The Roly-Poly Pudding
 

Once upon a time there was an old
cat, called Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit, who
was an anxious parent. She used to
lose her kittens continually, and
whenever they were lost they were
always in mischief!

On baking day she determined to
shut them up in a cupboard.

She caught Moppet and Mittens,
but she could not find Tom.

Mrs. Tabitha went up and down all
over the house, mewing for Tom
Kitten. She looked in the pantry under
the staircase, and she searched the
best spare bedroom that was all
covered up with dust sheets. She went
right upstairs and looked into the
attics, but she could not find him
anywhere.

It was an old, old house, full of
cupboards and passages. Some of the
walls were four feet thick, and there
used to be queer noises inside them,
as if there might be a little secret
staircase. Certainly there were odd
little jagged doorways in the wainscot,
and things disappeared at night--
especially cheese and bacon.

Mrs. Tabitha became more and
more distracted and mewed
dreadfully.

While their mother was searching
the house, Moppet and Mittens had
got into mischief.

The cupboard door was not locked,
so they pushed it open and came out.

They went straight to the dough
which was set to rise in a pan before
the fire.

They patted it with their little soft
paws--"Shall we make dear little
muffins?" said Mittens to Moppet.

But just at that moment somebody
knocked at the front door, and
Moppet jumped into the flour barrel
in a fright.

Mittens ran away to the dairy and
hid in an empty jar on the stone shelf
where the milk pans stand.

The visitor was a neighbor, Mrs.
Ribby; she had called to borrow some
yeast.

Mr. Tabitha came downstairs
mewing dreadfully--"Come in,
Cousin Ribby, come in, and sit ye
down! I'm in sad trouble, Cousin
Ribby," said Tabitha, shedding tears.
"I've lost my dear son Thomas; I'm
afraid the rats have got him." She
wiped her eyes with her apron.

"He's a bad kitten, Cousin Tabitha;
he made a cat's cradle of my best
bonnet last time I came to tea. Where
have you looked for him?"

"All over the house! The rats are too
many for me. What a thing it is to
have an unruly family!" said Mrs.
Tabitha Twitchit.

"I'm not afraid of rats; I will help
you to find him; and whip him, too!
What is all that soot in the fender?"

"The chimney wants sweeping--
Oh, dear me, Cousin Ribby--now
Moppet and Mittens are gone!

"They have both got out of the
cupboard!"

Ribby and Tabitha set to work to
search the house thoroughly again.
They poked under the beds with
Ribby's umbrella and they rummaged
in cupboards. They even fetched a
candle and looked inside a clothes
chest in one of the attics. They could
not find anything, but once they
heard a door bang and somebody
scuttered downstairs.

"Yes, it is infested with rats," said
Tabitha tearfully. "I caught seven
young ones out of one hole in the back
kitchen, and we had them for dinner
last Saturday. And once I saw the old
father rat--an enormous old rat--
Cousin Ribby. I was just going to jump
upon him, when he showed his yellow
teeth at me and whisked down the
hole.

"The rats get upon my nerves,
Cousin Ribby," said Tabitha.

Ribby and Tabitha searched and
searched. They both heard a curious
roly-poly noise under the attic floor.
But there was nothing to be seen.

They returned to the kitchen.
"Here's one of your kittens at least,"
said Ribby, dragging Moppet out of
the flour barrel.

They shook the flour off her and set
her down on the kitchen floor. She
seemed to be in a terrible fright.

"Oh! Mother, Mother," said
Moppet, "there's been an old woman
rat in the kitchen, and she's stolen
some of the dough!"

The two cats ran to look at the
dough pan. Sure enough there were
marks of little scratching fingers, and
a lump of dough was gone!

"Which way did she go, Moppet?"

But Moppet had been too much
frightened to peep out of the barrel
again.

Ribby and Tabitha took her with
them to keep her safely in sight, while
they went on with their search.

They went into the dairy.

The first thing they found was
Mittens, hiding in an empty jar.

They tipped over the jar, and she
scrambled out.

"Oh, Mother, Mother!" said
Mittens--

"Oh! Mother, Mother, there has
been an old man rat in the dairy--a
dreadful 'normous big rat, Mother;
and he's stolen a pat of butter and the
rolling pin."

Ribby and Tabitha looked at one
another.

"A rolling pin and butter! Oh, my
poor son Thomas!" exclaimed
Tabitha, wringing her paws.

"A rolling pin?" said Ribby. "Did we
not hear a roly-poly noise in the attic
when we were looking into that
chest?"

Ribby and Tabitha rushed upstairs
again. Sure enough the roly-poly noise
was still going on quite distinctly
under the attic floor.

"This is serious, Cousin Tabitha,"
said Ribby. "We must send for John
Joiner at once, with a saw."

Now, this is what had been
happening to Tom Kitten, and it
shows how very unwise it is to go up a
chimney in a very old house, where a
person does not know his way, and
where there are enormous rats.

Tom Kitten did not want to be shut
up in a cupboard. When he saw that
his mother was going to bake, he
determined to hide.

He looked about for a nice
convenient place, and he fixed upon
the chimney.

The fire had only just been lighted,
and it was not hot; but there was a
white choky smoke from the green
sticks. Tom Kitten got upon the fender
and looked up. It was a big old-
fashioned fireplace.

The chimney itself was wide
enough inside for a man to stand up
and walk about. So there was plenty
of room for a little Tom Cat.

He jumped right up into the
fireplace, balancing himself upon the
iron bar where the kettle hangs.

Tom Kitten took another big jump
off the bar and landed on a ledge high
up inside the chimney, knocking down
some soot into the fender.

Tom Kitten coughed and choked
with the smoke; he could hear the
sticks beginning to crackle and burn
in the fireplace down below. He made
up his mind to climb right to the top,
and get out on the slates, and try to
catch sparrows.

"I cannot go back. If I slipped I
might fall in the fire and singe my
beautiful tail and my little blue
jacket."

The chimney was a very big old-
fashioned one. It was built in the days
when people burnt logs of wood upon
the hearth.

The chimney stack stood up above
the roof like a little stone tower, and
the daylight shone down from the top,
under the slanting slates that kept out
the rain.

Tom Kitten was getting very
frightened! He climbed up, and up,
and up.

Then he waded sideways through
inches of soot. He was like a little
sweep himself.

It was most confusing in the dark.
One flue seemed to lead into another.

There was less smoke, but Tom
Kitten felt quite lost.

He scrambled up and up; but
before he reached the chimney top he
came to a place where somebody had
loosened a stone in the wall. There
were some mutton bones lying about.

"This seems funny," said Tom
Kitten. "Who has been gnawing bones
up here in the chimney? I wish I had
never come! And what a funny smell?
It is something like mouse, only
dreadfully strong. It makes me
sneeze," said Tom Kitten.

He squeezed through the hole in
the wall and dragged himself along a
most uncomfortably tight passage
where there was scarcely any light.

He groped his way carefully for
several yards; he was at the back of
the skirting board in the attic, where
there is a little mark * in the picture.

All at once he fell head over heels in
the dark, down a hole, and landed on
a heap of very dirty rags.

When Tom Kitten picked himself up
and looked about him, he found
himself in a place that he had never
seen before, although he had lived all
his life in the house. It was a very
small stuffy fusty room, with boards,
and rafters, and cobwebs, and lath
and plaster.

Opposite to him--as far away as he
could sit--was an enormous rat.

"What do you mean by tumbling
into my bed all covered with smuts?"
said the rat, chattering his teeth.

"Please, sir, the chimney wants
sweeping," said poor Tom Kitten.

"Anna Maria! Anna Maria!"
squeaked the rat. There was a
pattering noise and an old woman rat
poked her head round a rafter.

All in a minute she rushed upon
Tom Kitten, and before he knew what
was happening. . .

. . . his coat was pulled off, and he
was rolled up in a bundle, and tied
with string in very hard knots.

Anna Maria did the tying. The old
rat watched her and took snuff. When
she had finished, they both sat staring
at him with their mouths open.

"Anna Maria," said the old man rat
(whose name was Samuel Whiskers),
"Anna Maria, make me a kitten
dumpling roly-poly pudding for my
dinner."

"It requires dough and a pat of
butter and a rolling pin," said Anna
Maria, considering Tom Kitten with
her head on one side.

"No," said Samuel Whiskers, "make
it properly, Anna Maria, with
breadcrumbs."

"Nonsense! Butter and dough,"
replied Anna Maria.

The two rats consulted together for
a few minutes and then went away.

Samuel Whiskers got through a
hole in the wainscot and went boldly
down the front staircase to the dairy
to get the butter. He did not meet
anybody.

He made a second journey for the
rolling pin. He pushed it in front of
him with his paws, like a brewer's
man trundling a barrel.

He could hear Ribby and Tabitha
talking, but they were too busy
lighting the candle to look into the
chest.

They did not see him.

Anna Maria went down by way of
skirting board and a window shutter
to the kitchen to steal the dough.

She borrowed a small saucer and
scooped up the dough with her paws.

She did not observe Moppet.

While Tom Kitten was left alone
under the floor of the attic, he
wriggled about and tried to mew for
help.

But his mouth was full of soot and
cobwebs, and he was tied up in such
very tight knots, he could not make
anybody hear him.

Except a spider who came out of a
crack in the ceiling and examined the
knots critically, from a safe distance.

It was a judge of knots because it
had a habit of tying up unfortunate
bluebottles. It did not offer to assist
him.

Tom Kitten wriggled and squirmed
until he was quite exhausted.

Presently the rats came back and
set to work to make him into a
dumpling. First they smeared him
with butter, and then they rolled him
in the dough.

"Will not the string be very
indigestible, Anna Maria?" inquired
Samuel Whiskers.

Anna Maria said she thought that it
was of no consequence; but she
wished that Tom Kitten would hold
his head still, as it disarranged the
pastry. She laid hold of his ears.

Tom Kitten bit and spit, and
mewed and wriggled; and the rolling
pin went roly-poly, roly; roly-poly,
roly. The rats each held an end.

"His tail is sticking out! You did not
fetch enough dough, Anna Maria."

"I fetched as much as I could
carry," replied Anna Maria.

"I do not think"--said Samuel
Whiskers, pausing to take a look at
Tom Kitten--"I do not think it will be
a good pudding. It smells sooty."

Anna Maria was about to argue the
point when all at once there began to
be other sounds up above--the
rasping noise of a saw, and the noise
of a little dog, scratching and yelping!

The rats dropped the rolling pin
and listened attentively.

"We are discovered and interrupted,
Anna Maria; let us collect our
property--and other people's--and
depart at once.

"I fear that we shall be obliged to
leave this pudding.

"But I am persuaded that the knots
would have proved indigestible,
whatever you may urge to the
contrary."

"Come away at once and help me
to tie up some mutton bones in a
counterpane," said Anna Maria . "I
have got half a smoked ham hidden in
the chimney."

So it happened that by the time
John Joiner had got the plank up--
there was nobody here under the floor
except the rolling pin and Tom Kitten
in a very dirty dumpling!

But there was a strong smell of
rats; and John Joiner spent the rest of
the morning sniffing and whining,
and wagging his tail, and going round
and round with his head in the hole
like a gimlet.

Then he nailed the plank down
again and put his tools in his bag, and
came downstairs.

The cat family had quite recovered.
They invited him to stay to dinner.

The dumpling had been peeled off
Tom Kitten and made separately into
a bag pudding, with currants in it to
hide the smuts.

They had been obliged to put Tom
Kitten into a hot bath to get the butter
off.

John Joiner smelt the pudding; but
he regretted that he had not time to
stay to dinner, because he had just
finished making a wheelbarrow for
Miss Potter, and she had ordered two
hen coops.

And when I was going to the post
late in the afternoon--I looked up the
land from the corner, and I saw Mr.
Samuel Whiskers and his wife on the
run, with big bundles on a little
wheelbarrow, which looked very
much like mine.

They were just turning in at the
gate to the barn of Farmer Potatoes.

Samuel Whiskers was puffing and
out of breath. Anna Maria was still
arguing in shrill tones.

She seemed to know her way, and
she seemed to have a quantity of
luggage.

I am sure I never gave her leave to
borrow my wheelbarrow!

They went into the barn and
hauled their parcels with a bit of
string to the top of the haymow.

After that, there were no more rats
for a long time at Tabitha Twitchit's.

As for Farmer Potatoes, he has been
driven nearly distracted. There are
rats, and rats, and rats in his barn!
They eat up the chicken food, and
steal the oats and bran, and make
holes in the meal bags.

And they are all descended from
Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Whiskers--
children and grandchildren and
great-great-grandchildren.

There is no end to them!

Moppet and Mittens have grown up
into very good rat-catchers.

They go out rat-catching in the
village, and they find plenty of
employment. They charge so much a
dozen and earn their living very
comfortably.

They hang up the rats' tails in a
row on the barn door, to show how
many they have caught--dozens and
dozens of them.

But Tom Kitten has always been
afraid of a rat; he never durst face
anything that is bigger than--

A Mouse.