The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf

Author: Andersen Hans Christian | Genre: Tale | Year: | Catalogue: Global database Все варианты сказки на сайте

There was once a girl who trod on a loaf to avoid soiling her shoes, and the misfortunes
that happened to her in consequence are well known. Her name was Inge; she was
a poor child, but proud and presuming, and with a bad and cruel disposition. When
quite a little child she would delight in catching flies, and tearing off their
wings, so as to make creeping things of them. When older, she would take cockchafers
and beetles, and stick pins through them. Then she pushed a green leaf, or a little
scrap of paper towards their feet, and when the poor creatures would seize it
and hold it fast, and turn over and over in their struggles to get free from the
pin, she would say, “The cockchafer is reading; see how he turns over the leaf.”
She grew worse instead of better with years, and, unfortunately, she was pretty,
which caused her to be excused, when she should have been sharply reproved.

“Your headstrong will requires severity to conquer it,” her mother often said
to her. “As a little child you used to trample on my apron, but one day I fear
you will trample on my heart.” And, alas! this fear was realized.

Inge was taken to the house of some rich people, who lived at a distance, and
who treated her as their own child, and dressed her so fine that her pride and
arrogance increased.

When she had been there about a year, her patroness said to her, “You ought
to go, for once, and see your parents, Inge.”

So Inge started to go and visit her parents; but she only wanted to show herself
in her native place, that the people might see how fine she was. She reached
the entrance of the village, and saw the young laboring men and maidens standing
together chatting, and her own mother amongst them. Inge’s mother was sitting
on a stone to rest, with a fagot of sticks lying before her, which she had picked
up in the wood. Then Inge turned back; she who was so finely dressed she felt
ashamed of her mother, a poorly clad woman, who picked up wood in the forest.
She did not turn back out of pity for her mother’s poverty, but from pride.

Another half-year went by, and her mistress said, “you ought to go home again,
and visit your parents, Inge, and I will give you a large wheaten loaf to take
to them, they will be glad to see you, I am sure.”

  • So Inge put on her best clothes, and her new shoes, drew her dress up around
    her, and set out, stepping very carefully, that she might be clean and neat
    about the feet, and there was nothing wrong in doing so. But when she came to
    the place where the footpath led across the moor, she found small pools of water,
    and a great deal of mud, so she threw the loaf into the mud, and trod upon it,
    that she might pass without wetting her feet. But as she stood with one foot
    on the loaf and the other lifted up to step forward, the loaf began to sink
    under her, lower and lower, till she disappeared altogether, and only a few
    bubbles 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 ground, and went down to the Marsh
    Woman, who is always brewing there.

    The Marsh Woman is related to the elf maidens, who are well-known, for songs
    are sung and pictures painted about them. But of the Marsh Woman nothing is
    known, excepting that when a mist arises from the meadows, in summer time, it
    is because she is brewing beneath them. To the Marsh Woman’s brewery Inge sunk
    down to a place which no one can endure for long. A heap of mud is a palace
    compared with the Marsh Woman’s brewery; and as Inge fell she shuddered in every
    limb, and soon became cold and stiff as marble. Her foot was still fastened
    to the loaf, which bowed her down as a golden ear of corn bends the stem.

    An evil spirit soon took possession of Inge, and carried her to a still worse
    place, in which she saw crowds of unhappy people, waiting in a state of agony
    for the gates of mercy to be opened to them, and in every heart was a miserable
    and eternal feeling of unrest. It would take too much time to describe the various
    tortures these people suffered, but Inge’s punishment consisted in standing
    there as a statue, with her foot fastened to the loaf. She could move her eyes
    about, and see all the misery around her, but she could not turn her head; and
    when she saw the people looking at her she thought they were admiring her pretty
    face and fine clothes, for she was still vain and proud. But she had forgotten
    how soiled her clothes had become while in the Marsh Woman’s brewery, and that
    they were covered with mud; a snake had also fastened itself in her hair, and
    hung down her back, while from each fold in her dress a great toad peeped out
    and croaked like an asthmatic poodle. Worse than all was the terrible hunger
    that tormented her, and she could not stoop to break off a piece of the loaf
    on which she stood. No; her back was too stiff, and her whole body like a pillar
    of stone. And then came creeping over her face and eyes flies without wings;
    she winked and blinked, but they could not fly away, for their wings had been
    pulled off; this, added to the hunger she felt, was horrible torture.

    “If this lasts much longer,” she said, “I shall not be able to bear it.” But
    it did last, and she had to bear it, without being able to help herself.

    A tear, followed by many scalding tears, fell upon her head, and rolled over
    her face and neck, down to the loaf on which she stood. Who could be weeping
    for Inge? She had a mother in the world still, and the tears of sorrow which
    a mother sheds for her child will always find their way to the child’s heart,
    but they often increase the torment instead of being a relief. And Inge could
    hear all that was said about her in the world she had left, and every one seemed
    cruel to her. The sin she had committed in treading on the loaf was known on
    earth, for she had been seen by the cowherd from the hill, when she was crossing
    the marsh and had disappeared.

    When her mother wept and exclaimed, “Ah, Inge! what grief thou hast caused
    thy mother” she would say, “Oh that I had never been born! My mother’s tears
    are useless now.”

    And then the words of the kind people who had adopted her came to her ears,
    when they said, “Inge was a sinful girl, who did not value the gifts of God,
    but trampled them under her feet.”

    “Ah,” thought Inge, “they should have punished me, and driven all my naughty
    tempers out of me.”

    A song was made about “The girl who trod on a loaf to keep her shoes from being
    soiled,” and this song was sung everywhere. The story of her sin was also told
    to the little children, and they called her “wicked Inge,” and said she was
    so naughty that she ought to be punished. Inge heard all this, and her heart
    became hardened and full of bitterness.

    But one day, while hunger and grief were gnawing in her hollow frame, she heard
    a little, innocent child, while listening to the tale of the vain, haughty Inge,
    burst into tears and exclaim, “But will she never come up again?”

    And she heard the reply, “No, she will never come up again.”

    “But if she were to say she was sorry, and ask pardon, and promise never to
    do so again?” asked the little one.

    “Yes, then she might come; but she will not beg pardon,” was the answer.

    “Oh, I wish she would!” said the child, who was quite unhappy about it. “I
    should be so glad. I would give up my doll and all my playthings, if she could
    only come here again. Poor Inge! it is so dreadful for her.”

    These pitying words penetrated to Inge’s inmost heart, and seemed to do her
    good. It was the first time any one had said, “Poor Inge!” without saying something
    about her faults. A little innocent child was weeping, and praying for mercy
    for her. It made her feel quite strange, and she would gladly have wept herself,
    and it added to her torment to find she could not do so. And while she thus
    suffered in a place where nothing changed, years passed away on earth, and she
    heard her name less frequently mentioned. But one day a sigh reached her ear,
    and the words, “Inge! Inge! what a grief thou hast been to me! I said it would
    be so.” It was the last sigh of her dying mother.

    After this, Inge heard her kind mistress say, “Ah, poor Inge! shall I ever
    see thee again? Perhaps I may, for we know not what may happen in the future.”
    But Inge knew right well that her mistress would never come to that dreadful

    Time-passed—a long bitter time—then Inge heard her name pronounced once more,
    and saw what seemed two bright stars shining above her. They were two gentle
    eyes closing on earth. Many years had passed since the little girl had lamented
    and wept about “poor Inge.” That child was now an old woman, whom God was taking
    to Himself. In the last hour of existence the events of a whole life often appear
    before us; and this hour the old woman remembered how, when a child, she had
    shed tears over the story of Inge, and she prayed for her now. As the eyes of
    the old woman closed to earth, the eyes of the soul opened upon the hidden things
    of eternity, and then she, in whose last thoughts Inge had been so vividly present,
    saw how deeply the poor girl had sunk. She burst into tears at the sight, and
    in heaven, as she had done when a little child on earth, she wept and prayed
    for poor Inge. Her tears and her prayers echoed through the dark void that surrounded
    the tormented captive soul, and the unexpected mercy was obtained for it through
    an angel’s tears. As in thought Inge seemed to act over again every sin she
    had committed on earth, she trembled, and tears she had never yet been able
    to weep rushed to her eyes. It seemed impossible that the gates of mercy could
    ever be opened to her; but while she acknowledged this in deep penitence, a
    beam of radiant light shot suddenly into the depths upon her. More powerful
    than the sunbeam that dissolves the man of snow which the children have raised,
    more quickly than the snowflake melts and becomes a drop of water on the warm
    lips of a child, was the stony form of Inge changed, and as a little bird she
    soared, with the speed of lightning, upward to the world of mortals. A bird
    that felt timid and shy to all things around it, that seemed to shrink with
    shame from meeting any living creature, and hurriedly sought to conceal itself
    in a dark corner of an old ruined wall; there it sat cowering and unable to
    utter a sound, for it was voiceless. Yet how quickly the little bird discovered
    the beauty of everything around it. The sweet, fresh air; the soft radiance
    of the moon, as its light spread over the earth; the fragrance which exhaled
    from bush and tree, made it feel happy as it sat there clothed in its fresh,
    bright plumage. All creation seemed to speak of beneficence and love. The bird
    wanted to give utterance to thoughts that stirred in his breast, as the cuckoo
    and the nightingale in the spring, but it could not. Yet in heaven can be heard
    the song of praise, even from a worm; and the notes trembling in the breast
    of the bird were as audible to Heaven even as the psalms of David before they
    had fashioned themselves into words and song.

    Christmas-time drew near, and a peasant who dwelt close by the old wall stuck
    up a pole with some ears of corn fastened to the top, that the birds of heaven
    might have feast, and rejoice in the happy, blessed time. And on Christmas morning
    the sun arose and shone upon the ears of corn, which were quickly surrounded
    by a number of twittering birds. Then, from a hole in the wall, gushed forth
    in song the swelling thoughts of the bird as he issued from his hiding place
    to perform his first good deed on earth,—and in heaven it was well known who
    that bird was.

    The winter was very hard; the ponds were covered with ice, and there was very
    little food for either the beasts of the field or the birds of the air. Our
    little bird flew away into the public roads, and found here and there, in the
    ruts of the sledges, a grain of corn, and at the halting places some crumbs.
    Of these he ate only a few, but he called around him the other birds and the
    hungry sparrows, that they too might have food. He flew into the towns, and
    looked about, and wherever a kind hand had strewed bread on the window-sill
    for the birds, he only ate a single crumb himself, and gave all the rest to
    the rest of the other birds. In the course of the winter the bird had in this
    way collected many crumbs and given them to other birds, till they equalled
    the weight of the loaf on which Inge had trod to keep her shoes clean; and when
    the last bread-crumb had been found and given, the gray wings of the bird became
    white, and spread themselves out for flight.

    “See, yonder is a sea-gull!” cried the children, when they saw the white bird,
    as it dived into the sea, and rose again into the clear sunlight, white and
    glittering. But no one could tell whither it went then although some declared
    it flew straight to the sun.