The History of Tom Thumb
: The Cat and the Mouse
It is said that in the days of the famed Prince Arthur, who was king of
Britain, in the year 516, there lived a great magician, called Merlin,
the most learned and skilful enchanter in the world at that time.
This great magician, who could assume any form he pleased, was
travelling in the disguise of a poor beggar, and being very much
fatigued, he stopped at the cottage of an honest ploughman to rest
himself, and asked for some refreshment.
The countryman gave him a hearty welcome, and his wife, who was a very
good-hearted, hospital woman, soon brought him some milk in a wooden
bowl, an some coarse brown bread on a platter.
Merlin was much pleased with this homely repast and the kindness of
the ploughman and his wife; but he could not help seeing that though
everything was neat and comfortable in the cottage, they seemed both
be sad and much cast down. He therefore questioned them on the cause
of their sadness, and learned they were miserable because they had
The poor woman declared, with tears in her eyes, that she should be
the happiest creature in the world if she had a son; and although he
was no bigger than her husband's thumb, she would be satisfied.
Merlin was so much amused with the idea of a boy no bigger than a
man's thumb, that he made up his mind to pay a visit to the queen of
the fairies, and ask her to grant the poor woman's wish. The droll fancy
of such a little person among the human race pleased the fairy queen too,
greatly, and she promised Merlin that the wish should be granted.
Accordingly, a short time after, the ploughman's wife had a son, who,
wonderful to relate! was not bigger than his father's thumb.
The fairy queen, wishing to see the little fellow thus born into the
world, came in at the window while the mother was sitting up in bed
admiring him. The queen kissed the child, and, giving it the name of
Tom Thumb, sent for some of the fairies, who dressed her little
favorite as she bade them.
"An oak-leaf hat he had for his crown;
His shirt of web by spiders spun;
With jacket wove of thistle's down;
His trowsers were of feathers done.
His stockings, of apple-rind they tie
With eyelash from his mother's eye:
His shoes were made of mouse's skin
Tann'd with the downy hair within."
It is remarkable that Tom never grew any larger than his father's
thumb, which was only of an ordinary size; but as he got older he became
very cunning and full of tricks. When he was old enough to play with the
boys, and had lost all his own cherry-stones, he used to creep into
the bags of his playfellows, fill his pockets, and, getting out unseen,
would again join in the game.
One day, however, as he was coming out of a bag of cherrystones,
where he had been pilfering as usual, the boy to whom it belonged chanced
to see him. "Ah, ha! my little Tommy," said the boy, "so I have caught
you stealing my cherrystones at last, and you shall be rewarded for your
thievish tricks." On saying this, he drew the string tight around his
neck, and gave the bag such a hearty shake, that poor little Tom's legs,
thighs, and body were sadly bruised. He roared out in pain, and begged
to be let out, promising never to be guilty of such bad practices again.
A short time afterwards his mother was making a batter-pudding, and Tom
being very anxious to see how it was made, climbed up to the edge of
the bowl; but unfortunately his foot slipped and he plumped over head
and ears into the batter, unseen by his mother, who stirred him into
the pudding-bag, and put him in the pot to boil.
The batter had filled Tom's mouth, and prevented him from crying;
but, on feeling the hot water, he kicked and struggled so much in
the pot, that his mother thought that the pudding was bewitched, and,
instantly pulling it out of the pot, she threw it to the door. A poor tinker,
who was passing by, lifted up the pudding, and, putting it into his budget,
he then walked off. As Tom had now got his mouth cleared of the batter,
he then began to cry aloud, which so frightened the tinker that he flung
down the pudding and ran away. The pudding being broke to pieces by
the fall, Tom crept out covered over with the batter, and with difficulty
walked home. His mother, who was very sorry to see her darling in
such a woeful state, put him into a tea-cup, and soon washed off the
batter; after which she kissed him, and laid him in bed.
Soon after the adventure of the pudding, Tom's mother went to milk
her cow in the meadow, and she took him along with her. As the wind was
very high, fearing lest he should be blown away, she tied him to a
thistle with a piece of fine thread. The cow soon saw the oak-leaf
hat, and, liking the look of it, took poor Tom and the thistle at one
mouthful. While the cow was chewing the thistle Tom was afraid of
her great teeth, which threatened to crush him in pieces, and he roared
out as loud as he could:
"Where are you, Tommy, my dear Tommy?" said his mother.
"Here, mother," replied he, "in the red cow's mouth."
His mother began to cry and wring her hands; but the cow, surprised
at the odd noise in her throat, opened her mouth and let Tom drop out.
Fortunately his mother caught him in her apron as he was falling to
the ground, or he would have been dreadfully hurt. She then put Tom
in her bosom and ran home with him.
Tom's father made him a whip of barley straw to drive the cattle with,
and having one day gone into the fields, he slipped a foot and rolled
into the furrow. A raven, which was flying over, picked him up and
flew with him to the top of a giant's castle that was near the seaside,
and there left him.
Tom was in a dreadful state, and did not know what to do; but he was
soon more dreadfully frightened; for old Grumbo, the giant, came up
to walk on the terrace, and seeing Tom, he took him up and swallowed him
like a pill.
The giant had no sooner swallowed Tom than he began to repent what he
had done; for Tom began to kick and jump about so much that he felt
very uncomfortable, and at last threw him up again into the sea. A large
fish swallowed Tom the moment he fell into the sea, which was soon
after caught, and bought for the table of King Arthur. When they opened
the fish in order to cook it, every on was astonished at finding such a
little boy, and Tom was quite delighted to be out again. They
carried him to the king, who made Tom his dwarf, and he soon grew a great
favorite at court: for by his tricks and gambols he not only amused
the king and queen, but also all the knights of the Round Table.
It is said that when the kind rode out on horseback he often took Tom
along with him, and if a shower came on he used to creep into his
majesty's waistcoat pocket, where he slept till the rain was over.
King Arthur one day asked Tom about his parents, wishing to know if
they were as small as he was, and whether rich or poor. Tom told the king
that his father and mother were as tall as any of the persons about
the court, but rather poor. On hearing this the king carried Tom to the
treasure, the place where he kept all his money, and told him to take
as much money as he could carry home to his parents, which made the poor
little fellow caper with joy. Tom went immediately to fetch a purse,
which was made of a water-bubble, and then returned to the treasury,
where he got a silver three-penny-piece to put into it.
Our little hero had some trouble in lifting the burden upon his back;
but he at last succeeded in getting it placed to his mind, and set
forward on his journey. However, without meeting with any accidents,
and after resting himself more than a hundred times by the way, in
two days and two nights he reached his father's house in safety.
Tom had travelled forty-eight hours with a huge silver-piece on his
back, and was almost tired to death, when his mother ran out to meet
him, and carried him into the house.
Tom's parents were both happy to see him, and the more so as he had
brought such an amazing sum of money with him; but the poor little
fellow was excessively wearied, having travelled half a mile in forty-
eight hours, with a huge silver three-penny-piece on his back. His
mother, in order to recover him, placed him in a walnut shell by the
fireside, and feasted him for three days on a hazel nut, which made
him very sick; for a whole nut used to serve him a month.
Tom was soon well again; but as there had been a fall of rain, and
the ground was very wet, he could not travel back to King Arthur's court;
therefore his mother, one day when the wind was blowing in that
direction, made a little parasol of cambric paper, and tying Tom to
it, she gave him a puff into the air with her mouth, which soon carried
him to the king's palace.
Just at the time when Tom came flying across the courtyard, the cook
happened to be passing with the king's great bowl of furmenty, which
was a dish his majesty was very fond of; but unfortunately the poor
little fellow fell plump into the middle of it, and splashed the hot
furmenty about the cook's face.
The cook, who was an ill-natured fellow, being in a terrible rage at
Tom for frightening and scalding him with the furmenty, went straight to
the king, and said that Tom had jumped into the royal furmenty, and
thrown it down out of mere mischief. The king was so enraged when he heard
this, that he ordered Tom to be seized and tried for high treason;
and there being no person who dared to plead for him, he was condemned to
be beheaded immediately.
On hearing this dreadful sentence pronounced, poor Tom fell a-trembling
with fear, but, seeing no means of escape, and observing a miller
close to him gaping with his great mouth, as country boobies do at a far,
he took a leap, and fairly jumped down his throat. This exploit was
done with such activity that not one person present saw it, and even the
miller did not know the trick which Tom had played upon him. Now, as
Tom had disappeared, the court broke up, and the miller went home to
When Tom heard the mill at work he knew he was clear of the court,
and therefore he began to tumble and roll about, so that the poor miller
could get no rest, thinking he was bewitched; so he sent for a doctor.
When the doctor came, Tom began to dance and sing; and the doctor,
being as much frightened as the miller, sent in haste for five other
doctors and twenty learned men.
When they were debating about this extraordinary case, the miller
happened to yawn, when Tom, seizing the chance, made another jump,
and alighted safely upon his feet in the middle of the table.
The miller, who was very much provoked at being tormented by such a
little pygmy creature, fell into a terrible rage, and, laying hold of
Tom, ran to the king with him; but his majesty, being engaged with
state affairs, ordered him to be taken away and kept in custody till he
sent for him.
The cook was determined that Tom should not slip out of his hands
this time, so he put him into a mouse-trap, and left him to peep through
the wires. Tom had remained in the trap a whole week, when he was sent
for by King Arthur, who pardoned him for throwing down the furmenty, and
took him again into favor. On account of his wonderful feats of
activity, Tom was knighted by the king, and went under the name of
the renowned Sir Thomas Thumb. As Tom's clothes had suffered much in the
batter-pudding, the furmenty, and the insides of the giant, miller,
and fishes, his majesty ordered him a new suit of clothes, and to be
mounted as a knight.
"Of Butterfly's wings his shirt was made,
His boots of chicken's hide;
And by a nimble fairy blade,
Well learned in the tailoring trade,
His clothing was supplied.--
A needle dangled by his side;
A dapper mouse he used to ride,
Thus strutted Tom in stately pride!"
It was certainly very diverting to see Tom in this dress, and
mounted on the mouse, as he rode out a-hunting with the king and
nobility, who were all ready to expire with laughter at Tom and his
fine prancing charger.
One day, as they were riding by a farmhouse, a large cat, which was
lurking about the door, made a spring, and seized both Tom and his
mouse. She then ran up a tree with them, and was beginning to devour
the mouse; but Tom boldly drew his sword, and attacked the cat so
fiercely that she let them both fall, when one of the nobles caught
him in his hat, and laid him on a bed of down, in a little ivory
The queen of fairies came soon after to pay Tom a visit, and carried
him back to Fairy-land, where he lived several years. During his
residence there, King Arthur, and all the persons who knew Tom, had died;
and as he was desirous of being again at court, the fairy queen, after
dressing him in a suit of clothes, sent him flying through the air to the
palace, in the days of king Thunstone, the successor of Arthur. Every one
flocked round to see him, and being carried to the king, he was asked
who he was--whence he came--and where he lived? Tom answered:
"My name is Tom Thumb,
From the fairies I've come.
When King Arthur shone,
His court was my home.
In me he delighted,
By him I was knighted;
Did you never hear of Sir Thomas Thumb?"
The king was so charmed with this address that he ordered a little
chair to be made, in order that Tom might sit upon his table, and also a
palace of gold, a span high, with a door an inch wide, to live in.
He also gave him a coach, drawn by six small mice.
The queen was so enraged at the honor paid to Sir Thomas that she
resolved to ruin him, and told the king that the little knight had
been saucy to her.
The king sent for Tom in great haste, but being fully aware of the
danger of royal anger, he crept into an empty snail-shell, where he
lay for a long time, until he was almost starved with hunger; but at last
he ventured to peep out, and seeing a fine large butterfly on the ground,
near his hiding-place, he approached very cautiously, and getting
himself placed astride on it, was immediately carried up into the air.
The butterfly flew with him from tree to tree and from field to field,
and at last returned to the court, where the king and nobility all
strove to catch him; but at last poor Tom fell from his seat into a
watering-pot, in which he was almost drowned.
When the queen saw him she was in a rage, and said he should be
beheaded; and he was again put into a mouse-trap until the time of
However, a cat, observing something alive in the trap, patted it
about till the wires broke, and set Thomas at liberty.
The king received Tom again into favor, which he did not live to enjoy,
for a large spider one day attacked him; and although he drew his sword
and fought well, yet the spider's poisonous breath at last overcame him;
"He fell dead on the ground where he stood,
and the spider suck'd every drop of his blood."
King Thunstone and his whole court were so sorry at the loss of their
little favorite, that they went into mourning, and raised a fine
white marble monument over his grave, with the following epitaph:
"Here lyes Tom Thumb, King Arthur's knight,
Who died by a spider's cruel bite.
He was well known in Arthur's court,
Where he afforded gallant sport;
He rode at tilt and tournament,
And on a mouse a-hunting went.
Alive he filled the court with mirth;
His death to sorrow soon gave birth.
Wipe, wipe your eyes, and shake your head,
And cry,--Alas! Tom Thumb is dead!"