There were once on a time a king and a queen who lived happily together and had twelve children, but they were all boys. Then said the king to his wife, "If the thirteenth child which you are about to bring into the world, is a girl, the twelve boys shall die, in order that her possessions may be great, and that the kingdom may fall to her alone."
He caused likewise twelve coffins to be made, which were already filled with shavings, and in each lay the little pillow for the dead, and he had them taken into a locked-up room, and then he gave the queen the key of it, and bade her not to speak of this to anyone.
The mother, however, now sat and lamented all day long, till the youngest son, who was always with her, and whom she had named Benjamin, from the Bible, said to her, "Dear mother, why are you so sad?"
"Dearest child," she answered, "I may not tell you."
But he let her have no rest till she went and unlocked the room, and showed him the twelve coffins ready filled with shavings. Then she said, my dearest Benjamin, your father has had these coffins made for you and for your eleven brothers, for if I bring a little girl into the world, you are all to be killed and buried in them."
And as she wept while she was saying this, the son comforted her and said, "Weep not, dear mother, we will save ourselves, and go hence."
But she said, "Go forth into the forest with your eleven brothers, and let one sit constantly on the highest tree which can be found, and keep watch, looking towards the tower here in the castle. If I give birth to a little son, I will put up a white flag, and then you may venture to come back, but if I bear a daughter, I will hoist a red flag, and then fly hence as quickly as you are able, and may the good God protect you. And every night I will rise up and pray for you – in winter that you may be able to warm yourself at a fire, and in summer that you may not faint away in the heat."
After she had blessed her sons therefore, they went forth into the forest. They each kept watch in turn, and sat on the highest oak and looked towards the tower. When eleven days had passed and the turn came to Benjamin, he saw that a flag was being raised. It was, however, not the white, but the blood-red flag which announced that they were all to die. When the brothers heard that, they were very angry and said, "Are we all to suffer death for the sake of a girl? We swear that we will avenge ourselves !--wherever we find a girl, her red blood shall flow."
Thereupon they went deeper into the forest, and in the midst of it, where it was the darkest, they found a little bewitched hut, which was standing empty. Then said they, "Here we will dwell, and you Benjamin, who art the youngest and weakest, you shall stay at home and keep house, we others will go out and get food."
Then they went into the forest and shot hares, wild deer, birds and pigeons, and whatever there was to eat; this they took to Benjamin, who had to dress it for them in order that they might appease their hunger. They lived together ten years in the little hut, and the time did not appear long to them.
The little daughter which their mother the queen had given birth to, was now grown up; she was good of heart, and fair of face, and had a golden star on her forehead. Once, when it was the great washing, she saw twelve men's shirts among the things, and asked her mother, "To whom do these twelve shirts belong, for they are far too small for father?" Then the queen answered with a heavy heart, "Dear child, these belong to your twelve brothers."
Said the maiden, "Where are my twelve brothers, I have never yet heard of them?" She replied, "God knows where they are, they are wandering about the world."
Then she took the maiden and opened the chamber for her, and showed her the twelve coffins with the shavings, and pillows for the head.
"These coffins," said she, "were destined for your brothers, but they went away secretly before you were born," and she related to her how everything had happened; then said the maiden, "Dear mother, weep not, I will go and seek my brothers."
So she took the twelve shirts and went forth, and straight into the great forest. She walked the whole day, and in the evening she came to the bewitched hut. Then she entered it and found a young boy, who asked, "From where come you, and where are you bound?" and was astonished that she was so beautiful, and wore royal garments, and had a star on her forehead. And she answered, "I am a king's daughter, and am seeking my twelve brothers, and I will walk as far as the sky is blue till I find them."
She likewise showed him the twelve shirts which belonged to them. Then Benjamin saw that she was his sister, and said, "I am Benjamin, your youngest brother."
And she began to weep for joy, and Benjamin wept also, and they kissed and embraced each other with the greatest love. But after this he said, "Dear sister, there is still one difficulty. We have agreed that every maiden whom we meet shall die, because we have been obliged to leave our kingdom on account of a girl."
Then said she, "I will willingly die, if by so doing I can deliver my twelve brothers."
"No," answered he, "you shall not die, seat yourself beneath this tub till our eleven brothers come, and then I will soon come to an agreement with them."
She did so, and when it was night the others came from hunting, and their dinner was ready. And as they were sitting at table, and eating, they asked, "What news is there?" Said Benjamin, "Don't you know anything?"
"No," they answered. He went on, "You have been in the forest and I have stayed at home, and yet I know more than you do."
"Tell us then," they cried. He answered, "But promise me that the first maiden who meets us shall not be killed."
"Yes," they all cried, "she shall have mercy, only do tell us."
Then said he, "Our sister is here," and he lifted up the tub, and the king's daughter came forth in her royal garments with the golden star on her forehead, and she was beautiful, delicate and fair. Then they were all rejoiced, and fell on her neck, and kissed and loved her with all their hearts.
Now she stayed at home with Benjamin and helped him with the work. The eleven went into the forest and caught game, and deer, and birds, and wood-pigeons that they might have food, and the little sister and Benjamin took care to make it ready for them. She sought for the wood for cooking and herbs for vegetables, and put the pans on the fire so that the dinner was always ready when the eleven came. She likewise kept order in the little house, and put beautifully white clean coverings on the little beds, and the brothers were always contented and lived in great harmony with her.
Once on a time the two at home had prepared a beautiful entertainment, and when they were all together, they sat down and ate and drank and were full of gladness. There was, however, a little garden belonging to the bewitched house wherein stood twelve lily flowers, which are likewise called students. She wished to give her brothers pleasure, and plucked the twelve flowers, and thought she would present each brother with one while at dinner. But at the self-same moment that she plucked the flowers the twelve brothers were changed into twelve ravens, and flew away over the forest, and the house and garden vanished likewise. And now the poor maiden was alone in the wild forest, and when she looked around, an old woman was standing near her who said, "My child, what have you done? Why did you not leave the twelve white flowers growing? They were your brothers, who are now for evermore changed into ravens."
The maiden said, weeping, "Is there no way of delivering them?"
"No," said the woman, "there is but one in the whole world, and that is so hard that you will not deliver them by it, for you must be dumb for seven years, and may not speak or laugh, and if you speakest one single word, and only an hour of the seven years is wanting, all is in vain, and your brothers will be killed by the one word."
Then said the maiden in her heart, "I know with certainty that I shall set my brothers free," and went and sought a high tree and seated herself in it and span, and neither spoke nor laughed. Now it so happened that a king was hunting in the forest, who had a great greyhound which ran to the tree on which the maiden was sitting, and sprang about it, whining, and barking at her. Then the king came by and saw the beautiful King's daughter with the golden star on her brow, and was so charmed with her beauty that he called to ask her if she would be his wife. She made no answer, but nodded a little with her head. So he climbed up the tree himself, carried her down, placed her on his horse, and bore her home. Then the wedding was solemnized with great magnificence and rejoicing, but the bride neither spoke nor smiled. When they had lived happily together for a few years, the king's mother, who was a wicked woman, began to slander the young Queen, and said to the king, "This is a common beggar girl whom you have brought back with you. Who knows what impious tricks she practises secretly! Even if she be dumb, and not able to speak, she still might laugh for once; but those who do not laugh have bad consciences."
At first the king would not believe it, but the old woman urged this so long, and accused her of so many evil things, that at last the king let himself be persuaded and sentenced her to death.
And now a great fire was lighted in the courtyard in which she was to be burnt, and the king stood above at the window and looked on with tearful eyes, because he still loved her so much. And when she was bound fast to the stake, and the fire was licking at her clothes with its red tongue, the last instant of the seven years expired. Then a whirring sound was heard in the air, and twelve ravens came flying towards the place, and sank downwards, and when they touched the earth they were her twelve brothers, whom she had delivered. They tore the fire asunder, extinguished the flames, set their dear sister free, and kissed and embraced her. And now as she dared to open her mouth and speak, she told the king why she had been dumb, and had never laughed. The king rejoiced when he heard that she was innocent, and they all lived in great unity till their death. The wicked step-mother was taken before the judge, and put into a barrel filled with boiling oil and venomous snakes, and died an evil death.
Once on a time there was a miller who left no more riches to the three sons he had than his mill, his donkey, and his cat. The division was soon made. Neither the lawyer nor the attorney was sent for. They would soon have eaten up all the poor property. The eldest had the mill, the second the donkey, and the youngest nothing but the cat.
The youngest was quite unhappy at having so poor a share.
"My brothers," said he, "may get their living handsomely enough by joining their stocks together; but, for my part, when I have eaten up my cat, and made me a muff of his skin, I must die of hunger."
The cat, who heard all this, without appearing to take any notice, said to him with a grave and serious air:
"Do not thus afflict yourself, my master; you have nothing else to do but to give me a bag, and get a pair of boots made for me, that I may scamper through the brambles, and you shall see that you have not so poor a portion in me as you think."
Though the cat's master did not think much of what he said, he had seen him play such cunning tricks to catch rats and mice – hanging himself by the heels, or hiding himself in the meal, to make believe he was dead – that he did not altogether despair of his helping him in his misery. When the cat had what he asked for, he booted himself very gallantly, and putting his bag about his neck, he held the strings of it in his two forepaws, and went into a warren where was a great number of rabbits. He put bran and sow-thistle into his bag, and, stretching out at length, as if he were dead, he waited for some young rabbits, not yet acquainted with the deceits of the world, to come and rummage his bag for what he had put into it.
Scarcely was he settled but he had what he wanted. A rash and foolish young rabbit jumped into his bag, and Monsieur Puss, at once drawing close the strings, took him and killed him at once. Proud of his prey, he went with it to the palace, and asked to speak with the king. He was shown upstairs into his Majesty's apartment, and, making a low bow to the king, he said:
"I have brought you, sire, a rabbit which my noble Lord, the Master of Carabas," (for that was the title which Puss was pleased to give his master), "has commanded me to present to your Majesty from him."
"Tell your master," said the king, "that I thank him, and that I am pleased with his gift."
Another time he went and hid himself among some standing corn, still holding his bag open; and when a brace of partridges ran into it, he drew the strings, and so caught them both. He then went and made a present of these to the king, as he had done before of the rabbit which he took in the warren. The king, in like manner, received the partridges with great pleasure, and ordered his servants to reward him.
The cat continued for two or three months thus to carry his Majesty, from time to time, some of his master's game. One day when he knew that the king was to take the air along the riverside, 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 nothing else to do but go and bathe in the river, just at the spot I shall show you, and leave the rest to me."
The marquis of Carabas did what the cat advised him to, without knowing what could be the use of doing it. While he was bathing, the king passed by, and the cat cried out with all his might:
"Help! Help! My Lord the Marquis of Carabas is drowning!"
At this noise the king put his head out of the coach window, and seeing the cat who had so often brought him game, he commanded his guards to run iat once to help the marquis of Carabas.
While they were drawing the marquis out of the river, the cat came up to the coach and told the king that while his master was bathing, there came by some rogues who ran off with his clothes, though he had cried out, "Thieves! Thieves!" several times, as loudly as he could. The cunning cat had hidden the clothes under a great stone. The king at once commanded the officers of his wardrobe to run and fetch one of his best suits for the Lord Marquis of Carabas.
The king was extremely polite to him, and as the fine clothes he had given him set off his good looks (for he was well made and handsome), the king's daughter found him very much to her liking, and the marquis of Carabas had no sooner cast two or three respectful and somewhat tender glances than she fell in love with him to distraction. The king would have him come into the coach and take part in the airing. The cat, overjoyed to see his plan begin to succeed, marched on before, and, meeting with some countrymen, who were mowing a meadow, he said to them:
"Good people, you who are mowing, if you do not tell the king that the meadow you mow belongs to the Marquis of Carabas, you shall be chopped as small as herbs for the pot."
The king did not fail to ask the mowers to whom the meadow they were mowing belonged.
"To the Marquis of Carabas," answered they all together, for the cat's threat had made them afraid.
"You have a good property there," said the king to the marquis of Carabas.
"You see, sire," said the marquis, "this is a meadow which never fails to yield a plentiful harvest every year."
The cat, who went still on before, met with some reapers, and said to them:
"Good people who are reaping, if you do not say that all this corn belongs to the marquis of Carabas, you shall be chopped as small as herbs for the pot."
The king, who passed by a moment after, wished to know to whom belonged all that corn, which he then saw. "To the marquis of Carabas," replied the reapers, and the king was very well pleased with it, as well as the marquis, whom he congratulated thereupon. The cat, who went always before, said the same thing to all he met, and the king was astonished at the vast estates of my Lord Marquis of Carabas.
Monsieur Puss came at last to a stately castle, the master of which was an Ogre, the richest ever known; for all the lands which the king had then passed through belonged to this castle. The cat, who had taken care to inform himself who this Ogre was and what he could do, asked to speak with him, saying he could not pass so near his castle without having the honor of paying his respects to him.
The ogre received him as civilly as an ogre could do, and made him sit down.
"I have been assured," said the cat, "that you have the gift of being able to change yourself into all sorts of creatures you have a mind to; that you can, for example, transform yourself into a lion, or elephant, and the like."
"That is true," answered the ogre, roughly. "And to convince you, you shall see me now become a lion."
Puss was so terrified at the sight of a lion so near him that he at once climbed into the gutter, not without much trouble and danger, because of his boots, which were of no use at all to him for walking upon the tiles. A little while after, when Puss saw that the ogre had resumed his natural form, he came down, and owned he had been very much frightened. "I have, moreover, been informed," said the cat, "but I know not how to believe it, that; you have also the power to take on you the shape of the smallest animals; for example, to change yourself into a rat or a mouse, but I must own to you I take this to be impossible."
"Impossible!" cried the ogre; "you shall see." And at the same time he changed himself into a mouse, and began to run about the floor. Puss no sooner perceived this than he fell upon him and ate him up.
Meanwhile, the king, who saw, as he passed, this fine castle of the ogre's, had a mind to go into it. Puss, who heard the noise of his Majesty's coach coming over the drawbridge, ran out, and said to the king, "Your Majesty is welcome to this castle of my Lord Marquis of Carabas."
"What! My Lord Marquis," cried the king. "And does this castle also belong to you? There can be nothing finer than this courtyard and all the stately buildings which surround it; let us see the interior, if you please."
The marquis gave his hand to the young Princess, and followed the king, who went first. They passed into the great hall, where they found a magnificent collation, which the ogre had prepared for his friends, who were that very day to visit him, but dared not to enter, knowing the king was there. His Majesty, charmed with the good qualities of my Lord of Carabas, as was also his daughter, who had fallen violently in love with him, and seeing the vast estate he possessed, said to him:
"It will be owing to yourself only, my Lord Marquis, if you are not my son-in-law."
The marquis, with low bows, accepted the honor which his Majesty conferred upon him, and forthwith that very same day married the princess.
Puss became a great lord, and never ran after mice any more except for his diversion.