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The Book of Fables and Folk Stories by  Horace E. Scudder


 

 

TOM THUMB

I
TOM IS SOLD FOR A BARGAIN

A POOR woodman once sat by the fire in his cottage, and his wife sat by his side, spinning.

"How lonely it is," said he, "for you and me to sit here by ourselves without any children to play about and amuse us."

"What you say is very true," said his wife, as she turned her wheel. "How happy should I be, if I had but one child. If it were ever so small, if it were no bigger than my thumb, I should be very happy and love it dearly."

Now it came to pass that the good woman had her wish, for some time afterward she had [73] a little boy who was healthy and strong, but not much bigger than her thumb. So they said:—

"Well, we cannot say we have not got what we wished for, and, little as he is, we will love him dearly!" and they called him Tom Thumb. They gave him plenty to eat, yet he never grew bigger. Still his eyes were sharp and sparkling, and he soon showed himself to be a bright little fellow, who always knew what he was about.

One day the woodman was getting ready to go into the wood to cut fuel, and he said:—

"I wish I had some one to bring the cart after me, for I want to make haste."

"O father," cried Tom, "I will take care of that. The cart shall be in the wood by the time you want it." The woodman laughed and said:

"How can that be? You cannot reach up to the horse's bridle."

"Never mind that, father. If my mother will only harness the horse, I will get into his ear, and tell him which way to go."

"Well," said the father, "we will try for once."

When the time came, the mother harnessed the horse to the cart, and put Tom into his ear. There the little man sat and told the beast how to go, crying out, "Go on," and "Stop," as he [74] wanted. So the horse went on just as if the woodman were driving it himself.

It happened that the horse fell to trotting too fast, and Tom called out, "Gently, gently." Just then two strangers came up.

"How odd it is," one of them said. "There is a cart going along, and I hear a carter talking to the horse, but I see no one."

"That is strange," said the other. "Let us follow the cart and see where it goes." They went on into the wood, and came at last to the place where the woodman was. The cart drove up and Tom said:—

"See, father, here I am with the cart, safe and sound. Now, take me down."

So his father took hold of the horse with one hand, and lifted his son down with the other. He put him on a little stick, where he was as merry as you please. The two strangers looked on and saw it all, and did not know what to say for wonder. At last one took the other aside and said:—

"That little chap will make our fortune if we can get him, and carry him about from town to town as a show. We must buy him." Then they went to the woodman and asked him what he would take for the little man. "He will [75] be better off with us than with you," they said.

"I'll not sell him at all," said the father. "My own flesh and blood is dearer to me than all the silver and gold in the world."

But Tom heard what was said, and crept up his father's coat to his shoulder, and spoke in his ear:—

"Take the money, father, and let them have me. I'll soon come back to you." So the woodman at last agreed to sell Tom Thumb to the strangers for a large piece of gold.

"Where do you like to sit?" one of them asked Tom.

"Oh, put me on the rim of your hat; that will be a nice place for me. I can walk about there and see the country as we go along."

They did as he wished. Tom took leave of his father, and went off with the two strangers. They kept on their way till it began to grow dark. Then Tom said:—

"Let me get down, I am tired." So the man took off his hat, and set him down on a lump of earth in a ploughed field, by the side of the road. But Tom ran about among the furrows, and at last slipped into an old mouse-hole.

"Good-night, masters. I'm off," said he. [76] "Look sharp after me next time." They ran to the place and poked the ends of their sticks into the mouse-hole, but all in vain. Tom crawled farther in. They could not get him, and as it was now quite dark they went away very cross.

II
HOW TOM FRIGHTENED THE THIEVES

WHEN Tom found they were gone, he crept out of his hiding-place.

"How dangerous it is," said he, "to walk about in this ploughed field. If I were to fall from one of those big lumps I should surely break my neck." At last, he found a large, empty snail-shell.

"This is lucky," said he. "I can sleep here very well," and in he crept. Just as he was falling asleep he heard two men pass by, and one said to the other:—

"How shall we manage to steal that rich farmer's silver and gold?"

"I'll tell you!" cried Tom.

"What noise was that? I am sure I heard some one speak," said the thief. He was in a great fright. They both stood listening, and Tom spoke up:—

[77] "Take me with you, and I will show you how to get the farmer's money."

"But where are you?"

"Look about on the ground, and listen where the sound comes from."

"What a little chap! What can you do for us?"

"Why, I can get between the iron window bars, and throw you out whatever you want."

"That is a good thought. Come along; we will see what you can do."

When they came to the farmer's house, Tom slipped through the bars into the room, and then called as loud as he could:—

"Will you have all that there is here?"

"Softly, softly!" said the thieves. "Speak low, or you will wake somebody."

Tom made as if he did not understand them, and bawled out again:—

"How much will you have? Shall I throw it all out?"

Now the cook lay in the next room, and hearing a noise, she raised herself in her bed and listened. But the thieves had been thrown into a fright and had run away. By and by they plucked up courage, and said:—

[78] "That little fellow is only trying to make fools of us." So they came back and spoke low to him, saying: "Now let us have no more of your jokes, but throw out some of the money." Then Tom called out again as loud as he could:—

"Very well! Hold your hands; here it comes."

The cook heard this plainly; she sprang out of bed, and ran to open the door. The thieves were off as if a wolf were after them, and the cook could see nothing in the dark. So she went back for a light, and while she was gone, Tom slipped off into the barn.

The cook looked about and searched every hole and corner, but found nobody; she went back to bed, and thought she must have been dreaming with her eyes open. Tom crawled about in the hayloft, and at last found a good place to rest in. He meant to sleep till daylight, and then find his way home to his father and mother.

III
INSIDE A COW

POOR Tom Thumb! his troubles were only begun. The cook got up early to feed the cows. She went straight to the hayloft, and carried [79] away a large bundle of hay, with the little man in the middle of it fast asleep. He slept on, and did not wake till he found himself in the mouth of a cow. She had taken him up with a mouthful of hay.

"Dear me," said he, "how did I manage to tumble into the mill?" But he soon found out where he was, and he had to keep all his wits about him, or he would have fallen between the cow's teeth, and then he would have been crushed to death. At last he went down into her stomach.

"It is rather dark here," said he; "they forgot to build windows in this room to let the sun in." He made the best of his bad luck, but he did not like his resting-place at all. The worst of it was, that more and more hay was coming down, and there was less and less room to turn around in. At last he cried out as loud as he could:—

"Don't bring me any more hay! don't bring me any more hay!" The cook just then was milking the cow. She heard some one speak, but she saw nobody. Yet she was sure it was the same voice she had heard in the night. It put her into such a fright that she fell off her stool and upset her milk-pail. She ran [80] off as fast as she could to the farmer, and said:—

"Sir, sir, the cow is talking." But the farmer said:—

"Woman, thou art surely mad." Still, he went with her into the cow-house, to see what was the matter. Just as they went in, Tom cried out again:—

"Don't bring me any more hay! don't bring me any more hay!" Then the farmer was in a fright. He was sure the cow must be mad, so he gave orders to have her killed at once. The cow was killed, and the stomach with Tom in it was thrown into the barnyard.

IV
SAFE AT HOME AGAIN

TOM soon set himself to work to get out, and that was not a very easy task. A hungry wolf was prowling about. Just as Tom had made room to get his head out the wolf seized the stomach and swallowed it. Off he ran, but Tom was not cast down. He began to chat with the wolf, and called out:—

"My good friend, I can show you a famous treat."

[81] "Where is that?"

"In the house near the wood. You can crawl through the drain into the kitchen, and there you will find cakes, ham, beef, and everything that is nice." This was the house where Tom Thumb lived. The wolf did not need to be asked twice. That very night he went to the house and crawled through the drain into the kitchen. There he ate and drank to his heart's content.

After a while he had eaten so much that he was ready to go away. But now he could not squeeze through the drain. This was just what Tom had thought of, and the little chap set up a great shout.

"Will you be quiet?" said the wolf. "You will wake everybody in the house."

"What is that to me?" said the little man. "You have had your frolic; now I have a mind to be merry myself." And he began again to sing and shout as loud as he could.

The woodman and his wife were awakened by the noise, and peeped through a crack into the kitchen. When they saw a wolf there, they were in a great fright. The woodman ran for his axe, and gave his wife a scythe.

"You stay behind," said the woodman. [82] "When I have knocked the wolf on the head, you run at him with the scythe." Tom heard all this and said:—

"Father! father! I am here. The wolf has swallowed me."

"Heaven be praised!" said the woodman. "We have found our dear child again. Do not use the scythe, wife, for you may hurt him." Then he aimed a great blow, and struck the wolf on the head, and killed him at once. They opened him, and set Tom Thumb free.

"Ah!" said his father, "what fears we have had for you!"

"Yes, father," he answered. "I have traveled all over the world since we parted, and now I am very glad to get fresh air again."

"Where have you been?"

"I have been in a mouse-hole, in a snail-shell, down a cow's throat, and inside the wolf, and yet here I am again, safe and sound."

"Well, well," said his father. "We will not sell you again for all the riches in the world."

So they hugged and kissed their dear little son, and gave him plenty to eat and drink. And they bought him new clothes, for his old ones had been quite spoiled on his journey.


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