Little Ellie and Other Tales/The Resolute Leaden Soldier

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For other versions of this work, see The Steadfast Tin Soldier.

New York and Boston: C. S. Francis & Co., 252 Broadway and J. H. Francis, 128 Washington Street, pages 60–70

The Resolute Leaden Soldier.

HERE were, once upon a time, five-and-twenty leaden soldiers, all brothers; for they had all been made out of an old metal spoon. They “carried arms,” and stood there every one of them with their “eyes right.” Their uniform was red and blue, and was quite beautiful. The very first thing they heard in this world when the cover was taken off the box, was, “Leaden Soldiers!” These words were uttered by a little boy who clapped his hands for joy; they had been given him because it was his birthday, and he now set them out upon the table. One soldier was exactly a counterpart of the other; a single one only was somewhat different from the rest—he had but one leg. He had been cast the last of all, and there was not lead enough left; yet he stood on his one leg quite as firmly as the others on two; and it is this very soldier whose fate is so remarkable.

On the table where they were set up many other playthings were lying; but what was most attractive to the eye was a pretty little castle of pasteboard. Through the little windows one could see right into the apartments. Before the castle little trees were standing round a little mirror which was meant for a lake; and swans, made of wax, swam about on it, and were reflected in the water. All was so nice and pretty; but the nicest of all was a little damsel that stood in the open entrance to the castle. She was cut out of paper, but she had on a dress of the finest gauze, and a narrow blue riband over her shoulders, and in the middle of this was a glittering spangle, which was just as large as her whole face.

The little lady stretched out both her arms, for she was a dancer, and at the same time lifted one leg so high in the air that the leaden Soldier could not find it, and he might almost have fancied she had but one leg, like himself.

“She would make a good wife for me,” thought he, “but she is rather a high personage. She lives in a castle; I have only a wooden-box, and there, too, are our five-and-twenty men: that’s not a place for her! However, I will try to get acquainted with her.”

And then he laid himself at full length behind a snuff-box that was standing on the table; whence he could have a perfect view of the little fine lady that stood on one leg without losing her balance.

As evening drew in, all the other soldiers came into their box, and the people in the house went to bed. Then the toys began to play, and amuse themselves,—they played at visiting, and at dancing the polka, and at war.

The soldiers in the box made a rattle; for they wanted to join the game, but the cover would not come off. The nutcrackers threw a sommerset, and the slate-pencil jumped about on the slate; it was such a sight that even the canary-bird awoke, and began to talk with the rest, and in verse, too, into the bargain.

The only two who did not move from their places were the leaden Soldier and the little Dancer; she remained in her graceful position on tip-toe with outstretched arms; and he stood just as firm on his one leg, and never took his eyes from off her even for a moment.

Now the clock struck twelve. Suddenly the cover of the snuff-box flew open; but there was no snuff in it. No, out sprung a little black Magician, for it was a conjuring- box. “Soldier!” cried the Magician, “will you keep your eyes to yourself?”

But the leaden Soldier pretended that he did not hear.

“Well! only wait! to-morrow !” said the magician.

When the morning was come, and the children were out of bed, the soldier was placed in the window, and,—whether the Magician did it, or the wind, that I don’t know,—all at once the window flew open, and the Soldier fell down head over heels from the third story into the street. It was a frightful descent! He struck one leg into the air, and remained standing on his military cap, with his bayonet between the stones.

The maid and the little boy ran down directly to look for him; but, although they nearly trod on him, they could not see him. Had but the soldier cried out “Here I am!” they might have found him; but he did not deem it proper to call out loud because he was in uniform.

It now began to rain, one drop fell thicker than the other; till it came in a perfect torrent. When it was over two little boys came by.

“Look here!” said one. “Here is a leaden Soldier! Let us give him a sail in a boat!”

And they made a boat out of a newspaper, put the soldier in it, and now, there he was sailing along down the gutter. Both the little boys ran by the side clapping their hands.

Dear me! what waves were rolling in the gutter, and what a torrent it was! for the shower was a pretty smart one, I can tell you. The paper boat heaved and fell, and now and then made such turns that the leaden Soldier became quite giddy; but he was resolute, never changed countenance, kept his “eyes right,” and “carried arms.” as before. All at once the boat was driven into a long covered drain; it was as dark to the Soldier as if he were in his own wooden box.

“Where am I going to now!” thought he. “Yes, yes, this is the Magician’s doings! Oh, were the little maiden with me in the boat, darkness and all else were indifferent to me!”

At the same moment a large water-rat, that lived in the drain, made his appearance.

“Where’s your passport?” asked the rat; “out with your passport!”

But the soldier was silent, and held his musket the tighter. The boat drove onward, the rat pursuing. How horribly he gnashed his teeth, and how dreadful it was to hear him cry out to the straws and floating bits of wood:

“Stop him! stop him! he has defrauded the customs! He has not shown his passport!”

But the stream grew stronger and stronger. Already could the soldiers see the light of day before he got to the end of the drain, but he heard, too, a roaring sound, at which the bravest heart would have quaked. Only imagine! at the spot where the drain ended, the water of the gutter was precipitated headlong into a great canal: for the Soldier, that was as dangerous as descending a mighty cataract.

He was already so near that to stop was impossible; the boat shot forward; the poor leaden Soldier stood as upright as he could, for no one could say of him that he had even winked his eyes. The boat whirled round three, four times, and was filled with water up to the very edge. Sink it must. The soldier was up to his neck in water: deeper and deeper sank the boat, and looser and looser became the paper. At last the water went over the Soldier’s head; he thought of the pretty little Dancer that he was never to see again, and the words of the song,

O warrior! dangers must thou brave,
And death must be thy portion,

sounded in his ears. Then the paper fell to pieces, the leaden Soldier tumbled out—but at that very moment a large fish swallowed him.

Well to be sure, how dark it was! It was darker here than in the drain; and, besides, there was so little room. But the leaden Soldier was resolute; there he lay at full length, and still “carried arms.”

The fish darted hither and thither; he moved about in the most terrible manner, and at last he was quite still. Something like a ray of light darted through him; all was bright and clear, and a voice cried, “The leaden Soldier!” The fish had been caught, taken to market, bought, and sent into the kitchen, where the cook cut it open with a large knife. She took the Soldier by the waist with her finger and thumb, and carried him up stairs, where everybody was eager to see the remarkable man that had made a journey in the inside of a fish. But the Soldier was not proud. They put him on the table, and—no! how wondrously things fall out in this world!—he was in the very same room where he had been before; he saw the same children; the same toys were upon the table—the beautiful castle with the pretty little Dancer standing at the door—all were the same! She stood upon one leg still, and held the other high in the air: she, too, was resolute. The leaden Soldier was quite affected at the thought, and he could have wept tears of lead, but that it did not become him to do so. He gazed at her, and she gazed on him; but they spoke not a word.

At that moment one of the little boys took up the Soldier, flung him without more ado into the fire! He gave no reason for doing so; but it was, doubtless, the work of the Magician in the snuff-box.

There stood the Soldier in a blaze of light. He felt a terrible glow; but whether it arose from the fire or from love, he knew not. He had completely changed color; however, I am unable to say whether that happened on account of his long journey, or was the consequence of his agitation. He looked at the little damsel, she looked at him, and he felt that he was melting; but there he stood, still resolute, and “carried arms.”

Suddenly a door opened, the wind caught the Dancer, and, like a sylphide, she flew straight into the fire to the leaden Soldier, blazed up, and—she was gone!

The Soldier melted together in a lump, and the next morning, when the maid came to take away the ashes, she found his remains in the form of a little leaden heart. Of the Dancer, however, nothing but the spangle remained, and that was burnt as black as a coal.