|"When it was nighttime,|
she ran away into the woods."
Illustration by Arthur Rackham
Once upon a time, "there lived a gentleman who owned fine lands and houses, and he very much wanted to have a son to be heir to them. So when his wife brought him a daughter, though she was as bonny as bonny could be, he cared nought for her and said,' Let me never see her face." He left her with the servants to grow up, and, when she was fifteen, he decided that it was time she married and left home. "She shall marry the first that comes for her." the old king declared. No sooner had he spoken these words than along the road came "a nasty, horrid, old man". The young lass fled the house quickly, and sought both refuge and advice from her friend, the hen-wife. This good lady told her,"Say you will not take him unless they give you a coat of silver cloth.' Well, they gave her a coat of silver cloth, but she wouldn't take him for all that." And back she went to the hen-wife. "Say you will not take him unless they give you a coat of beaten gold." said she. And they gave her one right away, but still she would marry the ugly old man. Instead, she ran back to the hen-wife, who threw her hands up in the air and said,"Say you will not take him unless they give you a coat made of the feathers of all the birds of the air." But the king ordered that sacks of peas be spread about the kingdom, and that criers should call for the birds to "Take a pea and put down a feather." and in this way, enough for a coat was soon gathered. The tailor brought it to the king and the king brought it to the ugly old man and the ugly old man brought it to the bonny lass. Yet this one still refused to marry, and went a final time to the hen-wife. She scratched her head and scattered some grain for the chickens and brought in the eggs and shooed away the cats. "Say they must first make you a coat of catskin." And they brought this to her and she promised to marry the horrid old man first thing in the morning. Then she tied her coat of silver, her coat of beaten gold, and the one of many feathers into a pack, "and when it was nighttime, she ran away with it into the woods." She travelled through the night and through the day and through the next night and the next day, and then she saw a splendid castle in the distance. She went on to it and "hid her dresses by a crystal waterfall and went up to the castle-gates and asked for work." The lady of the house was very kind and could see that the girl needed a roof over her head. Though they were not lacking for help in the kitchen the lady told the girl that she may go downstairs and serve as scullion, for lack of better position. So she went there and they laughed and called her Catskin, and "the cook was very cruel to her, and led her a sad life." When the young master of the house came home a grand celebration was planned. And Catskin begged to be allowed to go and peek but Cook said,"What! You dirty, impudent slut! You go among the fine lords and ladies with your dirty catskin? A fine figure you'd cut!" And she threw a bowl of dirty water into the girl's face. "But Catskin only shook her ears and said nothing." Then she slunk away quietly, and when no one saw, went to the woods and bathed in the crystal waterfall, and put on her coat of silver cloth. When she walked into the palace, all eyes went immediately to her, and the prince himself took her by the hand. He "would dance with none other the live-long night". When the music stopped, he begged the lass to tell her name. But all she spoke was a rhyme. "Kind sir, if the truth I must tell, At the sign of the Basin of Water I dwell." Then she scurried out the door and around the back and to the forest once more. There she slipped out of the silver and into the fur, and was back in the scullery before anyone thought to find her. And the prince went to his dear mother who looked upon her son with love and begged him tell what ailed him. There he confessed his love for the maid of the silver coat, and his sorrow for not knowing where to find any Sign of the Basin of Water. His mother the queen proposed that another fête be held that night, in hopes of drawing the maid. So the prince agreed. That night Catskin begged permission from Cook to go and peep at the lords and ladies, and now Cook jeered, "What you?' and with that she up with a ladle and broke it across Catskin's back." Catskin shook her ears and wriggled away and ran to the forest as fast as she could. There she bathed in the crystal water and put on her coat of gold. She dashed to the palace, and, when she appeared, the prince lost his heart entirely to her. "He claimed her for the first dance and did not leave her till the last." He begged to know where she lived, but all she would say was, "Kind sir, if the truth I must tell, At the sign of the Broken Ladle I dwell." Then she curtsied and ran away. By the time he thought to follow she was back in the woods, and by the time he mounted his horse she was back in the scullery once more. So the prince pleaded with his mother the queen to host another ball the next night, and the kind lady agreed. When Catskin wheedled with Cook to be allowed to go and see the fine people, Cook said, "A fine figure you'd cut!' and broke the skimmer across her head." Catskin flicked her ears and and turned on her heels and was back in the forest before the cook had finished bellowing. She bathed in the crystal spring, attired herself in the coat of feathers, and fluttered off to dance, once more, with the prince. And when that night she told him that "at the Sign of the Broken Skimmer I dwell", he resolved to follow her to it. Thus he watched as she entered the forest and changed from her feathered cloak to a catskin robe. Then he observed her slip into the scullery. In the morning, he told his mother the queen that he wished to marry the scullery maid and she said," Never. Never so long as I live." And the prince took to his bed and wouldn't get out. When he lay near death, the doctor "went to his mother and said that her son would die if she did not consent to to his marriage with Catskin, so she had to give way." A grand wedding was held and "after a time, a little lad was born to them, and grew up a fine little lad." One day, when the boy was about four years old, a beggar lady came to the door, with a baby all skinny and crying. Catskin's kind little son ran and got a loaf and gave it to her, and bent and kissed the beggar-baby. "Now the wicked old cook, (wbo had never been sent away, because Catskin was so kindhearted) was looking on and she said,'Look how beggar's brats take to one another!" And this so hurt the tender spirit of Catskin that she told her husband all of her story, and that she was really a princess, and that her father had cast her out. Then they rode in a fine carriage to the house of this king, but Catskin and the little boy stayed at an inn while the prince rode to see her father. Now "he was all alone in the world and sate moping and miserable. When the young lord came in, he hardly looked up, he was so miserable. Then Catskins' husband drew up a chair close to him, and asked him, 'Pray, sir, had you not once a young daughter whom you would never see or own?' And the miserable man said with tears,' It is true; I am a hardened sinner." But, he said, he would trade his castle and kingdom away in an instant, if only he could have the companionship of a daughter who loved him. That's when the prince told him the story of Catskin, and that both she and her bonny little son were but a short journey hence. And the prince "afterwards brought his father-in-law to his own castle, where they lived happily ever afterwards."
From English Fairy Tales, Retold by F.A. Steele, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. (1923) New York: The Macmillan Company English Fairytales or English Fairy Tales. Collector's Edition in Full Leather or if you cant' find these, try: Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know or just have fun and try:The Fairy Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, Book 1) (Bk. 1) or Japanese Fairy Tales!
Notes: This is the truly classic Catskin tale, including "unlawful marriage" as defined by Cox; the cruel, taunting cook; the physical abuse and Catskin's sarcastic answers to questions about where she lives. Here we have the first chapter of their marriage, including lovely baby boy, and, unlike other versions of this tale, a reconciliation with the bitter old man.
Montessori Connection: Fundamental Needs of People/Clothing
1. Read this story and think about clothes a long time ago.
2. write down what each of the special coats that Catskin asks for is made of.
3. Think about the clothes that you have on right now.
4. Examine your coat carefully, or think of coat you have at home. Can you tell, or guess, how it was made, and what it is made of?
5. Think about the materials that people made clothes and coats out of long ago, and do some research to learn more:Clothes in Colonial America (Welcome Books: Colonial America) or What People Wore During the Civil War (Clothing, Costumes, and Uniforms Throughout American History) or Clothes & Crafts in Ancient Egypt or Kings, Queens, Knights, and Jesters: Making Medieval Costumes