English short stories ; Fables for Children
Little match girl
It was new year's Eve, and the weather was bitterly cold. The sky was pitch black, and snow fell in large flaks. In the midst of the blizzard, a little girl staggered down the street, her head and feet bare. When she had left home, she had been wearing old slippers, but as she was crossing the road, she had been in such a hurry, that she had lost both of them. One of them had fallen right under the wheels of a large carriage, and the other had been grabbed by an urchin who wanted to use it as a boat.
The little girl staggered along her naked feet blue with cold. In her torn and dirty apron, she carried a large bundle of matches. She held a matchbox in her hand. She had a very bad day. No one had bought a single match from her. She was cold and hungry and was frightened to go home, because her father would beat her when he discovered she had not earned a penny. The snow continued to fall and the flakes looked like swan feathers in her pretty, curly, blonde hair. But what did she care about having lovely hair? All she knew was that on New Year's Eve all other little children and their parents enjoyed a big celebration feast.
The little girl found a spot in between two houses where she sat down, becoming colder and more frozen. What was the point of going home where her father would be angry with her? In any case, it was almost as cold inside her home as outside, the wind whistled so sharply through the large cracks in the walls. The little girl could hardly move, her fingers were so stiff with cold. She told herself that if she lit one match, just one, it would warm her up. So she struck a match. There was a joyful crackling and the flame rose, warm and bright in her hand. The little girl had a sudden vision that she was sitting in front of a large copper stove. She stretched out her feet to warm them.
Too late! The stove had disappeared. All that remained was the blackened stump of a match in her fingers.
The little girl decided to strike a second match. This time, the flame was even brighter and more beautiful. The little girl saw a room containing a table covered with beautiful china. A large roast goose, all brown and plump, lay on a handsome platter. Then, suddenly, the goose rolled off the table and disappeared. All that lay before the child was the cold, gray street. It was unbearable.
The little girl desperately wanted to find the copper stove that had crackled so joyfully and the tasty goose that had smelled so delicious...
The little match seller struck a third match and found herself transported immediately to a beautiful house that contained a shining Christmas tree, covered with glittering garlands and brightly colored balls. Fruit and toys hung from the branches. Children were dancing in a ring around the tree, and they took her hand and brought her into the circle.
The little girls wanted to join in the dancing, but suddenly she was outside in the cold again. The snow had stopped and the stars shone over the dark, deserted street. A few passers by, in a hurry to get back to their friends and family, rushed past without seeing the little girl, who huddled between two houses and stared at the sky.
A shooting star left a long and brilliant trail. The little girl knew that this meant someone was about to die. Her old grandmother, the only person who had ever been kind to her, had taught her this: if a star falls, it means that a soul has gone to God. She struck another match and this time her grandmother appeared to her, looking as she used to, with her sweet and gentle expression.
''Grandmother take me away!'' begged the little match girl. ''Do not leave me alone. I know that when the match goes out you will disappear just like everything else I have seen until now. Like the fire that burned so brightly, like the goose that smelled so delicious, like the Christmas tree, you will fly away and I shall be left all alone in the dark street without anyone to look after me.'' Terrified at the idea of being abandoned once again, the little girl lit not one solitary match, but burned the whole box. Her grandmother reappeared, looking so beautiful in her black velvet gown, that she wore only on special occasions.
The old lady smiled tenderly at her granddaughter and took her in her arms. Then they flew away into the sky amid the brilliant glow of the matches, and were soon in heaven. The dawn broke on New Year's Day. A passer by discovered the barefoot little girl with curly hair, lying dead in the snow. All around her lay spent matches.