Dick Whittington And His Cat

In the reign of King Edward the Third there lived in a small country village a poor couple, named Whittington, who had a son called Dick. His parents dying when he was very young, he could scarcely remember them at all; and as he was not old enough to work, he was for a long time very badly off, until a kind but poor old woman took compassion on him, and made her little cottage his home. She always gave him good advice, made him industrious and well behaved, and he became quite a favorite in the village.

At fourteen he had grown up to be a stout, good-looking lad, and the good old woman dying, he had to look out for himself. He had heard much about the wonderful city of London; and he felt very curious to go there, and see it with his own eyes; hoping in so great and wealthy a place he should get on better than he could in a poor country village.

On a fine summer’s morning he boldly started on his journey, with but a trifle of money in his pocket. When he had walked on for some hours, he felt extremely tired, and was rather alarmed as to how he was to get over the long journey. Soon a heavy wagon advancing along the road to London was overtaken. Dick, without much ado, told the wagoner his plan, and begged him for a lift until he was sufficiently rested to allow him to walk again. This was agreed to, and so, partly by riding, and partly by walking side by side with the wagoner, Dick managed to reach the great city.

His heart beat with joy at being really in London, but he was a little disappointed. He had fancied a grander and richer sort of place than it first seemed to him. A very common mistake, indeed.

After Dick had parted with the wagoner, he had only a groat left of his money; a night’s lodging and a scanty meal exhausted this, and after wandering for a whole day, and feeling so weary and faint from fatigue and hunger, he threw himself down in a doorway, and slept soundly until morning. On awakening and observing on the door above him a curious-looking knocker, he thought there could be no great harm if he lifted the knocker, and waited to see who should appear.

The house belonged to a worthy merchant of the name of Fitzwarren, who had a daughter called Alice, of about the same age as Dick. A sour-looking, ill-tempered woman opened the door, and seeing it was a poor wornout-looking country lad who had disturbed her breakfast, she began to abuse him roughly and to order him away. Luckily, Mr. Fitzwarren, who was a benevolent, courteous gentleman, came up to the door at this moment, and listened attentively to the poor lad’s story; and being struck with its truthful aspect, he kindly ordered Dick to be taken into the house, and cared for until he should be able to get his living decently.

Alice overheard all this, and did all she could to save Dick from the ill-will and harsh treatment of the cook. Her parents agreed Dick should remain in the house if he would make himself useful. This, however, was not easy, for the cook never liked the boy, and took every opportunity to spite him. She made him sleep on a wretched hard bed, in an old loft, infested with rats and mice. Dick dared not to complain; so he bore with this trouble as long as he could, and resolved at length, when he should have money enough, to buy himself a cat.

A very few days from this, a poor woman passing by the door offered to sell him a cat for a penny. Dick took his prize up to his loft, and kept her in an old wicker basket out of the cook’s sight, as he feared she would do the cat a mischief. Now and then he would take Pussy with him when he went out on errands, so that they soon became great friends. Pussy was a capital mouser, and very soon got rid of the rats and mice, and was very clever and quick in learning many tricks that her master taught her.

One day, when Dick was amusing himself with her antics, he was surprised by Alice, who became as fond of the cat as Dick was himself. This young lady always remained the poor lad’s friend, and cheered him up under the hard usage of the cook, who oft-times beat him severely. Alice was not beautiful, but, what was of greater real value, she was truly amiable in disposition, and had the most agreeable manners. It was no wonder, then, that Whittington, smarting under ill-treatment, should regard his kind young mistress as an angel; while the modesty of the youth, his correct conduct, his respectful demeanor, and his love of truth, interested Alice so much in his behalf, that she persuaded her father to let him be taught to write — for he could already read. The progress he made in this, and in acquiring further knowledge, was astonishing.

Mr. Fitzwarren was a merchant; and it was his custom whenever one of his ships went out, to call his family and ask them all in turn to make a little venture or speculation under charge of the captain. Poor Whittington was absent when this next happened; he, poor fellow, felt ashamed that he possessed nothing of value to send as his venture. But he was called for, and told that he must produce something — no matter what — to try his luck. He then burst into tears, from very vexation and shame, when Alice whispered in his ear, “Send your cat, Dick,” and forthwith he was ordered to take Pussy, his faithful friend and companion, on board, and place her in the hands of the captain. The mouser’s good qualities were made known to the captain, so that he might make the most of her for Dick’s benefit.

After his loss Dick felt rather sorrowful, and this was not lessened by the taunts and jeers of his old enemy, the cook, who used to tease him constantly about his “fine venture,” and the great fortune he was to make by it. Poor fellow! She led him a miserable life; and as his young mistress, besides, was soon after absent from home on a visit, he lost heart entirely, and could no longer bear to live in the same house with his tormentor.

So he resolved to quit Mr Fitzwarren’s house, and started off accordingly one morning very early, unobserved by any one, and wandered to the foot of Highgate Hill. Tired and wretched, he flung himself upon a large stone by the roadside, which is called Whittington’s Stone to this day. He presently sank into a sort of doze, from which he was roused by the sound of Bow bells, that began to ring a peal, as it was Allhallows Day. As he listened he fancied he could make out the following words:

“TURN AGAIN, WHITTINGTON,
LORD MAYOR OF LONDON.”

A hope was awakened within him as he kept repeating these words after the bells. So distinctly did they appear be addressed to him, that he was resolved to bear any hardships rather than check his way to fortune by idle repining. So he made the best of his way home again. Luckily he got into the house without his absence having been noticed.

He exerted himself now more than ever to make himself useful, especially to his worthy master and young mistress, and succeeded beyond his expectation; almost everybody saw that he tried to do his duty, and to excel in all he attempted to do. Alice was more and more satisfied, and heard with pleasure of the great progress he was making in his studies. But the cook continued as surly as ever.

Mr. Fitzwarren’s ship, the “Unicorn,” was all this time slowly pursuing her voyage to Africa. In those days navigation was but little understood, and much greater dangers were recurred through ignorance than is now the case. The “Unicorn” was unlucky and met with much foul weather; and was so tossed about that she lost her reckoning; but what was worse, owing to her being so long away, her provisions were nearly exhausted, and all on board began to despair of ever returning to England. All through this dreadful period Whittington’s cat was kept alive and well, and this no doubt was owing to the great care taken of her by the captain himself, who had not forgotten the interest Alice had expressed to him about the cat. Pussy was thus preserved from death and contrived to bring up a little family of kittens during the voyage: their funny tricks greatly diverted the sailors, and helped to keep them in good humor when they began to feel discontented.

One day land was descried and proved to be a wealthy kingdom of Africa. The inhabitants, who were copper-colored, were hospitable, and much pleased to be visited by the ships of white men. The King, as soon as he heard of the arrival of the “Unicorn,” sent some of his great men to invite the captain and a few of his companions to visit his Court, and to dine with him and his Queen.

A grand dinner, in the fashion of the country, was provided; and great good humor and cordiality prevailed until the dishes were placed on the table, when the white visitors were astonished at the appearance of rats and mice in vast numbers, which came from their hiding-places, and devoured nearly all the viands in a very short time. The King and Queen seemed to regard this as no uncommon event, although they felt quite ashamed it should occur at this time.

When the captain found that there was no such animal as a cat known in the country, he thought of asking permission to introduce Whittington’s cat at Court, feeling convinced that Pussy would soon get rid of the abominable rats and mice that infested it. The royal pair and the whole Court listened to the account of the cat’s qualities as a mouser with wonder and delight, and were impatient to see her talents put to proof. Puss was accordingly taken ashore, and a fresh repast having been prepared, which, on being served up was about to be attacked in a similar way to the previous one, she sprang in a moment among the crowd of rats and mice, killing several, and putting the rest to flight in less than the space of a minute.

Nothing could exceed the satisfaction caused by this event. The King and Queen and all the courtiers did not know how to make enough of Pussy, and they became more and more fond of her when they found how gentle and playful she could be. The captain was much pressed to leave this valuable cat with his black friends, and he, thinking that they would no doubt make a right royal return for so precious a gift, readily acceded. The Queen’s attachment to Puss knew no bounds, and she felt great alarm lest any accident should befall her, fearing that in that case the odious rats and mice would return more ferocious than ever.

The Queen had a tender heart, and when she had heard from the captain all the particulars of Whittington’s story, and of the poor lad’s great regret at parting with his cat, she felt quite loth to deprive him of his favorite, especially when Pussy’s kittens, which had also been brought from the ship, were found to be quite able to frighten away the rats and mice. So the cat was taken on board again. The gratitude of the King and Queen for the important services rendered by Pussy and her family was manifested in the rich treasures they sent to Whittington as the owner of the wonderful cat.

The captain, having completed his business and refitted his ship as well, took leave of his African friends, and set sail for England; and after a very long voyage safely arrived in London. When the captain called upon the merchant, the latter was very curious to hear of the perils encountered and the strange sights witnessed by the captain. Alice, in particular, wanted to know what had befallen Dick’s cat, and what was the success of his venture. When the captain had explained all, he added that Whittington ought to be told very cautiously, otherwise his good luck might make him lose his wits. But Mr. Fitzwarren would hear of no delay, and had him sent for at once.

Poor Dick at that moment had just been basted by the cook with a ladle of dripping, and was quite ashamed to appear in such a plight before company. But all his woes were soon forgotten when the merchant told him of his good fortune, and especially when he added that it was a just reward granted by Heaven for his patience under hard trials, and for his good conduct and industry.

When the boxes and bales containing the treasures given by the King and Queen to the owner of the cat, and marked outside with a large W, were displayed, the astonished youth burst into tears, and implored his master to take all if he would, but continue to be his friend. But the merchant would touch none of it, declaring it to belong to Whittington, and to him alone.

Before the captain took his leave, he said to Dick playfully, “I have another present for you from the African Queen,” and calling to a sailor, ordered him to bring up Puss, which was done to the great joy of her former master; and right happy was she to see him again, purring round him, and rubbing her head against his face when he took her up in his arms. For the rest of her days she continued to live with her grateful master.

Dick made a liberal and proper use of his wealth. Mr. Fitzwarren constantly refused Whittington’s earnest wishes that he would accept at least some of his great wealth, but he agreed to become his guardian and the manager of his property until he should be of age. Under his prudent counsel Whittington grew up to be a thriving merchant, and a wise and good citizen. With all this success he never lost his old modesty of behavior; and deeply as he loved Alice, he for a long time delayed to make his secret known to her father; but the kind merchant had long suspected the fact, and at last taxed Richard with it. He could not deny it, but found he had no cause to regret having opened his heart to Mr. Fitzwarren. On Whittington’s coming of age, he was rewarded with the hand of Alice, who fully shared his love, having long secretly regarded him with favor.

Whittington rose in eminence every year, and was universally esteemed. He served in Parliament, was knighted also, and was thrice Lord Mayor of London; thus fulfilling the prophecy uttered, as he had fancied, by Bow bells. When he served that office for the third time, it was during the reign of Harry the Fifth, just after that great king had conquered France. Sir Richard entertained him and his Queen in such great style that the King was pleased to say, “Never prince had such a subject!” to which it has been said the Lord Mayor loyally replied, “Never subject had such a prince!”

At this entertainment the King was much pleased with a fire made from choice woods and fragrant spices, upon which Sir Richard said he would add something that would make the fire burn more brightly for the pleasure of his sovereign, when he threw into the flames various bonds given by the King for money borrowed of the citizens to carry on the war with France, and which Sir Richard had called in and discharged, to the amount of sixty thousand pounds — to the admiration of all who witnessed this act of patriotic generosity.

After a long life, this good man, who nobly distinguished himself by public works and acts of charity — by many of which he is still kept in memory — died, universally regretted, having survived Alice, his wife, about twenty years.

[This story is loosely based on real people and true events. Click here to read about the real Richard Whittington.]


One Response to “Dick Whittington And His Cat”

  1. Dick Whittington is related to Alan B. Hall, the hero who gave his life saving a young girl!

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