18 December 2012

The Little Man with a Little Gun

L. Frank Baum’s first book for children was Mother Goose in Prose, a collection of stories inspired by nursery rhymes. One of the rhymes has fallen in popularity. It starts, “There was a little man, and he had a little gun…”

The little man, named Jimson, suffers from feelings of inadequacy: “This little man was very sorry he was not bigger, and if you wanted to make him angry you had but to call attention to his size.” So he gets a gun and goes off duck-hunting.

When Jimson shoots only one duck, however, his wife Joan pooh-poohs the feat and the evening newspaper prints a verse poking fun at him. Jimson consoles himself that “Mr. Brayer, the editor, is probably jealous because he himself cannot shoot a gun.” And eventually:
After a time the little man woke up, and in looking around for the drake he saw Johnny’s red wig sticking out of the top of the bushes.

“That is surely the drake,” he thought, “for I can see a curl and something red;” and the next minute “bang!” went the gun, and Johnny Sprigg gave a great yell and jumped out of the bushes. As for his beautiful wig, it was shot right off his head, and fell into the water of the brook a good ten yards away!

“What are you trying to do?” he cried, shaking his fist at the little man.

“Why, I was only shooting at the drake,” replied Jimson; “and I hit it, too, for there it is in the water.

“That’s my wig, sir!” said Johnny Sprigg, “and you shall pay for it, or I’ll have the law on you. Are you the man who shot the duck here yesterday morning?”

“I am, sir,” answered the little man, proud that he had shot something besides a wig.

“Well, you shall pay for that also,” said Mr. Sprigg; “for it belonged to me, and I’ll have the money or I’ll put you in jail!”

The little man did not want to go to jail, so with a heavy heart he paid for the wig and the duck, and then took his way sorrowfully homeward.

He did not tell Joan of his meeting with Mr. Sprigg; he only said he could not find a drake. But she knew all about it when the paper came out, for this is what it said on the front page:
There was a little man and he had a little gun,
And the bullets were made of lead, lead, lead.
He shot Johnny Sprigg through the middle of his wig,
And knocked it right off from his head, head, head.
The little man was so angry at this, and at the laughter of all the men he met, that he traded his gun off for a lawn-mower, and resolved never to go hunting again.
Maxfield Parrish illustrated Mother Goose in Prose, and his portrait of the little man appears above.

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