The Brave Tin Soldier (cont.)
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Suddenly there appeared a great water-rat who lived in the drain.
“Have you a passport?“ asked the rat; “give it to me at once.” But the tin soldier remained silent and held his musket tighter than ever.
(illustration by Bertall)
The boat sailed on and the rat followed it. How he did gnash his teeth and cry out to the bits of wood and straw, “Stop him, stop him; he has not paid toll and has not shown his pass.“ But the stream rushed on stronger and stronger.
The tin soldier could already see daylight shining where the arch ended. Then he heard a roaring sound quite terrible enough to frighten the bravest man. At the end of the tunnel, the drain fell into a large canal over a steep place, which made it as dangerous for him as a waterfall would be to us. He was too close to it to stop, so the boat rushed on, and the poor tin soldier could only hold himself as stiffly as possible, without moving an eyelid, to show that he was not afraid.
The boat whirled round three or four times, and then filled with water to the very edge; nothing could save it from sinking. He now stood up to his neck in water, while deeper and deeper sank the boat, and the paper became soft and loose with the wet, till at last the water closed over the soldier’s head. He thought of the elegant little dancer whom he should never see again, and the words of the song sounded in his ears —
Farewell, warrior! ever brave,
Drifting onward to thy grave.
Then the paper boat fell to pieces, and the soldier sank into the water and immediately afterwards was swallowed up by a great fish. Oh how dark it was inside the fish! A great deal darker than in the tunnel, and narrower too, but the tin soldier continued firm, and lay at full length shouldering his musket.
The fish swam to and fro, making the most wonderful movements, but at last he became quite still. After a while, a flash of lightning seemed to pass through him, and then the daylight approached, and a voice cried out, “I declare here is the tin soldier.”
The fish had been caught, taken to the market and sold to the cook, who took him into the kitchen and cut him open with a large knife. She picked up the soldier, and held him by the waist between her finger and thumb, and carried him into the room. They were all anxious to see this wonderful soldier who had travelled about inside a fish, but he was not at all proud. They placed him on the table, and — how many curious things do happen in the world! — there he was in the very same room from the window of which he had fallen, there were the same children, the same playthings, standing on the table, and the pretty castle with the elegant little dancer at the door; she still balanced herself on one leg, and held up the other, so she was as firm as himself. It touched the tin soldier so much to see her that he almost wept tin tears, but he kept them back. He only looked at her and they both remained silent.
Presently one of the little boys took up the tin soldier and threw him into the stove. He had no reason for doing so; therefore, it must have been the fault of the black goblin who lived in the snuff-box. The flames lighted up the tin soldier as he stood; the heat was very terrible, but whether it proceeded from the real fire or from the fire of love he could not tell.
Then he could see that the bright colors were faded from his uniform, but whether they had been washed off during his journey or from the effects of his sorrow, no one could say. He looked at the little lady, and she looked at him. He felt himself melting away, but he still remained firm with his gun on his shoulder.
Suddenly the door of the room flew open, and the draught of air caught up the little dancer; she fluttered like a sylph right into the stove by the side of the tin soldier and was instantly in flames and was gone. The tin soldier melted down into a lump, and the next morning, when the maid servant took the ashes out of the stove, she found him in the shape of a little tin heart.
But of the little dancer nothing remained but the tinsel rose, which was burnt black as a cinder.
Next: The Wicked Prince