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The Children's Book by  Horace E. Scudder
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HOP-O'-MY-THUMB

THERE was once a wood-cutter and his wife who had seven children, all. boys. The eldest was only ten years old, the youngest but seven, and they were thus a burden to their poor parents, for they could as yet do nothing to earn their living. The youngest of all was very delicate, and spoke so seldom that his parents thought him dull, when really he had very good sense. He was so very little when he was born, scarcely bigger than one's thumb, that he got the name, "Hop-o'-my-Thumb." The little fellow had to take the blame of everything that went wrong. Yet he was the most sensible of all the children, for he was listening when the rest were speaking. There came a very bad harvest, and there was great scarcity of food, so that these poor people determined that they must get rid of their children. One evening, when they were all in bed, the wood-cutter was [70] sitting close to the fire -with his wife, and said to her with an aching heart;—

"Thou seest plainly that we can no longer find food for our children. I cannot see them die of hunger, and I am resolved to lose them tomorrow in the wood, which can easily be done, for while they are busy tying up the fagots we can slip away and leave them."

"Ah!" exclaimed his wife, "hast thou the heart to lose thy own children?" Her husband begged her to remember how very poor they were; she would not consent; she was poor, but she was their mother. Then he bade her think how she must see them die of hunger, and so at length she assented and went weeping to bed. Now Hop-o'-my-Thumb had heard everything that was said; for being in bed and hearing

them talk, he had stolen quietly to his father's stool and sat under it where he could listen without being seen. He went to bed again, but he could not sleep a wink all night, so busy was he thinking what he should do. He rose early and

went to the banks of a brook near by, where he filled his pockets with small white pebbles, and then returned home. The family all set out together us usual, but Hop-o'-my-Thumb said nothing to his brothers of what he had heard. They entered a very thick forest, so dense that one need go but a few steps to be lost. The wood-cutter began to cut wood and the children to gather the sticks into bundles of fagots. The father and mother, when they saw them busily engaged, stole away gradually and then fled suddenly by a small, winding path. Presently the children found themselves alone and began to cry with fear. Hop-o'-my-Thumb alone had no tears, for he knew the way home. As they came, he had dropped all along the road the little white pebbles which he had brought in his pocket.


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[71] "Fear not, brothers," he said, "our father and mother have left us here, but I will lead you safely home. Only follow me." Thereupon he led them back to the house by the same road that they had taken into the forest. They feared to enter immediately, but placed themselves close by the door to hear what their father and mother might be saying.

Now, just as the wood-cutter and his wife reached home, the lord of the manor sent them ten crowns, which he had been owing them a long time, and they had given up all hopes of ever getting. They were ready to starve but for this, and the wood-cutter sent his wife quickly to the butcher's to buy some meat. As it was many a day since they had tasted meat, she bought three times as much as two persons could need. When they had eaten and were satisfied, the thought of her poor children rushed back upon her, and the wood-cutter's wife cried, -

"Alas! where now are our poor children? There is enough here and to spare. It was thou, husband, that wouldst lose them. Did I not say we should repent it? What are they now doing in the forest? Alas! perhaps the wolves have already devoured them! Thou hast destroyed my children!"

She said this twenty times over, until the wood-cutter became exceedingly impatient, and threatened to beat her if she did not hold her tongue. But the more angry he was the more she reproached him. She wept bitterly and cried out loudly,—

"Alas! where are now my children, my poor children?" The children who were close by the door heard this, and began to call out eagerly,—

"Here we are! here we are!"

She ran quickly to open the door, and threw her arms about them, exclaiming,—

"O my dear children, how happy I am to see you again. How tired and hungry you must be! and Peter, how dirty you are. Come and let me wash you." Peter was the eldest of the children, and the one she loved most. They sat down to supper, and ate eagerly with an appetite that delighted their father and mother. They began all to speak at once, and to tell how frightened they were in the forest, and how glad to find their way home again. The good people were overjoyed at getting their dear children back, and so long as the ten crowns lasted they were all happy together; but at length the money was spent and they were once more in despair; and now the wood-cutter and his wife determined to lead their children farther still from home, so as to lose them altogether.

They could not talk of this so privately but that Hop-o'-my-Thumb overheard them, and trusted to do as he had done before. Bnt though he got up very early to collect the little pebbles, he could not get out of the house, for the door was double-locked. He knew not what to do when the wood-cutter's wife gave them each their last piece of bread for breakfast, when he suddenly thought of using crumbs of his bread instead of pebbles, and so he put his piece in his pocket. His father and mother led them into the thickest and darkest part of the wood, and then finding a by-path, slipped away from them unnoticed, as before. Hop-o'-my-Thumb was not much troubled by this, for he thought he should easily lead his brothers back by means of the crumbs which he had dropped along 'the way. But when he came to look not a crumb was to be seen. The birds had eaten it all! Then were the children in distress. The more they wandered the deeper they plunged into the forest. Night came on and the wind began to howl, so that they fancied wolves were all about them. They huddled close together, scarcely daring to speak. Then it began to rain heavily and they were drenched to the skin. They slipped about in the mud and scrambled out of pits, tired and dirty. Hop-o'-my-Thumb climbed a tree to see if he could make out anything from the top of it, and looking all about he saw a little light like that of a candle, but it was far away on the other side of the forest. He came down again and then could not see the light from the ground; but he knew the direction in which it was, and they all walked toward where they supposed it to be, and [72] at length, coming out of the woods, they saw the light and presently came to the house where it was. They knocked at the door, and a good woman came to open it. She asked them what they wanted. Hop-o'-my-Thumb told her they were poor children who had lost their way in the forest, and begged a night's lodging for charity. The woman, seeing they were all so pretty, began to weep and said,—

"Alas! my poor children, do you know to what you have come? This is the house of an ogre who eats little boys!"

"Alas! Madam," answered Hop-o'-my-Thumb, trembling from head to foot as his brothers did, "what shall we do? If we stay in the forest the wolves will devour us before the morning. We had rather be eaten by the gentleman; perhaps he may have pity upon us if you but ask him." The ogre's wife, for so she was, was a kindhearted woman, and fancied she could hide them from her husband till the next morning, so she brought them into the house, and led them to a fine fire where a whole sheep was on the spit, roasting for the ogre's supper. Just as they were beginning to get warm, they heard two or three loud knocks at the door. It was the ogre, who had come home. His wife immediately made the children hide under the bed, and went to open the door. The ogre asked at once if his supper was ready, and if she had drawn the wine, and with that he sat down to his meal. The mutton was all but raw, but he liked it the better for that. He began to sniff right and left and said that he smelt fresh meat.

"It must be the calf I have just skinned that you smell," said his wife.

"I smell fresh meat, I tell you again," replied the ogre looking sharply at his wife. "There is something here that I don't understand." Saying this he rose from the table and went straight to the bed. "Ah!" he exclaimed," "thou art deceiving me, wretched woman! I know not what hinders me from eating thee also, except that thou art old and tough. Here is some game which comes in good time for me to entertain three ogres of my acquaintance, who are coining to see me in a day or two." He dragged the children from under the bed one after the other. They fell on their knees begging for mercy, but he was the most cruel of ogres, who felt no pity for them but devoured them already with his eyes, and said to his wife that they would be dainty bits when she had made a good sauce for them. He went to fetch a great knife, and as he returned to the poor children, he whetted it on a long stone which he held in his left hand. He had already seized one, when his-wife said to him,—

"Why do you do it at this hour of the night? Will it not be time enough tomorrow?"

"Hold thy peace," replied the ogre, "they will be all the more tender."

"But you have already so much on hand," she persisted. "Here is a calf, two sheep, and half a Pig."

"Thou art right," said the Ogre. "Give them a good supper, that they may not fall away, and put them to bed." The good woman was greatly rejoiced and brought the children plenty for supper, but they could eat nothing, so terrified were they. As for the ogre, he seated himself to drink again, much pleased to think that he had such a feast in store for his friends, and drained a dozen goblets more than usual, so that his head began to ache, and he went to bed.

The ogre had seven daughters, who were still very young. They had the most beautiful complexions, in consequence of their eating raw flesh like their father, but they had very small round gray eyes, hooked noses, and very large mouths with long teeth, exceedingly sharp and wide apart. They were not very vicious, as yet, but they showed that they would be, for they bad already begun to bite little boys. They had been sent to bed early, and were all seven in a large bed, each wearing a crown of gold on her head. In the same room was another bed just as large. Into this the ogre's wife put the seven little boys to sleep, while she went off to her husband.

Hop-o-my-Thumb had noticed that the ogre's daughters all wore golden crowns on their heads, [73] and in the middle of the night, fearing that the

ogre might come up in the dark and dispatch them, he got up, took off the night-caps from his and his brothers' heads and went very softly to the bed where the little ogresses were sleeping; then he removed their golden crowns and put on their heads the night-caps, after which he put the crowns on his brothers' heads and his own, and crept into bed again. Matters turned out just as he had expected. The ogre grew impatient and could not wait for morning to come. He jumped out of bed, and seizing his great knife, said,—

"Let us go and see how our young rogues are now; we won't make two bites at a cherry." So he stole on tiptoe up to the chamber, and came to the bed where the little boys lay, who were all asleep except Hop-o'-my-Thumb. He was dreadfully frightened when the ogre placed his hand upon his head to feel it, as he had in turn felt those of all his brothers. The ogre, who felt the golden crowns, was puzzled.

"Truly," said he, "I was about to do a pretty job. I must have drank too much last night. He then went to the bed where his daughters slept, and passing his hand over their heads, felt the little night-caps. "Aha!" he cried, "Here are our young wags. Let us to work at once." So saying, he immediately cut the throats of his seven daughters, and then wiping his knife with satisfaction, went back to bed again. As soon as Hop-o'-my-Thumb heard the ogre snoring, he woke his brothers, and bade them dress themselves quickly and follow him. They went down softly into the garden and jumped over the wall. They ran all the rest of the night in fear and trembling, not knowing whither they should flee. The ogre, on awaking in the morning, said to his wife, "Get up-stairs and dress the little rogues you took in last night." She was much astonished at the kindness of her husband, not suspecting the sort of dressing he meant, and supposing he had ordered her to go and put their clothes on them. She went up-stairs quickly, and there she saw their seven daughters all dead in their beds. She fainted away at the sight, and the ogre, waiting and wondering why his wife [74] did not come, went up-stairs to see what was the matter.

"Ha! what have I done!" he exclaimed. "But these wretches shall pay for it speedily." He threw a basin of water in his wife's face to revive her and said, "Quick! get me my seven-league boots that I may go and catch them!" He set out, and after running in every direction came at last upon the track of the poor children, who were not above a hundred yards from their father's house. They saw the ogre striding from hill to hill, and stepping over rivers as easily as if they were brooks. Hop-o'-my-Thumb discovering a hollow rock close by where they were, bade his brothers hide in it, while he crept in afterward and kept watch at the entrance. The ogre by this time was very tired, for seven-league boots are fatiguing to the wearer, and sat down to rest upon the very rock in which the little boys had hidden themselves. There he fell sound asleep, and began to snore so dreadfully that the children were quite as frightened as when they were in his house.


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Hop-o'-my-Thumb whispered to his brothers to run quickly into their house and not be uneasy about him. They did as he told them, and were soon in the wood-cutter's home. Then Hop-o'-my-Thumb, when he saw them safely housed, stole up to the ogre, pulled off his boots, and got into them himself. The boots, to fit the Ogre, were very large and very long, but being fairy boots they had the knack of exactly fitting every leg they were put on, so they were just the right size for Hop-o'-my-Thumb. He went straight to the ogre's house, where he found the ogre's wife weeping bitterly over her daughters.

"Your husband," said he, "is in great danger, for he has been seized by a band of robbers who threaten to kill him if he does not give them all his gold and silver. At the moment they had their daggers at his throat, he discovered me, and begged me to come and tell you the plight lie was in, and to give me all the money he had, else they would kill him without mercy. He bade me wear his seven-league boots, which you see I have on, that I might make haste, and that you might know I was not imposing on you."

The good woman, very much alarmed, immediately gave him all the money there was in the house, for the ogre was a good husband to her in spite of his temper and his fondness for little boys. So Hop-o'-my-Thumb, laden with treasures, hastened back to his father's house, where they lived ever after happily together. As for the ogre, he had grown so heavy that he could not get about without his seven-league boots, so there he lay in the sun and the crows came after he died and picked all the skin off his bones.


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