The Boy and the Ogre

by Andre Norton


all.cats.are.gray.1953 fantastic universe


1st Published ~ Golden Magazine for Boys and Girls (1966) Volume 3 No. 9, September, Edited by Robert D. Bezucha, Published by Golden Press, Mag., $0.50, 69pg, (pgs. 45-48)  ~ story illustrated by Rod Ruth

Available Now ~ In Tales from High Hallack vol. 1 (2014) Published by Premier Digital Publishing, DM & TP, 1-624-67189-6, $22.95, 450pg ~ cover by Kib Prestridge


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In the old days when one could still find ogres living here and there about the countryside---and very disagreeable creatures they were, too, I can assure you, with their eating people and suchlike deeds---a boy and his mother lived in a tumbledown cottage not far from just such an ogre.

Now the ogre had a very fine house, but the boy and his mother were very poor. Often there was not even a dried crust of bread or a rind of cheese to be found in their cupboard. And no mouse ever thought of coming inside their door.

But the ogre was so rich that if he began to count the gold pieces in his moneybags on one Saturday and he did not leave off counting until the next, he would still have some left lying about unnumbered. And in his house there was no lack of good things to eat---that I can tell you. An ox roasted whole, or half a dozen turkeys baked together in a pie---that was only a trifle for the ogre, to say nothing of cakes by the half-hundred and tarts by the thousands!

The fine smells of all these good things would float across the fields to the cottage until the boy could not stand it any longer. One day when there was nothing at all in his cupboard and the ogre had a regiment of mince pies set out on the window ledge to cool, the boy said to his mother:

“The ogre has more gold than he knows what to do with. Surely if I went to him and asked humbly and honestly for a loan of some of it, he would give it to me.”

But his mother was very much alarmed by such an idea.

“Remember, no ogre has any liking for mankind. Indeed many dark tales have been told of what has happened to those unfortunate enough to fall into an ogre's power. Do not go near his house, or evil will come of it.”

But the boy was sure that he was quicker of wit than an ogre and was determined to try his plan. Accordingly, the next morning he crossed the fields to the door of the ogre's fine house.

The house was large, and the stones of its walls were dark and old. For the first time the boy began to wonder if he were as clever as he thought himself. But before he had time to be off again, the door opened and the ogre stood there grinning---and not a very pleasant grin either.

“Aha, my brave lad! And why have you come this way? You must indeed have more courage than the rest of your kind, for you are the first human being I have had seek me out in many a year.”

Since he could not escape now, the boy put as bold a face as possible upon the matter and replied:

“I am a poor lad, unfavored by fortune. With you, things have gone very well. So I have come to ask a loan from you.”

Now the ogre began to laugh, and his laugh was even less pleasant than his tooth-studded grin had been.

“You are honest enough, that I must say. So I shall be as straight with you. Come in.”

It was not without a shiver or two up his back and a cold feeling in his middle that the boy entered the ogre's house and followed the monster upstairs and along a dark hall to a room where fat bags of gold were piled up all along the walls. There was even more of the shining stuff lying about higgle-ti-pigglety, in no order at all.

The ogre reached out a long arm and picked up a small wooden tub. Into this he threw round yellow pieces until it was not only full but had a mound of gold above the edge.

“Now this I can spare you for a year,” he said grandly.

“And when the year is done?” asked the boy anxiously.

The ogre pulled at the straggly beard on his chin. “I shall not be too hard with you. Return this tub only level full and we shall be quits.”

“And if I cannot return it?”

“Why, then---“ the ogre laughed again--- “I shall find a use for you, never fear.”

The boy looked at the tub and thought for a long moment. Then he drew his hand across the heap of gold pieces in it, leaving it level full and taking only those which had been swept to the floor.

“Here.” With his foot he pushed back the tub. “I repay your loan at once, friend. And as you have said, we are now quits.”

The ogre scowled and scratched his head, but he could not see anything left for him to do but accept. And the boy went back to his mother with two pockets full of good yellow gold. But when he told her how he had gotten it, she was very much frightened for her son.

“Once you have outwitted the ogre, but luck may not be with you a second time. Do not, I beg of you, try him again.”

“The same trick would not serve twice,” returned her son. “As for visiting the ogre, about that we shall see.”

With the gold he was able to put a new roof on the cottage and buy seeds for the garden, as well as some hens and a cock. But one day he said to his mother:

“If we had a pig or two and a cow we should be very well off. Now that ogre over there could certainly spare a few pieces from those he has in his moneybags, and he would never miss them at all!”

His mother begged him not to go to the ogre's house. But early the next morning he set out.

As he came near to the big stone house, his eye lit on a tall tree which stood beside the ogre's front door. The fall winds were beginning to blow, and its leaves were already fluttering down to the ground. The boy watched these fall and then, as quickly as he could, he climbed up into the topmost branches and, pulling some hairs from his head, he so twisted and wound them about the stems of two leaves that he was sure even the hardest blasts of the winter storms could not tear them out of the tree. Having done this to his satisfaction, he slid down and knocked loudly on the front door.

When the ogre saw who was standing on his doorstep, his eyes widened and he puffed out his lips in surprise.

“And what do you want now, little man?” he demanded.

“We have fared very well with your gift to us,” returned the boy politely. “But life would be even easier for us if we had a couple of pigs and a cow to give us milk and butter.”

“Is that so? But I am thinking,” said the ogre, “that our bargain must be slightly different this time.”

“I shall agree to whatever you wish,” said the boy, and then he pointed to the falling leaves. “I shall not need such a loan for long. Let us say that I shall repay the whole amount when all the leaves are off your tree here!”

The ogre blinked as a breeze came through the branches carrying a huge handful of leaves away with it.

“That seems a fair bargain, little man. But you may find it a hard one. Remember when you lose it that it was of your own suggesting.”

“Be sure, sir, that if I lose I shall have no complaints to make,” answered the boy.

So, for the second time, he returned from the ogre's house with well-lined pockets. Two pigs and a cow were bought in the market town and the boy was very happy.

The ogre kept a sharp eye on the leaves in his tree as by tens and then by hundreds they fell---except for two on a topmost bough. He would have climbed up to see what kept those leaves so stubbornly in place but the branches there were too small to support his weight. He could only fuss and fume. And those two never fell, even when the worst of the winter storms tore at them.

When spring came again, the boy looked out of the cottage window and thought what a fine thing it would be to own the rich field which lay beyond the edge of his tiny garden. Since this belonged to the ogre, he began to make plans for getting it. But this time he was sure that any bargain between them would be of the ogre's choosing. At last he decided that if twice his wits had saved him, surely they would do so a third time, and he went off to the ogre's house.

“Aha!” The ogre opened the door even before the boy knocked. “And have you come to pay back the gold you owe me, little man?”

The boy glanced up at the two brown leaves. “As you have said, a bargain is a bargain. Your tree is not yet bare, as you can see, Master Ogre.”

“Then why do you come?” exploded the ogre in anger.

“You have a fine rich field which borders my garden patch,” began the boy, when the ogre interrupted him.

“And I suppose you think I should give it to you?”

“Give it to me? Oh, no, sir. Only lend it to me for a short time, and I shall make any bargain you wish.”

The ogre combed his beard with his nails and thought for a long time. And then he laughed.

“Very well, little man. This bargain is of my choosing, and, mind you, I shall hold you to it. You shall give me whatever I ask of you when your crop has grown and stands tall along the fence there---tall and ripe and ready to harvest.”

“I agree,” said the boy and went home to get his seed. But even as the sound of the monster's laughter came booming over the fields behind him, he was choosing two kinds of seed.

In the field he sowed his two crops. In a short time the green of young wheat showed over most of the field. The ogre came from time to time to watch it ripen. At last, when the wheat was yellow and the boy had come to harvest it, he said:

“Well, our bargain is now at an end, is it not, little man?”

“Not yet,” answered the boy. “For I planted two crops in this field and the one along yonder fence is not yet nearly ready to harvest.”

“And what did you plant there?” demanded the ogre.

“Acorns,” replied the boy.

The ogre gave a howl of rage. “Wait until the next time you try to deal with me, you trickster!” he screamed over his shoulder as he made his way home.

But the boy shook his head. “It does not pay to be greedy,” he said to himself, “and three times at any bargaining is enough.”



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