T HERE were once five-and-twenty tin soldiers who were all brothers, for they had been made out of the same old tin spoon. They shouldered arms and looked straight before them. They wore splendid red and blue uniforms. They were given to a little boy for a birthday present, and he stood at a table to set them up.
The soldiers were all exactly alike, except one, who had only one leg; he had been left until the last, and there had not been enough of the melted tin to finish him. But he stood just as firmly on one leg as the others did on two, and on that account he was very noticeable.
The table on which the tin soldiers stood was covered with other playthings, but the prettiest was a little paper castle. Through the small windows the rooms could be seen. In front of the castle a number of little trees stood around a bit of looking-glass, which was meant for a lake. Swans, made of wax, swam on the lake. All this was very pretty, but the prettiest of all was a tiny little lady, who stood at the open door of the castle. She, too, was made of paper, and she wore a dress of the thinnest muslin, with a narrow blue ribbon over her shoulders, just like a scarf. In the middle of the dress was a glittering tinsel rose, as large as her whole face.
The little lady was a dancer, and she stretched out both her arms and raised one of her legs so high that the tin soldier could not see it at all, and he thought that she, too, had only one leg.
"That is the wife for me," he thought; "yet she is too grand, and lives in a castle, while I have only a box to live in—five-and-twenty of us all together; that is no place for her. Still, I must try to make her acquaintance."
When evening came the people of the house went to bed. Then the playthings began to visit together and to give balls. The tin soldiers rattled in their box. The pencil jumped about the table. There was such a noise that the canary woke up and began to talk. But the tin soldier and the dancer remained in their places. She stood on the tip of her toe, with her arms outstretched, as firmly as he upon his one leg. He never took his eyes from her a minute.
The clock struck twelve, and, with a bounce, out jumped the little black goblin from the snuff-box.
"Tin soldier," said the goblin, "do not wish for what does not belong to you." But the tin soldier pretended not to hear.
When the children came in the morning they placed the tin soldier on the window. Now, whether it was the goblin that did it, or the draught, the window blew open, and out fell the tin soldier, heels over head, into the street beneath. It was a terrible fall; for he came head downward, with his one leg up in the air. The little boy went down directly to look for him. If the tin soldier had called out, "Here I am," it would have been all right; but he was too proud to call for help while he wore a uniform.
It began to rain, and the drops fell fast until there was a heavy shower. Two boys passed by, and they said: "Look, here is a tin soldier! He ought to have a boat to sail in."
So they made a boat out of newspaper, and sent the tin soldier sailing down the gutter, while they ran along beside and clapped their hands.
Good gracious! What large waves arose in the gutter! The paper boat rocked up and down, and the tin soldier trembled, but he remained firm. He looked straight before him and shouldered his musket. Suddenly the boat shot under a bridge which crossed the drain, and it was as dark as the tin soldier's box.
"Where am I going?" he thought. "If the little lady were only here with me in the boat I should not care for any darkness."
Suddenly there appeared a great water rat who lived in the drain.
"Have you a passport?" asked the rat. "Give it to me at once." But the tin soldier remained silent, and held his musket tighter.
The boat sailed on, and the rat followed it. He gnashed his teeth and called out: "Stop him, stop him! He has not paid toll, and has not shown his pass."
But the stream rushed on stronger and stronger. The tin soldier could see daylight where the arch ended. He heard a terrible roaring where the gutter emptied into the drain. He was too close to it to stop. The boat rushed in, and the poor tin soldier could only hold himself as stiffly as possible—to show that he was not afraid. The boat whirled around and filled with water to the very edge; nothing could save it from sinking. At last the water closed over the soldier's head, the paper boat fell to pieces, and the soldier sank into the water and was immediately swallowed by a great fish!
How dark it was inside the fish! Darker than in the drain and narrower, too, but the tin soldier remained firm, and lay at full length, shouldering his musket.
The fish swam to and fro, making the most terrible movements, and, at last, lay still.
A voice cried out: "I declare, here is the tin soldier!"
The fish had been caught, taken to market, and sold to the cook, who had cut him open on the kitchen table. She picked up the soldier and held him by the waist between her thumb and finger, and carried him into another room. The people were all anxious to see this tin soldier who had traveled about inside of a fish, but he was not at all proud. They set him on the table—there he was in the very same room from the window of which he had fallen! There were the same children; the same playthings, and the fine castle with the pretty little dancer at the door. She still balanced herself on one leg and held up the other. She was as firm as himself. The tin soldier nearly wept tin tears to see her, but he kept them back.
Presently one of the little boys took up the tin soldier and threw him into the stove. He had no reason for doing this, so it must have been the fault of the black goblin.
The flames lighted up the tin soldier; the heat was terrible. The bright colors of his uniform were faded—whether from his journey or from the effects of his sorrow no one could tell. He looked at the little lady and she looked at him. He felt himself melting away, but he still remained firm with the gun on his shoulder.
Suddenly a draught of air caught the little dancer. She fluttered like a sylph right into the stove by the side of the little tin soldier, was instantly in flames and gone. The tin soldier melted down into a lump, and the next morning when the servant took the ashes out of the stove she found him in the shape of a little tin heart. Of the little dancer nothing remained but the tinsel rose, which was burned black as a cinder.
— Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen|
by Charles Eliot Norton, "Heart of Oak Books," III