The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin
 

This is a Tale about a tail--a tail
that belonged to a little red squirrel,
and his name was Nutkin.

He had a brother called
Twinkleberry, and a great many
cousins: they lived in a wood at the
edge of a lake.

In the middle of the lake there is an
island covered with trees and nut
bushes; and amongst those trees
stands a hollow oak-tree, which is the
house of an owl who is called Old
Brown.

One autumn when the nuts were
ripe, and the leaves on the hazel
bushes were golden and green--
Nutkin and Twinkleberry and all the
other little squirrels came out of the
wood, and down to the edge of the
lake.

They made little rafts out of twigs,
and they paddled away over the
water to Owl Island to gather nuts.

Each squirrel had a little sack and a
large oar, and spread out his tail for a
sail.

They also took with them an
offering of three fat mice as a present
for Old Brown, and put them down
upon his door-step.

Then Twinkleberry and the other
little squirrels each made a low bow,
and said politely--

"Old Mr. Brown, will you
favour us with permission to
gather nuts upon your island?"

But Nutkin was excessively
impertinent in his manners. He
bobbed up and down like a little
red cherry, singing--

     "Riddle me, riddle me, rot-tot-tote!
     A little wee man, in a red red coat!
     A staff in his hand, and a stone in his throat;
     If you'll tell me this riddle, I'll give you a groat."

Now this riddle is as old as the hills;
Mr. Brown paid no attention whatever
to Nutkin.

He shut his eyes obstinately and
went to sleep.

The squirrels filled their little sacks
with nuts, and sailed away home in
the evening.

But next morning they all came
back again to Owl Island; and
Twinkleberry and the others brought
a fine fat mole, and laid it on the
stone in front of Old Brown's
doorway, and said--

"Mr. Brown, will you favour us with
your gracious permission to gather
some more nuts?"

But Nutkin, who had no respect,
began to dance up and down, tickling
old Mr. Brown with a nettle and
singing--

          "Old Mr. B! Riddle-me-ree!
          Hitty Pitty within the wall,
          Hitty Pitty without the wall;
          If you touch Hitty Pitty,
          Hitty Pitty will bite you!"

Mr. Brown woke up suddenly and
carried the mole into his house.

He shut the door in Nutkin's face.
Presently a little thread of blue smoke
from a wood fire came up from the
top of the tree, and Nutkin peeped
through the key-hole and sang--

          "A house full, a hole full!
          And you cannot gather a bowl-full!"

The squirrels searched for nuts all
over the island and filled their little
sacks.

But Nutkin gathered oak-apples--
yellow and scarlet--and sat upon a
beech-stump playing marbles, and
watching the door of old Mr. Brown.

On the third day the squirrels got
up very early and went fishing; they
caught seven fat minnows as a
present for Old Brown.

They paddled over the lake and
landed under a crooked chestnut tree
on Owl Island.

Twinkleberry and six other little
squirrels each carried a fat minnow;
but Nutkin, who had no nice
manners, brought no present at all.
He ran in front, singing--

     "The man in the wilderness said to me,
     `How may strawberries grow in the sea?'
     I answered him as I thought good--
     `As many red herrings as grow in the wood."'

But old Mr. Brown took no interest
in riddles--not even when the answer
was provided for him.

On the fourth day the squirrels
brought a present of six fat beetles,
which were as good as plums in
plum-pudding for Old Brown. Each
beetle was wrapped up carefully in a
dockleaf, fastened with a pine-needle-
pin.

But Nutkin sang as rudely as ever--

     "Old Mr. B! riddle-me-ree!
     Flour of England, fruit of Spain,
     Met together in a shower of rain;
     Put in a bag tied round with a string,
     If you'll tell me this riddle,
     I'll give you a ring!"

Which was ridiculous of Nutkin,
because he had not got any ring to
give to Old Brown.

The other squirrels hunted up and
down the nut bushes; but Nutkin
gathered robin's pin-cushions off a
briar bush, and stuck them full of
pine-needle-pins.

On the fifth day the squirrels
brought a present of wild honey; it
was so sweet and sticky that they
licked their fingers as they put it down
upon the stone. They had stolen it out
of a bumble bees' nest on the tippity
top of the hill.

But Nutkin skipped up and down,
singing--

     "Hum-a-bum! buzz! buzz! Hum-a-bum buzz!
          As I went over Tipple-tine
          I met a flock of bonny swine;
     Some yellow-nacked, some yellow backed!
          They were the very bonniest swine
          That e'er went over the Tipple-tine."

Old Mr. Brown turned up his eyes
in disgust at the impertinence of
Nutkin.

But he ate up the honey!

The squirrels filled their little sacks
with nuts.

But Nutkin sat upon a big flat rock,
and played ninepins with a crab apple
and green fir-cones.

On the sixth day, which was
Saturday, the squirrels came again for
the last time; they brought a new-laid
egg in a little rush basket as a last
parting present for Old Brown.

But Nutkin ran in front laughing,
and shouting--

     "Humpty Dumpty lies in the beck,
     With a white counterpane round his neck,
     Forty doctors and forty wrights,
     Cannot put Humpty Dumpty to rights!"

Now old Mr. Brown took an interest
in eggs; he opened one eye and shut it
again. But still he did not speak.

Nutkin became more and more
impertinent--

     "Old Mr. B! Old Mr. B!
     Hickamore, Hackamore, on the King's
          kitchen door;
     All the King's horses, and all the King's men,
     Couldn't drive Hickamore, Hackamore,
     Off the King's kitchen door!"

Nutkin danced up and down like a
sunbeam; but still Old Brown said
nothing at all.

Nutkin began again--

     "Authur O'Bower has broken his band,
     He comes roaring up the land!
     The King of Scots with all his power,
     Cannot turn Arthur of the Bower!"

Nutkin made a whirring noise to
sound like the wind, and he took a
running jump right onto the head of
Old Brown! . . .

Then all at once there was a
flutterment and a scufflement and a
loud "Squeak!"

The other squirrels scuttered away
into the bushes.

When they came back very
cautiously, peeping round the tree--
there was Old Brown sitting on his
door-step, quite still, with his eyes
closed, as if nothing had happened.

* * * * * * * *

But Nutkin was in his waistcoat pocket!

This looks like the end of the story;
but it isn't.

Old Brown carried Nutkin into his
house, and held him up by the tail,
intending to skin him; but Nutkin
pulled so very hard that his tail broke
in two, and he dashed up the
staircase, and escaped out of the attic
window.

And to this day, if you meet Nutkin
up a tree and ask him a riddle, he will
throw sticks at you, and stamp his
feet and scold, and shout--

"Cuck-cuck-cuck-cur-r-r-cuck-k!"