The Constant Tin Soldier
There were once five-and-twenty tin soldiers; they were all brothers, for they had all been born of one old tin spoon. They held guns, and looked straight before them; their uniform was red and blue, and very fine. The first thing they had heard in the world, when the lid was taken off the box, in which they lay, had been the words “Tin soldiers!” a little boy spoke up and clapped his hands. The soldiers had been given to him, for it was his birthday; and now he put them on the table, each soldier was exactly like the rest; but one of them was a little different; he had one leg because he had been cast last of all, and there had not been enough tin to finish him; but he stood as firmly upon his one leg as the others on their two; and it was just this soldier who became worth talking about.
On the table on which they had been placed stood many other playthings, but the toy that most took the eye was a neat castle of cardboard. Through the little windows one could see straight into the hall. Outside stood some small trees and a little looking-glass, which was made to look like a clear lake. Swans of wax swam on this lake, and looked at themselves in it. This was all very pretty; but the prettiest of all was a little lady, who stood at the open door of the castle; she was cut out in paper, but she had a dress of the clearest gauze, and a little narrow blue ribbon over her shoulders, that looked like a scarf; and in the middle of this ribbon was a shining tinsel rose, as big as her whole face. The little lady stretched out both her arms, for she was a dancer, and then she lifted one foot so high in the air that the Tin Soldier could not see it at all, and thought that, like himself, she had but one leg.
“That would be the wife for me,” thought he; “but she is very grand. She lives in a castle, and I have only a box, and there are five-and-twenty of us in that. It is no place for her. But I must try to make friends with her.”
And then he lay down at full length behind a snuff-box which was on the table; there he could easily watch the little dainty lady, who still stood on one leg without losing her balance.
When the evening came, all the tin soldiers were put in their box, and the people in the house went to bed. Now the toys began to play at “visiting,” and at “war,” and “giving balls.” The tin soldiers rattled in their box, for they wanted to join, but could not lift the lid. The Nut-cracker went head over heels, and the Pencil played games on the table; there was so much noise that the Canary woke up, and began to speak too, and even in verse. The only two who did not stir from their places were the Tin Soldier and the little Dancer; she stood straight up on the point of one of her toes, and stretched out both her arms, and he was just as firm on his one leg; and he never turned his eyes away from her.
Now the clock struck twelve—and, bounce! the lid flew off the snuff-box; but there was not snuff in it, but a little black troll; you see, it was a Jack-in-the-box.
“Tin Soldier,” said the Troll; “keep your eyes to yourself.”
But the Tin Soldier made as if he did not hear him.
“Just you wait till to-morrow!” said the Troll.
But when the morning came, and the children got up, the Tin Soldier was placed in the window; and whether it was the Troll or the draught that did it, all at once the window flew open, and the Soldier fell, head over heels, out of the third story. That was a terrible journey! He put his leg straight up, and came down so that he stood on his head, and his bayonet between the pavings-stones.
The servant-maid and the little boy came down at once to look for him, but though they almost trod upon him they could not see him. If the Soldier had cried out, “Here I am!” they would have found him; but he did not think it proper to call out loudly, because he was in his soldier clothes.
Now it began to rain; each drop fell faster than the other, and at last it came down in a full stream. When the rain was past, two street boys came by.
“Just look!” said one of them, “there lies a tin soldier. He shall have a sail.”
And so they made a boat out of a newspaper, and put the Tin Soldier in the middle of it, and he sailed down the gutter; now the two boys ran beside him and clapped their hands. Mercy on us! how the waves rose in that gutter, and how fast the stream ran! But then it had been a heavy rain. The paper boat rocked up and down, and sometimes turned round so quickly that the Tin Soldier trembled; but he was firm, and never moved a muscle, but looked straight before him, and carried his gun erect.
From Stories, Hans Christian Andersen.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1891.