Barney is a poor piper — in both the musical and financial senses. His playing is so bad that few pennies are ever tossed his way. His son Tom, who can pipe only one tune, is arguably even worse; in one case, their neighbor Farmer Bowser payed Tom a penny to stop playing. Tommy is not a bad child by nature, though his father's lessons in thievery have somewhat corrupted him.
When hunger oppresses the pair one day, Tom returns to Bowser's farm to see if he can acquire another penny. But the farmer is sawing wood, and his wife is deaf: Tom's music is unheard. Later, still hungry, Barney sends Tom to steal Bowser's pig. In this endeavor, Tom is much more successful. The two are so famished that the pig is entirely consumed, and its bones picked, that day. All that is left is the pig's tail, which Tom forms into a whistle.
When Farmer Bowser realizes that his pig is missing, he searches the town. He finds Tom blowing his pigtail whistle, and claims to recognize the tail by its curl. Caught, Tom confesses that the pig has been eaten. Bowser beats the boy with his belt, and Tom runs crying through the streets. The ordeal inspires Tom to turn honest. Once the villagers see that he has renounced theft, Tom is able to find honest work, and he uses his wages to feed himself "on tart and currant bun."
The Tom Piper story is one of the twelve in Mother Goose in Prose that bears a Maxfield Parrish illustration.