THE CLEVER CAT
(Adapted from Contes Berbères.)
Once upon a time there lived an old man who dwelt with
his son in a small hut on the edge of the plain. He was
very old, and had worked very hard, and when at last he
was struck down by illness he felt that he should never
rise from his bed again.
So, one day, he bade his wife summon their son, when
he came back from his journey to the nearest town, where
he had been to buy bread.
‘Come hither, my son,’ said he; ‘I know myself well
to be dying, and I have nothing to leave you but my
falcon, my cat and my greyhound; but if you make
good use of them you will never lack food. Be good to
your mother, as you have been to me. And now farewell!’
Then he turned his face to the wall and died.
There was great mourning in the hut for many days,
but at length the son rose up, and calling to his greyhound,
his cat and his falcon, he left the house saying that he
would bring back something for dinner. Wandering over
the plain, he noticed a troop of gazelles, and pointed to
his greyhound to give chase. The dog soon brought
down a fine fat beast, and slinging it over his shoulders,
the young man turned homewards. On the way, however,
he passed a pond, and as he approached a cloud of
birds flew into the air. Shaking his wrist, the falcon seated
on it darted into the air, and swooped down upon the quarry
he had marked, which fell dead to the ground. The
young man picked it up, and put it in his pouch and then
went towards home again.
Near the hut was a small barn in which he kept the
produce of the little patch of corn, which grew close to
the garden. Here a rat ran out almost under his feet,
followed by another and another; but quick as thought
the cat was upon them and not one escaped her.
When all the rats were killed, the young man left the
barn. He took the path leading to the door of the hut,
but stopped on feeling a hand laid on his shoulder.
‘Young man,’ said the Jew (for such was the stranger),
‘you have been a good son, and you deserve the piece of
luck which has befallen you this day. Come with me to
that shining lake yonder, and fear nothing.’
Wondering a little at what might be going to happen
to him, the youth did as the Jew bade him, and when they
reached the shore of the lake, the old man turned and said
‘Step into the water and shut your eyes! You will
find yourself sinking slowly to the bottom; but take courage,
all will go well. Only bring up as much silver as you can
carry, and we will divide it between us.’
So the young man stepped bravely into the lake, and
felt himself sinking, sinking, till he reached firm ground
at last. In front of him lay four heaps of silver, and in
the midst of them a curious white shining stone, marked
over with strange characters, such as he had never seen
before. He picked it up in order to examine it more closely,
and as he held it the stone spoke.
‘As long as you hold me, all your wishes will come true,’
it said. ‘But hide me in your turban, and then call to
the Jew that you are ready to come up.’
In a few minutes the young man stood again by the
shores of the lake.
‘Well, where is the silver?’ asked the Jew, who was
‘Ah, my father, how can I tell you! So bewildered
was I, and so dazzled with the splendours of everything
I saw, that I stood like a statue, unable to move. Then
hearing steps approaching I got frightened, and called to
you, as you know.’
‘You are no better than the rest,’ cried the Jew, and
turned away in a rage.
When he was out of sight the young man took the stone
from his turban and looked at it. ‘I want the finest camel
that can be found, and the most splendid garments,’ said
‘Shut your eyes then,’ replied the stone. And he shut
them; and when he opened them again the camel that
he had wished for was standing before him, while the
festal robes of a desert prince hung from his shoulders.
Mounting the camel, he whistled the falcon to his wrist,
and, followed by his greyhound and his cat, he started
His mother was sewing at her door when this magnificent
stranger rode up, and, filled with surprise, she bowed
low before him.
‘Don’t you know me, mother?’ he said with a laugh.
And on hearing his voice the good woman nearly fell to
the ground with astonishment.
‘How have you got that camel and those clothes?’ asked
she. ‘Can a son of mine have committed murder in order
to possess them?’
‘Do not be afraid; they are quite honestly come by,’
answered the youth. ‘I will explain all by-and-by; but
now you must go to the palace and tell the king I wish to
marry his daughter.’
At these words the mother thought her son had
certainly gone mad, and stared blankly at him. The
young man guessed what was in her heart, and replied
with a smile:
‘Fear nothing. Promise all that he asks; it will be fulfilled
So she went to the palace, where she found the king
sitting in the Hall of Justice listening to the petitions of
his people. The woman waited until all had been heard
and the hall was empty, and then went up and knelt before
‘My son has sent me to ask for the hand of the princess,’
The king looked at her and thought that she was mad;
but, instead of ordering his guards to turn her out, he
‘Before he can marry the princess he must build me a
palace of ice, which can be warmed with fires, and wherein
the rarest singing-birds can live!’
‘It shall be done, your Majesty,’ said she, and got up
and left the hall.
Her son was anxiously awaiting her outside the
palace gates, dressed in the clothes that he wore every
‘Well, what have I got to do?’ he asked impatiently,
drawing his mother aside so that no one could overhear
‘Oh, something quite impossible; and I hope you will
put the princess out of your head,’ she replied.
‘Well, but what is it?’ persisted he.
‘Nothing but to build a palace of ice wherein fires can
burn that shall keep it so warm that the most delicate singing-birds
can live in it!’
‘I thought it would be something much harder than
that,’ exclaimed the young man. ‘I will see about it at
once.’ And leaving his mother, he went into the country
and took the stone from his turban.
‘I want a palace of ice that can be warmed with fires
and filled with the rarest singing-birds!’
‘Shut your eyes, then,’ said the stone; and he shut
them, and when he opened them again there was the
palace, more beautiful than anything he could have
imagined, the fires throwing a soft pink glow over the
‘It is fit even for the princess,’ thought he to himself.
As soon as the king awoke next morning he ran to
the window, and there across the plain he beheld the
‘That young man must be a great wizard; he may be
useful to me.’ And when the mother came again to tell
him that his orders had been fulfilled he received her with
great honour, and bade her tell her son that the wedding
was fixed for the following day.
The princess was delighted with her new home, and
with her husband also; and several days slipped happily
by, spent in turning over all the beautiful things that the
palace contained. But at length the young man grew
tired of always staying inside walls, and he told his wife
that the next day he must leave her for a few hours, and
go out hunting. ‘You will not mind?’ he asked. And
she answered as became a good wife:
‘Yes, of course I shall mind; but I will spend the day
in planning out some new dresses; and then it will be so
delightful when you come back, you know!’
So the husband went off to hunt, with the falcon on
his wrist, and the greyhound and the cat behind him—for
the palace was so warm that even the cat did not mind
living in it.
No sooner had he gone, than the Jew, who had been
watching his chance for many days, knocked at the door
of the palace.
‘I have just returned from a far country,’ he said,
‘and I have some of the largest and most brilliant
stones in the world with me. The princess is known
to love beautiful things, perhaps she might like to buy
Now the princess had been wondering for many days
what trimming she should put on her dresses, so that
they should outshine the dresses of the other ladies at
the court balls. Nothing that she thought of seemed
good enough, so, when the message was brought that the
Jew and his wares were below, she at once ordered that
he should be brought to her chamber.
Oh! what beautiful stones he laid before her; what
lovely rubies, and what rare pearls! No other lady
would have jewels like those—of that the princess was
quite sure; but she cast down her eyes so that the Jew
might not see how much she longed for them.
‘I fear they are too costly for me,’ she said carelessly;
‘and besides, I have hardly need of any more jewels just
‘I have no particular wish to sell them myself,’
answered the Jew, with equal indifference. ‘But I have
a necklace of shining stones which was left me by my father,
and one, the largest, engraven with weird characters, is
missing. I have heard that it is in your husband’s
possession, and if you can get me that stone you shall have
any of these jewels that you choose. But you will have
to pretend that you want it for yourself; and, above all, do
not mention me, for he sets great store by it, and would
never part with it to a stranger! To-morrow I will return
with some jewels yet finer than those I have with me to-day.
So, madam, farewell!’
Left alone, the princess began to think of many things,
but chiefly as to whether she would persuade her
husband to give her the stone or not. At one moment
she felt he had already bestowed so much upon her that
it was a shame to ask for the only object he had kept back.
No, it would be mean; she could not do it! But
then, those diamonds, and those strings of pearls! After
all, they had only been married a week, and the pleasure
of giving it to her ought to be far greater than the pleasure
of keeping it for himself. And she was sure it would
Well, that evening, when the young man had supped
off his favourite dishes which the princess took care to
have specially prepared for him, she sat down close beside
him, and began stroking his hand. For some time she
did not speak, but listened attentively to all the adventures
that had befallen him that day.
‘But I was thinking of you all the time,’ said he at the
end, ‘and wishing that I could bring you back something
you would like. But, alas! what is there that you do not
‘How good of you not to forget me when you are in
the midst of such dangers and hardships,’ answered she.
‘Yes, it is true I have many beautiful things; but if you
want to give me a present—and to-morrow is my birthday—there
is one thing that I wish for very much.’
‘And what is that? Of course you shall have it directly!’
he asked eagerly.
‘It is that bright stone which fell out of the folds of
your turban a few days ago,’ she answered, playing with
his finger; ‘the little stone with all those funny marks upon
it. I never saw any stone like it before.’
The young man did not answer at first; then he said,
‘I have promised, and therefore I must perform. But
will you swear never to part from it, and to keep it safely
about you always? More I cannot tell you, but I beg
you earnestly to take heed to this.’
The princess was a little startled by his manner, and
began to be sorry that she had ever listened to the Jew.
But she did not like to draw back, and pretended to be
immensely delighted at her new toy, and kissed and thanked
her husband for it.
‘After all I needn’t give it to the Jew,’ thought she as
she dropped to sleep.
Unluckily the next morning the young man went
hunting again, and the Jew, who was watching, knew this,
and did not come till much later than before. At the
moment that he knocked at the door of the palace the
princess had tired of all her employments, and her attendants
were at their wits’ end how to amuse her, when
a tall negro dressed in scarlet came to announce that the
Jew was below, and desired to know if the princess would
speak with him.
‘Bring him hither at once!’ cried she, springing up
from her cushions, and forgetting all her resolves of the
previous night. In another moment she was bending with
rapture over the glittering gems.
‘Have you got it?’ asked the Jew in a whisper, for the
princess’s ladies were standing as near as they dared to
catch a glimpse of the beautiful jewels.
‘Yes, here,’ she answered, slipping the stone from
her sash and placing it among the rest. Then she
raised her voice, and began to talk quickly of the prices
of the chains and necklaces, and after some bargaining,
to deceive the attendants, she declared that she liked one
string of pearls better than all the rest, and that the Jew
might take away the other things, which were not half so
valuable as he supposed.
‘As you please, madam,’ said he, bowing himself out
of the palace.
Soon after he had gone a curious thing happened. The
princess carelessly touched the wall of her room, which
was wont to reflect the warm red light of the fire
on the hearth, and found her hand quite wet. She
turned round, and—was it her fancy? or did the fire
burn more dimly than before? Hurriedly she passed
into the picture gallery, where pools of water showed here
and there on the floor, and a cold chill ran through her
whole body. At that instant her frightened ladies came
running down the stairs, crying:
‘Madam! madam! what has happened? The palace
is disappearing under our eyes!’
‘My husband will be home very soon,’ answered the
princess—who, though nearly as much frightened as her
ladies, felt that she must set them a good example. ‘Wait
till then, and he will tell us what to do.’
So they waited, seated on the highest chairs they could
find, wrapped in their warmest garments, and with piles of
cushions under their feet, while the poor birds flew with
numbed wings hither and thither, till they were so lucky
as to discover an open window in some forgotten corner.
Through this they vanished, and were seen no more.
At last, when the princess and her ladies had been forced
to leave the upper rooms, where the walls and floors
had melted away, and to take refuge in the hall, the young
man came home. He had ridden back along a winding
road from which he did not see the palace till
he was close upon it, and stood horrified at the spectacle
before him. He knew in an instant that his
wife must have betrayed his trust, but he would not reproach
her, as she must be suffering enough already.
Hurrying on he sprang over all that was left of the palace
walls, and the princess gave a cry of relief at the sight of
‘Come quickly,’ he said, ‘or you will be frozen to
death!’ And a dreary little procession set out for the
king’s palace, the greyhound and the cat bringing up the
At the gates he left them, though his wife besought him
to allow her to enter.
‘You have betrayed me and ruined me,’ he said sternly;
‘I go to seek my fortune alone.’ And without another
word he turned and left her.
With his falcon on his wrist, and his greyhound and
cat behind him, the young man walked a long way, inquiring
of everyone he met whether they had seen his
enemy the Jew. But nobody had. Then he bade his
falcon fly up into the sky—up, up, and up—and try if
sharp eyes could discover the old thief. The bird had to
go so high that he did not return for some hours; but he
told his master that the Jew was lying asleep in a splendid
palace in a far country on the shores of the sea. This
was delightful news to the young man, who instantly
bought some meat for the falcon, bidding him make a
‘To-morrow,’ said he, ‘you will fly to the palace
where the Jew lies, and while he is asleep you will search
all about him for a stone on which is engraved strange
signs; this you will bring to me. In three days I shall
expect you back here.’
‘Well, I must take the cat with me,’ answered the
The sun had not yet risen before the falcon soared high
into the air, the cat seated on his back, with his paws tightly
clasping the bird’s neck.
‘You had better shut your eyes or you may get
giddy,’ said the bird; and the cat, who had never before
been off the ground except to climb a tree, did as she was
All that day and all that night they flew, and in the
morning they saw the Jew’s palace lying beneath them.
‘Dear me,’ said the cat, opening her eyes for the first
time, ‘that looks to me very like a rat city down
there, let us go down to it; they may be able to help
us.’ So they alighted in some bushes in the heart of the
rat city. The falcon remained where he was, but the
cat lay down outside the principal gate, causing terrible
excitement among the rats.
At length, seeing she did not move, one bolder than
the rest put its head out of an upper window of the castle,
and said, in a trembling voice:
‘Why have you come here? What do you want? If
it is anything in our power, tell us, and we will do it.’
‘If you would have let me speak to you before, I
would have told you that I come as a friend,’ replied the
cat; ‘and I shall be greatly obliged if you would send
four of the strongest and cunningest among you, to do
me a service.’
‘Oh, we shall be delighted,’ answered the rat, much
relieved. ‘But if you will inform me what it is you wish
them to do I shall be better able to judge who is most
fitted for the post.’
‘I thank you,’ said the cat. ‘Well, what they have
to do is this: To-night they must burrow under the
walls of the castle and go up to the room where a Jew
lies asleep. Somewhere about him he has hidden a stone,
on which are engraved strange signs. When they have
found it they must take it from him without his waking,
and bring it to me.’
‘Your orders shall be obeyed,’ replied the rat. And
he went out to give his instructions.
About midnight the cat, who was still sleeping before
the gate, was awakened by some water flung at him by
the head rat, who could not make up his mind to open
‘Here is the stone you wanted,’ said he, when the cat
started up with a loud mew; ‘if you will hold up your
paws I will drop it down.’ And so he did. ‘And now
farewell,’ continued the rat; ‘you have a long way to go,
and will do well to start before daybreak.’
‘Your counsel is good,’ replied the cat, smiling to itself;
and putting the stone in her mouth she went off to seek
Now all this time neither the cat nor the falcon had
had any food, and the falcon soon got tired carrying
such a heavy burden. When night arrived he declared
he could go no further, but would spend it on the banks
of a river.
‘And it is my turn to take care of the stone,’ said he,
‘or it will seem as if you had done everything and I
‘No, I got it, and I will keep it,’ answered the cat, who
was tired and cross; and they began a fine quarrel. But,
unluckily, in the midst of it, the cat raised her voice, and
the stone fell into the ear of a big fish which happened
to be swimming by, and though both the cat and the falcon
sprang into the water after it, they were too late.
Half drowned, and more than half choked, the two
faithful servants scrambled back to land again. The
falcon flew to a tree and spread his wings in the sun to
dry, but the cat, after giving herself a good shake, began
to scratch up the sandy banks and to throw the bits into
‘What are you doing that for?’ asked a little fish.
‘Do you know that you are making the water quite
‘That doesn’t matter at all to me,’ answered the cat.
‘I am going to fill up all the river, so that the fishes may
‘That is very unkind, as we have never done you any
harm,’ replied the fish. ‘Why are you so angry with
‘Because one of you has got a stone of mine—a stone
with strange signs upon it—which dropped into the water.
If you will promise to get it back for me, why, perhaps I
will leave your river alone.’
‘I will certainly try,’ answered the fish in a great
hurry; ‘but you must have a little patience, as it may not
be an easy task.’ And in an instant his scales might be
seen flashing quickly along.
The fish swam as fast as he could to the sea, which
was not far distant, and calling together all his relations
who lived in the neighbourhood, he told them of the
terrible danger which threatened the dwellers in the
‘None of us has got it,’ said the fishes, shaking their
heads; ‘but in the bay yonder there is a tunny who,
although he is so old, always goes everywhere. He
will be able to tell you about it, if anyone can.’ So the
little fish swam off to the tunny, and again related his
‘Why I was up that river only a few hours ago!’ cried
the tunny; ‘and as I was coming back something fell into
my ear, and there it is still, for I went to sleep when I
got home and forgot all about it. Perhaps it may be
what you want.’ And stretching up his tail he whisked
out the stone.
‘Yes, I think that must be it,’ said the fish with joy.
And taking the stone in his mouth he carried it to the
place where the cat was waiting for him.
‘I am much obliged to you,’ said the cat, as the fish
laid the stone on the sand, ‘and to reward you, I will let
your river alone.’ And she mounted the falcon’s back,
and they flew to their master.
Ah, how glad he was to see them again with the magic
stone in their possession. In a moment he had wished
for a palace, but this time it was of green marble; and
then he wished for the princess and her ladies to occupy
it. And there they lived for many years, and when the
old king died the princess’s husband reigned in his stead.