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Agaliha
October 30th, 2008, 06:52 AM
The Cottager And His Cat

Once upon a time there lived an old man and his wife in a dirty,
tumble-down cottage, not very far from the splendid palace where
the king and queen dwelt. In spite of the wretched state of the hut,
which many people declared was too bad even for a pig to live in,
the old man was very rich, for he was a great miser, and lucky
besides, and would often go without food all day sooner than
change one of his beloved gold pieces.

But after a while he found that he had starved himself once too
often. He fell ill, and had no strength to get well again, and in a few
days he died, leaving his wife and one son behind him.

The night following his death, the son dreamed that an unknown
man appeared to him and said: 'Listen to me; your father is dead
and your mother will soon die, and all their riches will belong to
you. Half of his wealth is ill-gotten, and this you must give back to
the poor from whom he squeezed it. The other half you must
throw into the sea. Watch, however, as the money sinks into the
water, and if anything should swim, catch it and keep it, even if it is
nothing more than a bit of paper.'

Then the man vanished, and the youth awoke.

The remembrance of his dream troubled him greatly. He did not
want to part with the riches that his father had left him, for he had
known all his life what it was to be cold and hungry, and now he
had hoped for a little comfort and pleasure. Still, he was honest
and good-hearted, and if his father had come wrongfully by his
wealth he felt he could never enjoy it, and at last he made up his
mind to do as he had been bidden. He found out who were the
people who were poorest in the village, and spent half of his money
in helping them, and the other half he put in his pocket. From a
rock that jutted right out into the sea he flung it in. In a moment it
was out of sight, and no man could have told the spot where it had
sunk, except for a tiny scrap of paper floating on the water. He
stretched down carefully and managed to reach it, and on opening it
found six shillings wrapped inside. This was now all the money he
had in the world.

The young man stood and looked at it thoughtfully. 'Well, I can't
do much with this,' he said to himself; but, after all, six shillings
were better than nothing, and he wrapped them up again and
slipped them into his coat.

He worked in his garden for the next few weeks, and he and his
mother contrived to live on the fruit and vegetables he got out of it,
and then she too died suddenly. The poor fellow felt very sad when
he had laid her in her grave, and with a heavy heart he wandered
into the forest, not knowing where he was going. By-and-by he
began to get hungry, and seeing a small hut in front of him, he
knocked at the door and asked if they could give him some milk.
The old woman who opened it begged him to come in, adding
kindly, that if he wanted a night's lodging he might have it without
its costing him anything.

Two women and three men were at supper when he entered, and
silently made room for him to sit down by them. When he had
eaten he began to look about him, and was surprised to see an
animal sitting by the fire different from anything he had ever noticed
before. It was grey in colour, and not very big; but its eyes were
large and very bright, and it seemed to be singing in an odd way,
quite unlike any animal in the forest. 'What is the name of that
strange little creature?' asked he. And they answered, 'We call it a
cat.'

'I should like to buy it--if it is not too dear,' said the young man; 'it
would be company for me.' And they told him that he might have it
for six shillings, if he cared to give so much. The young man took
out his precious bit of paper, handed them the six shillings, and the
next morning bade them farewell, with the cat lying snugly in his
cloak.

For the whole day they wandered through meadows and forests, till
in the evening they reached a house. The young fellow knocked at
the door and asked the old man who opened it if he could rest there
that night, adding that he had no money to pay for it. 'Then I must
give it to you,' answered the man, and led him into a room where
two women and two men were sitting at supper. One of the
women was the old man's wife, the other his daughter. He placed
the cat on the mantel shelf, and they all crowded round to examine
this strange beast, and the cat rubbed itself against them, and held
out its paw, and sang to them; and the women were delighted, and
gave it everything that a cat could eat, and a great deal more
besides.

After hearing the youth's story, and how he had nothing in the
world left him except his cat, the old man advised him to go to the
palace, which was only a few miles distant, and take counsel of the
king, who was kind to everyone, and would certainly be his friend.
The young man thanked him, and said he would gladly take his
advice; and early next morning he set out for the royal palace.

He sent a message to the king to beg for an audience, and received
a reply that he was to go into the great hall, where he would find
his Majesty.

The king was at dinner with his court when the young man entered,
and he signed to him to come near. The youth bowed low, and
then gazed in surprise at the crowd of little black creatures who
were running about the floor, and even on the table itself. Indeed,
they were so bold that they snatched pieces of food from the King's
own plate, and if he drove them away, tried to bite his hands, so
that he could not eat his food, and his courtiers fared no better.

'What sort of animals are these?' asked the youth of one of the
ladies sitting near him.

'They are called rats,' answered the king, who had overheard the
question, 'and for years we have tried some way of putting an end
to them, but it is impossible. They come into our very beds.'

At this moment something was seen flying through the air. The cat
was on the table, and with two or three shakes a number of rats
were lying dead round him. Then a great scuffling of feet was
heard, and in a few minutes the hall was clear.

For some minutes the King and his courtiers only looked at each
other in astonishment. 'What kind of animal is that which can work
magic of this sort?' asked he. And the young man told him that it
was called a cat, and that he had bought it for six shillings.

And the King answered: 'Because of the luck you have brought me,
in freeing my palace from the plague which has tormented me for
many years, I will give you the choice of two things. Either you
shall be my Prime Minister, or else you shall marry my daughter and
reign after me. Say, which shall it be?'

'The princess and the kingdom,' said the young man.

And so it was.

[From Islandische Marchen.]