Four and Twenty Fairy Tales: Selected from Those of Perrault, and Other Popular Writers | Annotated Tale

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Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots

A MILLER bequeathed to his three sons all his worldly goods, which consisted only of his mill, his ass, and his cat. The division was speedily made. Neither notary nor attorney were called in; they would soon have eaten up all the little patrimony. The eldest had the mill; the second son, the ass; and the youngest had nothing but the cat. The latter was disconsolate at inheriting so poor a portion. "My brothers," said he, "may earn an honest livelihood by entering into partnership; but, as for me, when I have eaten my Cat, and made a muff of his skin, I must die of hunger." The Cat, who had heard this speech, but without appearing to do so, said to him, with a sedate and serious air, "Do not afflict yourself, master; you have only to give me a bag and get a pair of boots made for me, to go amongst the bushes in, and you will see that you are not so badly left as you believe." Though the Cat's master did not place much confidence in this assertion, he had seen him play such cunning tricks in catching rats and mice, when he would hang himself up by the heels, or lie in the flour as if he were dead, that he was not altogether hopeless of being assisted by him in his distress.

                As soon as the Cat had what he asked for, he pulled on his boots boldly, and hanging the bag round his neck, he took the strings of it in his fore paws, and went into a warren where there were a great number of rabbits. He put some bran and some sow-thistles in his bag, and stretching himself out as if he were dead, he waited till some young rabbit, little versed in the wiles of the world, should come and ensconce himself in the bag, in order to eat what he had put into it. He had hardly laid down before he was gratified. A young scatterbrain of a rabbit entered the bag, and Master Cat instantly pulling the strings, caught it and killed it without mercy. Proud of his prey, he went to the King's Palace, and demanded an audience. He was ushered up to his Majesty's apartment, into which having entered, he made a low bow to the King, and said to him, "Sire, here is a wild rabbit, which my Lord the Marquis de Carabas (such was the name he took a fancy to give to his master) has ordered me to present, with his duty, to your Majesty." "Tell your master," replied the King, "that I thank him, and that he has given me great pleasure." Another day he went and hid himself in the wheat, holding the mouth of his bag open, as usual, and as soon as a brace of partridges entered it, he pulled the strings, and took them both. He went immediately and presented them to the King, in the same way that he had the wild rabbit. The King received with equal gratification the brace of partridges, and gave him something to drink his health. The Cat continued in this manner during two or three months to carry to the King, every now and then, presents of game from his master. One day when he knew the King was going to drive on the banks of the river, with his daughter, the most beautiful Princess in the world, he said to his master, "If you will follow my advice, your fortune is made; you have only to go and bathe in a part of the river I will point out to you, and leave the rest to me." The Marquis de Carabas did as his cat advised him, without knowing what good would come of it. While he was bathing, the King passed by, and the Cat began to shout with all his might, "Help! help! My Lord the Marquis de Carabas is drowning!" At this cry, the King looked out of the coach window, and recognising the cat who had so often brought game to him, ordered his guards to fly to the help of my Lord the Marquis de Carabas. Whilst they were getting the poor Marquis out of the river, the Cat approaching the royal coach, told the King that during the time his master was bathing, some robbers had come and carried off his clothes, although he had called "Thieves!" as loud as he could. The rogue had hidden them himself under a great stone. The King immediately ordered the officers of his wardrobe to go and fetch one of his handsomest suits for my Lord the Marquis de Carabas. The King embraced him a thousand times, and as the fine clothes they dressed him in set off his good looks (for he was handsome and well made), the King's daughter found him much to her taste; and the Marquis de Carabas had no sooner cast upon her two or three respectful and rather tender glances, than she fell desperately in love with him. The King insisted upon his getting into the coach, and accompanying them in their drive. The Cat, enchanted to see that his scheme began to succeed, ran on before, and having met with some peasants who were mowing a meadow, said to them, "You, good people, who are mowing here, if you do not tell the King that the meadow you are mowing belongs to my Lord the Marquis de Carabas, you shall be all cut into pieces as small as minced meat!" The King failed not to ask the mowers whose meadow it was they were mowing? "It belongs to my Lord the Marquis de Carabas," said they altogether, for the Cat's threat had frightened them. "You perceive, Sire," rejoined the Marquis, "it is a meadow which yields an abundant crop every year." Master Cat, who kept in advance of the party, came up to some reapers, and said to them, "You, good people, who are reaping, if you do not say that all this corn belongs to my Lord the Marquis de Carabas, you shall be all cut into pieces as small as minced meat!" The King, who passed by a minute afterwards, wished to know to whom all those cornfields belonged that he saw there. "To my Lord the Marquis de Carabas," repeated the reapers, and the King again wished the Marquis joy of his property. The Cat, who ran before the coach, uttered the same threat to all he met with, and the King was astonished at the great wealth of my Lord the Marquis de Carabas. Master Cat at length arrived at a fine Château, the owner of which was an Ogre, the richest that was ever known, for all the lands through which the King had driven were held of the Lord of this Château. The Cat took care to inquire who the Ogre was, and what he was able to do; and then requested to speak with him, saying that he would not pass so near his Château without doing himself the honour of paying his respects to him. The Ogre received him as civilly as an Ogre could, and made him sit down. "They assure me," said the Cat, "that you possess the power of changing yourself into all sorts of animals; that you could, for instance, transform yourself into a lion, or an elephant." "'Tis true," said the Ogre, brusquely, "and to prove it to you, you shall see me become a lion." The Cat was so frightened at seeing a lion before him, that he immediately scampered up into the gutter, not without trouble and danger, on account of his boots, which were not fit to walk on the tiles with. A short time afterwards, the Cat having perceived that the Ogre had resumed his previous form, descended, and admitted that he had been terribly frightened. "They assure me, besides," said the Cat, "but I cannot believe it, that you have also the power to assume the form of the smallest animal; for instance, to change yourself into a rat or a mouse. I confess to you I hold that to be utterly impossible." "Impossible!" replied the Ogre; "you shall see!" and immediately changed himself into a mouse, which began to run about the floor. The Cat no sooner caught sight of it than he pounced upon and devoured it. In the meanwhile, the King, who saw from the road the fine Château of the Ogre, desired to enter it. The Cat, who heard the noise of the coach rolling over the drawbridge, ran to meet it, and said to the King, "Your Majesty is welcome to the Château of my Lord the Marquis de Carabas." "How, my Lord Marquis," exclaimed the King, "this Château also belongs to you? Nothing can be finer than this court-yard, and all these buildings that surround it. Let us see the inside of it, if you please." The Marquis handed out the young Princess, and following the King, who led the way upstairs, entered a grand hall, where they found a magnificent collation, which the Ogre had ordered to be prepared for some friends who were to have visited him that very day, but who did not presume to enter when they found the King was there. The King, as much enchanted by the accomplishments of my Lord the Marquis de Carabas as his daughter, who doted upon him, and seeing the great wealth he possessed, said to him, after having drunk five or six bumpers, "It depends entirely on yourself, my Lord Marquis, whether or not you become my son-in-law." The Marquis, making several profound bows, accepted the honour the King offered him; and on the same day was united to the Princess. The Cat became a great lord, and never again ran after mice, except for his amusement.

Be the advantage ne'er so great           
Of owning a superb estate,           
From sire to son descended.           
Young men oft find, on industry,           
Combined with ingenuity,           
They'd better have depended.


If the son of a Miller so quickly could gain     
The heart of a Princess, it seems pretty plain,     
With good looks and good manners, and some aid from dress,     
The humblest need not quite despair of success.


MAÎTRE CHAT; ou, le Chat Botté.--This capital story is said by Mr. Dunlop and Mr. Keightley to be taken from a collection of stories by Giovan Francesco Straparola, printed at Venice in 1550-54, under the titles of Tredici Piacevole Notte, and translated into French "with considerable embellishments" in 1585. That the first story of the Eleventh Night is derived from the same source as Perrault's there can be little doubt; but I am not by any means prepared to admit that Perrault was indebted to that or any other printed collection for this or any one of those eight stories which it is clear were well known in France as Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oye. Straparola, who seems to have borrowed largely from Morlini, and collected stories wherever he could find them, drew upon the traditions of Brittany as well as on the fabliaux of Provence. It is indeed notorious that the Italian novelists were indebted almost entirely to the Trouvères or Troubadours of Languedoc, whilst they themselves admit that the plots of their romances were of Armorican origin.

In Britanie of old time     
These lays were wrought, so saith this rhyme.

                Says the old translator of the Lai le Fraine, the author of which Mr. Dunlop acknowledges "must have been better informed than any modern writer" (History of Fiction, 8vo, 1845, p. 196). In the second edition of the Countess D'Aulnoy's Fairy Tales, I took an opportunity of vindicating that lady from the charge so hastily preferred against her both by Mr. Dunlop and Mr. Keightley, and I now contest as strongly the accuracy of the opinions of the same writers respecting the tales of Charles Perrault. Neither in the story of Straparola, first of the Eleventh Night, nor in the Gagliuso of Signor Basile (whose Pentamerone, published in 1672, is also roundly asserted to have been the "origin" of the French Contes des Fées [1]), do we find Puss in Boots. What would Le Maître Chat be, were he not also Le Chat Botté? Nor is there an Ogre--that especial characteristic of a legend of Brittany--nor consequently the delicious scene between him and Puss, which so dramatically winds up the French story. The same unmistakeable indications of its being a veritable Histoire du Temps Passé, militate against the belief alluded to by M. de Plancy, that the Marquis de Carabas was intended as a portrait of some particular nobleman of the time of Louis XIV.; and therefore that the usurpation of the castle and property of the ogre might be an allusion to the indelicate seizure by D'Aubigné of the domains of a Protestant, an exile in consequence of the religious persecutions at the close of the seventeenth century, "In which case," he adds, "the Cat would be Madame de Maintenon!" What a pity so ingenious an idea should be destitute of foundation. It is more probable that the wits of the day compared the illustrious individuals to the Marquis de Carabas and his Cat.

                I have kept the old English title of Puss in Boots, though it is not literally that of the original. It would have been an indictable offence to have altered it.

                The tricks of the cat to catch the rats are described almost in the words of Lafontaine, in his fable of Le Chat et le Vieux Rat, in which Maître Mitis, "l'Alexandre des chats," a second Rodillard, "se pend la tête en bas" and "s'enfarine" for the same purpose.


[1] "Of the ten stories in the Mother Goose's Fairy Tales of Perrault, seven are to be found in the Pentamerone," says Mr. Keightley, in his Tales and Fictions, p. 184. I have already shown that there were only eight stories in the Contes de ma Mère l'Oye, and in the Pentamerone I find but two that have any similitude to the tales of Perrault--viz., Gagliuso and La Gatta Cenerentola, both differing widely in many points from the ancient Breton traditions.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots
Tale Author/Editor: Perrault, Charles
Book Title: Four and Twenty Fairy Tales: Selected from Those of Perrault, and Other Popular Writers
Book Author/Editor: Planché, J. R.
Publisher: G. Routledge & Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1858
Country of Origin: France
Classification: ATU 545B: The Cat Castle

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