« PreviousContinue »
not dare to speak, or even to turn their heads. Rain began to fall, and soon they were wet to the skin. With almost every step they slipped and fell to the ground and got so covered with mud that they could hardly move their hands, and the little ones were continually crying to their big brothers to help them on.
When they were nearly worn out, Hop-o'-mythumb told them to wait while he climbed to the top of a tree to see if he could discover anything. After he had looked about on all sides, and was nearly discouraged, he at last saw a little gleam of light like that from a candle, but it was very far away beyond the edge of the forest. However, when he climbed down to the ground and tried to go toward the light he could not see it and become more confused even than before. Yet he happened to choose the right direction, and the children walked on as fast as they could.
Finally they came out of the woods and saw the light ahead of them. As they ran toward it, however, it would disappear now and then when they went into a little hollow; and each time they thought it had disappeared forever. Nevertheless, they did at last reach the house, and Hop-o'-my-thumb knocked loudly for admission.
The door was quickly opened by a nice-looking woman, who said to them, “What do you want here?”
Hop-o'-my thumb replied, “We are poor children who have been lost in the forest, and we beg of you for sweet charity's sake to give us something to eat and a place to sleep.”
As the lady looked at them she saw that they had very sweet faces, and she at once became interested in them.
“Alas, poor little ones,” she said, with tears in her eyes; “from what place have you come, and why do you come here? Do you not know this is the house of an Ogre, who eats little children?”
“Alas, madam,” answered Hop-o'-my-thumb, trembling all over as did his brothers, “what shall we do? If you do not give us shelter, the wolves will certainly eat us before morning. We would rather be eaten by the Ogre than by the wolves. But perhaps when he sees us he will take pity on us and let us go.”
The lady, who was the Ogre's wife, thought she might conceal them in the house, so she brought them in and made them sit by the fire, where a whole sheep was roasting for the Ogre's supper. Just as they were nicely warmed and had eaten the lunch the kind lady gave them, they heard four loud double knocks at the door. The woman caught the children up hastily and hid them under the bed, for she knew it was the Ogre returning. Then she opened the door and let her wicked husband into the house.
“Is supper ready, and is the wine drawn?” said the Ogre.
“Yes; everything is ready; sit down,” answered his wife.
You and I would not have thought supper was ready, for the mutton was not half cooked, but it suited the Ogre a great deal better than if it had been well done.
After he had eaten heartily he began to sniff about and said, “I think I smell fresh meat.”
“It must be the calf which I have just been dressing,” said his wife.
“No, I am sure I smell fresh meat,” said the Ogre. “You are concealing something from me.”
With these words he jumped from the table and went straight to the bed, where he found the seven little boys almost dead with terror.
"Is this the way you deceive me, you wicked woman?” said the Ogre. "I do not know what keeps me from eating you, too. But these boys will come very handy just now, for three other Ogres are coming to visit me in a day or two."
Then one after another he dragged the little boys out from under the bed and set them on the table before him. Each boy knelt, folded his hands devoutly and prayed the Ogre to pardon them and let them go. But they were dealing with the fiercest and most wicked of all the Ogres, and he was deaf to their prayers.
As he felt their little limbs he said to his wife, “What delicate morsels these will make fried, if you can prepare a decent sauce for them.”
After devouring them with his eyes for a few moments he went to the cupboard and brought out his great knife, which he began to sharpen briskly on a stone which he held in his left hand.
As soon as the edge of the knife was fine enough to suit him he caught Peter, the eldest, by the arm and was about to slay him, when his wife called out, “Why do you begin killing them at this time of night? Why don't you wait till to-morrow?"
“Be quiet,” said the Ogre; “I know what I am about. They will be much more tender if I kill them to-night.”
“But you have so much more meat on hand that they will spoil before you can get to them. Here are a calf, a sheep and half a pig all ready for cooking.”
“Well, perhaps you are right," said the Ogre. “Feed them well and put them to bed, for I do not want them to get thin and poor.”
This pleased the good woman thoroughly, and she brought them a fine meal, which, however, they were all too frightened to eat.
The Ogre sat so long by the fire, drinking hard and thinking of the choice morsels he would have for his friends, that he quite forgot to count the cups he drank. So early in the evening his wits were quite befuddled, and he had to go to bed long before his usual time.
Now there were also in the house the seven daughters of the Ogre, all very young and not very far from the age of Hop-o'-my-thumb and his brothers. These young Ogresses had fair complexions, because they lived on nearly raw meat, as did their father; but their eyes were little and gray and sunk quite deep in their heads. Their noses were hooked, and their wide mouths were filled with teeth that stood apart from one another. The Ogresses enjoyed biting other children, but they were not so very bad, although it was certain that they would in time become as wicked as their father.
Before the boys came in they had been put together in one wide bed, each wearing a little golden crown. In the same room was another bed of about the same size, into which the lady put the seven little boys before she went to her own room. Hop-o'-mythumb, who had been thinking very seriously all evening, had noticed the Ogresses with their golden crowns on their heads, and the more he thought about their terrible father the more decided he became that the Ogre would wake up in the night, change his mind, and kill the children before morning.
After much hard thinking he hit upon a plan which worked very well. Untying all the nightcaps from the heads of his brothers, and from his own, he went to the bed of the little Ogresses, took their crowns off gently and tied the nightcaps on in their places. Then he returned to his own bed and put a crown on the head of each of his brothers and one upon his own.
Everything happened just as Hop-o'-my-thumb expected. About midnight the Ogre waked up and repented that he had been so kind to the boys. “I will just see what the little brats are about and put them out of the way now while I am in the mood,” he said.
Taking his big knife he went into the room, which was quite dark, and came to the bed of the little boys. Just as he was about to strike the first one he happened to think that it was best to be certain, and putting out his hand he felt the gold crowns on the heads of the boys.
“Aha,” he said; "what a narrow escape from a terrible mistake! I had almost killed one of my own daughters.”
When he reached the bed of the girls he felt the coarse nightcaps on their heads, and without more ado he cut the throats of every one of them. After this bloody deed he went back to his bed and slept soundly till morning.