02Mar
2012
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Cat-Skin

Cat-Skin

There was once a king, whose queen had hair of the purest gold, and wasso beautiful that her match was not to be  met with on the whole face ofthe earth. But this beautiful queen fell ill,  and when she felt thather  end drew near she called the king to  her and said, «Promise methat you  will never marry again, unless you  meet with a wife who  isas beautiful as  I am, and who has golden  hair like mine.» Then whenthe king in his  grief promised all she asked, she shut her  eyes anddied. But the king was  not to be comforted, and for a long time neverthought of taking another wife. At last, however,  his wise men  said,«this  will not do;  the king  must marry again, that we may  have aqueen.» So  messengers were sent far  and wide, to seek for a bride asbeautiful as the late queen. But there was no princess in the world sobeautiful; and if there had been, still there was not one to be foundwho had golden hair. So the messengers came home,  and had had all theirtrouble for nothing.

Now the king had a daughter, who was just as beautiful as her mother,and had the same golden hair.  And when she was grown  up, the kinglooked  at her and saw that she  was just like this late  queen: then hesaid to  his courtiers, «May I not marry my daughter? She is the veryimage of my  dead wife: unless I have her, I shall not find any brideupon the whole  earth, and you say there  must be a  queen.» When thecourtiers heard this  they were shocked, and  said, «Heaven  forbid thata father  should marry  his daughter! Out of so great  a sin no good cancome.» And his daughter  was also shocked, but hoped the king would soongive up such thoughts; so  she said to him, «Before I marry anyone Imust have three dresses: one must be of gold, like the sun; another mustbe of shining silver, like the  moon; and a third must be dazzling asthe stars: besides this, I want a  mantle of a thousand different kindsof fur put together, to which every beast in the kingdom must give apart of his skin.» And  thus she though he  would think of the matter nomore. But the king made the most skilful workmen in his kingdom weavethe three dresses:  one golden, like  the sun;  another silvery, likethe  moon; and a  third sparkling, like  the stars: and  his hunterswere told to hunt out all  the beasts in his kingdom, and to  take thefinest fur out of  their skins: and thus a  mantle of a thousand  furswas made.

When all were  ready, the king  sent them to  her; but she  got up inthe night when all were asleep, and took three of her trinkets, a goldenring, a golden necklace, and  a golden brooch, and  packed the threedresses—of the sun, the moon, and the stars—up in a nutshell, andwrapped herself  up in the mantle made of all sorts  of fur, andbesmeared her face and  hands with soot. Then she threw  herself uponHeaven for  help in her need,  and went away, and journeyed on  thewhole night, till at  last she came to  a large wood. As she was verytired, she sat herself down in the hollow of a tree and soon fellasleep: and there she slept on till it was midday.

Now as the king to whom the wood belonged was hunting in it, his dogscame to the tree, and began to snuff about, and run round and round, andbark. «Look sharp!» said the king  to the huntsmen, «and  see what sortof  game lies there.» And the huntsmen went up to the tree, and whenthey came back again said, «In the hollow tree there lies a mostwonderful beast, such as we never saw before; its skin seems to be of athousand kinds of fur,  but there it lies fast  asleep.» «See,» saidthe king, «if  you can catch  it alive, and we will take it with us.’So the huntsmen took it up, and  the maiden awoke and was greatlyfrightened, and said, «I am a poor child that has neither father normother left; have pity on me and take me with you.» Then they said,«Yes, Miss Cat-skin, you will do for the kitchen; you  can sweep up theashes, and do things of that sort.» So they put her into  the coach, andtook  her home to  the king’s  palace. Then they  showed her  a littlecorner under the staircase, where  no light of day ever peeped  in, andsaid, «Cat-skin, you may lie and  sleep there.» And she was sent  intothe kitchen, and made to fetch wood and water, to blow the fire, pluckthe poultry, pick the herbs, sift the ashes, and do all the dirty work.

Thus Cat-skin  lived  for  a  long  time  very  sorrowfully.  «Ah!pretty princess!» thought she, «what  will now become of  thee?» But ithappened one day that a feast was to be  held in the king’s castle, soshe said  to the cook, «May I  go up a little  while and see what  isgoing on? I  will take care and stand behind the door.» And the cooksaid, «Yes, you may go, but be back again in half an hour’s time, torake out the ashes.» Then she took her little lamp, and went into hercabin, and took off the fur  skin, and washed the soot from off her faceand hands, so that her beauty  shone forth like the sun from behind  theclouds. She next opened her  nutshell, and brought out of it  the dressthat shone like  the sun, and so went  to the feast.  Everyone made  wayfor  her,  for nobody  knew her,  and  they thought she could be no lessthan a king’s daughter. But the king came  up to her, and held out hishand and  danced with her; and he thought in  his heart, «I never sawany one half so beautiful.»

When the dance was at an end she curtsied; and when the king lookedround for her, she was gone,  no one knew wither. The  guards that stoodat  the castle gate were called in: but they had seen no one. The truthwas,  that she had run  into her little  cabin, pulled off  her dress,blackened  her face and hands, put  on the fur-skin cloak,  and wasCat-skin again.  When she went into the kitchen  to her work, and beganto rake the ashes,  the cook said, «Let that alone till the  morning,and heat the king’s soup;  I should like to run up now and give  a peep:but take care you don’t let  a hair fall into it, or you will run achance of never eating again.»

As soon  as the  cook went  away,  Cat-skin heated  the king’s  soup,and toasted a slice of bread first, as  nicely as ever she could; andwhen  it was ready, she went and  looked in the cabin  for her littlegolden  ring, and put it into the dish in which  the soup was. When thedance was  over, the king ordered his soup  to be brought in; and  itpleased him so  well, that he thought he had never tasted  any so goodbefore. At the bottom  he saw a gold ring lying; and as he could notmake out how it had got  there, he ordered the cook to be sent for. Thecook was frightened when he  heard the order, and said to Cat-skin, «Youmust have let a hair fall into  the soup; if it be so, you will have agood beating.» Then he went before  the king, and he  asked him who  hadcooked  the soup. «I  did,» answered  the cook. But the king said,«That is not true; it  was better done than  you could do it.» Then heanswered, «To tell the truth I did not cook it,  but Cat-skin did.’«Then let  Cat-skin come up,» said  the king: and when  she came he saidto her, «Who are you?»  «I am a poor child,» said she,  «that has lostboth father and mother.» «How  came you in my palace?» asked  he. «I amgood for nothing,» said she,  «but to be scullion-girl, and to  haveboots and shoes thrown at my head.» «But how did you get the ring thatwas in the  soup?» asked  the  king. Then  she would  not  own that  sheknew anything about  the  ring; so  the  king sent  her  away againabout  her business.

After a time there was another feast,  and Cat-skin asked the cook tolet her go up and see it as before. «Yes,» said he, «but come again inhalf an hour, and cook the king the soup that  he likes so much.» Thenshe ran  to her little cabin, washed herself quickly, and took her dressout which was silvery as the moon, and put it on;  and when she went in,looking like  a king’s daughter,  the king  went up  to her,  andrejoiced  at seeing  her again, and when the dance began he danced withher. After the dance was at an end she managed to slip out, so  slylythat the king did not see  where she was gone; but she sprang into herlittle cabin, and made herself  into Cat-skin again, and  went into thekitchen to cook  the soup. Whilst  the cook was above stairs, she gotthe golden necklace and dropped it into the soup; then it was brought tothe king,  who ate it, and it pleased him  as well as before; so he sentfor the cook, who was again forced to tell  him that Cat-skin had cookedit. Cat-skin  was brought again before the  king, but she still  toldhim  that she  was only fit  to have  boots and  shoes thrown at herhead.

But when the king had ordered a feast to be got ready for the thirdtime, it happened just the same as before. «You must be a witch,Cat-skin,» said the cook; «for you always put something into your soup,so that it pleases the king better than mine.» However, he let her go upas before. Then  she put on  her  dress  which sparkled  like  thestars, and  went  into  the ball-room in it; and the king danced  withher again, and thought she  had never looked so beautiful as she didthen. So whilst he was dancing  with her, he put a gold ring on  herfinger without her seeing it, and  ordered that the dance should be keptup a long time. When  it was at an end,  he would have held her fast bythe hand, but she slipped away, and sprang  so quickly through the crowdthat he lost  sight of her: and she ran as  fast as she could into  herlittle cabin  under the stairs.  But this time  she kept away too long,and stayed beyond  the half-hour; so she had not  time to take off herfine dress, and threw  her fur mantle over it, and in  her haste did notblacken herself all  over with  soot, but left  one of  her fingerswhite.

Then she ran into the kitchen, and cooked the king’s soup; and as soonas the cook was gone, she put the golden brooch into the dish. When theking got to the bottom, he  ordered Cat-skin to be  called once more,and  soon saw the white finger, and the ring that he had put on itwhilst they  were dancing: so he seized  her hand, and  kept fast holdof  it, and when  she wanted to loose herself and spring away,  the furcloak fell off a  little on one side, and the starry dress sparkledunderneath it.

Then he got  hold of  the fur and  tore it  off, and her  golden hairand beautiful form were  seen, and she  could no longer  hide herself:so  she washed the soot and ashes from her face, and showed herself tobe the most beautiful princess upon the face of the earth. But the kingsaid, «You are my beloved bride, and we will never  more be parted fromeach other.»  And the wedding feast was held, and a merry  day it was,as ever was heard  of or seen in that country, or indeed in any other.

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