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Title: Andersen's Fairy Tales / Author: Hans Christian Andersen

THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL (mid 1800's)

Most terribly cold it was; it snowed, and was nearly quite dark, and
evening--the last evening of the year. In this cold and darkness there
went along the street a poor little girl, bareheaded, and with naked
feet. When she left home she had slippers on, it is true; but what was
the good of that? They were very large slippers, which her mother had
hitherto worn; so large were they; and the poor little thing lost them
as she scuffled away across the street, because of two carriages that
rolled by dreadfully fast.

One slipper was nowhere to be found; the other had been laid hold of by
an urchin, and off he ran with it; he thought it would do capitally for
a cradle when he some day or other should have children himself. So the
little maiden walked on with her tiny naked feet, that were quite red
and blue from cold. She carried a quantity 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; no one had given her a single farthing.

She crept along trembling with cold and hunger--a very picture of
sorrow, the poor little thing!

The flakes of snow covered her long fair hair, which fell in beautiful
curls around her neck; but of that, of course, she never once now
thought. From all the windows the candles were gleaming, and it smelt so
deliciously of roast goose, for you know it was New Year's Eve; yes, of
that she thought.

In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the
other, she seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet
she had drawn close up to her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go
home she did not venture, for she had not sold any matches and could
not bring a farthing of money: from her father she would certainly get
blows, and at home it was cold too, for above her she had only the roof,
through which the wind whistled, even though the largest cracks were
stopped up with straw and rags.

Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford
her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the
bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew
one out. "Rischt!" how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright
flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it: it was a wonderful
light. It seemed really to the little maiden as though she were sitting
before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass
ornament at top. The fire burned with such blessed influence; it warmed
so delightfully. The little girl had already stretched out her feet to
warm them too; but--the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she
had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.

She rubbed another against the wall: it burned brightly, and where the
light fell on the wall, there the wall became transparent like a
veil, so that she could see into the room. On the table was spread a
snow-white tablecloth; upon it was a splendid porcelain service, and the
roast goose was steaming famously with its stuffing of apple and dried
plums. And what was still more capital to behold was, the goose hopped
down from the dish, reeled about on the floor with knife and fork in its
breast, till it came up to the poor little girl; when--the match went
out and nothing but the thick, cold, damp wall was left behind.
She lighted another match. Now there she was sitting under the most
magnificent Christmas tree: it was still larger, and more decorated than
the one which she had seen through the glass door in the rich merchant's
house.

Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and
gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked
down upon her. The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them
when--the match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher
and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven; one fell down and
formed a long trail of fire.

"Someone is just dead!" said the little girl; for her old grandmother,
the only person who had loved her, and who was now no more, had told
her, that when a star falls, a soul ascends to God.

She drew another match against the wall: it was again light, and in the
lustre there stood the old grandmother, so bright and radiant, so mild,
and with such an expression of love.

"Grandmother!" cried the little one. "Oh, take me with you! You go
away when the match burns out; you vanish like the warm stove, like the
delicious roast goose, and like the magnificent Christmas tree!" And
she rubbed the whole bundle of matches quickly against the wall, for
she wanted to be quite sure of keeping her grandmother near her. And
the matches gave such a brilliant light that it was brighter than at
noon-day: never formerly had the grandmother been so beautiful and
so tall. She took the little maiden, on her arm, and both flew in
brightness and in joy so high, so very high, and then above was neither
cold, nor hunger, nor anxiety--they were with God.

But in the corner, at the cold hour of dawn, sat the poor girl, with
rosy cheeks and with a smiling mouth, leaning against the wall--frozen
to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and stark sat the
child there with her matches, of which one bundle had been burnt. "She
wanted to warm herself," people said. No one had the slightest suspicion
of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the
splendor in which, with her grandmother she had entered on the joys of a
new year.

Special Thanks to Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org)

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