Gateway to the Classics: A Child's Book of Stories by Penrhyn W. Coussens
A Child's Book of Stories by  Penrhyn W. Coussens

Tom Tit Tot

O NCE upon a time there was a woman, and she baked five pies. And when they came out of the oven, they were so overbaked the crust was too hard to eat. So she said to her daughter:

"Daughter, put those pies on the shelf, and leave them there a little, and they'll come again. She meant, you know, that the crust would get soft.

But the girl said to herself, "Well, if they'll come again, I'll eat them now." And she set to work and ate them all.

When supper time came the woman said: "Go and get one of those pies, I dare say the crust is soft now."

The girl went and found nothing but the dishes. So she came back and said: "No, they are not soft yet."

"Not any of them?" said the mother.

"Not any of them," said the daughter.

"Well, whether they are soft or not," said the mother, "I'll have one for supper."

"But you can't, if they are not soft," said the girl.

"But I can," said she. "Go and bring the best of them."

"Best or worst," said the girl, "I've eaten them all up, so you can't have any."

Well, the woman was wholly beaten, and she took her spinning to the door to spin, 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 what she sang he could n't hear, so he stopped and said:

"What were you singing, my good woman?"

The woman was ashamed to let him hear what her daughter had been doing, so she sang instead:

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

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

"My stars!" said the king, "I've never heard of any one who could do that."

Then he said: "Look here, I want a wife, and I'll marry your daughter. But," said he, "eleven months out of the year, she shall have all she wants to eat, and all the gowns she likes to get, and all the company she likes to have; but the last month of the year she must spin five skeins every day, and if she doesn't, I shall kill her."

"All right!" said the woman; for she thought what a grand marriage that was. And as for the five skeins, when the time came, there would be plenty of ways of getting out of it, and very likely he would forget about it.

So they were married. And for eleven months the girl had all she liked to eat, and all the gowns she liked to wear, and all the company she wished to have.

But when the twelfth month drew near, she began to think about the skeins, and to wonder if he remembered them. But not a word did he say about them, and she thought he had forgotten.

However, the last day of the last month, he took her to a room she had never seen before. There was nothing in it but a spinning-wheel and a stool.

And he said: "Now, my dear, you'll be shut in here tomorrow with some food and some flax, and if you haven't spun five skeins by night, off will go your head."

With that he left her.

She was very much frightened,—she had always been such a lazy girl that she had n't even learned how to spin, and what was she to do to-morrow with no one to help her? She sat down on a stool in the kitchen and cried.

Suddenly she heard a knocking on the door, and on opening it saw a small black thing with a long tail. It looked up at her curiously, and said:

"What are you crying for?"

"What's that to you?" she said.

"Never mind," it said; "but tell me why you are crying."

"It won't do me any good if I do," said she.

"How do you know?" it said, and twirled its tail around.

"Well," she said, "it won't do any harm if it does no good"; so she told it about the pies, the skeins, and everything.

"This is what I'll do," said the little black thing, "I'll come to your window every morning, and take the flax, and bring it back spun every night."

"What 's your pay?" said she.

It looked out of the corner of its eyes, and said: "I'll give you three guesses every night to guess my name, and if you have n't guessed it before the month is up, you shall be mine."

Well, she thought she would be sure to guess its name before the month was up, and so she said:

"All right! I'll agree."

"All right!" it said; and how it twirled its tail.

The next day her husband took her into the room, and there was the flax and the day's food.

"Now there's the flax," he said, "and if it isn't spun by tonight, off goes your head." And then he went out and locked the door.

He had hardly gone when there was a knocking against the window, and on opening it, there was the little old thing sitting on the ledge.

"Where's the flax?" it said.

"Here it is," said she, and gave it to him.

When evening came there was a knocking against the window. She opened it, and there was the little old thing with five skeins of flax on its arm.

"Here you are," it said, and gave it to her.

"Now, what's my name?" said it.

"Is it Bill?" said she.

"No, it isn't," said it, twirling its tail.

"Is it Ned?" said she.

"No, it isn't," said it, and it twirled its tail.

"Is it Mark?" said she.

"No, it isn't," said it, and it twirled its tail harder, and flew away.

When her husband came in, there were five skeins ready for him. "I see I sha'n't have to kill you to-night, my dear," said he; "you'll have your food and your flax in the morning." And away he went.

Well, every day the flax and the food were brought, and every day the little black impet came morning and evening. And all day the girl sat trying to think of names to say to it, when it came at night.

But she didn't hit on the right one, and towards the end of the month the impet began to look very malicious, and twirled its tail faster and faster each time she gave a guess.

At last came the last day but one. The impet came at night with the five skeins, and said:

"Well, have you guessed my name yet?"

"Is it Nicodemus?" said she.

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

"Is it Sammie?" said she.

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

"Well, is it Methuselah?" said she.

"No, it isn't that either!" said it.

Then it looked at her with eyes like coals of fire, and said: "Girl, there's only to-morrow night, and then you'll be mine." And away it flew.

She felt very sorrowful, and when the king came in and saw the five skeins, he said: "Well, my dear, I don't see but what you'll have your skeins ready to-morrow night, and as I sha'n't have to kill you, I'll have supper in here to-night." So they brought supper and another stool for him, and the two sat down.

He had eaten but a mouthful when he began to laugh.

"What is it?" said she.

"Why," said he, "I was out hunting to-day, and I got to a place in the wood I had never seen before. I heard a sort of humming in an old chalk-pit, so I got off my horse and went and looked down into it. Well, what should there be but the funniest little black thing you ever saw. It had a little spinning-wheel, and was spinning very fast, and twirling its tail. And as it spun, it sang,

" 'Nimmy, nimmy, not,

My name's Tom Tit Tot.' "

When the girl heard this, she felt as if she could have jumped for joy, but she didn't say a word.

Next day the little black thing looked very full of malice when it came for the flax. And when it brought the five skeins back at night it came right in and sat on the ledge, and grinned from ear to ear, and twirled its tail very fast.

"What's my name?" it said.

"Is it Solomon?" she said, pretending to be afraid.

"No, it isn't," it said, coming farther into the room.

"Is it Zebedee?" said she again.

"No, it isn't," said the impet, laughing and twirling its tail so fast you could scarcely see it.

"Don't hurry, girl," it said, "next guess, and you're mine." And it stretched out its hands at her.

She looked at it and laughed, and pointing her finger at it, said:

"Nimmy, nimmy, not,

Your name 's Tom Tit TOT."

When the impet heard her, it shrieked frightfully, and flew away into the dark, and she never saw it again.

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