At last, after so many labors and perils, Henry saw the lattice of the garden in which the plant of life was growing and his heart bounded for joy. He looked always upward as he walked, and went on as rapidly as his strength would permit, when suddenly he fell into a hole. He sprang backwards, looked anxiously around him and saw a ditch full of water, large and long, so long indeed that he could not see either end.
"Without doubt this is that last obstacle of which the Crow spoke to me," said Henry to himself. "Since I have overcome all my other difficulties with the help of the good fairy Bienfaisante, she will assist me to surmount this also. It was surely she who sent me the Cock, the Crow and the Old Man, the Giant and the Wolf. I will wait patiently till it shall please her to assist me this time."
On saying these words, Henry began to walk along the ditch, hoping to find the end. He walked on steadily two days and found himself at the end of that time just where he had started. Henry would not give way to distress, he would not be discouraged; he seated himself on the borders of the ditch and said:
"I will not move from this spot till the genius of the mountain allows me to pass this ditch."
Henry had just uttered these words when an enormous Cat appeared before him and began to mew so horribly that he was almost deafened by the sound. The Cat said to him:
"What are you doing here? Do you not know that I could tear you to pieces with one stroke of my claws?"
"I do not doubt your power, Mr. Cat, but you will not do so when you know that I am seeking the plant of life to save my poor mother who is dying. If you will permit me to pass your ditch, I will do anything in my power to please you."
"Will you?" said the Cat. "Well, then, listen; your countenance pleases me. If, therefore, you will catch all the fish in this ditch and salt and cook them, I will pass you over to the other side, on the faith of a Cat!"
Henry advanced some steps and saw lines, fish-hooks, bait, and nets on the ground. He took a net, and hoped that by one vigorous haul he would take many fish and that he would succeed much better than with a line and hook. He threw the net and drew it in with great caution. But alas! he had caught nothing!
Disappointed, Henry thought he had not been adroit. He threw the net again and drew it very softly: still nothing!
Henry was patient. For ten days he tried faithfully without having caught a single fish. Then he gave up the net and tried the hook and line. He waited an hour, two hours;—not a single fish bit at the bait! He moved from place to place, till he had gone entirely around the ditch. He tried diligently fifteen days and caught not a single fish. He knew not now what to do. He thought of the good fairy Bienfaisante, who had abandoned him at the end of his undertaking. He seated himself sadly and gazed intently at the ditch when suddenly the water began to boil and he saw the head of a Frog appear.
"Henry," said the Frog, "you saved my life—I wish now to save yours in return. If you do not execute the orders of the Cat of the mountain he will eat you for his breakfast. You cannot catch the fish because the water is so deep and they take refuge at the bottom. But allow me to act for you. Light your fire for cooking and prepare your vessels for salting. I will bring you the fish."
Saying these words, the Frog plunged back into the water. Henry saw that the waves were agitated and boiling up, as if a grand contest was going on at the bottom of the ditch. In a moment, however, the Frog reappeared, sprang ashore and deposited a superb salmon which he had caught. Henry had scarcely time to seize the salmon when the Frog leaped ashore with a carp. During sixty days the Frog continued his labors. Henry cooked the large fish and threw the little ones into the casks to be salted. Finally, at the end of two months, the Frog leaped towards Henry and said:
"There is not now a single fish in the ditch. You can call the Cat of the mountain."
Henry thanked the Frog heartily, who extended his wet foot towards him, in sign of friendship. Henry pressed it affectionately and gratefully and the Frog disappeared.
It took Henry fifteen days to arrange properly all the large fish he had cooked and all the casks of small fish he had salted. He then called the Cat, who appeared immediately.
"Mr. Cat," said Henry, "here are all your fish cooked and salted. Will you now keep your promise and pass me over to the other side?"
The Cat examined the fish and the casks; tasted a salted and a cooked fish, licked his lips, smiled and said to Henry:
"You are a brave boy! I will recompense your fortitude and patience. It shall never be said that the Cat of the mountain does not pay his servants."
Saying these words, the Cat tore off one of his own claws and said, handing it to Henry:
"When you are sick or feel yourself growing old, touch your forehead with this claw. Sickness, suffering and old age will disappear. This miraculous claw will have the same virtue for all that you love and all who love you."
Henry thanked the Cat most warmly, took the precious claw and wished to try its powers immediately, as he felt painfully weary. The claw had scarcely touched his brow when he felt as fresh and vigorous as if he had just left his bed.
The Cat looked on smiling, and said: "Now get on my tail."
Henry obeyed. He was no sooner seated on the Cat's tail than he saw the tail lengthen itself till it reached across the ditch.
Notes: The book contains 5 long French folktales. Each story has several chapters.
Author: Comtesse de Ségur
Publisher: The Penn Publishing Company, Philadelphia