Mrs. Spring Fragrance by Edith Maude Eaton
Tales of Chinese Children
What About the Cat?
What about the cat?" asked the little princess of her eldest maid.
"It is sitting on the sunny side of the garden wall, watching the butterflies. It meowed for three of the prettiest to fall into its mouth, and would you believe it, that is just what happened. A green, a blue, a pink shaded with gold, all went down pussy's red throat."
The princess smiled. "What about the cat?" she questioned her second maid.
"She is seated in your honorable father's chair of state, and your honorable father's first body-slave is scratching her back with your father's own back-scratcher, made of the purest gold and ivory."
The princess laughed outright. She pattered gracefully into another room. There she saw the youngest daughter of her foster-mother.
"What about the cat?" she asked for the third time.
"The cat! Oh, she has gone to Shinku's duck farm. The ducks love her so that when they see her, they swim to shore and embrace her with their wings. Four of them combined to make a raft and she got upon their backs and went down-stream with them. They met some of the ducklings on the way and she patted them to death with her paws. How the big ducks quacked!"
"That is a good story," quoth the princess.
She went into the garden and, seeing one of the gardeners, said: "What about the cat?"
"It is frisking somewhere under the cherry tree, but you would not know it if you saw it," replied the gardener.
"Why?" asked the princess.
"Because, Your Highness, I gave it a strong worm porridge for its dinner, and as soon as it ate it, its white fur coat became a glossy green, striped with black. It looks like a giant caterpillar, and all the little caterpillars are going to hold a festival tonight in its honor."
"Deary me! What a great cat!" exclaimed the princess.
A little further on she met one of the chamberlains of the palace. "What about the cat?" she asked.
"It is dancing in the ballroom in a dress of elegant cobwebs and a necklace of pearl rice. For partner, she has the yellow dragon in the hall, come to life, and they take such pretty steps together that all who behold them shriek in ecstasy. Three little mice hold up her train as she dances, and another sits perched on the tip of the dragon's curled tail."
At this the princess quivered like a willow tree and was obliged to seek her apartments. When there, she recovered herself, and placing a blossom on her exquisite eyebrow, commanded that all those of whom she had inquired concerning the cat should be brought before her. When they appeared she looked at them very severely and said:
"You have all told me different" stories when I have asked you: 'What about the cat?' Which of these stories is true? "
No one answered. All trembled and paled.
"They are all untrue," announced the princess.
She lifted her arm and there crawled out of her sleeve her white cat. It had been there all the time.
Then the courtly chamberlain advanced towards her, kotowing three times. "Princess," said he, "would a story be a story if it were true? Would you have been as well entertained this morning if, instead of our stories, we, your unworthy servants, had simply told you that the cat was up your sleeve?"
The princess lost her severity in hilarity. "Thank you, my dear servants," said she. "I appreciate your desire to amuse me."
She looked at her cat, thought of all it had done and been in the minds of her servants, and laughed like a princess again and again.