And an old witch heard what the woman had wished, and said, "Oh, but that is easily managed. Here is a barley-corn. Plant it in a flower-pot and tend it carefully, and then you will see what will happen."
The woman was in a great hurry to go home and plant the barley-corn, but she did not forget to say "thank you" to the old witch. She not only thanked her, she even stayed to give her six silver pennies.
And what do you think happened? Almost before the corn was planted, up shot a large and beautiful flower. It was still unopened. The petals were folded closely together, but it looked like a tulip. It really was a tulip, a red and yellow one, too.
The woman loved flowers. She stooped and kissed the beautiful bud. As her lips touched the petals, they burst open, and oh! wonder of wonders! there in the very middle of the flower, there sat a little child. Such a tiny, pretty little maiden she was.
They called her Thumbelina. That was because she was no bigger than the woman's thumb.
When she slept little Thumbelina lay in her cradle on a tiny heap of violets, with the petal of a pale pink rose to cover her.
And where do you think she played? A table was her playground. On the table the woman placed a plate of water. Little Thumbelina called that her lake.
Round the plate were scented flowers, the blossoms laying on the edge, while the pale green stalks reached thirstily down to the water.
In the lake floated a large tulip leaf. This was Thumbelina's little boat. Seated there she sailed from side to side of her little lake, rowing cleverly with two white horse hairs. As she rowed backwards and forwards she sang softly to herself. The woman listening hardly, and thought she had never known so sweet a song.
And now such a sad thing happened.
In through the broken window-pane hopped a big toad, oh! such an ugly big toad. She hopped right on to the table, where Thumbelina lay dreaming in her tiny cradle, under the pale pink rose leaf.
"How beautiful the little maiden is," she croaked. "She will make a lovely bride for my handsome son." And she lifted the little cradle, with Thumbelina in it, and hopped out through the broken window-pane, down into the garden.
At the foot of the garden was a broad stream. Here, under the muddy banks lived the old toad with her son.
Then the old toad carried Thumbelina out into the middle of the stream. "She will be safe here," she said, as she laid her gently on one of the leaves of a large water lily, and paddled back to her son.
"We will make ready the best rooms under the mud," she told him, "and then you and the little maiden will be married."
Poor little Thumbelina! She had not seen the ugly big toad yet, nor her ugly son.
When she woke up early in the morning, how she wept! Water all around her! How could she reach the shore? Poor little Thumbelina!
Then they took away the tiny little bed, and Thumbelina was left alone.
How the tears stained her pretty little face! How fast they fell into the stream! Even the fish as they swam hither and thither thought, "How it rains to-day," as the tiny drops fell thick and fast.
They popped up their heads and saw the forlorn little maiden.
"She shall not marry the ugly toad," they said, as they looked with eager eyes at the pretty child. "No, she shall not marry the ugly toad."
But what could the little fish do to help Thumbelina?
Oh! they were such clever little fish!
They found the green stem which held the leaf on which Thumbelina sat. They bit it with their little sharp teeth, and they never stopped biting, till at last they bit the green stem through; and away, down the stream, floated the leaf, carrying with the little Thumbelina.
Free, free!" she sang, and her voice tinkled as a chime of fairy bells. "Free, free! " she sang merrily as she floated down the stream, away, far way out of reach of the ugly old toad and her ugly son.
And as she floated on, the little wild birds sang round her, and on the banks the little wild harebells bowed to her.
Butterflies were flitting here and there in the sunshine. A pretty little white one fluttered on to the leaf on which sat Thumbelina. He loved the tiny maiden so well that he settled down beside her.
Now she was quite happy! Birds around here, flowers near her, and the water gleaming like gold in the summer sunshine. What besides could little Thumbelina wish?
The cockchafer was charmed with the little maiden. He placed her tenderly on the largest leaf he could find. He gathered honey for her from the flowers, and as she sipped it, he sat near and told her how beautiful she looked.
But there were other chafers living in the tree, and when they came to see little Thumbelina, they said, "She is not pretty at all."
"She only has two legs," said one.
"She has no feelers," said another.
Some said she was too thin, others said she was too fat, and then they all buzzed and hummed together, "How ugly she is, how ugly she is!" But all the time little Thumbelina was the prettiest, daintiest little maiden that ever lived.
And now the cockchafer who had flown off with little Thumbelina thought he had been rather foolish to admire her.
He looked at her again. "Pretty? No, after all she was not very pretty." He would have nothing to do with her, and away he and all the other chafers flew. Only first they carried little Thumbelina down from the tree and placed her on a daisy. She wept because she was so ugly - so ugly that the chafers could not live with her. But all the time, you know, she was the prettiest little maiden in the world.