HOP-O'-MY-THUMB

Retold by Joseph Jacobs

ONCE upon a time there was a Wood-cutter and his wife who had seven children, all boys. The eldest was only ten years old. They were very poor, and their seven children were a great burden, since not one of them was able to earn his living.

What troubled them still more was the fact that the youngest was not only very delicate, but silent, which they took for stupidity, but which was really a mark of his good sense. He was very small, and when he was born he was scarcely bigger than one's thumb, which caused him to be called little "Hop-o'-My-Thumb." This poor child was the scapegoat of the house, and was blamed for everything. He was, however, sharper and wiser than all his brothers, and though he spoke little, he listened a great deal.

At last there came a bad year, and so great a famine, that the poor people resolved to rid themselves of their children. One evening, when the children were all in bed, and the Wood-cutter with a sorrowful heart, was sitting by the fire with his wife, he said to her: "You know that we can no longer support our children. I cannot let them die of hunger before my eyes, and I am resolved to take them to the wood to- morrow, and lose them. It will be easy to do this, for, while they amuse themselves tying my sticks, we have only to slip away without their seeing us.

"Ah!" cried his Wife, "would you then destroy your children?" In vain did her husband set forth to her their great poverty: she would not consent. She was poor, she said. But she was their mother. At last, having considered what a grief it would be to her to have them die of hunger before her eyes, she agreed to her husband's plan, and went, weeping, to bed.

Hop-o'-My-Thumb had listened to all that they had said, for having heard them, from his bed, talking of family matters, he had risen softly and slipped under his father's stool, in order to hear without being seen. He then went back to bed, but lay awake the rest of the night, thinking what he should do. He rose early and went to a brook, where he filled his pocket with little white pebbles, and then returned to the house.

Soon after, they all set off, but Hop-o'-My-Thumb did not tell his brothers anything of what he knew. They went into a forest, so thick that they could not see each other at a distance of ten paces. The Wood-cutter began to fell a tree, while the children gathered sticks to make up into bundles. The father and mother, seeing them thus employed, slipped away unnoticed, and then fled rapidly, by a little winding path.

When the children found they were alone, they began to scream and cry with all their strength. Hop-o'-My-Thumb let them cry, knowing well how to get home; for, while walking, he had dropped along the path the little white pebbles which he had in his pockets.

He therefore said to them, "Fear not, brothers, my father and mother have left us here, but I will lead you to the house only follow me."

They obeyed at once, and he led them home along the same path by which they had come into the forest at first. They did not dare to go into the house, but placed themselves near the door, in order to hear what their father and mother were saying.

Now it had so happened that, just as the Woodcutter and his Wife reached home, the lord of the village had sent them ten crowns, which he had long owed them, and which they had never hoped to obtain. This gave them new life, for the poor creatures were almost dead from hunger.

The Wood-cutter immediately sent his Wife to the butcher's, where, as it was long since they had eaten anything, she bought three times as much meat as was needed for the supper of two people.

When they were seated at table, the Wife said, "Alas! where now are our poor children? They would make good cheer with what we have left. But it is you who wished to lose them. I always said we should repent it. What are they doing now in the forest? Alas! alas! perhaps the wolves have already eaten them! You were most cruel thus to lose your children."

The Wood-cutter at last grew impatient, for she repeated more than twenty times that they would repent what they had done, and that she had told him so. He threatened to beat her if she was not silent. The Wood-cutter did not do this because he was less sorry than his Wife, but because her reproaches angered him. His Wife now shed tears, and cried out, "Alas! where are my children, my poor children?"

She said this so loud that the children, who were at the door, heard her, and all cried out together, "Here we are! here we are!"

She ran quickly to open the door, and said, as she embraced them, "How overjoyed I am to see you again, my darling children! you must be very tired and very hungry; and you, Peter, how muddy you are! come, let me brush you." Peter was her eldest son, whom she loved more than all the others.

The children then sat down at the table, and ate with an appetite which delighted their father and mother, to whom they described, all speaking at once, how frightened they had been in the forest.

These good people were filled with joy to have their children with them again, and this joy lasted as long as the ten crowns held out. But when the money was spent, they fell back into their former misery, and resolved to lose them once more; and in order not to fail again, they determined to take them much further into the forest than the first time.

They could not, however, speak of this so secretly but that they were overheard by Hop-o'-My-Thumb, who laid his plans to escape as before. Although he got up early in order to go out and pick up some little stones, he could not succeed in his purpose, for he found the door of the house shut and double-bolted. He was wondering what he should do, when, his mother having given them each a bit of bread for breakfast, he thought that he might use his bread instead of pebbles by dropping crumbs along the paths as they walked. He therefore slipped the bread into his pocket.

Their father and mother led them this time into the thickest and darkest part of the forest, and, as soon as they were there, ran away and left them.

Hop-o'-My-Thumb was not much troubled, because he believed he could easily find his way by means of the bread which he had scattered as he passed along. What was his surprise when he could not find a single crumb: the birds had come and eaten it all.

Now was their lot indeed wretched; the more they wandered about, the deeper they buried themselves in the forest. Night came, and a great wind arose which frightened them terribly. They thought they heard on all sides the howling of hungry wolves coming to eat them up. They did not dare to speak, or even turn their heads. Rain began to fall, which wet them to the skin. They slipped at every step, and, if they fell, got up so covered with mud that they could hardly move their hands.

Finally, Hop-o'-My-Thumb climbed to the top of a tree, to see if he could not discover something. Having looked on all sides, he at last saw a little gleam of light, like that from a candle, but it was very far off, beyond the forest. He got down from the tree: but when he was on the ground he no longer saw anything, which troubled him greatly. However, having walked for some time with his brothers in the direction where he had seen the light, he again saw it as they came out of the wood. At last they reached the house where the candle was, though not without many alarms, for they lost sight of it whenever they descended unto a hollow place.

They knocked at the door, which was opened to them by a woman. She asked them what they wanted. Hop-o'-My-Thumb replied that they were poor children who had lost themselves in the forest, and who asked, for charity's sake, a place to sleep.

The woman, seeing how bitter they were, began to weep, and said to them, "Alas! my poor children, whence do you come? Do you not know that this is the house of an Ogre, who eats little children?"

"Alas, madam," said Hop-o'-My-Thumb, who like his brothers was shaking with fear, "what shall we do? The wolves of the forest will certainly devour us to-night, if you will not give us shelter. This being the case, we had rather be eaten by the Ogre, and he, perhaps, will take pity on us, if you will beg him to do so."

The Ogre's wife, who thought she might be able to conceal them from her husband till the next morning, let them come in, and placed them near a good fire, where a whole sheep was roasting for the Ogre's supper.

When they had begun to get warm, they heard three or four heavy knocks at the door. It was the Ogre. His wife hastily hid the children under the bed, and then opened the door.

The Ogre asked first if supper was ready, and the wine drawn; and then sat down at the table. The mutton was nearly raw, but he liked it all the better on that account.

He then began to sniff about, saying that he smelled fresh meat.

"It must be this calf which I have just been dressing that you smell," said the wife.

"I smell fresh meat, I tell you again," said the Ogre, looking fiercely at his wife; "and there is something more of which I do not know."

Saying these words, he rose from the table and went straight to the bed, where he found the poor children.

"Ah!" said he, "this, then, is the way you wish to deceive me, wicked woman. I know not what prevents me from eating you, too. Here is game, which comes to me very conveniently to treat three Ogres of my acquaintance, who are coming to visit me about this time."

He then drew the little boys from under the bed, one after another. The poor children threw themselves on their knees begging for pardon. But they had to do with the most cruel of all the Ogres, who, far from having pity, devoured them already with his eyes, and said to his wife that they would be delicious morsels fried, when she had made a good sauce for them.

He took out a great knife, and, approaching the poor children, began to sharpen it on a long stone, which he held in his left hand. He then seized one of them, when his wife said to him, "Why do you begin at this time of night? Shall you not have time to-morrow?"

"Be silent," replied the Ogre; "they will be more tender if I kill them now."

"But you have already so much meat on hand," replied his wife. "Here are a calf, two sheep, and half a pig."

"You are right," said the Ogre; "give them a good supper, that they may not grow thin, and put them to bed."

The good woman was overcome with joy, and brought them their supper at once; but they were too frightened to eat.

As for the Ogre, he set himself to drinking, delighted to have something with which to regale his friends. He drank a dozen cups more than usual, which went to his head, and obliged him to go early to bed.

Now this Ogre had seven daughters, who were still only children. These little Ogresses all had beautiful complexions, for they ate fresh meat like their father. They had little round gray eyes, crooked noses, and great mouths filled with long teeth, very sharp and far apart. They were not yet very wicked, but they promised well, for they already bit little children whenever they got the chance. They had been put to bed early, and were all seven in one bed, each having a golden crown on her head.

There was in the same room anther bed of the same size. Here it was that the Ogre's wife put the seven little boy's, after which she went to bed in her own chamber.

Hop-o'-My-Thumb, who had remarked that the Ogre's daughters had golden crowns on their heads, was afraid that the Ogre might regret not having killed him and his brothers that evening. So he rose about the middle of the night, and, taking his nightcap and those of his brothers, he went very softly and placed them on the heads of the Ogre's seven daughters, after having removed their golden crowns. He then put the crowns on his brothers' heads and on his own, so that the Ogre might mistake them for his daughters, and his daughters for the boys whom he wished to kill.

The plan succeeded as he had expected. The Ogre, having awakened about midnight, was sorry that he had put off till next day what he might have done that evening. He jumped quickly out of bed, and, taking his great knife, "Let us see," said he, "how our little friends are getting on."

He went on tiptoe to the room of his daughters, and approached the bed where the little boys were all asleep, except Hop-o'-My-Thumb, who was terribly frightened when he felt the Ogre's hand touching his head, as he had already touched his brothers'. But when the Ogre felt the golden crowns, he said, "Indeed, I was near making a nice piece of work of it. I see that I drank too much in the evening."

He then went to the bed of his daughters, where he felt the boys' little nightcaps. "Ah! here they are," said he, "the fine fellows! I must go boldly to work. Saying these words, and without hesitating, he cut the throats of his seven daughters. Very well pleased with his expedition, he went back to bed. As soon as Hop-o'-My-Thumb heard the Ogre snoring, he awakened his brothers, and told them to dress themselves quickly and follow him. They went softly down unto the garden, and leaped over the walls. They hurried away, and ran almost all night, without knowing whither they went.

The Ogre, when he woke up, said to his wife, "Go upstairs and dress those little fellows who were here last night.''

The Ogress was very much astonished at the kindness of her husband, not suspecting for a moment the way in which he meant that she should dress them. Believing that he simply wished her to put on their clothes, she went upstairs, where she was amazed to see her seven daughters with their throats cut. She was so overcome that she immediately fainted. The Ogre, thinking his wife was too slow, went upstairs to assist her. He was no less astonished than his wife when the frightful sight met his eyes.

"Ah! what have I done here?" he cried; "but those little wretches shall pay for this, and at once."

He then threw a bucket of water into his wife's face, and, having revived her, said, "Give me quickly my seven-league boots, that I may go after those boys and catch them."

He then started out into the country at once, and, having rushed about in all directions, came at last to the road where the poor children were walking, and then not more than a hundred steps from their father's house. They saw the Ogre striding from mountain to mountain, and crossing rivers as if they were little brooks.

Hop-o'-My-Thumb, who saw a hollow rock near the place where they were, hid himself and his six brothers there, and watched carefully what became of their enemy. The Ogre, who was very tired with his long and fruitless journey, wished to rest himself, and sat down, by chance, on the very rock where the little boys were hidden.

As he was overcome with fatigue, he soon fell asleep, and began to snore so frightfully that the poor children were as much frightened as when he held his knife ready to cut their throats. Hop-o'-My-Thumb was less afraid, and told his brothers to run into the house while the Ogre slept, and not to worry about him. They followed his counsel, and quickly reached the house.

Hop-o'-My-Thumb then approached the Ogre, softly drew off his boots, and put them on himself. The boots were very long and very large; but, as they were fairy boots, they had the gift of becoming larger or smaller, according to the size of the wearer's leg. In fact, they fitted Hop-o'-My-Thumb as if they had been made for him.

He then went straight to the Ogre's house, where he found his wife weeping over her daughters.

"Your husband," said Hop-o'-My-Thumb, "is in great danger, for he has been taken by a band of robbers, who will kill him if he does not give them all his gold and silver. Just when they held their knives to his throat he perceived me, and besought me to come and tell you of the state in which he was, and to direct you to give me all that he has, without retaining anything, since otherwise they would slay him without mercy. As time passed, he wished that I should take his seven-league boots, as you see, in order to make haste, and also that you might not think me an impostor."

The good woman, very much frightened, gave him all she had; for this
Ogre was a good husband, although he did eat little children.

Hop-o'-My-Thumb, being then loaded with all the Ogre's treasures, returned to his father's house, where he was welcomed with great joy and where they all lived happily ever after.