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The Steadfast Tin Soldier
There were once five-and-twenty tin soldiers.
They were all brothers, born of the same old tin spoon. They
shouldered their muskets and looked straight ahead of them, splendid
in their uniforms, all red and blue.
The very first thing in the world that they
heard was, "Tin soldiers!" A small boy shouted it and clapped his
hands as the lid was lifted off their box on his birthday. He
immediately set them up on the table.
All the soldiers looked exactly alike except
one. He looked a little different as he had been cast last of all.
The tin was short, so he had only one leg. But there he stood, as
steady on one leg as any of the other soldiers on their two. But
just you see, he'll be the remarkable one.
On the table with the soldiers were many other
playthings, and one that no eye could miss was a marvelous castle of
cardboard. It had little windows through which you could look right
inside it. And in front of the castle were miniature trees around a
little mirror supposed to represent a lake. The wax swans that swam
on its surface were reflected in the mirror. All this was very
pretty but prettiest of all was the little lady who stood in the
open doorway of the castle. Though she was a paper doll, she wore a
dress of the fluffiest gauze. A tiny blue ribbon went over her
shoulder for a scarf, and in the middle of it shone a spangle that
was as big as her face. The little lady held out both her arms, as a
ballet dancer does, and one leg was lifted so high behind her that
the tin soldier couldn't see it at all, and he supposed she must
have only one leg, as he did.
"That would be a wife for me," he thought.
"But maybe she's too grand. She lives in a castle. I have only a
box, with four-and-twenty roommates to share it. That's no place for
her. But I must try to make her acquaintance." Still as stiff as
when he stood at attention, he lay down on the table behind a
snuffbox, where he could admire the dainty little dancer who kept
standing on one leg without ever losing her balance.
When the evening came the other tin soldiers
were put away in their box, and the people of the house went to bed.
Now the toys began to play among themselves at visits, and battles,
and at giving balls. The tin soldiers rattled about in their box,
for they wanted to play too, but they could not get the lid open.
The nutcracker turned somersaults, and the slate pencil squeaked out
jokes on the slate. The toys made such a noise that they woke up the
canary bird, who made them a speech, all in verse. The only two who
stayed still were the tin soldier and the little dancer. Without
ever swerving from the tip of one toe, she held out her arms to him,
and the tin soldier was just as steadfast on his one leg. Not once
did he take his eyes off her.
Then the clock struck twelve and - clack! - up
popped the lid of the snuffbox. But there was no snuff in it, no-out
bounced a little black bogey, a jack-in-the-box.
"Tin soldier," he said. "Will you please keep
your eyes to yourself?" The tin soldier pretended not to hear.
The bogey said, "Just you wait till tomorrow."
But when morning came, and the children got
up, the soldier was set on the window ledge. And whether the bogey
did it, or there was a gust of wind, all of a sudden the window flew
open and the soldier pitched out headlong from the third floor. He
fell at breathtaking speed and landed cap first, with his bayonet
buried between the paving stones and his one leg stuck straight in
the air. The housemaid and the little boy ran down to look for him
and, though they nearly stepped on the tin soldier, they walked
right past without seeing him. If the soldier had called, "Here I
am!" they would surely have found him, but he thought it
contemptible to raise an uproar while he was wearing his uniform.
Soon it began to rain. The drops fell faster
and faster, until they came down by the bucketful. As soon as the
rain let up, along came two young rapscallions.
"Hi, look!" one of them said, "there's a tin
soldier. Let's send him sailing."
They made a boat out of newspaper, put the tin
soldier in the middle of it, and away he went down the gutter with
the two young rapscallions running beside him and clapping their
hands. High heavens! How the waves splashed, and how fast the water
ran down the gutter. Don't forget that it had just been raining by
the bucketful. The paper boat pitched, and tossed, and sometimes it
whirled about so rapidly that it made the soldier's head spin. But
he stood as steady as ever. Never once flinching, he kept his eyes
front, and carried his gun shoulder-high. Suddenly the boat rushed
under a long plank where the gutter was boarded over. It was as dark
as the soldier's own box.
"Where can I be going?" the soldier wondered.
"This must be that black bogey's revenge. Ah! if only I had the
little lady with me, it could be twice as dark here for all that I
Out popped a great water rat who lived under
the gutter plank.
"Have you a passport?" said the rat. "Hand it
The soldier kept quiet and held his musket
tighter. On rushed the boat, and the rat came right after it,
gnashing his teeth as he called to the sticks and straws:
"Halt him! Stop him! He didn't pay his toll.
He hasn't shown his passport. "But the current ran stronger and
stronger. The soldier could see daylight ahead where the board
ended, but he also heard a roar that would frighten the bravest of
us. Hold on! Right at the end of that gutter plank the water poured
into the great canal. It was as dangerous to him as a waterfall
would be to us.
He was so near it he could not possibly stop.
The boat plunged into the whirlpool. The poor tin soldier stood as
staunch as he could, and no one can say that he so much as blinked
an eye. Thrice and again the boat spun around. It filled to the top
- and was bound to sink. The water was up to his neck and still the
boat went down, deeper, deeper, deeper, and the paper got soft and
limp. Then the water rushed over his head. He thought of the pretty
little dancer whom he'd never see again, and in his ears rang an
old, old song:
"Farewell, farewell, O warrior brave,
Nobody can from Death thee save."
And now the paper boat broke beneath him, and
the soldier sank right through. And just at that moment he was
swallowed by a most enormous fish.
My! how dark it was inside that fish. It was
darker than under the gutter-plank and it was so cramped, but the
tin soldier still was staunch. He lay there full length, soldier
fashion, with musket to shoulder.
Then the fish flopped and floundered in a most
unaccountable way. Finally it was perfectly still, and after a while
something struck through him like a flash of lightning. The tin
soldier saw daylight again, and he heard a voice say, "The Tin
Soldier!" The fish had been caught, carried to market, bought, and
brought to a kitchen where the cook cut him open with her big knife.
She picked the soldier up bodily between her
two fingers, and carried him off upstairs. Everyone wanted to see
this remarkable traveler who had traveled about in a fish's stomach,
but the tin soldier took no pride in it. They put him on the table
and-lo and behold, what curious things can happen in this
world-there he was, back in the same room as before. He saw the same
children, the same toys were on the table, and there was the same
fine castle with the pretty little dancer. She still balanced on one
leg, with the other raised high. She too was steadfast. That touched
the soldier so deeply that he would have cried tin tears, only
soldiers never cry. He looked at her, and she looked at him, and
never a word was said. Just as things were going so nicely for them,
one of the little boys snatched up the tin soldier and threw him
into the stove. He did it for no reason at all. That black bogey in
the snuffbox must have put him up to it.
The tin soldier stood there dressed in flames.
He felt a terrible heat, but whether it came from the flames or from
his love he didn't know. He'd lost his splendid colors, maybe from
his hard journey, maybe from grief, nobody can say.
He looked at the little lady, and she looked
at him, and he felt himself melting. But still he stood steadfast,
with his musket held trim on his shoulder.
Then the door blew open. A puff of wind struck
the dancer. She flew like a sylph, straight into the fire with the
soldier, blazed up in a flash, and was gone. The tin soldier melted,
all in a lump. The next day, when a servant took up the ashes she
found him in the shape of a little tin heart. But of the pretty
dancer nothing was left except her spangle, and it was burned as
black as a coal.