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Tom Thumb

from Boys And Girls Bookshelf - STORIES FROM GREAT BRITAIN





RETOLD BY LAURA CLARKE


Have you ever heard about Little Thumb, or Tom Thumb as he was sometimes
called? Such a queer little fellow, and such adventures, you surely must
become acquainted with.

'Way back in the days of the good King Arthur, there lived a poor man
and his wife who had no children. They wanted a child more than anything
else in the world; and one day the woman said to her husband:

"Husband, if I had a son, even if he were no bigger than my thumb, I
should be the happiest woman alive."

Now, Merlin, the King's magician, overheard this wish; and I suspect he
was fond of playing tricks, for it was not many days before the woman
had a child given her. He was so tiny that his father burst out laughing
when he saw him, and called him Tom Thumb. But the parents were as
happy as if he had been a large boy.

Tom Thumb had many exciting adventures and narrow escapes, because he
was so small. He used to drive his father's horse by standing in the
horse's ear and calling out "Gee up!" and "Gee, whoa!" just like his
father. When people saw horse and cart going along at a brisk pace, and
heard the voice but saw no driver, you may be sure they were surprised.



One day two men saw him, and thought they might get rich if they could
get Tom Thumb, take him to country fairs, and make him do funny things
to amuse the crowds. They offered Little Thumb's father a sum of gold
for the tiny fellow, but the good man said: "I would not take any sum of
money for my dear son."

Then Tom whispered in his father's ear: "Dear father, take the money and
let them have me. I can easily get away and return home."

Now, if Tom's father had known what dangers were before the little
fellow he never would have consented; but it sounded so easy that he
took the gold, and the men took Tom.

Tom rode on the brim of his new master's hat for a long time, thinking
how he might escape. Finally he saw a field-mouse's nest over a hedge,
and he said: "Master, I am cold and stiff; put me down that I may run
about and get warm."

Not suspecting anything, the man put him on the ground. What was his
surprise and anger when Little Tom darted off through the hedge. Calling
to him to come back, the master with difficulty climbed over the bushes
and started searching for his small runaway. He looked behind stones,
under clumps of grass, in little furrows, but never thought of the nest
of the field-mouse.

Little Tom stayed very still long after the angry voice had died away in
the distance. When he came forth it was dark, and he did not know which
way to go. He was still trying to make up his mind, when he overheard
two robbers on the other side of the hedge.

The first robber said: "There is plenty of gold and silver in the
rector's house, but his doors are locked and his windows barred."

"Yes," said the other one, "and if we break in we shall wake up the
servants."

This conversation gave Tom an idea. Stepping through the hedge he said
in a loud voice: "I can help you. I am so small I can get between the
bars on the window. Then I'll pass all the gold and silver out to you,
and when I get out you can divide with me."



The robbers were pleased with the idea. They decided between themselves
that as soon as they got the money in their own hands they would make
off and not divide it at all. They never suspected that Little Thumb was
planning to give them away.

Reaching the rector's home they lifted Tom up, and he crawled between
the bars and out of reach of the robbers.

Then he called out in a very loud voice, so as to waken the servants:
"Will you have everything I can get?" The servants came running
calling, "Thief! Thief!" and the two robbers escaped as fast as their
feet would carry them.

Now, the servants were so angry, and told in such loud voices what they
should do if they caught anyone in the house, that Little Thumb was very
much afraid. So he climbed out through the window and hid in the barn in
the hay.

It is best for little people to stay out of harm's way; the queerest
things may happen. While our small adventurer was peacefully sleeping,
the milkmaid came to give the cattle their morning fodder. As bad luck
would have it, she took the very truss of hay in which Tom lay; and he
awoke with a start to find himself in the cow's great mouth, in danger
of being crushed at any minute by her tremendous teeth. He dodged back
and forth in terror; and it was a relief when the cow gave one big
swallow, and he slid down into her roomy stomach.



It was dark and moist down there, however, and more hay came down with
every swallow; so Tom called out with all his might: "No more hay,
please! no more hay!"

The milkmaid screamed, and ran to the house, telling everyone that the
cow had been talking to her just like a man.

"Nonsense," said the rector; "cows do not talk." Nevertheless, he went
to the cow-shed. No sooner had he stepped inside the door than the cow
lifted her head, and a voice called in great distress: "No more hay,
please! no more hay!"

"Alas," cried the rector, "my beautiful cow is bewitched! It is best to
kill her before she makes mischief with the other cows."

So the cow was slaughtered, and the stomach, with Little Thumb inside,
was flung away.

"Now, I will work my way out and run home," thought Tom. But he was to
have another adventure first. He had just gotten his head free, when a
hungry wolf, attracted by the smell of the freshly-killed meat, seized
the stomach in its jaws and sprang away into the forest.

Instead of losing courage, Little Thumb began to plan a way of escape.
He decided on a bold scheme. In his loudest voice he called: "Wolf, if
you are hungry, I know where you can get a choice dinner."

"Where?" asked the wolf.

"There is a house not far away, and I know a hole through which you can
crawl into the kitchen. Once there you can eat and drink to your heart's
content."

The wolf did not know that Tom meant his own home; but the mention of
these good things to eat made him very hungry, and following Tom's
directions he quickly reached the house.

Things were exactly as promised. Tom waited till he was sure the wolf
had eaten so much that he could not get out through the hole he came in.
Then he called from inside the wolf: "Father, mother, help! I am
here--in the wolf's body."

It did not take long for the father to finish the wolf and rescue his
dear boy.

"We shall never let you go again, for all the riches of the world," said
the mother and father. But Tom was rather pleased with his adventures.

One day, when walking beside the river, he slipped and fell in. Before
he had a chance to swim out a fish came along and swallowed him. Tom had
escaped so often from such dangers that he was not much afraid. After a
time the fish saw a dainty worm, and, little thinking that it was on a
hook, took it in its mouth. Before it realized what had happened it was
pulled out of the water, with Little Thumb still inside.

Now, as luck would have it, this fish was to be for the King's dinner.
When the cook opened the fish to clean it and make it ready for
broiling, out stepped Little Thumb, much to the astonishment and delight
of everyone. The King said he had never seen so tiny and merry a fellow.
He knighted him, and had Sir Thomas Thumb and his father and mother live
in the palace the rest of their lives.





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