Once upon a time, there was a dear little girl, whose name was Elsa. Elsa’s parents worked very hard and became rich. But they loved Elsa so much that they did not like her to do any work. Very foolishly, they let her play all the time. So once Elsa grew up, she did not know how to do anything. She could not make bread, she could not sweep a room, she could not sew a seam. She could only laugh and sing. But she was so sweet and merry that everybody loved her. And by and by, she married one of the people who loved her dearly and had a house of her own to take care of.
Then, came hard times for Elsa! There were so many things to be done in the house, and she did not know how to do any of them! And because she had never worked at all it made her very tired even to try. She was too tired even before the morning started. The maid would come and inquire about her about things to be done in the household and she’d have nothing to say. Then the maid would pretend that she did not know, either. And when she saw her mistress sitting about doing nothing, she, too, sat idle.
Elsa’s husband had a hard time because of it. he had only poor food to eat, and it was not ready when he wanted, and the house looked all in a muddle. It made him sad, and that made Elsa sad, for she wanted to do everything just right.
Finally, one day, Elsa’s husband lashed out at her. “No wonder the house is all filthy, when you just sit all day doing nothing!”, he screamed in anger.
Little Elsa cried bitterly when he was gone, for she did not want to make her husband unhappy. She wanted to be a good wife.
All at once, a great grey man appeared before her. He was wrapped in a strange grey cloak that covered him from head to foot, and he smiled at Elsa. “What is the matter, dear?” he asked, “Why do you cry?”
“Oh, I am crying because I do not know how tend to the household,” said Elsa. “I cannot bake a bread! I cannot sweep! I cannot sew a seam. when I was a little girl I never learned to work, and now I cannot do anything right. I wish I had ten fairies to help me!”
“You shall have them, dear,” said the grey man, and he shook his strange grey cloak. Poof! Out hopped ten tiny fairies!
“These shall be your servants, Elsa,” said the grey man; “they are faithful and clever, and they will do everything you want them to, just right. But the neighbors might stare and ask questions if they saw these little chaps running about your house, so I will hide them away for you. Give me your little useless hands.”
Wondering, Elsa stretched out her pretty, little, white hands.
“Now stretch out your little useless fingers, dear!”
Elsa stretched out her pretty pink fingers.
The grey man touched each one of the ten little fingers, and as he touched them he said their names: “Little Thumb! Forefinger! Thimble-finger! Ring-finger! Little Finger!” And as he named the fingers, one after another, the tiny fairies bowed their tiny heads. There was a fairy named after each finger.
“Hop! hide yourselves away!” said the grey man.
Hop, hop! The fairies sprang to Elsa’s knee, then to the palms of her hands, and then—whisk! they were all hidden away in her little pink fingers, a fairy in every finger! And the grey man was gone.
Elsa sat and stared at her little white hands and the ten useless fingers in total surprise. But suddenly the little fingers began to stir. The tiny fairies who were hidden away there were not used to remaining still, and they were getting restless. They stirred so that Elsa jumped up and ran to the cooking table, and took hold of the breadboard. No sooner had she touched the breadboard than the little fairies began to work: they measured the flour, mixed the bread, kneaded the loaves, and set them to rise. When the bread was done, it came out to be perfect. Then the little fairy-fingers seized the broom, and in a blink of an eye, they cleaned the entire house. And so it went, all day. Elsa flew about from one thing to another, and the ten fairies did the work, just right.
When the maid saw her mistress working, she began to work, too! And when she saw how perfectly everything had been done, she was ashamed to do anything badly herself. In a little while, the housework was in a full swing, and Elsa could laugh and sing again.
There was no feud in the house anymore. Elsa’s husband grew so proud of her that he went about saying to everybody, “My grandmother was a fine housekeeper, and my mother was a fine housekeeper, but neither of them could match my wife. She has only one maid, but if you’d see how well the household was kept, you’d think she has ten more servants at her fingertips!”
Whenever Elsa heard that, she used to let out a chuckle, but she never revealed her tiny secret.