Puss in Boots has found renewed fame through his starring role in Shrek, but for many centuries he has been well known as one of the most cunning cats in all fairy tale literature. Like all cats though, he is more than just a fluffy bundle of cuddles. He has claws and he uses them. This is the Charles Perrault version, as presented in English by Andrew Lang. The pictures are by Walter Crane, and you might enjoy this flip book of some of the classic artists fairy tale illustrations.
Read by Natasha. Proofread by Claire Deakin & Jana Elizabeth.
If you like cat stories, also try The Cat’s Elopement, and Kissa.
Once upon a time there was a poor miller who had three sons. The years went by and the miller died, leaving nothing but his mill, his donkey, and a cat. The eldest son took the mill, the second-born son rode off on the donkey, and the youngest son inherited the cat.
“Oh, well,” said the youngest son, “I’ll eat this cat, and make some mittens out of his fur. Then I will have nothing left in the world and shall die of hunger.”
The cat was listening to his master complain like this, but he pretended not to have heard anything. Instead, he put on a serious face and said: “Do not look so sad, master. Just give me a bag and a pair of boots, and I will show you that you did not receive such a poor inheritance in me.”
The cat’s master 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 grain, and pretend to be dead. Thinking this over, he thought that it wasn’t impossible that the cat could help him after all, so he gave the cat his bag and spent his last pennies on ordering a fine pair of boots to be made especially for the cat.
The cat looked very gallant in his boots, and putting his bag around his neck, he held the strings of it in his two fore paws and lay by a rabbit warren, which was home to a great many rabbits.
He put bran and corn into his bag, and stretching as if he were dead, waited for some young rabbits, still not acquainted with the deceits of the world, to come and rummage in his bag for the bran and corn.
Not long after he lay down, he had what he wanted. A rash and foolish young rabbit jumped into his bag, and Monsieur Puss immediately drew close the strings and caught him. Proud of his prey, he went with it to the palace and asked to speak with his majesty. He was shown upstairs into the king’s apartment, and making a low bow, said to him: “I have brought you, sir, a rabbit of the warren, which my noble lord, the Marquis of Carabas (for that was the title which puss was pleased to give his master) has commanded me to present to your majesty from him.”
“Tell thy master,” said the king, “that I thank him and that he does me a great deal of pleasure.”
Another time he went and hid himself among a cornfield, holding still his bag open, and when a brace of partridges ran into it he drew the strings and so caught them both. He went and made a present of these to the king, as he had done before of the rabbit. The king, in like manner, received the partridges with great pleasure, and ordered him some money for drink.
In this way, the cat continued for two or three months to bring presents to the king, always saying that they were from his master, the Marquis of Carabas. One day in particular, he heard at the palace that the king was planning to drive in his carriage along the river bank, taking with him his daughter, the most beautiful princess in the world.
Puss in Boots said to his master: “If you will follow my advice, your fortune is made. You have nothing else to do but go and wash yourself in the river, in the place that I shall show you, and leave the rest to me.”
The miller’s son did what the cat advised him to, without knowing why or wherefore. While he was washing, the king passed by, and the cat began to cry out: “Help! Help! My Lord, Marquis of Carabas, is going to be drowned!”
At this noise the king put his head out of the coach window, and finding it was the cat who had so often brought him such good game, commanded his guards to run immediately to the assistance of his Lordship, the Marquis of Carabas. While they were drawing the poor Marquis out of the river, the cat came up to the coach and told the king that while his master was washing, there came by some rogues, who went off with his clothes, though he had cried out: “Thieves! Thieves!” Several times, as loud as he could.
This cunning cat had hidden the clothes under a great stone. The king immediately commanded the officers of his wardrobe to run and fetch one of his best suits for the Lord Marquis of Carabas.
The king was very pleased to meet the Marquis of Carabas, and the fine clothes he had given him suited him extremely well, for although poor, he was a handsome and a well built fellow. The king’s daughter took a secret inclination to him, and the Marquis of Carabas had no sooner cast two or three respectful and somewhat tender glances but she fell in love with him to distraction. The king invited him to sit in the coach and ride along with them, with the lifeguards in glittering uniform trotting along side. The cat, quite overjoyed to see his project begin to succeed, marched on before, and meeting with some countrymen, who were mowing 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 Carabas, those soldiers will chop you up like herbs for the pot.”
The king did not fail asking of the mowers to whom the meadow they were mowing belonged.
“To my Lord Marquis of Carabas,” answered they altogether, for the cat’s threats had made them terribly afraid.
“You see, sir,” said the Marquis, “this is a meadow which never fails to yield a plentiful harvest every year.”
The master cat, who went still on before, met with some reapers, and 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 up like herbs for the pot.”
The king, who passed by a moment after, wished to know to whom all that corn, which he then saw, did belong.
“To my Lord Marquis of Carabas,” replied the reapers, and the king was very well pleased with it, as well as the Marquis, whom he congratulated.
Then the king said: “Let us now go to your castle.”
The miller’s son, not knowing what to reply, looked at puss who said: “If Your Majesty will but wait an hour, I will go on before and order the castle to be made ready for you.”
With that, she jumped away and went to the castle of a great ogre and asked to see him, saying he could not pass so near his home without having the honour of paying his respects to him.
The ogre received him as civilly as an ogre could do, and made him sit down.
“I have been assured,” said the cat, “that you have the gift of being able to change yourself into all sorts of creatures as you wish; you can, for example, transform yourself into a lion, or elephant, and the like.”
“That is true,” answered the ogre very briskly, “and to convince you, you shall see me now become a lion.”
Puss was so terrified at the sight of a lion so near him that he immediately climbed up the curtains, not without difficulty, because his boots were no use to him for climbing. A little while after, when Puss saw that the ogre had resumed his natural form, he came down and admitted he had been very much frightened.
“However,” said the cat, “I fear that you will not be able to save yourself even in the form of a lion, for the king is coming with his army and means to destroy you.”
The ogre looked out of the window and saw the king waiting outside with his soldiers, and said: “What shall I do? How shall I save myself?”
Puss replied: “If you can also change yourself into something very small, then you can hide.”
In an instant, the ogre turned himself into a mouse, and began to run about the floor. Puss no sooner saw this but he fell upon him and ate him up.
Puss, who heard the noise of His Majesty’s coach running over the drawbridge, ran out and said to the king: “Your Majesty is welcome to this castle of my Lord Marquis of Carabas.”
“What! My Lord Marquis,” cried the king. “Does this castle also belong to you? There can be nothing finer than this court and all the stately buildings which surround it. Let us go into it, if you please.”
The Marquis gave his hand to the princess, and followed the king, who went first. They passed into a spacious hall, where they found a magnificent rum punch, which the ogre had prepared for his friends, who were that very day to visit him. The friends, however, dared not to enter, knowing that the king was there. His Majesty was perfectly charmed with the good qualities of my Lord Marquis of Carabas, as was his daughter, who had fallen violently in love with him, and seeing the vast estate he possessed, said to him, after having drunk five or six glasses: “If you do not, my Lord Marquis, become my son in law, it will be of your own choosing.”
The Marquis, making several low bows, accepted the honour which His Majesty conferred upon him, and forthwith, that very same day, married the princess.
Puss became a great lord, and never ran after mice anymore, except for pleasure.