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THE GIRL WHO TROD ON THE LOAF

 

THE story of the girl who trod on the loaf to avoid soiling her shoesand of the misfortune that befell this girlis well knownIt has been writtenand even printed

She was a poor childbut proud and presumptuousthere was a bad foundation in heras the saying isWhen she was quite a little childit was her delight to catch flies and tear off their wingsso as to make them into creeping thingsShe would take cockchafers and beetlesand spit them on pinsThen she pushed a green leaf or a little scrap of paper towards their feetand the poor creatures seized itand held it fastand turned it over and overstruggling to get free from the pin

The cockchafer is reading,”said little Inger.“See how he turns the leaf!”

With years she grew worse rather than betterbut she was prettyand that was her misfortuneotherwise she would have been more sharply reproved than she was

Your headstrong will requires something strong to break it!”her own mother often said.“As a little chilayou used to trample on my apronbut I fear you will one day trample on my heart.”

And that is what she really did

She was sent into the countryinto service in the house of rich peoplewho treated her as their own childand dressed her accordinglyShe looked welland her presumption increased

When she had been there about a yearher mistress said to her,“You ought now to visit your parentsInger.”

And she went toobut it was only to show herselfthat they might see how grand she had becomebut when she came to the entrance of the villageand the young husband men and maids stood there chattingand her own mother appeared among themsitting on a stone to restand with a faggot of sticks before her that she had picked up in the woodthen Inger turned backfor she felt ashamed that shewho was so finely dressedshould have for a mother a ragged womanwho picked up wood in the forestShe did not in the least feel sorry for having turned backshe was only annoyed

And anther half-year went byand her mistress said again,“you ought to go to your homeand visit your old parentsIngerI'll make you a present of a great wheaten loaf that you may give to themthey will certainly be glad to see you again.”

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And Inger put on her best clothesand her new shoesand drew her skirts around herand set outstepping very carefullythat she might be clean and neat about the feetand there was no harm in thatBut when she came to the place where the footwear led across the marshand where there was mud and puddlesshe threw the loaf into the mudand trod upon it to pass over without wetting her feetBut as she stood there with one foot upon the loaf and the other uplifted to step fartherthe loaf sank with herdeeper and deepertill she disappeared altogetherand only a great puddlefrom which the bubbles roseremained where she had been

And that's the story

But whither did Inger goShe went down to the marsh woman[,who is always brewing there.]The marsh woman is cousin to the elf maidenswho are well enough knownof whom songs are sungand of whom pictures are paintedbut concerning the marsh woman it is only known that when the meadows steam in summer-time it is because she is brewingInto the marsh woman's brewery did Inger sink downand no one can endure that place longA box of mud is a palace compared with the marsh woman's breweryEvery barrel there had an odour that almost takes away one's sensesand the barrels stand close to each otherand wherever there is a little opening among themthrough which one might push one's waythen one cannot get through for the number of damp toads and fat snakes who are all in a tangle thereAmong this company did Inger falland all the horrible mass of living creeping things was so icy coldthat she shuddered in all her limbsand became stark and stiffShe continued fastened to the loafand the loaf drew her down as an amber button draws a fragment of straw

The marsh woman was at homeand on that day the Devil and his grandmother had come to inspect the breweryand she is a venomous old womanwho is never idleshe never rides out to pay a visit without taking her work with hershe also had it here She sewed gadding leather to be worked into men's shoesand that makes them wander about unable to settle anywhereShe wove webs of liesand strung together hastily-spoken words that had fall-en to the ground and all this was done for the injury and ruin of mankindYesindeedshe knew how to sewto weaveand to stringdid this old grandmother

Catching sight of Ingershe put up her double eye-glassand took another look at the girl

That's a girl who has ability!”she observed,“and I beg you will give me the little one as a memento of my visit hereShe'll make a capital statue to stand in my grand-son's antechamber.”

And Inger was given up to herand this is how Inger came into HellPeople don't always go there by the direct pathbut they can get there by roundabout routes if they have a tendency in that direction

That was a never-ending antechamberThe visitor be-came giddy who looked forwardand doubly giddy when he looked backand saw a whole crowd of peoplealmost utterly exhaustedwaiting till the gate of mercy should be opened to themthey had to wait a long timeGreat fat waddling spiders spun webs of a thousand years over their feetand these webs cut like wireand bound them like bronze fettersandmoreoverthere was an eternal unrest working in every hearta miserable unrestThe miserstood thereand had forgotten the key of his strong boxand he knew the key was sticking in the lockIt would take too long to describe the various sorts of torture that were found there togetherInger felt a terrible pain while she had to stand there as a statuefor she was tied fast to the loaf

That's the fruit of wishing to keep one's feet neat and tidy,”she said to herself.“Just look how they're all staring at me!”

Yescertainlythe eyes of all were fixed upon herand their evil thoughts gleamed fortb from their eyesand they spoke to one anothermoving their lipsfrom which no sound whatever came forththey were very horrible to behold

It must be a great pleasure to look at me!”thought Inger,“and indeed I have a pretty face and fine clothes.”And she turned her eyesher neck was too stiff to turnBut she had not considered how her olothes had been soiled in the marsh woman's brewhouseHer garments were covered with muda snake had fastened in her hairand dangled down her backand out of each fold of her frock a great toad looked forthcroaking like an asthmatic poodleThat was very unpleasantBut all the rest of them down here also look horrible,“she observed to herselfand de-rived consolation from the thought

The worst of all was the terrible hunger that tormented herBut could she not stoop and break off a piece of the loafon which she stoodNoher back was too stiffher bands and arms were benumbedand her whole body was like a pillar of stoneshe was only able to turn her eyes in her headto turn them quite roundso that she could see backwardsit was an ugly sightAnd then the flies came upand crept to and fro over her eyesand she blinked her eyes but the flies would not go awayfor they could not go awayfor they could not flytheir wings had been pulled outso that they were converted into creeping in-sectsit was horrible torment added to the hungerfor she felt emptyquiteentirely empty

If this lasts much longer,”she said,“I shall not be able to bear it.”

But she had to hear itand it lasted on and on

Then a hot tear fell down upon her headrolled over her face and neckdown on to the loaf on which she stood and then another tear rolled downfollowed by many moreWho might be weeping for IngerHad she not still a mother in the worldThe tears of sorrow which a mother weeps for her child always make their way to the childbut they do not relieve itthey only increase its tormentAnd now to bear this unendurable hungerand yet not to be able to touch the loaf on which she stoodShe felt as if she had been feeding on herselfand had become like a thin hollow reed that takes in every soundfor she heard everything that was said of her up in the worldand all that she heard was hard and evilHer motherindeedwept much and sorrowed for herbut for all that she said,“A haughty spirit goes before a fallThat was thy ruinIngerThou hast sorely grieved they mother.”

Her mother and all on earth knew of the sin she had committedknew that she had trodden upon the loafand had sunk and disappearedfor the cowherd had seen it from the hill beside the marsh

Greatly hast thou grieved they motherInger,”said the mother;“yesyesI thought it would be thus.”

Oh that I had never been born!”thought Inger;“it would have been far betterBut what use is my mother's weeping now?”

And she heard how her master and mistresswho had kept and cherished her like kind parentsnow said she was a sinful childand did not value the gifts of Godbut trampled them under her feetand that the gates of mercy would only open slowly to her

They should have punished me,”thought Ingerand have driven out the whims I had in my head.”

She heard how a complete song was made about hera song of the proud girl who trod upon the loaf to keep her shoes cleanand she heard how the song was sung every-where

That I should have to bear so much evil for that!”thought Inger;“the others ought to be punishedtoofor their sinsYesthen there would be plenty of punishing to doAhhow I'm being tortured!”

And her heart became harder than her outward form

Here in this company one can't even become better,”she said,“and I don't want to become betterLookhow they're all staring at me!”And her heart was full of anger and malice against all men.“Now they've something to talk about at last up yonderAhhow I'm being tortured!”

And then she heard how her story was told to the little childrenand the little ones called her the godless Ingerand said she was so naughty and ugly that she must be well punished

Thus even the children's mouths spoke hard words of her

But one daywhile grief and hunger gnawed her hollow frameand she heard her name mentioned and her story told to an innocent childa little girlshe became aware that the little one burst into tears at the tale of the haughtyvain Inger

But will Inger never come up here again?”asked the little girl

And the reply was,“She will never come up again.”

But if she were to beg for forgivenessand say she would never do so again?”

But she will not beg for forgiveness,”was the reply

I should be so glad if she would,”said the little girland she was quite inconsolable.“I'll give my doll and all my playthings if she may only come upIt's too dreadfulpoor Inger!”

And these words penetrated to Inger's heartand seemed to do her goodIt was the first time any one had said,“Poor Inger,”without adding anything about her faultsa little innocent child was weeping and praying for herIt made her feel quite strangelyand she herself would gladly have weptbut she could not weepand that was a torment in itself

While years were passing above herfor where she was there was no changeshe heard herself spoken of more and more seldomAt last one day a sigh struck on her ear:“IngerIngerhow you have grieved meI said how it would be!”It was the last sigh of her dying mother

Occasionally she heard her name spoken by her former employersand they were pleasant words when the woman said,“Shall I ever see thee againIngerOne knows not what may happen.”

But Inger knew right well that her good mistress would never come to the place where she was

And again time went ona longbitter timeThen Inger heard her name pronounced once moreand saw two bright stars that seemed gleaming above herThey were two gentle eyes closing upon earthSo many years had gone by since the little girl had been inconsolable and wept aboutpoor Inger”,that the child had become an old womanwho was now to be called home to heavenand in the last hour of existencewhen the events of the whole life stand at once before usthe old woman remembered how as a child she had cried heartily at the story of IngerThat time and that impression came so clearly be-fore the old woman in her last hourthat she called out quite loud:“have not I alsolike Ingeroften trod upon the gifts of heaven without thinkinghave not I also gone about with pride at my heartYet Thou in Thy mercy hast not let me sinkbut hast held me upLeave me not in last hour!”

And the eyes of the old woman closedand the eye of her soul was opened to look upon the hidden thingsShein whose last thoughts Inger had been present so vividlysaw how deeply the poor girl had sunkand burst into tears at the sightin heaven she stood like a childand wept for poor IngerAnd her tears and prayers sounded like an echo in the dark empty space that surrounded the tormented captive souland the unhopedfor love from above conquered herfor an angel was weeping for herWhy was this vouchsafed to herThe tormented soul seemed to gather in her thoughts every deed she had done on earthand sheIngertrembled and wept such tears as she had never yet weptShe was filled with sorrow about herselfit seemed as though the gate of mercy could never open to herand while in deep penitence she ac-knowledged thisa beam of light shot radiantly down into the depths to herwith a greater force than that of the sun beam which melt the snow man the boys have built upand quicker than the snow-flake meltsand becomes a drop of water that falls on the warm lips of a childthe stony form of Inger was changed to mistand a little bird soared with the speed of lightning upward into the world of menBut the bird was timid and shy towards all things aroundit was ashamed of itselfashamed to encounter any living thingand hurriedly sought to conceal itself in a dark hole in an old crumbling wallthere it sat coweringtrembling through its whole frameand unable to utter a soundfor it had no voiceLong it sat there before it could rightly see all the beauty around itfor beauty there wasThe air was fresh and mildthe moon shone so cleartrees and bushes exhaled fragranceand it was right pleasant where it satand its coat of feathers was clean and pureHow all creation seemed to speak of beneficence and loveThe bird wanted to sing of the thoughts that stirred in its breastbut it could notgladly would it have sung as the cuckoo and the nightingale sang in spring-timeBut Heaventhat hears the mute song of praise of the wormcould hear the notes of praise which now trembled in the breast of the birdas David's psalms were heard before they had fashioned themselves into words and song

For weeks these toneless songs stirred within the birdat lastthe holy Christmas-time approachedThe peasant who dwelt near set up a pole by the old wallwith some ears of corn bound to the topthat the birds of heaven might have a good mealand rejoice in the happyblessed time

And on Christmas morning the sun arose and shone upon the ears of cornwhich were surrounded by a number of twittering birdsThen out of the hole in the wall streamed forth the voice of another birdand the bird soared forth from its hiding-placeand in heaven it was well known what bird this was

It was a hard winterThe ponds were covered with iceand the beasts of the field and the birds of the air were stinted for foodOur little bird flew away over the high roadand in the ruts of the sledges it found here and there a grain of cornand at the halting-places some crumbs

Of these it ate only a fewbut it called all the other hungry sparrows around itthat theytoomight have some foodIt flew into the townsand looked round aboutand where ever a kind hand had strewn bread on the window sill for the birdsit only ate a single crumb itselfand gave all the rest to the other birds

In the course of the winterthe bird had collected so many bread crumbsand given them to the other birdsthat they equaled the weight of the loaf on which Inger had trod to keep her shoes cleanand when the last bread crumb had been found and giventhe grey wings of the bird became whiteand spread far out

Yonder is a sea-swallowflying away across the water,”said the children when they saw the white birdNow it dived into the seaand now it rose again into the clear sunlightIt gleamed whitebut no one could tell whither it wentthough some asserted that it flew straight into the sun

 


 

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