A long time ago, a woodcutter lived with his wife in a small cottage not far from a great forest. They had seven children — all boys, and the youngest was the smallest little fellow anyone had ever seen. He was called Tom Thumb. Even though he was so small, he was far smarter than any of his brothers, and he heard a great deal more than anybody ever imagined.
It happened that just at this time, there was a shortage of food in the land. Soon, the woodcutter and his wife became so poor that they could no longer give their boys enough to eat.
One night, after the boys had gone to bed, the husband sighed deeply and said:
“We cannot feed our children any longer, and to see them hungry before our eyes is more than I can bear. Tomorrow morning, therefore, we will take them into the forest and leave them in the thickest part of it, so that they will not be able to find their way back.”
His wife cried bitterly at the thought of leaving their children to die in the forest. But she, too, thought it would be worse to see them die before her eyes, so she agreed to her husband’s plan.
But all this time, Tom Thumb was awake, and he heard all the conversation. He lay awake a long while thinking what to do. Then, slipping quietly out of bed, he ran down to the river and filled his pocket with small white stones from the river’s edge.
In the morning, the parents called the children, and after giving them a piece of bread, they all set out for the wood. Tom Thumb did not say a word to his brothers about what he heard. But, staying behind them, he dropped the stones from his pocket one by one as they walked. He did this so that he would be able to find his way home. When they reached a very thick part of the forest, the father and mother told the children to wait while they went a little farther to cut wood. As soon as they were out of sight, the parents turned and went home by another way.
When darkness fell, the children realized that they were left alone, and they began to cry loudly. Tom Thumb, however, did not cry.
“Do not cry, my brothers,” he said encouragingly. “Only wait until the moon rises, and we shall soon be able to find our way home.”