One day in a little village, a cook was hard at work in a kitchen, preparing supper. His master, a wealthy farmer, was demanding, and the cook always tried his best to please the man. As he was making a pot of stew, he knelt to stir the coals in the hearth, and just at that moment, out of the flames stepped a tiny man, a man no bigger than the cook’s hand.
“Please,” says the little man, “I’m starving. Give me some stew.”
“I never touch my master’s food,” said the cook. But the little man began to beg. “Only a spoonful of meat, please, I’m so terribly hungry.”
Now the cook was a kind man, and the little man did look pale and thin, and so, handing the skimming spoon to the man, the cook said, “One bite, then.” The little man dipped the skimmer into the pot, and a moment later he had eaten every last bit!
When the cook saw this, he was dismayed. He ran to his master and told him the tale.
The master did not believe a word the cook said. “You have given away my stew to your family,” he accused the cook. “Now, go back and make me a meal. And if your little man appears, hit him on the head with the skimmer.”
So the cook returned to the kitchen, heated the pot and prepared a new stew. Just as he was about to lift the pot from the hearth, the little man jumped out again. This time he looked sadder still. “Please, sir, give me one bite for my poor wife. She’s very hungry, and she is growing ill.”
“No!” the cook cried, and as his master had instructed, he lifted the skimmer. But when he looked at the man and saw the pale face and trembling hands, his heart grew soft. “One bite, then,” he grumbled and handed the little man the skimmer.
Sure enough, the moment the little man held the skimmer and dipped it in the pot, he ate up all the food again.
Now the cook was weeping, and he ran to his master to tell him the tale. This time his master was furious.
“If you give away another meal, I’ll send you packing,” he shouted.
The cook returned to the kitchen, prepared another stew, and once again, just as he finished, the little man appeared. This time he was crying. “Oh please, won’t you give me some food for my little child, who is dying of hunger? Please, just one spoonful.”
The cook raised the skimmer, but when he thought of the poor little child, his heart melted, and he handed the skimmer to the little man. Once again, the food disappeared in one moment, and a moment later the little man vanished.
The cook could not believe his eyes. He wailed, and just then his master appeared in the doorway.
“Leave my home by tomorrow!” the master cried, and he went to his steward and ordered him, from that day on, to be the cook. “If a little man appears,” the master said, “hit him over the head with the skimmer.”
So this time it was the steward who prepared a pot of stew. Sure enough, the little man appeared and begged for some.
“Never!” the steward cried, and before the little man could say another word, the steward struck the back of his head with the skimmer.
The little man fell to the ground, but he rose a second later, good as new, and then he vanished. The steward carried the pot to his master, who was pleased as could be.
The next morning as the cook, still weeping, prepared to leave the house, the little man appeared. “My friend,” he said, “I have something for you to take with you.” He handed him a box. “Anytime you strike this box, you shall have whatever you wish.”
The cook took the box into the kitchen where the steward was preparing a meal. He struck the top of the box and said, “Please, may I have a feast for my journey.” The food appeared at once, and the steward stared in disbelief.
“Where on earth did you find that box?” the steward asked. The cook told him the whole tale, then said farewell and was on his way.
The steward stood and thought about his sad mistake. “Surely I should have fed the little man,” he said. “Tonight I will.”
That night he stirred and stirred the pot, waiting for the little man to appear. He waited and waited, but the little man never appeared in that house again. He traveled on, visiting only the homes of those he knew were kind and generous.