Long ago a little old man tailored fine clothes out of silks and satins, but his own clothes were threadbare, for he was poor. On a cold day near Christmastime he cut out the cloth pieces needed for a coat and waistcoat (vest) for the Mayor of Gloucester to wear on his December 25th wedding day. He carefully cut the cloth, and said out loud that the leftover scraps were only large enough to make “waistcoats for mice.” The tailor discovered he needed an additional skein of cherry-red twisted silk for the buttonholes.
When it became dark he locked up his shop for the night so no one could get inside – except for the mice who used hidden stairways and passages to travel from building to building without ever going outside. That might seem to be a bad situation, but this is a Beatrix Potter book, and her mice are kind and clever, plus well dressed.
The old tailor walked through the snow to his rented room, where he lived with his cat, Simpkin. The cat was clever, but not very kind. The tailor was not feeling well, so he gave his last four-cent piece to Simpkin and told him to go out and spend three cents on milk, bread and sausages, and to buy a penny’s worth of cherry-red silk twist. The man sat down by the hearth and talked to himself about just how he would make the coat and waistcoat.
When he heard a slight tapping sound he got up from his chair, went over to his dresser, and lifted an upside-down teacup. Out stepped a lady mouse who curtseyed to him before running off. More tapping came from under another teacup, and when the tailor lifted it he discovered a gentleman mouse who bowed to him before leaving. It appears that Simpkin was a cat who didn’t believe in eating between meals, for when he caught mice he imprisoned them until suppertime.
The tailor went back to his fireside and talked some more on how he planned to make the mayor’s wedding clothes, plus he worried about the red twist he needed. From their hiding places the mice listened to what he said.
Simpkin returned from his shopping trip in a foul mood from being out in the snow. When he discovered his captured mice were gone he became spiteful, hid the skein of twist in the teapot, and let the poor tailor believe he hadn’t purchased it.
The tailor went to bed with a fever, and for days he tossed and turned, muttering about not having enough twist to finish the mayor’s new clothes. Simpkin began to repent of his behavior, and retrieved the skein he had hidden, but what could be done since the man wouldn’t recover in time to finish his work before Christmas?
The Tailor of Gloucester was the third of Beatrix Pottter’s small-format chidren’s books to be published, and she claimed it was her favorite. It was originally written as an illustrated story-letter, sent as a Christmas present to her former governess’ daughter, who had been ill.
If you’d like to read more about the story’s author you can go to my archive and read the February 2016 post entitled The Tale of Beatrix Potter.
If you’d like to read The Tailor of Gloucester you can download it free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14868