There once was a farmer who sat by his hearth in the evening stoking the fire while his wife sat and spun. He said “It is so sad that we don’t have any children! It is so quiet in our house and in the other houses it is so loud and happy!”
“Yes,” his wife replied and sighed, “If we only had a wee child, even if he were as small as a thumb, I would be satisfied. We would love him anyway!”
Now it happened that the wife became ill and after seven months bore a child. All of the child’s limbs were properly shaped but it was not any bigger than a thumb. The couple said it was as they had wished and now the dear child was theirs. They named him Thumbling after his shape. They did not let the child lack for food but still he did not grow. Instead he remained as small as he had been in his first hour of life. But the child was quick-witted and there was a spark of understanding in his eyes. Soon he proved to be a very clever and nimble creature and was successful at everything he undertook.
One day the farmer was getting ready to go out into the forest to cut wood. He murmured to himself “Now I wish there was someone who could bring the wagon after me.”
“O father!” the Thumbling cried, “I”ll bring you the wagon, rest assured it will be there in the forest at the designated time.”
The farmer laughed and said “How will you do that? You are much too small to lead the horse by the rein.”
“That doesn’t matter, father. If only mother will harness up the horse, I will sit in the horse’s ear and call to him which way he should go.”
“Well,” the father replied, “we’ll try this once.”
When the hour came the mother harnessed the horse, placed Thumbling in the horse’s ear and then Thumbling called out which way the horse should walk. “Jueh and joh! Hott and har!” Everything went quite well as if an expert were driving the wagon. The horse followed the correct path into the forest. Now it happened that when he went around a corner and called out “Har, har!”, two strange men observed him. “My, my,” the one said, “what is this? A wagon is moving and a driver is calling to the horse, but I can’t seen anyone!”
“Something is foul,” the other one said. “Let’s follow the wagon and see where it stops.” But the wagon continued driving into the forest and stopped at the right place where the wood was being chopped. When Thumbling saw his father, he called “See father, I have come with the wagon, now get me down.” The father held the horse with his left hand and with his right hand picked up his son from the horse’s ear. Thumbling was so happy as he sat on blade of straw. When the two strange men saw Thumbling, they did not know what to say in their amazement. The one took the other to the side and whispered “Listen, the little lad could be our fortune if we let people see him in the big city for a lot of money; let’s sell him.” They went to the farmer and said “Sell us the little man, he will have it good with us.”
“No,” his father replied “He is my heart’s desire, my little darling! He’s not for sale for all the money in the world!”
But Thumbling, when he heard of the deal, climbed up the folds of his father’s coat, sat on his shoulder and whispered in his ear “Father give me to them, I will come back.” So the father gave him to the two men for a pretty penny.
“Where do you want to sit?” they asked him.
“Oh I will sit on the rim of your hat. Then I can walk back and forth and see something of the world and still I won’t fall down.:
They did what he asked and when Thumbling had said adieu to his father, they went on their way. They walked until it became dark. Thumbling spoke “Take me down, I have a need.”
“Stay up there,” the man replied, on whose head he sat. “What you do up there doesn’t matter to me. Even the birds leave their droppings on me now and then.”
“No,” Thumbling replied, “I know what is right and proper. Put me down quickly.”
The man took off his hat and placed Thumbling on a farmer’s field near the path. Thumbling jumped away and crept in between the clods of earth, then suddenly disappeared inside a mouse hole. “Good night gentlemen, you can go home without me,” he called out and laughed at them. They ran around the field, poking the ground with their sticks. But it was all for naught: Thumbling crept deeper and deeper into his mouse hole. Because it was getting dark, they went home angrily without their prize.
When Thumbling noticed that they were gone, he crawled out of his underground passage. “It is dangerous to walk on the farmer’s field in the dark.” he said. “How easy it would be to break your neck and legs!” But luckily he found an empty snail shell. “Praise God,” he said, “I can spend the night in safety here!” and he sat down inside. It was not long after, just when he wanted to go to sleep, that he heard two men walking by. The one man said to the other “How shall we go about robbing the rich parish priest of his money and silver?”
“I can tell you,” Thumbling interjected. “Who was that?” the one thief asked frightened. “I heard someone speaking!” They stopped and listened and Thumbling continued “Take me with you, I want to help you.”
“Who are you?”
“Look down at the ground and take note where the voice is coming from,” he replied.
The thieves finally found him and lifted him up. “You little shrimp! How could you possibly help us?”
“Look,” he replied, “I will creep between the iron bars of the priest’s chamber, then reach out and give you whatever you want.”
“Great,” they said, “We’ll see what you can do.”
But when they arrived at the priest’s home, Thumbling crawled into the parlor and screamed with all his might “Do you want everything that’s here?”
The thieves became frightened and said “Speak softly, so that no one wakes up!”
But Thumbling pretended he didn’t understand and screamed again “What do you want? Do you want everything that’s here?”
The cook sleeping in her bedchamber sat up in bed and listened. But the thieves had run in terror down the path. After collecting their wits and gathering their courage, they thought to themselves “The little rascal wants to tease us.” They came back and whispered “Now be serious and reach us something through the bars!”
Thumbling screamed out again, with all his might “I will give you everything, just reach inside with your hands!
The maid heard this quite clearly, jumped out of bed and stumbled to the door. The thieves ran away as if wild hunters were following them. But the maid, when she didn’t find anything amiss, made a light. While she was thus engaged, Thumbling snuck out into the barn. The maid carefully searched every corner; but finding nothing, she went back to bed. She thought she had dreamt it all, even with her eyes wide open.
Thumbling climbed into a blade of straw and was ready to make a comfortable spot for the night. He wanted to rest until daybreak and then return to his parents. But that was not to be! There is much grief and misery in the world! The maid got out of bed just as day was dawning. She went out to feed the cattle and her first stop was the barn, where she seized an arm full of hay. She happened to grasp precisely the piece that Thumbling was sleeping in. But he was so fast asleep, he didn’t notice anything until he was in the mouth of a cow, who had gathered him up along with the hay.
“Ach, God!” he cried out. “How did I get in this grinding mill?” But he soon figured out where he was. He had to be careful not to get caught and crushed between the cow’s teeth. Finally he slid down into the cow’s stomach. “They forgot to put in windows here,” he sputtered, “ No sun shines here and no light shines either.” In fact he was quite uncomfortable in these new quarters and the worst was that more and more hay landed on his head. It was becoming tighter and tighter around him. He finally called out in fear, as loud as he could “Don’t bring me any more food! Don’t bring me any more food!” The maid, who was milking the cow, heard the speech without seeing anyone. She noticed it was the same voice she had heard during the night. She was so frightened, she slipped off her stool and spilled the milk. She ran in haste to her master and cried “Ach God! Ach priest! The cow has spoken!”
“You’re crazy,” the priest replied and he went out to the barn himself to inspect the situation. He had hardly placed his foot in the door when Thumbling cried out again “Don’t bring me any more food! Don’t bring me any more food!”
The priest himself was extremely frightened. He thought an evil spirit had entered the cow and ordered it killed. When it was slaughtered the stomach, where Thumbling lay, was thrown on the manure heap. It was all Thumbling could do to break through the stomach’s walls. Finally he was able to stick out his head, but then another mishap occurred. A hungry wolf ran in and swallowed the stomach in one gulp. Thumbling did not lose courage. “Perhaps,” he thought to himself “the wolf will listen to reason.” He called to him out of his belly “Dear Wolf, I know a wonderful meal for you.”
“Where can I get it?” the wolf replied.
“In the house down the lane. Just creep through the back way and you will find cake, bacon and sausage, as much as your heart desires!” He described the precise way to his father’s house. The wolf did not have to hear this twice. At night he found the lane and ate a swath through the pantry. When he was finally satisfied, he wanted to leave, but he had become so fat, he could not take the same way out. Thumbling had already thought of this and now began to make a mighty noise in the belly of the wolf. “Be quiet!” the wolf said, “you will wake up the people!”
“Oh, what!” the little man replied, “You have eaten your fill, I want to have some fun too!” He began to scream again at the top of his voice. Finally his father and mother woke up, they ran into the room and looked through the crack into the pantry. When they saw the wolf lying there, they ran out. The man fetched his axe, the woman the scythe. “Stay back!” the man said when they entered the room. “If I hit him with the axe and he still isn’t dead, you must slice into him and cut his body.”
Thumbling heard the voice of his father and cried out “Dear father, I’m here. I’m inside the body of the wolf!”
The father cried out in joy “Thank God! Our dear child has found his way home again!” He had his wife put away her scythe so that Thumbling would not be harmed. He then hit the wolf so hard on the head, so that it fell down dead. The two then found knife and scissors and cut open the wolf’s belly. They pulled out the little man and the father said “Oh, how we worried about you!”
“Yes, father, I have traveled much in the world, but thank God I can breathe fresh air once more!”
“Where have you all been?”
“Oh father, I was in a mouse hole, a cow belly and the body of a wolf. But now I am back here with you!”
“And we will never sell you again for all the riches in the world,” the parents promised. They hugged and kissed their dear little Thumbling. They gave him food and drink and had new clothes made for him because his own clothes had become ruined on the trip.
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