From “The Fairy Book” by Miss Mulock
Illustrations by Felix Lorioux
There once lived in a village a faggot-maker and his wife, who had seven children, all boys; the eldest was no more than ten years old, and the youngest was only seven.
It was odd enough, to be sure, that they should have so many children in such a short time; but the truth is, the wife always brought him two and once three at a time. This made him very poor, for not one of these boys was old enough to get a living, and what was still worse, the youngest was a puny little fellow who hardly ever spoke a word. Now this, indeed, was a mark of his good sense, but it made his father and mother suppose him to be silly, and they thought that at last he would turn out quite a fool. This boy was the least size ever seen; for when he was born he was no bigger than a man’s thumb, which made him be christened by the name of Hop-o’-my-thumb. The poor child was the drudge of the whole house and always bore the blame of everything that was done wrong. For all this, Hop-o’-my-thumb was far more clever than any of his brothers; and though he spoke but little, he heard and knew more than people thought. It happened just at this time, that for want of rain the fields had grown but half as much corn and potatoes as they used to grow; so that the faggot-maker and his wife could not give the boys the food they had before, which was always either bread or potatoes.
After the father and mother had grieved some time, they thought that as they could contrive no other way to live, they must somehow get rid of their children. One night when the boys were gone to bed, and the faggot-maker and his wife were sitting over a few lighted sticks, to warm themselves, the husband sighed deeply, and said, “You see, my dear, we cannot maintain our children any longer, and to see them die of hunger before my eyes is what I could never bear. I will, therefore, to-morrow morning take them to the forest, and leave them in the thickest part of it, so that they will not be able to find their way back: this will be very easy; for while they amuse themselves with tying up the faggots, we need only slip away when they are looking some other way.”
“Ah! husband,” cried the poor wife, “you cannot, no, you never can consent to be the death of your own children.”
The husband in vain told her to think how very poor they were.
The wife replied “that this was true, to be sure; but if she was poor, she was still their mother;” and then she cried as if her heart would break. At last she thought how shocking it would be to see them starved to death before their eyes; so she agreed to what her husband had said, and then went sobbing to bed.
Hop-o’-my-thumb had been awake all the time; and when he heard his father talk very seriously, he slipped away from his brothers’ side, and crept under his father’s bed, to hear all that was said without being seen.
When his father and mother had left off talking, he got back to his own place, and passed the night in thinking what he should do the next morning.
He rose early, and ran to the river’s side, where he filled his pockets with small white pebbles, and then went back home. In the morning they all set out, as their father and mother had agreed on; and Hop-o’-my-thumb did not say a word to any of his brothers about what he had heard. They came to a forest that was so very thick that they could not see each other a few yards off. The faggot-maker set to work cutting down wood; and the children began to gather the twigs, to make faggots of them.
When the father and mother saw that the young ones were all very busy, they slipped away without being seen. The children soon found themselves alone, and began to cry as loud as they could. Hop-o’-my-thumb let them cry on, for he knew well enough how to lead them safe home, an he had taken care to drop the white pebbles he had in his pocket along all the way he had come. He only said to them, “Never mind it, my lads: father and mother have left us here by ourselves, but only take care to follow me, and I will lead you back again.”
When they heard this they left off crying, and followed Hop-o’-my-thumb, who soon brought them to their father’s house by the very same path which they had come along. At first they had not the courage to go in; but stood at the door to hear what their parents were talking about. Just as the faggot-maker and his wife had come home without their children, a great gentleman of the village sent to pay them two guineas, for work they had done for him, which he had owed them so long that they never thought of getting a farthing of it. This money made them quite happy; for the poor creatures were very hungry, and had no other way of getting anything to eat.
The faggot-maker sent his wife out immediately to buy some meat; and as it was a long time since she had made a hearty meal, she bought as much meat as would have been enough for six or eight persons. The truth was, when she was thinking what would be enough for dinner, she forgot that her children were not at home; but as soon as she and her husband had done eating, she cried out, “Alas! where are our poor children? how they would feast on what we have left! It was all your fault, husband! I told you we should repent leaving them to starve in the forest!–Oh mercy! perhaps they have already been eaten by the hungry wolves!” The poor woman shed plenty of tears: “Alas! alas!” said she, over and over again, “what is become of my dear children?”
The children, who were all at the door, cried out together, “Here we are, mother, here we are!”
She flew like lightning to let them in, and kissed every one of them.
The faggot-maker and his wife were charmed at having their children once more with them, and their joy for this lasted till their money was all spent; but then they found themselves quite as ill off as before. So by degrees they again thought of leaving them in the forest: and that the young ones might not come back a second time, they said they would take them a great deal farther than they did at first. They could not talk about this matter so slily but that Hop-o’-my-thumb found means to hear all that passed between them; but he cared very little about it, for he thought it would be easy for him to do just the same as he had done before. But though he got up very early the next morning to go to the river’s side to get the pebbles, a thing which he had not thought of hindered him; for he found that the house-door was double-locked. Hop-o’-my-thumb was now quite at a loss what to do; but soon after this, his mother gave each of the children a piece of bread for breakfast, and then it came into his head that he could make his share do as well as the pebbles, by dropping crumbs of it all the way as he went. So he did not eat his piece, but put it into his pocket.
It was not long before they all set out, and their parents took care to lead them into the very thickest and darkest part of the forest. They then slipped away by a by-path as before, and left the children by themselves again. All this did not give Hop-o’-my-thumb any concern, for he thought himself quite sure of getting back by means of the crumbs that he had dropped by the way; but when he came to look for them he found that not a crumb was left, for the birds had eaten them all up.
The poor children were now sadly off, for the further they went the harder it was for them to get out of the forest. At last night came on, and the noise of the wind among the trees seemed to them like the howling of wolves, so that every moment they thought they should be eaten up. They hardly dared to speak a word, or to move a limb, for fear. Soon after there came a heavy rain, which wetted them to the very skin, and made the ground so slippery, that they fell down almost at every step, and got dirty all over.
Before it was quite dark, Hop-o’-my-thumb climbed up to the top of a tree, and looked round on all sides to see if he could find any way of getting help. He saw a small light, like that of a candle, but it was a very great way off, and beyond the forest. He then came down from the tree, to try to find the way to it; but he could not see it when he was on the ground, and he was in the utmost trouble what to do next. They walked on towards the place where he had seen the light, and at last reached the end of the forest, and got sight of it again. They now walked faster; and after being much tired and vexed (for every time they got into lower ground they lost sight of the light), came to the house it was in. They knocked at the door, which was opened by a very good-natured-looking lady, who asked what brought them there. Hop-o’-my-thumb told her that they were poor children, who had lost their way in the forest, and begged that she would give them a bed till morning. When the lady saw that they had such pretty faces, she began to shed tears and said, “Ah! my poor children, you do not know what place you are come to. This is the house of an Ogre, who eats up little boys and girls.”
“Alas! madam,” replied Hop-o’-my-thumb, who trembled from head to foot, “what shall we do? If we go back to the forest, we are sure of being torn to pieces by the wolves; we would rather, therefore, be eaten by the gentleman: besides, when he sees us, perhaps he may take pity on us and spare our lives.”
The Ogre’s wife thought she could contrive to hide them from her husband till morning; so she let them go in and warm themselves by a good fire, before which there was a whole sheep roasting for the Ogre’s supper. When they had stood a short time by the fire, there came a loud knocking at the door: this was the Ogre come home. His wife hurried the children under the bed, and told them to lie still, and she then let her husband in.
The Ogre asked if supper were ready, and if the wine were fetched from the cellar; and then he sat down at the table. The sheep was not quite done, but he liked it much better half raw. In a minute or two the Ogre began to snuff to his right and left, and said he smelt child’s flesh.
“It must be this calf which has just been killed,” said his wife.
“I smell child’s flesh, I tell thee once more,” cried the Ogre, looking all about the room; “I smell child’s flesh; there is something going on that I do not know of.”
As soon as he had spoken these words, he rose from his chair and went towards the bed.
“Ah! madam,” said he, “you thought to cheat me, did you? Wretch! thou art old and tough thyself, or else I would eat thee up too! But come, come, this is lucky enough; for the brats will make a nice dish for three Ogres, who are my particular friends, and who are to dine with me to-morrow.”
He then drew them out one by one from under the bed. The poor children fell on their knees and begged his pardon as humbly as they could; but this Ogre was the most cruel of all Ogres, and instead of feeling any pity, he only began to think how sweet and tender their flesh would be; so he told his wife they would be nice morsels, if she served them up with plenty of sauce. He then fetched a large knife, and began to sharpen it on a long whetstone that he held in his left hand; and all the while he came nearer and nearer to the bed. The Ogre took up one of the children, and was going to set about cutting him to pieces; but his wife said to him, “What in the world makes you take the trouble of killing them to-night? Will it not be time enough to-morrow morning?”
“Hold your prating,” replied the Ogre; “they will grow tender by being kept a little while after they are killed.”
“But,” said his wife, “you have got so much meat in the house already; here is a calf, two sheep and half a pig.”
“True,” said the Ogre, “so give them all a good supper, that they may not get lean, and then send them to bed.”
The good creature was quite glad at this. She gave them plenty for their supper, but the poor children were so terrified that they could not eat a bit.
The Ogre sat down to his wine, very much pleased with the thought of giving his friends such a dainty dish: this made him drink rather more than common, and he was soon obliged to go to bed himself. Now the Ogre had seven daughters, who were all very young like Hop-o’-my-thumb and his brothers. These young Ogresses had fair skins, because they fed on raw meat like their father; but they had small grey eyes, quite round, and sunk in their heads, hooked noses, wide mouths, and very long sharp teeth standing a great way off each other. They were too young as yet to do much mischief; but they showed that if they lived to be as old as their father, they would grow quite as cruel as he was, for they took pleasure already in biting young children, and sucking their blood. The Ogresses had been put to bed very early that night; they were all in one bed, which was very large, and every one of them had a crown of gold on her head. There was another bed of the same size in the room, and in this the Ogre’s wife put the seven little boys, and then went to bed herself along with her husband.
Now Hop-o’-my-thumb was afraid that the Ogre would wake in the night and kill him and his brothers while they were asleep. So he got out of bed in the middle of the night as softly as he could, took off all his brothers’ nightcaps and his own, and crept with them to the bed that the Ogre’s daughters were in: he then took off their crowns, and put the nightcaps on their heads instead: next he put the crowns on his brothers’ heads and his own, and got into bed again; expecting, after this, that, if the Ogre should come, he would take him and his brothers for his own children. Everything turned out as he wished. The Ogre waked soon after midnight, and began to be very sorry that he had put off killing the boys till the morning: so he jumped out of bed, and took hold of his large knife. “Let us see,” said he, “what the young rogues are about, and do the business at once!” He then walked softly to the room where they all slept, and went up to the bed the boys were in, who were all asleep except Hop-o’-my-thumb. He touched their heads one at a time, and feeling the crowns of gold, said to himself, “Oh, oh! I had like to have made such a mistake. I must have drunk too much wine last night.”
He went next to the bed that his own little Ogresses were in, and when he felt the nightcaps, he said, “Ah! here you are, my lads:” and so in a moment he cut the throats of all his daughters.
He was very much pleased when he had done this, and then went back to his own bed. As soon as Hop-o’-my-thumb heard him snore, he awoke his brothers, and told them to put on their clothes quickly, and follow him. They stole down softly into the garden, and then jumped from the wall into the road: they ran as fast as their legs could carry them, but were so much afraid all the while, that they hardly knew which way to take. When the Ogre waked in the morning, he said to his wife, grinning, “My dear, go and dress the young rogues I saw last night.”
The wife was quite surprised at hearing her husband speak so kindly, and did not dream of the real meaning of his words. She supposed he wanted her to help them to put on their clothes; so she went upstairs, and the first thing she saw was her seven daughters with their throats cut and all over blood. This threw her into a fainting fit. The Ogre was afraid his wife might be too long in doing what he had set her about, so he went himself to help her; but he was as much shocked as she had been at the dreadful sight of his bleeding children. “Ah! what have I done?” he cried; “but the little rascals shall pay for it, I warrant them.”
He first threw some water on his wife’s face; and, as soon as she came to herself, he said to her: “Bring me quickly my seven-league boots, that I may go and catch the little vipers.”
The Ogre then put on these boots, and set out with all speed. He strided over many parts of the country, and at last turned into the very road in which the poor children were. For they had set off towards the faggot-maker’s cottage, which they had almost reached. They watched the Ogre stepping from mountain to mountain at one step, and crossing rivers as if they had been tiny brooks. At this Hop-o’-my-thumb thought a little what was to be done; and spying a hollow place under a large rock, he made his brothers get into it. He then crept in himself, but kept his eye fixed on the Ogre, to see what he would do next.
The Ogre found himself quite weary with the journey he had gone, for seven-league boots are very tiresome to the person who wears them; so he now began to think of resting, and happened to sit down on the very rock where the poor children were hid. As he was so tired, and it was a very hot day, he fell fast asleep, and soon began to snore so loud, that the little fellows were terrified.
When Hop-o’-my-thumb saw this he said to his brothers, “Courage, my lads! never fear! you have nothing to do but to steal away and get home while the Ogre is fast asleep, and leave me to shift for myself.”
The brothers now were very glad to do whatever he told them, and so they soon came to their father’s house. In the mean time Hop-o’-my-thumb went up to the Ogre softly, pulled off his seven-league boots very gently, and put them on his own legs: for though the boots were very large, yet being fairy-boots, they could make themselves small enough to fit any leg they pleased.
As soon as ever Hop-o’-my-thumb had made sure of the Ogre’s seven-league boots, he went at once to the palace, and offered his services to carry orders from the king to his army, which was a great way off, and to bring back the quickest accounts of the battle they were just at that time fighting with the enemy. In short, he thought he could be of more use to the king than all his mail coaches, and so should make his fortune in this manner. He succeeded so well, that in a short time he made money enough to keep himself, his father, mother, and six brothers, without the trouble of working, for the rest of their lives. Having done this, he went back to his father’s cottage, where all the family were delighted to see him again. As the great fame of his boots had been talked of at court in this time, the king sent for him, and indeed employed him very often in the greatest affairs of the state, so that he became one of the richest men in the kingdom.
And now let us see what became of the wicked Ogre. He slept so soundly that he never discovered the loss of his boots; but having an evil conscience and bad dreams, he fell in his sleep from the corner of the rock where Hop-o’-my-thumb and his brothers had left him, and bruised himself so much from head to foot, that he could not stir: so he was forced to stretch himself out at full length, and wait for some one to come and help him.
Now a good many faggot-makers passed near the place where the Ogre lay; and, when they heard him groan, they went up to ask him what was the matter. But the Ogre had eaten such a great number of children in his lifetime, that he had grown so very big and fat that these men could not even have carried one of his legs; so they were forced to leave him there. At last night came on, and then a large serpent came out of a wood just by, and stung him, so that he died in great pain.
By and by, Hop-o’-my-thumb, who had become the king’s first favourite, heard of the Ogre’s death; and the first thing he did was to tell his majesty all that the good-natured Ogress had done to save the lives of himself and brothers. The king was so much pleased at what he heard, that he asked Hop-o’-my-thumb if there was any favour he could bestow upon her? Hop-o’-my-thumb thanked the king, and desired that the Ogress might have the noble title of Duchess of Draggletail given to her; which was no sooner asked than granted. The Ogress then came to court, and lived very happily for many years, enjoying the vast fortune she had found in the Ogre’s chests. As for Hop-o’-my-thumb, he every day grew more witty and brave; till at last the king made him the greatest lord in the kingdom, and set him over all his affairs.