The girl had been raised by a cat. But not an ordinary Cat. The Cat was able to speak and walk on his hind legs. Cat wore proper boots and a cap with a feather plume as befit his status as a skilled hunter. The girl’s father had been killed soon after he’d met and impregnated her mother. Theirs had been a passionate teenage love affair and her mother had died in childbirth. Cat had found the baby girl and provided for her. He made sure she had goat milk or sheep milk or pig milk to drink. The baby slept cuddled amongst litters of kids or lambs or piglets to keep warm at night. The farmers were none the wiser because Cat removed the girl from the barns before sunrise. After she was weaned, he caught rats, mice and sparrows for her to eat which they roasted on sticks over a campfire. He told the little girl how to start a fire because although Cat was clever, he still lacked opposable thumbs. He had read extensively in the noblemen’s libraries and knew many things. He shared all he learned with he girl.
By the age of five, she knew more than any other child of her age. She could dance ballet and play the harp. She spoke French, Latin and Arabic. She was skilled in spinning, weaving, knitting, quilting, crochet, needlepoint and cross-stitch. And yet, you can learn only so much from books and even the best teacher. She wanted to ride, jump horses and shoot arrows. Disguised as a boy, she became a page and learned chivalry from the knights as she helped them at the tournaments. Every night, she returned to Cat where she would build a fire at their campsite. He would tell her stories until she fell asleep at night. As the years passed, Cat’s face grew grizzled and his breathing became labored. He needed to walk with a cane. Cat told her that he could not care for her much longer.
|Fire Fancies, by Arthur Hacker|
“Cats are disgusting filthy creatures,” said the queen.
“Cats are incapable of speech,” said the king.
Cat had been sunning himself in the garden and he overheard everything the monarchs said. He retrieved his boots and cap which had been hidden in the bushes and dressed before entering the castle.
"I had thought that you might be adequate parents for my daughter but your prejudice troubles me. You will need to prove yourselves by successfully completing three challenges,” said Cat.
The queen who had been unable to have a baby had fallen in love with the adorable child.
“We will do anything you ask of us, Cat,” said the queen.
After the girl left with Cat, the king and the queen wondered what the challenges would be. The queen consulted with her household staff. In order to feed the girl, she had her Royal Cook plan a year’s worth of suitable menus. In case the cat wanted to ensure the girl was comfortably housed, the queen ordered the Royal Decorator prepare an entire suite of rooms painted in pinks and lavenders. The queen hired tutors and teachers and ordered more books for the Royal Library. The castle was filled with flowers and all sorts of girlie decorations in anticipation of the arrival of their new daughter.
The king prepared as well. He knew that the girl was interested in horses and archery and typical masculine pursuits. She was a well-rounded girl who might have been called a tomboy. He bought a dozen new horses so that she might choose the one she liked best. He hired coaches and trainers for archery and fencing as well as riding instructors. The king and queen thought they were prepared for anything that Cat could ask of them. They had more than enough money to be the perfect parents.
Everyone knows that money attracts the poor. A poor woman came asking for alms. It was the practice in the castle to give each beggar a few hay-pennies, a bit of broth in their bowl and a hunk of bread. Because this beggar seemed unusual, the guard informed the king. When the king went to the gate, he noticed the green eyes of the woman and the odd way that she stared too long which reminded him of Cat. He welcomed the woman into the throne room and sent a message to his wife to join them. The queen agreed that this situation represented a challenge from Cat. The queen invited the woman to stay with them in the castle and be provided a hot meal and clean clothes. The queen served the woman breakfast in bed day with her own silver tea service the next day.
After a few days, the beggar woman’s healthy had improved. So much that she made unreasonable demands of the servants. The queen liked to cater and take care of the beggar woman, however the king had changed his mind.
“It was fine in the beginning, when she was dirty and hungry and needy. Now she is healthy and strong. It’s time for our guest return to the world. She can find her own way,” said the king.
They gave the beggar woman a basket of cheese and bread. The queen hugged her goodbye and told her that she could visit again another time.
Cat returned to the castle the next day. They sat together at tea which Cat poured and served to the two monarchs. The queen took two sugars and cream in her tea as always. The king had nothing added to his tea.
“You have successfully completed the first two challenges,” said Cat. “You have shown that you can be nurturing and attentive when it is necessary. You have proven that you can be respectful and place limits when you need to.”
“I knew that we could meet your demands,” said the king.
“What is the third challenge and when will we be able to adopt our daughter?” said the queen.
“Never,” Cat said and left abruptly.
The queen cried for forty days and forty nights and seemed inconsolable. The king could not understand. Since they had been married at sixteen, he had never seen her act this way. She had been a determined woman yet the loss of this child had destroyed her spirit. The king woke up each day determined to find new ways to comfort and love his bride. Despite his frustration, he continued to dry her tears and listen to her moans.
He told her, “Even if you cry every day for the rest of our lives, I will be here to try to help you. You have given me so much happiness, I owe you my life. I don’t understand why you are not getting better, but I am willing to be here with you forever.”
The room filled with green smoke and they heard laughter. They turned to see Cat and girl standing in front of them. Cat looked old but happy.
Cat spoke, “You have completed the final challenge and proven that you can be successful parents. You truly love each other. I poisoned your wife with crying cream in her tea. She was forced to cry for the forty days and nights in order to test your love. No one should parent in the absence of a strong marriage. My ninth life is ebbing and this child needs the best parents possible and I know that you will love her almost as much as you love each other.”
The girl became a princess who lived happily ever after.
Laura Beasley, the Mother who Tells Stories, has lost 190 pounds and lives beyond cancer. After raising their three children in California, she and her husband live with their whippet in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.