Under cover of her walnut bed, a small girl in a lightweight blue dress started to shiver, shoving her blankets back over her head. Winter was turning out to be a dreadful time of year for her, but it was good that her mother kept so many handkerchiefs on hand. One alone could make several blankets for her, so she guessed it was good that she was so small.
Well, very small. Perhaps no bigger than a thumb. And it was for this reason that she had been named Thumbelina.
Upon awakening, Thumbelina raised the cover of her walnut bed, peeking out the window that stood high before her. The panes were covered with small drifts of snow that sparkled thanks to the rising dawn. At this, Thumbelina had to smile, because she did enjoy seeing the sun, especially in the middle of winter. It wasn't intimidating in the least that the sun in the window was so much bigger than her, because it was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen. She was glad to find such beauty when the rest of the world looked so dreary in the snow.
She even felt inclined to get out of her bed, and cross to the sill, where she could look out upon the world. Her mother had placed the walnut she slept in right before the biggest window in the house, just so her tiny little girl could see the world. There was something about nature and the outside world that fascinated Thumbelina so, and it was because of this lovely day that she let her smile cross all of her face.
Thumbelina's mother had a lovely garden right outside the window, and although it was winter, the tiny girl could still find something to look at through the frosted glass. Some of the remnants of last summer's flowers were peeking through the snow, and they looked almost magical in the sparkling white ground. It fascinated Thumbelina that even when the garden was dead, it could still look so beautiful. Maybe it was because the sparkle of the snow reminded her of the stories her mother read to her, in which fairies flew about the world spreading their magic. Thumbelina had even imagined at times that it was because of fairies that snow came in the winter—because of fairies that the snow shone, and then, in the spring, when the flowers came back to life. Well, her mother had never told her not to imagine such things, so Thumbelina's dreams flourished. Late at night, she made up her own stories of the fairies, even picturing that one of them could be there with her. Because, well, being that small in such a huge house—in so huge a world—it made her wish she could have someone else who was her size.
But that was not to say that Thumbelina had no friends at all. Since coming into the world through the barleycorn plant, she had made friends with all the animals that came into her mother's garden, and all through the spring and summer, she had played and sang with them. It was just that, now that the warm months had passed, most of them had gone away to hide from the snow and cold. Thumbelina wished that she could have gone so she could spend more time with them, but she found that leaving her mother for that long would be too painful for both of them, so she had not gone.
Now, looking out on that garden, she felt lonelier than ever.
Thumbelina sat down, and tucked her knees under her arms, spreading her long hair around her so that her arms would not be as cold. It was early enough where her mother had not lit the fire in the hearth yet, so Thumbelina found it hard to be warm without her blankets. She thought about going back to get a few of them, but at the same time, she was too drawn by the lovely day to take her eyes off of it. Still, she had to suppress a sigh; why did her friends have to sleep through these days without her?
But then, Thumbelina saw something coming into the little tree outside. She couldn't see it too clearly as the window was getting foggy, so she wiped her whole arm across the glass. And pressing her face against it, noticed that the new visitor was a little sparrow, one with a plain brown head and wings. It looked so strange against the pure white of the world around it, but Thumbelina was just too glad to see something like it right outside her house. And before she could think, she was rapping her fists against the glass, even speaking aloud to the bird.
She continued to make noises until the sparrow looked at her, and fluttered closer to the window. Finally, it came to the sill, and Thumbelina kept her hands flat on the glass so she could keep the little bird in her sight. She wished that the window could be open so as to actually touch the bird, but luckily, she knew of another way.
Close to the window, was the front door to the house. Thumbelina knew from experience that the bottom was open enough that she could slide through, so she fetched a blanket from her bed, tied it around her shoulders like a shawl, and slid down the leg of the table. Nimbly, she crossed the floor, and crawled under the door, though she had to slow down considerably in light of the cold. It had gotten to be the middle of February, so Thumbelina was careful not to move quickly enough that she would slip on the ice. She speed-walked across the walkway that led to the door, and stopped where she could be in the sun, where the sparrow could easily see her.
"Hello!" Thumbelina called for the bird. "Please, come over here!" When the sparrow spied her, Thumbelina put on her best smile, and waved sweetly.
Spreading its little brown wings, the sparrow approached Thumbelina with a few sweet tweets, cocking its head at her, as if the sight of a thumb-sized girl was amazing beyond belief. But Thumbelina nevertheless kept her smile, still too happy and relieved to see a creature around here in the middle of winter.
"Why in the world are you still here? I should like to find that out," the tiny girl said to the sparrow. "Do you suppose you could show me where you come from?"
The sparrow tweeted gently, and Thumbelina started to stroke the bird's neck, which made the little bird move its head as if it found her touch soothing. Thumbelina felt the bird's back, discovering how soft its feathers were, and how strong and firm it was beneath all that. The idea of taking a flight on the bird thrilled Thumbelina, for she had not been on a bird's back in so long. And the firmness of the bird told Thumbelina that it could take her on such a journey. Besides, the bird could not have come from very far, so her mother would not need to worry about her little girl disappearing for an hour or so.
Readjusting her makeshift blanket-shawl, Thumbelina boarded the bird's back, wrapping her arms around the sparrow's neck. "Whenever you are ready," she gently told her new friend.
Then, taking a few steps forward, the sparrow lifted itself off the ground, whipping its wings fast against the chilly air. Thumbelina was impressed by how the bird, in spite of its size, held itself in the air, going quickly away from the little house, and up to the sky. For a moment, Thumbelina had to let herself float on the sparrow's back, feeling the thrill of flying again. The air was cold, but her heart was flying so that she hadn't a care of that. The bird also was a gentle flyer, so she could let herself enjoy this without the fear of falling off.
Soon, a swift turn of their flight forced Thumbelina to take the sparrow around its neck again, and she looked down. The earth was still covered with snow and ice, but when she glanced behind her, her house was close to being gone. And it was ever growing smaller.
The more Thumbelina watched her house vanishing, the more she began to wonder how long she might actually be gone from home, and how long she could actually allow herself to go before her mother would start to worry.
The thumb-sized girl turned to the sparrow. "Not much farther, please," she said. "This is quite lovely, but I really should not go where I can't see my house."
The sparrow tweeted back, but Thumbelina found her heart starting to beat fast. Usually, when she talked to the birds and they gave her permission to ride on their backs, they understood her. Perhaps it was a mistake to trust a baby, especially when this was winter, and everything might look the same to them.
Because that was how everything was starting to look to Thumbelina. And when she glanced again behind her, her house was nowhere in sight.
And, was it just her feeling worried, or was her ride suddenly starting to feel bumpy…?
Thumbelina took hold of the sparrow, as all of a sudden, the little bird wavered in its flight. Thumbelina's hands were coming close to the bird's chest, and she could surely feel its tiny heart pounding frantically. Panic overtook the little girl, as she tried to sit more lightly on the sparrow, but that did no good. The bird was tiring fast, and there seemed to be nothing Thumbelina could do. Unless she jumped.
Thumbelina took in breath fast when she considered such a possibility. Doing something so rash would kill her at this height. But, this bird could die if she let it go on like this. There was no denying it at this moment. She would have to get off!
The thumb-sized girl cast her eye all around, looking for something, anything, that could save her and the sparrow. The flat, white countryside seemed to stretch for miles and miles in her panic, and escape was becoming hopeless.
But then, something black and square moved across Thumbelina's vision. She found her eye cast upon a good-sized carriage going down the road, being pulled by a single black horse. It wasn't close enough for her to jump yet, but it was the best she could do on such short notice. Tugging on the sparrow's feathers, she steered the little bird towards the carriage, and though it was a jagged journey, she was ready to get the bird there at any cost.
The closer she got to the carriage, the lighter Thumbelina stood on the sparrow's back. She was flying close to the roof, ready to jump off, when suddenly the bird dipped down so fast and far that the small girl had to grab hold again. But Thumbelina grabbed too late, and found herself sliding off the bird, taking something slender and black in her hands in the process. She had moved so fast that she had to close her eyes as she fell from the bird, but slowly found herself relaxing as she realized that she was not yet dead on the ground. Even more surprising, was that she was actually being carried away by something.
Cautiously, Thumbelina looked to the slender, black thing that had rescued her. It was a black bar that led to a flat black surface below her, suspended below something much bigger and just as dark. Bit by bit, Thumbelina slid down so that she was sitting upon the bar below her. And then, upon a closer look of where she was, she saw that she was seated between two sets of wheels, rolling across a snowy road, the black bar on which she was sitting swinging gently back and forth with the movement of the carriage. Thumbelina recognized that she was sitting on the footstep below the carriage door, and, while it was not where she originally intended to go, she was glad that she had not been crushed to her death.
Still, Thumbelina could not stop herself from feeling some stupidity. It served her right for trusting a baby bird to take her on an outdoors adventure, that she should end up here. Who knew how far away from home she was now, and no doubt her mother would start to worry by the time Thumbelina reached a stop. Well, after her recent endeavor with the bird, she could try to jump down from here, but the height was still too great. And walking back home would be too strenuous a journey in her fright at this unfamiliar place.
In some way, perhaps she was getting the adventure she wanted after having such a long winter. But everything was now totally out of Thumbelina's control, and she did not like it one bit. All she could do now was tuck herself into her blanket, and wait to see where this carriage was going. As much as she hated and feared said destination, she knew there was no use in crying or yelling at herself, so she just sat quietly, and watched while the world—and the day—passed away behind her.