Little Thumb





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.





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