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Thumbelina

from The Yellow Fairy Book





There was once a woman who wanted to have quite a tiny, little
child, but she did not know where to get one from. So one day
she went to an old Witch and said to her: 'I should so much like
to have a tiny, little child; can you tell me where I can get
one?'

'Oh, we have just got one ready!' said the Witch. 'Here is a
barley-corn for you, but it's not the kind the farmer sows in his
field, or feeds the cocks and hens with, I can tell you. Put it
in a flower-pot, and then you will see something happen.'

'Oh, thank you!' said the woman, and gave the Witch a shilling,
for that was what it cost. Then she went home and planted the
barley-corn; immediately there grew out of it a large and
beautiful flower, which looked like a tulip, but the petals were
tightly closed as if it were still only a bud.

'What a beautiful flower!' exclaimed the woman, and she kissed
the red and yellow petals; but as she kissed them the flower
burst open. It was a real tulip, such as one can see any day;
but in the middle of the blossom, on the green velvety petals,
sat a little girl, quite tiny, trim, and pretty. She was
scarcely half a thumb in height; so they called her Thumbelina.
An elegant polished walnut-shell served Thumbelina as a cradle,
the blue petals of a violet were her mattress, and a rose-leaf
her coverlid. There she lay at night, but in the day-time she
used to play about on the table; here the woman had put a bowl,
surrounded by a ring of flowers, with their stalks in water, in
the middle of which floated a great tulip pedal, and on this
Thumbelina sat, and sailed from one side of the bowl to the
other, rowing herself with two white horse-hairs for oars. It
was such a pretty sight! She could sing, too, with a voice more
soft and sweet than had ever been heard before.

One night, when she was lying in her pretty little bed, an old
toad crept in through a broken pane in the window. She was very
ugly, clumsy, and clammy; she hopped on to the table where
Thumbelina lay asleep under the red rose-leaf.

'This would make a beautiful wife for my son,' said the toad,
taking up the walnut-shell, with Thumbelina inside, and hopping
with it through the window into the garden.

There flowed a great wide stream, with slippery and marshy banks;
here the toad lived with her son. Ugh! how ugly and clammy he
was, just like his mother! 'Croak, croak, croak!' was all he
could say when he saw the pretty little girl in the walnut-
shell.

'Don't talk so load, or you'll wake her,' said the old toad.
'She might escape us even now; she is as light as a feather. We
will put her at once on a broad water-lily leaf in the stream.
That will be quite an island for her; she is so small and light.
She can't run away from us there, whilst we are preparing the
guest-chamber under the marsh where she shall live.'

Outside in the brook grew many water-lilies, with broad green
leaves, which looked as if they were swimming about on the water.

The leaf farthest away was the largest, and to this the old toad
swam with Thumbelina in her walnut-shell.

The tiny Thumbelina woke up very early in the morning, and when
she saw where she was she began to cry bitterly; for on every
side of the great green leaf was water, and she could not get to
the land.

The old toad was down under the marsh, decorating her room with
rushes and yellow marigold leaves, to make it very grand for her
new daughter-in-law; then she swam out with her ugly son to the
leaf where Thumbelina lay. She wanted to fetch the pretty cradle
to put it into her room before Thumbelina herself came there.
The old toad bowed low in the water before her, and said: 'Here
is my son; you shall marry him, and live in great magnificence
down under the marsh.'

'Croak, croak, croak!' was all that the son could say. Then they
took the neat little cradle and swam away with it; but Thumbelina
sat alone on the great green leaf and wept, for she did not want
to live with the clammy toad, or marry her ugly son. The little
fishes swimming about under the water had seen the toad quite
plainly, and heard what she had said; so they put up their heads
to see the little girl. When they saw her, they thought her so
pretty that they were very sorry she should go down with the ugly
toad to live. No; that must not happen. They assembled in the
water round the green stalk which supported the leaf on which she
was sitting, and nibbled the stem in two. Away floated the leaf
down the stream, bearing Thumbelina far beyond the reach of the
toad.

On she sailed past several towns, and the little birds sitting in
the bushes saw her, and sang, 'What a pretty little girl!' The
leaf floated farther and farther away; thus Thumbelina left her
native land.

A beautiful little white butterfly fluttered above her, and at
last settled on the leaf. Thumbelina pleased him, and she, too,
was delighted, for now the toads could not reach her, and it was
so beautiful where she was travelling; the sun shone on the water
and made it sparkle like the brightest silver. She took off her
sash, and tied one end round the butterfly; the other end she
fastened to the leaf, so that now it glided along with her faster
than ever.

A great cockchafer came flying past; he caught sight of
Thumbelina, and in a moment had put his arms round her slender
waist, and had flown off with her to a tree. The green leaf
floated away down the stream, and the butterfly with it, for he
was fastened to the leaf and could not get loose from it. Oh,
dear! how terrified poor little Thumbelina was when the
cockchafer flew off with her to the tree! But she was especially
distressed on the beautiful white butterfly's account, as she had
tied him fast, so that if he could not get away he must starve to
death. But the cockchafer did not trouble himself about that; he
sat down with her on a large green leaf, gave her the honey out
of the flowers to eat, and told her that she was very pretty,
although she wasn't in the least like a cockchafer. Later on,
all the other cockchafers who lived in the same tree came to pay
calls; they examined Thumbelina closely, and remarked, 'Why, she
has only two legs! How very miserable!'

'She has no feelers!' cried another.

'How ugly she is!' said all the lady chafers--and yet Thumbelina
was really very pretty.

The cockchafer who had stolen her knew this very well; but when
he heard all the ladies saying she was ugly, he began to think so
too, and would not keep her; she might go wherever she liked. So
he flew down from the tree with her and put her on a daisy.
There she sat and wept, because she was so ugly that the
cockchafer would have nothing to do with her; and yet she was the
most beautiful creature imaginable, so soft and delicate, like
the loveliest rose-leaf.

The whole summer poor little Thumbelina lived alone in the great
wood. She plaited a bed for herself of blades of grass, and hung
it up under a clover-leaf, so that she was protected from the
rain; she gathered honey from the flowers for food, and drank the
dew on the leaves every morning. Thus the summer and autumn
passed, but then came winter--the long, cold winter. All the
birds who had sung so sweetly about her had flown away; the trees
shed their leaves, the flowers died; the great clover-leaf under
which she had lived curled up, and nothing remained of it but the
withered stalk. She was terribly cold, for her clothes were
ragged, and she herself was so small and thin. Poor little
Thumbelina! she would surely be frozen to death. It began to
snow, and every snow-flake that fell on her was to her as a whole
shovelful thrown on one of us, for we are so big, and she was
only an inch high. She wrapt herself round in a dead leaf, but
it was torn in the middle and gave her no warmth; she was
trembling with cold.

Just outside the wood where she was now living lay a great
corn-field. But the corn had been gone a long time; only the
dry, bare stubble was left standing in the frozen ground. This
made a forest for her to wander about in. All at once she came
across the door of a field-mouse, who had a little hole under a
corn-stalk. There the mouse lived warm and snug, with a
store-room full of corn, a splendid kitchen and dining-room.
Poor little Thumbelina went up to the door and begged for a
little piece of barley, for she had not had anything to eat for
the last two days.

'Poor little creature!' said the field-mouse, for she was a kind-
hearted old thing at the bottom. 'Come into my warm room and
have some dinner with me.'

As Thumbelina pleased her, she said: 'As far as I am concerned
you may spend the winter with me; but you must keep my room clean
and tidy, and tell me stories, for I like that very much.'

And Thumbelina did all that the kind old field-mouse asked, and
did it remarkably well too.

'Now I am expecting a visitor,' said the field-mouse; 'my
neighbour comes to call on me once a week. He is in better
circumstances than I am, has great, big rooms, and wears a fine
black-velvet coat. If you could only marry him, you would be
well provided for. But he is blind. You must tell him all the
prettiest stories you know.'

But Thumbelina did not trouble her head about him, for he was
only a mole. He came and paid them a visit in his black-velvet
coat.

'He is so rich and so accomplished,' the field-mouse told her.

'His house is twenty times larger than mine; he possesses great
knowledge, but he cannot bear the sun and the beautiful flowers,
and speaks slightingly of them, for he has never seen them.'

Thumbelina had to sing to him, so she sang 'Lady-bird, lady-
bird, fly away home!' and other songs so prettily that the mole
fell in love with her; but he did not say anything, he was a very
cautious man. A short time before he had dug a long passage
through the ground from his own house to that of his neighbour;
in this he gave the field-mouse and Thumbelina permission to walk
as often as they liked. But he begged them not to be afraid of
the dead bird that lay in the passage: it was a real bird with
beak and feathers, and must have died a little time ago, and now
laid buried just where he had made his tunnel. The mole took a
piece of rotten wood in his mouth, for that glows like fire in
the dark, and went in front, lighting them through the long dark
passage. When they came to the place where the dead bird lay,
the mole put his broad nose against the ceiling and pushed a hole
through, so that the daylight could shine down. In the middle of
the path lay a dead swallow, his pretty wings pressed close to
his sides, his claws and head drawn under his feathers; the poor
bird had evidently died of cold. Thumbelina was very sorry, for
she was very fond of all little birds; they had sung and
twittered so beautifully to her all through the summer. But the
mole kicked him with his bandy legs and said:

'Now he can't sing any more! It must be very miserable to be a
little bird! I'm thankful that none of my little children are;
birds always starve in winter.'

'Yes, you speak like a sensible man,' said the field-mouse.
'What has a bird, in spite of all his singing, in the
winter-time? He must starve and freeze, and that must be very
pleasant for him, I must say!'

Thumbelina did not say anything; but when the other two had
passed on she bent down to the bird, brushed aside the feathers
from his head, and kissed his closed eyes gently. 'Perhaps it
was he that sang to me so prettily in the summer,' she thought.
'How much pleasure he did give me, dear little bird!'

The mole closed up the hole again which let in the light, and
then escorted the ladies home. But Thumbelina could not sleep
that night; so she got out of bed, and plaited a great big
blanket of straw, and carried it off, and spread it over the dead
bird, and piled upon it thistle-down as soft as cotton-wool,
which she had found in the field-mouse's room, so that the poor
little thing should lie warmly buried.

'Farewell, pretty little bird!' she said. 'Farewell, and thank
you for your beautiful songs in the summer, when the trees were
green, and the sun shone down warmly on us!' Then she laid her
head against the bird's heart. But the bird was not dead: he had
been frozen, but now that she had warmed him, he was coming to
life again.

In autumn the swallows fly away to foreign lands; but there are
some who are late in starting, and then they get so cold that
they drop down as if dead, and the snow comes and covers them
over.

Thumbelina trembled, she was so frightened; for the bird was very
large in comparison with herself--only an inch high. But she
took courage, piled up the down more closely over the poor
swallow, fetched her own coverlid and laid it over his head.

Next night she crept out again to him. There he was alive, but
very weak; he could only open his eyes for a moment and look at
Thumbelina, who was standing in front of him with a piece of
rotten wood in her hand, for she had no other lantern.

'Thank you, pretty little child!' said the swallow to her. 'I am
so beautifully warm! Soon I shall regain my strength, and then I
shall be able to fly out again into the warm sunshine.'

'Oh!' she said, 'it is very cold outside; it is snowing and
freezing! stay in your warm bed; I will take care of you!'

Then she brought him water in a petal, which he drank, after
which he related to her how he had torn one of his wings on a
bramble, so that he could not fly as fast as the other swallows,
who had flown far away to warmer lands. So at last he had
dropped down exhausted, and then he could remember no more. The
whole winter he remained down there, and Thumbelina looked after
him and nursed him tenderly. Neither the mole nor the
field-mouse learnt anything of this, for they could not bear the
poor swallow.

When the spring came, and the sun warmed the earth again, the
swallow said farewell to Thumbelina, who opened the hole in the
roof for him which the mole had made. The sun shone brightly
down upon her, and the swallow asked her if she would go with
him; she could sit upon his back. Thumbelina wanted very much to
fly far away into the green wood, but she knew that the old
field-mouse would be sad if she ran away. 'No, I mustn't come!'
she said.

'Farewell, dear good little girl!' said the swallow, and flew off
into the sunshine. Thumbelina gazed after him with the tears
standing in her eyes, for she was very fond of the swallow.

'Tweet, tweet!' sang the bird, and flew into the green wood.
Thumbelina was very unhappy. She was not allowed to go out into
the warm sunshine. The corn which had been sowed in the field
over the field-mouse's home grew up high into the air, and made a
thick forest for the poor little girl, who was only an inch high.

'Now you are to be a bride, Thumbelina!' said the field-mouse,
'for our neighbour has proposed for you! What a piece of fortune
for a poor child like you! Now you must set to work at your
linen for your dowry, for nothing must be lacking if you are to
become the wife of our neighbour, the mole!'

Thumbelina had to spin all day long, and every evening the mole
visited her, and told her that when the summer was over the sun
would not shine so hot; now it was burning the earth as hard as a
stone. Yes, when the summer had passed, they would keep the
wedding.

But she was not at all pleased about it, for she did not like the
stupid mole. Every morning when the sun was rising, and every
evening when it was setting, she would steal out of the
house-door, and when the breeze parted the ears of corn so that
she could see the blue sky through them, she thought how bright
and beautiful it must be outside, and longed to see her dear
swallow again. But he never came; no doubt he had flown away far
into the great green wood.

By the autumn Thumbelina had finished the dowry.

'In four weeks you will be married!' said the field-mouse; 'don't
be obstinate, or I shall bite you with my sharp white teeth! You
will get a fine husband! The King himself has not such a velvet
coat. His store-room and cellar are full, and you should be
thankful for that.'

Well, the wedding-day arrived. The mole had come to fetch
Thumbelina to live with him deep down under the ground, never to
come out into the warm sun again, for that was what he didn't
like. The poor little girl was very sad; for now she must say
good-bye to the beautiful sun.

'Farewell, bright sun!' she cried, stretching out her arms
towards it, and taking another step outside the house; for now
the corn had been reaped, and only the dry stubble was left
standing. 'Farewell, farewell!' she said, and put her arms round
a little red flower that grew there. 'Give my love to the dear
swallow when you see him!'

'Tweet, tweet!' sounded in her ear all at once. She looked up.
There was the swallow flying past! As soon as he saw Thumbelina,
he was very glad. She told him how unwilling she was to marry
the ugly mole, as then she had to live underground where the sun
never shone, and she could not help bursting into tears.

'The cold winter is coming now,' said the swallow. 'I must fly
away to warmer lands: will you come with me? You can sit on my
back, and we will fly far away from the ugly mole and his dark
house, over the mountains, to the warm countries where the sun
shines more brightly than here, where it is always summer, and
there are always beautiful flowers. Do come with me, dear little
Thumbelina, who saved my life when I lay frozen in the dark
tunnel!'

'Yes, I will go with you,' said Thumbelina, and got on the
swallow's back, with her feet on one of his outstretched wings.
Up he flew into the air, over woods and seas, over the great
mountains where the snow is always lying. And if she was cold
she crept under his warm feathers, only keeping her little head
out to admire all the beautiful things in the world beneath. At
last they came to warm lands; there the sun was brighter, the sky
seemed twice as high, and in the hedges hung the finest green and
purple grapes; in the woods grew oranges and lemons: the air was
scented with myrtle and mint, and on the roads were pretty little
children running about and playing with great gorgeous
butterflies. But the swallow flew on farther, and it became more
and more beautiful. Under the most splendid green trees besides
a blue lake stood a glittering white-marble castle. Vines hung
about the high pillars; there were many swallows' nests, and in
one of these lived the swallow who was carrying Thumbelina.

'Here is my house!' said he. 'But it won't do for you to live
with me; I am not tidy enough to please you. Find a home for
yourself in one of the lovely flowers that grow down there; now I
will set you down, and you can do whatever you like.'

'That will be splendid!' said she, clapping her little hands.

There lay a great white marble column which had fallen to the
ground and broken into three pieces, but between these grew the
most beautiful white flowers. The swallow flew down with
Thumbelina, and set her upon one of the broad leaves. But there,
to her astonishment, she found a tiny little man sitting in the
middle of the flower, as white and transparent as if he were made
of glass; he had the prettiest golden crown on his head, and the
most beautiful wings on his shoulders; he himself was no bigger
than Thumbelina. He was the spirit of the flower. In each
blossom there dwelt a tiny man or woman; but this one was the
King over the others.

'How handsome he is!' whispered Thumbelina to the swallow.

The little Prince was very much frightened at the swallow, for in
comparison with one so tiny as himself he seemed a giant. But
when he saw Thumbelina, he was delighted, for she was the most
beautiful girl he had ever seen. So he took his golden crown
from off his head and put it on hers, asking her her name, and if
she would be his wife, and then she would be Queen of all the
flowers. Yes! he was a different kind of husband to the son of
the toad and the mole with the black-velvet coat. So she said
'Yes' to the noble Prince. And out of each flower came a lady
and gentleman, each so tiny and pretty that it was a pleasure to
see them. Each brought Thumbelina a present, but the best of all
was a beautiful pair of wings which were fastened on to her back,
and now she too could fly from flower to flower. They all wished
her joy, and the swallow sat above in his nest and sang the
wedding march, and that he did as well as he could; but he was
sad, because he was very fond of Thumbelina and did not want to
be separated from her.

'You shall not be called Thumbelina!' said the spirit of the
flower to her; 'that is an ugly name, and you are much too pretty
for that. We will call you May Blossom.'

'Farewell, farewell!' said the little swallow with a heavy heart,
and flew away to farther lands, far, far away, right back to
Denmark. There he had a little nest above a window, where his
wife lived, who can tell fairy-stories. 'Tweet, tweet!' he sang
to her. And that is the way we learnt the whole story.





Next: The Nightingale

Previous: The Witch In The Stone Boat



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