It all began, as these things so often do, with something very small. Sometimes it’s a pebble rolling down a mountain. Sometimes it’s a butterfly landing on the butt of a guy who’s sunbathing facedown. This time it was a hole in the fence. Not a big hole. Just a sort of crack at the bottom. A gap between two boards slightly bigger than the gaps between the other boards. Something most people probably wouldn’t even notice.
But it was enough for the cat to get out.
If you were to ask the humans who fed this cat in exchange for the pleasure of his company (they would describe themselves as his “owners,” but what do they know?) they would tell you that their faithful and obedient cat never left their yard. They would have been thoroughly shocked to discover that their cat was neither faithful nor particularly obedient and did, in fact, leave the yard through the hole in the fence pretty much every night.
What do cats do when they go out at night? All sorts of things. Sometimes they look for food. Sometimes they chase birds or mice. Sometimes they just prowl around looking cool, perhaps remembering a time when they were not so different from lions and tigers. But most of the time they’re looking for love.
Well, maybe not “love” in the sense that we use the word. In their case, the urge is less romantic and more…let’s say “primal.” In any case, this is supposed to be a kids’ book, so let’s just say that the cat—the one that got out through the whole in the fence and whose name history does not relate so let’s call him “Tom” to make things easier—went out at night to spend time with female cats before going home to his yard where his delusional owners were convinced he stayed every night.
One of the myriad female cats that Tom would spend his evenings with was the beloved, purebred pet of a Wealthy Woman who was just as clueless about her cat’s nighttime activities as Tom’s owners were about his. In fact, had she known that her perfect, elegant, immaculately groomed Puss (which is what we’re calling her for the purposes of our story) was involved in an assignation with a mangy beast like Tom, she would have been shocked.
But whether she wanted to believe it or not, the evidence was undeniable. After a few weeks of increased appetite, lethargy and barfing, the Wealthy Woman was forced to call the Veterinarian who came ‘round at once and declared, “Puss is going to have kittens!”
The usual number of months later, Puss did, indeed, give birth to a litter of six kittens. Five of them were the image of their mother, with barely any trace off their ne’er-do-well father in them. This pleased the Wealthy Woman as she was mainly concerned with the way things looked on the outside and cared not a whit for what things (or people) were like on the inside.
The sixth kitten however was, in this woman’s opinion, horrible to behold.
He looked almost exactly like his father, that is he was a tabby cat, orange fur with white patches. In fact, he had four white patches on each of his paws, which rather made him look like he had on shoes of some kind. But his feet weren’t the only reason the Wealthy Woman disliked him.
The kitten was disfigured…well, slightly. His left ear hadn’t quite finished growing and was short and shriveled. This is what the sixth kitten looked like:
“How horrible!” cried the Wealthy Woman.
“What?” said the Vet, who, of course, had come to deliver the kittens. “He’s not so ugly.”
“Not so ugly? Are you blind! Look at that horrible ear of his! And he looks like a mangy alley cat. He’s a freak!” And she called for one of her servants to take the kitten to the well and drown him.
“No!” said the Vet. “You mustn’t do that!”
“Well I’ll not have that thing living under my roof! Look, he’s frightening the other kittens!”
Actually they were frightened by the woman’s shouting and talk of drowning their brother, but, again, people aren’t too clever when it comes to animals.
“Then I’ll take him,” said the Vet. “I’m sure I can find someone to give him a good home.”
“If you must,” said the Wealthy Woman who, thankfully, will not be appearing in the remainder of the story.
The Vet walked back to his house with the newborn kitten in his arms. Of course, he would’ve been happy to look after the cat himself. But he was so busy taking care of other people’s pets he didn’t have time to keep one himself. But he was confident that, when he got to his own village, he’d find someone willing to adopt the kitten.
“What’s wrong with your cat?”
“Ugh! What a weird-looking thing!”
“Mommy, is that cat sick?”
Everyone he passed saw the kitten’s misshapen ear and wrote the poor little guy off as a freak. Nobody wanted to adopt a cat who was deformed (however slightly) when there were plenty of normal-looking cats in town.
The Vet was just beginning to lose hope as he passed through the marketplace to pick up some milk and bread before going home. And that’s where he met Corie.
“Ooooh! He’s so cute!”
A little girl had spotted the tabby kitten and ran straight up to the Vet.
“Yes, he is, isn’t he?” said the Vet. “Would you like to hold him?”
He handed the kitten to the girl. As she reached out for it, the Vet noticed a deep, red scar on her left hand, as though she had been burned and it had not healed properly.
A man’s voice called out and the girl stopped smiling at once. She turned around to face her father who was looking crossly at her. The Vet could tell at a glance that this was a successful businessman. He wore fine clothes, as did the two boys with him, who were clearly his sons.
That was the first time the Vet noticed what the little girl was wearing: It looked suspiciously like a boy’s suit that had been haphazardly resewn into a girl’s outfit. This struck the Vet as odd. If her father was so rich, why didn’t his daughter wear new clothes? Or, at least, girl clothes?
“What is that thing?” he growled at the kitten in his daughter’s arms as though it were something loathsome and unpleasant.
“It’s a kitten, Father,” said Corie. “He belongs to this man.”
“You can have him if you want him,” said the Vet. “I was trying to find someone to take care of him when I—”
“Absolutely not!” roared the girl’s father, eyeing the cat’s bad ear. “I know better than to buy damaged goods. Besides, I’ve already spent enough gold today.”
“On a hat for Brian and a flute for Sean,” said Corie, defiantly. “But I haven’t gotten anything. It’s not fair!”
“Life’s not fair, girl! And you’d do well to remember that and hold your tongue in the future!”
“The kitten is free,” said the Vet, quickly. He was now determined that this girl should have this kitten. At first his only concern was for the well-being of the cat. But seeing the way this girl was treated by her father, he felt certain that she needed a companion as well.
“Free?” said the girl’s father. He grumbled to himself as he thought it over. “Fine! But it had better not be any trouble!”
“It won’t be, Father, I swear.” She turned back to the Vet. “Thank you so much for…what’s his name?”
“You know, he doesn’t have one yet.”
“I get to name him?” said Corie, very excited. She took a good long look at the happy kitten in her hands. She saw his deformed ear, just like everyone else, but she thought it was kinda cute. And then she looked at his paws. “He looks like he’s wearing little boots…That’s it! Boots!”
“Hurry up, girl!” roared the girl’s father. “Or I’m leaving you behind!”
Corie thanked the Veterinarian again and ran after her father and two brothers, who were bragging about the expensive gifts their father had bought and teasing their sister for her ugly kitten.
But Corie didn’t care that her prize hadn’t cost a single coin. To her, Boots was worth more than all the gold in the world.
And, before our story is done, he would prove himself a most valuable cat, indeed!
The Vet was quite right about Corie’s father, Gregory. He was a successful and wealthy merchant. He and his children lived in a beautiful estate and had many servants to do their bidding. Gregory was very proud of his home, his money, and his two sons, Brian and Sean. But he had basically no interest whatsoever in his daughter, Corie.
Brian and Sean each had big, comfy bedrooms in the upper floors of the manor house. They had enormous, luxurious beds stuffed with goose down and dressed in satin. They also had a frankly staggering number of toys and so many clothes that they grew out of most of them before even wearing them once!
Corie, on the other hand, had a small bedroom downstairs among the servants’ quarters, a straw mat for a bed and the only “toy” she ever owned was a “doll” she had made which was, in reality, a tree branch on which she had carved a face. And for clothes, she pretty much had to make do with her brothers’ hand-me-downs and her skill with a needle and thread.
So the question you are doubtless asking at this stage is “why?” Why did Gregory love his sons and dislike his daughter so much? Well, there are three reasons. First, he wanted three boys. All his life, he had wanted three sons and had always intended to call them Brian, Sean and Cody, so he was more than a little disappointed when the third one turned out to be a girl. In fact, she nearly ended up being called “Cody” anyway. After she was born the midwife asked what name he had chosen.
“I don’t know,” he had said. “Cody.”
“Did you say ‘Corie?’ asked the midwife. “That’s nice.”
“No! I said…yeah, fine. Whatever!”
The other reason Gregory didn’t like Corie is because he didn’t think she was really his daughter.
Gregory had dark hair and dark eyes, as did his wife and his two sons. When Corie was born she had bright red hair and green eyes. Not that kind of orange that people mean when they say “redhead.” I mean red red. Red like the sky at dusk. Red like fire. Red like blood. And the greenest green eyes in all the world. Like the leaves of trees in spring. Impossibly green. She was, undeniably, a beautiful—and most unusual—girl.
But Gregory didn’t care about any of that. When he saw her, he became furious and accused his wife of being unfaithful to him. His wife would have denied these allegations, of course, and assured him that he was, in fact, the girl’s father, except that she died almost at once after the child was born.
Which is the third reason Gregory didn’t like Corie. He blamed her for taking away his wife and robbing him forever of his dream of a third son.
So, however grudgingly, Gregory agreed to let her live in his house and eat his food and even made her call him “Father.” But he never loved her as his own. Never spent a penny on her if he could help it. Her elder brothers took their cues from their father and they too shunned her, when they weren’t picking on her or playing pranks on her.
The closest things Corie ever had to friends growing up were the household staff, who were much kinder than the people for whom they worked. They were always much too busy to play, so she sometimes joined them in working. She helped the cooks prepare meals, she helped the maids clean, she helped the charwomen mend clothes, she helped the stable hands tend to the horses. While her brothers learned nothing except how to boss people around and spend money, Corie was learning many useful skills and trades.
But, kind as they were, the servants were grownups and, let’s face it, they were being paid to be there. That’s not the kind of playmate a child needs. Which is why the kitten, Boots, meant so much to her.
She was seven years old when her father let her keep Boots. However, he swore to take no responsibility for the kitten himself, so caring for him was entirely up to Corie. Between scraps from the kitchen and the mice in the yard, feeding him was no problem. Boots’ bed came from a discarded blanket Brian had decided he didn’t want anymore. She even made him little toys out of scraps of fabric.
“Your cat is ugly!” Sean would taunt.
“Look at its ear!” Brian jeered.
“It’s a freak! You should take it to the river and throw it in!”
Corie didn’t care. She adored Boots. And he loved her just as much.
Like most kittens, Boots was curious, and Corie liked to teach him as much as she could. She read to him, and told him stories, and even tried to teach him arithmetic. Her brothers would tease her for wasting her time, but she ignored them. After all, it wasn’t so much about teaching Boots to read and write (which she, of course, knew was impossible), it was more about her having someone to talk to.
“When I was very little,” she told Boots one night, “I used to have a book about a brave hero called the Marquis of Carabas. He went on such amazing adventures. But my brothers set the book on fire and laughed at me when I burned my hand trying to get it back.”
She held up her burned hand as she said this. A single tear rolled down her cheek at the memory. This was the closest she ever came to crying anymore, as she had learned young that crying made no difference when nobody who hears you cares.
“Anyway,” she went on, “I read the book about a million times so even though I don’t have it anymore, I remember all the stories pretty well. Would you like to hear one?”
Boots mewed, which Corie interpreted as a “yes,” and she began to tell her favorite story about the Marquis of Carabas.
“When the Marquis was born,” Corie told Boots, “he was ugly and misshapen and some people said he didn’t even look human. But a fairy came to see the queen and told him that he would be very, very intelligent. And, she also gave the baby a special gift: The ability to make anyone he chose as intelligent as he was.
“And, sure enough, once he was old enough to speak, he proved that he was the cleverest person in all of Carabas. Maybe in all the world!
“A few days after the Marquis was born, another queen in another kingdom gave birth to a daughter who was very, very beautiful. The same fairy who had been at the Marquis’s birth was here at this one, and she told the queen that her daughter would get more and more beautiful as she grew up, but she would never have any brains at all. But, she also gave this girl a gift: to make anyone she chose as beautiful as she.
“Oh! I forgot a part. The thing where he can make someone as intelligent as him? That only works once. And the same thing goes for the princess, who can make someone beautiful, but only once. Okay?
“Anyway, years went by and the Marquis of Carabas got more and more ugly and more and more intelligent. And the Princess got more and more beautiful and more and more stupid. And even though she was so beautiful, everyone in her castle laughed at her and made her feel ashamed because she was so foolish. So she ran into the woods and cried and cried.
“‘Why are you crying, fair one?’ said a voice.
“The Princess looked up and saw a very ugly young man addressing her. It was the Marquis of Carabas.
“‘Everyone hates me because I’m so stupid!’ she said and started crying again.
“‘I cannot believe that everyone hates someone as beautiful as you. I have seen many people in my life and never once met one so lovely. As for me, I am known to be very intelligent, but I would give up all my cleverness and wit to be only half as lovely as you.’
“‘No, trust me, you don’t want to be stupid. When you’re beautiful, people like you for a little while, but then they realize how dumb you are and they start laughing at you.’
“‘You say you’re unintelligent and I won’t be so impolite as to argue with you. But it seems to me that there is nothing so intelligent as admitting that you are ignorant.’
“This was the first time in her life anyone had ever called the Princess intelligent. She was so moved by the Marquis’ kindness that she threw her arms around him and kissed him. And he kissed her back. And when they separated, the Princess almost shrieked!
“The Marquis was no longer misshapen and ugly. He had become beautiful. As beautiful as the Princess! And the kiss had also made the Princess more intelligent. As intelligent as the Marquis! They were married and lived happily ever after. Isn’t that a great story, Boots?”
Boots showed his appreciation for the story by licking Corie’s burned hand ever-so-gently, almost as if he were trying to soothe the ancient injury.
Corie sighed. “I hope I can live happily ever after, some day. Well, good night, Boots.”
And the two best friends cuddled up and went to sleep.
And did they? Live happily ever after, I mean? Did Corie and Boots manage a happy ending despite the nasty people they lived with? Well, to find that out, you'll have to order your copy of Boots. I can tell you that there is an enchantress, an ogre, a magic cookie, a poetic mouse and a little trickery in store for our heroes before they can make their dreams come true in this new adaptation of Charles Perrault's classic story of Puss In Boots.