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The Nutcracker and The Strange Child
By Eta Hoffmann, Anthea Bell
Steerforth PressCopyright © 2010 Pushkin Press
All rights reserved.
On the twenty-fourth of December Doctor Stahlbaum's children had to stay out of the sitting room all day, and they certainly were not allowed into the grand drawing room next to it. Fritz and Marie sat close together in a corner of the little back parlour. As evening came on twilight fell, but no one brought in a light as usual, which they felt was very eerie. Fritz, in a confidential whisper, told his younger sister (who was only seven years old) about the rustling and rattling and muted thumping he had heard in the next room. And not so long ago a dark-complexioned little man had gone down the corridor with a big box under his arm. Fritz said he knew that this could only be Godfather Drosselmeier. Marie clapped her little hands for joy, and cried, "oh, I wonder what lovely things Godfather Drosselmeier has brought us this time."
Legal Councillor Drosselmeier was not a handsome man; he was small and thin, with a wrinkled face, and he had a big black patch over his right eye. He was bald, so he wore a very fine white wig made of glass, a most ingenious piece of work. Councillor Drosselmeier was a very ingenious man himself. He knew all about clocks, and could even make them. So if one of the fine clocks in the Stahlbaums' house went wrong, and its chimes failed to ring out, Godfather Drosselmeier came to call, took off his glass wig, removed his yellow coat, tied a blue apron around his waist and poked at the insides of the clockwork with various pointed instruments. It positively hurt little Marie to watch him at work, but it did the clock no harm at all. Instead, it would come back to life at once and start whirring and striking and chiming merrily, to the delight of everyone. When Councillor Drosselmeier came visiting he always had something pretty for the children in his bag, sometimes a little manikin that could roll its eyes and bow — that was a comical sight — sometimes a box with a little bird that hopped out of it, sometimes another toy. But at Christmas he had always made them something that was particularly elaborate and had meant a great deal of work for him, and once he had given it to the children their parents put it away and took care of it.
Now little Marie cried, "Oh, I wonder what lovely things Godfather Drosselmeier has brought us this time." Fritz felt sure that this Christmas it was bound to be a fort with all kinds of handsome soldiers marching up and down and drilling on the parade ground, and then other soldiers would come along and try to get into the fort, but the soldiers on the inside would boldly fire their cannon with a splendid banging, roaring noise.
"No, no," Marie interrupted Fritz. "Godfather Drosselmeier told me a story about a beautiful garden with a great lake in it, and magnificent swans swimming on the lake with golden bands around their necks, singing the prettiest songs. And then a little girl comes through the garden and down to the lake, and entices the swans out and feeds them with sweet marzipan."
"Swans don't eat marzipan!" Fritz interrupted her, rather brusquely. "And even Godfather Drosselmeier can't make a whole garden. We don't really get much fun out of his toys, because they're all taken away from us at once. I'd rather have the presents that Mama and Papa give us. We can keep those and do as we like with them."
And the children went on guessing what the presents would be this year. Marie thought that Mamzell Trudy, her big doll, had changed a great deal for the worse and kept falling over clumsily, getting dirty marks on her face, and the cleanliness of her clothes also left much to be desired too. But however soundly Marie scolded her it did no good. And Mama had smiled, said Marie, when she was so pleased with Gretchen's little sunshade. Fritz told her that his stables needed a good chestnut horse, and his troops had no cavalry at all, as Papa well knew.
So the children were sure that their parents had bought them all kinds of lovely presents, and were putting them out on the table at this moment. They knew that the Christ Child was looking down on them with shining, kindly eyes, and each new Christmas present would give more pleasure than the last, as if touched by a hand replete with blessings. Their elder sister Luise was always reminding the children, when they kept whispering about the presents they expected, that it was the Christ Child who, through their parents, always made sure that children had what would give them real pleasure. He knew what they wanted even better than Fritz and Marie themselves, so they mustn't wish for all kinds of new things, but wait quietly like good children for whatever presents they were given. Little Marie turned very thoughtful at that, but Fritz still muttered out loud, "I really would like a chestnut horse and some hussars, all the same."
It was fully dark now. Fritz and Marie, moving closer together, dared not say a word. It was as if they heard soft wings wafting around them, as if distant but very beautiful music could be heard in the air. A bright light fell on the wall, and the children knew that the Christ Child was flying away on shining clouds to visit other happy children. At that moment a silvery bell rang: ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling! The doors were thrown open, and such radiance shone out of the big room on the other side that the children cried out loud, "Oh! Oh!" and stopped in the doorway as if rooted to the spot. But Papa and Mama came over to the door, took the children's hands and said, "Come on in, dear children, come on in, and see what the Christ Child has brought for you."CHAPTER 2
Now, my dear reader or listener — Ernst, Theodor, Fritz, whatever your name may be — let me ask you to conjure up a picture of your own last Christmas table, as true to life as you can, beautifully decorated and laden with brightly coloured packages, and then you will be able to imagine the Stahlbaum children standing perfectly still in the doorway, their eyes glowing. It was only after a while that Marie sighed deeply and cried, "oh, how beautiful — oh, how beautiful!" and Fritz tried to jump for joy several times, succeeding very well in the attempt. Those children must have been particularly good and well-behaved all year, because they had never had so many beautiful, magnificent presents before. The big fir tree in the middle of the room had many gold and silver apples dangling from it, and sugared almonds and coloured sweets grew there like buds and flowers. There were all kinds of other delicious things to nibble on the branches. But I must tell you the best thing of all about this wonderful tree — a hundred little lights sparkled like stars in its dark branches, and as they twinkled the tree itself kindly invited the children to pick its fruits and flowers. Everything under the Christmas tree was a bright and beautiful sight — what lovely things they were — oh, who could be giving them such things?
Marie saw the prettiest of dolls, with all kinds of doll-sized utensils and other things for them to use. But loveliest of all was a silk dress elegantly trimmed with coloured ribbons. It hung on its hanger before the little girl's eyes, so that she could look at it from all sides, and so she did, crying out again and again, "Oh, what a beautiful, dear, lovely dress! I'm sure — oh, I really do think — it's for me. Is it for me to wear?"
Meanwhile Fritz had indeed found a chestnut hobby horse tied up to the table leg, and he had galloped it and trotted it three or four times around the table already. Getting off again, he said it was a spirited mount with a fiery temper, but never mind that, he would soon master it. Then he looked at his new squadron of hussars, very smartly dressed in red-and-gold uniforms, carrying silver weapons and riding such gleaming white horses that you might almost have thought they too were made of pure silver.
Calming down a little, the children were just going to look at the books lying open in front of them, showing pictures of lovely flowers, people wearing brightly coloured clothes and dear little children playing, all painted as naturally as if they were alive and really talking to each other. Yes, the children were about to look at these beautiful books when the bell rang again. They knew that now Godfather Drosselmeier was ready to give them his presents, and they went over to a table standing by the wall. The screen that had been hiding it so long was whisked away. And what do you think the children saw then?
A magnificent castle stood on green turf where colourful flowers grew. The castle had gilded towers and a great many windows as bright as mirrors. A chime of bells rang, doors and windows flew open, and you could see tiny but very delicately made ladies and gentlemen walking about the rooms inside the castle, wearing feathered hats and dresses with long trains. In the central hall, which blazed like fire because of all the little lights in silver chandeliers burning there, children were dancing in short jackets and skirts to the sound of the bells. A gentleman in an emerald-green coat kept looking out of a window, waving and then disappearing again. And Godfather Drosselmeier himself, not much bigger than Papa's thumb, stood outside the castle gate and went in and out from time to time. Hands propped on the table, Fritz watched the beautiful castle and the dancing, walking little figures for some time, and then he said, "Godfather Drosselmeier, do let me go inside your castle!"
But the Councillor told him that was out of the question, and he was quite right. It was foolish of Fritz to want to go inside a castle which, even with all its gilded towers, wasn't as tall as he was, and he soon saw the sense of that. After a while, as the ladies and gentlemen kept walking about in the same way all the time, and so did the dancing children, while the man in the emerald coat looked out of the same window and Godfather Drosselmeier came out of the same door, Fritz cried impatiently, "Godfather Drosselmeier, come out of the other door for a change, the one over there!"
"That can't be done, dear Fritz," replied the Councillor.
"Then let the green man walk about with the others," Fritz went on, "the man who keeps looking out of the window so often."
"That can't be done either," replied the Councillor.
"Make the children come down here, then," said Fritz. "I want to get a better view of them."
"None of that can be done," said the Councillor brusquely. "The mechanism must stay as it was made."
"Oh, must it?" said Fritz. "So none of what I want can be done? Look here, Godfather Drosselmeier, if your pretty little people in the castle can't do anything but the same stuff over and over again, they're no real good and I don't think much of them. I like my hussars better. They perform their manoeuvres forwards, backwards, any way I like, and they aren't shut up in any house."
So saying, he went up to the Christmas table and made his squadron trot back and forth on their silver horses, wheel about and swerve and fire guns to their heart's content. Marie had also slipped quietly away, because she too was soon bored by the little dolls in the castle walking round and dancing all the time, but as she was a good girl she didn't want to make a fuss about it like her brother Fritz.
"Such ingenious devices aren't for children who don't appreciate them," said Councillor Drosselmeier sternly to their parents. "I'll pack my castle up again!"
But Mama went up to the table and got him to show her the inside of the clockwork, and the wonderful, complicated cogwheels that kept the little dolls moving. The Councillor took it all apart to show her and then put it back together again. In the process he cheered up, and gave the children some more presents — pretty brown men and women with golden faces, hands and legs. They were all made of honey cake from Thorn, and smelled as sweet and spicy as Christmas cookies. Fritz and Marie were delighted. Sister Luise, at Mama's request, had put on the beautiful dress she had been given and looked lovely. Marie thought that when she had her own dress on she would look a little like that herself, and sure enough, she was allowed to wear the new dress.CHAPTER 3
One reason why Marie didn't really want to leave the table of Christmas presents was that she had just discovered something she hadn't noticed before. When Fritz's hussars, who were now drawn up on parade close to the tree, had been moved out of the way she saw a dear little man standing there quietly as if waiting for his turn to come. You couldn't have called him an imposing figure, for his rather long, strong torso was set on thin little legs, and his head seemed far too large. However, his elegant clothes made up for it, showing that he was a cultivated man of good taste. He wore a very handsome hussar's jacket in gleaming violet, with a great deal of white lace and lots of little buttons, and breeches to match, as well as the finest of boots that ever graced the feet of a student or army officer. They fitted those delicate little legs as closely as if they had been painted on. It was rather comical that over this smart outfit he wore a close-fitting cape that looked as if it were made of wood, and he had a miner's cap on his head; however, Marie remembered that Godfather Drosselmeier himself wore a shabby coat and a terrible cap, but he was a dear kind godfather all the same. Marie also reflected that although, as it happened, Godfather Drosselmeier bore himself as gracefully as the little man, he didn't look as nice. Marie kept gazing at the dear little man, whom she had loved at first sight, and she saw what a kind face he had. His pale-green, slightly protuberant eyes expressed nothing but friendliness and goodwill. And the neat white cotton-wool beard on his chin suited the little man very well, setting off the sweet smile of his bright-red mouth.
"Oh," cried Marie at last, "oh, dear Father, who's the sweet little man standing by the tree for?"
"For all of you," replied her father. "For you, my dear child! He'll do good work cracking nuts, and he's for Luise and you and Fritz."
With these words, her father carefully took the little man off the table, and as Papa raised his wooden cape the little man opened his mouth very, very wide, showing two rows of white, sharp little teeth. On her father's instructions, Marie put a nut into his mouth — and crack! The little man had bitten it so hard that the shell came away, and the sweet kernel dropped into her hand. Now everyone, including Marie, knew that the little man must be descended from the Nutcracker clan and followed the same profession as his forefathers. She shouted for joy when her father said, "Since you like our friend Nutcracker so much, dear Marie, you must take special care of him and look after him, although, as I said, Luise and Fritz have as much right to use him as you!"
Marie immediately took him in her arms and made him crack nuts, but she looked for the smallest so that the little man wouldn't have to open his mouth so wide, which didn't really suit him. Luise joined her, and friend Nutcracker had to crack nuts for her as well. He seemed to enjoy it so much that he kept smiling at them in the friendliest way. Meanwhile, Fritz was tired of parading his soldiers and riding about the room, and hearing nuts cracking so merrily he ran over to his sisters, laughing heartily at the funny little man who, now that Fritz wanted to eat nuts as well, was passed from hand to hand and couldn't stop opening and closing his mouth. Franz kept putting the biggest, hardest nuts into it, and then all of a sudden — crack, crack! — three little teeth fell out of Nutcracker's mouth, and his entire lower jaw was loose and wobbly.
"Oh, my poor dear Nutcracker!" cried Marie, snatching him from Fritz's hands.
"He's just silly, he's stupid," said Fritz. "Claims to be a Nutcracker and doesn't even have a proper jaw for cracking nuts! He doesn't know anything about his job. Hand him over, Marie! I'll have him cracking nuts for me even if he loses the rest of his teeth. Who cares for such a useless fellow?"
"No, no," cried Marie, starting to cry. "I'm not letting you have my dear Nutcracker. See how sadly he's looking at me, showing me his sore little mouth! You're a hard-hearted boy! You whip your horses, and I should think you might even have a soldier court- martialled and shot."
Excerpted from The Nutcracker and The Strange Child by Eta Hoffmann, Anthea Bell. Copyright © 2010 Pushkin Press. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsTHE NUTCRACKER AND THE MOUSE KING, 9,
THE STRANGE CHILD, 117,
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