The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Stratton)/The Little Match Girl

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The Little Match-Girl

IT was dreadfully cold, it snowed, and was getting quite dark, for it was evening—yes, the last evening of the year.

Amid the cold and the darkness, a little girl, with bare head and naked feet, was roaming through the streets. It is true she had on a pair of slippers when she left home, but that was not of much use, for they were very large slippers; so large, indeed, that they had hitherto been used by her mother; besides, the little creature lost them as she hurried across the street, to avoid two carriages, that were driving at a fearful rate. One of the slippers was not to be found, and the other was pounced upon by a boy, who ran away with it, saying that it would serve for a cradle when he should have children of his own.

So the little girl went along, with her little bare feet, that were red and blue with cold. She carried a number of matches in an old apron, and she held a bundle of them in her hand. Nobody had bought anything of her the whole livelong day, and nobody had even given her a penny.

She crept along, shivering with cold and hunger, a perfect picture of misery—poor little thing!

The snow-flakes covered her long flaxen hair, which hung in pretty curls round her throat; but she heeded them not.

Lights were streaming from all the windows, and there was a savoury smell of roast goose; for it was St. Sylvester's evening. And this she did heed.

She now sat down, cowering in a corner formed by two houses, one of which projected beyond the other. She had drawn her little feet under her, but she felt colder than ever; yet she dared not return home, for she had not sold a match, and could not bring back a penny.

Her father would certainly beat her; and it was cold enough at home, besides—for they had only the roof above them, and the wind came howling through it, though the largest holes had been stopped with straw and rags. Her little hands were nearly frozen with cold.

SHE NOW SAT DOWN, COWERING IN A CORNER. SHE HAD WHILE DRAWN HER LITTLE FEET UNDER, BUT FELT COLDER THAN EVER.

Alas! a single match might do her some good, if she might only draw one out of the bundle, and rub it against the wall, and warm her fingers.

So at last she drew one out. Whisht! how it shed sparks, and how it burned! It gave out a warm, bright flame, like a little candle, as she held her hands over it,—truly, it was a wonderful little light! It really seemed to the little girl as if she were sitting before a large iron stove, with polished brass feet, and brass shovel and tongs. The fire burned so blessedly, and warmed so nicely, that the little creature stretched out her feet to warm them likewise, when lo! the flame expired, the stove vanished, and left nothing but the little half-burned match in her hand.

She rubbed another match against the wall. It gave a light, and where it shone upon the wall, the latter became as transparent as a veil, and she could see into the room.

A snow-white tablecloth was spread upon the table, on which stood a splendid china dinner service, a roast goose, stuffed with apples and prunes, sent forth the most savoury odour. And what was more delightful still, the goose jumped down from the dish, and waddled along the ground with a knife and fork in its breast, up to the poor girl.

AND WHAT WAS MORE DELIGHTFUL STILL, THE GOOSE JUMPED DOWN FROM THE DISH, AND WADDLED ALONG THE GROUND, WITH A KNIFE AND FORK IN ITS BREAST, UP TO THE POOR GIRL.

The match then went out, and nothing remained but the thick, damp wall. She lit another match.

She now sat under the most magnificent Christmas tree, that was larger, and more superbly decked, than even the one she had seen through the glass door at the rich merchant's. A thousand tapers burned on its green branches, and gay pictures, such as one sees on targets, seemed to be looking down upon her. The match then went out.

The Christmas lights kept rising higher and higher. They now looked like stars in the sky.

One of them fell down, and left a long streak of fire. "Somebody is now dying," thought the little girl—for her old grandmother, the only person who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her, that when a star falls, it is a sign that a soul is going up to heaven.

She again rubbed a match upon the wall, and it was again light all round; and in the brightness stood her old grandmother, clear and shining like a spirit, yet looking so mild and loving.

"Grandmother," cried the little one, "oh! take me with you! I know you will go away when the match goes out—you will vanish like the warm stove, and the delicious roast goose, and the fine, large Christmas-tree?"

And she made haste to rub the whole bundle of matches, for she wished to hold her grandmother fast.

And the matches gave a light that was brighter than noonday. Her grandmother had never appeared so beautiful nor so large. She took the little girl in her arms, and both flew upwards, all radiant and joyful, far—far above mortal ken—where there was neither cold, nor hunger, nor care to be found; for it was to the land of the blessed that they had flown.

But, in the cold dawn, the poor girl might be seen leaning against the wall, with red cheeks and smiling mouth: she had been frozen on the last night of the old year.

The new year's sun shone upon the little corpse.

The child sat in the stiffness of death, still holding the matches, one bundle of which was burned.

People said: "She tried to warm herself"

Nobody dreamed of the fine things she had seen, nor in what splendour she had entered upon the joys of the new year, together with her grandmother.