The Little Match Girl

By Hans Christian Andersen

Illustrated by William Penhallow Henderson

The Little Match Girl selling her matches in the street

It was terribly cold; it snowed and was almost dark on this, the last evening of the year. In the cold and darkness, a poor little girl, with bare head and naked feet, went along the streets. When she left home, it is true, she had had slippers on, but what was the use of that? They were very large slippers; her mother had worn them till then, so big were they. So the little girl lost them as she sped across the street, to get out of the way of two carts driving furiously along. One slipper was not to be found again, and a boy had caught up the other and run away with it. So the little girl had to walk with naked feet, which were red and blue with cold. She carried a lot of matches in a red apron, and a box of them in her hand. No one had bought anything of her the live-long day; no one had given her a penny.

Shivering with cold and hunger, she crept along, poor little thing, a picture of misery.

The snow-flakes covered her beautiful fair hair, which fell in long tresses about her neck: but she did not think of that now. Lights were shining in all the windows, and there was a tempting smell of roast goose, for it was New Year’s Eve. Yes, she was thinking of that.

In a corner formed by two houses, one of which projected beyond the other, she crouched down in a little heap. Although she had drawn her feet up under her, she became colder and colder; she dared not go home, for she had not sold any matches nor earned a single penny.

The Little Match Girl selling her matches in the street

She would certainly be beaten by her father, and it was cold at home, too; they had only the roof above them, through which the wind whistled, although the largest cracks had been stopped up with straw and rags.

Her hands were almost numb with cold. One little match might do her good, if she dared take only one out of the box, strike it on the wall and warm her fingers. She took one out and lit it. How it sputtered and burned!

It was a warm, bright flame, like a little candle, when she held her hands over it; it was a wonderful little light, and it really seemed to the child as though she was sitting in front of a great iron stove with polished brass feet and brass ornaments. How the fire burned up, and how nicely it warmed one! The little girl was already stretching out her feet to warm these too, when out went the little flame, the stove vanished, and she had only the remains of the burnt match in her hand.

She struck a second one on the wall; it threw a light, and where this fell upon the wall, the latter became transparent, like a veil; she could see right into the room. A white table-cloth was spread upon the table, which was decked with shining china dishes, and there was a glorious smell of roast goose stuffed with apples and dried plums. And what pleased the poor little girl more than all was that the goose hopped down from the dish, and with a knife and fork sticking in its breast, came waddling across the floor straight up to her. Just at that moment out went the match, and only the thick, damp, cold wall remained.

So she lighted another match, and at once she sat under the beautiful Christmas tree; it was much larger and better dressed than the one she had seen through the glass doors at the rich merchant’s. The green boughs were lit up with thousands of candles, and gaily-painted figures, like those in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little girl stretched her hands out towards them and out went the match. The Christmas candles rose higher and higher till they were only the stars in the sky; one of them fell, leaving a long fiery trail behind it.

“Now, some one is dying,” thought the little girl, for she had been told by her old grandmother, the only person she had ever loved, and who was now dead, that when a star falls a soul goes up to heaven.

She struck another match on the wall; it was alight once more, and before her stood her old grandmother, all dazzling and bright, and looking very kind and loving.

“Grandmother!” cried the little girl. “Oh! take me with you. I know that you will go away when the match is burnt out; you will vanish like the warm stove, like the beautiful roast goose, and the large and splendid Christmas-tree.” And she quickly lighted the whole box of matches, for she did not wish to let her grandmother go. The matches burned with such a blaze that it was lighter than day, and the old grandmother had never appeared so beautiful nor so tall before. Taking the little girl in her arms, she flew up with her, high, endlessly high, above the earth; and there they knew neither cold, nor hunger, nor sorrow for they were with God.

But in the cold dawn, the poor little girl was still sitting with red cheeks and a smile upon her lips in the corner, leaning against the wall: frozen to death on the last evening of the Old Year. The New Year’s sun shone on the little body. The child sat up stiffly, holding her matches, of which a box had been burnt. “She must have tried to warm herself,” some one said. No one knew what beautiful things she had seen, nor into what glory she had entered with her grandmother on the joyous New Year.

From Stories & Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Andersen, London: George Allen, 1893.

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