Little Ellie and Other Tales/The Tinder-Box

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For other versions of this work, see The Tinder Box.

Little Ellie and Other Tales
Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by unknown illustrator, translated by anonymous

New York and Boston: C. S. Francis & Co., 252 Broadway and J. H. Francis, 128 Washington Street, pages 34–52

The Tinder-Box.

A SOLDIER, came once upon a time, marching along on the highway. He had his knapsack upon his back, and his sword by his side; for he came from the wars, and was now on his way home. Presently an old witch met him; she was a loathsome-looking creature; for her under-lip hung down over her chin.

“Good evening, soldier!” said she. “What a beautiful sword you have there, and what a fine large knapsack! You look truly like a brave soldier; and therefore you shall have as much money as you can wish for!”

“Thank ye, old witch!” replied the soldier. “That would be very acceptable indeed.”

“Do you see that great tree yonder?” asked the witch, pointing to a stout oak that stood by the wayside. “'That tree is quite hollow; and if you will climb up to the top, you will see a hole in the trunk, through which you can slide down and get to the very bottom of the tree. I will tie a rope round your body, so that I may be able to pull you up to the top again when you call.”

“And what have I to do down there at the bottom of the tree?” asked the soldier.

“To fetch money, to be sure! What else do you think!” continued the witch. “But you must know, that when you have got to the bottom of the oak, you will find yourself in a large hall, lighted by a hundred lamps. There you will see three doors, all of which you can open, for the key is in every one of them. If you enter the first door, you will come into a chamber, in the middle of which, on the floor, a great money-chest stands, but which is guarded by a dog with eyes as large as tea-cups; but that you need not mind. I will give you my colored apron; you must spread it out on the floor, and then you may boldly lay hold of the dog and put him on it; after which you can take out of the chest as many halfpence as you please: in that chest it is all copper. But if you want silver, you must go into the second chamber. However, here sits a dog upon the chest, with a pair of eyes as large as mill-wheels; but that you need not mind either: put the dog on the apron, and take as much silver as you please. But if you would rather have gold, you must go into the third chamber, and then you can take as much as you can carry. But the dog that guards this money-chest has eyes as large as the Round Tower[1] at Copenhagen. That’s a dog for you who can see! But you need not mind him: put him on my apron, and take as many gold pieces out of the chest as you please; the dog won’t do you any harm.”

“That wouldn’t be amiss!” said the soldier. “But what am I to give you, old beldame? For ’tis not very likely you would tell me this, and send me down the hollow tree to get so much treasure for nothing!”

“No, said the witch, “I don’t ask a farthing! You must only bring up with you the tinder-box you will find, that my grandmother forgot the last time she was down there.”

“Well, give me the rope,” said the soldier, “I’ll try!”

“Here it is,” said the witch; “and here too is my colored apron.” And she gave them both to him.

So the soldier climbed up to the top of the oak, put the rope about him, slipped through the hole in the trunk, and stood suddenly in the great hall, which was lighted, exactly as the old witch had told him, by a hundred lamps.

As soon as he had looked round him a little, he found also the three doors, and immediately opened the first. There really sat the dog with eyes as large as tea-cups, and stared at him.

“Ho, ho, my dog!” said the soldier.

“Good fellow!” And he spread the witch’s apron on the floor, and set the dog upon it.

He now opened the money-chest, filled all his pockets with copper pennies and half-pence, shut down the lid again, put the staring dog on the top of it, and went, with his apron, into the second chamber. Good heavens! There sat the dog with eyes as big as mill-wheels.

“You should not look at me so fixedly,” said he to the dog that was keeping watch; “that weakens the eyes!” Thereupon he set the animal on the apron; but when he saw the quantity of silver coin, he threw away the coppers and filled all his pockets and his knapsack with the bright silver. And then he went to the third door, and into the chamber.

Well, that was enough to disgust anybody! The dog here really had eyes as large as the Round Tower, and they rolled about in his head like turning-wheels.

“Good evening,” said the soldier, putting his hand to his cap and saluting in true military style; for such a monster he had never met before. However, after he had looked at him for some moments, he thought it was enough; so he spread out the apron, lifted the enormous dog off the cover, and opened the money-chest.

What heaps of gold he saw! He could have bought all Copenhagen, all the sugar-plums, all the games of soldiers, all the whips and rocking-horses in Europe, with the money! At the first sight of such rich treasure, the soldier threw away all the silver with which he was laden, and stuffed his pockets, his knapsack, his cap, and his boots, so full of gold pieces, that he could but just move with the weight. Now, indeed, he had money in abundance. The tremendous dog was put on the cover again, the door of the chamber shut, and the soldier went back to the hollow of the tree, and called out.

“Hallo, old hag! Now, then, pull me up again!”

“Have you got the tinder-box?” said the witch in reply.

“I’ll be hanged, if I hadn’t nearly forgotten it!” said the soldier. He then put the tinder-box in his pocket; the witch drew him up out of the tree; and he soon was standing again upon the highway with all his treasures.

“What do you want with the tinder-box?” asked the soldier.

“That’s nothing to you,” answered the old hag. “You’ve got money in plenty; so give me the tinder-box.”

“No!” said the soldier. “Tell me directly what you’ll do with the tinder-box, or I’ll cut your head off with my sword!”

“No,” cried the witch, “I won’t.”

And the soldier instantly drew his sword and chopped her head from her body; so there was an end of her! He then tied up his money in her apron, put the bundle over his shoulder and the tinder-box in his pocket, and walked on until he came to the next town.

It was a large city; and he went to the first hotel, asked for the best apartments, and ordered the most delicate things for dinner; for he was now a moneyed man. The waiters, it is true, thought his boots rather strange-looking for so grand a gentleman; but they were of another opinion next morning, after he had been out shopping; for they now had the most elegant boots to clean, and the finest clothing to brush. The soldier had become quite a dandy; he talked of the curiosities of the town, and the sights to be seen, and the people told him about the King and his beautiful daughter the Princess.

“How can I see her?” asked the soldier impatiently.

“She is not to be seen at all,” was the answer; “for she lives in a large brazen palace surrounded by many towers and high walls. Only the King visits his daughter; because it has been foretold that the Princess will marry a common soldier, and the King would never hear of such a thing.”

“I’d give the world to see the Princess!” thought the soldier to himself; but as to getting a permission, it was of no use thinking of such a thing.

Meanwhile he led a merry life; went often to the play, drove about in the royal park, and gave a good deal to the poor. It was praiseworthy of him to be charitable; but he knew well enough by experience what a poor fellow feels who has not a penny in his pocket. He was, moreover, a rich man, had handsome clothes, and many friends, who told him every day that he was an excellent creature, a perfect gentleman; and all this the soldier liked to hear.

But it so happened after a while, as he was always taking from his money and never received any, he had at last but twopence-halfpenny left. So he was obliged to leave the handsome lodgings he had lived in till now, and to take a small garret, to clean his own boots, and darn and mend his clothes himself when they wanted it. None of his old friends visited him any more; for they could not, of course, go up so many pair of stairs for his sake.

It was quite dark in his room, and he had not even money enough to buy a candle. Suddenly he remembered that, in the tinder-box which he fetched up from the bottom of the hollow oak, there were a few matches. He therefore took it, and began to strike a light; but as soon as the sparks flew about, the door of his room was thrown open, and the dog with eyes as large as a tea-cup walked in, and said, “What does the master please to command?”

“Well done!” cried the soldier, astonished; “that’s a capital tinder-box, if I can get all I want with so little trouble! Well, then, my friend,” said he to the dog with the staring eyes, “I am in want of money; get me some!”

Crack! the dog had vanished, and crack! there he was again standing before the soldier, holding a purse filled with copper coin between his teeth.

Now the soldier perfectly understood how to employ the tinder-box: if he struck with the flint and steel once, then the dog with the copper money appeared; if twice, the one with the silver coin; and if three times, then came the dog that guarded the chest of gold.

After this discovery, he returned immediately to his former handsome lodgings; his numerous kind friends came to him again, and testified their sincere affection and attachment.

“Well,” thought the soldier one day to himself, “’tis very strange that no one may see the beautiful Princess! They say she is a great beauty; but what good will that do her, if she is always to stay shut up in the brazen castle with the numerous towers! I wonder if it really be impossible to see her! Where’s my tinder-box? I should like to know if it’s only money that he can procure.” He struck the flint, and the well-known dog with saucer-eyes stood before him.

“It is midnight, it is true,” said he; “but I should like so much to see the Princess only for a moment!”

In a moment the dog was out of the room, and before the soldier thought it possible, he saw him return with the Princess, who sat asleep on the dog’s back, and was so indescribably beautiful that anybody who saw her would know directly she was a Princess. The soldier could not help it; happen what might, he must give the Princess a kiss, and so he did, for he was, body and soul, a soldier.

Then the dog ran back again to the palace with the lovely Princess. The next morning at breakfast she told her parents of the curious dream she had had; that she had been riding on a dog, and that a soldier had given her a kiss.

“A very pretty affair indeed!” said the Queen. So now it was agreed that, next night, one of the ladies of the court should watch at the bedside of the Princess, in order to see into the matter of the dream, and if anything happened to her in her sleep.

That night again, the soldier felt a strange longing to see the beautiful Princess from the brazen castle. The dog was therefore despatched, who took her again on his back and ran off with her. But the cunning old lady quickly put on a pair of good walking-boots, and ran after the dog so fast, that she caught sight of him just as he was going into the house where the soldier lived.

“Ah, ah!” thought she; “all’s right now! I know where he is gone to;” and she made a cross on the street door with a piece of chalk. Then she went back to the palace, and lay down to sleep. The dog, too, came back with the Princess; but when he remarked that there was a cross on the house where the soldier lived, he made crosses on all the street-doors in the town; which was very clever of the animal, for now the lady would not be able, with all her ingenuity, to find the right door again.

Early next morning came the King and Queen, the old lady, and all the high officers of the crown, to ascertain where the Princess had gone to in the night.

“Here’s the house!” exclaimed the King, when he saw the first door that had a cross on it.

“No, it must be here, my dear,” said the Queen, perceiving the next house with a white cross.

“Here, there, and every where are white crosses” cried all; for, look where they would, the street-doors had white crosses on them; and they now perceived it would be a vain attempt to try to find the right house.

The Queen, however, was an exceedingly clever woman. She knew something more than merely how to sit in a carriage with an air; and therefore she soon found out a way how to come on the traces of the dog. She took a whole piece of silk, cut it in two with a golden pair of scissors, and with the pieces made a bag. This bag she had filled with the most finely-sifted flour, and tied it with her own hands round the Princess’s neck. When this was done, she took her golden scissors and cut a small hole in the bag, just large enough to let the flour run slowly out when the Princess moved.

The dog came again in the night, took the Princess on his back, and ran off with her to the soldier, who wanted so much only to look at her, and who would have given any thing to be a Prince, so that he might marry the Princess.

But the dog did not observe that his track from the palace to the soldier’s house was marked with the flour that had run out of the bag. On the following morning the King and the Queen readily saw where their daughter had been during the night; and therefore they ordered the soldier to be arrested and put into prison.

There now sat the poor soldier in prison, and it was so dark too in his cell; besides, the jailor told him that he was to be hanged on the morrow. That was indeed no very pleasant news for the soldier, and more unfortunate than all, he had left his tinder-box at the hotel.

When day broke he could see out of his little prison-windows how the people were streaming from the town to see the execution; he heard the drums beat, and saw the soldiers marching to the spot where the scaffold was erected. Among the crowd was a little apprentice, who was in such a hurry that he lost one of his shoes just as he was running by the prison.

“Hallo, my little man!” cried the soldier to the boy; “you need not be in such a hurry; for nothing can be done till I come! If you will run to the inn, at the sign of the Golden Angel, and fetch me a tinder-box that I left behind in my room, I’ll give you a groat for your trouble;—but you must make all the haste you can!”

The boy wanted very much to get the groat; so off he ran to the Golden Angel, found the tinder-box as described in the soldier’s room, and brought it to him to his grated window. Now let us see what happened.

Outside the town a high gallows had been erected, which was surrounded by a quantity of soldiers, and thousands of people occupied the large field. The King and Queen sat on a splendid throne that had been erected for them, opposite the judges and the councillors.

The soldier was already on the highest step of the ladder, and the executioner was just about to put the rope round his neck, when he implored that they would grant him, poor sinner that he was, one last wish. He had, he said, a great longing to smoke a pipe of tobacco, and as this was the last act of grace he should ask for in this world, he hoped they would not be so cruel as to refuse him.

So the King allowed them to accede to his request: and the soldier took out his flint and steel, and struck one, two, three times; when presently all three enchanted dogs stood before him; the one with the saucer-eyes, as well as the other two with eyes like mill-wheels and the Round Tower at Copenhagen.

“Help me out of my difficulty!” called the soldier to the dogs. “Don’t let them hang me!”

Thereupon the three frightful dogs fell on the judge and the councillors, seized one by the leg, another by the nose, and tossed them high up in the air, so that in tumbling down they were immediately dashed to pieces.

“We are not graciously pleased—” cried the King; but the dogs cared little for that, and took King and Queen, one after the other, and tossed them like the rest in the air.

Then the soldiers grew frightened, and the people called out, “Good soldier, you shall be our King, and you shall have the beautiful Princess for a wife!”

Then the soldier seated himself in the King’s carriage, and all three dogs danced in front of it, and shouted “Hurrah!” The boys in the street whistled, and the soldiers presented arms.

Now the Princess was liberated from the brazen castle, and was made Queen, which she liked very much. The wedding festivities lasted eight days, and the dogs seated themselves at table, and stared at every body with their great eyes.


  1. The Observatory; so called on account of its round form.