A certain tailor had a son, who happened to be small, and no bigger than a Thumb, and on this account he was always called Thumbling. He had, however, some courage in him, and said to his father, "Father, I must and will go out into the world."
"That's right, my son," said the old man, and took a long darning-needle and made a knob of sealing-wax on it at the candle, "and there is a sword for you to take with you on the way."
Then the little tailor wanted to have one more meal with them, and hopped into the kitchen to see what his lady mother had cooked for the last time. It was, however, just dished up, and the dish stood on the hearth. Then he said, "Mother, what is there to eat today?"
"See for yourself," said his mother. So Thumbling jumped on to the hearth, and peeped into the dish, but as he stretched his neck in too far the steam from the food caught hold of him, and carried him up the chimney. He rode about in the air on the steam for a while, till at length he sank down to the ground again. Now the little tailor was outside in the wide world, and he travelled about, and went to a master in his craft, but the food was not good enough for him. "Mistress, if you give us no better food," said Thumbling, "I will go away, and early tomorrow morning I will write with chalk on the door of your house, 'Too many potatoes, too little meat! Farewell, Mr. Potato-King."
"What would you have forsooth, grasshopper?" said the mistress, and grew angry, and seized a dishcloth, and was just going to strike him; but the little tailor crept nimbly under a thimble, peeped out from beneath it, and put his tongue out at the mistress. She took up the thimble, and wanted to get hold of him, but little Thumbling hopped into the cloth, and while the mistress was opening it out and looking for him, he got into a crevice in the table.
"Ho, ho, lady mistress," cried he, and thrust his head out, and when she began to strike him he leapt down into the drawer. At last, however, she caught him and drove him out of the house.
The little tailor journeyed on and came to a great forest, and there he fell in with a band of robbers who had a design to steal the king's treasure. When they saw the little tailor, they thought, "A little fellow like that can creep through a key-hole and serve as picklock to us."
"Hollo," cried one of them, "you giant Goliath, will you go to the treasure-chamber with us? You can slip yourself in and throw out the money."
Thumbling reflected a while, and at length he said, "yes," and went with them to the treasure-chamber. Then he looked at the doors above and below, to see if there was any crack in them. It was not long before he espied one which was broad enough to let him in. He was therefore about to get in at once, but one of the two sentries who stood before the door, observed him, and said to the other, "What an ugly spider is creeping there; I will kill it."
"Let the poor creature alone," said the other; "it has done you no harm."
Then Thumbling got safely through the crevice into the treasure-chamber, opened the window beneath which the robbers were standing, and threw out to them one thaler after another. When the little tailor was in the full swing of his work, he heard the king coming to inspect his treasure-chamber, and crept hastily into a hiding-place. The king noticed that several solid thalers were missing, but could not conceive who could have stolen them, for locks and bolts were in good condition, and all seemed well guarded. Then he went away again, and said to the sentries, "Be on the watch, some one is after the money."
When therefore Thumbling recommenced his labours, they heard the money moving, and a sound of klink, klink, klink. They ran swiftly in to seize the thief, but the little tailor, who heard them coming, was still swifter, and leapt into a corner and covered himself with a thaler, so that nothing could be seen of him, and at the same time he mocked the sentries and cried, "Here am I!" The sentries ran there, but as they got there, he had already hopped into another corner under a thaler, and was crying, "Ho, ho, here am I!" The watchmen sprang there in haste, but Thumbling had long ago got into a third corner, and was crying, "Ho, ho, here am I!" And thus he made fools of them, and drove them so long round about the treasure-chamber that they were weary and went away. Then by degrees he threw all the thalers out, dispatching the last with all his might, then hopped nimbly on it, and flew down with it through the window. The robbers paid him great compliments.
"You are a valiant hero," said they; "will you be our captain?"
Thumbling, however, declined, and he said wanted to see the world first. They now divided the booty, but the little tailor only asked for a kreuzer because he could not carry more.
Then he once more buckled on his sword, bade the robbers goodbye, and took to the road. First, he went to work with some masters, but he had no liking for that, and at last he hired himself as man-servant in an inn. The maids, however, could not endure him, for he saw all they did secretly, without their seeing him, and he told their master and mistress what they had taken off the plates, and carried away out of the cellar, for themselves. Then said they, "Wait, and we will pay you off!" and arranged with each other to play him a trick. Soon afterwards when one of the maids was mowing in the garden, and saw Thumbling jumping about and creeping up and down the plants, she mowed him up quickly with the grass, tied all in a great cloth, and secretly threw it to the cows. Now amongst them there was a great black one, who swallowed him down without hurting him. Down below, however, it pleased him ill, for it was quite dark, neither was any candle burning. When the cow was being milked he cried,
"Strip, strap, strull,
But the noise of the milking prevented his being understood. After this the master of the house came into the cow-byre and said, "That cow shall be killed tomorrow."
Then Thumbling was so alarmed that he cried out in a clear voice, "Let me out first, for I am shut up inside her."
The master heard that quite well, but did not know from where the voice came.
"Where are you?" asked he.
"In the black one," answered Thumbling, but the master did not understand what that meant, and went out.
Next morning the cow was killed. Happily Thumbling did not meet with one blow at the cutting up and chopping; he got among the sausage-meat. And when the butcher came in and began his work, he cried out with all his might, "Don't chop too deep, don't chop too deep, I am amongst it."
No one heard this because of the noise of the chopping-knife. Now poor Thumbling was in trouble, but trouble sharpens the wits, and he sprang out so adroitly between the blows that none of them touched him, and he escaped with a whole skin. But still he could not get away, there was nothing for it but to let himself be thrust into a black-pudding with the bits of bacon. His quarters there were rather confined, and besides that he was hung up in the chimney to be smoked, and there time did hang terribly heavy on his hands.
At length in winter he was taken down again, as the black-pudding had to be set before a guest. When the hostess was cutting it in slices, he took care not to stretch out his head too far lest a bit of it should be cut off; at last he saw his opportunity, cleared a passage for himself, and jumped out.
The little tailor, however, would not stay any longer in a house where he fared so ill, so at once set out on his journey again. But his liberty did not last long. In the open country he met with a fox who snapped him up in a fit of absence.
"Hollo, Mr. Fox," cried the little tailor, "it is I who am sticking in your throat, set me at liberty again."
"You are right," answered the fox. "You are next to nothing for me, but if you will promise me the fowls in your father's yard I will let you go."
"With all my heart," replied Thumbling.
"You shall have all the cocks and hens, that I promise you."
Then the fox let him go again, and himself carried him home. When the father once more saw his dear son, he willingly gave the fox all the fowls which he had.
"For this I likewise bring you a handsome bit of money," said Thumbling, and gave his father the kreuzer which he earned on his travels.
"But why did the fox get the poor chickens to eat?"
"Oh, you goose, your father would surely love his child far more than the fowls in the yard!"
There were once three apprentices, who had agreed to keep always together while travelling, and always to work in the same town. At one time, however, their masters had no more work to give them, so that at last they were in rags, and had nothing to live on. Then one of them said, "What shall we do? We cannot stay here any longer, we will travel once more, and if we do not find any work in the town we go to, we will arrange with the innkeeper there, that we are to write and tell him where we are staying, so that we can always have news of each other, and then we will separate."
And that seemed best to the others also. They went forth, and met on the way a richly-dressed man who asked who they were.
"We are apprentices looking for work; Up to this time we have kept together, but if we cannot find anything to do we are going to separate."
"There is no need for that," said the man, "if you will do what I tell you, you shall not want for gold or for work; nay, you shall become great lords, and drive in your carriages!" One of them said, "If our souls and salvation be not endangered, we will certainly do it."
"They will not," answered the man, "I have no claim on you." One of the others had, however, looked at his feet, and when he saw a horse's foot and a man's foot, he did not want to have anything to do with him. The devil, however, said, "Be easy, I have no designs on you, but on another soul, which is half my own already, and whose measure shall but run full."
As they were now secure, they consented, and the devil told them what he wanted. The first was to answer, "All three of us," to every question; the second was to say, "For money," and the third, "And quite right too!" They were always to say this, one after the other, but they were not to say one word more, and if they disobeyed this order, all their money would disappear at once, but so long as they observed it, their pockets would always be full. As a beginning, he at once gave them as much as they could carry, and told them to go to such and such an inn when they got to the town. They went to it, and the innkeeper came to meet them, and asked if they wished for anything to eat? The first answered, "All three of us."
"Yes," said the host, "that is what I mean."
The second said, "For money."
"Of course," said the host. The third said, "And quite right too!"
"Certainly it is right," said the host.
Good meat and drink were now brought to them, and they were well waited on. After the dinner came the payment, and the innkeeper gave the bill to the one who said, "All three of us," the second said, "For money," and the third, "and quite right too!"
"Indeed it is right," said the host, "all three pay, and without money I can give nothing."
They, however, paid still more than he had asked. The lodgers, who were looking on, said, "These people must be mad."
"Yes, indeed they are," said the host, "they are not very wise."
So they stayed some time in the inn, and said nothing else but, "All three of us," "For money," and "And quite right too!" But they saw and knew all that was going on. It so happened that a great merchant came with a large sum of money, and said, "Sir host, take care of my money for me, here are three crazy apprentices who might steal it from me."
The host did as he was asked. As he was carrying the trunk into his room, he felt that it was heavy with gold. Thereupon he gave the three apprentices a lodging below, but the merchant came upstairs into a separate apartment. When it was midnight, and the host thought that all were asleep, he came with his wife, and they had an axe and struck the rich merchant dead; and after they had murdered him they went to bed again. When it was day there was a great outcry; the merchant lay dead in bed bathed in blood.
All the guests ran at once but the host said, "The three crazy apprentices have done this;" the lodgers confirmed it, and said, "It can have been no one else."
The innkeeper, however, had them called, and said to them, "Have you killed the merchant?"
"All three of us," said the first, "For money," said the second; and the third added, "And quite right too!"
"There now, you hear," said the host, "they confess it themselves."
They were taken to prison, therefore, and were to be tried. When they saw that things were going so seriously, they were after all afraid, but at night the devil came and said, "Bear it just one day longer, and do not play away your luck, not one hair of your head shall be hurt."
The next morning they were led to the bar, and the judge said, "Are you the murderers?"
"All three of us."
"Why did you kill the merchant?"
"You wicked wretches, you have no horror of your sins?"
"And quite right too!"
"They have confessed, and are still stubborn," said the judge, "lead them to death this very moment."
So they were taken out, and the host had to go with them into the circle. When they were taken hold of by the executioner's men, and were just going to be led up to the scaffold where the headsman was standing with naked sword, a coach drawn by four blood-red chestnut horses came up suddenly, driving so fast that fire flashed from the stones, and someone made signs from the window with a white handkerchief. Then said the headsman, "It is a pardon coming," and "Pardon! pardon!" was called from the carriage also. Then the devil stepped out as a very noble gentleman, beautifully dressed, and said, "You three are innocent; you may now speak, make known what you have seen and heard."
Then said the eldest, "We did not kill the merchant, the murderer is standing there in the circle," and he pointed to the innkeeper.
"In proof of this, go into his cellar, where many others whom he has killed are still hanging."
Then the judge sent the executioner's men there, and they found it was as the apprentices said, and when they had informed the judge of this, he caused the innkeeper to be led up, and his head was cut off. Then said the devil to the three, "Now I have got the soul which I wanted to have, and you are free, and have money for the rest of your lives."