The Tale Of Squirrel Nutkin

The Tale Of Squirrel Nutkin

From “The Tale Of Squirrel Nutkin” by Beatrix Potter

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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

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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?”

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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 many 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.

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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 dock-leaf, 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.

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

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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 tippitty 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 Tipple-tine.”

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Old Mr. Brown turned up his eyes in disgust at the impertinence of Nutkin.
But he ate up the honey!

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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.

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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!”

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

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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.

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Nutkin began again-
“Arthur 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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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-k!”