The Little Match Girl





It was dreadfully cold, it was snowing fast, and almost dark; the

evening--the last evening of the Old Year--was drawing in. But cold and

dark as it was, a poor little girl, with bare head and feet, was still

wandering about the streets. When she left her home she had slippers on,

but they were much too large for her--indeed, really, they belonged to

her mother--and had dropped off her feet while she was running very fast

across the road, to get out of the way of two carriages. One of the

slippers was not to be found; the other had been snatched up by a little

boy, who ran off with it thinking it might serve him as a doll's cradle.






So the little girl now walked on, her bare feet quite red and blue with

the cold. She carried a small bundle of matches in her hand, and a good

many more in her tattered apron. No one had bought any of them the

livelong day--no one had given her a single penny. Trembling with cold

and hunger she crept on, the picture of sorrow; poor little child!



The snowflakes fell on her long fair hair, which curled in such pretty

ringlets over her shoulders; but she thought not of her own beauty, nor

of the cold. Lights were glimmering through every window, and the savor

of roast goose reached her from several houses. It was New Year's Eve,

and it was of this that she thought.



In a corner formed by two houses, one of which projected beyond the

other, she sat down, drawing her little feet close under her, but in

vain--she could not warm them. She dared not go home, she had sold no

matches, earned not a single penny, and perhaps her father would beat

her. Besides her home was almost as cold as the street--it was an attic;

and although the larger of the many chinks in the roof were stopped up

with straw and rags, the wind and snow often came through.






Her hands were nearly dead with cold; one little match from her bundle

would warm them, perhaps, if she dare light it. She drew one out, and

struck it against the wall. Bravo! it was a bright, warm flame, and she

held her hands over it. It was quite an illumination for that poor

little girl--nay, call it rather a magic taper--for it seemed to her as

though she were sitting before a large iron stove with brass ornaments,

so beautifully blazed the fire within! The child stretched out her feet

to warm them also. Alas! in an instant the flame had died away, the

stove vanished, the little girl sat cold and comfortless, with the

burnt match in her hand.



A second match was struck against the wall. It kindled and blazed, and

wherever its light fell the wall became transparent as a veil--the

little girl could see into the room within. She saw the table spread

with a snow-white damask cloth, whereon were ranged shining china

dishes; the roast goose, stuffed with apples and dried plums, stood at

one end, smoking hot, and--which was pleasantest of all to see-the

goose, with knife and fork still in her breast, jumped down from the

dish, and waddled along the floor right up to the poor child. Then the

match went out, and only the thick, hard wall was beside her.



She kindled a third match. Again up shot the flame. And now she was

sitting under a most beautiful Christmas tree, far larger, and far more

prettily decked out, than the one she had seen last Christmas Eve

through the glass doors of the rich merchant's house. Hundreds of wax

tapers lighted up the green branches, and tiny painted figures, such as

she had seen in the shop windows, looked down from the tree upon her.

The child stretched out her hands towards them in delight, and in that

moment the light of the match was quenched. Still, however, the

Christmas candles burned higher and higher--she beheld them beaming

like stars in heaven. One of them fell, the lights streaming behind

it like a long, fiery tail.






"Now someone is dying," said the little girl softly, for she had been

told by her old grandmother--the only person who had ever been kind to

her, and who was now dead--that whenever a star falls an immortal spirit

returns to God who gave it.



She struck yet another match against the wall. It flamed up, and,

surrounded by its light, appeared before her that same dear grandmother,

gentle and loving as always, but bright and happy as she had never

looked during her lifetime.



"Grandmother!" exclaimed the child, "Oh, take me with you! I know you

will leave me as soon as the match goes out. You will vanish like the

warm fire in the stove, like the splendid New Year's feast, like the

beautiful large Christmas tree!" And she hastily lighted all the

remaining matches in the bundle, lest her grandmother should disappear.

And the matches burned with such a blaze of splendor, that noonday could

scarcely have been brighter. Never had the good old grandmother looked

so tall and stately, so beautiful and kind. She took the little girl in

her arms, and they both flew together--joyfully and gloriously they

flew--higher and higher, till they were in that place where neither

cold, nor hunger, nor pain is ever known--they were in Paradise.



But in the cold morning hour, crouching in the corner of the wall, the

poor little girl was found--her cheeks glowing, her lips smiling--frozen

to death on the last night of the Old Year. The New Year's sun shone on

the lifeless child. Motionless she sat there with the matches in her

lap, one bundle of them quite burnt out.



"She has been trying to warm herself, poor thing!" the people said; but

no one knew of the sweet visions she had beheld, or how gloriously she

and her grandmother were celebrating their New Year's festival.





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