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HERE once lived in a village a fagot‑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 had so many children in such a short time; but the truth is, his wife often brought him two at a time. This made him very poor, for not one of these boys was old enough to get his 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 of 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 every thing 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 fagot-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 for this sad affair, which gave them more concern than any thing had ever done yet, they thought that as they could contrive no other way, they must some how get rid of their children. One night when the children were gone to bed, and the fagot-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 fagots, 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, 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 her 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 brother’s 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 either 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 fagot-maker set to work cutting down wood; and the children began to gather all the twigs, to make fagots of them.
When the father and mother saw that the young ones were all very busy, they slipped away without being seen by them, and got into a by-path, where they soon lost sight of the forest. In a short time the children 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 take them safe home, as 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 fagot-maker and his wife had come home without their children, a great gentleman of the village sent to pay them two guineas, which he had owed them so long for work they had done for him, 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 any thing to eat.
The fagot-maker sent his wife out in a moment 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, she forgot that her children were not at home, when she was thinking of what would be enough for dinner: 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, Richard! I told you over and over that we should repent the hour when we left them to starve in the forest! — Oh, mercy! perhaps they have been already eaten up by the hungry wolves! Richard! Richard! I told you how it would be!’ At last the fagot-maker grew very angry with his wife, who said more than twenty times that he would repent what he had done, and that she had told him so again and again. He said he would give her a good beating if she did not hold her tongue. Now, indeed, the fagot-maker was quite as sorry as his wife, for what had been done: but her scolding teased him; and like other husbands, he liked his wife to be always in the right; but not to talk of being so. The poor woman shed plenty of tears: ‘alas: alas!’ said she, over and over again, ‘what is become of my dear children?’ and once she spoke this so loud that the children, who were all at the door, cried out all together, ‘here we are, mother, here we are!’ She flew like lightning to let them in, and kissed every one of them. ‘How glad I am to see you, you little rogues;’ said she: ‘are you not tired and hungry? Ah, poor little Bobby! why, thou art dirt all over, my child! come hither and let me wash thy face.’ Bobby was the youngest of the boys excepting Hop-o’-my-Thumb; and as he had red hair, like his mother, he had always been her darling. The children sat down to dinner, and ate very heartily, to the great joy of the parents. They then gave an account, speaking all at once, how much they were afraid when they found themselves alone in the forest, and did not know their way home again.
The fagot-maker and his wife were charmed at having their children once more along 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 once more, and that the young ones might not come back a second time, they said they would take them a great deal farther off than they did at first. They could not talk about this matter so slyly 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 and get the pebbles, a thing that 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 they 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 morsel 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 as if it was the howling of wolves, so that every moment they thought they should be eaten up. They hardly dared to speak a word, or 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: for the little ones called out to their elder brother, to get the mud off their hands.
When it began to grow light, 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 his 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 toward 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 a bottom they lost sight of the light,) they 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 they had such pretty faces she began to shed tears, and said, ‘Ah! 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, as well as his brothers, ‘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 up 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 the 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. 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 the supper was ready, and if the wine was fetched from the cellar; and then he sat down at the table. The sheep was still all raw, but he liked it so much the better. In a minute or two the Ogre began to snuff to his right and left, and said he smelled 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 well as they could speak; 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 afraid 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. 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 gray 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. These 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. Hop-o’-my-Thumb took notice that all the young Ogresses had crowns of gold upon their heads; and he 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; so he thought, 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 in a moment: ‘Let us see,’ said he, ‘what the young rogues are about, and do the job 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, and touched their heads one at a time. When the Ogre felt the crowns of gold, he said to himself, ‘Oh, oh! I had like to have made a pretty mistake. I think, to be sure, I drank too much wine last night.’ He went next to the bed that his daughters 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; ‘My dear, go and dress the young rogues I saw last night.’ The Ogress was quite surprised at hearing her husband so kind to them as she thought, and did not dream of the real meaning of his words. She supposed he wanted her to help them put their clothes on; so she went up stairs, 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 varlets 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, on their journey towards their father’s house, and which they had now almost reached. They had seen the Ogre a good while striding from mountain to mountain at one step, and crossing rivers with the greatest ease. At this, Hop-o’-my-Thumb thought within himself what was to be done; and spying a hollow place under a large rock, he made his brothers get into it. He then stepped 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 that the poor children were hid in. 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 as he told them, and so they soon came to their father’s house. In the meantime 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 they were fairy boots, and so 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. But before he had made many strides
with his boots, he heard a voice that told him to stop. Hop-o’-my-Thumb was
startled a good deal, so he looked about him to see what the noise came from;
and then he heard the same voice say, ‘Listen, Hop-o’-my-Thumb, to what I am
about to say to you. Do not go to the palace. Waste no time; the Ogre sleeps;
he may awake. Know, Hop-o-my-Thumb, that the boots you took from the Ogre while
he was asleep are two fairies, and I am the eldest of them. We have seen the
clever things you have done to keep your brothers from harm, and for that
reason we will bestow upon you the gift of riches, if you will once more employ
your wits to a good purpose, and be as brave as before. But fairies must not
speak of such matters as these: break the shell of the largest nut you can find
in your pocket, and you will find a paper inside that will tell you all that
you are to do.’ Hop-o’-my-Thumb did not stand thinking about these strange
things, but in a moment put his hand into his pocket for the nut. He next
cracked it with his teeth, and found a piece of paper inside, carefully folded
up: which he opened, and to his great surprise read as follows:
‘Go unto the Ogre’s door,
These words speak, and nothing more:
Ogress, Ogre cannot come;
Give great key to Hop-o’-my-Thumb.’
Hop-o’-my-Thumb now began to say the last two lines over and over again, for fear he should forget them; and when he thought he had learned them by heart, he made two or three of his largest strides, and soon reached the Ogre’s door. He knocked loudly, which brought the Ogre’s wife down stairs; but at sight of Hop-o’-my-Thumb she started back, and looked as if she would shut the door against him. Hop-o’-my-Thumb knew he had not a moment to lose: so he seemed as if he did not think how much vexed she was at seeing him who had caused her daughters to be killed by their own father. Hop-o’-my-Thumb then began to talk as if he was in a great hurry. He said that matters were now changed; for the Ogre had laid hold of him and his brothers, as they were getting nuts by the side of a hedge, and was going to take them back to his house: but all at once the Ogre saw a number of men who looked like lords, and who were riding on the finest horses that ever were beheld, coming up to him full speed. He said the Ogre soon found they were sent by the king with a message, to borrow of the Ogre a large sum of money, which he stood in need of to pay his soldiers, as the king thought the Ogre was the richest of all his subjects. Hop-o’-my-Thumb said this on purpose to find how rich the Ogre was. He then said that the lords found themselves very much tired with the long journey they had made; and the Ogre was vastly civil to them, and told them they need not go any farther, because he had a person with him who would not fail doing in a clever manner any thing he was set about. He said that the great lords thanked the Ogre a thousand times when they heard this, and in the name of the king had granted to him the noble title of Duke of Draggletail; on which, the Ogre had then taken off his boots, and helped to draw them on the legs of Hop-o’-my-Thumb; and gave him this message, which he charged him by all means to make all the haste he could with, both in going and coming back again:
‘Ogress, Ogre cannot come;
Give great key to Hop-o’-my-Thumb.’
When the Ogress saw her husband’s boots, she was quite proud at the thoughts of being made duchess of Draggletail, and living at court, so that she was very ready to believe all that Hop-o’-my-Thumb had told her; indeed so great was her joy, that she quite forgot her seven daughters with their throats cut and bathed in their blood. She ran in a minute to fetch the great key, and gave it to Hop-o’-my-Thumb, telling him at the same time where to find the chest of money and jewels that it would open. Hop-o’-my-Thumb took as much of these riches as he thought would be enough to maintain his father, mother, and brothers, without the fatigue of labour, all the rest of their lives; saying to himself all the while that it was better an honest fagot-maker should have part of such great riches, than an Ogre, who did nothing but eat children, and who kept all the money locked up without spending it or giving any to the poor. In a short time Hop-o’-my-Thumb came to his father’s house, and all the family were glad 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 on the greatest affairs of the state; so that he became one of the richest men in the kingdom. As for the Ogre, he fell in his sleep from the corner of the rock where Hop-o’-my-Thumb and his brothers had left him, to the ground, 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 fagot-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. Before this time Hop-o’-my-Thumb had become the king’s favourite: and as soon as ever he heard the news of the Ogre’s death, he told 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.