There was once a poor peasant who sat in the evening by the hearth and poked the fire, and his wife sat and spun. Then said he, how sad it is that we have no children. With us all is so quiet, and in other houses it is noisy and lively. Yes, replied the wife, and sighed, even if we had only one, and it were quite small, and only as big as a thumb, I should be quite satisfied, and we would still love it with all our hearts. Now it so happened that the woman fell ill, and after seven months gave birth to a child, that was perfect in all its limbs, but no longer than a thumb.
Then said they, it is as we wished it to be, and it shall be our dear child. And because of its size, they called it thumbling. Though they did not let it want for food, the child did not grow taller, but remained as it had been at the first. Nevertheless it looked sensibly out of its eyes, and soon showed itself to be a wise and nimble creature, for everything it did turned out well.
One day the peasant was getting ready to go into the forest to cut wood, when he said as if to himself, how I wish that there was someone who would bring the cart to me.
Oh father, cried thumbling, I will soon bring the cart, rely on that. It shall be in the forest at the appointed time. The man smiled and said, how can that be done, you are far too small to lead the horse by the reins. That's of no consequence, father, if my mother will only harness it, I shall sit in the horse's ear and call out to him how he is to go. Well, answered the man, for once we will try it.
When the time came, the mother harnessed the horse, and placed thumbling in its ear, and then the little creature cried, gee up, gee up.
Then it went quite properly as if with its master, and the cart went the right way into the forest. It so happened that just as he was turning a corner, and the little one was crying, gee up, two strange men came towards him. My word, said one of them, what is this. There is a cart coming, and a driver is calling to the horse and still he is not to be seen.
That can't be right, said the other, we will follow the cart and see where it stops. The cart, however, drove right into the forest, and exactly to the place where the wood had been cut. When thumbling saw his father, he cried to him, do you see, father, here I am with the cart, now take me down. The father got hold of the horse with his left hand and with the right took his little son out of the ear. Thumbling sat down quite merrily on a straw, but when the two strange men saw him, they did not know what to say for astonishment.
Then one of them took the other aside and said, listen, the little fellow would make our fortune if we exhibited him in a large town, for money. We will buy him. They went to the peasant and said, sell us the little man. He shall be well treated with us. No, replied the father, he is the apple of my eye, and all the money in the world cannot buy him from me.
Thumbling, however, when he heard of the bargain, had crept up the folds of his father's coat, placed himself on his shoulder, and whispered in his ear, father do give me away, I will soon come back again. Then the father parted with him to the two men for a handsome sum of money. Where will you sit, they said to him. Oh just set me on the rim of your hat, and then I can walk backwards and forwards and look at the country, and still not fall down. They did as he wished, and when thumbling had taken leave of his father, they went away with him.
They walked until it was dusk, and then the little fellow said, do take me down, it is necessary. Just stay up there, said the man on whose hat he sat, it makes no difference to me. The birds sometimes let things fall on me. No, said thumbling, I know what's manners, take me quickly down. The man took his hat off, and put the little fellow on the ground by the wayside, and he leapt and crept about a little between the sods, and then he suddenly slipped into a mousehole which he had sought out.
Good evening, gentlemen, just go home without me, he cried to them, and mocked them. They ran thither and stuck their sticks into the mousehole, but it was all in vain. Thumbling crept still farther in, and as it soon became quite dark, they were forced to go home with their vexation and their empty purses.
When thumbling saw that they were gone, he crept back out of the subterranean passage. It is so dangerous to walk on the ground in the dark, said he, how easily a neck or a leg is broken.
Fortunately he stumbled against an empty snail-shell. Thank God, said he, in that I can pass the night in safety. And got into it. Not long afterwards, when he was just going to sleep, he heard two men go by, and one of them was saying, how shall we set about getting hold of the rich pastor's silver and gold. I could tell you that, cried thumbling, interrupting them.
What was that, said one of the thieves in fright, I heard someone speaking. They stood still listening, and thumbling spoke again, and said, take me with you, and I'll help you.
But where are you. Just look on the ground, and observe from whence my voice comes, he replied. There the thieves at length found him, and lifted him up.
You little imp, how will you help us, they said. Listen, said he, I will creep into the pastor's room through the iron bars, and will reach out to you whatever you want to have. Come then, they said, and we will see what you can do. When they got to the pastor's house, thumbling crept into the room, but instantly cried out with all his might, do you want to have everything that is here. The thieves were alarmed, and said, but do speak softly, so as not to waken any one.
Thumbling however, behaved as if he had not understood this, and cried again, what do you want. Do you want to have everything that is here. The cook, who slept in the next room, heard this and sat up in bed, and listened. The thieves, however, had in their fright run some distance away, but at last they took courage, and thought, the little rascal wants to mock us. They came back and whispered to him, come be serious, and reach something out to us.
Then thumbling again cried as loudly as he could, I really will give you everything, just put your hands in. The maid who was listening, heard this quite distinctly, and jumped out of bed and rushed to the door. The thieves took flight, and ran as if the wild huntsman were behind them, but as the maid could not see anything, she went to strike a light. When she came to the place with it, thumbling, unperceived, betook himself to the granary, and the maid after she had examined every corner and found nothing, lay down in her bed again, and believed that, after all, she had only been dreaming with open eyes and ears. Thumbling had climbed up among the hay and found a beautiful place to sleep in.
There he intended to rest until day, and then go home again to his parents. But there were other things in store for him. Truly, there is much worry and affliction in this world. When the day dawned, the maid arose from her bed to feed the cows. Her first walk was into the barn, where she laid hold of an armful of hay, and precisely that very one in which poor thumbling was lying asleep.
He, however, was sleeping so soundly that he was aware of nothing, and did not awake until he was in the mouth of the cow, who had picked him up with the hay.
Ah, heavens, cried he, how have I got into the fulling mill. But he soon discovered where he was. Then he had to take care not to let himself go between the teeth and be dismembered, but he was subsequently forced to slip down into the stomach with the hay. In this little room the windows are forgotten, said he, and no sun shines in, neither will a candle be brought.
His quarters were especially unpleasing to him, and the worst was that more and more hay was always coming in by the door, and the space grew less and less. When at length in his anguish, he cried as loud as he could, bring me no more fodder, bring me no more fodder. The maid was just milking the cow, and when she heard some one speaking, and saw no one, and perceived that it was the same voice that she had heard in the night, she was so terrified that she slipped off her stool, and spilt the milk.
She ran in great haste to her master, and said, oh heavens, pastor, the cow has been speaking. You are mad, replied the pastor, but he went himself to the byre to see what was there.
Hardly, however had he set his foot inside when thumbling again cried, bring me no more fodder, bring me no more fodder. Then the pastor himself was alarmed, and thought that an evil spirit had gone into the cow, and ordered her to be killed. She was killed, but the stomach, in which thumbling was, was thrown on the dunghill. Thumbling had great difficulty in working his way out. However, he succeeded so far as to get some room, but just as he was going to thrust his head out, a new misfortune occurred.
A hungry wolf ran thither, and swallowed the whole stomach at one gulp. Thumbling did not lose courage. Perhaps, thought he, the wolf will listen to what I have got to say. And he called to him from out of his belly, dear wolf, I know of a magnificent feast for you.
Where is it to be had, said the wolf.
In such and such a house. You must creep into it through the kitchen-sink, and will find cakes, and bacon, and sausages, and as much of them as you can eat. And he described to him exactly his father's house. The wolf did not require to be told this twice, squeezed himself in at night through the sink, and ate to his heart's content in the larder. When he had eaten his fill, he wanted to go out again, but he had become so big that he could not go out by the same way.
Thumbling had reckoned on this, and now began to make a violent noise in the wolf's body, and raged and screamed as loudly as he could. Will you be quiet, said the wolf, you will waken up the people. What do I care, replied the little fellow, you have eaten your fill, and I will make merry likewise. And began once more to scream with all his strength.
At last his father and mother were aroused by it, and ran to the room and looked in through the opening in the door.
When they saw that a wolf was inside, they ran away, and teh husband fetched his axe, and the wife the scythe. Stay behind, said the man, when they entered the room. When I have given the blow, if he is not killed by it, you must cut him down and hew his body to pieces. Then thumbling heard his parents, voices and cried, dear father, I am here, I am in the wolf's body. Said the father, full of joy, thank God, our dear child has found us again.
And bade the woman take away her scythe, that thumbling might not be hurt with it. After that he raised his arm, and struck the wolf such a blow on his head that he fell down dead, and then they got knives and scissors and cut his body open and drew the little fellow forth.
Ah, said the father, what sorrow we have gone through for your sake. Yes father, I have gone about the world a great deal. Thank heaven, I breathe fresh air again.
Where have you been, then. Ah, father, I have been in a mouse's hole, in a cow's belly, and then in a wolf's paunch. Now I will stay with you. And we will not sell you again, no not for all the riches in the world, said his parents, and they embraced and kissed their dear thumbling. They gave him to eat and to drink, and had some new clothes made for him, for his own had been spoiled on his journey.