Once there was a great and powerful King who was as good as gold and as brave as a lion, but he had one weakness, which was a horror of cats. If he saw one through an open window he shuddered so that his medals jangled together and his crown fell off; if any one mentioned a cat at the table he instantly spilled his soup all down the front of his ermine; and if by any chance a cat happened to stroll into the audience chamber, he immediately jumped on to his throne, gathering his robes around him and shrieking at the top of his lungs.
Now this King was a bachelor and his people didn't like it; so being desirous of pleasing them, he looked around among the neighbouring royal families and hit upon a very sweet and beautiful princess, whom he asked in marriage without any delay, for he was a man of action.
Her parents giving their hearty consent, the pair were married at her father's palace; and after the festivities were over, the King sped home to see to the preparation of his wife's apartments. In due time she arrived, bringing with her a cat. When he saw her mounting the steps with the animal under her arm, the King, who was at the door to meet her, uttering a horrid yell, fell in a swoon and had to be revived with spirits of ammonia. The courtiers hastened to inform the Queen of her husband's failing, and when he came to, he found her in tears.
"I cannot exist without a cat!" she wept.
"And I, my love," replied the King, "cannot exist with one!"
"You must learn to bear it!" said she.
"You must learn to live without it!" said he.
"But life would not be worth living without a cat!" she wailed.
"Well, well, my love, we will see what we can do," sighed the King.
"Suppose," he went on, "you kept it in the round tower over there. Then you could go to see it."
"Shut up my cat that has been used to running around in the open air?" cried the Queen. "Never!"
"Suppose," suggested the King again, "we made an enclosure for it of wire netting."
"My dear," cried the Queen, "a good strong cat like mine could climb out in a minute."
"Well," said the King once more, "suppose we give it the palace roof, and I will keep out of the way."
"That is a good scheme," said his wife, drying her eyes.
And they immediately fitted up the roof with a cushioned shelter, and a bed of catnip, and a bench where the Queen might sit. There the cat was left; and the Queen went up three times a day to feed it, and twice as many times to visit it, and for almost two days that seemed the solution of the problem. Then the cat discovered that by making a spring to the limb of an overhanging oak tree, it could climb down the trunk and go where it liked. This it did, making its appearance in the throne-room, where the King was giving audience to an important ambassador. Much to the amazement of the latter, the monarch leapt up screaming, and was moreover so upset, that the affairs of state had all to be postponed till the following day. The tree was, of course, cut down; and the next day the cat found crawling down the gutter to be just as easy, and jumped in the window while the court was at breakfast. The King scrambled on to the breakfast table, skilfully overturning the cream and the coffee with one foot, while planting the other in the poached eggs, and wreaking untold havoc among the teacups. Again the affairs of state were postponed while the gutter was ripped off the roof, to the fury of the head gardener, who had just planted his spring seeds in the beds around the palace walls. Of course the next rain washed them all away.
This sort of thing continued. The wistaria vine which had covered the front of the palace for centuries, was ruthlessly torn down, the trellises along the wings soon followed; and finally an ancient grape arbour had perforce to be removed as it proved a sure means of descent for that invincible cat. Even then, he cleverly utilized the balconies as a ladder to the ground; but by this time the poor King's nerves were quite shattered and the doctor was called in. All he could prescribe was a total abstinence from cat; and the Queen, tearfully finding a home for her pet, composed herself to live without one. The King, well cared for, soon revived and was himself again, placidly conducting the affairs of state, and happy in the society of his beloved wife. Not so the latter.
Before long it was noticed that the Queen grew wan, was often heard to sniff, and seen to wipe her eyes, would not eat, could not sleep,—in short, the doctor was again called in.
"Dear, dear," he said disconsolately, combing his long beard with his thin fingers. "This is a difficult situation indeed. There must not be a cat on the premises, or the King will assuredly have nervous prostration. Yet the Queen must have a cat or she will pine quite away with nostalgia."
"I think I had best return to my family," sobbed the poor Queen, dejectedly. "I bring you nothing but trouble, my own."
"That is impossible, my dearest love," said the King decidedly—"Here my people have so long desired me to marry, and now that I am at last settled in the matrimonial way, we must not disappoint them. They enjoy a Queen so much. It gives them something pretty to think about. Besides, my love, I am attached to you, myself, and could not possibly manage without you. No, my dear, there may be a way out of our difficulties, but that certainly is not it." Having delivered which speech the King lapsed again into gloom, and the doctor who was an old friend of the King's went away sadly.
He returned, however, the following day with a smile tangled somewhere in his long beard. He found the King sitting mournfully by the Queen's bedside.
"Would your majesty," began the doctor, turning to the Queen, "object to a cat that did not look like a cat?"
"Oh, no," cried she, earnestly, "just so it's a cat!"
"Would your majesty," said the doctor again, turning to the King, "object to a cat that did not look like a cat?"
"Oh, no," cried he, "just so it doesn't look like a cat!"
"Well," said the doctor, beaming, "I have a cat that is a cat and that doesn't look any more like a cat than a skillet, and I should be only too honoured to present it to the Queen if she would be so gracious as to accept it."
Both the King and the Queen were overjoyed and thanked the doctor with tears in their eyes. So the cat—for it was a cat though you never would have known it—arrived and was duly presented to the Queen, who welcomed it with open arms and felt better immediately.
It was a thin, wiry, long-legged creature, with no tail at all, and large ears like sails, a face like a lean isosceles triangle with the nose as a very sharp apex, eyes small and yellow like flat buttons, brown fur short and coarse, and large floppy feet. It had a voice like a steam siren and its name was Rosamund.
The King and Queen were both devoted to it; she because it was a cat, he because it seemed anything but a cat. No one indeed could convince the King that it was not a beautiful animal, and he had made for it a handsome collar of gold and amber—"to match," he said, sentimentally, "its lovely eyes." In sooth so ugly a beast never had such a pampered and luxurious existence, certainly never so royal a one. Appreciating its wonderful good fortune, it never showed any inclination to depart; and the King, the Queen, and Rosamund lived happily ever after.
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