Hans Andersen's fairy tales (Robinson)/Tommelise

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For other versions of this work, see Thumbelina.




ONCE upon a time there lived a young wife who longed exceedingly to possess a little child of her own, so she went to an old witch-woman and said to her, 'I wish so very much to have a child, a little tiny child; won't you give me one, old mother?'

'Oh, with all my heart!' replied the witch. 'Here is a barley-corn for you; it is not exactly of the same sort as those that grow on the farmer's fields, or that are given to the fowls in the poultry yard, but do you sow it in a flower-pot, and then you shall see what you shall see!'

'Thank you, thank you!' cried the woman, and she gave the witch a silver sixpence, and then having returned home sowed the barley-corn as she had been directed, whereupon a large and beautiful flower immediately shot forth from the flower-pot. It looked like a tulip, but the petals were tightly folded up; it was still in bud.

'What a lovely flower!' exclaimed the peasant-woman, and she kissed the pretty red and yellow leaves, and as she kissed them the flower gave a loud report and opened. It was indeed a tulip, but on the small green pointal in the centre of the flower there sat a little tiny girl, so pretty and delicate, but her whole body scarcely bigger than the young peasant's thumb. So she called her Tommelise.

A pretty varnished walnut-shell was given her as a cradle, blue violet leaves served as her mattresses, and a rose-leaf was her coverlet; here she slept at night, but in the daytime she played on the table. The peasant-wife had filled a plate with water, and laid flowers in it, their blossoms bordering the edge of the plate, while the stalks lay in the water; on the surface floated a large tulip-leaf, and on it Tommelise might sit and sail from one side of the plate to the other, two white horse hairs having been given her for oars. That looked quite charming! And Tommelise could sing too, and she sang in such low sweet tones as never were heard before.

One night, while she was lying in her pretty bed, a great ugly toad came hopping in through the broken window-pane. The toad was such a great creature, old and withered-looking, and wet too; she hopped at once down upon the table where Tommelise lay sleeping under the red rose petal.

'That is just the wife for my son,' said the toad; and she seized hold of the walnut-shell, with Tommelise in it, and hopped away with her through the broken pane down into the garden. Here flowed a broad stream; its banks were muddy and swampy, and it was amongst this mud that the old toad and her son dwelt. Ugh, how hideous and deformed he was! just like his mother.

'Coax, coax, brekke-ke-kex!' was all he could find to say on seeing the pretty little maiden in the walnut-shell.

'Don't make such a riot, or you'll wake her!' said old mother toad. 'She may easily run away from us, for she is as light as a swan-down feather. I'll tell you what we'll do; we'll take her out into the brook, and set her down on one of the large water-lily leaves; it will be like an island to her, who is so light and small. Then she cannot run away from us, and we can go and get ready the state-rooms down under the mud, where you and she are to dwell together.'

Out in the brook there grew many water-lilies, with their broad green leaves, each of which seemed to be floating over the water. The leaf which was the farthest from the shore was also the largest; to it swam old mother toad, and on it she set the walnut-shell, with Tommelise.

The poor little tiny creature awoke quite early next morning, and, when she saw where she was, she began to weep most bitterly, for there was nothing but water on all sides of the large green leaf, and she could in no way reach the land.

Old mother toad was down in the mud, decorating her apartments with bulrushes and yellow buttercups, so as to make it quite gay and tidy to receive her new daughter-in-law. At last, she and her frightful son swam together to the leaf where she had left Tommelise; they wanted to fetch her pretty cradle, and place it for her in the bridal chamber before she herself was conducted into it. Old mother toad bowed low in the water, and said to her, 'Here is my son, he is to be thy husband, and you will dwell together so comfortably down in the mud!'

'Coax, coax, brekke-ke-kex!' was all that her son could say.

Then they took the neat little bed and swam away with it, whilst Tommelise sat alone on the green leaf, weeping, for she did not like the thought of living with the withered old toad, and having her ugly son for a husband. The little fishes that were swimming to and fro in the water beneath had heard what mother toad had said, so they now put up their heads—they wanted to see the little maid. And when they saw her, they were charmed with her delicate beauty, and it vexed them very much that the hideous old toad should carry her off. No, that should never be! They surrounded the green stalk in the water, whereon rested the water-lily leaf, and gnawed it asunder with their teeth, and then the leaf floated away down the brook, with Tommelise on it; away, far away, where the old toad could not follow.

Tommelise sailed past so many places, and the wild birds among the bushes saw her and sang, 'Oh, what a sweet little maiden!' On and on, farther and farther, floated the leaf: Tommelise was on her travels.

A pretty little white butterfly kept fluttering round and round her, and at last settled down on the leaf, for he loved Tommelise very much, and she was so pleased. There was nothing to trouble her now that she had no fear of the old toad pursuing her, and wherever she sailed everything was so beautiful, for the sun shone down on the water, making it bright as liquid gold. And now she took off her sash, and tied one end of it round the butterfly, fastening the other end firmly into the leaf. On floated the leaf, faster and faster, and Tommelise with it.

Presently a great cock-chafer came buzzing past; he caught sight of her, and immediately fastening his claw round her slender waist, flew up into a tree with her. But the green leaf still floated down the brook, and the butterfly with it; he was bound to the leaf and could not get loose.

Oh, how terrified was poor Tommelise when the cock-chafer carried her up into the tree, and how sorry she felt, too, for the


darling white butterfly which she had left tied fast to the leaf; she feared that if he could not get away, he would perish of hunger. But the cock-chafer cared nothing for that. He settled with her upon the largest leaf in the tree, gave her some honey from the flowers to eat, and hummed her praises, telling her she was very pretty, although she was not at all like a

She stood at the door and begged for a piece of barley-corn

hen-chafer. And by-and-by all the chafers who lived in that tree came to pay her a visit; they looked at Tommelise, and one Miss Hen-chafer drew in her feelers, saying, 'She has only two legs, how miserable that looks!' 'She has no feelers,' cried another. 'And see how thin and lean her waist is; why, she is just like a human being!' observed a third. 'How very, very ugly she is!' at last cried all the lady-chafers in chorus. The chafer who had carried off Tommelise still could not persuade himself that she was otherwise than pretty, but, as all the rest kept repeating and insisting that she was ugly, he at last began to think they must be in the right, and determined to have nothing more to do with her; she might go wherever she would, for aught he cared, he said. And so the whole swarm flew down from the tree with her, and set her on a daisy; then she wept because she was so ugly that the lady-chafers would not keep company with her, and yet Tommelise was the prettiest little creature that could be imagined, soft and delicate and transparent as the loveliest rose leaf.

All the summer long poor Tommelise lived alone in the wide wood. She wove herself a bed of grass-straw, and hung it under a large burdock-leaf which sheltered her from the rain; she dined off the honey from the flowers, and drank from the dew that every morning spangled the leaves and herblets around her. Thus passed the summer and autumn, but then came winter, the cold, long winter. All the birds who had sung so sweetly to her flew away, trees and flowers withered, the large burdock-leaf under which Tommelise had lived rolled itself up and became a dry, yellow stalk, and Tommelise was fearfully cold, for her clothes were wearing out, and she herself was so slight and frail, poor little thing! she was nearly frozen to death. It began to snow, and every light flake that fell upon her made her feel as we should if a whole shovelful of snow were thrown upon us, for we are giants in comparison with a little creature only an inch long. She wrapped herself up in a withered leaf, but it gave her no warmth; she shuddered with cold.

Close outside the wood, on the skirt of which Tommelise had been living, lay a large corn-field, but the corn had been carried away long ago, leaving only the dry, naked stubble standing up from the hard-frozen earth. It was like another wood to Tommelise, and oh, how she shivered with cold as she made her way through. At last she came past the field-mouse's door; for the field-mouse had made herself a little hole under the stubble, and there she dwelt snugly and comfortably, having a room full of corn, and a neat kitchen and store-chamber besides. And poor Tommelise must now play the beggar-girl; she stood at the door and begged for a little piece of a barley-corn, for she had had nothing to eat during two whole days.

'Thou poor little thing!' said the field-mouse, who was indeed a thoroughly good-natured old creature, 'come into my warm room and dine with me.'

And as she soon took a great liking to Tommelise, she proposed to her to stay. 'You may dwell with me all the winter if you will, but keep my room clean and neat, and tell me stories, for I love stories dearly.'

And Tommelise did all that the kind old field-mouse required of her, and was made very comfortable in her new abode.

'We shall have a visitor presently,' observed the field-mouse; 'my next-door neighbour comes to see me once every week. He is better off than I am, has large rooms in his house, and wears a coat of such beautiful black velvet. It would be a capital thing for you if you could secure him for your husband, but unfortunately he is blind, he cannot see you. You must tell him the prettiest stories you know.'

But Tommelise did not care at all about pleasing their neighbour Mr. Mole, nor did she wish to marry him. He came and paid a visit in his black-velvet suit, he was so rich and so


learned, and the field-mouse declared his domestic offices were twenty times larger than hers, but the sun and the pretty flowers he could not endure, he was always abusing them, though he had never seen either. Tommelise was called upon to sing for his amusement, and by the time she had sung 'Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly away home!' and 'The Friar of Orders Grey,' the mole had quite fallen in love with her through the charm of her sweet voice; however, he said nothing, he was such a prudent, cautious animal.

He had just been digging a long passage through the earth from their house to his, and he now gave permission to the field-mouse and Tommelise to walk in it as often as they liked; however, he bade them not be afraid of the dead bird that lay in the passage; it was a whole bird, with beak and feathers entire, and therefore he supposed it must have died quite lately, at the beginning of the winter, and had been buried just in the place where he had dug his passage.

The mole took a piece of tinder, which shines like fire in the dark, in his mouth, and went on first to light his friends through the long dark passage, and when they came to the place where the dead bird lay, he thrust his broad nose up against the ceiling and pushed up the earth, so as to make a great hole for the light to come through. In the midst of the floor lay a swallow, his wings clinging firmly to his sides, his head and legs drawn under the feathers; the poor bird had evidently died of cold. Tommelise felt so very sorry, for she loved all the little birds, who had sung and chirped so merrily to her the whole summer long; but the mole kicked it with his short legs, saying, 'Here 's a fine end to all its whistling! a miserable thing it must be to be born a bird. None of my children will be birds, that's a comfort! Such creatures have nothing but their "quivit," and must be starved to death in the winter.'

'Yes, indeed, a sensible animal like you may well say so,' returned the field-mouse; 'what has the bird got by all his chirping and chirruping? when winter comes it must starve and freeze; and it is such a great creature too!'

Tommelise said nothing, but when the two others had turned their backs upon the bird, she bent over it, smoothed down the feathers that covered its head, and kissed the closed eyes. 'Perhaps it was this one that sang so delightfully to me in the summer-time,' thought she; 'how much pleasure it has given me, the dear, dear bird!'

The mole now stopped up the hole through which the daylight had pierced, and then followed the ladies home. But Tommelise could not sleep that night, so she got out of her bed, and wove a carpet out of hay, and then went out and spread it round the dead bird; she also fetched some soft cotton from the field-mouse's room, which she laid over the bird, that it might be warm amid the cold earth.

'Farewell, thou dear bird,' said she; 'farewell, and thanks for thy beautiful song in the summer-time, when all the trees were green, and the sun shone so warmly upon us!' And she pressed her head against the bird's breast, but was terrified to feel something beating within it. It was the bird's heart. The bird was not dead; it had lain in a swoon, and now that it was warmer its life returned.

Every autumn all the swallows fly away to warm countries; but if one of them linger behind, it freezes and falls down as though dead, and the cold snow covers it.

Tommelise trembled with fright, for the bird was very large compared with her, who was only an inch in length. However, she took courage, laid the cotton more closely round the poor swallow, and fetching a leaf which had served herself as a coverlet, spread it over the bird's head.

The next night she stole out again, and found that the bird's life had quite returned, though it was so feeble that only for one short moment could it open its eyes to look at Tommelise, who stood by with a piece of tinder in her hand she had no other lantern.

'Thanks to thee, thou sweet little child!' said the sick swallow. 'I feel delightfully warm now; soon I shall recover my strength, and be able to fly again, out in the warm sunshine.'

'Oh, no,' she replied, 'it is too cold without, it snows and freezes! Thou must stay in thy warm bed; I will take care of thee.'

She brought the swallow water in a flower-petal and he drank, and then he told her how he had torn one of his wings in a thorn bush, and therefore could not fly fast enough to keep up with the other swallows who were all migrating to the warm countries. He had at last fallen to the earth, and more than that he could not remember; he did not at all know how he had got underground.

However, underground he remained all the winter long, and Tommelise was kind to him, and loved him dearly, but she never said a word about him either to the mole or the field-mouse, for she knew they could not endure the poor swallow.

As soon as the spring came and the sun's warmth had penetrated the earth, the swallow said farewell to Tommelise, and she opened for him the covering of earth which the mole had thrown back before. The sun shone in upon them so deliciously, and the swallow asked whether she would not go with him; she might sit upon his back, and then they would fly together far out into the greenwood. But Tommelise knew it would vex the old field-mouse if she were to leave her.

'No, I cannot, I must not go,' said Tommelise.

'Fare thee well, then, thou good and pretty maiden,' said the swallow, and away he flew into the sunshine. Tommelise looked after him and the tears came into her eyes, for she loved the poor swallow so much.

'Quivit, quivit,' sang the bird, as he flew into the greenwood. And Tommelise was now sad indeed. She was not allowed to go out into the warm sunshine; the wheat that had been sown in the field above the field-mouse's house grew up so high that it seemed a perfect forest to the poor little damsel who was only an inch in stature.

'This summer you must work at getting your wedding clothes ready,' said the field-mouse, for their neighbour, the blind dull mole in the black-velvet suit had now made his proposals in form to Tommelise. 'You shall have worsted and linen in plenty; you shall be well provided with all manner of clothes and furniture before you become the mole's wife.' So Tommelise was obliged to work hard at the distaff, and the field-mouse hired four spiders to spin and weave night and day. Every evening came the mole, and always began to talk about the summer soon coming to an end, and that then, when the sun would no longer shine so warmly, scorching the earth till it was as dry as a stone, yes, then, his nuptials with Tommelise should take place. But this sort of conversation did not please her at all; she was thoroughly wearied of his dulness and his prating. Every morning when the sun rose, and every evening when it set, she used to steal out at the door, and when the wind blew the tops of the corn aside, so that she could see the blue sky through the opening, she thought how bright and beautiful it was out here, and wished most fervently to see the dear swallow once more; but he never came, he must have been flying far away in the beautiful greenwood.

Autumn came, and Tommelise's wedding clothes were ready.

'Four weeks more, and you shall be married!' said the field-mouse. But Tommelise wept, and said she would not marry the dull mole.

'Fiddlestick!' exclaimed the field-mouse; 'don't be obstinate, child, or I shall bite thee with my white teeth! Is he not handsome, pray? Why, the Queen has not got such a black-velvet dress as he wears! And isn't he rich? rich both in kitchens and cellars? Be thankful to get such a husband!'

So Tommelise must be married. The day fixed had arrived, the mole had already come to fetch his bride, and she must dwell with him, deep under the earth, never again to come out into the warm sunshine which she loved so much, and which he could not endure. The poor child was in despair at the thought that she must now bid farewell to the beautiful sun of which she had at least been allowed to catch a glimpse every now and then while she lived with the field-mouse.

'Farewell, thou glorious sun!' she cried, throwing her arms up into the air, and she walked on a little way beyond the field-mouse's door; the corn was already reaped, and only the dry stubble surrounded her. 'Farewell, farewell!' repeated she, as she clasped her tiny arms round a little red flower that grew there. 'Greet the dear swallow from me, if thou shouldst see him.'

'Quivit! quivit!'—there was a fluttering of wings just over her head; she looked up, and behold! the little swallow was flying past. And how pleased he was when he perceived Tommelise! She told how that she had been obliged to accept the disagreeable mole as a husband, and that she would have to dwell deep underground where the sun never pierced. And she could not help weeping as she spoke.

'The cold winter will soon be here!' said the swallow; 'I shall fly far away to the warm countries. Wilt thou go with me? Thou canst sit on my back, and tie thyself firmly

"Yes! I will go with thee." said Tommelise, and she seated herself on the bird's back

to me with thy sash, and thus we shall fly away from the stupid mole and his dark room, far away over the mountains to those countries where the sun shines so brightly, where it is always summer, and flowers blossom all the year round. Come and fly with me, thou sweet little Tommelise, who


didst save my life when I lay frozen in the dark cellars of the earth!'

'Yes, I will go with thee!' said Tommelise. And she seated herself on the bird's back, her feet resting on the outspread wings, and tied her girdle firmly round one of the strongest feathers, and then the swallow soared high into the air, and flew away over forest and over lake, over mountains whose crests are covered with snow all the year round. How Tommelise shivered as she breathed the keen frosty air! However, she soon crept down under the bird's warm feathers, her head still peering forth, eager to behold all the glory and beauty beneath her. At last they reached the warm countries. There the sun shone far more brightly than in her native clime. The heavens seemed twice as high, and twice as blue; and ranged along the sloping hills grew, in rich luxuriance, the loveliest green and purple grapes. Citrons and melons were seen in the groves, the fragrance of myrtles and balsams filled the air, and by the wayside gambolled groups of pretty merry children, chasing large bright-winged butterflies.

But the swallow did not rest here; still he flew on; and still the scene seemed to grow more and more beautiful. Near a calm, blue lake, overhung by lofty trees, stood a half-ruined palace of white marble, built in times long past; vine-wreaths trailed up the long slender pillars, and on the capitals, among the green leaves and waving tendrils, many a swallow had built his nest, and one of these nests belonged to the swallow on whose back Tommelise was riding.

'This is my house,' said the swallow, 'but if thou wouldst rather choose for thyself one of the splendid flowers growing beneath us, I will take thee there, and thou shalt make thy home in the loveliest of them all.'

'That will be charming!' exclaimed she, clapping her tiny hands.

On the green turf beneath there lay the fragments of a white marble column which had fallen to the ground, and around these fragments twined some beautiful large white flowers. The swallow flew down with Tommelise, and set her on one of the broad petals. But what was her surprise when she saw sitting in the very heart of the flower a little mannikin, fair and transparent as though he were made of glass! wearing the prettiest gold crown on his head, and the brightest, most delicate wings on his shoulders, yet scarcely one whit larger than Tommelise herself. He was the spirit of the flower. In every blossom there dwelt one such faëry youth or maiden, but this one was the king of all these flower-spirits.

'Oh, how handsome he is, this king!' whispered Tommelise to the swallow. The faëry prince was quite startled at the sudden descent of the swallow, who was a sort of giant compared with him; but when he saw Tommelise he was delighted, for she was the very loveliest maiden he had ever seen. So he took his gold crown off his own head and set it upon hers, asked her name, and whether she would be his bride, and reign as queen over all the flower-spirits. This, you see, was quite a different bridegroom from the son of the ugly old toad, or the blind mole with his black-velvet coat. So Tommelise replied 'Yes' to the beautiful prince, and then the lady and gentlemen faëries came out, each from a separate flower, to pay their homage to Tommelise; so gracefully and courteously they paid their homage: and every one of them brought her a present.

But the best of all the presents was a pair of transparent wings; they were fastened on Tommelise's shoulders, and enabled her to fly from flower to flower. That was the greatest of pleasures; and the little swallow sat in his nest above and sang to her his sweetest song; in his heart, however, he was very sad, for he loved Tommelise, and would have wished never to part from her.

'Thou shalt no longer be called Tommelise,' said the king of flowers to her, 'for it is not a pretty name, and thou art so lovely! We will call thee Maia.'

'Farewell! farewell! ' sang the swallow, and away he flew from the warm countries, far away back to Denmark. There he had a little nest just over the window of the man who writes stories for children. 'Quivit, quivit, quivit!' he sang to him, and from him we have learned this history.