Before the days of William the Conqueror there dwelt a man in the marsh of the Isle of Ely whose name was Thomas Hickathrift, a poor day labourer, but so stout that he could do two days' work in one. His one son he called by his own name, Thomas Hickathrift, and he put him to good learning, but the lad was none of the wisest, and indeed seemed to be somewhat soft, so he got no good at all from his teaching.
Tom's father died, and his mother being tender of him, kept him as well as she could. The slothful fellow would do nothing but sit in the chimney-corner, and eat as much at a time as would serve four or five ordinary men. And so much did he grow that when but ten years old he was already eight feet high, and his hand like a shoulder of mutton.
One day his mother went to a rich farmer's house to beg a bottle of straw for herself and Tom. "Take what you will," said the farmer, an honest charitable man. So when she got home she told Tom to fetch the straw, but he wouldn't and, beg as she might, he wouldn't till she borrowed him a cart rope. So off he went, and when he came to the farmer's, master and men were all a-trashing in the barn.
"I'm come for the straw," said Tom.
"Take as much as thou canst carry," said the farmer.
So Tom laid down his rope and began to make his bottle.
"Your rope is too short," said the farmer by way of a joke; but the joke was on Tom's side, for when he had made up his load there was some twenty hundred-weight of straw, and though they called him a fool for thinking he could carry the tithe of it, he flung it over his shoulder as if it had been a hundred-weight, to the great admiration of master and men.
Tom's strength being thus made known there was no longer any basking by the fire for him; every one would be hiring him to work, and telling him 't was a shame to live such a lazy life. So Tom seeing them wait on him as they did, went to work first with one, then with another. And one day a woodman desired his help to bring home a tree.