Gateway to the Classics: The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by Clifton Johnson
The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by  Clifton Johnson


O NCE upon a time there was a woman who baked five pies. But she left them in the oven too long, and when she took them out the crusts were so hard that she said to her daughter, "Put these pies on a shelf in the pantry and leave them there, and they'll come again."

She meant that the crusts would get soft presently, but that was not the way her daughter understood her; and the girl said to herself, "Well, if the pies will come again I'll eat them right now."

So she ate all the five pies. By and by it was supper-time, and the woman said, "Daughter, go you and get one of those pies. I dare say they've come again now."

The girl went into the pantry and looked, and there was nothing but the dishes. So back she came and said, "No, they're not come again."

"Not one of them?" asked the mother.

"Not one of them," replied the girl.

"Well," said the woman, "I'll have one for supper anyway."

"But you can't if none of them are come," said the girl.

"But I can," said the mother. "Go you and bring the best one."

"Best or worst," said the girl, "I've eaten them all, and I can't bring you one until one is come again."

Then the woman said no more, and after she had finished her supper she took her spinning to the door, and as she spun she sang,

"My daughter has eaten five, five pies to-day.

My daughter has eaten five, five pies to-day."

The king was coming down the street, and he heard her sing; but he did not catch the words. So he stopped and said, "What was that you were singing, my good woman?"

The woman was ashamed to let him know what her daughter had been doing, and in replying she changed her song to—

"My daughter has spun five, five skeins to-day.

My daughter has spun five, five skeins to-day."

"Stars of mine!" exclaimed the king, "I never heard tell of any one who could do that. Such talent is worth having."

Then he said, "Look you here, I want a wife and I'll marry your daughter; and for eleven months she shall have all she likes to eat, and all the gowns she likes to get, and all the company she likes to see. But the twelfth month she'll have to spin five skeins every day or back I'll send her to you."

"All right," said the woman, for she thought what a grand marriage her daughter would be making; and as for the five skeins, the king would very likely have forgotten all about them by the end of eleven months.

So the king married the woman's daughter, and the girl had all she liked to eat, and all the gowns she liked to wear, and all the company she liked to see. But when the eleven months were nearly over she began to think about the skeins and to wonder if the king had them in mind. Time went on, and not one word did he say about the skeins until the first day of the twelfth month. Then, early in the morning, he took her into a room she had never set eyes on before. There was nothing in it but a spinning-wheel and a stool and a bed.

"Now, my dear," said the king, "I'll have some flax and some food sent you at once, and here you'll be shut in, and if you haven't spun five skeins by night, back you'll go to your mother."

Then the servants brought in flax and food enough to last for the day, and the king went off about his business. The queen was very much frightened, for she had never learned how to spin, and what was she to do with no one to come near her to help? She sat down and cried, but pretty soon she heard a soft rapping on the window. So she opened the window, and there on the ledge stood a queer little black man. He looked up at her and said, "What are you a-crying for?"

"Why do you ask?" said she.

"Never you mind," was his answer; "but tell me what you are a-crying for."

"It would do me no good if I did tell you," she said.

"You don't know that," said the little man.

"Well," said she, "it can do no harm, anyway;" and she told him all about the pies and the five skeins and everything.

"Then you think it's likely you won't be queen much longer, I suppose," said the little man when she finished. "But listen—this is what I'll do. Every morning I'll come to your window and take the flax and bring it spun at night."

"And what do you expect me to pay you?" she asked.

The little black man looked out of the corners of his eyes and replied, "I will give you three guesses every night to guess my name, and if you haven't guessed it before the month is up, you shall be mine."

"I agree," said she; for she thought she would be sure to guess his name by the end of the month.

"Very well," said the little man, and he took the flax and went away.

The day passed and evening came. Then there was a knocking at the window, and when the window was opened the little black man stepped in with five skeins of flaxen thread on his arm. "Here it is," said he, "and now what's my name?"

"Is your name Bill?" said she.

"No, it isn't," said he.

"Is it Ned?" said she.

"No, it isn't," said he.

"Well, is it Joe?" said she.

"No, it isn't," said he, and then he laughed and winked and scurried out of the window.

When the king came in he found the five skeins ready for him. "I see I sha'n't have to send you back to your mother to-night," said he. "You have done very well, and I will have more food and flax brought to you in the morning."

So saying, he locked the door and went away. The days which followed were just like the first. Every morning a new supply of flax and food was left in the room, and the little black imp came regularly to get the flax and bring the skeins, and from sunrise to sunset the girl sat trying to think of names for him. But she could never seem to hit the right one. The end of the month got nearer and nearer, until the last day but one had come. The imp brought the five skeins at night as usual and said, "Well, have you guessed my name yet?"

"Is it Nicodemus?" said she.

"No, it isn't," said he.

"Is it Elijah?" said she.

"No, it isn't," said he.

"Is it Methuselah?" said she.

"No, it isn't," said he.

Then he looked at her with his eyes glowing like coals of fire, and he said, "Woman, there's only to-morrow night, and then you'll be mine;" and out he went through the window.

The little man had hardly gone when the queen heard the king coming along the passage. In he walked, and he glanced at the five skeins and said, "Well, my dear, it seems to be pretty certain now that I sha'n't have to send you back to your mother, and I'm going to eat my supper in here with you to-night."

Pretty soon the servants brought in dishes and food and another stool, and the two sat down and ate. But the king had only taken three or four mouthfuls when he stopped and began to laugh.

"What is there to laugh about?" asked the queen.

"Why," said he, "I was out hunting to-day, and as I was climbing a high hill among the forest trees I heard a sort of humming sound. So I got off my horse and I went along very softly and soon I came in sight of a little hut, and before the hut burned a fire, and beside the fire sat the funniest little black imp that ever was; and he had a tiny spinning wheel on which he was spinning like mad; and as he spun he sang,

'Nimmy, nimmy not,

My name's Tom-Tit-Tot.' "

When the girl heard the king repeat these words she wanted to jump up and clap her hands, but she never stirred or said a word.

The next day the little man got the flax at the accustomed time, and in the evening he was back with it nicely spun in five handsome skeins. He knocked at the window-panes, and when the queen let him in he was grinning from ear to ear. "What's my name?" he said as he gave her the skeins.


"Is it Spindleshanks?" said she.

"No, it isn't," said he.

"Is it Cowribs?" said she.

"No, it isn't," said he, and he laughed loud and long. "Take time, woman," he advised. "Next guess and you are mine, ha! ha! ha!" and he stretched out his black arms toward her.

But the queen pointed her finger at him and said,

"Nimmy, nimmy not,

Your name 's Tom-Tit-Tot."

At that the little black man gave an awful shriek. "Some witch told you! Some witch told you!" he cried. Then he dashed out of the window into the dark and she never saw him any more.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Three Bears  |  Next: The King of the Golden Mountain
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.