“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 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 hear him.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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—