Whittington And His Cat

: 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

ails you."

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

the cook.

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.