James Baldwin

Whittington and His Cat

Part 1 of 2


I. THE CITY

THERE was once a little boy whose name was Richard Whittington; but everybody called him Dick. His father and mother had died when he was only a babe, and the people who had the care of him were very poor. Dick was not old enough to work, and so he had a hard time of it indeed. Sometimes he had no breakfast, and sometimes he had no dinner; and he was glad at any time to get a crust of bread or a drop of milk.

Now, in the town where Dick lived, the people liked to talk about London. None of them had ever been to the great city, but they seemed to know all about the wonderful things which were to be seen there. They said that all the folks who lived in London were fine gentlemen and ladies; that there was singing and music there all day [141] long; that nobody was ever hungry there, and nobody had to work; and that the streets were all paved with gold.

Dick listened to these stories, and wished that he could go to London.

One day a big wagon drawn by eight horses, all with bells on their heads, drove into the little town. Dick saw the wagon standing by the inn, and he thought that it must be going to the fine city of London.

When the driver came out and was ready to start, the lad ran up and asked him if he might walk by the side of the wagon. The driver asked him some questions; and when he learned how poor Dick was, and that he had neither father nor mother, he told him that he might do as he liked.

It was a long walk for the little lad; but by and by he came to the city of London. He was in such a hurry to see the wonderful sights, that he forgot to thank the driver of the wagon. He ran as fast as he could, from one street to another, trying to find those that were paved with gold. He had once seen a piece of money that was gold, and he knew that it would buy a great, great many things; and now he thought that if he could get only a little bit of the pavement, he would have everything that he wanted.

[142] Poor Dick ran till he was so tired that he could run no farther. It was growing dark, and in every street there was only dirt instead of gold. He sat down in a dark corner, and cried himself to sleep.

When he woke up the next morning, he was very hungry; but there was not even a crust of bread for him to eat. He forgot all about the golden pavements, and thought only of food. He walked about from one street to another, and at last grew so hungry that he began to ask those whom he met to give him a penny to buy something to eat.

"Go to work, you idle fellow," said some of them; and the rest passed him by without even looking at him.

"I wish I could go to work!" said Dick.

II. THE KITCHEN

By and by Dick grew so faint and tired that he could go no farther. He sat down by the door of a fine house, and wished that he was back again in the little town where he was born. The cook-maid, who was just getting dinner, saw him, and called out,—

"What are you doing there, you little beggar? If you don't get away quick, I'll throw a panful of hot dish-water over you. Then I guess you will jump."

[143] Just at that time the master of the house, whose name was Mr. Fitzwarren, came home to dinner. When he saw the ragged little fellow at his door, he said,—

"My lad, what are you doing here? I am afraid you are a lazy fellow, and that you want to live without work."

"No, indeed!" said Dick. "I would like to work, if I could find anything to do. But I do not know anybody in this town, and I have not had anything to eat for a long time."

"Poor little fellow!" said Mr. Fitzwarren. "Come in, and I will see what I can do for you." And he ordered the cook to give the lad a good dinner, and then to find some light work for him to do.

Little Dick would have been very happy in the new home which he had thus found, if it had not been for the cross cook. She would often say,—

"You are my boy now, and so you must do as I tell you. Look sharp there! Make the fires, carry out the ashes, wash these dishes, sweep the floor, bring in the wood! Oh, what a lazy fellow you are!" And then she would box his ears, or beat him with the broomstick.

At last, little Alice, his master's daughter, saw how he was treated, and she told the cook she would be turned off if she was not kinder to the [144] lad. After that, Dick had an easier time of it; but his troubles were not over yet, by any means.

His bed was in a garret at the top of the house, far away from the rooms where the other people slept. There were many holes in the floor and walls, and every night a great number of rats and mice came in. They tormented Dick so much, that he did not know what to do.

One day a gentleman gave him a penny for cleaning his shoes, and he made up his mind that he would buy a cat with it. The very next morning he met a girl who was carrying a cat in her arms.

"I will give you a penny for that cat," he said.

"All right," the girl said. "You may have her, and you will find that she is a good mouser too."

Dick hid his cat in the garret, and every day he carried a part of his dinner to her. It was not long before she had driven all the rats and mice away; and then Dick could sleep soundly every night.

III. THE VENTURE

Some time after that, a ship that belonged to Mr. Fitzwarren was about to start on a voyage across the sea. It was loaded with goods which [145] were to be sold in lands far away. Mr. Fitzwarren wanted to give his servants a chance for good fortune too, and so he called all of them into the parlor, and asked if they had anything they would like to send out in the ship for trade.

"Every one had something to send,—every one but Dick; and as he had neither money nor goods, he staid in the kitchen, and did not come in with the rest. Little Alice guessed why he did not come, and so she said to her papa,—

"Poor Dick ought to have a chance too. Here is some money out of my own purse that you may put in for him."

"No, no, my child!" said Mr. Fitzwarren. "He must risk something of his own." And then he called very loud, "Here, Dick! What are you going to send out on the ship?"

Dick heard him, and came into the room.

"I have nothing in the world," he said, "but a cat which I bought some time ago for a penny."

"Fetch your cat, then, my lad," said Mr. Fitzwarren, "and let her go out. Who knows but that she will bring you some profit?"

Dick, with tears in his eyes, carried poor puss down to the ship, and gave her to the captain. Everybody laughed at his queer venture; [146] but little Alice felt sorry for him, and gave him money to buy another cat.


[Illustration]

After that, the cook was worse than before. She made fun of him for sending his cat to sea. "Do you think," she would say, "that puss will sell for enough money to buy a stick to beat you?"

[147] At last Dick could not stand her abuse any longer, and he made up his mind to go back to his old home in the little country town. So, very early in the morning on All-hallows Day, he started. He walked as far as the place called Holloway, and there he sat down on a stone, which to this day is called "Whittington's Stone."

As he sat there very sad, and wondering which way he should go, he heard the bells on Bow Church, far away, ringing out a merry chime. He listened. They seemed to say to him,—

"Turn again, Whittington,

Thrice Lord Mayor of London."

"Well, well!" he said to himself. "I would put up with almost anything, to be Lord Mayor of London when I am a man, and to ride in a fine coach! I think I will go back and let the old cook cuff and scold as much as she pleases."

Dick did go back, and he was lucky enough to get into the kitchen, and set about his work, before the cook came downstairs to get breakfast.