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The Little Match Girl

With stories from Hans Christian Andersen and CC Hogan

Episode 9 - Thursday, 23 January 2020

For a change, I have recorded two stories this week for you.

The Little Match Girl is a famous story from Hans Christian Andersen, and if you know the tale, you will understand that I found it hard to record. It is a beautiful story, byt also a tragedy, and one, sadly, not confined to the nineteenth century.

I don't need to say more, really; the story says it all.

But I start with one of my own - The Fox and the Dove.

This is a kind of parable, really, but one I am proud of. It is taken from a series of books I am writing called the Unicorn Chronicles, and is told by a character called Instio the Bard, who is one of my more colourful characters - literally since he wears a multi-coloured cape and a hat with big feathers in it.

They are hiding from the weather in a tower in a ruined, sandstone castle, and have lit a big fire to keep them warm through the stormy night.  What better place to tell a story.

Don't forget to leave me a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever, and you can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Use the hashtag #deepinthedarkforest

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Welcome to Deep in the Dark Forest with me, CC Hogan.

I have something a bit different for you today: Two Stories!  One written by me, and the other by the great Hans Christian Andersen.

But before I weave their magic, don’t forget to leave me a review if you have enjoyed my tales.  Reviews help spread the word about Deep in the Dark forest, and cheer me up, if they good!

And you can also find me on Twitter, Instagram, and on my Facebook page. Links in the show description, which is down below me somewhere!

Now, onto the stories.  The second story is the Little Match Girl, and I warn you now, you will need a hanky ready for that one!  But to start us off, here is one of mine. I wrote this originally as part of a series of yet to be published books about a girl who travels to a distant land on another world where she meets an incredible unicorn, becomes the best of friends with a young mountain elf, and has many magical adventures.  On her travels, she meets Instio the Bard and his daughter Somerhild.  One night, Aelwen, our hero, Feyerlynn the Elf, Wippa the young thief, and Somerhild the dancer, are sheltering in the ruin of an old castle.  The light from their fire is flickering around the sandstone walls, and the wind is howling through the ancient shutters, as Instio tells them the story of the Fox and the Dove.

 

The Fox and the Dove

By CC Hogan

Once upon a plain by the shore of the mighty ocean, lived a scraggly old fox with his tatty old wife, and his three hungry pups.  Wily was he, and rotten in the tooth, for the plain was scant of food, and he needed his cunning to feed his clan.  Ten years and five he had lived on the plain, and ten years and five had his father lived there before him.  He knew every rock, every bush, every dune, and every hole, did that red and brown fox.  He knew where the gulls laid their eggs up on the rocks, hoping to foil his hungry hunting.  He knew where the rats dug their holes, pulling their tails in quickly if they heard his silent approach.  He knew where to hide on the trail and wait for the pedlars with their hoary donkeys, hoping they’d drop a morsel for him to carry to his lair.

One fallow day, as he was hopping from thorn bush to thorn bush, he spied a nest atop a small, leafless tree.  He looked up and gazed at the unusual affair, built in such an exposed spot.  As he did, he spied a short white tail flicker over the edge.  The fox smiled.  He knew that tail for it belonged to the white dove, a bird of exquisite beauty, and, thought the fox, possessing the most delicious eggs!

“I shall have me one of those,” he said to himself.  “And I shall bring it to my wife and my three hungry babies so they may feast!”

Foxes are not known to be climbers of trees, not like the squirrel or the long-tailed weasels that snake along branches like the very bark itself.  But our wily friend was nimbler than most of his kind, and bit by bit, he scaled the barren tree.

“Get thee away,” screamed the dove, spying his approach.  “For you shall not steal my own!”  And she dived down at him, pecking at his nose, till he slid and slipped all the way to the ground. 

The fox growled and once again set upon the task of climbing to the nest.  Once again, the bird chased him to the ground, and then farther still, diving at him till he scampered away across the plain.

The next day, the fox, not one to be beaten, again slipped quietly through the brush to the tree.  Silently, he began his assent, his sharp claws scratching into the thin bark.

“Take that!” shouted the bird, and she threw a twig at him!  “Begone,” she shrilled, and followed with a nut, the hard fruit bouncing from his nose.

The fox wrapped his legs around the tree and hung on tightly as the dove pelted his eyes, trying to blind him.  At last he gave up, and slid to the ground, bouncing back from the tree.

“I will have your egg!” he shouted, pacing around the trunk.

“You shall not, old fox,” cried the dove.  “For I beat back your father, and your father’s father.  And old I may be, but I will beat you back too!”

“Nay, you shall not,” cried the fox.  “For I have a right to your egg!  I am the fox, and you are just a dove!”

The dove, waving her white wings, called back.  “Does the wolf have the right to your children?  Does the bear have a right to the wolf’s cubs?  Does the ogre have the right to the bear’s dear child?”

The fox growled in anger.  “And do you have the right to take food from my children?”

The next morn, the fox woke before the sun, and he crept quietly to the tree and waited.  Before long, he saw the dove rise from her nest, and, lifting her wings, fly off to find her breakfast.  The fox took his chance and climbed slowly up to the nest.  But the storms had come early that year, and as he climbed, he was buffeted by the winds, and the rains made the branches slippery.  The fox hung on, and, digging in with his claws, dragged himself to the highest branch and pulled himself into the unusual nest.

There he found three white eggs.  He licked his lips.  The climb had been hard, and the wind was howling.  He could only take one of the delicious morsels in his teeth, but which?

“Choose carefully, fox,” said the dove, alighting on the edge of the nest.  “For with the icy winds, two of mine have already died in the shell.  Only one still lives.”

The fox blinked in surprise.  Which one should he choose?  Two may be rotten, and he must not feed his children rotten eggs lest they be poisoned.  He sniffed the eggs, first one, then another, and then the third.

“Tell me,” demanded the fox.  “Which one still lives so I may feed my hungry children?”

The dove raised her wings and screamed, her beak flashing just past his nose.  The fox jumped back and slipped off the edge of the nest only at the last second grabbing the twigs with his teeth.

“You shall not know which one lives until the day its shell cracks,” cried the bird.  “Be gone!”  And she flew at his face, her claws scratching at his nose and mouth.  The fox howled in pain, and fell crashing to the ground, breaking his leg.  He wailed and growled at the bird up in her nest, and he dragged himself to his lair.

For the next two whole weeks, he limped around the plain, his leg dragging after him, finding what food he could.  He could no longer climb the rocks.  The rats could hear him coming as he whimpered in pain.  And with the storms, the pedlars abandoned the trail.  He found what scraps he could, and he took them to his wife.  But it was not enough, and he carried his youngest from the lair and buried him in the sands.  Filled with grief and his leg cutting him deep with pain, he once again patrolled the ground around the barren tree.  And one day, he heard a chirrup.

The fox looked up, but there was no sign of the dove.  Again, he heard a small plaintive chirrup, the sound of a chick waiting for its mother.  But still, no dove.  By this time the fox was so hungry that he attempted to climb to the nest, his useless leg hanging behind him.  Bit by bit he inched up the tree, biting his lips every time his leg snagged on the branches.  Slowly then slower still he climbed, and after two long hours, he pulled himself wearily into the nest.

And there, laid before him, were two dead eggs and one bright white chick.  The fox licked his lips, almost tasting the young bird before he even got close.

“Are you going to feed me?” asked the chick.  The fox shut his mouth in surprise.

“Have you not been fed?” asked the fox.

“I have not,” said the chick.

“Where is your mother?” asked the fox.

“I know not,” said the chick.  “I awoke from my shell three days since, but I have yet to meet my mother.  I am so hungry and have no food.  Will you feed me?”

“I have no food to give you,” said the fox.

“Are you going to eat me?” asked the bird, looking up at the fox with pale, tired eyes.

The fox hesitated.  “I do not know.”

“Then will you wait with me till my mother returns?” asked the chick.  “Will you keep me warm?  For my brother and sister cannot.”

For two days the fox sat with the bird snuggled under him and waited for the dove who did not return, and they both grew weaker.  Where was she, wondered the fox.  Had she flown away?  Had she fallen?  Had she been taken from the sky by the hawks that flew over the hills?  He did not know.  On the third day, the fox, his stomach churning, turned to the small bird, and he opened his mouth.

The fox’s wife heard her husband crawl into the lair, his leg making him hiss in pain.  “Have you food, husband, for our children, for we are all starving!”

The fox opened his mouth wide, and from his tongue stepped the small chick.

“Is this our food, husband?” asked the wife, looking at the very small, thin bird.

“No, wife, it isn’t,” replied the fox.  “For sometimes the ogre will not chase the child of the bear, and sometimes the bear will not eat the wolf cub.  And sometimes the wolves leave us in peace.  I will go to the rocks and I will beg food from the gulls, for this child has lost its mother, and is now in my care.

 

*

 

I hope you enjoyed that.  I like writing stories, as you probably guessed, and so did Hans Christian Andersen.  This small story is set in a town on a frozen New Years Eve, when all should be huddled around their fires, celebrating the coming of the new year and the passing of the old, with friends or family.  But, sadly, this is not always true.  And out on the street, all on her own, was the Little Match Girl.

 

The Little Match Girl

by Hans Christian Andersen

It was so dreadfully cold!  The snow was fluttering down thick and fast, and the grey sky was fading to black as evening came on; the last evening of the year. In the cold and the darkness, along the frozen street, there came a poor little girl, her head bare and her feet naked on the stones.

When she left home she had slippers on, it is true; but the slippers belonged to her mother and they were far too big for the girl. And now she had lost them.  She had crossed a street, but two carriages had come clattering down the cobbles, their horses pounding their way home, and the girl had run as fast as she could, the slippers falling from her feet. When she looked for them, one was not to be found at all, and a boy seized the other and ran away with it, saying he would use it for a cradle someday, when he had children of his own.

So, on the little girl went with her bare feet, that were red and blue with cold. The girl wore a short apron, and in the big pocket were bundles of matches ready to sell.  And in her hand and she carried another bundle which she offered to passers-by. But no one had bought so much as a single bunch all the long day, and no one had given her even a penny.

Poor little girl! Shivering with cold and hunger she crept along, a perfect picture of misery.

The snowflakes fell on her long flaxen hair, which hung in pretty curls about her neck and shoulders; but she thought not of her beauty nor of the cold. Lights gleamed in every window she passed, and there came to her the wonderous, savoury smell of roast goose. For tonight it was New Year’s Eve. And it was this of which she thought.

In a corner formed by two houses, one of which projected beyond the other, she sat cowering down, sheltering from the cold air. She drew her little feet underneath her, but still she grew colder and colder. And yet she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches at all, and had no pennies to bring. Her father would certainly beat her; and, besides, it was cold enough at home, for they had only the thin roof above them, and though the largest holes had been stopped with straw and rags, there were left many through which the cold wind would whistle and moan.

The girl hunched her shoulders and rubbed her little hands for they were nearly frozen with cold. Oh, Alas! A single match might help her just a little if she could only draw it from the bundle, rub it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. So, at last, she drew one out and struck it down the bricks. Whisht! How it blazed and burned! It gave out a warm, bright flame like a little candle, as she held first one small hand and then the other over it. A wonderful little light it was. The little girl felt as if she was sitting before a great iron stove with polished brass feet and brass shovel and tongs. So blessedly did the match burn that the little maiden stretched out her feet and toes to warm them also. She smiled as the warmth comforted her. But lo, the flame flickered and died, the stove vanished, and nothing remained in her fingers but the little burned match.

The girl hurriedly rubbed another match against the wall. It flashed and flamed, and burned brightly, and where the light fell upon the wall it seemed to become transparent like a veil. The little girl put her head on one side, looking through the veil into the room.

A snow-white cloth was spread upon the table. And set upon it was a beautiful china dinner-service.  And there, on a big dish was a big roast goose, stuffed with apples and prunes, wafts of hot steam, rising to fill the room, as the most glorious, savoury smell, tickled her nose. And then, more delightful still and wonderful, the goose jumped up from the dish, with the carving knife and fork still in its breast, and waddled along the floor straight to the little girl.

But with a sad puff, the match burned out, and nothing was left to her but the thick, damp, brick wall.

Quickly as anything, she lighted another match, dragging down the bricks. And now she was under a most beautiful Christmas tree, larger and far more prettily trimmed than even the one she had seen through the glass doors at the rich merchants. Hundreds of wax tapers were burning on the green branches, and gay figures, such as those she had seen in shop windows, looked down upon her and smiled. The child stretched out her cold hands to them; then the match went out.

But still the lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher. And as she looked up, they became stars in heaven. Then one of them fell, leaving behind a long trail of fire.

“Someone is dying,” murmured the child softly; for her grandmother, the only person who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that whenever a star falls, a soul rises up to heaven.

The little girl struck yet another match against the wall, and it flickered brightly in front of her eyes. And in the brightness, there appeared before her, her dear old grandmother, bright and radiant, sweet and mild, and happy as she had never looked on earth.

“Oh, grandmother,” cried the child, “take me with you. I know you will go away when the match burns out. You, too, will vanish, like the warm stove, the splendid New Year’s feast with the savoury goose, the beautiful Christmas tree.” And lest her grandmother should disappear, she rubbed the whole bundle of matches against the wall.

And the matches burned with such a brilliant light that it became brighter than noonday. Her grandmother had never looked so grand and beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and both flew together, joyously and gloriously, mounting higher and higher, far above the earth. And for them there was neither hunger, nor cold, nor care for evermore.

But in the corner, between the buildings, at the dawn of day, the poor girl, sat still, leaning against the wall, with red cheeks and a smiling mouth; frozen to her last breath on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and cold she sat with her matches in her apron, and a burned bundle in her small hand.

“She wanted to warm herself, poor little thing,” the people said when they found her. But no one imagined what sweet visions she had had, or how gloriously she had gone with her grandmother to enter upon the joys of a new year.

 

*

 

I think Hans Christian Andersen says in that story all that needs to be said, don’t you.

So I will simply end there, wishing you well.

You have been listening to Deep in the Dark Forest.  I am CC Hogan, and wish you good fortune as you travel on your way.