There was a king who had twelve beautiful daughters. They slept in twelve beds all in one room; and when they went to bed, the doors were shut and locked up; but every morning their shoes were found to be quite worn through as if they had been danced in all night; and yet nobody could find out how it happened, or where they had been.
Then the king made it known to all the land, that if any person could discover the secret, and find out where it was that the princesses danced in the night, he should have the one he liked best for his wife, and should be king after his death; but whoever tried and did not succeed, after three days and nights, should be put to death.
A king’s son soon came. He was well entertained, and in the evening was taken to the chamber next to the one where the princesses lay in their twelve beds. There he was to sit and watch where they went to dance; and, in order that nothing might pass without his hearing it,the door of his chamber was left open. But the king’s son soon fell asleep; and when he awoke in the morning he found that the princesses had all been dancing, for the soles of their shoes were full of holes.The same thing happened the second and third night: so the king ordered his head to be cut off. After him came several others; but they had all the same luck, and all lost their lives in the same manner.
Now it chanced that an old soldier, who had been wounded in battle and could fight no longer, passed through the country where this king reigned: and as he was travelling through a wood, he met an old woman,who asked him where he was going. ‘I hardly know where I am going, or what I had better do,’ said the soldier; ‘but I think I should like very well to find out where it is that the princesses dance, and then in time I might be a king.’ ‘Well,’ said the old dame, ‘that is no very hard task: only take care not to drink any of the wine which one of the princesses will bring to you in the evening; and as soon as she leaves you pretend to be fast asleep.’
Then she gave him a cloak, and said, ‘As soon as you put that on you will become invisible, and you will then be able to follow the princesses wherever they go.’ When the soldier heard all this good counsel, he determined to try his luck: so he went to the king, and said he was willing to undertake the task.
He was as well received as the others had been, and the king ordered fine royal robes to be given him; and when the evening came he was led to the outer chamber. Just as he was going to lie down, the eldest of the princesses brought him a cup of wine; but the soldier threw it all away secretly, taking care not to drink a drop. Then he laid himself down on his bed, and in a little while began to snore very loud as ifhe was fast asleep. When the twelve princesses heard this they laughed heartily; and the eldest said, ‘This fellow too might have done a wiser thing than lose his life in this way!’ Then they rose up and opened their drawers and boxes, and took out all their fine clothes,and dressed themselves at the glass, and skipped about as if they were eager to begin dancing. But the youngest said, ‘I don’t know how it is, while you are so happy I feel very uneasy; I am sure some mischance will befall us.’ ‘You simpleton,’ said the eldest, ‘you are always afraid; have you forgotten how many kings’ sons have already watched in vain? And as for this soldier, even if I had not given him his sleeping draught, he would have slept soundly enough.’
When they were all ready, they went and looked at the soldier; but he snored on, and did not stir hand or foot: so they thought they were quite safe; and the eldest went up to her own bed and clapped her hands, and the bed sank into the floor and a trap-door flew open. The soldier saw them going down through the trap-door one after another,the eldest leading the way; and thinking he had no time to lose, he jumped up, put on the cloak which the old woman had given him, and followed them; but in the middle of the stairs he trod on the gown of the youngest princess, and she cried out to her sisters, ‘All is not right; someone took hold of my gown.’ ‘You silly creature!’ said the eldest, ‘it is nothing but a nail in the wall.’ Then down they all went, and at the bottom they found themselves in a most delightful grove of trees; and the leaves were all of silver, and glittered and sparkled beautifully. The soldier wished to take away some token of the place; so he broke off a little branch, and there came a loud noise from the tree. Then the youngest daughter said again, ‘I am sure all is not right—did not you hear that noise? That never happened before.’ But the eldest said, ‘It is only our princes, who are shouting for joy at our approach.’
Then they came to another grove of trees, where all the leaves were of gold; and afterwards to a third, where the leaves were all glittering diamonds. And the soldier broke a branch from each; and every time there was a loud noise, which made the youngest sister tremble with fear; but the eldest still said, it was only the princes, who were crying for joy. So they went on till they came to a great lake; and at the side of the lake there lay twelve little boats with twelve handsome princes in them, who seemed to be waiting there for the princesses.
One of the princesses went into each boat, and the soldier stepped into the same boat with the youngest. As they were rowing over the lake, the prince who was in the boat with the youngest princess and the soldier said, ‘I do not know why it is, but though I am rowing with all my might we do not get on so fast as usual, and I am quite tired: the boat seems very heavy today.’ ‘It is only the heat of the weather,’ said the princess: ‘I feel it very warm too.’
On the other side of the lake stood a fine illuminated castle, from which came the merry music of horns and trumpets. There they all landed, and went into the castle, and each prince danced with his princess; and the soldier, who was all the time invisible, danced with them too; and when any of the princesses had a cup of wine set by her,he drank it all up, so that when she put the cup to her mouth it was empty. At this, too, the youngest sister was terribly frightened, but the eldest always silenced her. They danced on till three o’clock in the morning, and then all their shoes were worn out, so that they were obliged to leave off. The princes rowed them back again over the lake(but this time the soldier placed himself in the boat with the eldest princess); and on the opposite shore they took leave of each other,the princesses promising to come again the next night.
When they came to the stairs, the soldier ran on before the princesses, and laid himself down; and as the twelve sisters slowly came up very much tired, they heard him snoring in his bed; so they said, ‘Now all is quite safe’; then they undressed themselves, put away their fine clothes, pulled off their shoes, and went to bed. In the morning the soldier said nothing about what had happened, but determined to see more of this strange adventure, and went again the second and third night; and every thing happened just as before; the princesses danced each time till their shoes were worn to pieces, and then returned home. However, on the third night the soldier carried away one of the golden cups as a token of where he had been.
As soon as the time came when he was to declare the secret, he was taken before the king with the three branches and the golden cup; and the twelve princesses stood listening behind the door to hear what he would say. And when the king asked him. ‘Where do my twelve daughters dance at night?’ he answered, ‘With twelve princes in a castle underground.’ And then he told the king all that had happened, and showed him the three branches and the golden cup which he had brought with him. Then the king called for the princesses, and asked them whether what the soldier said was true: and when they saw that they were discovered, and that it was of no use to deny what had happened, they confessed it all. And the king asked the soldier which of them he would choose for his wife; and he answered, ‘I am not very young, so I will have the eldest.’—And they were married that very day, and the soldier was chosen to be the king’s heir.
A bad tempered widow had two daughters. The eldest was like her mother, both in feature and disposition, while the youngest resembled her father. She was sweet-natured always, and as pretty as she was amiable.
The widow doted on the daughter who was so like herself, but had no love for the other, whom she compelled to work hard all day, and to live upon the leavings of her elder sister. Among her other hard tasks, she was obliged to carry water every day from a great distance.
One day when she had just filled her pitcher at the fountain, an old woman asked to drink from it. “With all my heart,” replied the pretty girl. Glad to show a kindness to one old and infirm, she held the pitcher while the woman slaked her thirst.
Now, this was not a trembling old peasant, as she appeared, but a fairy who rewarded good deeds. “
Your face is pretty and your heart is gentle,” said she. “For your kindness to a poor old woman, I will make you a gift. Every time you speak, from your mouth shall come a flower or a jewel.”
When the girl reached home her mother scolded her for her long absence.
Pardon me for being away so long,” she sweetly replied. As she spoke some pearls and diamonds issued from her lips.
“What is this I see, child?” asked the astonished widow.
The forlorn girl was so happy to be called child by her mother that she eagerly related her experience with the old woman at the fountain, while, with her words, dropped precious stones and roses. The widow immediately called her favorite daughter to her.
“Fanny, wouldst thou have the same gift as thy sister?” asked she. “Go thou to the fountain and fetch water. And if an old woman asks thee for a drink, mind’ thou treat her civilly.”
The girl refused to perform the menial task, until the widow lost patience and drove her to it. Finally, she took the silver tankard and sullenly obeyed. No sooner was she at the fountain than from the wood came a lady most handsomely attired, who asked the haughty girl for a drink from her pitcher.
“I have not come here to serve you,” she rudely replied, “but take the pitcher and help yourself, for all I care I would have you know that I am as good as you.”
The lady was the fairy, who had taken the appearance of a princess to see how far the girl’s insolence would go.
“I will make you a gift,” she said, “to equal your discourtesy and ill breeding. Every time you speak, there shall come from your mouth a snake or a toad.”
The girl ran home to her mother, who met her at the door.
“Well, daughter,” she said, impatient to hear her speak.
When she opened her mouth, to the mother’s horror, two vipers and two toads sprang from it.
“This is the fault of your wretched sister,” the unhappy mother cried. She ran to beat the poor younger sister, who fled to the forest to escape the cruel blows. When she was past pursuit, she threw herself upon the green grass and wept bitterly.
The King’s son, returning from the hunt, found her thus, and asked the cause of her tears.
“My mother has driven me from my home,” she told him.
She was so pretty that he fell in love with her at once, and pressed her to tell him more. She then related to him the whole story, while pearls and diamonds kept falling from her lips. Enraptured, he took her to the King, who gave his consent to their immediate marriage.
Meanwhile the ugly and selfish sister had made herself so disagreeable that even her own mother turned against her. She, too, was driven forth into the forest, where she died miserable and alone.
Once there was a lad named Leif. Now, Leif was a likeable fellow, and handsome to boot. But he never wanted to listen to anyone, and he always had to do things his own way.
“My son, it’s good to make up your own mind,” his father told him. “But it’s also good to know when others know more than you.”
Now, Leif didn’t want to hear that either, so he said, “Father, I’m going out into the world, where I can do things just as I like.”
His father begged Leif not to go, but the more he pleaded, the more Leif was set on it.
Finally his father said, “Your stubbornness is bound to land you in trouble. But at least take this piece of advice: Whatever you do, don’t go to work for the troll.”
So where do you think Leif went? Right to the house of the troll!
Leif knocked on the door, and the troll himself answered it. He was huge, and a good deal uglier than anyone you’d care to meet.
“Pardon me, sir,” said Leif. “I’m looking for work.”
“Are you, now?” said the troll, feeling the boy’s arm. “I could use a fellow like you.”
The troll led him into the stable and said, “I’m taking my goats to pasture. Since it’s your first day, I won’t ask much of you. Just shovel out all this dung.”
“Well, that’s kind of you, sir,” said Leif. “You’re surely easy to please!”
“But just one thing,” said the troll. “Don’t go looking through the rooms of the house, or you won’t live to tell about it.”
When the troll had gone, Leif said to himself, “Not look through the house? Why, that’s just what I want to do!”
So Leif went through all the rooms till he came to the kitchen. And there stirring a big iron pot was the loveliest maiden he had ever seen.
“Good Lord!” cried the girl. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve just got a job with the troll,” said Leif.
“Then heaven help you get out of it!” said the girl. “Weren’t you warned about working here?”
“I was,” said Leif, “but I’m glad I came anyway, else I never would have met you!”
Well, the girl liked that answer, so they sat down to chat. They talked and talked and talked some more, and before the day was done, he held her hand in his.
Then the girl asked, “What did the troll tell you to do today?”
“Something easy,” said Leif. “I’ve only to clear the dung from the stable.”
“Easy to say!” said the girl. “But if you use the pitchfork the ordinary way, ten forkfuls will fly in for every one you throw out! Now, here’s what you must do. Turn the pitchfork around and shovel with the handle. Then the dung will fly out by itself.”
Leif went out to the stable and took up the pitchfork. But he said to himself, “That can’t be true, what she told me,” and he shoveled the ordinary way. Within moments, he was up to his neck in dung.
“I guess her way wouldn’t hurt to try,” he said. So he turned the pitchfork around and shoveled with the handle. In no time at all, the dung was all out, and the stable looked like he had scrubbed it.
As Leif started back to the house, the troll came up with the goats.
“Is the stable clean?” asked the troll.
“Tight and tidy!” said Leif, and he showed it to him.
“You never figured this out for yourself!” the troll said. “Have you been talking to my Master Maid?”
“Master Maid?” said Leif. “Now, what sort of thing might that be, sir?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” said the troll.
* * *
The next morning, the troll was again to go off with his goats. He told Leif, “Today I’ll give you another easy job. Just go up the hill to the pasture and fetch my stallion.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Leif. “That won’t be any trouble.”
“But mind you stay out of the rooms of the house,” said the troll, “or I’ll make an end of you.”
When the troll had gone off, Leif went right to the kitchen and sat down again with the girl whom the troll had called Master Maid.
“Didn’t the troll threaten you against coming here?” she asked.
“He did,” said Leif, “but he’ll have to do worse to keep me away from you!”
So they talked and talked and talked some more, and before the day was done, he had his arm around her.
Then Master Maid asked, “What work did the troll give you today?”
“Nothing hard,” said Leif. “I just have to fetch his stallion from the hillside.”
“Yes, but how will you manage?” asked Master Maid. “It will charge at you, shooting flame from its mouth and nostrils! But here’s how to do it. Take that bridle hanging by the door and hold it before you as you get near. Then the stallion will be tame as a pussycat.”
So Leif threw the bridle over his shoulder and went up the hill to the pasture. But he said to himself, “That horse looks gentle enough,” and he started right over to it. As soon as the stallion saw him, it charged at him, shooting flame just as Master Maid had said.
Barely in time, Leif got the bridle off his shoulder and held it before him. The stallion stopped, as tame as you please, and Leif bridled it and rode it back to the stable.
On his way out, he met the troll coming home with the goats.
“Did you bring home the stallion?” asked the troll.
“Safe and sound!” said Leif, and he showed him.
“You never figured this out for yourself!” the troll said. “Have you been talking to my Master Maid?”
“Master Maid?” said Leif. “Didn’t you mention that yesterday? I’d certainly like to know what it is!”
“All in good time,” said the troll.
* * *
The next morning, before the troll left with the goats, he said, “I want you to go to the mountain today and collect my tunnel tax from the fairies.”
“All right, sir,” said Leif. “I’m sure I can figure it out.”
“But just keep out of the rooms of the house,” said the troll, “or you won’t make it through another day.”
As soon as the troll had left, off went Leif to the kitchen and once more sat down with Master Maid.
“Aren’t you the least bit afraid of the troll?” she asked.
“I am,” said Leif, “but not near as much as I’m in love with you!”
So they talked and talked and talked some more, and before the day was done, she gave him a nice big kiss.
Then Master Maid asked, “What are you to do for the troll today?”
“Something simple,” said Leif. “I’m to go to the mountain and collect the tunnel tax from the fairies.”
“Simple if you know how!” said Master Maid. “You’re lucky I’m here to tell you! Take that club that’s leaning against the wall and strike it against the mountain. The rock will open up, and a fairy will ask you how much you want. Be sure to say, ‘Just as much as I can carry.’”
So Leif took the club to the mountain and struck it against the side. The rock split wide open, and out came one of the fairies. Through the crack, Leif could see piles and piles of silver, gold, and gems.
“I’ve come for the troll’s tunnel tax,” said Leif.
“How much do you want?” asked the fairy.
Now, Leif figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask for extra and then keep some for himself. So he said, “As much as you can give me.”
As soon as he said it, silver, gold, and gems came streaming out of the mountain and piled up around him. In a few moments he was nearly buried, but the treasure kept coming.
“I’ve changed my mind!” Leif shouted. “Just as much as I can carry!”
The pile of treasure flew back into the mountain, and the fairy handed him a sack.
As Leif arrived back, he met the troll. “Did you collect my tax?” the troll asked.
“Done and delivered!” said Leif. He opened the sack, and silver, gold, and gems overflowed onto the ground.
“You never figured this out for yourself!” the troll said. “You’ve been talking with my Master Maid!”
“Master Maid?” said Leif. “This is the third time you’ve spoken of it, sir. I wish I could see it for myself!”
“It won’t be long now,” said the troll.
* * *
The next morning, the troll brought Leif to Master Maid. “Cut him up and throw him in the stew,” he told her. “And wake me when he’s done.” Then he lay down on a bench and started snoring.
Master Maid took a butcher knife down from the wall.
“You wouldn’t!” said Leif.
“Don’t be silly!” said the girl.
She pricked the tip of her little finger and squeezed three drops of blood onto a three-legged stool. Then she put some old rags and shoe soles in the stewpot, along with the kitchen garbage, and a couple of dead rats, and some dung for good measure.
Then she gathered a wooden comb, a lump of salt, and a flask of water.
“Quick!” she said. “We must flee while we can!”
“Are you sure we need to rush?” said Leif.
But Master Maid pushed him out the door and over to the stable. They saddled two mares and rode away at full gallop.
Meanwhile, the troll was stirring from his sleep. “Is he ready?” the troll called, not opening his eyes.
“Tough as leather!” the first drop of blood answered in Master Maid’s voice. So the troll went back to sleep.
A little later, the troll woke again and called, “Is he cooked?”
“Still chewy,” said the second drop of blood. The troll went to sleep again.
At last, the troll woke and called, “Isn’t he done yet?”
“Tender and juicy!” said the third drop of blood.
Still half asleep, the troll stumbled over to the pot. He scooped up some stew in a wooden ladle, and took a big mouthful. It was barely in his mouth when he sprayed it across the room.
“That little witch!” he shouted. Then his eyes grew wide. “She must have run off with the boy!”
The troll raced to the stable and saddled his stallion. Then he rode after them like a whirlwind, with the stallion breathing fire as it went.
In a little while, Leif looked behind and saw the troll chasing them. “We’re done for!” he cried.
But Master Maid threw the wooden fork over her shoulder and shouted,
“Fork of wood, bless my soul.
Turn to trees and stop the troll.”
The fork changed to a thick forest that blocked the troll’s way.
“I know how to deal with this,” said the troll, and he called out,
“Forest Chewer, curse her soul.
Chew the forest, help the troll.”
The Forest Chewer appeared out of nowhere and devoured the trees, making a path for the troll’s horse.
Leif looked back and again saw the troll. “We’re lost!” he cried. But Master Maid tossed the lump of salt behind her.
“Lump of salt, bless my soul.
Grow to mountain, stop the troll.”
The salt turned to a craggy mountain, and the troll again had to stop. “I know how to handle this, too!” he said.
“Mountain Cruncher, curse her soul.
Crunch the mountain, help the troll.”
The Mountain Cruncher appeared and bored a tunnel, straight through the mountain.
Meanwhile, Leif and Master Maid came to a sea, where they found a sailboat tied up. They left the horses, boarded the boat, and sailed for the far shore.
They were halfway across when the troll rode up to the water. “I can take care of this, as well!” he said.
“Water Sucker, curse her soul.
Suck the water, help the troll.”
The Water Sucker appeared and started drinking up the sea. Soon the boat was scraping bottom.
“It’s the end of us!” cried Leif. But Master Maid took out her flask.
“Drop of water, bless my soul.
Fill the sea and stop the troll.”
She poured overboard a single drop, and the drop of water filled the sea.
“Drink it up! Drink it up!” raged the troll. But not another drop could the Water Sucker drink, and Leif and Master Maid landed safe on the other shore.
* * *
It wasn’t long then till Leif had Master Maid home, and not long again till they had a wedding. But when the minister asked Master Maid if she’d love, honor, and obey, Leif told him, “Never mind that! It’s best if I obey her.”
And he did—which is why they lived happily ever after.
The Red Shoes
There was once a little girl who was very pretty and delicate, but in summer she was forced to run about with bare feet, she was so poor, and in winter wear very large wooden shoes, which made her little insteps quite red, and that looked so dangerous!
In the middle of the village lived old Dame Shoemaker; she sat and sewed together, as well as she could, a little pair of shoes out of old red strips of cloth; they were very clumsy, but it was a kind thought. They were meant for the little girl. The little girl was called Karen.
On the very day her mother was buried, Karen received the red shoes, and wore them for the first time. They were certainly not intended for mourning, but she had no others, and with stockingless feet she followed the poor straw coffin in them.
Suddenly a large old carriage drove up, and a large old lady sat in it: she looked at the little girl, felt compassion for her, and then said to the clergyman:
“Here, give me the little girl. I will adopt her!”
And Karen believed all this happened on account of the red shoes, but the old lady thought they were horrible, and they were burnt. But Karen herself was cleanly and nicely dressed; she must learn to read and sew; and people said she was a nice little thing, but the looking-glass said: “Thou art more than nice, thou art beautiful!”
Now the queen once travelled through the land, and she had her little daughter with her. And this little daughter was a princess, and people streamed to the castle, and Karen was there also, and the little princess stood in her fine white dress, in a window, and let herself be stared at; she had neither a train nor a golden crown, but splendid red morocco shoes. They were certainly far handsomer than those Dame Shoemaker had made for little Karen. Nothing in the world can be compared with red shoes.
Now Karen was old enough to be confirmed; she had new clothes and was to have new shoes also. The rich shoemaker in the city took the measure of her little foot. This took place at his house, in his room; where stood large glass-cases, filled with elegant shoes and brilliant boots. All this looked charming, but the old lady could not see well, and so had no pleasure in them. In the midst of the shoes stood a pair of red ones, just like those the princess had worn. How beautiful they were! The shoemaker said also they had been made for the child of a count, but had not fitted.
“That must be patent leather!” said the old lady. “They shine so!”
“Yes, they shine!” said Karen, and they fitted, and were bought, but the old lady knew nothing about their being red, else she would never have allowed Karen to have gone in red shoes to be confirmed. Yet such was the case.
Everybody looked at her feet; and when she stepped through the chancel door on the church pavement, it seemed to her as if the old figures on the tombs, those portraits of old preachers and preachers’ wives, with stiff ruffs, and long black dresses, fixed their eyes on her red shoes. And she thought only of them as the clergyman laid his hand upon her head, and spoke of the holy baptism, of the covenant with God, and how she should be now a matured Christian; and the organ pealed so solemnly; the sweet children’s voices sang, and the old music-directors sang, but Karen only thought of her red shoes.
In the afternoon, the old lady heard from everyone that the shoes had been red, and she said that it was very wrong of Karen, that it was not at all becoming, and that in future Karen should only go in black shoes to church, even when she should be older.
The next Sunday there was the sacrament, and Karen looked at the black shoes, looked at the red ones–looked at them again, and put on the red shoes.
The sun shone gloriously; Karen and the old lady walked along the path through the corn; it was rather dusty there.
At the church door stood an old soldier with a crutch, and with a wonderfully long beard, which was more red than white, and he bowed to the ground, and asked the old lady whether he might dust her shoes. And Karen stretched out her little foot.
“See, what beautiful dancing shoes!” said the soldier. “Sit firm when you dance”; and he put his hand out towards the soles.
And the old lady gave the old soldier alms, and went into the church with Karen.
And all the people in the church looked at Karen’s red shoes, and all the pictures, and as Karen knelt before the altar, and raised the cup to her lips, she only thought of the red shoes, and they seemed to swim in it; and she forgot to sing her psalm, and she forgot to pray, “Our Father in Heaven!”
Now all the people went out of church, and the old lady got into her carriage. Karen raised her foot to get in after her, when the old soldier said,
“Look, what beautiful dancing shoes!”
And Karen could not help dancing a step or two, and when she began her feet continued to dance; it was just as though the shoes had power over them. She danced round the church corner, she could not leave off; the coachman was obliged to run after and catch hold of her, and he lifted her in the carriage, but her feet continued to dance so that she trod on the old lady dreadfully. At length she took the shoes off, and then her legs had peace.
The shoes were placed in a closet at home, but Karen could not avoid looking at them.
Now the old lady was sick, and it was said she could not recover. She must be nursed and waited upon, and there was no one whose duty it was so much as Karen’s. But there was a great ball in the city, to which Karen was invited. She looked at the old lady, who could not recover, she looked at the red shoes, and she thought there could be no sin in it; she put on the red shoes, she might do that also, she thought. But then she went to the ball and began to dance.
When she wanted to dance to the right, the shoes would dance to the left, and when she wanted to dance up the room, the shoes danced back again, down the steps, into the street, and out of the city gate. She danced, and was forced to dance straight out into the gloomy wood.
Then it was suddenly light up among the trees, and she fancied it must be the moon, for there was a face; but it was the old soldier with the red beard; he sat there, nodded his head, and said, “Look, what beautiful dancing shoes!”
Then she was terrified, and wanted to fling off the red shoes, but they clung fast; and she pulled down her stockings, but the shoes seemed to have grown to her feet. And she danced, and must dance, over fields and meadows, in rain and sunshine, by night and day; but at night it was the most fearful.
She danced over the churchyard, but the dead did not dance–they had something better to do than to dance. She wished to seat herself on a poor man’s grave, where the bitter tansy grew; but for her there was neither peace nor rest; and when she danced towards the open church door, she saw an angel standing there. He wore long, white garments; he had wings which reached from his shoulders to the earth; his countenance was severe and grave; and in his hand he held a sword, broad and glittering.
“Dance shalt thou!” said he. “Dance in thy red shoes till thou art pale and cold! Till thy skin shrivels up and thou art a skeleton! Dance shalt thou from door to door, and where proud, vain children dwell, thou shalt knock, that they may hear thee and tremble! Dance shalt thou–!”
“Mercy!” cried Karen. But she did not hear the angel’s reply, for the shoes carried her through the gate into the fields, across roads and bridges, and she must keep ever dancing.
One morning she danced past a door which she well knew. Within sounded a psalm; a coffin, decked with flowers, was borne forth. Then she knew that the old lady was dead, and felt that she was abandoned by all, and condemned by the angel of God.
She danced, and she was forced to dance through the gloomy night. The shoes carried her over stack and stone; she was torn till she bled; she danced over the heath till she came to a little house. Here, she knew, dwelt the executioner; and she tapped with her fingers at the window, and said, “Come out! Come out! I cannot come in, for I am forced to dance!”
And the executioner said, “Thou dost not know who I am, I fancy? I strike bad people’s heads off; and I hear that my axe rings!”
“Don’t strike my head off!” said Karen. “Then I can’t repent of my sins! But strike off my feet in the red shoes!”
And then she confessed her entire sin, and the executioner struck off her feet with the red shoes, but the shoes danced away with the little feet across the field into the deep wood.
And he carved out little wooden feet for her, and crutches, taught her the psalm criminals always sing; and she kissed the hand which had wielded the axe, and went over the heath.
“Now I have suffered enough for the red shoes!” said she. “Now I will go into the church that people may see me!” And she hastened towards the church door: but when she was near it, the red shoes danced before her, and she was terrified, and turned round. The whole week she was unhappy, and wept many bitter tears; but when Sunday returned, she said, “Well, now I have suffered and struggled enough! I really believe I am as good as many a one who sits in the church, and holds her head so high!”
And away she went boldly; but she had not got farther than the churchyard gate before she saw the red shoes dancing before her; and she was frightened, and turned back, and repented of her sin from her heart.
And she went to the parsonage, and begged that they would take her into service; she would be very industrious, she said, and would do everything she could; she did not care about the wages, only she wished to have a home, and be with good people. And the clergyman’s wife was sorry for her and took her into service; and she was industrious and thoughtful. She sat still and listened when the clergyman read the Bible in the evenings. All the children thought a great deal of her; but when they spoke of dress, and grandeur, and beauty, she shook her head.
The following Sunday, when the family was going to church, they asked her whether she would not go with them; but she glanced sorrowfully, with tears in her eyes, at her crutches. The family went to hear the word of God; but she went alone into her little chamber; there was only room for a bed and chair to stand in it; and here she sat down with her Prayer-Book; and whilst she read with a pious mind, the wind bore the strains of the organ towards her, and she raised her tearful countenance, and said, “O God, help me!”
And the sun shone so clearly, and straight before her stood the angel of God in white garments, the same she had seen that night at the church door; but he no longer carried the sharp sword, but in its stead a splendid green spray, full of roses. And he touched the ceiling with the spray, and the ceiling rose so high, and where he had touched it there gleamed a golden star. And he touched the walls, and they widened out, and she saw the organ which was playing; she saw the old pictures of the preachers and the preachers’ wives. The congregation sat in cushioned seats, and sang out of their Prayer-Books. For the church itself had come to the poor girl in her narrow chamber, or else she had come into the church. She sat in the pew with the clergyman’s family, and when they had ended the psalm and looked up, they nodded and said, “It is right that thou art come!”
“It was through mercy!” she said.
And the organ pealed, and the children’s voices in the choir sounded so sweet and soft! The clear sunshine streamed so warmly through the window into the pew where Karen sat! Her heart was so full of sunshine, peace, and joy, that it broke. Her soul flew on the sunshine to God, and there no one asked after the red shoes.