Gateway to the Classics: The Book of Fables and Folk Stories by Horace E. Scudder
The Book of Fables and Folk Stories by  Horace E. Scudder

Dick Whittington and His Cat

Dick Goes to London

In the olden times there lived in the country, in England, a boy by the name of Dick Whittington. He did not know who his parents were, for he had been born and brought up in the poorhouse. There he was cruelly treated. When he was seven years of age, he ran away and lived by what he could get from kind people.

He heard that the streets of London were paved with gold. Being now a sturdy youth, he set out for the city to make his fortune. He did not know the way, but he fell in with a carter, who was bound for London, and he followed the cart. When night came, he helped the carter by rubbing down the horses, and for this he was paid with a supper.

He trudged on day after day, until they came to the famous city. The carter was afraid Dick would hang about him and give him trouble. So he gave him a penny and told him to begone and find some work.

Dick went from street to street, but he knew no one. He was ragged and forlorn, and looked like a beggar. Nobody gave him anything to do. Once in a while some one gave him something to eat, but at last he had nothing.

For two days he went about hungry and almost starved, but he would rather starve than steal. At the end of the second day he came to a merchant's house in Leadenhall Street, and stood before it, weary and faint. The ill-natured cook saw him and came out and said:—

"Go away from here, or I will kick you away!" He crept off a little distance and lay down on the ground, for he was too weak to stand. As he lay there, the merchant who lived in the house came home, and stopped to speak to him. He spoke sharply, and told him to get up, that it was a shame for him to be lying there.

Poor Dick got up, and after falling once, through faintness and want of food, made out to say that he was a poor country boy, nearly starved. He would do any work if he might have food.

Mr. Fitzwarren, the merchant, took pity on him. He brought him into the house, and bade the servants look after him. He gave him a place under the cook, and this was the beginning of Dick's fortune. But Dick had a hard time of it. The servants made sport of him. The ill-natured cook said:—

"Do you know what you are to do? You are to come under me. So look sharp. Clean the spits and the pans, make the fires, wind up the roasting-jack, and do nimbly all the dirty work I set you about, or else I will break your head with my ladle, and kick you about like a foot-ball."

This was cold comfort, but it was better than starving. What gave him more hope was the kind notice he had from his master's daughter, Mistress Alice. She heard Dick's story from her father, and called for the boy. She asked him questions, and he was so honest in his answers, that she went to her father, and said:—

"That poor boy whom you brought into the house is a good, honest fellow. I am sure he will be very useful. He can clean shoes, and run errands, and do many things which our servants do not like to do."

Dick's Cat

So Dick was kept and a cot bed was given him in the garret. He was up early and worked late. He left nothing undone that was given him to do. For all that, he could not please the cook, who was very sour to him. Still, he bore her blows rather than leave so good a home. Then the cook told tales about him, and tried to get him sent away, but Mistress Alice heard of it. She knew how ill-tempered the cook was, and so she made her father keep Dick.

This was not the whole of Dick Whittington's trouble. The garret where he lay at night had long been empty, and a great number of mice had made their home in it. They ran over Dick's face, and kept up such a racket that he knew not which was worse, the cook by day or the mice by night.

He could only hope that the cook might marry or get tired of the place, and that he might in some way get a cat. It chanced, soon after, that a merchant came to dinner, and as it rained hard, he stayed all night. In the morning Dick cleaned the merchant's shoes and brought them to his door. For this service the merchant gave him a penny.

As he went through the street on an errand that morning, he saw a woman with a cat under her arm. He asked her the price of the cat.

"It is a good mouser," said the woman: "you may have it for a sixpence."

"But I have only a penny," said Dick. The woman found that she really could get nothing more, so she sold the cat to Dick for a penny. He brought it home, and kept it out of the way all day for fear the cook would see it. At night he took the cat up to the garret, and made her work for her living. Puss soon rid him of one plague.

When Mr. Fitzwarren sent out a ship to trade with far countries, he used to call his servants together, and give each a chance to make some money, by sending out goods in the ship. He thought that thus his ship had better fortune.

Now he was again making a venture, and each of the servants brought something to send; all but Whittington. Mistress Alice saw that he did not come, and she sent for him, meaning to give him some simple goods, that he too might have a share in the venture.

When, after many excuses, he was obliged to appear, he fell on his knees, and prayed them not to jeer at a poor boy. He had nothing he could claim for his own but a cat, which he had bought with a penny given him for cleaning shoes.

Upon this Mistress Alice offered to lay something down for him. But her father told her the custom was for each to send something of his own. So he bade Dick bring his cat, which he did with many tears, and gave her over to the master of the ship.

The cook, and indeed all the servants, after this plagued Dick, and jeered at him so much for sending his cat, that he could bear it no longer. He said to himself that he would leave the house and try his fortune elsewhere.

Bow Bells

He packed his bundle one night, and the next day, early, set forth to seek his fortune. He left the house behind, but his heart began to sink. However, he would not turn back, but kept on. At last he sat down in the field to think.


Just then the Bow Bells, that is, the bells of a church in Bow Street, began to ring merrily. Dick heard them, and as they rang, he fancied he heard them sing,—

"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.

Lord Mayor Whittington

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.

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