Whittington And His Cat
: STORIES FROM GREAT BRITAIN
: Boys And Girls Bookshelf
In the reign of the famous King Edward III there was a little boy called
Dick Whittington, whose father and mother died when he was very young,
so that he remembered nothing at all about them, and was left a ragged
little fellow, running about a country village. As poor Dick was not old
enough to work, he was very badly off; he got but little for his dinner,
and sometimes nothing at all for his breakfast; for the people who lived
in the village were very poor indeed, and could not spare him much more
than the parings of potatoes, and now and then a hard crust of bread.
For all this Dick Whittington was a very sharp boy, and was always
listening to what everybody talked about. On Sunday he was sure to
get near the farmers, as they sat talking on the tombstones in the
churchyard, before the parson was come; and once a week you might see
little Dick leaning against the sign-post of the village inn, where
people stopped as they came from the next market town; and when the
barber's shop door was open, Dick listened to all the news that his
customers told one another.
In this manner Dick heard a great many very strange things about the
great city called London; for the foolish country people at that time
thought that folks in London were all fine gentlemen and ladies; and
that there was singing and music there all day long; and that the
streets were all paved with gold.
One day a large wagon and eight horses, all with bells at their heads,
drove through the village while Dick was standing by the sign-post. He
thought that this wagon must be going to the fine town of London; so he
took courage, and asked the wagoner to let him walk with him by the side
of the wagon. As soon as the wagoner heard that poor Dick had no father
or mother, and saw by his ragged clothes that he could not be worse off
than he was, he told him he might go if he would, so they set off
It has never been found out how little Dick contrived to get meat and
drink on the road; nor how he could walk so far, for it was a long way;
nor what he did at night for a place to lie down and sleep. Perhaps some
good-natured people in the towns that he passed through, when they saw
he was a poor little ragged boy, gave him something to eat; and perhaps
the wagoner let him get into the wagon at night, and take a nap upon one
of the boxes or large parcels in the wagon.
Dick however got safe to London, and was in such a hurry to see the fine
streets paved all over with gold, that he ran as fast as his legs would
carry him, through many of the streets, thinking every moment to come to
those that were paved with gold; for Dick had seen a guinea three times
in his own little village, and remembered what a deal of money it
brought in change; so he thought he had nothing to do but to take up
some little bits of the pavement, and should then have as much money as
he could wish for.
Poor Dick ran till he was tired; but at last, finding it grew dark, and
that every way he turned he saw nothing but dirt instead of gold, he sat
down in a dark corner and cried himself to sleep.
Little Dick was all night in the streets; and next morning, being very
hungry, he got up and walked about, and asked everybody he met to give
him a halfpenny to keep him from starving; but nobody stayed to answer
him, and only two or three gave him a halfpenny; so that the poor boy
was soon quite weak and faint for the want of food.
At last a good-natured looking gentleman saw how hungry he looked. "Why
don't you go to work, my lad?" said he to Dick. "That I would, but I do
not know how to get any," answered Dick. "If you are willing, come along
with me," said the gentleman, and took him to a hay-field, where Dick
worked briskly, and lived merrily till the hay was made.
After this he found himself as badly off as before; and being almost
starved again, he laid himself down at the door of Mr. Fitzwarren, a
rich merchant. Here he was soon seen by the cook-maid, who was an
ill-tempered creature, and happened just then to be very busy dressing
dinner for her master and mistress; so she called out to poor Dick:
"What business have you there, you lazy rogue? there is nothing else but
beggars; if you do not take yourself away, we will see how you will like
a sousing of some dish-water; I have some here hot enough to make you
Just at that time, Mr. Fitzwarren himself came home to dinner; and when
he saw a dirty ragged boy lying at the door, he said to him: "Why do you
lie there, my boy? You seem old enough to work; I am afraid you are
inclined to be lazy."
"No, indeed, sir," said Dick to him, "that is not the case, for I would
work with all my heart, but I do not know anybody, and I believe I am
very sick for the want of food." "Poor fellow, get up; let me see what
Dick now tried to rise, but was obliged to lie down again, being too
weak to stand, for he had not eaten any food for three days, and was no
longer able to run about and beg a halfpenny of people in the street. So
the kind merchant ordered him to be taken into the house, and have a
good dinner given him, and be kept to do what dirty work he was able for
Little Dick would have lived very happy in this good family if it had
not been for the ill-natured cook, who was finding fault and scolding
him from morning to night, and besides, she was so fond of basting, that
when she had no meat to baste, she would baste poor Dick's head and
shoulders with a broom, or anything else that happened to fall in her
way. At last her ill-usage of him was told to Alice, Mr. Fitzwarren's
daughter, who told the cook she should be turned away if she did not
treat him kinder.
The ill-humor of the cook was now a little amended; but besides this
Dick had another hardship to get over. His bed stood in a garret, where
there were so many holes in the floor and the walls that every night he
was tormented with rats and mice. A gentleman having given Dick a penny
for cleaning his shoes, he thought he would buy a cat with it. The next
day he saw a girl with a cat, and asked her if she would let him have it
for a penny. The girl said she would, and at the same time told him the
cat was an excellent mouser.
Dick hid his cat in the garret, and always took care to carry a part of
his dinner to her; and in a short time he had no more trouble with the
rats and mice, but slept quite sound every night.
Soon after this, his master had a ship ready to sail; and as he thought
it right that all his servants should have some chance for good fortune
as well as himself, he called them all into the parlor and asked them
what they would send out.
They all had something that they were willing to venture except poor
Dick, who had neither money nor goods, and therefore could send nothing.
For this reason he did not come into the parlor with the rest; but Miss
Alice guessed what was the matter, and ordered him to be called in. She
then said she would lay down some money for him, from her own purse; but
the father told her this would not do, for it must be something of his
When poor Dick heard this, he said he had nothing but a cat which he
bought for a penny some time since of a little girl.
"Fetch your cat then, my good boy," said Mr. Fitzwarren, "and let her
Dick went upstairs, and with tears in his eyes brought down poor puss,
and gave her to the captain.
All the company laughed at Dick's odd venture; and Miss Alice, who felt
pity for the poor boy, gave him some money to buy another cat.
This, and many other marks of kindness shown him by Miss Alice, made the
ill-tempered cook jealous of poor Dick, and she began to use him more
cruelly than ever, and always made game of him for sending his cat to
sea. She asked him if he thought his cat would sell for as much money as
would buy a stick to beat him.
At last poor Dick could not bear this usage any longer, and he thought
he would run away from this place; so he packed up his few things, and
started very early in the morning, on All-hallows Day, which is the
first of November. He walked as far as Holloway; and there sat down on
a stone, which to this day is called Whittington's Stone, and began to
think to himself which road he should take as he proceeded onward.
While he was thinking what he should do, the Bells of Bow Church, which
at that time had only six, began to ring, and he fancied their sound
seemed to say to him:
"Turn again, Whittington,
Lord Mayor of London."
"Lord Mayor of London!" said he to himself. "Why, to be sure, I would
put up with almost anything now, to be Lord Mayor of London, and ride in
a fine coach, when I grow to be a man! Well, I will go back, and think
nothing of the cuffing and scolding of the old cook, if I am to be Lord
Mayor of London at last."
Dick went back, and was lucky enough to get into the house, and set
about his work, before the old cook came downstairs.
The ship, with the cat on board, was a long time at sea; and was at last
driven by the winds on a part of the coast of Barbary, where the only
people were the Moors, that the English had never known before.
The people then came in great numbers to see the sailors, who were of
different color to themselves, and treated them very civilly; and, when
they became better acquainted, were very eager to buy the fine things
with which the ship was loaded.
When the captain saw this, he sent patterns of the best things he had to
the King of the country; who was so much pleased with them, that he
ordered the captain to come to the palace. Here the guests were placed,
as it is the custom of the country, on rich carpets marked with gold and
silver flowers. The King and Queen were seated at the upper end of the
room; and a number of dishes were brought in for dinner. They had not
sat long, when a vast number of rats and mice rushed in, helping
themselves from almost every dish. The captain wondered at this, and
asked if these vermin were not very unpleasant.
"Oh, yes," said they, "very offensive; and the King would give half his
treasure to be freed of them, for they not only destroy his dinner, as
you see, but they assault him in his chamber, and even in bed, so that
he is obliged to be watched while he is sleeping for fear of them."
The captain jumped for joy; he remembered poor Whittington and his cat,
and told the King he had a creature on board the ship that would
despatch all these vermin immediately. The King's heart heaved so high
at the joy which this news gave him that his turban dropped off his
head. "Bring this creature to me," says he; "vermin are dreadful in a
court, and if she will perform what you say, I will load your ship with
gold and jewels in exchange for her."
The captain, who knew his business, took this opportunity to set
forth the merits of Miss Puss. He told his Majesty that it would be
inconvenient to part with her, as, when she was gone, the rats and mice
might destroy the goods in the ship; but to oblige his Majesty he would
fetch her. "Run, run!" said the Queen; "I am impatient to see the dear
Away went the captain to the ship, while another dinner was got ready.
He put puss under his arm, and arrived at the place soon enough to see
the table full of rats.
When the cat saw them, she did not wait for bidding, but jumped out of
the captain's arms, and in a few minutes laid almost all the rats and
mice dead at her feet. The rest of them in their fright scampered away
to their holes.
The King and Queen were quite charmed to get so easily rid of such
plagues, and desired that the creature who had done them so great a
kindness might be brought to them for inspection. Upon which the captain
called: "Pussy, pussy, pussy!" and she came to him. He then presented
her to the Queen, who started back, and was afraid to touch a creature
who had made such a havoc among the rats and mice. However, when the
captain stroked the cat and called: "Pussy, pussy," the Queen also
touched her and cried, "Putty, putty," for she had not learned English.
He then put her down on the Queen's lap, where she, purring, played with
her Majesty's hand, and then sung herself to sleep.
The King, having seen the exploits of Mistress Puss, and being informed
that some day she would have some little kitties, which in turn would
have other little kitties, and thus stock the whole country, bargained
with the captain for the ship's entire cargo, and then gave him ten
times as much for the cat as all the rest amounted to.
The captain then took leave of the royal party, and set sail with a fair
wind for England, and after a happy voyage arrived safe in London.
One morning Mr. Fitzwarren had just come to his counting-house and
seated himself at the desk, when somebody came tap, tap, at the door.
"Who's there?" asked Mr. Fitzwarren. "A friend," answered the other; "I
come to bring you good news of your ship 'Unicorn.'" The merchant,
bustling up instantly, opened the door, and who should be seen waiting
but the captain and factor, with a cabinet of jewels, and a bill of
lading, for which the merchant lifted up his eyes and thanked heaven for
sending him such a prosperous voyage.
Then they told the story of the cat, and showed the rich present that
the King and Queen had sent for her to poor Dick. As soon as the
merchant heard this, he called out to his servants:
"Go fetch him--we will tell him of the same;
Pray call him Mr. Whittington by name."
Mr. Fitzwarren now showed himself to be a good man; for when some of his
servants said so great a treasure was too much for him, he answered:
"God forbid I should deprive him of the value of a single penny."
He then sent for Dick, who at that time was scouring pots for the cook,
and was quite dirty.
Mr. Fitzwarren ordered a chair to be set for him, and so he began to
think they were making game of him, at the same time begging them not to
play tricks with a poor simple boy, but to let him go down again, if
they pleased, to his work.
"Indeed, Mr. Whittington," said the merchant, "we are all quite in
earnest with you, and I most heartily rejoice in the news these
gentlemen have brought you; for the captain has sold your cat to the
King of Barbary, and brought you in return for her more riches than I
possess in the whole world; and I wish you may long enjoy them!"
Mr. Fitzwarren then told the men to open the great treasure they had
brought with them; and said: "Mr. Whittington has nothing to do but to
put it in some place of safety."
Poor Dick hardly knew how to behave himself for joy. He begged his
master to take what part of it he pleased, since he owed it all to his
kindness. "No, no," answered Mr. Fitzwarren, "this is all your own; and
I have no doubt but you will use it well."
Dick next asked his mistress, and then Miss Alice, to accept a part of
his good fortune; but they would not, and at the same time told him
they felt great joy at his good success. But this poor fellow was too
kind-hearted to keep it all to himself; so he made a present to the
captain, the mate, and the rest of Mr. Fitzwarren's servants; and even
to the ill-natured old cook.
After this Mr. Fitzwarren advised him to send for a proper tradesman,
and get himself dressed like a gentleman; and told him he was welcome to
live in his house till he could provide himself with a better.
When Whittington's face was washed, his hair curled, his hat cocked, and
he was dressed in a nice suit of clothes, he was as handsome and genteel
as any young man who visited at Mr. Fitzwarren's; so that Miss Alice,
who had once been so kind to him, and thought of him with pity, now
looked upon him as fit to be her sweetheart; and the more so, no doubt,
because Whittington was now always thinking what he could do to oblige
her, and making her the prettiest presents that could be.
Mr. Fitzwarren soon saw their love for each other, and proposed to join
them in marriage; and to this they both readily agreed. A day for the
wedding was soon fixed; and they were attended to church by the Lord
Mayor, the court of aldermen, the sheriffs, and a great number of the
richest merchants in London, to whom they afterward gave a very rich
History tells us that Mr. Whittington and his lady lived in great
splendor, and were very happy. They had several children. He was Sheriff
of London, also Mayor, and received the honor of knighthood by Henry V.
The figure of Sir Richard Whittington with his cat in his arms, carved
in stone, was to be seen till the year 1780 over the archway of the old
prison of Newgate, that stood across Newgate Street.