An honest husbandman had once upon a time a son born to him who was no bigger than my thumb, and who for many years did not grow one hair's breadth taller. One day, as the father was going to plough in his field, the little fellow said, "Father, let me go too." "No," said his father, "stay where you are; you can do no good out of doors, and if you go perhaps I may lose you." Then little Thumbling fell a-crying: and his father, to quiet him, at last said he might go. So he put him in his pocket, and when he was in the field pulled him out, and set him upon the top of a newly-made furrow, that he might be able to look about him.
While he was sitting there, a great giant came striding over the hill. "Do you see that tall steeple-man?" said the father; "if you don't take care he will run away with you." Now he only said this to frighten the little boy and keep him from straying away. But the giant had long legs, and with two or three strides he really came close to the furrow, and picked up Master Thumbling, to look at him as he would at a beetle or a cockchafer. Then he let him run about his broad hand, and taking a liking to the little chap went off with him. The father stood by all the time, but could not say a word for fright; for he thought his child was really lost, and that he should never see him again.
But the giant took care of him at his house in the woods, and laid him in his bosom, and fed him with the same food that he lived upon himself. So Thumbling, instead of being a little dwarf, became like the giant—tall, and stout, and strong:—so that at the end of two years, when the old giant took him into the woods to try him, and said, "Pull up that birch-tree for yourself to walk with," the lad was so strong that he tore it up by the root. The giant thought he would make him a still stronger man than this: so after taking care of him two years more he took him into the wood to try his strength again. This time he took hold of one of the thickest oaks, and pulled it up as if it were mere sport to him. Then the old giant said, "Well done, my man! you will do now." So he carried him back to the field where he first found him.
His father happened to be just then ploughing his field again, as he was when he lost his son. The young giant went up to him and said, "Look here, father, see who I am:—don't you know your own son?" But the husbandman was frightened, and cried out, "No, no, you are not my son; begone about your business." "Indeed, I am your son; let me plough a little, I can plough as well as you." "No, go your ways," said the father; but as he was afraid of the tall man, he at last let go the plough, and sat down on the ground beside it. Then the youth laid hold of the ploughshare, and though he only pushed with one hand, he drove it deep into the earth. The ploughman cried out, "If you must plough, pray do not push so hard; you are doing more harm than good": but his son took off the horses, and said, "Father, go home, and tell my mother to get ready a good dinner; I'll go round the field meanwhile." So he went on driving the plough without any horses, till he had done two mornings' work by himself. Then he harrowed it; and when all was over, took up plough, harrow, horses and all, and carried them home like a bundle of straw.
When he reached the house he sat himself down on the bench, saying, "Now, mother, is dinner ready?" "Yes," said she, for she dared not deny him anything, so she brought two large dishes full, enough to have lasted herself and her husband eight days; however, he soon ate it all up, and said that was but a taste. "I see very well, father, that I shall not get enough to eat at your house; so if you will give me an iron walking-stick, so strong that I cannot break it against my knees, I will go away again." The husbandman very gladly put his two horses to the cart, and drove them to the forge; and brought back a bar of iron, as long and as thick as his two horses could draw: but the lad laid it against his knee, and snap it went, like a beanstalk. "I see, father," said he, "you can get no stick that will do for me, so I'll go and try my luck by myself."
Then away he went, and turned blacksmith, and travelled till he came to a village where lived a miserly smith, who earned a good deal of money, but kept all he got to himself, and gave nothing away to anybody. The first thing he did was to step into the smithy, and ask if the smith did not want a journeyman. "Ay," said the cunning fellow, as he looked at him and thought what a stout chap he was, and how lustily he would work and earn his bread,—"What wages do you ask?" "I want no pay," said he; "but every fortnight, when the other workmen are paid, you shall let me give you two strokes over the shoulders, just to amuse myself." The old smith thought to himself he could bear this very well, and reckoned on saving a great deal of money, so the bargain was soon struck.
The next morning the new workman was about to begin to work, but at the first stroke that he hit, when his master brought him the iron red hot, he shivered it in pieces, and the anvil sunk so deep into the earth that he could not get it out again. This made the old fellow very angry: "Holla!" cried he, "I can't have you for a workman, you are too clumsy; we must put an end to our bargain." "Very well," said the other, "but you must pay for what I have done; so let me give you only one little stroke, and then the bargain is all over." So saying, he gave him a thump that tossed him over a load of hay that stood near. Then he took the thickest bar of iron in the forge for a walking-stick, and went on his way.
When he had journeyed some way he came to a farmhouse, and asked the farmer if he wanted a foreman. The farmer said, "Yes," and the same wages were agreed for as before with the blacksmith. The next morning the workmen were all to go into the wood; but the giant was found to be fast asleep in his bed when the rest were all up and ready to start, "Come, get up," said one of them to him;" it is high time to be stirring: you must go with us." "Go your way," muttered he, sulkily; "I shall have done my work and get home long before you." So he lay in bed two hours longer, and at last got up and cooked and ate his breakfast, and then at his leisure harnessed his horses to go to the wood.
Just before the wood was a hollow way, through which all must pass; so he drove the cart on first, and built up behind him such a mound of fagots and briers that no horse could pass. This done, he drove on, and as he was going into the wood met the others coming out on their road home. "Drive away," said he, "I shall be home before you still." However, he only went a very little way into the wood, and tearing up one of the largest timber trees, put it into his cart, and turned about homewards. When he came to the pile of fagots, he found all the others standing there, not being able to pass by. "So," said he, "you see if you had staid with me, you would have been home just as soon, and might have slept an hour or two longer." Then he took his tree on one shoulder, and his cart on the other, and pushed through as easily as though he were laden with feathers; and when he reached the yard he showed the tree to the farmer, and asked if it was not a famous walking-stick. "Wife," said the farmer, "this man is worth something; if he sleeps longer, still he works better than the rest."
Time rolled on, and he had worked for the farmer his whole year; so when his fellow-labourers were paid, he said he also had a right to take his wages. But great dread came upon the farmer, at the thought of the blows he was to have, so he begged him to give up the old bargain, and take his whole farm and stock instead. "Not I," said he. "I will be no farmer; I am foreman, and so I mean to keep, and to be paid as we agreed." Finding he could do nothing with him, the farmer only begged one fortnight's respite, and called together all his friends, to ask their advice in the matter. They bethought themselves for a long time, and at last agreed that the shortest way was to kill this troublesome foreman. The next thing was to settle how it was to be done; and it was agreed that he should be ordered to carry into the yard some great mill-stones, and to put them on the edge of the well; that then he should be sent down to clean it out, and when he was at the bottom, the mill-stones should be pushed down upon his head.
Everything went right, and when the foreman was safe in the well, the stones were rolled in. As they struck the bottom, the water splashed to the very top. Of course they thought his head must be crushed to pieces; but he only cried out, "Drive away the chickens from the well; they are scratching about in the sand above, and they throw it into my eyes, so that I cannot see." When his job was done, up he sprang from the well, saying, "Look here! see what a fine neckcloth I have!" as he pointed to one of the mill-stones that had fallen over his head and hung about his neck.
The farmer was again overcome with fear, and begged another fortnight to think of it. So his friends were called together again, and at last gave this advice; that the foreman should be sent and made to grind corn by night at the haunted mill, whence no man had ever yet come out in the morning alive. That very evening he was told to carry eight bushels of corn to the mill, and grind them in the night. Away he went to the loft, put two bushels into his right pocket, two into his left, and four into a long sack slung over his shoulders, and then set off to the mill. The miller told him he might grind there in the day time, but not by night; for the mill was bewitched, and whoever went in at night had been found dead in the morning. "Never mind, miller, I shall come out safe," said he; "only make haste and get out of the way, and look out for me in the morning."
So he went into the mill, and put the corn into the hopper, and about twelve o'clock sat himself down on the bench in the miller's room. After a little time the door all at once opened of itself, and in came a large table. On the table stood wine and meat, and many good things besides. All seemed placed there by themselves; at any rate there was no one to be seen. The chairs next moved themselves round it, but still neither guests nor servants came; till all at once he saw ringers handling the knives and forks, and putting food on the plates, but still nothing else was to be seen. Now our friend felt somewhat hungry as he looked at the dishes, so he sat himself down at the table and ate whatever he liked best. "A little wine would be well after this cheer," said he; "but the good folks of this house seem to take but little of it." Just as he spoke, however, a flagon of the best moved on, and our guest filled a bumper, smacked his lips, and drank "Health and long life to all the company, and success to our next merry meeting!"
When they had had enough, and the plates and dishes, bottles and glasses, were all empty, on a sudden he heard something blow out the lights. "Never mind!" thought he; "one wants no candle to show one light to go to sleep by." But now that it was pitch dark he felt a huge blow fall upon his head. "Foul play!" cried he; "if I get such another box on the ear I shall just give it back again": and this he really did when the next blow came. Thus the game went on all night; and he never let fear get the better of him, but kept dealing his blows round, till at daybreak all was still. "Well, miller," said he in the morning, "I have had some little slaps on the face, but I've given as good, I warrant you; and meantime I have eaten just as much as I liked." The miller was glad to find the charm was broken, and would have given him a great deal of money. "I want no money, I have quite enough," said he, as he took his meal on his back, and went home to his master to claim his wages.
But the farmer was in great trouble, knowing there was now no help for him; and he paced the room up and down, while the drops of sweat ran down his forehead. Then he opened the window for a little fresh air, and before he was aware his foreman gave him the first blow, and such a blow, that off he flew over the hills and far away. The next blow sent his wife after him, and, for aught I know, they may not have reached the ground yet; but, without waiting to know, the young giant took up his iron walking-stick and walked off.
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