English Fairy Tales (Joseph Jacobs)

Week 12: England - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Whittington and His Cat

Reading time: 6 minutes. Word count: 1200 words.

You can now get ready to do your calculations: Dick Whittington bought his cat for a penny. Now see what happens next...

Soon after this, his master had a ship ready to sail; and as it was the custom that all his servants should have some chance for good fortune as well as himself, he called them all into the parlour and asked them what they would send out. They all had something that they were willing to venture except poor Dick, who had neither money nor goods, and therefore could send nothing. For this reason he did not come into the parlour with the rest; but Miss Alice guessed what was the matter, and ordered him to be called in. She then said: 'I will lay down some money for him, from my own purse'; but her father told her: 'This will not do, for it must be something of his own.'

When poor Dick heard this, he said: 'I have nothing but a cat which I bought for a penny some time since of a little girl.' 'Fetch your cat then, my lad,' said Mr Fitzwarren, 'and let her go.' Dick went upstairs and brought down poor puss, with tears in his eyes, and gave her to the captain; 'for,' he said, 'I shall now be kept awake all night by the rats and mice.' All the company laughed at Dick's odd venture; and Miss Alice, who felt pity for him, gave him some money to buy another cat.

This, and many other marks of kindness shown him by Miss Alice, made the ill-tempered cook jealous of poor Dick, and she began to use him more cruelly than ever, and always made game of him for sending his cat to sea. She asked him: 'Do you think your cat will sell for as much money as would buy a stick to beat you?' At last poor Dick could not bear this usage any longer, and he thought he would run away from his place; so he packed up his few things, and started very early in the morning, on All-Hallows Day, the first of November. He walked as far as Holloway; and there sat down on a stone, which to this day is called 'Whittington's Stone', and began to think to himself which road he should take.

While he was thinking what he should do, the Bells of Bow Church, which at that time were only six, began to ring, and at their sound seemed to say to him:

'Turn again, Whittington,
Thrice Lord Mayor of London.'

'Lord Mayor of London!' said he to himself. 'Why, to be sure, I would put up with almost anything now, to be Lord Mayor of London, and ride in a fine coach, when I grow to be a man! Well, I will go back, and think nothing of the cuffing and scolding of the old cook, if I am to be Lord Mayor of London at last.' Dick went back, and was lucky enough to get into the house, and set about his work before the old cook came downstairs.

We must now follow Miss Puss to the coast of Africa. The ship with the cat on board was a long time at sea; and was at last driven by the winds on a part of the coast of Barbary, where the only people were the Moors, unknown to the English. The people came in great numbers to see the sailors, because they were of different colour to themselves, and treated them civilly; and, when they became better acquainted, were very eager to buy the fine things that the ship was loaded with. When the captain saw this, he sent patterns of the best things he had to the king of the country; who was so much pleased with them that he sent for the captain to the palace. Here they were placed, as it is the custom of the country, on rich carpets flowered with gold and silver. The king and queen were seated at the upper end of the room; and a number of dishes were brought in for dinner. They had not sat long, when a vast number of rats and mice rushed in, and devoured all the meat in an instant.

The captain wondered at this, and asked if these vermin were not unpleasant. 'Oh, yes,' said they, 'very offensive; and the king would give half his treasure to be freed of them, for they not only destroy his dinner, as you see, but they assault him in his chamber, and even in bed, so that he is obliged to be watched while he is sleeping, for fear of them.' The captain jumped for joy; he remembered poor Whittington and his cat, and told the king he had a creature on board the ship that would dispatch all these vermin immediately. The king jumped so high at the joy which the news gave him that his turban dropped off his head. 'Bring this creature to me,' says he; 'vermin are dreadful in a court, and if she will perform what you say, I will load your ship with gold and jewels in exchange for her.'

The captain, who knew his business, took his opportunity to set forth the merits of Miss Puss. He told his majesty: 'It is not very convenient to part with her, as, when she is gone, the rats and mice may destroy the goods in the ship - but to oblige your majesty, I will fetch her.' 'Run, run!' said the queen; 'I am impatient to see the dear creature.' Away went the captain to the ship, while another dinner was got ready. He put Puss under his arm, and arrived at the place just in time to see the table full of rats. When the cat saw them, she did not wait for bidding, but jumped out of the captain's arms, and in a few minutes laid almost all the rats and mice dead at her feet. The rest of them in their fright scampered away to their holes.

The king was quite charmed to get rid so easily of such plagues, and the queen desired that the creature who had done them so great a kindness might be brought to her, that she might look at her. Upon which the captain called: 'Pussy, pussy, pussy!' and she came to him. He then presented her to the queen, who started back, and was afraid to touch a creature who had made such a havoc among the rats and mice. However, when the captain stroked the cat and called: 'Pussy, pussy', the queen also touched her and cried: 'Putty, putty', for she had not learned English. He then put her down on the queen's lap, where she purred and played with her majesty's hand, and then purred herself to sleep. The king, having seen the exploits of Miss Puss, and being informed that her kittens would stock the whole country, and keep it free from rats, bargained with the captain for the whole ship's cargo, and then gave him ten times as much for the cat as all the rest amounted to.

The captain then took leave of the royal party, and set sail with a fair wind for England, and after a happy voyage arrived safe in London.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why did Dick Whittington send his cat out to sea?
  • why did Dick return back to London after he started to run away?
  • how was the cat a big success on the Barbary Coast?

Source: English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs (1890). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM