The Cottager and his Cat (cont.)
(see previous page for audio)Two women and three men were at supper when he entered and silently made room for him to sit down by them. When he had eaten, he began to look about him and was surprised to see an animal sitting by the fire different from anything he had ever noticed before. It was grey in colour, and not very big, but its eyes were large and very bright, and it seemed to be singing in an odd way, quite unlike any animal in the forest.
'What is the name of that strange little creature?' asked he.
And they answered, 'We call it a cat.'
'I should like to buy it — if it is not too dear,' said the young man; 'it would be company for me.'
And they told him that he might have it for six shillings, if he cared to give so much. The young man took out his precious bit of paper, handed them the six shillings, and the next morning bade them farewell, with the cat lying snugly in his cloak.
For the whole day they wandered through meadows and forests till in the evening they reached a house. The young fellow knocked at the door and asked the old man who opened it if he could rest there that night, adding that he had no money to pay for it.
'Then I must give it to you,' answered the man and led him into a room where two women and two men were sitting at supper. One of the women was the old man's wife, the other his daughter. He placed the cat on the mantel shelf, and they all crowded round to examine this strange beast, and the cat rubbed itself against them, and held out its paw, and sang to them, and the women were delighted and gave it everything that a cat could eat, and a great deal more besides.
After hearing the youth's story and how he had nothing in the world left him except his cat, the old man advised him to go to the palace, which was only a few miles distant, and take counsel of the king, who was kind to everyone and would certainly be his friend. The young man thanked him and said he would gladly take his advice, and early next morning he set out for the royal palace.
He sent a message to the king to beg for an audience and received a reply that he was to go into the great hall, where he would find his Majesty.
The king was at dinner with his court when the young man entered, and he signed to him to come near. The youth bowed low and then gazed in surprise at the crowd of little black creatures who were running about the floor, and even on the table itself. Indeed, they were so bold that they snatched pieces of food from the King's own plate, and if he drove them away, tried to bite his hands, so that he could not eat his food, and his courtiers fared no better.
'What sort of animals are these?' asked the youth of one of the ladies sitting near him.
'They are called rats,' answered the king, who had overheard the question, 'and for years we have tried some way of putting an end to them, but it is impossible. They come into our very beds.'
At this moment something was seen flying through the air. The cat was on the table, and, with two or three shakes, a number of rats were lying dead round him. Then a great scuffling of feet was heard, and in a few minutes the hall was clear.
For some minutes the King and his courtiers only looked at each other in astonishment. 'What kind of animal is that which can work magic of this sort?' asked he. And the young man told him that it was called a cat, and that he had bought it for six shillings.
And the King answered: 'Because of the luck you have brought me in freeing my palace from the plague which has tormented me for many years, I will give you the choice of two things. Either you shall be my Prime Minister, or else you shall marry my daughter and reign after me. Say: which shall it be?'
'The princess and the kingdom,' said the young man.
And so it was.
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