There lived a tailor who had only one son, and he was extremely small, not any larger than your thumb, and so was called Tom Thumb.
However, he was a courageous little fellow, and he told his father, “Father, I am determined to go into the world to seek my fortune.”
“Very well, my son,” answered the old man, and taking a big darning needle, he made a top to it of sealing wax, and gave it to Tom Thumb, saying:
“There is a sword for you to use to defend yourself on your journeyings.”
Then the little fellow, desiring to dine once more with his parents, popped into the kitchen to find out what his mother was preparing for his last dinner at home. All the dishes were ready to be taken in, and they were standing upon the hearth.
“What is it you have for dinner, dear mother?” he inquired.
“You can look for yourself,” she replied.
Then Tom sprang up on to the hob, and peeped into all the dishes, but over one he leant so far, that he was carried up by the steam through the chimney, and then for some distance he floated on the smoke, but after a while he fell upon the ground once more.
Now, at last, Tom Thumb was really out in the wide world, and he went on cheerily, and after a time was engaged by a master tailor; but here the food was not so good as his mother’s, and it was not to his taste.
So he said, “Mistress, if you will not give me better things to eat, I shall chalk upon your door, ‘Too many potatoes, and not enough meat. Good-bye, potato-mill.'”
“I should like to know what you want, you little grasshopper!” cried the woman very angrily, and she seized a shred of cloth to strike him; however, the tiny tailor popped under a thimble, and from it he peeped, putting out his tongue at the mistress.
So she took up the thimble, meaning to catch him, but Tom Thumb hid himself amongst the shreds of cloth, and when she began to search through those, he slipped into a crack in the table, but put out his head to laugh at her; so she tried again to hit him with the shred, but did not succeed in doing so, for he slipped through the crack into the table drawer.
At last, though, he was caught, and driven out of the house.
So the little fellow continued his travels, and presently entering a thick forest, he encountered a company of robbers who were plotting to steal the king’s treasure.
As soon as they saw the little tailor, they said to themselves, “A little fellow like this could creep through a keyhole, and aid us greatly.” So one called out—
“Hullo, little man, will you come with us to the king’s treasury? Certainly a Goliath like you could creep in with ease, and throw out the coins to us.”
After considering awhile, Tom Thumb consented, and accompanied them to the king’s treasury.
From top to bottom they inspected the door to discover a crack large enough for him to get through, and soon found one. He was for going in directly, but one of the sentinels happening to catch sight of him, exclaimed: “Here is indeed an ugly spider; I will crush it with my foot.”
“Leave the poor creature alone,” the other said; “it has not done you any harm.”
So Tom Thumb slipped through the crack, and made his way to the treasury. Then he opened the window, and cast out the coins to the robbers who were waiting below. While the little tailor was engaged in this exciting employment, he heard the king coming to inspect his treasure, so as quickly as possible he crept out of sight. The king noticed that his treasure had been disarranged, and soon observed that coins were missing: but he was utterly unable to think how they could have been stolen, for the locks and bolts had not been tampered with, and everything was well fastened.
On going from the treasury, he warned the two sentinels, saying—
“Be on the watch, some one is after the money,” and quite soon, on Tom Thumb setting to work again, they heard very clearly the coins ringing, chink, chank, as they struck one against the other.
As quickly as possible they unfastened the building and went in, hoping to take the thief.
But Tom Thumb was too quick for them, he sprang into a corner, and hiding himself behind a coin, so that nothing of him was visible, he made fun of the sentinels; crying “I am here!” Then when the men hurried to the spot where the voice came from, he was no longer there, but from a different place cried out: “Ha, Ha! here I am!”
So the sentinels kept jumping about, but so cleverly did Tom move from one spot to another, that they were obliged to run around the whole time, hoping to find somebody, until at length, quite tired out, they went off.
Then Tomb Thumb went on with his work, and one after another he threw all the coins out of the window, but the very last he sounded and rang with all his might and springing nimbly upon it, so flew through the window.
The robbers were loud in their praises.
“Indeed you are a brave fellow,” they said, “will you be our captain?”
Tom Thumb, thanking them, declined this honor, for he was anxious to see more of the world. Then the booty was apportioned out, but only a ducat was given to the little tailor, for that was as much as he could carry.
So Tom girded on his sword again, and bidding farewell to the robbers, continued his travels.
He tried to get work under various masters, but they would have nothing to do with him, so after a while he took service at an inn. But the maids there disliked him, for he was about everywhere, and saw all that went on, without being seen himself; and he told their mistress of their dishonest ways, of what was taken off the plates, and from out the cellars.
So they threatened they would drown him, if they caught him, and determined to do him some harm. Then, one day, a maid mowing in the garden saw Tom Thumb running in and out between the blades of grass, so she cut the grass, in great haste, just where he chanced to be, tied it all in a bundle, and, without anyone knowing, threw it to the cows.
Then one big black cow took up a mouthful of grass directly, with Tom in it, and swallowed it down; without doing him any damage, however.
But Tom did not approve of his position, for it was pitch dark down there, with no light burning.
When milking time came, he shouted—
“Drip, drap, drop,
Will the milking soon stop?”
but the sound of the milk trickling into the pail prevented his voice being heard.
Not long afterwards the master came into the shed, and said:
“I will have that cow killed to-morrow.”
This put Tom Thumb into a great fright, and he called out loudly:
“Please let me out, here I am inside.”
This the master heard plainly enough, but could not make out where the voice came from.
“Where are you?” he inquired.
“In the black cow,” was the reply.
However, the master could not understand what was meant, and so went away.
The following morning the cow was killed, but fortunately in the cutting up the knife did not touch Tom Thumb, who was put aside with the meat that was to be made into sausages.
When the butcher began chopping, he cried as loudly as he could—
“Don’t chop far, I am down beneath,” but the chopper made so much noise, that he attracted no attention.
It was indeed a terrible situation for poor Tom. But being in danger brightens one’s wits, and he sprang so nimbly, this way and that, keeping clear of the chopper, that not a blow struck him, and he did not get even a scratch.
However, he could not escape, there was no help for it, he was forced into a skin with the sausage meat, so was compelled to make himself as comfortable as might be. It was very close quarters, and besides that, the sausages were suspended to smoke in the chimney, which was by no means entertaining, and the time passed slowly.
When winter came, he was taken down for a guest’s meal, and while the hostess was slicing the sausage he had to be on his guard, lest if he stretched out his head it might be cut off.
Watching his opportunity, at last he was able to jump out of the sausage, and right glad was he to be once again in the company of his fellow-men.
It was not very long, however, that he stayed in this house, where he had been met by so many misfortunes, and again he set forth on his travels, rejoicing in his freedom, but this did not long continue.
Swiftly running across the field came a fox, who, in an instant, had snapped up poor little Tom.
“Oh, Mr. Fox,” called out the little tailor, “it is I who am in your throat; please let me out.”
“Certainly,” answered Reynard, “you are not a bit better than nothing at all, you don’t in the least satisfy me; make me a promise, that I shall have the hens in your father’s yard, and you shall regain your liberty.”
“Willingly, you shall have all the hens; I make you a faithful promise,” responded Tom Thumb.
So the fox coughed and set him free, and himself carried Tom home.
Then when the father had his dear little son once more he gave the fox all his hens, with the greatest of pleasure.
“Here, father, I am bringing you a golden coin from my travels,” said the little fellow, and he brought out the ducat the thieves had apportioned to him.
“But how was it that the fox was given all the poor little hens?”
“Foolish little one, don’t you think your father would rather have you, than all the hens he ever had in his yard?”
Citation: Grimm, James and Grimm, Wilhelm, authors. Olcott, Frances Jenkins, ed. Grimm’s Fairy Tales. PA: The Penn Publishing Company, 1922. This story is in the public domain and is part of the cited work.