A boy no bigger than a thumb, a talking cow, and an adventure inside a wolf.
– A Brothers Grimm Tale –
A Poor Peasant sat one evening by his hearth and poked the fire, while his Wife sat opposite spinning. He said: ‘What a sad thing it is that we have no children; our home is so quiet, while other folk’s houses are noisy and cheerful.’
‘Yes,’ answered his Wife, and she sighed; ‘even if it were an only one, and if it were no bigger than my thumb, I. should be quite content; we would love it with all our hearts.’
Now, some time after this, she had a little boy who was strong and healthy, but was no bigger than a thumb. Then they said: ‘Well, our wish is fulfilled, and, small as he is, we will love him dearly’; and because of his tiny stature they called him Tom Thumb. They let him want for nothing, yet still the child grew no bigger, but remained the same size as when he was born. Still, he looked out on the world with intelligent eyes, and soon showed himself a clever and agile creature, who was lucky in all he attempted.
One day, when the Peasant was preparing to go into the forest to cut wood, he said to himself; ‘I wish I had some one to bring the cart after me.’
‘O Father!’ said Tom Thumb, ‘I will soon bring it. You leave it to me; it shall be there at the appointed time.’
Then the Peasant laughed, and said: ‘How can that be? You are much too small even to hold the reins.’
‘That doesn’t matter, if only Mother will harness the horse,’ answered Tom. ‘I will sit in his ear and tell him where to go.’
‘Very well,’ said the Father; ‘we will try it for once.’
When the time came, the Mother harnessed the horse, set Tom in his ear, and then the little creature called out ‘Gee-up’ and ‘Whoa’ in turn, and directed it where to go. It went quite well, just as though it were being driven by its master; and they went the right way to the wood. Now it happened that while the cart was turning a corner, and Tom was calling to the horse, two strange men appeared on the scene.
‘My goodness,’ said one, ‘what is this? There goes a cart, and a driver is calling to the horse, but there is nothing to be seen.’
‘There is something queer about this,’ said the other; ‘we will follow the cart and see where it stops.’
The cart went on deep into the forest, and arrived quite safely at the place where the wood was cut.
When Tom spied his Father, he said: ‘You see, Father, here I am with the cart; now lift me down.’ The Father held the horse with his left hand, and took his little son out of its ear with the right. Then Tom sat down quite happily on a straw.
When the two strangers noticed him, they did not know what to say for astonishment.
Then one drew the other aside, and said: ‘fasten, that little creature might make our fortune if we were to show him. in the town for money. We will buy him.’
So they went up to the Peasant, and said; ‘Sell us the little man; he shall be well looked after with us.’
‘No,’ said the Peasant; ‘he is the delight of my eyes, and I will not sell him for all the gold in the world.’
But Tom Thumb, when he heard the ‘bargain, crept up by the folds of his Father’s coat, placed himself on his shoulder, and whispered in his ear: ‘Father, let me go; I will soon come back, again.’
Then his Father gave him to the two men for a fine piece of gold.
‘Where will you sit?’ they asked him.
‘Oh, put me on the brim of your hat, then I can walk up and down and observe the neighbourhood without falling down.’
They did as he wished, and when Tom had said good-bye to his Father, they went away with him.
They walked on till it was twilight, when the little man said: ‘You must lift me down.’
‘Stay where you are,’ answered the Man on whose head he sat.
‘No,’ said Tom; ‘I will come down. Lift me down immediately.’
The Man took off his hat and set the little creature in a field by the wayside. He jumped and crept about for a time, here and there among the sods, then slipped suddenly into a mouse-hole which he had discovered.
‘Good evening, gentlemen, just you go home without me,’ he called out to them in mockery.
They ran about and poked with sticks into the mouse-hole, but all in vain. Tom crept further and further back, and, as it soon got quite dark, they were forced to go home, full of anger, and with empty purses.
When Tom noticed that they were gone, he crept out of his underground hiding -place again. ‘It is dangerous walking in this field in the dark,’ he said; ‘one might easily break one’s leg or one’s neck.’ Luckily, he came to an empty snail shell, ‘Thank goodness,’ he said; ‘I can pass the night in safety here,’ and he sat down.
Not long after, just when he was about to go to sleep, he heard two men pass by. One said: ‘How shall we set about stealing the rich parson’s gold and silver?’
‘I can tell you,’ interrupted Tom.
‘What was that?’ said one robber in a fright. ‘I heard some one speak.’
They remained standing and listened.
Then Tom spoke again: ‘Take me with you and I will help you.’
‘Where are you?’ they asked.
‘Just look on the ground and see where the voice comes from,’ he answered.
At last the thieves found him, and lifted him up, ‘You little urchin, are you going to help us?’
‘Yes,’ he said; ‘I will creep between the iron bars in the pastor’s room, and will hand out to you what you want.’
‘All right,’ they said, ‘we will see what you can do.’
When, they came to the Parsonage, Tom crept into the room, but called out immediately with all his strength to the others: ‘Do you want everything that is here?’
The thieves were frightened, and said: ‘Do speak softly, and don’t wake any one.’
But Tom pretended not to understand, and called out again: ‘What do you want? Everything?’
The Cook, who slept above, heard him and sat up in bed and listened. But the thieves were so frightened that they retreated a little way. At last they summoned up courage again, and thought to themselves, ‘The little rogue wants to tease us.’ So they came back and whispered to him: ‘Now, do be serious, and hand us out something.’
Then Tom called out again, as loud as he could, ‘I will give you everything if only you will hold out your hands.’
The Maid, who was listening intently, heard him quite distinctly, jumped out of bed, and stumbled to the door. The thieves turned and fled, running as though wild huntsmen were after them. But the Maid, seeing nothing, went to get a light. When she came back with it, Tom, without being seen, slipped, out into the barn, and the Maid, after she had searched every corner and found nothing, went to bed again, thinking she had been dreaming with her eyes and ears open.
Tom Thumb climbed about in the hay, and found a splendid place to sleep. There he determined to rest till day came, and then to go home to his parents. But he had other experiences to go through first. This world is full of trouble and sorrow!
The Maid got up in the grey dawn to feed the cows. First she went into the barn, where she piled up an armful of hay, the very bundle in which poor Tom was asleep. But he slept so soundly that he knew nothing till he was almost in the mouth of the cow, who was eating him up with the hay.
‘Heavens!’ he said, ‘however did I get into this mill?’ but he soon saw where he was, and the great thing was to avoid being crushed between the cow’s teeth. At last, whether he liked it or not, he had to go down the cow’s throat.
‘The windows have been forgotten in this house,’ he said. ‘The sun does not shine into it, and no light has been provided.’
Altogether he was very ill-pleased with his quarters, and, worst of all, more and more hay came in at the door, and the space grew narrower and narrower. At last he called out, in his fear, as loud as he could, ‘Don’t give me any more food. Don’t give me any more food.’
The Maid was just milking the cow, and when she heard the same voice as in the night, without seeing any one, she was frightened, and slipped from her stool and spilt the milk. Then, in the greatest haste, she ran to her master, and said; ‘Oh, your Reverence, the cow has spoken!’
‘You are mad,’ he answered; but he went into the stable himself to see what was happening.
Scarcely had he set foot in the cow-shed before Tom began again, ‘Don’t bring me any more food.’
Then the Pastor was terrified too, and thought that the cow must be bewitched; so he ordered it to be killed. It was accordingly slaughtered, but the stomach, in which Tom was hidden, was thrown into the manure heap. Tom had the greatest trouble in working his way out. Just as he stuck out his head, a hungry Wolf ran by and snapped up the whole stomach with one bite. But still Tom did not lose courage. ‘Perhaps the Wolf will listen to reason,’ he said. So he called out, ‘Dear Wolf, I know where you would find a magnificent meal.’
‘Where is it to be had?’ asked the Wolf.
‘Why, in such and such a house,’ answered Tom. ‘You must squeeze through the grating of the store-room window, and there you will find cakes, bacon, and sausages, as many as you can possibly eat’; and he went on to describe his father’s house.
The Wolf did not wait to hear this twice, and at night forced himself in through the grating, and ate to his heart’s content. When he was satisfied, he wanted to go away again; but he had grown so fat that he could not get out the same way, Tom had reckoned on this, and began to make a great commotion inside the Wolf’s body, struggling and screaming with all his might.
‘Be quiet,’ said the Wolf; ‘you will wake up the people of the house.’
‘All very fine,’ answered Tom. ‘You have eaten your fill, and now I am going to make merry’; and he began to scream again with all his might.
At last his father and mother woke up, ran to the room, and looked through the crack of the door. When they saw a Wolf, they went away, and the husband fetched his axe, and the wife a scythe.
‘You stay behind,’ said the man, as they came into the room. ‘If my blow does not kill him, you must attack him and rip up his body.’
When Tom Thumb heard his Father’s voice, he called out: ‘Dear Father, I am here, inside the Wolf’s body.’
Full of joy, his Father cried, ‘Heaven be praised! our dear child is found again,’ and he bade his wife throw aside the scythe that it might not injure Tom.
Then he gathered himself together, and struck the Wolf a blow on the head, so that it fell down lifeless. Then with knives and shears they ripped up the body, and took their little boy out.
‘Ah,’ said his Father, ‘what trouble we have been in about you.’
‘Yes, Father, I have travelled about the world, and I am thankful to breathe fresh air again.’
‘Wherever have you been?’ they asked.
‘Down a mouse-hole, in a Cow’s stomach, and in a Wolf’s maw,’ he answered; ‘and now I shall stay with you.’
‘And we will never sell you again, for all the riches in the world,’ they said, kissing and fondling their dear child.
Then they gave him food and drink, and had new clothes made for him, as his own had been spoilt in his travels.
This story was taken from the book:
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