My mother and father are very poor. They collect bundles of kindling to sell at the market, but they don’t make enough money to feed us boys.
I’m the youngest and I’ve just turned seven. My eldest brother is ten, and there are seven of us in all. I don’t know how my mother made all us babies. Or maybe she didn’t make us all. Maybe some of them came to her from other poor people. In any case, there’s too many of us, and we’re not old enough to be much help. I’m the least useful of the lot of us because I was born no bigger than a person’s thumb. Everybody calls me Little Thumb.
I don’t talk much so people don’t think I’m smart. My brothers blame me whenever they do something wrong, but I know better than they do who did it and why.
Anyway, we had a bad year and a lot of poor people, including my father, wanted to rid themselves of their children. One evening, when we were in bed and my folks were sitting by the fire I heard my father speak to my mother. “You can see as plainly as I can that we can’t keep the children.” I got out of bed, went softly into the room where they were sitting, and hid myself under the stool.
Father said, “I can’t watch them starve to death in front of my eyes. We’re going to have to lose them in the woods tomorrow. While they’re tying up the fagots, we’ll slip away.”
My mother cried, “Oh, do you truly have the heart to take your children out and then leave them in the woods?”
He insisted that everyone would starve if they didn’t do that drastic thing. “But I am their mother,” my mother kept moaning. Father convinced her that she wouldn’t be able to live with the grief of watching us perish from hunger, so at last she consented, and went to bed all in tears.
I heard every word they said, and then I stole away to bed. I didn’t sleep a wink that night but by early morning I’d come up with a bright idea. I went out to the river and filled my pockets full of small, white pebbles. I planned to drop them as we made our way into the woods. They’d shine in the moonlight and show us the path home.