Once upon a time, before you were born, when there were carts and horses, and the only things that could fly were birds and bats and butterflies, a very long time ago; there lived a miller whose poor wife had died leaving him to look after their three sons.
It was hard work running both the mill and a family but luckily the miller was so good at his job that people came from miles around to buy his fine flour. Everything was going well until one dark day the miller’s life was changed forever. He was loading sacks into a cart when all of a sudden the ground began to tremble and shake. He looked up and saw a huge great Ogre stomping down the road towards him!
This Ogre was a fearsome sight. He was as tall as two houses. He had one giant red eye in the middle of his head. His legs were like tree trunks and his hands were so large he could rip the roof off a hay barn without any trouble at all!
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” roared the Ogre. He rached down, grabbed one of the miller’s sacks and sniffed it with his huge hairy nostrils.
“MMM! Good!” grunted the Ogre and popped the sack of flour into one of his enormous pockets. “Give me more!"
Well the miller knew better than to argue with an Ogre, so he gave him another sack to try.
“More more!” roared the Ogre and he stamped his feet so hard that the walls shook and all the apples fell off the trees. And so it went on, until the greedy Ogre’s pockets were filled to bursting. Only then did he stomp away, “But I’ll be back again!” he bellowed.
Unfortunately for the miller and his family, the Ogre was true to his word. Every month the walls would quiver and the ground tremble as the Ogre came thundering down the valley to stuff his pockets with more of the miller’s precious flour. From that day on the miller’s life became an absolute misery. He got thinner and thinner and poorer and poorer, but he had to work harder and harder just to keep up with the Ogre’s demands. Then one day the exhausted miller died and left all he had in the world to his three sons.
Naturally the oldest son got the mill. The second son got the donkey and the cart. And the youngest was left with a cat, a sack and a ball of string. The eldest son was very pleased because he had always wanted to be a miller like his father. The second son was quite happy with his donkey and cart. But the youngest son, Jack, was really fed up!
“What am I supposed to do with a mangy old cat?” he grumbled.
“Cats can’t do anything except purr and sleep! Although I suppose if I got really hungry I could make a cat sandwich. And I could use the tail as a sort of scarf...And there’s probably enough fur for a small pair of mittens.. .or maybe a...”
Just at that moment the miller’s son was interrupted by a loud 'MIAOW!' Startled, Jack leaped to his feet and turned round. There was the cat, perched on a sack, swishing its tail angrily from side to side. “It's alright Puss. I was only joking,” explained Jack.
The cat stopped swishing, and jumping off the sack he began rubbing itself against Jack’s legs. Jack bent down and started stroking the cat. Then he grinned mischievously “Of course.. .lightly grilled with a bit of butter...? YEEOWW!!” The cat had very sharp claws!
‘Well I suppose I deserved that,” admitted Jack.
“But what on earth am I going to do with you?
I can hardly afford to feed myself - let alone a cat!
I haven’t got a job.
I haven’t got a roof over my head.
It’s not fair Puss!
All my life I’ve had the leftovers: the hard crusts, the broken biscuits, the shapeless smocks. And now my big brother not only gets a job for life, he gets the well appointed stone house complete with working water wheel, two-seater outside privy and productive vegetable garden.
Brother two gets the carefully driven cart complete with cover, two spare wheels and low-mileage donkey!
What does lucky old Jack get?
A big bag of money?
A fine suit of clothes?
The fastest horse in six counties?
A lumpy mattress to lay his miserable head?
Oh No! Lucky Jack gets an empty sack, a long piece of string and a totally useless cat!”
“MIAOW! MIAOW!” exclaimed the indignant cat. “I am not totally useless!”
The miller’s son nearly fell off his stool in astonishment!
“But..? " he spluttered "You can. . ?"
“Talk?” suggested the cat. Jack nodded, unable to believe his ears. Casually the cat turned its head and licked its back before continuing.
“Talking, Hunting, Purring, Scratching, Singing, Dancing. You name it, I can probably do it! I could change your life Jack. But if you’re not going to be nice to me - I’m off!”
And so saying, the cat stood up, stuck its tail in the air and strutted towards the door.
“No! Don’t leave me!” begged Jack, “I will be nice!”
The cat stopped and after carefully examining one of his paws he returned to Jack.
“How nice?” inquired the clever cat. “Cream off the top of the milk ‘nice’?
“No more talk of scarves and mittens ‘nice’?
Jack nodded his head vigorously.
The cat sniffed.‘Well....we’ll see how it goes shall we?”
Jack smiled in agreement.
“Right then,” continued the cat, pointing an accusing paw in Jack’s direction.
“Lesson I. We must learn to make the most of what we’ve got. You have to stop whinging and start thinking positively."
“But I haven’t got anything to be positive about!” protested Jack.
“You’ve got ME! I’ve got nine lives, sharp claws, no commitments; I’m ready to go anywhere.I’m the cat with added attitude!
And you've got a sack.
To you it probably looks like an empty bit of rubbish.
But you could cut holes in the side and make a lovely warm jerkin.
You could use it as a curtain.
You could sleep in it when it gets cold.
You could wait till the next village fete and have races in it!
And lastly there's your string.
You can pull things with string.
You could tie a small piece to the end of a turnip and pretend it was a mouse!
You could fix a bent pin on the end and catch fish with it.
So you’ve got a brilliant cat, a useful sack and a ball of string, how can you possibly go wrong?”
“I don’t know”, grumbled the miller’s son, "but I probably will. I usually do!”
“Nonsense!” said the cat, springing onto his lap.
“That’s all in the past! History!”
The cat turned itself round and round a few times, looking for a suitably warm spot before settling down.“You see,” he purred, “I’ve been scratching my head a bit and I’ve come up with rather a clever plan.”
The miller’s son grunted suspiciously.
“Trust me,” continued the cat, “and one day you will be so rich, beautiful princesses will fall at your feet.”
Jack snorted with laughter.“Come off it Puss! Have you looked at my feet lately? Have you smelt them?”
It was true that at that moment Jack’s feet weren’t his most attractive feature. He had holes in both shoes. He had been wearing the same pair of socks for at least three months, and his feet hadn’t been in contact with a bar of soap since Christmas! The cat sniffed impatiently.“Jack! You’re being negative again! Smelly feet are not a problem; they’re an opportunity for... washing!”
(At this the puss couldn’t resist licking his own paws and cleaning behind his ears.)“Umm that feels much better. Now where was I?”
“Princesses falling at my feet...?” suggested Jack.
“Ah Yes! Problems solved. Untold riches. The princesses etc. etc. But before we get to that young Jack, I’m afraid you have to do a teeny weeny little something for me.”
“Oh yes!” snorted Jack. “I knew it. There’s always a catch isn’t there? What do I have to do then? Bury my head in a dung heap for three weeks? Eat a pail of slugs?
“Relax!” said the cat. “All you have to do is find me a nice pair of boots!”
“Boots?” repeated the surprised Jack.
“Leather boots. Straps. Gold buckles. Flat heels. Maybe blue... Maybe yellow. I haven’t made up my mind yet. Get me the boots and your troubles are as good as over.”
“Really.” insisted the cat.
Well the cat was so convincing that Jack agreed to give the plan a try. After all things couldn’t get worse, could they?
So the very next morning, the miller’s son and his trusty cat got a lift into town. It was market day. There were crowds of people selling everything from potatoes to piglets. Jack and Puss wandered around. They found sandals. They found clogs. They found spiky things for getting stones out of horses’ hooves. But when they asked for boots, the stall holders all shook their heads and explained how it was the wrong time of year for boots.‘ They could order them maybe...? And it would take at least a month!
Puss and his master were really disappointed. They slumped down outside a busy inn and shared a glass of turnip and ginger ale. It looked as if Puss’s brilliant plan wasn’t going to work after all.
“Typical” snorted the miller’s son. “Absolutely blooming...“
“Wait a minute!” interrupted the excited cat. “Do you see what I see?”
The miller’s son looked up to where the cat was pointing. Sure enough, down a dark, narrow alley-way, there was a dingy wooden sign hanging outside a shop. It was in the shape of an enormous boot!”
“I bet they’re closed for lunch,” muttered Jack “I bet they haven’t got your size.
I bet they’re just...YEOOW! What did you do that for?”
Casually, Puss removed his sharp claws from Jack’s lap.
“Just a little reminder,” he smiled. “Positive Thinking!”
The cat and his master gulped down their drink and walked along to the shop. It didn’t look promising. There was paint peeling off the door, there were leaves and dried up turnip peelings scattered on the front step.
"It’s closed!" groaned Jack.
"I don't think so!" insisted Puss. The cat pressed himself against the grubby glass and started licking.
"Miaow! Come and have a look at this!"
At first Jack couldn’t work out what Puss was getting so excited about. All he could see was cobwebs and an untidy jumble of different coloured wooden clogs. Then suddenly he spotted them! Right at the back of the window was a pair of beautiful leather boots! They were even the right size! Puss was in heaven. He couldn’t stop purring. In fact he sounded so happy, that the miller’s son decided to throw caution to the winds and spent his last few coins on a matching cloak!
As they walked home in the sunshine, the grateful cat told his master about his cunning plan...
“It’s bold,” admitted Jack, “It’s clever. But it won’t work for me. Something will go wrong. As sure as eggs is . . .YEOW!” Jack glared at the cat.
Smiling sweetly at her master, Puss carefully withdrew her sharp claws from his leg! “OK. Think positive! Think positive!” chanted Jack!
As soon as they got back to the mill, Puss strolled into the garden and helped himself to some nice juicy lettuce leaves. Meanwhile his master went into the mill and begged a handful of bran from brother number one. The lettuce and the bran were put into the sack and then Puss hurried down the road, until he came to a small field that was positively bobbing with rabbits. The cunning cat walked into the middle, laid the sack on the ground and then curled up beside it, pretending to be asleep.
Well, before very long, two fat rabbits hopped up to investigate. They looked at the juicy lettuce leaves. They sniffed the fresh bran. They wrinkled their noses. They circled the sleeping cat. They scuttled away. They looked at the lettuce again. They hopped back. They sniffed again. And then they both hopped inside. Quick as a flash! Puss pulled the string and caught them in his trap! But instead of taking his catch back to Jack for his supper, Puss slung the bag over his shoulder and marched off in the opposite direction!
After many miles Puss arrived outside the gates of a large palace. There was a noisy crowd of people queuing up to be admitted. But when they caught sight of the approaching cat in his magnificent , they were so amazed they fell silent and let him pass to the front of the queue. The captain of the guard was equally astonished. He stared at the cat and his beautiful boots and when the cat demanded to see the king, he waved him through the door.
Puss hurried purposefully along the golden corridors until he reached the throne room. He knocked on the door and walked boldly inside.“Your Royal Majesty!” began the cat,” I bring you humble greetings from my master, the Marquis of Carrabas. He begs you to accept this small token of his loyalty and appreciation.”
And so saying, the elegant Puss bowed low and handed over the two plump rabbits. The king accepted the gift with a puzzled frown. He was almost certain he’d never heard of a Marquis of Carrabas! However, being a polite king and what’s more, extremely fond of rabbit stew, he told the cat to thank his master the Marquis for his kind gift. Puss bowed to the king and then quickly made his way outside to the palace gates.
Meanwhile...back home, Jack was living in a dark, damp, miserable shed. He wasn’t feeling a bit like a Marquis. He was cold, his clothes were all falling off his back and he was extremely hungry. So when Puss started to describe the plumpness of the rabbits he had just delivered to the king, the miller’s son could only hug his stomach and groan.
Well a few weeks later, Puss decided it was time to put part two of his plan into operation. Once more he gathered up his trusty sack and the piece of string. Once more his master begged a handful of corn from his elder brother. Then Puss shouldered the sack and walked off down the road till he came to a field that was full of plump partridges.
As before, he went into the middle of the field, propped the sack open with a stick and curled up on the ground pretending to fall asleep. Before very long two enormously fat birds waddled over to investigate. They looked at the corn inside. They looked at each other. They looked at the 'sleeping' cat. They waddled a bit closer. They looked again.They hesitated on the edge. Then they both marched right in and started to feed. Straightaway Puss pulled the string and the two fat birds were trapped! Once again, in spite of his master’s rumbling belly, Puss hoisted his prize over his shoulder and hurried off to see the king. This time the captain of the guard recognised the taIking cat and immediately opened the palace doors and welcomed him in. Puss marched along to the throne room and when he was admitted, bowed low. “My Lord the Marquis of Carrabas again salutes your majesty, and would consider it an honour if you would accept this unworthy gift.”
Once again the king was rather taken aback. He still didn’t think he had ever heard of this mysterious Marquis. Just at that moment the king’s beautiful daughter rushed in. She had heard all about the talking cat from the captain of the guard. She was very keen to see him with her own, rather lovely, blue eyes. The princess was impressed. She loved the boots. Adored the cloak. And as for the hat! She was also very very keen on partridge pie. So the grateful king once again accepted Puss’ gift and asked him to thank the Marquis for his generosity. Puss bowed elegantly to the royal couple and then hurried back along the road to his master’s dingy hovel.
So far, everything was going according to plan. Over the next few weeks Puss was very busy with his sack and his string. The palace larder had never been so well stocked. It was positively groaning with the mysterious Marquis’s gifts. The royal family were mystified but impressed, especially the beautiful silken haired princess. She was desperate to meet the Marquis. In fact every time she heard the front door opening she rushed out squealing with excitement in case it was the noble lord himself! Of course it never was.
Well one morning, just as Puss had delivered a spectacularly large fish to the king, he happened to overhear the captain of the royal guard, talking to the royal coachman. They were discussing a trip the king and his daughter were planning the very next day. Puss pricked up his ears with interest. Then he washed his paws.Then he had a jolly good scratch. Then he hurried back to his master to tell him the next stage of his brilliant plan. At first Jack was not very enthusiastic. He could think of all sorts of reasons why the plan wouldn’t work. But he was soon persuaded to change his mind. “YEEOWW!”
So very early the next morning, Puss woke Jack up and they hurried down the road towards the royal palace, until they came to a river.
“Now," explained the cat, “this is your big moment. Just jump into the water! Leave the rest to me.”
Now Jack wasn’t a great fan of water. Especially the cold kind! But on the other hand he was really fed up with being poor and having nothing to eat except turnips. He took off his clothes and stood there shivering trying to find enough courage to jump. Eventually Puss got tired of waiting and gave him a helpful nudge with his paw.
As soon as Jack was safely in the water, Puss gathered up his master’s filthy clothes and hid them under a nearby bush. Just at that moment the cat heard the sound of the royal procession approaching.
He ran up to the road frantically waving his paws and shouting: “Help! Help! My Lord the Marquis of Carrabas is drowning! Help! Help!”
When the king heard the cat’s cries he reined his horse to a halt. Puss rushed up and explained that the Marquis had been attacked by robbers. Then they had stolen all his clothes and thrown him into the river.
At once the king ordered his royal guard to rescue the unfortunate Marquis. In a few minutes the bedraggled Jack was being dragged up the riverbank. Inside the royal coach the princess was bouncing up and down with excitement! At last she was going to set eyes on the famous Marquis! Meanwhile the king ordered the captain of the guard to lend the Marquis his cloak and then ride back to the palace to fetch something more suitable.
While they were waiting for the captain’s return, Puss led his master up to meet the king. This was going to be the tricky bit!
The whole plan could be ruined in a single minute; all those months of hard work, all those rabbits and fish, all the boot leather he must have worn out, tramping up and down the palace road...
But if the cat was worried, Jack was TERRIFIED! His knees were banging together with fright.
“It’s not going to work!” he muttered. “I can’t do it, I can’t do...YEOW! I can do it! I can do it!”
“THINK POSITIVE!” hissed the Puss as he nudged Jack towards the king.
“Your Majesty! May I present my master, the Lord, Marquis of Carrabas!”
The king stretched out his royal hand.
The miller’s son looked blank.‘What do I do now?” he muttered.
“Kiss it!” hissed the cat.
“Kiss his hand!"
The trembling 'Marquis' bent forward, took hold of the king’s hand and kissed it.
At that moment, the princess, who had been fizzing with excitement all this time, decided she could bear it no longer and clambered down from the royal coach.
“Yoo Hoo! Marquis!” she shrieked.
Jack was extremely confused and didn't know which way to turn, or what to do next but luckily the captain of the guard came galloping up and presented him with a suit of beautiful new clothes. Much relieved, Jack grabbed the suit and scuttled away to get changed.
When he returned a few moments later, he looked completely different.
Even Puss was impressed.
As for the princess! She had never, in all her royal born days, seen anyone, quite so rugged and handsome. So when the king suggested they might offer the Marquis a ride in the royal coach, the princess could hardly contain her pleasure.
‘So far, so good!’ purred Puss, as he watched his master climb inside.
But there was no time to waste. The calculating cat dashed on ahead to complete the next part of his plan.
Before long he came across a line of peasants cutting wheat in a field.
“The king is coming!” shouted the cat. “If he asks you who owns this field, tell him it belongs to the lord Marquis of Carrabas.”
"Huh!"grumbled one of the peasants, ‘Why should we do that?”
"Because if you don’t!” hissed the furious cat, “You and your family will be torn up into tiny little pieces and turned into fish food!”
And with that he disappeared down the road.
A few moments later the royal procession rode into view. The king trotted over to the line of peasants and called out "Hullo ? Can you tell me who owns this land? ”
“Um...Yes your majesty." answered the terrified peasants. "This all belongs to the Marquis of Carrabas.”
“I see." said the King. "That's a fine lot of land you’ve got there, my lord Marquis.”
“Thank you your majesty,” replied Jack modestly. “I’m glad you think so.”
In the meantime the speeding cat had come across some more peasants, loading great bundles of sweet smelling hay onto carts.
Again the cat called out - “The king is coming! The king is coming! When he stops, you are to tell him that this land belongs to the Marquis of Carrabas!”
"Why on earth should we do that?” demanded the haymakers.
“Because,” snarled Puss,” If you don’t, you’ll get chopped into bite-size chunks, mixed up with nourishing marrow bone jelly and fed to the royal dogs!”
As before the royal party rode into view.
As before the king asked “Whose land is this?”
”It all belongs to the Marquis of Carrabas,” replied the haymakers.
"My word!” gasped the king, "I had no idea you owned this land too!”
“Oh yes! your majesty” replied the smiling Marquis, “This is all part of my estate.”
The king rode on. He was beginning to think very highly of this Marquis, and so in fact was his daughter. She was feeling slightly swoony and thought she might be falling in love.
Meanwhile Puss had disappeared off down the road to complete the final, and most dangerous, part of his plan.
After several miles he arrived at a huge and magnificent castle. The walls were made out of fine white marble. The roofs were of shining gold. Now this castle was the home of the same ghastly, greedy Ogre, who had robbed Jack’s father.
Puss took a deep breath and strutted boldly up to the castle entrance.
He banged on the outer doors until eventually he heard a terrible roaring from within. There was a clanking of chains and a rattling of keys and then with a loud groan, the mighty doors were flung open and there stood the enormous Ogre.
"Well? “he roared.
“Greetings your Beastliness! I have come to pay my respects to your Horridship!”
Puss gave a low elegant bow.
“I have been told that your Nastyness is possessed of incredible magic powers.”
The Ogre nodded his huge hairy head. “Well that is certainly true! I am incredible. My powers are legendary."
"Is it also true," continued the cunning cat, "that your Unpleasantness is so talented that he can change his shape into literally any living creature?”
The Ogre grinned horribly.
"Watch this!” And so saying, the Ogre changed himself into a huge snapping crocodile.
Puss was both surprised and a little frightened.
‘Well Pussy Cat what do you think of that?” demanded the smirking Ogre.
“Very impressive your Bulginess! But can you possibly do something really difficult like... a bird?"
The Ogre roared with laughter and in a wink changed himself into a huge eagle with great sharp talons.
“That's Brilliant!” gasped Puss. “What about fish? I understand they can be quite tricky? ”
“No little cat!” he snarled "I don’t do fish! I don’t like fish. They’re too slippery and flappy and taily! But I do lions!”
And with a terrifying roar the Ogre changed into a huge fearsome lion! Puss was so startled that he leapt through the nearest window and landed on the roof. “Help! Help!” screamed the terrified cat as he started sliding down. The poor cat was beginning to have serious doubts about his brilliant plan! But luckily, in the nick of time, the grinning Ogre decided he had had enough fun and changed back.
“Not bad!” spluttered Puss as he crawled back inside. Not bad at all! but..?”
“BUT?” roared the Ogre.
"Well, it's OK. It doesn't really matter. "
"BUT what...?" insisted the Ogre.
" Well I was going to say, I don’t suppose your Ghastlyness could do something as difficult as...?“
"WHAT?!" interrupted the Ogre. I can do ANYTHING!"
"What about something very small...like a mouse?” suggested Puss innocently.
"EASY!" roared the Ogre as he shrunk down into a small grey mouse!
In an instant the clever cat pounced and gobbled him p!
Just then Puss heard the sound of approaching horses. There was no time to lose. The royal procession was on its way! Quickly he washed his whiskers and had a good scratch behind his ears. Then he hurried down to the castle entrance pushed open the massive doors and as the king rode into view, he called out: ‘Welcome your majesties, to the castle of the Marquis of Carrabas!”
The royal party dismounted and gazed in wonder at the beautiful white walls, the slender towers and the glittering golden roofs. “And does this castle also belong to you?” asked the astonished king.
‘Why yes your majesty!” replied the Marquis carelessly. “Perhaps, your majesty would honour me by paying a visit?”
The king agreed willingly. The Marquis offered his arm to the beautiful princess and led the way inside. The royal pair admired the Ogre’s enormous rooms and the deep carpets and the velvet curtains and the richly carved furniture. But they were even more astounded when the clever cat led them into the Ogre’s banqueting rooms; for there in front of them, lay a vast table all set out for a magnificent feast! There were barrels of wine, mountains of meat, oceans of jelly and enough cake to feed a starving army. The Ogre had been planning a little lunch time 'snack' for some of his more unpleasant friends. Luckily as soon as they heard news of the Ogre's death there came a chill into their cowardly black hearts and they all ran away.
Meanwhile the Marquis invited the royal party to join him at the table and they all sat down and made merry. The King joked with the cat. The princess winked and waved at the Marquis. The Marquis just blushed. He didn’t really know what to do or say. The truth was, he had fallen madly in love with the flaxen-haired princess. He wanted to marry her. He wanted lots of children! He wanted to live in a cottage with a thatched roof and red roses growing round the door! The Marquis gazed dreamily across the table and smiled.
Luckily the princess was thinking much the same about him! (Although she wanted a much bigger garden! And stables. And a swimming pool and a full sized tennis court!) So after a spot of nudging and prompting from Puss, the Marquis asked the princess if she’d like to come up and look at his battlements. The princess was thrilled and when they reached the top of the castle and Jack fell on his knees and asked her to marry him, she was so excited she jumped in the air with joy.
“Oh Yes!” she shouted “I will! I will!”
The king was delighted with the engagement.
“After all”, he chuckled “I’m not losing a daughter, I’m gaining a castle.”
Three weeks later, the happy couple were married in a magnificent ceremony at the royal palace. Everyone was there, including Jack’s astonished brothers. Needless to say, Puss was Best Man, (or rather Best Cat!). After the feasting was over, the newlyweds climbed into a golden coach pulled by four white horses and were driven away to their new home, where I’m sure they lived happily ever after!
And as for Puss...
Well he decided he’d risked enough of his nine lives, so he stayed behind to keep the king company. He had his own velvet cushion by the side of the throne. He had all the royal fish he could eat, all the full-fat cream he could drink, and of course more pairs of beautiful, shiny boots than you have ever seen, in your whole life!