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The Witch’s Cat

Once upon a time there was a peasant whose wife had died and left him with two children; a twin boy and a twin girl. He decided to marry again and over the next few years his new wife had several children of her own, but she neglected and beat the twins and wanted nothing better than to get rid of them. Finally, she had a wicked thought and decided to send them out into the great gloomy wood where a wicked witch lived.

One morning she told the twins, “You have been such good children that I am sending you to visit my granny, who lives in a dear little hut in the wood. You will have to wait upon her and serve her, but she will give you the best of everything in return.”

The children left the house together, but the little sister said to her brother, “First we will visit own dear grandmother and tell her where our step-mother is sending us.” Which they did.

Their grandmother cried, “I wish I could help you, but I am old and poor. Your step-mother is sending you to the wicked witch of the wood. Listen to me – be civil and kind to everyone, never say a cross word to anyone and never touch a crumb belonging to anyone else. Help may be sent to you after all.”

She gave them a bottle of milk, some ham and a loaf of bread and they set out for the wood. There they saw a queer little hut and knocked on the door.

“Who’s there?”‘ snarled the witch in an awful voice.

“Good-morning, granny. Our step-mother has sent us to wait upon you, and serve you.”

“If I am pleased with you, I’ll reward you. If not, I’ll cook you in my oven! See that you work hard!” growled the witch.

She set the girl down to spin yarn and she gave the boy a sieve in which to carry water from the well, then she herself went out into the wood. The girl sat weeping at the spinning wheel because she didn’t know how to spin. Presently she heard the pattering of hundreds of little feet, and from every hole in the hut mice came squeaking: “Don’t cry little girl. We’ll help you if you give us some of your bread.”

The girl gave them some the bread and the mice began to spin the yarn. The mice told her that the witch’s grey cat would tell her how to escape if she gave it some of her ham. She went to find the cat, but instead she found her brother sobbing because the water kept running out of the sieve. Then they heard rustling wings and a flight of wrens alighted and said said, “If you give us some crumbs we’ll help you keep that water in the sieve.”

So they gave their remaining crumbs of bread to the wrens and the wrens showed the boy how to fill the holes of the sieve with clay to make it water-tight. They carried the water inside the hut without spilling a drop. Inside the hut they found the cat curled up on the floor, so they stroked her and gave her some ham and asked, “Pussy, grey pussy, how are we to get away from the witch?”

The cat thanked them for the ham and gave them a handkerchief and a comb. She told them that when the witch chased them, as she certainly would, they must throw the handkerchief on the ground and run as fast as they could. As soon as the handkerchief touched the ground, a deep broad river would spring up to hinder the witch’s progress. If the witch managed to cross the river, they must throw the comb behind them and run for their lives, for where the comb fell a dense forest would start up, which would delay the witch so long that they would be able to get safely away. The cat had scarcely finished speaking when the witch returned.

“You have done your work well enough for today,” she grumbled, “but tomorrow you’ll have something more difficult to do, and if you fail it will be straight into the oven with you.”

The terrified children barely slept a wink on their pile of straw. In the morning the witch gave the girl two pieces of linen to weave before night, and gave the boy a pile of wood to cut into chips. Then she went out into the wood. As soon as she was out of sight, the children took the comb and handkerchief and ran hand-in-hand away from the hut.

First they met the witch’s fierce watch-dog, but they threw their remaining bread and ham to him and he let them go past. Then they were hindered by the tangled birch-trees, but little sister tied the twigs together with her ribbons, and they passed safely. At last they reached open fields. Meanwhile, the cat was busy weaving the linen and tangling the threads as it wove. When the witch returned to see how the children were getting on she crept up to the window and whispered, “Are you weaving, my little dear?”

“Yes, granny, I am weaving,” answered the cat.

The angry witch saw that the children had escaped and began beating the cat. “Why did you let the children leave the hut? Why did you not scratch their eyes out?”

The cat hissed, “I have served you all these years and you never even threw me a bone, but the dear children gave me their own piece of ham.”

Then the witch was furious with the watch-dog and with the birch-trees for letting the children escape. The dog told her “I have served you all these years and you never gave me so much as a hard crust, but the dear children gave me bread and ham.” The birch tree rustled its leaves and said “I have served you longer than I can say with twigs for your broom, and you never tied a bit of twine even round my branches, but the dear children bound them up with bright ribbons.”

The witch mounted on her broom and set off after the children, her broom sweeping the ground as it went. The children heard the sound of the broom close behind them and they threw the handkerchief over their shoulder. In an instant, a deep, broad river flowed behind them. It took the witch a long time to find a safe place to cross, but at last she found a place and she chased faster than before. When the children heard the broom behind them, they threw the comb down on the ground. In an instant, as the witch’s cat had promised, a dense forest sprung up. It was so thick and tangled that the witch found there was nothing for it but to turn round and go back to her hut.

The twins ran until they reached their own home where they told their father what had happened. In anger, he drove their step-mother out of the house forever and he never again let a stranger into the house.

Found atMoggy Cat

The Greedy and Ambitious Cat

There was once an old woman who lived in a village. She was half-starved, extremely thin and meager and lived a thrifty life in a dark and gloomy little cottage. This miserable creature had as her only companion a cat as wretched and lean as herself. The cat never saw bread or other people and she had to make do with trying to catch the mice that left their paw prints on the dusty floor of the miserly dwelling.

If the cat was extraordinarily lucky and managed to catch a mouse, she was like a beggar that had discovered treasure. Her face and eyes lit up with joy and she made her treasure – the mouse – last a whole week! In fact she was so admiring of her luck and so distrustful of her own happiness that she said to herself, “Is this really happening or is it just a dream?” for the old woman and the cottage were so miserly that even the mice went elsewhere.

One day, the poor cat was half-dead from starvation and she climbed up onto the roof of the cottage in the hope of finding something to eat. From there she saw a neighbor’s cat walking along the neighbor’s wall as proudly as a lion and so fat that she could hardly walk. The old woman’s cat was astonished to see one of her own kind so plump and large.

In a loud voice, the thin cat called out to her pussy neighbor, “In the name of pity, tell me where you go to get your skin so well stuffed! Why, you look as if you came from one of the Khan of Kathai’s feasts!”

The fat cat replied “Where else should one feed so well but at a king’s table? I go to the house every day about dinnertime; there I lay my paws upon some delicious morsel or other, which serves me till the next. I leave enough for an army of mice, which under me live in peace and tranquility – after all, why should I murder a tough, stringy mouse, when I can easily dine on succulent venison?”

On hearing this, the thin cat asked the way to this house of plenty and begged her plump neighbour to take her with her next time.

“Most willingly,” said the fat cat, “there is plenty for all and I am naturally charitable and you are so thin that I heartily pity your condition.”

Having made the promise, the cats parted company and the thin cat returned to the old woman’s cottage where she told the old woman about the meeting with the fat cat and the plentiful food. The old woman prudently tried to persuade her cat not to go to the house of plenty and warned her to be careful of being deceived, “Believe me, the desires of greedy and ambitious people are never satisfied until their mouths are stuffed with the dirt of their graves. Sobriety and temperance are the only things that truly enrich people.” Said the old woman, “You poor silly cat! Those who travel to satisfy their greed and ambition don’t recognise the good things they already possess. Those who aren’t contented with their lot are never truly grateful for what they do have, but always want more.”

The poor starved cat, however, was so envious of the fat cat’s good fortune and of the king’s table, that the old woman’s good morals and judicious advice went in one ear and out the other. The next day, the thin cat went with the fat cat to the king’s house.

Alas! Before the cats arrived, the king had become weary of having his food stolen or spoiled by a plague of cats. The night before, several grimalkins had robbed the king’s larder and the king had ordered his servants to kill any cats that came near.

The old woman’s cat, however, was pushed on by hunger and entered the house. She immediately saw an unattended dish of meat in the kitchen and seized it. She took the stolen meat under the dresser and, for the first time in years, she filled her lean belly with good food. As she was enjoying the feast, one of the kitchen overseers found his breakfast had gone missing. Seeing the cat eating the stolen breakfast, he threw a knife at the poor creature. Unluckily for the cat, the knife struck her full in the breast.

However, nature had given the cat nine lives instead of one, and the poor puss feigned being dead until the overseer left. She then began to crawl away. Seeing her own blood flowing freely from her breast, the poor cat pledged “Just let me escape this mishap and should I ever become discontent with my own home and my own mice and come looking for morsels from the king’s kitchen then may i lose all of my nine lives at once!”

By Pilpay, an Oriental author circa 300 BC

Why the Ashanti Cat Sleeps Inside

…And because of the cat’s loyalty, and the dog’s jealous vindictiveness, the Chief of the tribe uttered these words:

“From this day on cat, you shall sleep inside upon my finest mats, while you, dog, shall continue to sleep out of doors upon the dust of the earth. And when the time comes that we feast, O cat, thou shall eat of the same food as we, being a worthy and noble being. But you, dog, shall learn to be content and satisfied with what scraps we choose to toss you.”

Paraphrased from an Ashanti legend.

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