Dick Whittington and His Cat
"Turn again Whittington,
Lord Mayor of London."
That was a fine song to hear, and Dick began to pluck up heart again. Still the bells rang. It was very early; no one was yet astir at the merchant's house, and Dick, with new courage, took up his bundle, obeyed the bells, and walked quickly back to the house. He had left the door open, so he crept in and took up his daily task.
About this time, the ship which carried Dick's cat was driven by the winds, and came to a place on the Barbary coast, where the English seldom went. The people received the master of the ship well, and he traded with them. As his wares were new, they were very welcome. At last the king of that country, being greatly pleased, sent for the captain to come and dine at the palace.
The dinner was not set on a table, but the cloth was laid on the floor, as this was the custom of the country. The guests sat cross-legged before the feast. But when the dishes were set down, the smell of the dinner brought a great company of rats, and these rats helped themselves without fear.
The master of the ship was amazed, and asked the nobles if it was not very unpleasant to have this swarm of rats.
"Oh," said they, "very much so. The king would give half his wealth to be rid of them. They not only come to the table, but they make free with his chamber and even his bed."
"Well," said the captain, thinking at once of Dick's cat, "I have an English beast on board my ship which will quickly clear the palace of all the rats."
"Say you so?" said the king, when he heard of this. "For such a thing I will load your ship with gold, diamonds, and pearls." At that the shrewd captain made much of the cat.
"She is the most famous thing in the world," said he. "I cannot spare her, for she keeps my ship clear of rats, or else they would spoil all my goods." But the king would not take no for an answer.
"No price shall part us," he said. So the cat was sent for, and the table was again spread. The rats came as before, but the captain let the cat loose, and she made short work of them. Then she came purring and curling up her tail before the king, as if she would have her reward.
The king was so pleased with the cat, that he gave ten times more for her than for all the goods in the ship. Then the ship sailed away with a fair wind, and arrived safe at London. She was the richest ship that ever entered port.
The master took the box of pearls and jewels with him on shore, and went straight to the merchant's house. He gave his account to Mr. Fitzwarren, who was greatly pleased at the fortunate voyage, and called his servants together, to receive their profit. Then the master showed the box of pearls and jewels, and told the story of Whittington's cat, and how Puss had earned this wealth.
"Call Mr. Whittington," said Mr. Fitzwarren. "I will not take one farthing from him."
Now Dick was in the kitchen cleaning pots and pans. When he was told that the merchant had sent for "Mr. Whittington," he thought every one was making fun of him, and he would not go.
At last, he went as far as the door. The merchant bade him come in, and placed a chair for him. At that poor Dick was sure they were making fun of him, and the tears came into his eyes.
"I am only a simple fellow," he said. "I do not mean harm to any one. Do not mock me."
"Indeed, Mr. Whittington, we are serious with you," said the merchant. "You are a much richer man than I am," and he gave him the box of pearls and jewels worth quite three hundred thousand pounds.
At first Dick could not believe his good fortune. When at last he was persuaded, he fell upon his knees and thanked God who had been so good to him. Then he turned to his master and wished to give him of his wealth, but Mr. Fitzwarren said:—
"No, Mr. Whittington. I will not take a penny from you. It is all yours."
At that Dick turned to Mistress Alice, who also refused. He bowed low, and said:—
"Madam, whenever you please to make choice of a husband, I will make you the greatest fortune in the world."
Then he gave freely to his fellow servants. Even to his enemy, the cook, he gave a hundred pounds.
Richard Whittington was now a rich man. He laid aside his poor clothes, and was dressed well and handsomely. He had grown strong and tall in service, and was indeed a fine man to look upon.
He was well behaved and of a good mind and heart. Mr. Fitzwarren made him known to the other merchants, and let him see how business was carried on. Then, seeing that he was as honest and good as he was rich, he told Whittington that he might have his daughter in marriage.
At first, Dick felt himself unworthy of Mistress Alice. But he saw that she looked kindly on him, and he remembered how good she had been to him from the beginning. So he made bold to ask Mistress Alice to be his wife, and they had a grand wedding.
After the wedding was over, Mr. Fitzwarren asked him what he meant to do, and Mr. Whittington said he would like to be a merchant. So the two became partners, and grew to be very rich.
Rich as he was, this merchant never forgot that he was once poor Dick Whittington. The promise of Bow Bells came true, and three times he was chosen Lord Mayor of London. He fed the hungry, and cared for the poor.
When he was Lord Mayor of London the third time, it was his duty to receive King Henry V and his queen at Guildhall, which was the Mayor's palace. It was just after a famous war with France, which England had won.
The king, at the feast, made the lord mayor a knight, so that now he was Sir Richard Whittington. There was a very pleasant fire on the hearth at the time. It was made of choice wood. Mace and other spices were mixed with the wood. The king praised the fire, and Sir Richard said,—"I will make it still more pleasant." At that he threw upon the flames one piece of paper after another. They were the written promises of the king, to pay back money lent to him by London Merchants, when he was carrying on the war. Sir Richard had bought them for sixty thousand pounds. That was the way he paid the king's debt, for now there was nothing to show that the king owed anything.
This is the story of Dick Whittington and his cat. How much is true, and how much was made up, I do not know, for what happened took place five hundred years ago.