They were very poor, and their seven children inconvenienced themgreatly, because not one of them was able to earn his own way. They were especially concerned, because the youngest was very sickly. He scarcely ever spoke a word, which they considered to be a sign of stupidity, although it was in truth a mark of good sense. He was very little, and when born no bigger than one's thumb, for which reason they called him Little Thumb.
The poor child bore the blame ofeverything that went wrong in the house. Guilty or not, he was always held to be at fault. He was, notwithstanding, more cunning and had a far greater share of wisdom than all his brothers put together. And although he spoke little, he listened well.
There came a very bad year, and the famine was so great that these poor people decided to rid themselves of their children.
One evening, whenthe children were all in bed and the woodcutter was sitting with his wife at the fire, he said to her, with his heart ready to burst with grief, "You see 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 woods tomorrow, which may very easily be done; for, while they are busy in tying up the bundles of wood, wecan leave them, without their noticing."
"Ah!" cried out his wife; "and can you yourself have the heart to take your children out along with you on purpose to abandon them?"
In vain her husband reminded her of their extreme poverty. She would not consent to it. Yes, she was poor, but she was their mother. However, after having considered what a grief it would be for her to see them perishwith hunger, she at last consented, and went to bed 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 under his father's stool, in order to hear what they were saying without being seen. He went to bed again, but did not sleep a wink all the rest of the night, thinking about what he hadto do.
He got up early in the morning, and went to the riverside, where he filled his pockets with small white pebbles, and then returned home. They all went out, but Little Thumb never told his brothers one syllable of what he knew. They went into a very thick forest, where they could not see one another at ten paces distance. The woodcutter began his work, and the children gathered up thesticks into bundles. Their father and mother, seeing them busy at their work, slipped away from them without being seen, and returned home along a byway through the bushes.
When the children saw they had been left alone, they began to cry as loudly as they could. Little Thumb let them cry, knowing very well how to get home again, for he had dropped the little white pebbles all along the way. Thenhe said to them, "Don't be afraid, brothers. Father and mother have left us here, but I will lead you home again. Just follow me."
They did so, and he took them home by the very same way they had come into the forest. They dared not go in, but sat down at the door, listening to what their father and mother were saying.
The woodcutter and his wife had just arrived home, when the lord of themanor 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 woodcutter sent his wife immediately to the butcher's. As it had been a long while since they had eaten, she bought three times as much meat as would be needed for two people.
When they had eaten, the woman said, "Alas! Where...