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to live with the cats!'

'Be off with you!' cried her mother, seizing an old broom-handle from
behind the door. Poor Lizina did not wait to be told twice, but ran off
at once and never stopped till she reached the door of the cats' house.
Their cook had left them that very morning, with her face all scratched,
the result of such a quarrel with the head of the house that he had very
nearly scratched out her eyes. Lizina therefore was warmly welcomed,
and she set to work at once to prepare the dinner, not without many
misgivings as to the tastes of the cats, and whether she would be able
to satisfy them.

Going to and fro about her work, she found herself frequently hindered
by a constant succession of cats who appeared one after another in the
kitchen to inspect the new servant; she had one in front of her
feet, another perched on the back of her chair while she peeled the
vegetables, a third sat on the table beside her, and five or six others
prowled about among the pots and pans on the shelves against the wall.
The air resounded with their purring, which meant that they were pleased
with their new maid, but Lizina had not yet learned to understand
their language, and often she did not know what they wanted her to do.
However, as she was a good, kindhearted girl, she set to work to pick
up the little kittens which tumbled about on the floor, she patched
up quarrels, and nursed on her lap a big tabby - the oldest of the
community - which had a lame paw. All these kindnesses could hardly fail
to make a favourable impression on the cats, and it was even better
after a while, when she had had time to grow accustomed to their strange
ways. Never had the house been kept so clean, the meats so well served,
nor the sick cats so well cared for. After a time they had a visit from
an old cat, whom they called their father, who lived by himself in a
barn at the top of the hill, and came down from time to time to inspect
the little colony. He too was much taken with Lizina, and inquired, on
first seeing her: 'Are you well served by this nice, black-eyed little
person?' and the cats answered with one voice: 'Oh, yes, Father Gatto,
we have never had so good a servant!'

At each of his visits the answer was always the same; but after a time
the old cat, who was very observant, noticed that the little maid had
grown to look sadder and sadder. 'What is the matter, my child has any
one been unkind to you?' he asked one day, when he found her crying in
her kitchen. She burst into tears and answered between her sobs: 'Oh,
no! they are all very good to me; but I long for news from home, and I
pine to see my mother and my sister.'

Old Gatto, being a sensible old cat, understood the little servant's
feelings. 'You shall go home,' he said, 'and you shall not come back
here unless you please. But first you must be rewarded for all your kind
services to my children. Follow me down into the inner cellar, where you
have never yet been, for I always keep it locked and carry the key away
with me.'

Lizina looked round her in astonishment as they went down into the
great vaulted cellar underneath the kitchen. Before her stood the big
earthenware water jars, one of which contained oil, the other a liquid
shining like gold. 'In which of these jars shall I dip you?' asked
Father Gatto, with a grin that showed all his sharp white teeth, while
his moustaches stood out straight on either side of his face. The little
maid looked at the two jars from under her long dark lashes: 'In the oil
jar,' she answered timidly, thinking to herself: 'I could not ask to be
bathed in gold.'

But Father Gatto replied: 'No, no; you have deserved something better
than that.' And seizing her in his strong paws he plunged her into the
liquid gold. Wonder of wonders! when Lizina came out of the jar she
shone from head to foot like the sun in the heavens on a fine summer's
day. Her pretty pink cheeks and long black hair alone kept their natural
colour, otherwise she had become like a statue of pure gold. Father
Gatto purred loudly with satisfaction. 'Go home,' he said, 'and see
your mother and sisters; but take care if you hear the cock crow to turn
towards it; if on the contrary the ass brays, you must look the other
way.'

The little maid, having gratefully kissed the white paw of the old cat,
set off for home; but just as she got near her mother's house the cock
crowed, and quickly she turned towards it. Immediately a beautiful
golden star appeared on her forehead, crowning her glossy black hair.
At the same time the ass began to bray, but Lizina took care not to look
over the fence into the field where the donkey was feeding. Her
mother and sister, who were in front of their house, uttered cries of
admiration and astonishment when they saw her, and their cries became
still louder when Lizina, taking her handkerchief from her pocket, drew
out also a handful of gold.

For some days the mother and her two daughters lived very happily
together, for Lizina had given them everything she had brought away
except her golden clothing, for that would not come off, in spite of all
the efforts of her sister, who was madly jealous of her good fortune.
The golden star, too, could not be removed from her forehead. But all
the gold pieces she drew from her pockets had found their way to her
mother and sister.

'I will go now and see what I can get out of the pussies,' said Peppina,
the elder girl, one morning, as she took Lizina's basket and fastened
her pockets into her own skirt. 'I should like some of the cats' gold
for myself,' she thought, as she left her mother's house before the sun
rose.

The cat colony had not yet taken another servant, for they knew they
could never get one to replace Lizina, whose loss they had not yet
ceased to mourn. When they heard that Peppina was her sister, they all
ran to meet her. 'She is not the least like her,' the kittens whispered
among themselves.

'Hush, be quiet!' the older cats said; 'all servants cannot be pretty.'

No, decidedly she was not at all like Lizina. Even the most reasonable
and large-minded of the cats soon acknowledged that.

The very first day she shut the kitchen door in the face of the
tom-cats who used to enjoy watching Lizina at her work, and a young and
mischievous cat who jumped in by the open kitchen window and alighted on
the table got such a blow with the rolling-pin that he squalled for an
hour.

With every day that passed the household became more and more aware of
its misfortune.

The work was as badly done as the servant was surly and disagreeable;
in the corners of the rooms there were collected heaps of dust; spiders'
webs hung from the ceilings and in front of the window-panes; the beds
were hardly ever made, and the feather beds, so beloved by the old and
feeble cats, had never once been shaken since Lizina left the house.
At Father Gatto's next visit he found the whole colony in a state of
uproar.

'Caesar has one paw so badly swollen that it looks as if it were
broken,' said one. 'Peppina kicked him with her great wooden shoes on.
Hector has an abscess in his back where a wooden chair was flung at him;
and Agrippina's three little kittens have died of hunger beside their
mother, because Peppina forgot them in their basket up in the attic.
There is no putting up with the creature - do send her away, Father
Gatto! Lizina herself would not be angry with us; she must know very
well what her sister is like.'

'Come here,' said Father Gatto, in his most severe tones to Peppina. And
he took her down into the cellar and showed her the same two great
jars that he had showed Lizina. 'In which of these shall I dip you?' he
asked; and she made haste to answer: 'In the liquid gold,' for she was
no more modest than she was good and kind.

Father Gatto's yellow eyes darted fire. 'You have not deserved it,' he
uttered, in a voice like thunder, and seizing her he flung her into
the jar of oil, where she was nearly suffocated. When she came to the
surface screaming and struggling, the vengeful cat seized her again
and rolled her in the ash-heap on the floor; then when she rose, dirty,
blinded, and disgusting to behold, he thrust her from the door, saying:
'Begone, and when you meet a braying ass be careful to turn your head
towards it.'

Stumbling and raging, Peppina set off for home, thinking herself
fortunate to find a stick by the wayside with which to support herself.
She was within sight of her mother's house when she heard in the meadow
on the right, the voice of a donkey loudly braying. Quickly she turned
her head towards it, and at the same time put her hand up to her
forehead, where, waving like a plume, was a donkey's tail. She ran home
to her mother at the top of her speed, yelling with rage and despair;
and it took Lizina two hours with a big basin of hot water and two cakes
of soap to get rid of the layer of ashes with which Father Gatto had
adorned her. As for the donkey's tail, it was impossible to get rid of
that; it was as firmly fixed on her forehead as was the golden star on
Lizina's. Their mother was furious. She first beat Lizina unmercifully
with the broom, then she took her to the mouth of the well and lowered
her into it, leaving her at the bottom weeping and crying for help.

Before this happened, however, the king's son in passing the mother's
house had seen Lizina sitting sewing in the parlour, and had been
dazzled by her beauty. After coming back two or three times, he at last
ventured to approach the window and to whisper in the softest voice:
'Lovely maiden, will you be my bride?' and she had answered: 'I will.'

Next morning, when the prince arrived to claim his bride, he found her
wrapped in a large white veil. 'It is so that maidens are received from
their parents' hands,' said the mother, who hoped to make the king's son
marry Peppina in place of her sister, and had fastened the donkey's tail
round her head like a lock of hair under the veil. The prince was young
and a little timid, so he made no objections, and seated Peppina in the
carriage beside him.

Their way led past the old house inhabited by the cats, who were all at
the window, for the report had got about that the prince was going to
marry the most beautiful maiden in the world, on whose forehead shone a
golden star, and they knew that this could only be their adored Lizina.
As the carriage slowly passed in front of the old house, where cats
from all parts of world seemed to be gathered a song burst from every
throat:

Mew, mew, mew! Prince, look quick behind you!
In the well is fair Lizina,
And you've got nothing but Peppina.

When he heard this the coachman, who understood the cat's language
better than the prince, his master, stopped his horses and asked:

'Does your highness know what the grimalkins are saying?' and the song
broke forth again louder than ever.

With a turn of his hand the prince threw back the veil, and discovered
the puffed-up, swollen face of Peppina, with the donkey's tail twisted
round her head. 'Ah, traitress!' he exclaimed, and ordering the horses
to be turned round, he drove the elder daughter, quivering with rage, to
the old woman who had sought to deceive him. With his hand on the hilt
of his sword he demanded Lizina in so terrific a voice that the mother
hastened to the well to draw her prisoner out. Lizina's clothing and her
star shone so brilliantly that when the prince led her home to the king,
his father, the whole palace was lit up. Next day they were married, and
lived happy ever after; and all the cats, headed by old Father Gatto,
were present at the wedding.




How To Find Out A True Friend

Once upon a time there lived a king and queen who longed to have a son.
As none came, one day they made a vow at the shrine of St. James that
if their prayers were granted the boy should set out on a pilgrimage as
soon as he had passed his eighteenth birthday. And fancy their delight
when one evening the king returned home from hunting and saw a baby
lying in the cradle.

All the people came crowding round to peep at it, and declared it was
the most beautiful baby that ever was seen. Of course that is what they
always say, but this time it happened to be true. And every day the boy
grew bigger and stronger till he was twelve years old, when the king
died, and he was left alone to take care of his mother.

In this way six years passed by, and his eighteenth birthday drew near.
When she thought of this the queen's heart sank within her, for he was
the light of her eyes' and how was she to send him forth to the unknown
dangers that beset a pilgrim? So day by day she grew more and more
sorrowful, and when she was alone wept bitterly.

Now the queen imagined that no one but herself knew how sad she was, but
one morning her son said to her, 'Mother, why do you cry the whole day
long?'

'Nothing, nothing, my son; there is only one thing in the world that
troubles me.'

'What is that one thing?' asked he. 'Are you afraid your property is
badly managed? Let me go and look into the matter.'

This pleased the queen, and he rode off to the plain country, where his
mother owned great estates; but everything was in beautiful order, and
he returned with a joyful heart, and said, 'Now, mother, you can be
happy again, for your lands are better managed than anyone else's I have
seen. The cattle are thriving; the fields are thick with corn, and soon
they will be ripe for harvest.'

'That is good news indeed,' answered she; but it did not seem to make
any difference to her, and the next morning she was weeping and wailing
as loudly as ever.

'Dear mother,' said her son in despair, 'if you will not tell me what is
the cause of all this misery I shall leave home and wander far through
the world.'

'Ah, my son, my son,' cried the queen, 'it is the thought that I must
part from you which causes me such grief; for before you were born we
vowed a vow to St. James that when your eighteenth birthday was passed
you should make a pilgrimage to his shrine, and very soon you will be
eighteen, and I shall lose you. And for a whole year my eyes will never
be gladdened by the sight of you, for the shrine is far away.'

'Will it take no longer than that to reach it?' said he. 'Oh, don't be
so wretched; it is only dead people who never return. As long as I am
alive you may be sure I will come back to you.'

After this manner he comforted his mother, and on his eighteenth
birthday his best horse was led to the door of the palace, and he took
leave of the queen in these words, 'Dear mother, farewell, and by the
help of fate I shall return to you as soon as I can.'

The queen burst into tears and wept sore; then amidst her sobs she drew
three apples from her pocket and held them out, saying, 'My son, take
these apples and give heed unto my words. You will need a companion in
the long journey on which you are going. If you come across a young man
who pleases you beg him to accompany you, and when you get to an inn
invite him to have dinner with you. After you have eaten cut one of
these apples in two unequal parts, and ask him to take one. If he takes
the larger bit, then part from him, for he is no true friend to you. But
if he takes the smaller bit treat him as your brother, and share with
him all you have.' Then she kissed her son once more, and blessed him,
and let him go.

The young man rode a long way without meeting a single creature, but at
last he saw a youth in the distance about the same age as himself, and
he spurred his horse till he came up with the stranger, who stopped and
asked:

'Where are you going, my fine fellow?'

'I am making a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James, for before I was
born my mother vowed that I should go forth with a thank offering on my
eighteenth birthday.'

'That is my case too,' said the stranger, 'and, as we must both travel
in the same direction, let us bear each other company.'

The young man agreed to this proposal, but he took care not to get on
terms of familiarity with the new comer until he had tried him with the
apple.

By-and-by they reached an inn, and at sight of it the king's son said,
'I am very hungry. Let us enter and order something to eat.' The other
consented, and they were soon sitting before a good dinner.

When they had finished the king's son drew an apple from his pocket,
and cut it into a big half and a little half, and offered both to the
stranger, who took the biggest bit. 'You are no friend of mine,' thought
the king's son, and in order to part company with him he pretended to be
ill and declared himself unable to proceed on his journey.

'Well, I can't wait for you,' replied the other; 'I am in haste to push
on, so farewell.'

'Farewell,' said the king's son, glad in his heart to get rid of him so
easily. The king's son remained in the inn for some time, so as to let
the young man have a good start; them he ordered his horse and rode
after him. But he was very sociable and the way seemed long and dull by
himself. 'Oh, if I could only meet with a true friend,' he thought, 'so
that I should have some one to speak to. I hate being alone.'

Soon after he came up with a young man, who stopped and asked him,
'Where are you going, my fine fellow?' The king's son explained the
object of his journey, and the young man answered, as the other had
done, that he also was fulfilling the vow of his mother made at his
birth.

'Well, we can ride on together,' said the king's son, and the road
seemed much shorter now that he had some one to talk to.

At length they reached an inn, and the king's son exclaimed, 'I am very
hungry; let us go in and get something to eat.'

When they had finished the king's son drew an apple out of his pocket
and cut it in two; he held the big bit and the little bit out to his
companion, who took the big bit at once and soon ate it up. 'You are no
friend of mine,' thought the king's son, and began to declare he felt so
ill he could not continue his journey. When he had given the young man a
good start he set off himself, but the way seemed even longer and duller
than before. 'Oh, if I could only meet with a true friend he should be
as a brother to me,' he sighed sadly; and as the thought passed through
his mind, he noticed a youth going the same road as himself.

The youth came up to him and said, 'Which way are you going, my fine
fellow?' And for the third time the king's son explained all about his
mother's vow. Why, that is just like me,' cried the youth.

'Then let us ride on together,' answered the king's son.

Now the miles seemed to slip by, for the new comer was so lively and
entertaining that the king's son could not help hoping that he indeed
might prove to be the true friend.

More quickly than he could have thought possible they reached an inn by
the road-side, and turning to his companion the king's son said, 'I am
hungry; let us go in and have something to eat.' So they went in and
ordered dinner, and when they had finished the king's son drew out of
his pocket the last apple, and cut it into two unequal parts, and held
both out to the stranger. And the stranger took the little piece, and
the heart of the king's son was glad within him, for at last he had
found the friend he had been looking for. 'Good youth,' he cried, 'we
will be brothers, and what is mine shall be thine, and what is thine
shall be mine. And together we will push on to the shrine, and if one
of us dies on the road the other shall carry his body there.' And the
stranger agreed to all he said, and they rode forward together.

It took them a whole year to reach the shrine, and they passed through
many different lands on their way. One day they arrived tired and
half-starved in a big city, and said to one another, 'Let us stay here
for a little and rest before we set forth again.' So they hired a small
house close to the royal castle, and took up their abode there.

The following morning the king of the country happened to step on to his
balcony, and saw the young men in the garden, and said to himself, 'Dear
me, those are wonderfully handsome youths; but one is handsomer than
the other, and to him will I give my daughter to wife;' and indeed the
king's son excelled his friend in beauty.

In order to set about his plan the king asked both the young men to
dinner, and when they arrived at the castle he received them with the
utmost kindness, and sent for his daughter, who was more lovely than
both the sun and moon put together. But at bed-time the king caused the
other young man to be given a poisoned drink, which killed him in a few
minutes, for he thought to himself, 'If his friend dies the other will
forget his pilgrimage, and will stay here and marry my daughter.'

When the king's son awoke the next morning he inquired of the servants
where his friend had gone, as he did not see him. 'He died suddenly last
night,' said they, 'and is to be buried immediately.'

But the king's son sprang up, and cried, 'If my friend is dead I can
stay here no longer, and cannot linger an hour in this house.'

'Oh, give up your journey and remain here,' exclaimed the king, 'and you
shall have my daughter for your wife.' 'No,' answered the king's son,
'I cannot stay; but, I pray you, grant my request, and give me a good
horse, and let me go in peace, and when I have fulfilled my vow then I
will return and marry your daughter.'

So the king, seeing no words would move him, ordered a horse to be
brought round, and the king's son mounted it, and took his dead friend
before him on the saddle, and rode away.

Now the young man was not really dead, but only in a deep sleep.

When the king's son reached the shrine of St. James he got down from his
horse, took his friend in his arms as if he had been a child, and laid
him before the altar. 'St. James,' he said, 'I have fulfilled the vow my
parents made for me. I have come myself to your shrine, and have brought
my friend. I place him in your hands. Restore him to life, I pray, for
though he be dead yet has he fulfilled his vow also.' And, behold! while
he yet prayed his friend got up and stood before him as well as ever.
And both the young men gave thanks, and set their faces towards home.

When they arrived at the town where the king dwelt they entered the
small house over against the castle. The news of their coming spread
very soon, and the king rejoiced greatly that the handsome young prince
had come back again, and commanded great feasts to be prepared, for in a
few days his daughter should marry the king's son. The young man himself
could imagine no greater happiness, and when the marriage was over they
spent some months at the court making merry.

At length the king's son said, 'My mother awaits me at home, full of
care and anxiety. Here I must remain no longer, and to-morrow I will
take my wife and my friend and start for home.' And the king was content
that he should do so, and gave orders to prepare for their journey.

Now in his heart the king cherished a deadly hate towards the poor young
man whom he had tried to kill, but who had returned to him living, and
in order to do him hurt sent him on a message to some distant spot. 'See
that you are quick,' said he, 'for your friend will await your return
before he starts.' The youth put spurs to his horse and departed,
bidding the prince farewell, so that the king's message might be
delivered the sooner. As soon as he had started the king went to
the chamber of the prince, and said to him, 'If you do not start
immediately, you will never reach the place where you must camp for the
night.'

'I cannot start without my friend,' replied the king's son.

'Oh, he will be back in an hour,' replied the king, 'and I will give him
my best horse, so that he will be sure to catch you up.' The king's son
allowed himself to be persuaded and took leave of his father-in-law, and
set out with his wife on his journey home.

Meanwhile the poor friend had been unable to get through his task in the
short time appointed by the king, and when at last he returned the king
said to him,

'Your comrade is a long way off by now; you had better see if you can
overtake him.'

So the young man bowed and left the king's presence, and followed after
his friend on foot, for he had no horse. Night and day he ran, till at
length he reached the place where the king's son had pitched his tent,
and sank down before him, a miserable object, worn out and covered with
mud and dust. But the king's son welcomed him with joy, and tended him
as he would his brother.

And at last they came home again, and the queen was waiting and watching


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Online LibraryAndrew LangThe Crimson Fairy Book → online text (page 20 of 21)