Girl Who Trod on the Loaf by Hans Christian Andersen
THERE was once a girl who trod on a loaf to avoid soiling her shoesand themisfortunes that happened to her in consequence are well known. Her name wasInge; she was a poor childbut proud and presumingand with a bad and crueldisposition. When quite a little child she would delight in catching fliesandtearing off their wingsso as to make creeping things of them. When oldershewould take cockchafers and beetlesand stick pins through them. Then she pusheda green leafor a little scrap of paper towards their feetand when the poorcreatures would seize it and hold it fastand turn over and over in theirstruggles to get free from the pinshe would say"The cockchafer isreading; see how he turns over the leaf." She grew worse instead of betterwith yearsandunfortunatelyshe was prettywhich caused her to be excusedwhen she should have been sharply reproved.
"Your headstrong will requires severity to conquer it" her motheroften said to her. "As a little child you used to trample on my apronbutone day I fear you will trample on my heart." Andalas! this fear wasrealized.
Inge was taken to the house of some rich peoplewho lived at a distanceandwho treated her as their own childand dressed her so fine that her pride andarrogance increased.
When she had been there about a yearher patroness said to her"Youought to gofor onceand see your parentsInge."
So Inge started to go and visit her parents; but she only wanted to showherself in her native placethat the people might see how fine she was. Shereached the entrance of the villageand saw the young laboring men and maidensstanding together chattingand her own mother amongst them. Inge's mother wassitting on a stone to restwith a fagot of sticks lying before herwhich shehad picked up in the wood. Then Inge turned back; she who was so finely dressedshe felt ashamed of her mothera poorly clad womanwho picked up wood in theforest. She did not turn back out of pity for her mother's povertybut frompride.
Another half-year went byand her mistress said"you ought to go homeagainand visit your parentsIngeand I will give you a large wheaten loaf totake to themthey will be glad to see youI am sure."
So Inge put on her best clothesand her new shoesdrew her dress up aroundherand set outstepping very carefullythat she might be clean and neatabout the feetand there was nothing wrong in doing so. But when she came tothe place where the footpath led across the moorshe found small pools ofwaterand a great deal of mudso she threw the loaf into the mudand trodupon itthat she might pass without wetting her feet. But as she stood with onefoot on the loaf and the other lifted up to step forwardthe loaf began to sinkunder herlower and lowertill she disappeared altogetherand only a fewbubbles on the surface of the muddy pool remained to show where she had sunk.And this is the story.
But where did Inge go? She sank into the groundand went down to the MarshWomanwho is always brewing there.
The Marsh Woman is related to the elf maidenswho are well-knownfor songsare sung and pictures painted about them. But of the Marsh Woman nothing isknownexcepting that when a mist arises from the meadowsin summer timeit isbecause she is brewing beneath them. To the Marsh Woman's brewery Inge sunk downto a place which no one can endure for long. A heap of mud is a palace comparedwith the Marsh Woman's brewery; and as Inge fell she shuddered in every limband soon became cold and stiff as marble. Her foot was still fastened to theloafwhich bowed her down as a golden ear of corn bends the stem.
An evil spirit soon took possession of Ingeand carried her to a still worseplacein which she saw crowds of unhappy peoplewaiting in a state of agonyfor the gates of mercy to be opened to themand in every heart was a miserableand eternal feeling of unrest. It would take too much time to describe thevarious tortures these people sufferedbut Inge's punishment consisted instanding there as a statuewith her foot fastened to the loaf. She could moveher eyes aboutand see all the misery around herbut she could not turn herhead; and when she saw the people looking at her she thought they were admiringher pretty face and fine clothesfor she was still vain and proud. But she hadforgotten how soiled her clothes had become while in the Marsh Woman's breweryand that they were covered with mud; a snake had also fastened itself in herhairand hung down her backwhile from each fold in her dress a great toadpeeped out and croaked like an asthmatic poodle. Worse than all was the terriblehunger that tormented herand she could not stoop to break off a piece of theloaf on which she stood. No; her back was too stiffand her whole body like apillar of stone. And then came creeping over her face and eyes flies withoutwings; she winked and blinkedbut they could not fly awayfor their wings hadbeen pulled off; thisadded to the hunger she feltwas horrible torture.
"If this lasts much longer" she said"I shall not be able tobear it." But it did lastand she had to bear itwithout being able tohelp herself.
A tearfollowed by many scalding tearsfell upon her headand rolled overher face and neckdown to the loaf on which she stood. Who could be weeping forInge? She had a mother in the world stilland the tears of sorrow which amother sheds for her child will always find their way to the child's heartbutthey often increase the torment instead of being a relief. And Inge could hearall that was said about her in the world she had leftand every one seemedcruel to her. The sin she had committed in treading on the loaf was known onearthfor she had been seen by the cowherd from the hillwhen she was crossingthe marsh and had disappeared.
When her mother wept and exclaimed"AhInge! what grief thou hastcaused thy mother" she would say"Oh that I had never been born! Mymother's tears are useless now."
And then the words of the kind people who had adopted her came to her earswhen they said"Inge was a sinful girlwho did not value the gifts of Godbut trampled them under her feet."
"Ah" thought Inge"they should have punished meand drivenall my naughty tempers out of me."
A song was made about "The girl who trod on a loaf to keep her shoesfrom being soiled" and this song was sung everywhere. The story of her sinwas also told to the little childrenand they called her "wicked Inge"and said she was so naughty that she ought to be punished. Inge heard all thisand her heart became hardened and full of bitterness.
But one daywhile hunger and grief were gnawing in her hollow framesheheard a littleinnocent childwhile listening to the tale of the vainhaughtyIngeburst into tears and exclaim"But will she never come up again?"
And she heard the reply"Noshe will never come up again."
"But if she were to say she was sorryand ask pardonand promise neverto do so again?" asked the little one.
"Yesthen she might come; but she will not beg pardon" was theanswer.
"OhI wish she would!" said the childwho was quite unhappy aboutit. "I should be so glad. I would give up my doll and all my playthingsifshe could only come here again. Poor Inge! it is so dreadful for her."
These pitying words penetrated to Inge's inmost heartand seemed to do hergood. It was the first time any one had said"Poor Inge!" withoutsaying something about her faults. A little innocent child was weepingandpraying for mercy for her. It made her feel quite strangeand she would gladlyhave wept herselfand it added to her torment to find she could not do so. Andwhile she thus suffered in a place where nothing changedyears passed away onearthand she heard her name less frequently mentioned. But one day a sighreached her earand the words"Inge! Inge! what a grief thou hast been tome! I said it would be so." It was the last sigh of her dying mother.
After thisInge heard her kind mistress say"Ahpoor Inge! shall Iever see thee again? Perhaps I mayfor we know not what may happen in thefuture." But Inge knew right well that her mistress would never come tothat dreadful place.
Time-passed- a long bitter time- then Inge heard her name pronounced oncemoreand saw what seemed two bright stars shining above her. They were twogentle eyes closing on earth. Many years had passed since the little girl hadlamented and wept about "poor Inge." That child was now an old womanwhom God was taking to Himself. In the last hour of existence the events of awhole life often appear before us; and this hour the old woman remembered howwhen a childshe had shed tears over the story of Ingeand she prayed for hernow. As the eyes of the old woman closed to earththe eyes of the soul openedupon the hidden things of eternityand then shein whose last thoughts Ingehad been so vividly presentsaw how deeply the poor girl had sunk. She burstinto tears at the sightand in heavenas she had done when a little child onearthshe wept and prayed for poor Inge. Her tears and her prayers echoedthrough the dark void that surrounded the tormented captive souland theunexpected mercy was obtained for it through an angel's tears. As in thoughtInge seemed to act over again every sin she had committed on earthshe trembledand tears she had never yet been able to weep rushed to her eyes. It seemedimpossible that the gates of mercy could ever be opened to her; but while sheacknowledged this in deep penitencea beam of radiant light shot suddenly intothe depths upon her. More powerful than the sunbeam that dissolves the man ofsnow which the children have raisedmore quickly than the snowflake melts andbecomes a drop of water on the warm lips of a childwas the stony form of Ingechangedand as a little bird she soaredwith the speed of lightningupward tothe world of mortals. A bird that felt timid and shy to all things around itthat seemed to shrink with shame from meeting any living creatureand hurriedlysought to conceal itself in a dark corner of an old ruined wall; there it satcowering and unable to utter a soundfor it was voiceless. Yet how quickly thelittle bird discovered the beauty of everything around it. The sweetfresh air;the soft radiance of the moonas its light spread over the earth; the fragrancewhich exhaled from bush and treemade it feel happy as it sat there clothed inits freshbright plumage. All creation seemed to speak of beneficence and love.The bird wanted to give utterance to thoughts that stirred in his breastas thecuckoo and the nightingale in the springbut it could not. Yet in heaven can beheard the song of praiseeven from a worm; and the notes trembling in thebreast of the bird were as audible to Heaven even as the psalms of David beforethey had fashioned themselves into words and song.
Christmas-time drew nearand a peasant who dwelt close by the old wall stuckup a pole with some ears of corn fastened to the topthat the birds of heavenmight have feastand rejoice in the happyblessed time. And on Christmasmorning the sun arose and shone upon the ears of cornwhich were quicklysurrounded by a number of twittering birds. Thenfrom a hole in the wallgushed forth in song the swelling thoughts of the bird as he issued from hishiding place to perform his first good deed on earth- and in heaven it was wellknown who that bird was.
The winter was very hard; the ponds were covered with iceand there was verylittle food for either the beasts of the field or the birds of the air. Ourlittle bird flew away into the public roadsand found here and therein theruts of the sledgesa grain of cornand at the halting places some crumbs. Ofthese he ate only a fewbut he called around him the other birds and the hungrysparrowsthat they too might have food. He flew into the townsand lookedaboutand wherever a kind hand had strewed bread on the window-sill for thebirdshe only ate a single crumb himselfand gave all the rest to the rest ofthe other birds. In the course of the winter the bird had in this way collectedmany crumbs and given them to other birdstill they equalled the weight of theloaf on which Inge had trod to keep her shoes clean; and when the lastbread-crumb had been found and giventhe gray wings of the bird became whiteand spread themselves out for flight.
"Seeyonder is a sea-gull!" cried the childrenwhen they saw thewhite birdas it dived into the seaand rose again into the clear sunlightwhite and glittering. But no one could tell whither it went then although somedeclared it flew straight to the sun. - -