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The Children's Book by  Horace E. Scudder
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THE HISTORY OF SIR RICHARD WHITTINGTON AND HIS CAT

RICHARD WHITTINGTON was supposed to have been an outcast, for he did not know his parents, who either died, or had left him to the parish of Taunton Dean, in Somersetshire. As he grew up, being displeased with the cruel usage of his nurse, he ran away from her at seven years of age, and traveled about the country, living upon the charity of well-disposed persons, till he came to be a fine sturdy youth; when at last, being threatened with a whipping if he continued in that idle course of life, he resolved to go to London, having heard that the streets were paved with gold.

Not knowing the way, he followed the carrier; and at night, for the little services he did him in rubbing his horses, he got from him a supper. When he arrived in this famous city, the carrier, supposing he would be a troublesome hanger-on, told him plainly he must leave the inn, and immediately seek for employment, giving him a groat. With this poor Whittington wandered about, but not knowing any one, and being in a tattered garb, some pitied him as a forlorn, destitute wretch, and few gave him anything.

What he had got being soon spent, his stomach craved supply; but not having anything to satisfy it, he resolved rather to starve that steal.

After two hungry days, and lying on the bulkheads at night, weary and faint, he came to a merchant's house in Leadenball Street, where he showed many signs of his distressed condition. The ill-natured cook was ready to kick him from the door, saying, "If you tarry here, I will kick you into the kennel." This put him almost into despair, so he laid himself down on the ground being unable to go any farther.

In the mean time, Mr. Fitzwarren, whose house it was, came home from the Royal Exchange, and, seeing him there in that condition, demanded what he wanted, and sharply told him, if he did not immediately depart, he would cause him to be sent to the house of correction, calling him a lazy, idle fellow.

On this he got up, and after falling two or three times, through faintness and want of food, he made a bow, telling him he was a poor country fellow, in a starving condition, and that, if he [110] might be put in a way, he would refuse no labor, if it was only for his victuals. This raised a Christian compassion in the merchant towards him, and wanting a scullion then, he immediately ordered one of his servants to take him in, and give him some food until orders were given how he should be employed. And so he was feasted, to his great refreshment.


[Illustration]

This was the first step of Providence to raise him to what in time made him the city's glory and the nation's wonder. But he met with many difficulties, for the servants made sport of him, and the ill-natured cook told him, "You are to come under me; so look sharp, clean the spits and the dripping-pan, make the fires, wind up the jack, and nimbly do all other scullery work that I may 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 better than starving; and what gave him a beam of hope was that Mistress Alice, his master's daughter, hearing her father had entertained another servant, came to see him, and ordered that he should be kindly used. After she had discoursed with him about his kindred and method of life, and found his answers ingenuous, she ordered him some cast-off garments, and that he should be cleaned, and appear like a servant in the house.

Then she went to her parents, and gave them her opinion of this stranger, which pleased them well, saying, "He looks like a serviceable fellow to do kitchen drudgery, run on errands, clean shoes, and do such other things as the rest of the servants think beneath them."

By this he was confirmed in his place, and a flock bed prepared in the garret for him. These circumstances pleased him, and he showed great diligence in his work, rising early and sitting up late, leaving nothing undone that he could do. But being mostly under the cook-maid, he had but sour sauce to these little sweets; for as she was of a morose temper, she used her authority beyond reason; so that, to keep in the family, he went with many a broken head, bearing it patiently, and the more he tried with good words to dissuade her from her cruelty, the more she insulted him, and not only abused him, but frequently complained about him, endeavoring to get him turned out of his service. But Mistress Alice, hearing of her usage, interposed in his favor, so that she could not prevail against him.

This was not the only misery he suffered, for, lying in a place for a long time unfrequented, such abundance of rats and mice had bred there, that they were almost as troublesome by night as the cook was by day. They ran over his face, and disturbed him with their squeaking, so that he knew not what to think of his condition or how to mend it.

After many disquieting thoughts, he at last comforted himself with the hope that the cook might soon marry, or die, or quit her service, and as for the rats and mice, a cat would be an effect- [111] ual remedy against them. Soon after, a merchant came to dinner, and, as it rained hard, he stayed all night. Whittington having cleaned his shoes, and brought them to his chamber-door, received from him a penny.

This stock he improved, for, going along the street of an errand, he saw a woman with a cat under her arm; so he desired to know the price of it. The woman praised it for a good mouser, and told him, sixpence. But he declaring that a penny was all his stock, she let him have it. He brought the cat home, and kept her in a box all day, lest the cook should kill her if she came into the kitchen, and at night he set her to work for her living. Puss delivered him from one plague; but the other remained, though not for many years.

It was the custom with the worthy merchant, Mr. Hugh Fitzwarren, that God might give a greater blessing to his endeavors, to call his servants together when he sent out a ship, and cause every one to venture something in it, to try their fortunes, for which they were to pay nothing for freight or custom.

Now all but Whittington appeared, and brought things according to their abilities. But Mistress Alice being by, and supposing poverty made him decline coming, ordered him to be called, on which he made several excuses; however, being constrained to come, he fell on his knees, desiring them not to jeer at a poor simple boy in expectation that he was going to turn merchant, since all that he could claim as his own was but a poor cat, which he had bought for a penny that had been given him for cleaning shoes, and which had much befriended him in keeping off rats and mice.

Upon this Mistress Alice offered to lay something down for him; but her father told her the custom was, it must be his own which he ventured, and ordered him to fetch his cat. This he did, but with great reluctance, fancying nothing would come of it, and with some tears delivered her to the master of the ship, which was called the Universe, and which fell down to Blackwell in order to proceed on her voyage.

The cook-maid, who little thought how advantageous Whittington's cat would prove, when she did not scold at him would jeer at him about his grand adventure, and led him such a life that he grew weary of enduring it. Little expecting what ensued, he resolved, rather to try Dame Fortune than live in such great torment. So, having packed up his bundle over night, he got out early on All-hallows Day, intending to ramble about the country.

But as he went through the Moorfields, he began to have pensive thoughts, and his resolutions began to fail. However, he went on to Holloway, and sat down to consider the matter, when on a sudden Bow bells began to ring a merry peal. He listened, fancied they called him back from his intended journey, and promised him the good fortune that afterwards befell him. He thought they sang,—

"Turn again, Whittington,

Lord Mayor of London."



[Illustration]

This was a happy thought for him, and it made so great an impression on him, that finding it early, and that he might be at home before the family were stirring, he delayed not. All things answered his expectation, for, having left the door ajar, he crept softly in, and got to his usual drudgery.

During this time the ship in which the cat was was driven by contrary winds on to the coast of Barbary, a place unknown to the English. Finding the people courteous, the master and factor traded with them. Bringing their wares of sundry sorts upon the decks, and opening them, they suited them so well that the news was carried to the king, who sent for patterns, with which he was so pleased that he sent for the factor to his palace.

Their entertainment, according to custom, was on the floor, which was covered with carpets interwoven with gold and silver, and on which they sat cross-legged. This kind of table was no sooner laid with various dishes but the scent drew together a great number of rats and mice, which devoured all that came their way; this much surprised the factor, who asked the nobles if these vermin were not offensive.

[112] "Oh," said they, "very much so. His majesty would give half his revenue to be freed from them; for they are not only at his table, but his chamber and bed are so troubled with them that he is always watched for fear of mischief." The factor then remembering Whittington's cat, and rejoicing at the occasion, told them that he had an English beast in the ship which would rid all the court of them quickly.

The king was overjoyed at hearing the good news, and being anxious to be freed from those vermin, which much spoiled his pleasure, disturbed his mind, and made all his enjoyments burdensome, desired to see this surprising creature, saying, "For such a thing, I will load your ship with gold, diamonds, and pearls." This large offer made the master endeavor to enhance the cat's merits. "She is the most admirable creature in the world," he said; "and I cannot spare her, for she keeps my ship clear of them, otherwise, they would destroy all my goods." But his majesty would take no denial, saying, "No price shall part us."

The cat being sent for, and the tables being spread, the vermin came as before; then putting her on the table, she fell to work at once, and killed them in a trice. Then she came purring and curling up her tail to the king and queen, as if she asked a reward for her service; whilst they admired her, protesting it was the finest diversion they had ever seen.

The Moorish king was so pleased with the cat that he gave ten times more for her than all the freight besides. The ship then sailed with a fair wind, and arrived safe at Blackwall, being the richest ship that ever arrived in England. The master taking the cabinet of jewels with him on shore, for they were too rich a prize to be left on board, presented his bill of lading to Mr. Fitzwarren who praised God for such a prosperous voyage.

[113] But when he called all of his servants to give each his due, the master showed him the cabinet of pearls and jewels, and on being told it was all for Whittington's cat, Mr. Fitzwarren said, "God forbid that I should deprive him of one farthing of it," and so he sent for him by the title of Mr. Whittington, who was then in the kitchen cleaning pots and spits. Being told he must come to his master, he made several excuses; but, being urged to go, he at length came to the door, and there stood bowing and scraping, scrupling to enter until the merchant commanded him in, and ordered a chair to be immediately set for him; on which he, thinking they intended to make sport of him, fell on his knees, and with tears in his eyes besought them not to mock a simple fellow, who meant none of them any harm.

Mr. Fitzwarren, raising him up, said, "Indeed, Mr. Whittington, we are serious with you, for in estate at this instant you are an abler man than myself," and then he gave him the vast riches, which amounted to three hundred thousand pounds.

At length, being persuaded to believe, he fell upon his knees, and praised God, who had vouchsafed to behold so poor a creature in the midst of his misery. Then turning to his master, he laid his riches at his feet; but he said, "No, Mr. Whittington; God forbid that I should take so much as a ducat from you; it may be a comfort to you."

Whittington then turned to Mistress Alice, but she also refused it; upon which, bowing low, he said to her, "Madam, whenever you please to make choice of a husband, I will make you the greatest fortune in the world." Upon this he began to distribute his bounty to his fellow-servants, giving even his mortal enemy the cook one hundred pounds for her portion; she saying she was in a passion, he freely forgave her.

Upon this change the haberdashers, drapers, tailors, and sempstresses were set to work to make Mr. Whittington fine clothes, and all things answerable to his fortune. Being dressed, he appeared a very comely person, insomuch that Mistress Alice began to lay her eyes about him. Now, her father, seeing this, intended a match between them, looking upon him as a fortunate man. He also took him to the Royal Exchange to see the customs of the merchants, where he was no sooner known than they came to welcome him into their society.

Soon after this a match was proposed between him and his master's daughter, when he excused himself on account of the meanness of his birth; but that objection being removed by his present worth, it was soon agreed on, and the lord mayor and aldermen were invited to the wedding. After the honeymoon was over, his father-in-law asked him what employment he would follow, where upon he replied, he should like that of a merchant. So they joined together in partnership, and both grew immensely rich.

Though fortune had thus bountifully smiled on the subject of our history, he was far from being proud. He was, on the contrary, very merry, which made his company and acquaintance courted by all. In a short time he was nominated Sheriff of London, in the year 1393, Sir John Hadley then being lord mayor.

Thus he grew in riches and fame, being greatly beloved by all, especially the poor, whose hunger he always supplied. In five years' time he was chosen lord mayor, in which office he behaved with such justice and prudence that he was chosen to the same office twice afterwards.

In the last he entertained King Henry V., after his conquest of France, and his queen at Guildhall, in such a very grand manner, that the king was pleased to say, "Never prince had such a subject," and conferred upon him the honor of knighthood. At the entertainment the king particularly praised the fire, which was made of choice wood, mixed with mace, cinnamon, and all other spices. On which Sir Richard said he would endeavor to make one still more agreeable to his majesty, and immediately tore and threw into the fire the king's bond for ten thousand marks due to the company of mercers; two thousand five hundred to the Chambers of London; two thousand [114] to the grocers; and to the staplers, goldsmiths, haberdashers, vintners, brewers, and bakers, three thousand marks each.

"All these," said Sir Richard, "with divers others, lent for the payment of your soldiers in France, I have taken in and discharged, to the amount of sixty thousand pounds sterling; can your majesty wish to see another sight?" The king and nobles were struck dumb with surprise at his wealth and liberality.

Sir Richard spent the rest of his days honored by the rich and beloved by the poor. He had by his wife two sons and two daughters, some of whose posterity were worthy citizens. He built many charitable houses, also a church in Vintry Ward, dedicated to St. Michael, adding to this a college, dedicated to St. Mary, with a yearly allowance for poor scholars, near which he erected a hospital, called God's house, and well endowed it. There he caused his father-in-law and mother-in-law to be buried, and left room for himself and wife when death should call them. He built Newgate, a place for criminals. He gave large sums to Bartholomew's Hospital, and to many other charitable uses.

Dame Alice, his wife, died in the sixty-third year of her age, after which he would not marry, though he outlived her near twenty years. In the conclusion, he died, and was buried in the place aforesaid, leaving a good name to posterity; and the following epitaph was written on their tomb, and continued perfect till destroyed by the fire in London:—

"Here lies Sir Richard Whittington, thrice mayor,

And his dear wife, a virtuous, loving pair;

Him fortune raised to be beloved and great,

By the adventure only of a cat.

Let none that read it of God's love despair,

Who trust in Him, He will of them take care;

But growing rich, choose humbleness, not pride,

Let these dead virtuous persons be your guide."


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