There was once a woman, and she baked five pies all in the same day. But when she took the pies out of the oven the crust was hard, for she had left them there too long. So she said to her daughter Jane:
"Jane, take these pies and put them on the shelf, and let them stand there till they are fit to eat. They'll come round all right in a little while." She meant that the crust would get good and soft.
Now, the girl was not so wise as she might have been, and when the pies had stood a while she thought she would see if they were fit to eat. So she took a bite first of one and then of another till they were all gone.
"I guess mother won't care," she said; "for how else could I tell how long to let them stand there?"
When supper time came the good mother said: "Jane, go and fetch one of those pies. I dare say they've come round all right by this time."
The girl went and looked on the shelf. The empty plates were there, and that was all. Soon she came back with a very long face, and said: "They have not come round yet, mother."
"Not one of them?" said the mother.
"No, not one of them," said she.
"Well, come round or not come round," said the mother, "I must have one for supper."
"But you can't," said the girl.
"Yes I can," said the woman. "I've made up my mind to eat one of them, crust or no crust. So, go back and fetch me the best one of the five."
"Best or worst," said the girl, "you can't have it. I ate them all up so as to see whether they had stood long enough on the shelf."
The woman was vexed so much that she could not think what to do; for the girl was old enough to know better. When supper was over, the mother went and sat on the doorstep to spin; and as she span she made up a little song and sang it:
"My daughter she ate five, five pies to-day.
My daughter she ate five, five pies to-day!"
She did not know that the King was coming down the street, much less that he was quite close to the house—so close that he heard her singing. He could hear the tune, but he could not quite make out the words. So he stopped by the door, and said:
"What were you singing just now, my good woman?"
"Oh, a little song that I made up," she said.
"Sing it to me," said the King.
The woman did not like to tell the King how silly the girl had been, and so she sang:
"My daughter she span five, five skeins to-day.
My daughter she span five, five skeins to-day!"
"Did she?" cried the King. "I never heard of a girl that could spin so many skeins in one day. Any girl who is smart enough to do that ought to be the wife of the best man in the land."
He walked on a little way, and then he came back.
"Look here," he said; "I'm the best man in the land, and I want a wife; and so she shall marry me."
"Well, she might do worse," said the woman; and anybody could see that she was pleased.
"But let me tell you," said the King: "for eleven months in the year, I will give her all the food she wants to eat, and all the fine things she wants to wear, and all the company she wants to have. But the last month of the year, she'll have to spin five skeins every day; and if she doesn't—why, I'll take her head off."
"All right!" said the woman, "you may have her, and welcome."
For she thought what a grand match that would be; and as for the spinning, there would be time enough to talk about that after a while,—the King would forget all about it before eleven months had passed.
The next day the King and Jane were married; and for eleven months the young Queen had all the food she could eat, and all the fine clothes she could wear, and all the company she wanted. But towards the last she began to think about the five skeins, and she wondered if the King still had them in mind. He had not said a word about them, and she hoped that he had forgotten.
But he had not forgotten. On the last day of the last month he took her into a room which she had never seen before; and there was nothing in it but a spinning wheel and a stool.
"Now, my dear Jane," he said, "you will be shut in here to-morrow, with a bite of something to eat, and some flax; and if you don't spin five skeins before night, your head will go off." And then he went out and left her.
Poor Jane did not know what to do. She had been such a good-for-naught that she had not learned how to spin; and now what was to be done? She sat down on the stool, and, oh dear! how she did cry!
All at once she heard a sort of knock low down on the door: tap, tap, tap! She wiped the tears from her face, and then got up and opened the door. When she looked out, whom should she see but a queer little black elf with a long, slim tail. The elf looked up at her with an odd smile, and said:
"Jane, what makes you cry so hard?"
Jane was vexed, and she said: "What's that to you?"
"Never mind what it is to me," said the little old elf; "but tell me what makes you cry so hard."
"It won't do me any good if I do tell you," she said.
"You don't know how much good it may do you," said the elf; and he twirled his long tail round and round over his head.
She looked at his queer old face, and thought that maybe he could help her. So she said: "If it won't do any good, it won't do any harm;" and then she told him all about the pies and the skeins and the King and everything else.
"And so that is what makes you cry so hard, is it?" said the elf. "But, see here! I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll come to your window every morning, and get the flax; and at night I'll bring the skeins to you."
"How much will you charge?" she asked.
The elf said: "If you can guess my name I won't charge anything. I will let you guess three times every night, and if you don't guess it by the time the month is gone, I will carry you off to my dark cave in the mountain. What do you say to that?"
She felt sure that she could guess the elf's name before the month was gone, and so she said: "All right! That is fair enough. Come to-morrow, and get your flax."
"All right!" said the elf; and, oh dear! how he did twirl his long tail!
The next morning as soon as it was light, the King led poor Jane to the room; and there was the flax and a bite of food.
"Now, my dear Jane," he said, "here is your wheel and here is your flax. If you fail to have five skeins spun before I come to see you to-night, you'll lose your head." Then he went out and locked the door behind him.
Jane sat down on the stool and cried louder than before. Then she heard a tap on the window: tac, tac, tac!
She jumped up and opened it, and there was the little old elf on the window sill.
"Where is the flax?" he said.
"Here it is," said Jane; and she gave it to him, and dried her tears.
In the evening she heard a tap on the window again: tac, tac, tac! She jumped up and looked out, and there was the little old elf with five skeins of flax yarn on his arm.
"Here they are!" he said; and he gave them to her. "Now guess my name."
"Is it Bill?" she asked.
"No!" he said; and he twirled his tail.
"Is it Ned?" This was her second guess.
"No, it is not," he said; and he twirled his tail.
"Is it Mark?" This was her third guess.
"Ha! ha! not a bit of it," he said; and he twirled his tail very fast, and then flew away.
When the King came in, a little while after, there were the five skeins, all ready for him. "I see that you've saved your head this time," he said; "but to-morrow we will try it again."
Every day the flax was brought to her; and every morning and evening the elf came. Jane sat all day long trying to think of new names to say to him when he brought the skeins home in the evening. And as the days went by, the elf seemed to feel very happy, and he twirled his tail faster and faster every time she guessed.
The last day but one came. The elf brought the skeins at night, and when he gave them to her he laughed.
"Well, Jane," he said, "can't you guess my name to-night?"
"Is it Daniel?" she asked.
"No!" he said.
"Is it Zedekiah?"
"Oh, then, is it Methusaleh?"
"No! no! no!"
The elf winked and grinned, and then said: "To-morrow is the last day. Did you know it?" He twirled his tail very fast, and flew away.
Jane sat down and thought she would cry. But just then she heard the King at the door, and she kept back her tears.
The King came in, and when he saw the five skeins he said: "It's all right, Jane. You've got the best man in the land, and he is proud of you. To-morrow you will spin the last of the skeins, and then you shall be free. I think I will eat my supper with you now."
So the servants brought in the supper and another stool for him, and the two sat down to eat.
The King had hardly eaten a mouthful, when he stopped and began to laugh; and he laughed so hard that his face got red, and Jane thought he would choke.
"What is it that makes you laugh so hard?" she said.
"I was thinking of something," he said, as soon as he could get his breath. "I was out in the woods to-day, and I saw the funniest thing you ever heard tell of. It was out close to the mountains where I had never been before. There was a deep pit among the rocks, and a little cave at the bottom on one side,—the queerest place you ever saw. As I was going past it I heard something say, 'Hum, hum, hum, hum,' and I wondered what it was. I went on tiptoe to the edge of the pit and peeped over; and what do you think I saw down there?"
"I'm sure I can't guess," said Jane.
"It was the queerest little black elf that you ever set your eyes on," said the King. "It was the kind that live in the mountains, you know, and that never let anybody see them. But the funny part of it was that he had a little spinning wheel down there, and he was spinning—hum, hum, hum, hum,—as fast as he could, and twirling his long tail just as fast as the wheel went round; and while he span, he sang the drollest little song:
"Nimmy, nimmy, not—
My name is Tom Tit Tot."
And then the King fell back on his stool and laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
As for Jane, she was so glad that she wanted to scream. But she was wiser now than when she ate those pies; so she laughed just as the King laughed, and did not say a word.
Next morning when the elf came for the flax, he was so proud and so full of spite that you would have been afraid of him. "This is the last time," he said, as Jane gave him the flax.
"Yes," said she, "and I am glad of it."
"I'll carry you off to-night," he said.
When night came, there he was, tapping at the window. Jane opened it, and he came right in.
Oh, how he did grin! and oh, oh, oh! how fast his long tail did twirl round! He gave her the skeins, and then he said, as cross as could be:
"What's my name?"
"Is it Solomon?" she said; and she made believe that she was afraid.
"Ha! ha! No, of course not," he said, and he hopped down and strutted round the room.
"Well, then, is it Alexander?" she asked; and now she was all in a tremble.
"He! he! he!" he cried; "I should think not!" And he reached out his arms towards her, and twirled his tail so fast that it looked like a ring of fire.
She took a step back, and looked straight into his queer little eyes. Then she pointed her finger at him, and said:
"Nimmy, nimmy, not—
Your name is Tom Tit Tot!"
When the elf heard that, he just slunk away and flew out into the dark; and Jane never saw him again as long as she lived.