Once on a time there was a fagot-maker,
And he had seven sons.
Who could be aught but poor to feed and shelter
So many little ones?
For all were merely lads; not one was able
To earn the crust of bread,
Though scant it might be, coarse and black and humble,
With which he must be fed.
And, worst of all, the youngest one was puny,
So odd, and still, and slight,
That father, mother, and the other brothers,
Thought him not over bright.
So small he was when he was born, so tiny
Since then he had become,
That--for he was no bigger than your finger--
They called him Hop-o'-my-Thumb.
Now at this time, for days and days together,
There fell no drop of rain;
The corn shrunk on the stalks; and in the sunshine
Rustled the shriveled grain;
As if a fire had swept across the meadows
They shriveled in the drouth;
And what this meant for the poor fagot-maker
Was famine, without doubt.
One night he sat before a smouldering fire,
His head bowed down with grief,
Trying with those weak wits of his to compass
Some scheme for their relief.
His wife above the feeble embers hovered,
And wrung her toil-hard hands;
She knew there was no help for their starvation,
No hope in making plans.
At last he spoke: "Ah, bad luck to the trying,
I cannot find them food!
To-morrow morning with me to the forest
I'll take the little brood!
"I cannot bear to watch this piece meal starving,
So, while they run and play,
Or gather fagots for me, or pick berries
To eat, I'll come away!"
"Oh!" groaned the wife, "I'm sure the wolves will eat them,
Poor dears--poor little dears!
Yet do as you think best--we all must perish!"
Then went to bed in tears.
Meanwhile, though all the rest were sleeping soundly,
Hop-o'-my-Thumb had heard,
And at the thought of wolves and woods, in terror
His little heart was stirred;
And so he lay and planned; and early dressed him,
And ran with all his might
Down to the river, where he filled his pockets
With pebbles small and white.
And, as they started for the wood, he lingered
Somewhat behind, and when
They came to dismal places, dropped in secret
A pebble now and then.
Thick grew the trees; 'twas twilight in their shadows,
Although broad day without;
But gay the laddies at the fagot-picking
Went scampering about,
And chattering like a flock of busy sparrows;
Till, having hungry grown,
They turned to ask their mother for their dinner,
And found they were alone!
Then all but Hop-o'-my-Thumb wailed out affrighted.
"Don't cry so hard!" said he.
"I'll find the path, if you'll but keep together
And try to follow me!"
By the white stones strewn on the dead pine needles,
Though night had fallen, he soon
Led the way out, and spied their humble cottage,
Low lying 'neath the moon.
They hurried near, and, pausing at the window,
Hop-o'my-Thumb climbed up,
And peeped within; his father and his mother
Were just about to sup.
Some one had paid them two gold guineas
On an old debt; and when
They went for beef for two, they were so hungry
They bought enough for ten.
Quick as a flash the ravenous seven went rushing
Pell-mell into the house,
Nor left, of the fine roast upon the table,
Enough to feed a mouse.
It all went well long as the money lasted.
When that was gone, once more
The father planned to take them to the forest,
And leave them as before.
Hop-o'-my-Thumb, who heard again the plotting,
Crept from his trundle-bed,
But in the place of pebbles in his pockets
Put only crumbs of bread.
Again they went, through brier and through thicket,
Into the darksome wood;
Again he dropped his clues along the pathway
Behind him when he could.
But when once more they found themselves deserted,
And little Hop-o'-my-Thumb
Felt sure to lead them out, he found the finches
Had eaten every crumb!
Then what to do! They wandered hither, thither,
For hours in dread and fear,
Until at last they saw, with fitful glimmer,
A feeble light appear.
It shone but faintly, like a single candle,
But, trudging towards the ray,
They reached a house and knocked; the door was opened
After a brief delay,
And a kind woman asked them what they wanted.
They said: "To stay all night."
"Run, run away! The faster you run the better!"
She answered in affright.
"An Ogre lives here, cruel and bloody minded!
He eats up little boys!
Run, run! I hear him coming from the mountains,
I know him by the noise!"
"But we can't run, we are so faint and tired!"
"'Tis all the same whether the wolves shall eat us,
Or your good gentleman."
And so she took them in, fed them, and hid them
All underneath her bed;
And in a minute more they heard approaching,
Tramp! tramp! an awful tread!
It was the Ogre coming home; his supper
Was steaming nice and hot,--
Two calves upon a spit, ten rabbits roasting,
A whole sheep in the pot.
He banged the door wide open, sniffed and snorted,
Then, in a dreadful voice,
Roared out, while his poor wife stood by and trembled,
"I smell seven little boys!"
In vain she told him 'twas the mutton scorching;
The veal had browned too fast;
He searched the house, peering around and under,
And reached the bed at last,
Then dragged them one by one out, fairly shouting
At little Hop-o'my-Thumb,
Saying the lads would make, towards a dinner,
Six mouthfuls and one crumb.
"O, leave them till to-morrow!" cried the woman;
"You've meat enough to-night."
"Well, so I have," he said, "I'll wait a little.
Ah! ugh! they're plump and white."
Now it so chanced the Ogre had seven daughters,
And all slept in one bed,
In a large room, and each wore for a nightcap
A gold crown on her head.
And Hop-o'-my-Thumb, when all the house was quiet,
Into their chamber crept,
And the gold head-bands for himself and brothers
Stole from them while they slept.
Wicked and sly it was; he knew the Ogre
Would, no doubt, rise at dawn,
And, being but half awake, would kill the children
Who had no night-caps on.
And, sure enough, he did! He was so drowsy,
And fogs so veiled the sun,
That, whetting up a huge, broad-bladed dagger,
He slew them, every one.
Then Hop-o'-my-Thumb, awakening his brothers,
Whispered: "Make haste and fly!"
Without a word they did as they were bidden,
In twinkling of an eye,
Out in the drizzly mist of a gray morning,
Off through the chill and dew,
And none too soon! Within an hour the Ogre
His dreadful blunder knew.
"Wife, fetch my seven-league boots at once!" he shouted;
"I'll catch the vipers yet!"
He stamped his feet into the magic leather
With many a muttered threat;
And off he started, over hill and valley,
Seven leagues at every stride;
The children saw him like a giant shadow,
But they could only hide.
He scoured the country, rumbling like a tempest;
Far, near, they heard his roar,
Until at last his seven-league feet grew tired,
And he could go no more.
And down he lay to rest him for a minute--
The day had grown so hot--
Close to a rock where lay the seven children,
Although he knew it not.
Hop-o'-my-thumb spoke softly to his brothers:
"Run! fast as ever you can,
And leave me to take care of Mr. Ogre."
And hurry-scurry they ran.
And Hop-o'-my-Thumb, creeping from out his crevice,
With greatest caution drew
The Ogre's boots off (these would shrink or widen
Just as you wished them to),
And put them on himself. Then he decided
To hasten to the king;
And, as he traveled towards the royal palace,
Each boot was like a wing.
There was a war. The king had need of service
In carrying the news.
He heard his tale, and said, "I'll use this fellow
Who wears the magic shoes."
So little Hop-o'-my-Thumb made mints of money,
And his whole family
Lived very easy lives, and from his bounty
Grew rich as rich could be.
As for the Ogre, in his sleep he tumbled
Down from that ledge of rock,
And was so bumped and bruised he never rallied,
But perished from the shock.
And Hop-o'-my-Thumb, whose influence in high places
Was certain to prevail,
Made the kind Ogress, who had hidden and fed them,
Duchess of Draggletail.