Once upon a time, alone in a woodcutter's cottage, a girl called Catskin hid three beautiful dresses in a pile of hay. The first dress was made of silver cloth. The second of gold beaten into smooth foil, and the third made from the feathers of many different birds. She had run away from home because her father wanted her to marry a skinny old man with knobby knees. She was fifteen years old, and she did not want to marry that old man! She had spent the night alone in the hut and now she would go to the castle to seek work. She was given a place in the kitchen, and told to follow Cook’s orders. Soon she was busy, as there was a grand feast planned, and “ silver and gold vessels to be cleaned and scoured, floors to be polished, and everything made trim and shining for the evening. Catskin begged for permission to go but Cook said, “ What? A scullery maid go to the ball? A fine figure you would make in your greasy, old catskins among all the fine folk. Get on with your work.” And she threw a basin of dirty water into her face. So Catskin snuck away, and ran back to the woodcutter’s cottage. There she quickly bathed, and took out her silver dress. She put this on and tied her loose, golden hair with a silver ribbon. Then she ran back to the castle, and slipped into the ball. And when “everyone saw her in her silver dress, with her eyes bright and her hair falling around her shoulders” the room became quiet. All night, Lord Marivel—for that was his name—danced with Catskin, and when she hastened to go, he asked her where she lived. “Why, at the Sign of the Basin of Water!” she replied, and fled. The next night, the ball continued. This time when Catskin asked Cook if she might go and watch, Cook “broke a china ladle across her back” and again, the girl snuck away. Again she went to the woodcutter’s hut, and now she bathed and changed into her dress of gold. “She combed out her long hair until it gleamed like a sheaf of sunbeams. As soon as she was ready, she joined the throng of dancers in the great ballroom,” and Lord Marivel would dance with no one else. Tonight when he asked where she lived, “At the Sign of the Broken Ladle!”said Catskin with a laugh, and ran off leaving her partner in bewilderment, gazing after her.” Now Lord Marivel shared his woes with his mother. He was in love with the girl who wore silver and gold dresses, but how could he ever find her again? She agreed to host a third night of the ball. Now Catskin begged to be allowed to go, and this time, “Cook sneered, ‘ Take that, you impudent hussy!’. With that, she threw a metal carving fork at Catskin, but it missed her and hit the stone wall behind, falling to the floor with a clattter. Catskin only laughed, and went on with her polishing. That night, as you may guess, she stole out and bathed herself in the crystal waterfall, combed her long hair, and changed her catskin for the dress of birds’ feathers. ” Again, she felt all eyes on her, and again, the young lord danced with her all evening. This time, when the girl fled, he was ready. Donning a dark cloak he followed her, watched her enter the cottage in finery and come out in catskin. He said to himself, “ That it did not trouble him in the least. He loved her whether she was a scullery maid or a princess. It made no difference. “ But it made a difference to his father when he went home and told him. The great lord “was very angry. He absolutely forbade his son to have any to do with the scullery-maid, and told him that if he ever set eyes on her again, she would be sent away and told never to come near the castle again, on pain of death. “ With sorrow, the young lord went to talk to his mother. She grieved with him, but said they must obey his father. Now Lord Marivel took sick. The doctor was sent for and many cures tried, but the young man would not eat. At last, the doctor took pity on him, and told the great lord that the only cure was for his son to eat food prepared by the girl he loved. The lord raged, but his wife soothed him, and so he agreed. Now Catskin prepared his food daily, and brought it to Lord Marivel. She did not speak to him, but gradually his health improved. Now he told his mother that he would marry Catskin no matter what. The lady sent for her, and so Catskin came, dressed in her “gown of beaten gold, and appeared before her mistress, curtsying modestly, but looking in no way ashamed. The lady was charmed with Catskin; there was something proud as well as humble, something shy as well as confident, in her bearing that made the lady feel that after all, this girl would be no bad match for her son. “ She convinced her husband of this, and “ they were married with great splendour and ceremony. They lived happily together, and everyone agreed that there was not a more charming and well matched pair in all the land. But that was not the end. Catskin bore her husband a little son, and when he was four years old a beggar woman called at the kitchen door and asked for some food for her own little boy, who was about the same age. Now, cruel Cook still held the kitchen, for Catskin was a kind girl, and had not fired her, though she might have done. Now Cook jeered as Catskin’s little boy and the beggar’s boy played together, and made Catskin feel ashamed. The next day, she told her husband that she “wished to go on a journey with himself and their young son. The next morning, they set off in a crimson coach, drawn by four gray horses. After some hours upon the road, they arrived at the village near which was Catskin’s old home. She had not been there since she had run away over five years ago. “ Lord Marivel knew why they had come. He settled his wife and child comfortably at an inn, and “went to see if his wife’s father was at home. Marivel found the proud gentleman sitting by the fire in his great hall, miserable and alone. ‘Kind sir,’ he said, ‘are you the father of a sweet girl who left home more than five years since because she would have nothing to do with the man you had chosen for her husband?’ ‘ I am that miserable man. ‘ said the gentleman. ‘I am a wicked and proud sinner, and I have paid a heavy price for my wickedness. I lost the sweetest child that ever a man had, and when she left home, my wife died from grief. ” That’s when Lord Marivel told him that Catskin and the little boy were waiting for them at the inn. They were soon reunited, and “how joyful Catskin was to see her father once more and to know that he bore her no malice! He clasped her in his arms and wept tears of joy so that you might have found it hard to believe him the happiest man in all the country. Then he lifted his grandson in his arms, and the boy pulled his gray beard so hard that the gentlman wept even harder, while the boy crowed with delight. ” And Lord Marivel’s parents were happy to meet Catskin’s father and to find that he was a rich and respectable gentleman—for a gentleman is something after all, even though he has been proud and foolish. “ And then they lived happily ever after!
Notes: This is a violent tale, as Catskins are, though this version does not feature the rhyme about blood contained in Catskin One. The previous version featured three white dresses; this differs in that it specifies first silver, then gold, then feathers from "all the birds of the air". The dress of many feathers is a shared feature with The Hairy Belle, who wore a coat of crow's feathers. This causal violence by Cook, and the fact that Catskin did not fire her for this behavior, even when she became the lady of the house, seems to show just how commonplace such occurrences were, when one's employer was the one keeping a roof over one's head. Anyone who questions why Catskin did not complain, when, as a scullery maid, she was, apparently, the object of violence has perhaps not thought through: where else would the girl go? As it was, she proved herself to be a resourceful girl, one who knew that her best shot of marrying the young lord was to remain employed in his household. As for the fact that her mother died of grief after she ran away, isn't that every child's fantasy? Isn't your mama supposed to love you so much that she actually dies if you leave? And her father, miserable because of the way he treated her! What a satisfying ending!
Montessori Connection 6-12: History/ Western Civilization/ Middle Ages/ England
1. Find England on the globe. Notice how small it is, and that is an island. Find a book such as How Children Lived, to learn about children in England and other places before 1800, or A Child in Victorian London (How they lived) to learn what it was like during the time that Queen Victoria reigned.
2. Use Fundamental Needs cards, or other materials in your classroom to learn how people dressed in England during the 1600s. Use tracing paper to trace over a picture, or use a #2 pencil and a good Pink Pearl eraser and sketch from the picture. Label the picture, telling as much detail about the person as you can.
3. Research jobs in the middle ages. Write a sentence that tells exactly what you think each of these people did at work, and what tools you think they had to do it with: scullery maid; cook; woodcutter; coachman; footman, hen-wife, nurse-maid, washer-woman, lady of the house, servant, beggar. Either of these three books are fun to look through and easy to find on Amazon, or at your local library. Others also availabe at: Search Amazon.com for children's dictionary of history englandSearch Amazon.com for children's dictionary of history england.