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Children's Stories - Whittington and his Cat


In the reign of the famous King Edward the Third, 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 dirty little fellow, running about a country village. As poor Dick was not old enough to work, he was in a sorry plight; 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 themselves, and could spare him little more than the parings of potatoes, and now and then a hard crust.

For all this, Dick Whittington was a very sharp boy, and was always listening to what every one talked about.

On Sundays he never failed 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 be sure to see little Dick leaning against the sign-post of the village ale-house, where people stopped to drink as they came from the next market-town; and whenever the barber's shop-door was open, Dick listened to all the news he told his customers.

In this manner, Dick heard of the great city called London; how the people who lived there were all fine gentlemen and ladies; that there were singing and music in it all day long; and that the streets were paved all over with gold.

One day a waggoner, with a large waggon and eight horses, all with bells at their heads, drove through the village while Dick was lounging near his favourite signpost. The thought immediately struck him that it must be going to the fine town of London; and taking courage, he asked the waggoner to let him walk by the side of the waggon. The man, hearing from poor Dick that he had no parents, and seeing by his ragged condition that he could not be worse off, told him he might go if he would; so they set of together.

Dick got safe to London; and so eager was he to see the fine streets paved all over with gold, that he ran as fast as his legs would carry him through several streets, expecting every moment to come to the streets that were all paved with gold; for Dick had three times seen a guinea in his own village, and observed what a great deal of money it brought in change; so he imagined he had only to take up some little bits of the pavement to have as much money as he desired.

Poor Dick ran till he was tired, and at last, finding it grow dark, and that whichever way he turned he saw nothing; but dirt instead of gold, he sat down in a dark corner, and cried himself asleep.

Little Dick remained all night in the streets; and next morning, finding himself very hungry, he got up and walked about, asking those he met to give him a half penny to keep him from starving; but nobody stayed to answer him, and only two or three gave him anything; so that the poor boy was soon in the most miserable condition. Being almost starved to death, he laid himself down at the door of one Mr. Fitzwarren, a great rich merchant. Here he was soon perceived 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, seeing poor Dick, she called out, "What business have you here, 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 here that is hot enough to make you caper!"

Just at this time Mr. Fitzwarren himself came home from the city to dinner, and seeing a dirty ragged boy lying at the door, said to him, "Why do you lie there, my lad? You seem old enough to work. I fear you must be somewhat idle."

"No. indeed, sir," says Whittington, "that is not true, for I would work with all my heart, but I know nobody, and I believe I am very sick for want of food."

"Poor fellow:" answered Mr. Fitzwarren.

Dick now tried to rise, but was obliged to lie down again, being too weak to stand; for he had not eaten anything for three days, and was no longer able to run about and beg a halfpenny of people in the streets so the kind merchant ordered that he should be taken into his house, and have a good dinner immediately, and that he should be kept to do what dirty work he was able for the cook.

Little Dick would have lived very happily in this worthy family, had it not been for the crabbed cook, who was finding fault and scolding at him from morning, till night; and was withal so fond of roasting and basting, that when the spit was out of her hands, she would be at basting poor Dick's head and shoulders with a broom, or anything else that happened to fall in her way; till at last her ill usage of him was told to Miss Alice, Mr. Fitzwarren's daughter, who asked the ill-tempered creature if she was not ashamed to use a little friendless boy so cruelly, and added, she would certainly be turned away if she did not treat him with more kindness.

But though the cook was so ill-tempered, Mr. Fitzwarren's footman was quite the contrary; he had lived in the family many years, was rather elderly, and had once a little boy of his own, who died when about the age of Whittington; so he could not but feel compassion for the poor boy.

As the footman was very fond of reading, he used generally in the evening to entertain his fellow-servants, when they had done their work, with some amusing look. The pleasure our little hero took in hearing him made him very much desire to learn to read too; so the next time the good-natured footman gave him a halfpenny, he bought a horn-hook with it; and, with a little of his help, Dick soon learned his letters, and afterwards to read.

About this time Miss Alice was going out one morning for a walk; and the footman happening to be out of the way, little Dick, who had received from Mr. Fitzwarren a neat suit of clothes, to go to church on Sundays, was ordered to put them on, and walk behind her. As they walked along, Miss Alice, seeing a poor woman with a child in her arms, and another at her back, pulled out her purse, and gave her some money; and as she was putting it again into her pocket, she dropped it on the ground, and walked on. Luckily Dick, who was behind, saw what she had done, picked it up, and immediately presented it to her.

Besides the ill-humour of the cook, which now, however, was somewhat mended, Whittington had another hardship to get over. This was, that his bed, which was of flock, was placed in a garret, where there were so many holes in the floor and walls, that he never went to bed without being awakened in his sleep by great numbers of rats and mice, which generally ran over his face, and made such a noise, that he sometimes thought the walls were tumbling down about him.

One day a gentleman who paid a visit to Mr. Fitzwarren, happened to have dirtied his shoes, and begged they might be cleaned. Dick took great pains to make them shine, and the gentleman gave him a penny. This he resolved to lay out in buying a cat, if possible and the next day, seeing a little girl with a cat under her arm, he went up to her, and asked if she would let him have it for a penny; to which the girl replied, she would with all her heart, for her mother had more cats than she could maintain; adding, that the one she had was an excellent mouser.

This cat Whittington hid in the garret, always taking care to carry her a part of his dinner: and in a short time he had no further disturbance from the rats and mice, but slept as sound as a top.

Soon after this, the merchant, who had a ship ready to sail, richly laden, and thinking it but just that all his servants should have some chance for good luck as well as himself. called them into the parlour, and asked them what commodity they chose to send.

All mentioned something they were willing to venture but poor Whittington, who, having no money nor goods, could send nothing at all, for which reason he did not come in with the rest; but Miss Alice, guessing what was the matter, ordered him to be called, and offered to lay down some money for him from her own purse; but this, the merchant observed, would not do, for it must be something of his own.

Upon this, poor Dick said he had nothing but a cat, which he bought for a penny that was given him.

"Fetch thy cat, boy," says Mr. Fitzwarren, "and let her go."

Whittington brought poor puss, and delivered her to the captain with tears in his eyes, for he said "He should now again be kept awake all night by the rats and nice."

All the company laughed at the oddity of Whittington's adventure, and Miss Alice, who felt the greatest pity for the poor boy, gave him some halfpence to buy another cat.

This, and several other marks of kindness shown by Miss Alice, made the ill-tempered cook so jealous of the favours the poor boy received that she began to use him more cruelly than ever, and constantly made game of him for sending his cat to sea, asking him if he thought it would sell for as much money as would buy a halter.

At last, the unhappy little fellow, being unable to bear this treatment any longer, determined to run away from his place. He accordingly picked up the few things that belonged to him, and set out very early in the morning on Allhallow Dav, which is the first of November. He travelled as far as Holloway, and there sat down on a stone, which to this day is called Whittington's Stone, and began to consider what course he should take.

While he was thus thinking what he could do, Bow-Bells, of which there were then only six, began to ring and it seemed to him that their sounds addressed him in this manner:

"Turn again Whittington,
Lord Mayor of London."

"Lord Mayor of London!" says he to himself. Why, to be sure, I would bear anything to be Lord Mayor of London, and ride in a fine coach! Well, I will go back, and think nothing of all the cuffing and scolding of old Cicely, if I am at last to be Lord Mayor of London."

So back went Dick, and got into the house, and set about his business before Cicely came down stairs.

The ship, with the cat on board. was long beaten about at sea, and was at last driven by contrary winds on a part of the coast of Barbary, inhabited by Moors that were unknown to the English.

The natives in this country came in great numbers, out of curiosity, to see the people on board, who were all of so different a colour from themselves, and treated them with great civility and, as they became better acquainted, showed marks of eagerness to purchase the fine things with which the ship was laden.

The captain, seeing this, sent patterns of the choicest articles he had to the king of the country, who was so much pleased with them, that he sent for the captain and the chief mate to the palace. Here they were placed, as is the custom of the country, on rich carpets flowered with gold and silver: and the king and queen being seated at the upper end of the room. dinner was brought in, which consisted of the greatest rarities. No sooner, however, were the dishes set before the company, than an amazing number of rats and mice rustled in, and helped themselves plentifully from ever dish, scattering pieces of flesh and gravy all about the place.

The captain, extremely astonished, asked if these vermin were not very offensive.

"Oh, yes," said they, "very offensive: and the king would give half his treasure to be free of them: for they not only destroy his dinner, but they disturb him even in his chamber, so that he is obliged to be watched while he sleeps."

The captain, who was ready to jump for joy, remembering poor Whittington's hard case, and the cat he had intrusted to his care, told him he had a creature on board his ship that would kill them all.

The king was still more overjoyed than the captain.

"Bring this creature to me," says he, "and if she can really perform what you say, I will load your ship with wedges of gold in exchange for her.''

Away flew the captain while another dinner was providing, to the ship, and taking puss under his arm, returned to the palace in time to see the table covered with rats and mice, and the second dinner in a fair to meet the same fate as the first.

The cat, at sight of them, did not wait for bidding, but sprang from the Captain;s arms, and in a few moments laid the greater part of the rats and mice dead at her feet, while the rest, in the greatest fright imaginable, scrambled away to their holes.

The kin, having seen and considered of the wonder-fill exploits of Mrs. Puss, and being informed she would soon have young ones, which might in time destroy all the rats and mice in the country, bargained with the captain for his whole ship's cargo, and afterwards agreed to give a prodigious quantity of wedges of gold, of still greater value, for the cat; with which, after taking leave of their majesties, and other great personages belonging to the court, he. with all his ship's company, set sail, with a fair wind for England, and, after a happy voyage, arrived safely in the port of London.

One morning, Mr. Fitzwarren had just entered his counting-house, and was going to seat himself at the desk, when who should arrive but the captain and the mate of the merchant-ship, the Unicorn, just arrived from the coast of Barbary, and followed by several men, bringing with them a prodigious quantity of wedges of gold that had been paid by the King of Barbary in exchange for the merchandise, and also in exchange for Mrs. Puss. Mr. Fitzwarren, the instant he heard the news, ordered Whittington to be called, and having desired him to be seated, said, "Mr. Whittington, most heartily do I 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 more riches than I possess in the whole world; and may you Iong enjoy them."

Mr. Fitzwarren then desired the men to open the immense treasures they had brought. and added that Mr. Whittington had now nothing to do but to put it in some place of safety.

Poor Dick could scarce contain himself for joy. He begged his master to take what part of it he pleased, since to his kindness he was indebted for the whole.

"No, no: this wealth is all your own, and justly so," answered Mr. Fitzwarren: "and I have no doubt you will use it generously."

Whittington was too kind-hearted to keep all for himself; and accordingly, made a handsome present to the captain, the mate, and every one of the ship's company, and afterwards to his excellent friend the footman, and the rest of Mr. Fitzwarren's servants, not even excepting crabbed old Cicelv.

After this, Mr. Fitzwarren advised him to send for trades people, and get himself dressed as became a gentleman; and made him the offer of his house to live in, till he could provide himself with a better.

When Mr. Whittington's face was washed, his hair curled, his hat cocked, and he was dressed in a fashionable suit of clothes. he appeared as handsome and gentil as any young man who visited at Mr. Fitzwarren's; so that Miss Alice, who had formerly thought of him with compassion, now considered him as fit to be her lover; and the more so, no doubt, because Mr. Whittington was constantly thinking what he could do to oblige her, and making her the prettiest presents imaginable.

Mr. Fitzwarren, perceiving their affection for each other, proposed to unite them in marriage, to which , without difficulty, they each consented; and accordingly the day for the wedding was fixed and they were attended to church by the lord mayor, the court of aldermen, the sheriff, and a great number of the wealthiest merchants in London; and the ceremony was succeeded by a most elegant entertainment and splendid ball.

History tells us that the said Mr. Whittington and his lady lived in great splendour, and were very happy, that they had several children; that he was sheriff of London in the year 1310, and several times afterwards Lord Mayor; that in the last year of his mayoralty he entertained King Henry the Fifth, on his return from the battle of Agincourt. And some time afterwards, going with an address from the city on one of His Majesty's victories, he received the honour of knight-hood.

Sir Richard Whittington constantly fed great numbers of the poor; he built a church and college to it, with a yearly allowance to poor scholars, and near it erected an hospital.

The effigy of Sir Richard Whittington was to be seen, with his cat in his arms, carved in stone, over the archway of the late prison of Newgate, that went across Newgate Street.


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