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Little Thumb

from The Blue Fairy Book





There was, once upon a time, a man and his wife
fagot-makers by trade, who had several children, all boys.
The eldest was but ten years old, and the youngest only
seven.

They were very poor, and their seven children incommoded
them greatly, because not one of them was able to
earn his bread. That which gave them yet more uneasiness
was that the youngest was of a very puny constitution,
and scarce ever spoke a word, which made them take
that for stupidity which was a sign of good sense. He
was very little, and when born no bigger than one's
thumb, which made him be called Little Thumb.

The poor child bore the blame of whatsoever was done
amiss in the house, and, guilty or not, was always in the
wrong; he was, notwithstanding, more cunning and had a
far greater share of wisdom than all his brothers put
together; and, if he spake little, he heard and thought the
more.

There happened now to come a very bad year, and the
famine was so great that these poor people resolved to rid
themselves of their children. One evening, when they
were all in bed and the fagot-maker was sitting with his
wife at the fire, he said to her, with his heart ready to
burst with grief:

"Thou seest plainly that we are not able to keep our
children, and I cannot see them starve to death before
my face; I am resolved to lose them in the wood to-morrow,
which may very easily be done; for, while they are busy
in tying up fagots, we may run away, and leave them,
without their taking any notice."

"Ah!" cried his wife; "and canst thou thyself have the
heart to take thy children out along with thee on purpose
to lose them?"

In vain did her husband represent to her their extreme
poverty: she would not consent to it; she was indeed poor,
but she was their mother. However, having considered
what a grief it would be to her to see them perish with
hunger, she at last consented, and went to bed all in tears.

Little Thumb heard every word that had been spoken;
for observing, as he lay in his bed, that they were talking
very busily, he got up softly, and hid himself under his
father's stool, that he might hear what they said without
being seen. He went to bed again, but did not sleep a
wink all the rest of the night, thinking on what he had to
do. He got up early in the morning, and went to the
river-side, where he filled his pockets full of small white
pebbles, and then returned home.

They all went abroad, but Little Thumb never told his
brothers one syllable of what he knew. They went into a
very thick forest, where they could not another at ten
paces distance. The fagot-maker began to cut wood, and
the children to gather up the sticks to make fagots. Their
father and mother, seeing them busy at their work, got
away from them insensibly, and ran away from them all
at once, along a by-way through the winding bushes.

When the children saw they were left alone, they began
to cry as loud as they could. Little Thumb let them cry
on, knowing very well how to get home again, for, as he
came, he took care to drop all along the way the little
white pebbles he had in his pockets. Then he said to them:

"Be not afraid, brothers; father and mother have left
us here, but I will lead you home again, only follow me."

They did so, and he brought them home by the very
same way they came into the forest. They dared not go
in, but sat themselves down at the door, listening to what
their father and mother were saying.

The very moment the fagot-maker and his wife reached
home the lord of the manor sent them ten crowns, which
he had owed them a long while, and which they never
expected. This gave them new life, for the poor people
were almost famished. The fagot-maker sent his wife
immediately to the butcher's. As it was a long while since
they had eaten a bit, she bought thrice as much meat as
would sup two people. When they had eaten, the woman
said:

"Alas! where are now our poor children? they would
make a good feast of what we have left here; but it was
you, William, who had a mind to lose them: I told you we
should repent of it. What are they now doing in the
forest? Alas! dear God, the wolves have perhaps already
eaten them up; thou art very inhuman thus to have lost
thy children."

The fagot-maker grew at last quite out of patience, for
she repeated it above twenty times, that they should repent
of it, and that she was in the right of it for so saying.
He threatened to beat her if she did not hold her tongue.
It was not that the fagot-maker was not, perhaps, more
vexed than his wife, but that she teased him, and that he
was of the humor of a great many others, who love wives to
speak well, but think those very importunate who are
continually doing so. She was half-drowned in tears, crying out:

"Alas! where are now my children, my poor children?"

She spoke this so very loud that the children, who were
at the gate, began to cry out all together:

"Here we are! Here we are!"

She ran immediately to open the door, and said,
hugging them:

"I am glad to see you, my dear children; you are very
hungry and weary; and my poor Peter, thou art horribly
bemired; come in and let me clean thee."

Now, you must know that Peter was her eldest son,
whom she loved above all the rest, because he was somewhat
carroty, as she herself was. They sat down to supper,
and ate with such a good appetite as pleased both father
and mother, whom they acquainted how frightened they
were in the forest, speaking almost always all together.
The good folks were extremely glad to see their children
once more at home, and this joy continued while the ten
crowns lasted; but, when the money was all gone, they
fell again into their former uneasiness, and resolved to lose
them again; and, that they might be the surer of doing it,
to carry them to a much greater distance than before.

They could not talk of this so secretly but they were
overheard by Little Thumb, who made account to get
out of this difficulty as well as the former; but, though he
got up very early in the morning to go and pick up some
little pebbles, he was disappointed, for he found the
house-door double-locked, and was at a stand what to do. When
their father had given each of them a piece of bread for
their breakfast, Little Thumb fancied he might make use
of this instead of the pebbles by throwing it in little bits
all along the way they should pass; and so he put the
bread in his pocket.

Their father and mother brought them into the thickest
and most obscure part of the forest, when, stealing away
into a by-path, they there left them. Little Thumb was
not very uneasy at it, for he thought he could easily find
the way again by means of his bread, which he had scattered
all along as he came; but he was very much surprised
when he could not find so much as one crumb; the
birds had come and had eaten it up, every bit. They were
now in great affliction, for the farther they went the more
they were out of their way, and were more and more
bewildered in the forest.

Night now came on, and there arose a terribly high
wind, which made them dreadfully afraid. They fancied
they heard on every side of them the howling of wolves
coming to eat them up. They scarce dared to speak or
turn their heads. After this, it rained very hard, which
wetted them to the skin; their feet slipped at every step
they took, and they fell into the mire, whence they got
up in a very dirty pickle; their hands were quite benumbed.

Little Thumb climbed up to the top of a tree, to see if
he could discover anything; and having turned his head
about on every side, he saw at last a glimmering light,
like that of a candle, but a long way from the forest. He
came down, and, when upon the ground, he could see it
no more, which grieved him sadly. However, having
walked for some time with his brothers toward that side

on which he had seen the light, he perceived it again as he
came out of the wood.

They came at last to the house where this candle was,
not without an abundance of fear: for very often they lost
sight of it, which happened every time they came into a
bottom. They knocked at the door, and a good woman
came and opened it; she asked them what they would
have.

Little Thumb told her they were poor children who had
been lost in the forest, and desired to lodge there for
God's sake.

The woman, seeing them so very pretty, began to weep,
and said to them:

"Alas! poor babies; whither are ye come? Do ye know
that this house belongs to a cruel ogre who eats up little
children?"

"Ah! dear madam," answered Little Thumb (who trembled
every joint of him, as well as his brothers), "what
shall we do? To be sure the wolves of the forest will
devour us to-night if you refuse us to lie here; and so we
would rather the gentleman should eat us; and perhaps he
may take pity upon us, especially if you please to beg it of
him."

The Ogre's wife, who believed she could conceal them
from her husband till morning, let them come in, and
brought them to warm themselves at a very good fire; for
there was a whole sheep upon the spit, roasting for the
Ogre's supper.

As they began to be a little warm they heard three or
four great raps at the door; this was the Ogre, who had
come home. Upon this she hid them under the bed and
went to open the door. The Ogre presently asked if supper
was ready and the wine drawn, and then sat himself down
to table. The sheep was as yet all raw and bloody; but he
liked it the better for that. He sniffed about to the right
and left, saying:

"I smell fresh meat."

"What you smell so," said his wife, "must be the calf
which I have just now killed and flayed."

"I smell fresh meat, I tell thee once more," replied the
Ogre, looking crossly at his wife; "and there is something
here which I do not understand."

As he spoke these words he got up from the table and
went directly to the bed.

"Ah, ah!" said he; "I see then how thou wouldst cheat
me, thou cursed woman; I know not why I do not eat thee
up too, but it is well for thee that thou art a tough old
carrion. Here is good game, which comes very quickly
to entertain three ogres of my acquaintance who are to

pay me a visit in a day or two."

With that he dragged them out from under the bed one
by one. The poor children fell upon their knees, and
begged his pardon; but they had to do with one of the
most cruel ogres in the world, who, far from having any pity
on them, had already devoured them with his eyes, and
told his wife they would be delicate eating when tossed
up with good savory sauce. He then took a great knife,
and, coming up to these poor children, whetted it upon a
great whet-stone which he held in his left hand. He had
already taken hold of one of them when his wife said to
him:

"Why need you do it now? Is it not time enough to-morrow?"

"Hold your prating," said the Ogre; "they will eat the
tenderer.

"But you have so much meat already," replied his wife,
you have no occasion; here are a calf, two sheep, and
half a hog."

"That is true," said the Ogre; "give them their belly
full that they may not fall away, and put them to bed."

The good woman was overjoyed at this, and gave them
a good supper; but they were so much afraid they could
not eat a bit. As for the Ogre, he sat down again to drink,
being highly pleased that he had got wherewithal to treat
his friends. He drank a dozen glasses more than ordinary,
which got up into his head and obliged him to go to bed.

The Ogre had seven daughters, all little children, and
these young ogresses had all of them very fine complexions,
because they used to eat fresh meat like their father;
but they had little gray eyes, quite round, hooked noses,
and very long sharp teeth, standing at a good distance
from each other. They were not as yet over and above
mischievous, but they promised very fair for it, for they
had already bitten little children, that they might suck
their blood.

They had been put to bed early, with every one a crown
of gold upon her head. There was in the same chamber a
bed of the like bigness, and it was into this bed the Ogre's
wife put the seven little boys, after which she went to bed
to her husband.

Little Thumb, who had observed that the Ogre's
daughters had crowns of gold upon their heads, and was
afraid lest the Ogre should repent his not killing them,
got up about midnight, and, taking his brothers' bonnets
and his own, went very softly and put them upon the heads
of the seven little ogresses, after having taken off their
crowns of gold, which he put upon his own head and his
brothers', that the Ogre might take them for his daughters,
and his daughters for the little boys whom he wanted to
kill.

All this succeeded according to his desire; for, the Ogre
waking about midnight, and sorry that he deferred to do
that till morning which he might have done over-night,
threw himself hastily out of bed, and, taking his great
knife,

"Let us see," said he, "how our little rogues do, and not
make two jobs of the matter."

He then went up, groping all the way, into his daughters'
chamber, and, coming to the bed where the little
boys lay, and who were every soul of them fast asleep,
except Little Thumb, who was terribly afraid when he
found the Ogre fumbling about his head, as he had done
about his brothers', the Ogre, feeling the golden crowns,
said:

"I should have made a fine piece of work of it, truly;
I find I drank too much last night."

Then he went to the bed where the girls lay; and, having
found the boys' little bonnets,

"Ah!" said he, "my merry lads, are you there? Let us
work as we ought."

And saying these words, without more ado, he cut the
throats of all his seven daughters.

Well pleased with what he had done, he went to bed
again to his wife. So soon as Little Thumb heard the
Ogre snore, he waked his brothers, and bade them all put
on their clothes presently and follow him. They stole
down softly into the garden, and got over the wall. They
kept running about all night, and trembled all the while,
without knowing which way they went.

The Ogre, when he awoke, said to his wife: "Go
upstairs and dress those young rascals who came here last
night."

The wife was very much surprised at this goodness of
her husband, not dreaming after what manner she should
dress them; but, thinking that he had ordered her to go
and put on their clothes, she went up, and was strangely
astonished when she perceived her seven daughters killed,
and weltering in their blood.

She fainted away, for this is the first expedient almost
all women find in such cases. The Ogre, fearing his wife
would be too long in doing what he had ordered, went up
himself to help her. He was no less amazed than his wife
at this frightful spectacle.

"Ah! what have I done?" cried he. "The wretches shall
pay for it, and that instantly."

He threw a pitcher of water upon his wife's face, and,
having brought her to herself, said:

"Give me quickly my boots of seven leagues, that I may
go and catch them."

He went out, and, having run over a vast deal of
ground, both on this side and that, he came at last into
the very road where the poor children were, and not
above a hundred paces from their father's house. They
espied the Ogre, who went at one step from mountain to
mountain, and over rivers as easily as the narrowest
kennels. Little Thumb, seeing a hollow rock near the
place where they were, made his brothers hide themselves
in it, and crowded into it himself, minding always what
would become of the Ogre.

The Ogre, who found himself much tired with his long
and fruitless journey (for these boots of seven leagues
greatly fatigued the wearer), had a great mind to rest
himself, and, by chance, went to sit down upon the rock
where the little boys had hid themselves. As it was
impossible he could be more weary than he was, he fell
asleep, and, after reposing himself some time, began to
snore so frightfully that the poor children were no less
afraid of him than when he held up his great knife and
was going to cut their throats. Little Thumb was not so
much frightened as his brothers, and told them that they
should run away immediately toward home while the
Ogre was asleep so soundly, and that they should not be in
any pain about him. They took his advice, and got home
presently. Little Thumb came up to the Ogre, pulled off
his boots gently and put them on his own legs. The boots
were very long and large, but, as they were fairies, they
had the gift of becoming big and little, according to the
legs of those who wore them; so that they fitted his feet
and legs as well as if they had been made on purpose for
him. He went immediately to the Ogre's house, where he
saw his wife crying bitterly for the loss of the Ogre's
murdered daughters.

"Your husband," said Little Thumb, "is in very great
danger, being taken by a gang of thieves, who have sworn
to kill him if he does not give them all his gold and silver.
The very moment they held their daggers at his throat he
perceived me, and desired me to come and tell you the
condition he is in, and that you should give me whatsoever
he has of value, without retaining any one thing; for
otherwise they will kill him without mercy; and, as his
case is very pressing, he desired me to make use (you see
I have them on) of his boots, that I might make the more
haste and to show you that I do not impose upon you."

The good woman, being sadly frightened, gave him all
she had: for this Ogre was a very good husband, though
he used to eat up little children. Little Thumb, having
thus got all the Ogre's money, came home to his father's
house, where he was received with abundance of joy.

There are many people who do not agree in this
circumstance, and pretend that Little Thumb never robbed
the Ogre at all, and that he only thought he might very
justly, and with a safe conscience, take off his boots of
seven leagues, because he made no other use of them but
to run after little children. These folks affirm that they
are very well assured of this, and the more as having
drunk and eaten often at the fagot-maker's house. They
aver that when Little Thumb had taken off the Ogre's
boots he went to Court, where he was informed that they
were very much in pain about a certain army, which was
two hundred leagues off, and the success of a battle. He
went, say they, to the King, and told him that, if he
desired it, he would bring him news from the army before
night.

The King promised him a great sum of money upon that
condition. Little Thumb was as good as his word, and
returned that very same night with the news; and, this first
expedition causing him to be known, he got whatever he
pleased, for the King paid him very well for carrying his
orders to the army. After having for some time carried
on the business of a messenger, and gained thereby great
wealth, he went home to his father, where it was
impossible to express the joy they were all in at his return.
He made the whole family very easy, bought places for
his father and brothers, and, by that means, settled them
very handsomely in the world, and, in the meantime, made
his court to perfection.





Next: The Forty Thieves

Previous: The Wonderful Sheep



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