The Tale of Samuel Whiskers
or, The Roly-Poly Pudding
by Beatrix Potter
In Remembrance of "SAMMY,"
The intelligent pink-eyed Representative
of a Persecuted (but Irrepressible) Race
An affectionate little Friend,
and most accomplished thief
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 neighbour, Mrs. Ribby;
she had called to borrow some yeast.
Mrs. 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
"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,"
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
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 up the jar, and she scrambled
"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
Tom Kitten did not want to be shut up in
a cupboard. When he saw that his mother was going to bake, he determined
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
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 fire-place,
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; and he could hear the sticks beginning to crackle and burn in the
fire-place 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
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
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
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
He could hear Ribby and Tabitha talking,
but they were busy lighting the candle to look into the chest.
They did not see him.
Anna Maria went down by way of the 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
Except a spider, which 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 blue-bottles. It did not offer to assist
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 spat, 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
"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
"We are discovered and interrupted, Anna
Maria; let us collect our property – and other people's, – and depart at
"I fear that we shall be obliged to leave
"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 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
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 wheel-barrow 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 lane from the corner, and I saw Mr. Samuel
Whiskers and his wife on the run, with big bundles on a little wheel-barrow,
which looked very 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 wheel-barrow!
They went into the barn, and hauled their
parcels with a bit of string to the top of the hay mow.
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 grand-children and great great grand-children.
There is no end to them!
Moppet and Mittens have grown up into very
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
But Tom Kitten has always been afraid of
a rat; he never durst face anything that is bigger than –
This text and illustrations are from Beatrix
Potter's The Tale of Samuel Whiskers,
Frederick Warne & Co., Inc. (1908).