Now I will venture to say, puss never ate a meal in her life half so thankfully before. She made a resolution, between every mouthful, never to say one word to that silly chattering magpie again; and never to indulge in any more foolish wishes, but to stay at home, do her duty in catching her mistress's mice, and be contented, and thankful for the brown bread and milk, without troubling her head about countesses and buttered crumpets any more.
And I am happy to be able to tell you that she faithfully kept her resolution. She never spoke to the magpie afterwards; but contracted a steady friendship with the owl, which lasted to the day of his death; and when he did die, which was not till he had attained a venerable old age, he bequeathed to her his share of the mice that infested the neighborhood of the cottage.
As to the magpie, finding that her company was no longer desired in that part of the world, she very wisely took her flight far away to the other side of the wood.
Whether she still lives there, and goes on chattering about the grand things she used to see in the palace of the Countess Von Rustenfustenmustencrustenberg, is more than I can inform you. If you want to ascertain that fact, you must go to the northern part of the Duchy of Kittencorkenstringen, and then you must walk seventeen leagues and three quarters still further north, and then you must turn off to your right, just where you see the old fir-stump with the rook's nest in it; and then you must walk eleven leagues and a quarter more, and then turn to your left, and after you have kept straight on for about fifteen leagues more, you will see the wood where the magpie lives;—and then, if you walk quite through it to the other side, you will see the old woman's cottage; and if it should happen to be a fine day, I dare say you will see her sitting in the sunshine spinning, and, curled round beside her, the contented cat.
Long, long ago, in the glorious reign of King Huggermuggerus, there lived in an ancient castle a highly respectable cat and his wife. They led a very comfortable life of it, for the castle belonged to an old baron who kept very little company, and was very fond of his cats: so it was very rarely that any strange dogs were admitted within the walls; and the cats breakfasted every morning with their master. They had only two children; all the rest of their numerous family having been barbarously drowned by the housekeeper, who was a very cross old woman, and did not like cats, nor anything else very much. But the cats did not trouble their heads much about her; in fact, they had very little to do with her, for they were allowed full liberty to wander about the castle at their pleasure.
It was a delightful old castle, full of such queer odd nooks and corners, that one might have been lost in it for days together; and there were long corridors, in which the kittens used to run races on moonlight nights, when the old housekeeper was safe in bed, and make such a racket, it would have done your heart good to hear them. But they chiefly took possession of a charming old room, hung with tapestry representing all sorts of strange things, and very convenient for the two kittens to play at hide-and-seek behind it; and as the room faced the south, they got all the sun to warm them. The elder of them was called Wishie, the younger Contenta. Their papa and mamma had given them these names, because Wishie was always saying she wished she had this, and she wished she had that, and never seemed satisfied unless she had everything she mewed for: while Contenta, on the contrary, was of the sweetest disposition in the world, and always pleased with what was given to her. One would have thought that neither of them could have had anything to wish for; for they had plenty to eat and drink—nice long galleries to run about in—no dogs or children to tease them—and a garden with many tall trees, and abundance of sparrows. What could they want besides?
One bright summer-day, the sun was shining splendidly—the flowers were in full bloom—the air was laden with sweet scents from the honey-suckles and moss-roses, and the larks were singing away high up in the sky, as merry as if they had all gone out for a holiday, when Wishie took it into her head to have a stroll in the garden. Now, it so happened that Contenta, who had been keeping the baron company at his breakfast, had carried off into the garden a very nice chicken-bone which her master had given her. So she sat down under a rose-tree to eat it. But she did not remain there long before Wishie spied her out. 'Well, to be sure!' exclaimed she to her herself, as she drew near the rose-bush, 'What a bone Contenta has got there! She has been breakfasting with our master, that's very clear. I'm sure nobody ever gives me such great bones! I wish Contenta would let me have a bit of it—;' and so saying, she threw herself down beside her sister, pretending to look very tired and hungry, and whined out, 'Do, Contenta, give me a bit! I am so hungry!'
'Willingly,' replied Contenta, who was very good-natured; 'but have you had no breakfast, Wishie, this morning?'
'O, nothing to speak of,' said Wishie, falling tooth and claw upon the bone; and in a very few minutes she had devoured by far the largest share of it. Now, I don't mean to say that Contenta was such an unnaturally amiable cat, as to be exactly well pleased to see her breakfast disappear in such a wholesale fashion; but she consoled herself with reflecting, that dinner would come some time or other; and being, as I said, very good-natured, she made Wishie very welcome to the bone, and began frisking after the leaves upon the gravel-walk. I am sorry to say, that when Wishie had devoured the chicken-bone, she did not seem half so much ashamed of her selfish conduct as she ought to have been; but, seeing a fine plump little sparrow perch himself upon the branch of an old tree near, she sprung up the stem after him. Now it was really very greedy of her, but however she did it, and some wonderful things happened in consequence. The tree was very old, and the trunk was quite hollow; but that Wishie did not know; so when she had clambered up to the top she suddenly found herself on the brink of a frightful abyss—there seemed a hollow deep down to the very roots of the tree. She peeped cautiously down to see what she could see, but somehow or other, whether she overbalanced herself, or whether a bit of the bark gave way, or how it was I can't tell, but Wishie tipped over, and tumbled headlong into the hollow of the tree. But as she luckily fell into a bed of thick moss she was not the worse; and giving herself a shake, she opened her eyes and looked about her.
Was there ever anything so wonderful? She was in an enormous hall, supported upon at least two hundred columns of gold, while, between them, curtains of the richest white silk, fringed with pearls and diamonds, hung from the roof to the floor, which was spread with a carpet of azure, covered with flowers in their natural colors, intermingled with stars of gold and silver. The roof of this wondrous hall was of fretted gold, and from the centre hung a lamp formed of an enormous precious stone, which shed forth rays of many-colored hues. At the upper end of the apartment was a chair of state, over which fell a drapery of azure velvet, embroidered with pearls in beautiful devices. But how shall I describe to you the lady who sat in this gorgeous chair? She was bright and beautiful as a summer's day; her hair, shining like gold, fell in curls to the very ground; she was dressed in a robe of azure-blue, a crown of white roses, sprinkled with diamond dew-drops, rested upon her brow, and in her hand she carried a long slender bright wand of gold. You may imagine that Wishie was very much astounded at the sight of all these strange things; however, the Fairy, in a very soft voice, called to her to approach nearer. 'Wishie,' said she, 'do you know where you are?'
'Not the least bit in the world, please your ladyship,' replied Wishie; 'how should I? Who would ever have thought there was such a grand place as this under ground?'
'Never mind its being under ground, Wishie,' said the Fairy, 'that's no concern of your's; attend to what I am going to say to you. You are very fond of wishing, are you not?' Wishie made no answer, for she felt rather ashamed; and the Fairy continued: 'I advise you, Wishie, as your friend, to give up such a bad trick, you will find it very inconvenient some day or other.'
By this time Wishie's fright was a little gone off; and being always rather pertly inclined, she plucked up courage, and remarked that she did not see how it was to hurt her. Now it was very rude in a little good-for-nothing kitten like Wishie, to speak so saucily; and the Fairy looked very angry, as well she might; however, she only said, 'You will know better, perhaps, at some other time. Hear me, Wishie, I am going to bestow a wonderful gift upon you; for this day you shall have everything you wish for. But I warn you, that should any of your wishes bring you into trouble, you must abide by the consequences, you cannot undo it.' As the Fairy said this, she lightly touched Wishie with the end of her wand, and the kitten instantly found herself again in the castle, in the old room hung with tapestry, and her mother purring by the fire-side. Wishie was too full of her adventure to keep it another minute to herself; so, running up to her mother, she related it at great length.
'Nonsense, child,' said the old cat, 'you don't think I shall believe such absurd stuff, do you?' I'll box your ears for telling stories—' and she gave Wishie such a hearty cuff with her paw, that she sent her spinning into the great gallery, to amuse herself as she best could.
How dreadfully cross my old mother is to-day; thought Wishie to herself, as she scampered up the corridor; however, I must try and find something to do here—it's very dull being all by oneself. Just then, as she drew near one of the windows, she heard a great buzzing and fluttering, and looking up, saw a large wasp dancing about in the sunshine. Wishie thought it would be very good fun to try and catch him, so she made several springs at the window, but all in vain; the wasp was as young and active as she was, and eluded her very nimbly. Quite out of breath, she paused for a minute to look at him.
'O how I wish I could catch you, master wasp!' she exclaimed, giving a final jump with all her might.
Strange to say, this time the wasp seemed almost to drop into her claws; she clutched him with such a tight grasp, that he had no possibility of escape; but in an instant, with a direful scream, Wishie unclosed her paw; and the wasp dropped on the floor. Wishie's paw was terribly stung. Her first trial of the Fairy's gift had not proved pleasant by any means. So, limping and mewing, Wishie went back to her mother, who scolded her well for her folly in jumping at the wasp, when she ought to have been minding her duty and catching the mice; and after licking the wounded paw, the old cat sent her to bed for the rest of the day. But Wishie had no intention whatever of spending her day in such a manner as that. Lie in bed, indeed! not she. So she licked her paw till the pain was somewhat abated, and then she crawled slily upstairs into the great gallery. There was nobody there, except the knights and ladies in the picture-frames, the baron's ancestors, and a grim looking set they were; and as none of them showed any desire to come down from the walls to play with her, Wishie very soon got tired of looking at them. So, seeing a door open at the end of the corridor, she stole quietly in, and found herself in one of the state apartments of the castle. It was a grand room, hung with beautiful tapestry, and full of a great many curious things, the use of which Wishie could not imagine. Among other things, there was a magnificent cabinet, and, on one of the shelves, a pretty round ball of carved ivory, that looked just as if it was made on purpose to roll along upon the floor, and be run after. And such a large room, too, it was; the ball would roll about so splendidly.
'Oh!' exclaimed Wishie, 'you pretty ball, I do wish I had you to play with!'
Bounce came the ball upon the floor, and in another moment, it had rolled quite to the other end of the room, with Wishie after it, but it would not suffer her to touch it; just as she came up to it, up it jumped, dashed high up in the air, over the chairs and tables, and then descending again on the floor, was here and there and everywhere, all in a minute; Wishie scampering after it, and absolutely screaming with delight. Up flew the ball—up to the very ceiling; then down it came with a rattle against some fine old china on the top of the cabinet, and in an instant, bowls, jars, and tea-pots, were all lying on the floor, broken to pieces. Dear me! thought Wishie, this is rather too much of a good thing; if the old housekeeper should come in!
But the mad ball never stopped to think about the housekeeper; now it took a long roll upon the floor, as if to entice Wishie to run after it; then, suddenly darting up, would hurl itself with all its might, against one of the grim old pictures; Wishie, who had by this time quite forgotten the pain of her paw, jumping as high as ever she could reach after it. It really was something like a game at play! Just then, bounce it went against a superb mirror at the upper end of the room, shivering it to atoms; but not a whit did the ball care for that—with a tremendous spring, it cleared the whole length of the room, and alighted on one of the picture-frames near the door.
But Wishie was getting much too frightened now to enjoy the fun any longer: she stood, gazing with rueful looks at the broken mirror—O if the cross old housekeeper should find it out! She thought the best plan would be to steal out of the room, but on turning round, she perceived that the door had become most unaccountably shut—there was no getting out. What was to be done? While she was turning it over in her mind, down came the ball directly upon Wishie's tail, with such a thump! Wishie thought her poor tail must be utterly demolished—she heard an odd sort of chuckling laugh up in the air, and, looking up, saw that the ball had seated itself, very quietly, in its old place on the top of the cabinet. How her tail smarted! it was worse a great deal than the sting. She was just trying to curl it round to lick it, when the door opened, and in came the housekeeper! She had not advanced many steps when the broken china caught her eye; her back was towards the mirror, so she did not see that—but she did see Wishie, and exclaiming, 'You naughty little kitten, you have been throwing down the china!' She flew towards Wishie, and if she could have caught her, would, no doubt, have given her a dreadful whipping; but, as she had luckily left the door open, Wishie contrived to slip past her, and dart out of the room. When the housekeeper turned round, she spied the broken mirror; which put her into such a consternation, that, for a few minutes, she was really too much thunderstruck to run after Wishie. And there sate the ball on the cabinet, very quietly, and nobody ever suspected it.
It was lucky for Wishie that she gained a few minutes on the housekeeper, for by that means, making the best use of her time, she flew along the gallery, down the staircase, and jumping out of an open window, was safely hidden among the shrubs in the garden, before her enemy had descended the stairs. Poor Wishie! the pain in her tail was terrible; and she dared not go to her mother, to tell her misfortunes, for she knew that if she did, her mother would be sure to cuff her soundly. So she lay still under the bushes, licking her tail, and trying to forget her troubles as well as she could. Evening came on; the sun was low in the heavens, and the little birds, that had set out in the morning full of glee, came back merrily to their nests, and made themselves comfortable for the night: it was clear they had had a very happy day of it, though very likely not all they wished for. Wishie sighed as she listened to their cheerful chirpings. By and bye she began to feel very hungry, and she thought if she could find Contenta, she could beg a bit of her supper, for, of course, nobody else would give her any. So she crawled out of the bushes, and stole into the court-yard. No one was about; all was quite still: she crept along under the house till she reached the place where the cats' supper was always put out for them on the top of a flat stone. Her papa and mamma, and Contenta, had certainly finished their supper, but they had remembered Wishie, and very good-naturedly left her some in the dish; so that she really made a very good supper, better than she deserved a great deal. Having accomplished this important point, she thought, as all seemed so quiet, she might venture into the house.
The great door, which opened into the court-yard, had been left ajar, so she crept in, and peeped into the hall. No one was there; it was getting dusk: the old knights and ladies who hung against the walls of the great hall, looked down upon her so gloomily, that she began to wonder whether they meant to jump upon the floor and give her a beating. However, they staid quietly in their black frames, and Wishie crept on, and on, shaking all over for fear she should meet anybody, till seeing the door of the baron's dining-hall wide open, she ventured in. The room was empty; the baron's dinner had been over hours ago; there seemed no fear of any one coming, so she grew bolder and jumped upon one of the window-seats to consider what she should do with herself all night. But before she had settled that point, she began to grow rather thirsty, and (quite forgetting that she had already had a very good supper, and that Contenta had left her her full share of the milk that was put out for them every night), being naturally of a very greedy disposition, she thought how nice a great dish full of cream would be.
Now it so happened, that close by the window-seat on which she had stationed herself, there stood on the floor a huge old china punch-bowl, which was never used except on very great occasions, such as a marriage in the baron's family, and the like. Many a long year it was since that bowl had ever been used! there it stood, half-covered with cobwebs; but the housekeeper came and dusted it sometimes. Well; Wishie's eye just then fell on the great bowl.
'What a quantity of cream it would hold!' she exclaimed; 'how nice it would be to have it to lap whenever I liked! I do wish it was full of nice thick cream, like that the baron has for breakfast!'
Wishie had hardly said it, when something began bubbling up, very gently, as if it was very soft, from the bottom of the bowl, and in a few minutes there floated at her feet, a perfect white sea! an ocean of cream—smooth, delicious, and tempting. It was so conveniently close to the window-sill, too, that by planting her fore-paws on the rim of the bowl, she could stoop down and lap so comfortably! At least she thought so at first; but somehow, when she came to try, the china was so thin and so slippery, that she found she could get very little hold. It was very provoking. But she tried a second time; really, it was dreadfully slippery, and there was nothing that she could stick her claws into—however, she did at last contrive to get her tongue just to the top of the cream; but she had scarcely tasted it, when suddenly her paws shot apart, and she tumbled headlong into the bowl! The bowl was deep and wide, and there was nothing for her to cling to, to help herself out by. O, what a splashing and spluttering she made! but it did her no good; the cream got into her eyes, her mouth, her nostrils, and she could not anyhow lift herself out of it—there she must stay, coughing, choking, and struggling, till she was drowned. Wishie thought she had quite enough cream! But just as she was sinking down, quite exhausted with her useless efforts, she felt her neck seized, and that some one was drawing her out of the bowl. The next minute she was laid safe and sound on the floor. It was some little time before she could open her eyes, and when she did so, she was exceedingly astonished to see, by the waning light, the beautiful lady with the golden locks and crown of white roses, and glittering dew-drops.
'Well, Wishie,' said the Fairy, 'have you had a pleasant day of it? You have had everything you wished for, I think?'
'O dear, ma'am!' replied Wishie, shaking her ears to get the cream out, 'I never had such a miserable day in my life! I have met with such dreadful misfortunes!'
'Then,' said the Fairy, 'you think that your day would have been a happier one, if you had not had everything you fancied you should like?'
Wishie hung her head down, and looked very silly; and at last answered that 'she thought it would.'
'I am quite of that opinion,' replied the Fairy; 'and, as you seem by this time to have had pretty plain proofs of the folly of wishing, I will take away my dangerous gift from you; for I hope you will be wiser now than you have ever been before.' So saying, the Fairy gave her a stroke with her wand, and Wishie directly found herself in her own little bed, by the side of her sister Contenta, who was sound asleep. And in a minute Wishie fell asleep too, and never awoke till the sun was shining in at the windows. She told all her strange adventures to her father and mother and Contenta; upon which they all held up their paws, and declared they had never heard anything so wonderful. But her father and mother scolded her also, and told her it was all her own fault, which Wishie felt was too true; and, from that day forwards, she never mewed for anything, but became as satisfied and good-humored as Contenta herself; and even the housekeeper at last grew quite fond of her.
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- Typographical errors corrected in text: Page 63: fidgetted replaced with fidgeted Unusual words retained: Page 103: slily is a variant of slyly Unusual phrasing retained: Page 67: "whispering the cat not to mind what..." -
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