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.