is also just how cats are. They are hunters. We who keep cats as pets
and feed them prepared food from cans or bags, can still imagine what
resourceful hunters cats are by the way the play with their toys.
of his prey, Graymalkin, or Monsieur Graymalkin (in keeping with his
gallant appearance he should have a French title, though Monsieur
simply means master or mister in English) went with the rabbit to the
palace and asked to speak with his majesty. He was shown upstairs into
the King's apartment, and, making a low reverence--which means that he
bowed low to the ground--said to him, "I have brought you, your
majestic sir, a rabbit of the warren, which my noble lord the Marquis
of Carabus" (for that was the title which Monsieur Graymalkin
Puss was pleased to give his Master) "has commanded me to present
to your majesty from him."
thy master," said the King, "that I thank him and that he
does me a great deal of pleasure."
Graymalkin Puss also caught some rabbits for his Master and himself,
so they both had something to eat and did not go hungry.
he told him, "should anyone call you the Marquis of Carabus, you
should respond as though it is your name."
Marquis is a nobleman who is below a Duke, but above an Earl or Count.
I'm not a Marquis," Graymalkin's Master said. "If I'm not a
Marquis, but am now to answer to the Marquis of Carabus, why couldn't
I just as well be called Duke of Carabus, since I'm not a Duke either?"
are Marquis Carabus," insisted Monsieur Graymalkin Puss.
that matter," answered his Master, "as there is no such
place as Carabus, not that I know of, why not call me Marquis of
Carabast or Marquis of Crab or even the Marquis of Cerberus."
someone calls you the Marquis Carabus, you are to answer to that name,"
was all Monsieur Graymalkin Puss replied.
next day, Monsieur Graymalkin Puss hid himself among some standing
corn in a field, holding his bag open. A brace of partridges ran into
it (a brace of partridges, that means a pair or a couple) and drawing
the strings of the bag shut he caught them both. Just as he had done
with the rabbit which he caught in the warren, he went and presented
the partridges to the King as a present. The King was very, very
pleased and ordered Monsieur Graymalkin be given money to buy himself
a drink. Maybe he went and bought himself some milk. Imagine a cat in
white leather boots trotting into a coffee shop and ordering himself a
cup of milk with a dash of coffee. Wouldn't it be nice if they served
it in a sky blue mug the size of a bowl.
three months Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat continued to take to the
King occasional gifts of game, which, each time, he said his Master,
the Marquis Carabus, had snared. The remainder of the game he caught,
Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat took to his Master, who sold it and with
the profits was able to pay for his lodging in a small rooming house.
day, when Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat, had carried two particularly
fine, fat quail to the King, he overheard that the following morning
the king planned to take a leisurely ride along the river with his
daughter, who happened to be the most beautiful princess in the world.
Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat went to his Master and told him, "If
you will follow my advice your fortune is made. You have nothing else
to do but go and wash yourself in the river tomorrow morning, and
leave the rest to me."
Marquis of Carabas did what Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat advised him
to do, though without knowing why or wherefore, and the next morning
was washing in the river when the King passed by. Quickly hurrying to
hide his Master's ragged clothes under a stone, the cunning Monsieur
Graymalkin Pussy Cat began to cry out, "Help! Help! My Lord
Marquis of Carabus is going to be drowned!"
the commotion, the King put his head out of the coach-window and saw
it was the Cat who had so often brought him such good game. He ordered
his guards to run immediately to the assistance of his Lordship the
Marquis of Carabus. While they were drawing the Cat's Master out of
the river, the Cat ran up to the coach. He exclaimed to the King, "My
King, while my Master, the Marquis of Carabus, was washing in this
beautiful river of your fine country, there came by some rogues, and
though he cried out, 'Thieves! Thieves!' several times, as loud as he
could, the rogues made off with his clothes without anyone stopping
them. Have your daughter shut her eyes lest she saw the Marquis of
Carabus in his morning glory," which is, to say, the Princess had
best avert her attention lest she should see the Cat's master
extracted from the water nude as a jaybird.
King commanded the officers of his wardrobe, "Quick, run and
fetch one of my best suits for the Lord Marquis of Carabus."
the meanwhile, the Cat's Master hid behind some bushes. When the
officers of the King's wardrobe returned with a splendid suit of silk,
he put it on.
The Cat's Master was a handsome youth in prime physical
condition, and when he stepped out from behind the bushes in the
King's silk suit, he looked positively elegant, and every inch a
Marquis, if not a Duke or a King. Delighted to meet who had so often
made a present to him of his best game, the King hugged the Cat's
master warmly. His daughter, who had been seated all this while with
her pretty hands covering her eyes, snuck a peek through her fingers.
Seeing the Marquis Carabus was dressed, she took her hands down from
her eyes and gazed fully on him. "My," she thought to
herself, "isn't he handsome." She noticed the Marquis
Carabus staring back at her and put her hands back up to her face,
this time to hide how she was blushing.
appears those rogues made off with my Master's fine horse as well,"
Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat told the King. "Isn't it shameful
when a fine individual such as the Marquis Carabus, can't take a
pleasant bath in such a fine river without being robbed of his clothes
King exclaimed, "The Marquis Carabus must ride with my daughter
and me in my coach." He pressed on the Cat's master adamantly,
and the Cat's Master consented.
to see his project begin to succeed, Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat
marched on before the coach which carried the King, the Princess, and
the Marquis Carabus. Meeting with some countrymen, who were mowing in
a meadow, he said to them, "Good people, you who are mowing, if
you do not tell the King that the meadow you mow belongs to my Lord
Marquis of Carabus, you shall be chopped as small as herbs for the
the King's coach passed by the meadow, Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat
called out to the King, "Sir, if you look to your left, you will
see Countrymen mowing a meadow which never fails to yield a plentiful
harvest every year."
Countrymen," the King called out to the mowers, "to whom
does this meadow belong which you are mowing, and which never fails to
yield a plentiful harvest every year?"
answered, rather timidly, for the Cat's threats had made them terribly
afraid, "This meadow belongs to none other than our Lord Marquis
Master Cat marched on, again, before the coach, and meeting with some
reapers he said to them, "Good people, you who are reaping, if
you do not tell the King that all this corn belongs to the Marquis of
Carabas, you shall be chopped as small as herbs for the pot."
the King's coach passed by the reapers, Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat
called out to the King, "Sir, if you look to your left, you will
see reapers reaping a great field of corn. This great field never
fails to yield a plentiful harvest of corn every year, and its fine
management is certainly a testament to the quality of your obedient
servant who owns the field."
reapers," the King called to the reapers, "to whom does this
field of corn belong which you are reaping, which never fails to yield
a plentiful harvest every year, and the fine management of which is
certainly a testament to the quality of my obedient servant who owns
reapers answered, rather timidly, for the Cat's threats had made them
afraid, "This corn belongs to none other than our Lord Marquis of
King, very pleased, congratulated the Marquis on his fine management
of the field of corn.
Master Cat, who went on again before the coach, said the same words to
all he met, that they should tell the King the land they were working
belonged to their Lord Marquis of Carabas. Then as the King passed by
Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat would point out to him the richness of
the land. The King, always asking to whom the land belonged, and each
time being told that it belonged to none other than the Lord Marquis
of Carabus, was astonished at the vast estates held by the Lord
Marquis of Carabus.
going on before the coach, Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat came to a
stately castle, the Master of which was an ogre, the richest ogre ever
had been known, for all the lands which the King had ridden past
belonged to this terrible ogre. Of course, Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy
Cat knew about this ogre. He had known about him all along, and his
knowledge of the ogre was what had inspired the Cat's marvelous plan
which he had been carrying out all day, even the last several months.
Reaching the castle before the coach, Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat
went right up to the castle's door, pounded upon it, and demanded that
he should speak with the Ogre. "I must speak with the ogre to
whom this fine castle belongs," he called out. "As I was
passing by, I thought to myself that I could not go on without having
the honor of paying my respects to the ogre who maintains such a rich
though they are quite unlike the rest of us in the quality of their
unpleasantness, are still prone to the same vanity that we must always
guard ourselves against lest we fall prey to cunning flattery. So, he
received Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat as civilly as any ogre could
do, and bade him to sit down with him.
hear that you felt compelled to honor me with praises," the ogre
said to the Master Cat.
may go ahead and honor me as profusely as you like."
Pussy Cat replied, "Monsieur Ogre, all day long, as I have
traveled along the beautiful river of this country, I have been
awestruck by the quality of the farmland which borders it. Every
worker who I've come upon, I've asked the same question, to whom this
marvelous land belongs, and each one has told me the same thing, that
it belongs to the Master of this castle. As I was passing the castle
by, I saw how it too was marvelous, and thought I would like to stop
and pay my respects. You, certainly, are very nearly the most
remarkable ogre I have had the pleasure to meet."
ogre snarled, "What do you mean I am very nearly the most
remarkable ogre you have ever met?"
Graymalkin Pussy Cat replied, "You are only subordinate to he to
whom I am servant, my Lord Marquis Carabus."
ogre snarled more meanly. "How am I subordinate to your Lord
Marquis Carabus?" he demanded.
the Master Cat answered, "my Lord Marquis Carabus has the gift of
being able to transform his identity as it pleases him, or so it has
seemed to me. Today, for instance, he passes himself off as a King in
King's clothing. Who else has the power to change himself into
whatever he has a mind to. For example, could you change yourself into
an elephant, a monkey, or even a lion?"
can pass themselves off as a King, if he has the right clothing,"
answered the ogre. "But could your Lord Carabus transform himself
into an elephant or a lion, as I am able to do?"
tell me you have the ability to take the shape of a lion,"
answered the Cat.
do," said the ogre. "And to convince you, you shall see me
now become a lion."
Master Cat answered, "Surely, you do not mean that you can
transform yourself, literally, into a lion. Surely, you must mean
instead that you are able to take the semblance of a lion."
ogre, right before the eyes of Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat,
immediately transformed himself into a roaring lion. Monsieur
Graymalkin Pussy Cat, terrified, ran up the drapes and did not come
down again until the ogre had resumed his natural form.
Graymalkin Pussy Cat informed the ogre, "It is remarkable indeed
that an ogre can transform himself into a great lion. It would seem to
me an impossibility, however, that an ogre as great as yourself could
assume the form of a much less proud creature, such as a rat or a
mouse, whereas my Lord Marquis Carabus has frequently been observed to
be a low and ragged peasant."
Lord Marquis Carabus has nothing on me!" the ogre growled. "It
is easy, with the proper clothing, to assume the identity of a ragged
peasant. But could your Lord Carabus shrink himself into the lowly
form of a mouse?"
Cat answered, "Surely, you do not mean that you can transform
yourself into a mouse. Surely, you mean that you can instead transform
yourself into the semblance of a mouse."
ogre changed himself into a mouse, as had been the Master Cat's plan
all along. And whether the ogre had only taken the semblance of a
mouse, or had become, in reality, a mouse, we shall never know, for
semblance or not, Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat immediately pounced
upon him and ate him up.
Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat ran outside just in time to meet the
King's coach as it approached the castle. He called out, bowing low
before the coach, "Your Majesty is welcome to this castle of my
Lord Marquis of Carabus."
King turned to the Cat's Master and said, "My Lord Marquis
Carabus, does this castle also belong to you? There can be nothing
finer than this court and all the stately buildings which surround it.
I would like to go in and look around, if you please."
Marquis gave his hand to the Princess, and they followed the King, who
went first into the castle. They passed into a spacious hall as was
ever seen, where was laid out on a great table a dinner more
spectacular than you could ever imagine, for, as it happened, the ogre
had invited over many of his friends for a party that day, but when
they arrived they saw the King was there and dared not enter but
Graymalkin Pussy Cat mewed, "His Majesty, the King, is asked to
dine with my Lord Marquis Carabus, who sent forward and ordered this
meal be prepared that you may have some refreshment."
King, and the Princess, were perfectly charmed with the good qualities
of the Marquis of Carabus, as well as greatly impressed by his vast
estate. After dining, the King asked the Marquis if he would marry the
Princess. The Marquis, making several low bows, accepted the honor
which his Majesty conferred upon him, and forthwith, that every same
day, married the Princess.
Graymalkin Pussy Cat became a great lord, and never ran after mice any
more but only for his diversion.
for the King and Princess, they never learned that the Marquis Carabus
had ever been anything but what Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat had
presented him to be. And as there had never been a Marquis Carabus
before Graymalkin Pussy Cat imagined him, we must conclude that
Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat was a very powerful magician indeed.
Either that, or the miller's youngest son had always been Marquis
Carabus, but had never suspected it himself until Monsieur Graymalkin
Pussy Cat made his identity known to him. Remember this with everyone
you meet, and consider that they too may be also other than what they
appear to be, if an ogre is able to be a roaring lion one moment, and
a timid mouse the next.
I almost forgot to mention that the Marquis Carabus had made for
Monsieur Graymalkin Pussy Cat a very nice hat with a fabulous feather.
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Retelling by J. Kearns from the Charles Perrault tale in Andrew Lang's "The Blue Fairy Book".
Return to the fairy tales - book two