This section is from the book "The Book Of Cats", by Charles Henry Ross. Also available from Amazon: The Book Of Cats: A Chit-Chat Chronicle Of Feline Facts And Fancies, Legendary, Lyrical, Medical, Mirthful And Miscellaneous.
AS no work about Cats could be complete without the story of Dick Whittington, from the first moment I had made up my mind to write this book, I had also made up my mind to look up the best authorities upon the subject - to write Whit-tington's Cat's life, and to give her a chapter all to herself. Having come to this conclusion, the question naturally arose where were the authorities. I made search, I read deeply, but I gathered small matter on which I could place reliance, and I was half inclined to abandon my resolve, when happening to have ten minutes to spend, waiting for an omnibus at a street corner in the east-end of London, I made a discovery in a shop window, by the result of which I intend that you shall benefit almost as much as I have myself; for this discovery was nothing less than the very identical tale-book that I bought when I was a child, only it was a penny now, instead of twopence, as in the days of my extreme youth, - yes, the very identical tale of Whittington and his Cat, with a splendid illustrated pink wrapper and seven magnificent engravings, hand-coloured blue, red, yellow and pink on each plate, with here and there a dash of green laid boldly on, irrespective of outline, and now and again reaching as far as the type. Here, in the well-remembered verses, was Richard's history related:"Dick Whittington had often heard The curious story told That far fam'd London's brilliant streets Were paved with sheets of gold; Sometimes by waggon, erst on foot, Poor Dick he came to town, But found the streets, instead of gold, Were muddy, thick, and brown."
(You will observe that the poet sacrifices everything for the rhyme, and I do not blame him, when I contemplate the noble result): "In search of work he wandered round, Till his heart was sick and sore; Then cold and hungry laid him down Besides a Merchant's door. The Merchant kindly took him in, And gave him food to eat, But the plainest of plain cooks" (Do you notice the poet's wit and humour?)
"Him cruelly did treat."
(There is a picture here of the Cook beating Whittington with two ladles.)
"No longer could he stay,
So towards the famous Highgate Hill
Poor Dick he ran away.
Four miles he ran, then wearied much,
He sat him on a stone,
And heard the merry bells of Bow
Speak to him in this tone-'Turn again, Whittington,
Thrice Lord Mayor of London.'"
The poet's lines at this point have been beautifully illustrated by a picture of Whittington, sitting on the stone aforesaid, labelled "four miles to London," in an attitude of attention, whilst the merry church of Bow is to be seen on the other side of a wooden fence, apparently fifty yards off.
"Then taking heart, he wandered home, But meeting on the road A boy, who had a Cat to sell, He took't to his abode."
(I think, now, that "took't" shows real genius! How else could you have got over the difficulty?)
"She drove away the rats and mice -She was his only friend," (This is true pathos.)
"But when the Merchant went abroad, He Puss did with him send."
(This part wants thinking over. It means Whit-tington sent the Cat with his master; please, however, read on): "It was the only thing he had - Each servant something sent; The cook became more cruel still After her master went. Meanwhile Puss sail'd across the seas, Unto the Moorish Court, And to the palace of the King The merchant Pussy brought;
For that poor King no rest enjoy'd All through the rats and mice, They swept the food from off his board - Puss killed them in a trice."
(And I should rather think she did, too, if the artist may be believed who depicts her simultaneously seizing one rat with her teeth, and two others with each of her fore paws.)
'The King then gave him heaps of gold For an animal so rare; The merchant brought it all to Dick, Oh, how the boy did stare!
(And he is represented staring tremendously at a box, apparently four feet by two-and-a-half, and two-and-a-quarter high, marked "R. W.," and chock full of guineas.)
"The kindly bells had told him true In saying, 'Turn again,' For Whittington was thrice Lord Mayor In great King Henry's reign."
The poem here concludes with a beautiful picture of a gentleman and a lady sitting on chairs of state. I am not quite certain whether this is intended to represent King Henry and his Queen, or Lord and Lady Whittington; as far as the portrait goes, I should say that the gentleman was Charles the First.
In 1857 an advertisement appeared in several newspapers of a person who was willing to buy any number of live Cats for exportation. They were probably wanted for New Zealand; but it is not every emigrating Puss that is as lucky as Dick Whittington's (which, of course, by the way, never existed at all.) As a contrast to the successful career of the Cat described above, let me tell you, in almost the same words in which it is amusingly told in a magazine article, the story of a Cat who went "some strange countries for to see."
During the bold campaign of Mr. Williams the Missionary in Polynesia, a favourite Cat was taken on shore by one of the teacher's wives at their first visit to the island of Rarotonga. But Tom, not liking the aspect of his new acquaintance, fled to the mountains. Under the influence of the apostles of the new religion, a priest named Tiaki had destroyed his idol. His house was situated at a distance from the settlement, and at midnight, while he was lying asleep on his mat, his wife, who was sitting awake by his side, musing upon the strange events of the day, beheld, with consternation, two fires glittering in the doorway, and heard with surprise a mysterious and plaintive voice. Petrified with fear, she awoke her husband, and began to upbraid him with his folly for burning his god, who, she declared, was now come to be avenged of them. "Get up and pray!" she cried. The husband arose, and, on opening his eyes, beheld the same glaring lights, and heard the same ominous sound. He commenced with all possible vehemence to vociferate the alphabet, as a prayer to the powers above to deliver them from the vengeance of Satan. The Cat, on hearing the incantation, was as much alarmed as the priest and his wife; so he escaped once more into the wilderness, leaving the repentant priestly pair in ecstacies at the efficacy of their exorcism. The nocturnal apparition of a Cat in the flesh had nearly reinstated an overthrown idol. Subsequently, Puss, in his perambulations, perhaps in hopes of finding a native fur-clad helpmate, went to another distant district; and as a maral or temple stood in a retired spot, and was shaded by the rich foliage of ancient trees, Tommy, pleased with the situation, and wishing to frequent good society, took up his abode with the wooden gods. A few days after, the priest came, accompanied by a number of worshippers, to present some offering to the pretended deities; and, on opening the door,
Tom greeted them with a respectful mew. Unaccustomed to such salutations, the priest, instead of returning the welcome with a reciprocal politeness, rushed out of the sanctuary, shouting to his companions, "Here's a monster from the deep! a monster from the deep!"
The whole party of devotees hastened home, collected several hundreds of their brethren, put on their war-caps, brought their spears, clubs, and slings, blackened themselves with charcoal, and, thus equipped, came shouting on to attack the enemy. Tom, affrighted at the formidable array, sprang towards the open door, and, darting through the terror-stricken warriors, sent them scampering in all directions. In the evening, while the brave conspirators were entertaining themselves and a numerous company with a war-dance, to recruit their spirits, poor Tom, wishing to see the sport, and bearing no malice in his heart, stole in amongst them to take a peep. Again the dusky heroes seized their weapons and gave chase to the unfortunate Cat; but "the monster of the deep" was too nimble for them. Some hours afterwards, when all was quiet, Tom unwisely endeavoured to renew his domiciliary relations with man. In the dead of the night he entered a house, crept beneath a coverlet, under which a whole native family were lying, and fell asleep. His purring awoke the man, in the hospitality of whose night-cloth he had taken refuge, and who, supposing that some other monster had come to disturb his household, closed the doorways, awoke the inmates, and procured lights to search for the intruder. Poor Tom, fatigued with the two previous engagements of the day, lay quietly asleep, when the warriors, attacking him with their clubs and spears, thought themselves models of bravery in putting an end to him.
But Cats, though thus misunderstood at first, seem in the end to have proved a welcome and valuable introduction to the country. One of Mr. Williams's means of proselytism was, the exercise of a useful handicraft - he turned blacksmith; but he found unusual difficulties in the way of his working a forge. Rarotonga was devastated by a plague of rats, which congregated at night in his blacksmith's shop, and devoured every particle of leather, so that, in the morning, nothing remained of his bellows but the bare boards. The rats, however, were not permitted to have everything their own way. The missionaries imported a singular cargo, consisting of pigs, cocoa-nuts, and Cats. The Cats proved a real blessing to the island, but even they did not destroy so many rats as the pigs, which were exceedingly voracious, and took greedily to the rodent diet.
By the way, I must not close the chapter without one little scrap.
Mr. Spectator, in No. 5, March 6, 1711, says: -"I am credibly informed that there was once a design of casting into an opera the story of Whit-tington and his Cat, and that in order to do it there had been got together a great quantity of mice, but Mr. Rich, the proprietor of the playhouse, very prudently considered that it would be impossible for the Cat to kill them all."