"Tale of a Troll"
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Author of The Royal Book of Oz, Kabumpo in Oz, etc.
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, Oct. 14, 1917
Speaking of trolls (what's that you say, you weren't speaking of 'em) - well, no matter, let me tell you about Grimplekin, a droll little troll who got lost in a bowl. Of batter - I had to put this in another sentence because batter would not rhyme with troll. Well, I regret to say that Grimplekin was very fond of staying out early and often neglected his work. The special work of the trolls, you know, is making the bread rise, and each little fellow has a certain number of kitchens to visit each night. Most trolls live in the north countries, so do not be surprised when I tell you that Grimplekin lived in Norway. But after all that is not so important as our story.
One night Grimplekin had lingered longer than ever over a game of dories, which, by the way, is quite like checkers, and when he finally started out to make his rounds 'twas almost time for the cocks to crow. Yawning and gaping he dragged himself sleepily along, snapping his fingers over the pans of batter the good wives had set to rise (bread will not rise without this trollish finger snapping, let me tell you), and grumbling crossly to himself over the number of them. Finally he came to the last cottage. He made short work of the pans and climbed slowly to the top of a big bowl which stood at the end of the row. Snapping his fingers over the dough he sat down on the rim of the bowl to rest and whatever do you 'spose. First his head nodded forward, then it nodded backward, then he fell asleep, then he fell into the bowl, down, down, down into the soft dough and it closed over his head. Snugly as if he were tucked in his own little bed Grimplekin slept. Indeed he had never had so warm and soft a bed. "Too much moss," he mumbled drowsily, waking up after ever so long a nap. Then he tried to sit up to throw off his moss comforter, for, of course, he supposed himself in his own bed. He could not move and every minute it was growing warmer, for, my dears and ducks, it was morning and bread and troll were merrily baking in the big brick oven.
Oh, what a fix! Exerting all his strength Grimplekin finally freed his hands. Then he reached into his pocket and got his little knife. Slish, slash, he began cutting himself free from the soft hot bread. Fortunately trolls are used to heat, but even so it was terribly stuffy. Soon he had made a little open place in the center of the loaf and pulling off a piece of the soft bread he sat down to mop his brow and try to think of a way to get out. The thought of the sharp breadknife sent a shiver of dismay down his crooked little back, despite the heat, and in a panic he began tearing his way up toward the top of the loaf.
He had gotten about half way up when something hard hit him on the head and knocked him down again. He picked himself up crossly -- there it was again. This time he grasped it firmly, only to have it give way and land him again on the floor of the loaf. It was the straw with which the good dame was testing the bread, and imagine her astonishment to have it jerked out of her hands and disappear into the loaf. "I must have dropped it," she murmured to herself in puzzled tones; then as the loaves were just a nice brown she forgot all about it in hustling them out of the oven.
Poor Grimplekin, how he was jostled and bumped around in the little hole he had made in the center of the loaf, and worst of all he lost himself. That is to say, when a sudden turn stood him on his head, he quite forgot which way was toward the top, which way toward the end of the loaf. But fortunately he had a compass and with its aid he began working toward the top crust, only to find when he had scooped his way up that it was too hard and thick for him to cut through. In rage and fright he bumped his head against that imprisoning crust and vowed never again to fall asleep over his work.
All day he pecked away with his little knife and at last fell asleep with exhaustion on the bottom of the loaf. There was, of course, no way for Grimplekin to tell that it was the next morning, for inside of a loaf of bread there is no night or day, only a queer sort of twilight. But Grimplekin did know that he was hungry and thirsty. His hunger he satisfied by nibbling a few crumbs from his prison walls, but there was nothing with which to parch his poor dry little throat, and this set him to work harder than ever.
"Funny how this loaf of bread crackles," said the housewife giving it a shake that sent Grimplekin head over heels. But just then her good husband called loudly for his breakfast, so she set the loaf down and hurried off.
But please do not think that little Grimplekin was cut in two by the sharp breadknife or that he died of thirst. No indeedy. After school that day, along came the children and tiptoeing past the room where their mother was sewing went into the kitchen. One took a glass of jelly and one picked up the very loaf the little troll was in and away they pattered to have a tea party in the doll house. Almost breathless from bumping about and quite sure that his end was near Grimplekin climbed again to the top of the loaf as soon as it was set down. But in truth his release was at hand, very much so, for at that minute the little girl anxious to begin stuck her pudgy fist right through the top of the loaf. In a flash Grimplekin seized the tiny thumb, and with a shriek the hand was withdrawn. Two springs and the little troll had disappeared leaving the children gasping, half with terror and half with delight.
Of course when they told their mother about the queer little man she exclaimed, "Nonsense!" But you and I know that grown-ups are very dense about fairy folk and that is why they never see them. And as you can well believe Grimplekin was very particular after that where he went to sleep and I am glad to report that he attended to his work before cock's crow.
Copyright © 2000 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.
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