A Pleasant and Delightful History of Thomas Hickathrift (English Folk Tale)

Folk Tales, English Folk Tales2389


In the reign before William the Conqueror, I have read in an ancient history that there dwelt a man in the parish of the Isle of Ely, in the county of Cambridge, whose name was Thomas Hickathrift–a poor man and a day-labourer, yet he was a very stout man, and able to perform two days” work instead of one. He having one son and no more children in the world, he called him by his own name, Thomas Hickathrift. This old man put his son to good learning, but he would take none, for he was, as we call them in this age, none of the wisest sort, but something less, and had no docility at all in him.
His father being soon called out of the world, his mother was tender of him, and maintained him by her hand labour as well as she could, he being slothful and not willing to work to get a penny for his living, but all his delight was to be in the chimney-corner, and he would eat as much at one time as would serve four or five men. He was in height, when he was but ten years of age, about eight feet; and in thickness, five feet; and his hand was like unto a shoulder of mutton; and in all his parts, from top to toe, he was like unto a monster, and yet his great strength was not known.
The first time that his strength was known was by his mother”s going to a rich farmer”s house (she being but a poor woman) to desire a bottle of straw for herself and her son Thomas. The farmer, being a very honest, charitable man, bid her take what she would. She going home to her son Tom, said:
“I pray, go to such a place and fetch me a bottle of straw; I have asked him leave.”
He swore he would not go.
“Nay, prithee, Tom, go,” said his mother.
He swore again he would not go unless she would borrow him a cart-rope. She, being willing to please him, because she would have some straw, went and borrowed him a cart-rope to his desire.
He, taking it, went his way. Coming to the farmer”s house, the master was in the barn, and two men a-thrashing. Said Tom–
“I am come for a bottle of straw.”
“Tom,” said the master, “take as much as thou canst carry.”
He laid down the cart-rope and began to make his bottle. Said they–
“Tom, thy rope is too short,” and jeered poor Tom, but he fitted the man well for it, for he made his bottle, and when he had finished it, there was supposed to be a load of straw in it of two thousand pounds weight. Said they–
“What a great fool art thou. Thou canst not carry the tenth of it.”
Tom took the bottle, and flung it over his shoulder, and made no more of it than we would do of a hundredweight, to the great admiration of master and man.
Tom Hickathrift”s strength being then known in the town they would no longer let him lie baking by the fire in the chimney-corner. Every one would be hiring him for work. They seeing him to have so much strength told him that it was a shame for him to live such a lazy course of life, and to be idle day after day, as he did.
Tom seeing them bate him in such a manner as they did, went first to one work and then to another, but at length came to a man who would hire him to go to the wood, for he had a tree to bring home, and he would content him. Tom went with him, and took with him four men besides; but when they came to the wood they set the cart to the tree, and began to draw it up with pulleys. Tom seeing them not able to stir it, said:
“Stand away, ye fools!” then takes it up and sets it on one end and lays it in the cart.
“Now,” says he, “see what a man can do!”
“Marry, it is true,” said they.
When they had done, as they came through the wood, they met the woodman. Tom asked him for a stick to make his mother a fire with.
“Ay,” says the woodman. “Take one that thou canst carry.”
Tom espied a tree bigger than that one that was in the cart, and lays it on his shoulder, and goes home with it as fast as the cart and the six horses could draw it. This was the second time that Tom”s strength was known.
When Tom began to know that he had more strength than twenty men, he then began to be merry and very tractable, and would run or jump; took great delight to be amongst company, and to go to fairs and meetings, to see sports and pastimes.
Going to a feast, the young men were all met, some to cudgels, some to wrestling, some throwing the hammer, and the like. Tom stood a little to see the sport, and at last goes to them that were throwing the hammer. Standing a little to see their manlike sport, at last he takes the hammer in his hand, to feel the weight of it, and bid them stand out of the way, for he would throw it as far as he could.
“Ay,” said the smith, and jeered poor Tom. “You”ll throw it a great way, I'll warrant you.”
Tom took the hammer in his hand and flung it. And there was a river about five or six furlongs off, and he flung it into that. When he had done, he bid the smith fetch the hammer, and laughed the smith to scorn.
When Tom had done this exploit he would go to wrestling, though he had no more skill of it than an ass but what he did by strength, yet he flung all that came to oppose him, for if he once laid hold of them they were gone. Some he would throw over his head, some he would lay down slyly and how he pleased. He would not like to strike at their heels, but flung them two or three yards from him, ready to break their necks asunder. So that none at last durst go into the ring to wrestle with him, for they took him to be some devil that was come among them. So Tom”s fame spread more and more in the country.
Tom”s fame being spread abroad both far and near, there was not a man durst give him an angry word, for he was something fool-hardy, and did not care what he did unto them, so that all they that knew him would not in the least displease him. At length there was a brewer at Lynn that wanted a good lusty man to carry his beer to the Marsh and to Wisbeach, hearing of Tom, went to hire him, but Tom seemed coy, and would not be his man until his mother and friends persuaded him, and his master entreated him. He likewise promised him that he should have a new suit of clothes and everything answerable from top to toe, besides he should eat of the best. Tom at last yielded to be his man, and his master told him how far he must go, for you must understand there was a monstrous giant kept some part of the Marsh, and none durst go that way, for if they did he would keep them or kill them, or else he would make bond slaves of them.
But to come to Tom and his master. He did more work in one day than all his men could do in three, so that his master, seeing him very tractable, and to look well after his business, made him his head man to go into the Marsh to carry beer by himself, for he needed no man with him. Tom went every day in the week to Wisbeach, which was a very good journey, and it was twenty miles the roadway.
Tom–going so long that wearisome journey, and finding that way the giant kept was nearer by half, and Tom having now got much more strength than before by being so well kept and drinking so much strong ale as he did–one day as he was going to Wisbeach, and not saying anything to his master or to any of his fellow-servants, he was resolved to make the nearest way to the wood or lose his life, to win the horse or lose the saddle, to kill or be killed, if he met with the giant. And with this resolution he goes the nearest way with his cart and horses to go to Wisbeach; but the giant, perceiving him, and seeing him to be bold, thought to prevent him, and came, intending to take his cart for a prize, but he cared not a bit for him.
The giant met Tom like a lion, as though he would have swallowed him up at a mouthful.
“Sirrah,” said he, “who gave you authority to come this way? Do you not know I make all stand in fear of my sight, and you, like an impudent rogue, must come and fling my gates open at your pleasure? How dare you presume to do this? Are you so careless of your life? I will make thee an example for all rogues under the sun. Dost thou not care what thou dost? Do you see how many heads hang upon yonder tree that have offended my law? Thy head shall hang higher than all the rest for an example!”
Tom made him answer–
“A fig for your news, for you shall not find me like one of them.”
“No?” said the giant. “Why? Thou art but a fool if thou comest to fight with such a one as I am, and bring no weapon to defend thyself withal.”
Said Tom–
“I have a weapon here will make you understand you are a traitorly rogue.”
“Ay, sirrah,” said the giant; and took that word in high disdain that Tom should call him a traitorly rogue, and with that he ran into his cave to fetch out his club, intending to dash out Tom”s brains at the first blow.
Tom knew not what to do for a weapon, for he knew his whip would do but little good against such a monstrous beast as he was, for he was in height about twelve feet, and six about the waist. While the giant went for his club, Tom bethought himself of two very good weapons, for he makes no more ado but takes his cart and turns it upside down, takes out the axle-tree, and a wheel for his shield and buckler, and very good weapons they were, especially in time of need. The giant, coming out again, began to stare at Tom, to see him take the wheel in one hand, and the axle-tree in the other, to defend him with.
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