Puss’s likeness undoubtedly would never have graced numerous Wanted Posters had the cobbler Yacob Schumaker not married the widow Eudalia Westerline.
Yacob was recognized as the best cobbler in the kingdom. He lived in a hamlet so tiny and unimaginative that the residents simply called their town Hamlet. A traveler passing along the street where Yacob’s shop was couldn’t help but notice the sign displaying the image of an incredibly ornate boot framed by the words “Bootmaker par excellence,” a title bestowed by none less than the king.
The previous year, the King, known throughout as Harold the Vain, had been passing through Hamlet when one of his coach’s horses went lame. Upon stepping from the carriage, Harold the Vain stepped into a muckle of horse excrement. “Mon Dieu,” exclaimed the king, who although he was very English, liked to use French phrases to impress his subjects. “My boots are ruinér! Ruined, wasted! How can I retain the respect of the peasants if I go among them with manure on my chaussures?”
Fortunately for Harold, and even more fortunate for Yacob, this incident happened directly in front of Yacob’s shoemaker establishment. The king rushed into the shop and demanded that Yacob make him a new pair of boots — tout de suite! Being the loyal subject he was, Yacob dropped everything and hurried to carry out the king’s order. Knowing that a simple pair of boots would not satisfy Harold the Vain, Yacob drew out a large piece of leather he had previously colored with expensive crimson dye, and with which he was planning to make a pair of fancy shoes for his new wife, the former widow Eudalia. Quickly he measured the king’s feet and set about cutting and sewing the new footwear. As he worked, he imagined how he could decorate the boots in a way that would be pleasing to the vainest of the vain. From a bottom drawer in a back cupboard, he drew out a pair of gold buckles, each as big as his hand. These he fastened to the insteps of the new red boots. He quickly added black velvet cuffs to the boots and then hammered on heels hand-carved from the burl of a tulip tree. All the while, the king sat impatiently in his kitchen, eating the lunch his wife had left there for Yacob.
At last the boots were completed and he finished them with three coats of beeswax so that the sunlight coming in the window reflected off them casting shadows of his workbench on the dirt floor. The king could not have been more pleased! He thanked the cobbler profusely and gave him a small silver coin for his efforts.
In the meantime, Eudalia had noticed the fancy carriage in front of her husband’s shop and discreetly watched from the alley between the shop and her own house. The king reentered his conveyance, taking special care to avoid any messes in the roadway, and the carriage drove off. Hurrying into the shop, she soon learned what had transpired, and asked Yacob how much the king had paid him for what she noticed were magnificent boots. Yacob showed her the single small coin. Eudalia was irate. “One silver coin? Why those boots were worth at least five of those coins. Him being the king, he could certainly have afforded to have given you five gold coins. Harold the Vain is too good a name for him; he should be called Harold the Cheap!” Matters didn’t get any better between husband and wife when Yacob mentioned that the red leather had been destined for a new pair of shoes for her.
Now it so happened that the king had a daughter named Cecile and a son, Misha. Coincidently, Yacob had a son Edwin by his previous wife (“Darla, may she rest in peace with the Lord”, as Yacob always referred to her). Eudalia had a daughter, Stella, by her late husband (“Jarvis, may he rot in Hades with the devil”, as she always referred to him.) Eudalia, believing in her heart of hearts that the king owed her and Yacob much more than a measly piece of silver, vowed that very day that she would have Stella marry the king’s son Misha. That would, she reasoned, be fitting payment for the boots that should have been hers!
Now to the matter of Puss and how he wound up at the head of the Most Wanted List in the kingdom. Pussival D. Katt, which was his full given name, wandered into Hamlet two days after the king had passed through. Edwin, the cobbler’s son had been cornered at the end of the alley next to the shoemaker’s shop by a crazed wolf, who advanced toward Edwin with fangs dripping of foamy saliva. This occurred precisely as Puss was passing the entrance to the alley.
Puss was no ordinary cat, but his extraordinary abilities did not extend to superfeline strength, nor was he endowed with opposing thumbs. Quite simply, he could talk; that was his gift. Seeing the danger to the lad, Pussival inserted himself between the wolf and Edwin and began talking to the wild animal, for he was fluent in sixteen different animal languages and four human ones. What Puss said didn’t reach Edwin’s ears, but the wolf suddenly turned and bolted away
Edwin had heard tales of talking animals before, like the calf up in the far northern sector of the kingdom, and the dog in the south regions. But he never dreamed he’ll meet a talking cat himself. “Thank you very much kind sir. I don’t want to think what would have happened if you had not come along,” said Edwin. The cat stood upon his hind limbs, bowed low, and said, “My pleasure, young man. Pussival D. Katt at your service.”
Just then Yacob, Eudalia, and Stella rushed into the alley, having heard the wolf’s growling. Edwin introduced his rescuer to his family, “This is Pussival D. Katt, and he saved my life.” Jacob of course was overjoyed. Eudalia and Stella were less than impressed, for neither was especially fond of Edwin. Besides, they had nefarious plans to plot. They slunk back into their house.
Yacob noticed immediately that Puss was strutting about on his hind legs, and he thought of a way to repay the feline for saving his son. “Mr. Katt, I see you prefer to walk upright, so I should like to make for you a pair of walking boots. I have just finished a pair for the king, and I can make you ones equal to his. Puss accepted the offer, for indeed, the cobblestones of the streets raised blisters on the tender pads of the gentlecat’s feet.”
“Kind Yacob, I have seen those boots you made for Harold the Vain. As you may have heard, I have been to London to look at the Queen, and there I frightened a little mouse under her chair. While I was under the thrones, I saw the king’s boots, and lo, I noticed that they were of exactly the size that would fit me. You should be able to use the same form and last for mine as you used for his.”
With that, Yacob took out a second sheet of the same handsome crimson leather (it would have taken both sheets of leather to make shoes for Eudalia’s rather large feet) and a duplicate pair of gold buckles, and began to fashion the boots. Edwin, taking another tulip tree burl, whittled the heels while his father worked. Puss reclined, as pussies are wont to do, within the beams of sunlight that filtered through the window of the workshop.
Unknown to Yacob, Edwin, or Puss, Stella was watching through the opposite window. Seeing what was going on, she hurried to tell her mother that Yacob was using the last of the red leather to make boots for the talking cat. At once, Eudalia merged her plan for Stella to marry the prince with revenge against Yacob. She sent for one of the cronies of her late husband (“Jarvis, may he rot in Hades with the devil”), and sent him to steal the king’s boots. Once Stella was married Prince Misha, she would leave Yacob forever.
The next morning Harold the Vain searched in vain for his prized footwear. “Some varlet has stolen the royal boots! Ten pieces of silver to the person who brings the thief to my dungeon! My son, Prince Misha, will lead the search party.”
As luck would have it, Yacob and Edwin had to work almost all night to finish Pussival’s boots, and Puss, as cats are wont to do, slept peacefully on the hearth. Yacob went home to sleep, but Edwin chose to curl up next to Puss and sleep on the workshop floor.
The sound of horses’ hooves in the street wakened Eudalia. Seeing Misha and hearing the commotion, she roused Stella and sent her to the prince. Using every wile known to woman, Stella persuaded Misha to follow her to the shop.
Edwin and Puss were barely awake when the workshop door was shoved open by Misha and the palace guards. Seeing the new boots on the cobbler’s bench, they mistook them for the king’s boots and confiscated them. Before he knew it, Edwin was shackled and led away to the king’s castle, charged with imperial theft. With stealth known only to cats, Puss managed to escape.
Puss rushed to tell Yacob what had happened. “What shall we do?” moaned the cobbler. “The king will never believe that there could be a second pair of boots.” He looked down at Puss, who was sniffing about the floorboards. “I smell beeswax,” he told Jacob. “Follow me.” He led the way out the door and into the alley next to the house, following the scent. “Here,” he said, pointing to a loose board under the house. Yacob pried the board loose and discovered the king’s boots where Eudalia had hidden them.
Just then they heard voices through the window above them. Stella was saying to Eudalia, “It worked even better than we planned. I told Prince Misha that he would find the boots in the workshop. He arrested Edwin and took him away, and promised to do everything in royal power to apprehend that heinous cat. He thanked me and invited me to come to the castle and collect the ten silver pieces reward.”
“I think I can take it from here,” said Puss, donning the king’s boots. He strode confidently up the street toward the castle and boldly entered the king’s palace. Stealthily, as only a cat can, he made his way to the throne room, where Harold was placing the duplicate boots upon his noble feet. “Hmm,” said the king, “These boots seem a mite stiffer than they did yesterday.”
“I believe I can explain why,” said Puss, with an elaborate obeisant bow. Harold the Vain looked at the cat wearing boots identical to those on his own extremities. He was not surprised that the cat could talk, having heard the same tales of the talking calf in the north and the talking dog in the east. Puss told Harold of the events of the previous day and of how Yacob and Edwin stayed up most of the night making the second pair of boots. “Now, Your Majesty, let us trade boots, for I believe these, which are rightly yours, have a much higher gloss to the leather and a much brighter gleam to the buckles.”
When they each had their respective boots on, the pair admired themselves in the king’s own full-length mirror. “My good Puss,” said the king, “I would be honored if you would take up residence as my Cat-in-Arms. We make a splendid looking pair, if I say so myself.”
“You honor me, Your Leige. I should be proud to stand by your side. But first, what about poor Edwin?”
The king was about to summon his guards to bring the young man when his daughter Cecile entered, leading Edwin by the hand. She had seen the rough way the guards had treated him as they led him to the dungeon. Stealing into his cell, she treated his bruises with her own creams and lotions as he poured his story out to her. “Father, you must listen to what Edwin has to say. He is as innocent as I.”
“Yes, my dear daughter, I know,” said Edwin, noticing how fondly Cecile treated the cobbler’s son. “The cat has told me all.”
At that moment, Puss stepped out from behind the king, and the young man and woman gazed upon the two magnificent pairs of footwear. “This shoemaker, Yacob, is a remarkable asset to my kingdom. He shall be awarded the title, Bootmaker par Excellence.”
So it was that the king banished Eudalia and Stella to the farthest reached of his kingdom, Misha was sent to tear down the wanted posters of Puss, Cecile and Edwin were married, Yacob obtained a new sign for his bootmakery, and the Puss in Boots, as he was called, became the constant companion of Harold the Vain.
About the Author:
Don Magin has retired from careers as a research chemist and as a science and math teacher. For more than 50 years he has been writing poetry, essays, and short stories. He and Margaret, his wife of 53 years, live in Bon Air, Virginia. He has had stories and poems published in Central Virginia Poetry Bard Magazine, Sylvia, WestWard Quarterly, Vita Brevis (Nothing Divine Dies Nature Anthology), and other online and print publications. He also has a volume of inspirational poetry and stories, “Walk with Purpose”, available on Lulu.
Feature image by blauthbianca / Pixabay