Fioriana dies and leaves three sons, Dusolino, Tesifone, and Costantino. The last-named, by the aid of his cat, gains the lordship of a powerful kingdom.It is no rare event, beloved ladies, to see a rich man brought to extreme poverty, or to find one who from absolute penury has mounted to high estate. And this last-named fortune befell a poor wight of whom I have heard tell, who from being little better than a beggar attained the full dignity of a king.
There was once upon a time in Bohemia a woman, Soriana by name, who lived in great poverty with her three sons, of whom one was called Dusolino, and another Tesifone, and the third Costantino Fortunato. Soriana had naught of any value in the way of household goods save three things, and these were a kneading trough of the kind women use in the making of bread, a board such as is used in the preparation of pastry, and a cat. Soriana, being now borne down with a very heavy burden of years, saw that death was approaching her, and on this account made her last testament, leaving to Dusolino, her eldest son, the kneading trough, to Tesifone the paste board, and to Costantino the cat.
When the mother was dead and duly buried, the neighbors round about would borrow now the kneading trough and now the paste board, as they might happen to want them, and as they knew that the young men were very poor, they gave them by way of repayment a cake, which Dusolino and Tesifone ate by themselves, giving nothing of it to Costantino, the youngest brother. And if Costantino chanced to ask them to give him aught they would make answer by bidding him to go to his cat, who would without fail let him have what he wanted, and on this account poor Costantino and his cat underwent much suffering.
Now it chanced that this cat of Costantino's was a fairy in disguise, and the cat, feeling much compassion for him and anger at his two brothers on account of their cruel treatment of him, one day said to him, "Costantino, do not be cast down, for I will provide for your well-being and sustenance, and for my own as well."
Whereupon the cat sallied forth from the house and went into the fields, where it lay down and feigned to be asleep so cleverly that an unsuspecting leveret came close up to where it was lying, and was forthwith seized and killed. Then, carrying the leveret, the cat went to the king's palace, and having met some of the courtiers who were standing about it, said that it wanted to speak to the king.
When the king heard that a cat had begged an audience with him, he bade them bring it into his presence, and, having asked it what its business was, the cat replied that Costantino, its master, had sent a leveret as a present to the king, and begged his gracious acceptance of the same. And with these words it presented the leveret to the king, who was pleased to accept it, asking at the same time who this Costantino might be. The cat replied that he was a young man who for virtue and good looks had no superior, and the king, on hearing this report, gave the cat a kindly welcome, and ordered them to set before it meat and drink of the best. The cat, when it had eaten and drunk enough, dexterously filled the bag in which it had brought the leveret with all sorts of good provender, when no one was looking that way, and having taken leave of the king, carried the spoil back to Costantino.
The two brothers, when they saw Costantino making good cheer over the victuals, asked him to let them have a share, but he paid them back in their own coin, and refused to give them a morsel, wherefore on this account the brothers hereafter were tormented with gnawing envy of Costantino's good fortune.
Now Costantino, though he was a good-looking youth, had suffered so much privation and distress that his face was rough and covered with blotches, which caused him much discomfort; so the cat, having taken him one day down to the river, washed him and licked him carefully with its tongue from head to foot, and tended him so well that in a few days he was quite freed from his ailment.
The cat still went on carrying presents to the royal palace in the fashion already described, and by these means got a living for Costantino. But after a time the cat began to find these journeyings to and from the palace somewhat irksome, and it feared more over that the king's courtiers might be come impatient thereanent; so it said to Costantino, "My master, if you will only do what I shall tell you, in a short time you will find yourself a rich man."
"And how will you manage this?" said Costantino.
Then the cat answered, "Come with me, and do not trouble yourself about anything, for I have a plan for making a rich man of you which cannot fail."
Whereupon the cat and Costantino betook themselves to a spot on the bank of the river which was hard by the king's palace, and forthwith the cat bade its master to strip off all his clothes and to throw himself into the river.
Then it began to cry and shout in a loud voice, "Help, help, run, run, for Messer Costantino is drowning!"
It happened that the king heard what the cat was crying out, and bearing in mind what great benefits he had received from Costantino, he immediately sent some of his household to the rescue.
When Costantino had been dragged out of the water and dressed by the attendants in seemly garments, he was led into the presence of the king, who gave him a hearty welcome, and inquired of him how it was that he found himself in the water; but Costantino, on account of his agitation, knew not what reply to make; so the cat, who always kept at his elbow, answered in his stead, "You must know, O king! that some robbers, who had learned by the agency of a spy that my master was taking a great store of jewels to offer them to you as a present, laid wait for him and robbed him of his treasure, and then, wishing to murder him, they threw him into the river, but by the aid of these gentlemen he has escaped death."
The king, when he heard this, gave orders that Costantino should enjoy the best of treatment, and seeing that he was well made and handsome, and believing him to be very rich, he made up his mind to give him his daughter Elisetta to wife, and to endow her with a rich dowry of gold and jewels and sumptuous raiment. When the nuptial ceremonies were completed and the festivities at an end, the king bade them load ten mules with gold and five with the richest garments, and sent the bride, accompanied by a great concourse of people, to her husband's house.
Costantino, when he saw himself so highly honored and loaded with riches, was in sore perplexity as to where he should carry his bride, and took counsel with the cat thereanent.
Said the cat: "Be not troubled over this business, my master; we will provide for everything."
So as they were all riding on merrily together the cat left the others and rode on rapidly in advance, and after it had left the company a long way behind, it came upon certain cavaliers whom it thus addressed: "Alas! you poor fellows, what are you doing here? Get hence as quickly as you can, for a great body of armed men is coming along this road and will surely attack and despoil you. See, they are now quite near; listen to the noise of the neighing horses."
Whereupon the horsemen, overcome with fear, said to the cat: "What then shall we do?"
And the cat made answer: "It will be best for you to act in this wise. If they should question you as to whose men you are, you must answer boldly that you serve Messer Costantino, and then no one will molest you."
Then the cat left them, and, having ridden on still farther, came upon great flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, and it told the same story and gave the same counsel to the shepherds and drovers who had charge of these. Then going on still farther it spake in the same terms to whomsoever it chanced to meet. As the cavalcade of the princess passed on, the gentlemen who were accompanying her asked of the horsemen whom they met the name of their lord, and of the herdsmen who might be the owner of all these sheep and oxen, and the answer given by all was that they served Messer Costantino.
Then the gentlemen of the escort said to the bridegroom: "So, Messer Costantino, it appears we are now entering your dominions?" and Costantino nodded his head in token of assent, and in like manner he made answer to all their interrogations, so that all the company on this account judged him to be enormously rich.
In the meantime the cat had ridden on and had come to a fair and stately castle, which was guarded by a very weak garrison, and these defenders the cat addressed in the following words: "My good men, what is it you do? Surely you must be aware of the ruin which is about to overwhelm you."
"What is the ruin you speak of?" demanded the guards.
"Why, before another hour shall have gone by," replied the cat, "your place will be beleaguered by a great company of soldiers, who will cut you in pieces. Do you not already hear the neighing of the horses and see the dust in the air? Wherefore, unless you are minded to perish, take heed to my advice, which will bring you safely out of all danger. For if anyone shall demand of you whose this castle is, say that it belongs to Messer Costantino Fortunato."
And when the time came the guards gave answer as the cat had directed; for when the noble escort of the bride had arrived at the stately castle, and certain gentlemen had inquired of the guards the name of the lord of the castle, they were answered that it was Messer Costantino Fortunato; and when the whole company had entered the castle they were honorably lodged therein.
Now the lord of this castle was a certain Signor Valentino, a very brave soldier, who only a few days ago had left his castle to bring back thereto the wife he had recently espoused, but as ill fortune would have it, there happened to him on the road, somewhile before he came to the place where his beloved wife was abiding, an unhappy and unforeseen accident by which he straightway met his death. So Costantino Fortunato retained the lordship of Valentino's castle.
Not long after this Morando, King of Bohemia, died, and the people by acclamation chose Costantino Fortunato for their king, seeing that he had espoused Elisetta, the late king's daughter, to whom by right the succession to the kingdom belonged. And by these means Costantino rose from an estate of poverty or even beggary to be a powerful king, and lived long with Elisetta his wife, leaving children by her to be the heirs of his kingdom.
And being about to shake out the bags of life, he called to him his sons, Oratiello and Pippo, and said to them, "I am now called upon by the tenor of my bill to pay the debt I owe to nature; and believe me I should feel great pleasure in leaving this abode of misery, but that I leave you here behind me, a pair of miserable fellows, without a stitch upon your backs, without so much as a fly can carry upon its foot; so that were you to run a hundred miles, not a farthing would drop from you. My ill fortune has indeed brought me to such beggary that I lead the life of a dog; for I have all along, as you well know, gaped with hunger and gone to bed without a candle. Nevertheless, now that I am dying, I wish to leave you some token of my love. So do you, Oratiello, who are my first-born, take the sieve that hangs yonder against the wall, with which you can earn your bread; and do you, little fellow, take the cat, and remember your daddy."
So saying he began to whimper, and presently after said, "God be with you, for it is night!"
Oratiello had his father buried by charity, and then took the sieve, and went riddling [sifting] here and there and everywhere to gain a livelihood; and the more he riddled the more he earned.
And Pippo, taking the cat, said, "Only see now what a pretty legacy my father has left me! I, who am not able to support myself, must now provide for two. Whoever beheld such a miserable inheritance?"
But the cat, who overheard this lamentation, said to him, "You are grieving without need, and have more luck than sense; but you little know the good fortune in store for you, and that I am able to make you rich if I set about it."
When Pippo heard this, he thanked her pussyship, stroked her three or four times on the back, and commended himself warmly to her.
So the cat took compassion upon poor Gagliuso, and every morning she betook herself either to the shore of the Chiaja or to the Fishrock, and catching a goodly gray mullet, or a fine dory, she bagged it, and carried it to the king, and said, "My lord Gagliuso, your majesty's most humble slave, sends you this fish with all reverence, and says, "A small present to a great lord.'"
Then the king with a joyful face, as one usually shows to those who bring a gift, answered the cat, "Tell this lord, whom I do not know, that I thank him heartily."
At another time the cat would run to the marshes or fields, and when the fowlers had brought down a blackbird, a snipe, or a lark, she caught it up, and presented it to the king with the same message.
She repeated this trick again and again, until one morning the king said to her, "I feel infinitely obliged to this lord Gagliuso, and am desirous of knowing him, that I may make a return for the kindness he has shown me."
And the cat replied, The desire of my lord Gagliuso is to give his life and blood for your majesty's crown, and tomorrow morning without fail, as soon as the sun has set fire to the stubble of the fields of air, he will come and pay his respects to you."
So when the morning came the cat went to the king, and said to him, "Sire, my lord Gagliuso sends to excuse himself for not coming; as last night some of his servants robbed him and ran off, and have not left him a single shirt to his back."
When the king heard this, he instantly commanded his servants to take out of his wardrobe a quantity of clothes and linen, and sent them to Gagliuso; and before two hours had passed Gagliuso went to the palace, conducted by the cat, where he received a thousand compliments from the king, who made him sit beside him, and gave him a banquet that would amaze you.
While they were eating Gagliuso from time to time turned to the cat, and said to her, "My pretty puss, prithee take care that those rags don't slip through our fingers."
Then the cat answered, "Be quiet, be quiet; don't be talking of these beggarly things."
The king wishing to know what it was, the cat made answer that he had taken a fancy for a small lemon, whereupon the king instantly set out to the garden for a basketful. But Gagliuso returned to the same tune about the old clothes and shirts, and the cat again told him to hold his tongue. Then the king once more asked what was the matter, and the cat had another excuse ready to make amends for Gagliuso's rudeness.
At last when they had eaten and had chatted for some time of one thing and another, Gagliuso took his leave; and the cat stayed with the king, describing the worth, and the genius, and the judgment of Gagliuso, and, above all, the great wealth he had in the plains of Rome and Lombardy, which well entitled him to marry into the family of a crowned king.
Then the king asked what might be his fortune; and the cat replied that no one could ever count the movables, the immovables, and the household furniture of this immensely rich man, who did not even know what he possessed; and if the king wished to be informed of it, he had only to send people with her out of the kingdom, and she would prove to him that there was no wealth in the world equal to his.
Then the king called some trusty persons, and commanded them to inform themselves minutely of the truth; so they followed in the footsteps of the cat, who, as soon as they had passed the frontier of the kingdom, from time to time ran on before, under the pretext of providing refreshments for them on the road; and whenever she met a flock of sheep, a herd of cows, a troop of horses, or a drove of pigs, she would say to the herdsmen and keepers, "Ho! Have a care! There's a troop of robbers coming to carry off everything in the country. So if you wish to escape their fury, and to have your things respected, say that they all belong to the lord Gagliuso, and not a hair will be touched."
She said the same at all the farmhouses that she passed on the road; so that wherever the king's people came, they found the pipe tuned; for everything they met with, they were told, belonged to the lord Gagliuso. So at last they were tired of asking, and went back to the king, telling seas and mountains of the riches of lord Gagliuso. The king, hearing this report, promised the cat a good drink if she should manage to bring about the match; and the cat concluded the marriage. So Gagliuso came, and the king gave him his daughter and a large portion.
At the end of a month of festivities Gagliuso said he wished to take his bride to his estates; so the king accompanied them as far as the frontiers, and he went to Lombardy, where, by the cat's advice, he purchased a quantity of lands and territories, and became a baron.
Gagliuso, now seeing himself so extremely rich, thanked the cat more than words can express, saying that he owed his life and his greatness to her good offices, and that the ingenuity of a cat had done more for him than the wit of his father; therefore she might dispose of his life and property as she pleased; and he gave her his word that when she died, which he prayed might not be for a hundred years, he would have her embalmed and put into a golden coffin, and set in his own chamber, that he might keep her memory always before his eyes.
The cat listened to these lavish professions, and before three days were over she pretended to be dead, and stretched herself at her full length in the garden; and when Gagliuso's wife saw her, she cried out, "O husband, what a sad misfortune! The cat is dead!"
"Devil die with her!" said Gagliuso. "Better she than we!"
"What shall we do with her?" asked the wife.
"Take her by the leg," said he, "and fling her out of the window."
Then the cat, who heard this fine reward when she least expected it, began to say, "Is this the return you make for my taking you from beggary? Is this the thanks I get for freeing you from rags that you might have hung distaffs with? Is this my reward for having put good clothes on your back, and fed you well when you were a poor, starved, miserable, tatter-brogued ragamuffin? But such is the fate of him who washes an ass's head. Go, a curse upon all I have done for you! You are not worth spitting upon in the face. A fine gold coffin you had prepared for me! A fine funeral you were going to give me! Go now, serve, labor, toil, sweat, to get this fine reward! Unhappy is he who does a good deed in hopes of a return! Well was it said by the philosopher, 'He who lies down an ass, an ass he finds himself.' But let him who does most expect least. Smooth words and ill deeds deceive alike both wise and fools."
So saying she threw her cloak about her, and went her way; and all that Gagliuso with the utmost humility could do to soothe her was of no avail. She would not return, but kept running on without ever turning her head about, and saying,
Heaven protect us from a rich man grown poor, And from a beggar who of wealth has got store.
The poor cat was compassionated beyond measure for seeing herself so ill rewarded; but one of those present observed, that she might have found some consolation in not being alone; for at the present day ingratitude has become a domestic evil; and there are many others also who, after they have worked and toiled, and spent their money, and ruined their health, to serve this race of ungrateful people, and have fancied them selves sure of another and a better reward than a golden coffin, find themselves destined to be buried in the hospital.
The latter was very disconsolate at having such a poor share of the inheritance. "My brothers," said he, "may be able to earn an honest livelihood by entering into partnership; but, as for me, when I have eaten my cat and made a muff of his skin, I must die of hunger."
The cat, who had heard this speech, although he had not appeared to do so, said to him with a sedate and serious air, "Do not be troubled, master; you have only to give me a bag, and get a pair of boots made for me in which I can go among the bushes, and you will see that you are not left so badly off as you believe."
Though his master did not place much reliance on the cat's words, he had seen him play such cunning tricks in catching rats and mice, when he would hang himself up by the heels, or hide in the ?our pretending to be dead, that he was not altogether without hope of being helped by him out of his distress.
As soon as the cat had what he asked for, he boldly pulled on his boots, and, hanging his bag round his neck, he took the strings of it in his forepaws, and started off for a warren where there were a great number of rabbits. He put some bran and sow-thistles in his bag, and then, stretching himself out as if he were dead, he waited till some young rabbit, little versed in the wiles of the world, should come and poke his way into the bag, in order to eat what was inside it.
He had hardly laid himself down before he had the pleasure of seeing a young scatterbrain of a rabbit get into the bag, whereupon Master Cat pulled the strings, caught it, and killed it without mercy. Proud of his prey, he went to the palace, and asked to speak to the king.
He was ushered upstairs and into the state apartment, and, after making a low bow to the king, he said, "Sire, here is a wild rabbit, which my Lord the Marquis of Carabas -- for such was the title he had taken a fancy to give to his master -- has ordered me to present, with his duty, to your majesty."
"Tell your master," replied the king, "that I thank him and am pleased with his gift."
Another day he went and hid himself in the wheat, keeping the mouth of his bag open as before, and as soon as he saw that a brace of partridges had run inside, he pulled the strings, and so took them both. He went immediately and presented them to the king, as he had the rabbits. The king was equally grateful at receiving the brace of partridges, and ordered drink to be given him.
For the next two or three months, the cat continued in this manner, taking presents of game at intervals to the king, as if from his master.
One day, when he knew the king was going to drive on the banks of the river, with his daughter, the most beautiful princess in the world, he said to his master, "If you will follow my advice, your fortune is made; you have only to go and bathe in a part of the river I will point out to you, and then leave the rest to me."
The Marquis of Carabas did as his cat advised him, without knowing what good would come of it.
While he was bathing, the king passed by, and the cat began to call out with all his might, "Help! Help! My lord the Marquis of Carabas is drowning!"
Hearing the cry, the king looked out of the coach window, and recognizing the cat who had so often brought him game, he ordered his guards to ?y to the help of my lord the Marquis of Carabas. Whilst they were getting the poor marquis out of the river, the cat went up to the royal coach, and told the king that, while his master had been bathing, some robbers had come and carried off his clothes, although he had shouted, "Stop thief," as loud as he could. The rogue had hidden them himself under a large stone. The king immediately ordered the officers of his wardrobe to go and fetch one of his handsomest suits for my lord the Marquis of Carabas. The king embraced him a thousand times, and as the ?ne clothes they dressed him in set off his good looks -- for he was handsome and well made -- the Marquis of Carabas quite took the fancy of the king's daughter, and after he had cast two or three respectful and rather tender glances towards her, she fell very much in love with him. The king insisted upon his getting into the coach, and accompanying them in their drive.
The cat, delighted to see that his plans were beginning to succeed, ran on before, and coming across some peasants who were mowing a meadow, he said to them, "You, good people, who are mowing here, if you do not tell the king that this meadow you are mowing belongs to my lord the Marquis of Carabas, you shall all be cut in pieces as small as minced meat."
The king did not fail to ask the peasants whose meadow it was they were mowing.
"It belongs to my Lord the Marquis of Carabas," said they all together, for the cat's threat had frightened them.
"You have a ?ne property there," said the king to the Marquis of Carabas.
"As you say, sire," responded the Marquis of Carabas, "for it is a meadow which yields an abundant crop every year."
Master Cat, who still kept in advance of the party, came up to some reapers, and said to them, "You, good people, who are reaping, if you do not say that all this corn belongs to my lord the Marquis of Carabas, you shall all be cut into pieces as small as minced meat."
The king, who passed by a minute afterwards, wished to know to whom belonged all the corn ?elds he saw.
"To my lord the Marquis of Carabas," repeated the reapers, and the king again congratulated the Marquis on his property.
The cat, still continuing to run before the coach, uttered the same threat to everyone he met, and the king was astonished at the great wealth of my lord the Marquis of Carabas. Master Cat at length arrived at a ?ne castle, the owner of which was an ogre, the richest ogre ever known, for all the lands through which the king had driven belonged to the lord of this castle. The cat took care to ?nd out who the ogre was, and what he was able to do; then he asked to speak with him, saying that he did not like to pass so near his castle without doing himself the honor of paying his respects to him. The ogre received him as civilly as an ogre can, and made him sit down.
"I have been told," said the cat, "that you have the power of changing yourself into all kinds of animals; that you could, for instance, transform yourself into a lion or an elephant."
"'Tis true," said the ogre, abruptly, "and to prove it to you, you shall see me become a lion."
The cat was so frightened when he saw a lion in front of him, that he quickly scrambled up into the gutter, not without difficulty and danger, on account of his boots, which were worse than useless for walking on the tiles. Shortly afterwards, seeing that the ogre had resumed his natural form, the cat climbed down again, and admitted that he had been terribly frightened.
"I have also been assured," said the cat, " but I cannot believe it, that you have the power besides of taking the form of the smallest animal; for instance, that of a rat, or a mouse; I confess to you I hold this to be utterly impossible."
"Impossible!" exclaimed the ogre, "You shall see!" and he immediately changed himself into a mouse, and began running about the ?oor.
The cat no sooner caught sight of it, than he pounced upon it and ate it.
In the meanwhile, the king, seeing the ?ne castle of the ogre as he was driving past, thought he should like to go inside.
The cat, who heard the noise of the coach rolling over the draw-bridge, ran to meet it, and said to the king, "Your majesty is welcome to the Castle of my Lord the Marquis of Carabas!"
"How, my Lord Marquis," exclaimed the king, "this castle belongs to you? Nothing could be ?ner than this courtyard, and all these buildings which surround it. Let us see the inside of it, if you please."
The marquis handed out the young princess, and following the king, who led the way upstairs, they entered a grand hall, where they found prepared a magni?cent repast, which the ogre had ordered in expectation of some friends, who were to have visited him that very day, but who did not venture to enter when they heard the king was there.
The king, as greatly delighted with the excellent qualities of my Lord the Marquis of Carabas as his daughter, who was more than ever in love with him, seeing what great wealth he possessed, said to him, after having drunk ?ve or six bumpers, "It depends entirely on yourself, my Lord Marquis, whether or not you become my son-in-law."
The marquis, making several profound bows, accepted the honor the king offered him, and that same day was married to the princess. The cat became a great lord, and never again ran after mice, except for his amusement.
Be the advantage never so great
Of owning a superb estate,
From sire to son descended,
Young men oft find, on industry,
Combined with ingenuity,
They'd better have depended.
If the son of a miller so quickly could gain
The heart of a princess, it seems pretty plain,
With good looks and good manners, and some aid from dress,
The humblest need not quite despair of success.
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Revised May 10, 2016.