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This is another of my favorite childhood stories. This one is collected from Hans Kristian Andersen's Fairy Tales from Penguin Classics. Read the paperback review.
A delightful collection of magical folk tales
Hans Andersen's evocative stories blend wit and pathos, his
light but shrewd touch revealing the selfishness and stupidity of
man. In 'The Emperor's New Clothes' it takes a child to point
out the Emperor's foolishness and his excess of pride eventually
makes him a laughing stock. His stupidity is therefore punished,
just as the modesty and good nature of 'The Ugly Duckling' is
justly rewarded in the end. Andersen's fresh and vivacious tone
illuminates all of the old favourites in this selection -- which
include 'The Little Mermaid', 'The Princess on the Pea', 'The
Tinderbox' and 'The Snow Queen'.
These imaginative and humorous fairy tales remain as
universally popular today as when they were created
150 years ago.
It was so bitterly cold. It was snowing, and the evening was growing dark. It was also the last evening of the year: New Year's Eve. In this cold and in this darkness a poor little girl was walking along the street. Her head was uncovered and her feet were bare. To be sure, she had been wearing slippers when she left home, but what was the good of that? The slippers were quite big; her mother had used them last, they were so big. And the little girl had lost them when she hurried across the street, just as two carriages went rushing past at a frightful speed. One slipper was nowhere to be found, and a boy had run off with the other. He said he could use it for a cradle when he had children of his own.
There walked the little girl on her tiny bare feet, which were red and blue with the cold. In an old apron she had a lot of matches, and she carried a bunch in her hand. No one had bought any from her the whole day. No one had given her a single shilling. Hungry and frozen, she looked so cowed as she walked along, the poor little thing. The snowflakes fell on her long golden hair, which curled so prettily about her neck. But of course she didn't think about anything as fine as that. The lights were shining out from all the windows, and there in the street was such a delicious odor of roast goose. After all, it was New Year's Eve. Yes, she did think about that.
Over in a corner between two houses -- one of them jutted a little farther out in the street than the other -- she sat down and huddled. She tucked her tiny legs under her, but she froze even more, and she dared not go home. She hadn't sold any matches, hadn't received a single shilling. Her father would beat hear, and then too it was cold at home. They had only the roof above them, and the wind whistled in even though the biggest cracks had been stuffed with straw and rags. Her tiny hands were almost numb with cold. Alas! One little match would do so much good! Did she dare to pull just one out of the bunch, strike it against the wall and warm her fingers? She pulled one out. Scratch! How it spluttered, how it burned! It was a warm clear flame, just like a tiny candle when she held her hand around it. It was a strange light. It seemed to the little girl that she was sitting before a huge iron stove, with shining brass knobs and a brass drum. The fire burned so wonderfully, was so warming. No, what was that? The little girl was already stretching out her feet to warm them too when the flame went out. The stove disappeared. She sat with a little stump of the burnt-out match in her hand.
A new one was struck. It burned, it shone, and where the light fell on the wall it became transparent like gauze. She looked right into the room where the table was set with a gleaming white cloth, fine china, and a splendid, steaming roast goose stuffed with prunes and apples. And what was even more splendid, the goose hopped down from the platter and waddled across the floor with a fork and a knife in its back. Right over to the poor girl it came. Then the match went out, and only the thick cold wall could be seen.
She lit a new match. Now she was sitting under the loveliest Christmas tree. It was even bigger and had more decorations on it than the one she had seen through the glass door of the rich merchant's house last Christmas. A thousand candles were burning on the green branches, and gaily colored pictures -- like the ones that decorate shop windows -- looked down at her. The little girl stretched out both hands in the air. Then the match went out; the many Christmas candles went higher and higher; she saw that they were now bright stars. One of them fell and made a long fiery streak in the sky.
"Now someone is dying!" said the little girl, for her old grandmother -- the only one who had ever been good to her, but now was dead -- had said that when a star falls, a soul goes up to God.
Again she struck a match against the wall. It shone around her, and in the glow stood the old grandmother, so bright and shining, so blessed and mild.
"Grandma!" cried the little one. "Oh, take me with you! I know you'll be gone when the match goes out, gone just like the warm stove, the wonderful roast goose, and the big, heavenly Christmas tree!" And she hastily struck all the rest of the matches in the bunch. She wanted to keep her grandmother with her. And the matches shone with such a radiance that it was brighter than the light of day. Never before had grandmother been so beautiful, so big. She lifted up the little girl in her arms, and in radiance and rejoicing they flew so high, so high. And there was no cold, no hunger, no fear -- they were with God.
But in a corner by the house, in the early-morning cold, sat the little girl with rosy cheeks and a smile one her face -- dead, frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. The morning of the New Year dawned over the little body sitting with the matches, of which a bunch was almost burned up. She had wanted to warm herself, it was said. No one knew what lovely sight she had seen or in what radiance she had gone with her old grandmother into the happiness of the New Year.
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