All day long on the twenty-fourth of December the children of Dr. Stahlbaum the public health officer were expressly forbidden to enter the drawing room, let alone the adjoining stateroom. Marie and Fritz sat cowering in a corner of the parlor at the back of the house; the gloom of late dusk had already set in, and they were genuinely terrified in the utter absence of the light customarily afforded by the diurnal hours. In a whisper betokening the strictest secrecy, Fritz informed his younger sister (she had just turned seven) that from early morning onwards clicking and clanging and faint hammering sounds had been heard in the [two] locked rooms. Moreover [,he added,] not a few [minutes] ago there had [been seen] slinking through the vestibule a dark little man with a large box under his arm, [a man] who he knew full well could have been none other than Godfather Drosselmeier. Whereupon Marie clapped her little hands together for sheer joy and cried, “Ah, Godfather Drosselmeier will have made something lovely for us!” Drosselmeier the high court councilor was hardly a man of prepossessing appearance, being rather dwarfish and gaunt and bearing a thoroughly wrinkled face, a large black patch in place of a right eye, and absolutely no hair of his own, on account of which he wore an exquisitely beautiful white periwig made not of hair but of [spun] glass—in other words, a piece of completely artificial craftsmanship.
All in all, the children's godfather was himself a man of artificial construction who understood the inner workings of clocks and watches and could even build entire timepieces from scratch. Accordingly whenever one of the beautiful clocks in Stahlbaum’s house was ill and unable to sing, Godfather Drosselmeier would come, remove his glass periwig, doff his little yellow frock coat, don a blue apron, and prod the insides of the timepiece with [various] pointed tools, thereby genuinely paining Marie but causing no harm whatsoever to the clock, which to the contrary would [invariably] come back to life and immediately begin whirring, chiming, and [chirping] to the joy of everybody present. Whenever he came he would bring along in his satchel something nice for the children; one time it would be a little fellow who drolly rolled his eyes and presented his compliments [to the ladies], the next it would be a box out of which leapt a little bird, the next something else entirely. But for Christmas Eve he had always prepared artifices of especially wondrous beauty whose construction cost him a good deal of time and labor; and in acknowledgement of this cost, as soon as the gifts had been presented to the children, the parents took them away and kept them under solicitous lock and key.
“Ah, Godfather Drosselmeier will have made something lovely for us!” Marie now cried; but Fritz was of the opinion that this something could only be a fortress wherein all sorts of handsome soldiers would march up and down and perform their drills, and then some other soldiers who wanted to break into the fortress would have to show up, but then the soldiers inside the fortress would bravely open fire with cannons on the outside ones, thereby raising a thunderous devil of a racket. “No, no,” Marie interrupted Fritz: “Godfather Drosselmeier has told me of a lovely garden; in the garden is a large lake on which majestic swans with golden necklaces swim about and sing the prettiest songs. Then a little girl comes from the garden to the lake[shore] and lures the swans to her, and feeds them sweet marzipan.” “Swans don’t eat marzipan,” Fritz somewhat gruffly rejoined, “and Godfather Drosselmeier can’t make an entire garden either. [And] anyway, we don’t even have very many of the toys he’s made; they’ve always been taken away from us straight away; that’s why I much prefer the toys Papa and Mama give us—because we can keep them as long as we want and do what we like with them. Now the children began bandying back and forth guesses as to what this year’s [parental gifts] would be.
Marie was of the opinion that Goody Trutchen (her large[st] doll) was very much changing [for the worse], for more and more [often she could not be set upright] for an instant without gracelessly pitching over on to the floor, which never failed to leave the ghastliest [dirt-]streaks on her face; to say nothing of the prospective impossibility of ever restoring her clothes to their original [pristine] cleanness. All her vigorous chastisement of the doll had come to naught. Moreover, Mama had smiled at her extreme elation over Gretchen’s little parasol. Fritz for his part averred that nothing would spruce up his royal stable like a wily fox, and that his army had not a single cavalryman in its ranks, as Papa was well aware. So the children knew full well that their parents had bought them all sorts of lovely presents that they were now in the midst of arranging; they were equally certain that these presents were imbued with the divine light shed with childlike piety and benevolence by the eyes of their dear savior Jesus Christ, and that, as if touched by the benedictory hand of God, each and every Christmas gift imparted a delight for which there was no substitute in point of sheer splendor. Of this their older sister Luise reminded the children even as they continued their whispered conference about the prospective gifts, and she added that their parents were but proxies for their dear savior Jesus Christ, who knew much better than the children themselves what was capable of imparting real pleasure and delight; and that on this account they must by no means hope and wish for everything under the sun, but instead silently and piously resign themselves to whatever they were actually to receive. Little Marie [now] grew quite pensive, but Fritz murmured to himself, “I’d really like to have a fox and some hussars.”
By now it was completely dark. Fritz and Marie huddled close together [and] no longer dared to speak a word; they were wafted by a gentle breeze that seemed to have been stirred up by wings of pure down, and they fancied that they could hear quite faint but distinctly majestic music playing in the distance. A luminous glow played on the wall opposite the children, informing them that now the Christ child had flown away to the refulgent clouds [en route] to [the houses of] other happy children. At that moment the silvery “ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling” of a bell sounded, [and] the doors sprang open, letting in such a flood of bright light from the great drawing room that the children cried out, “Ah! Ah!,” and stood transfixed at the threshold. But [then] Papa and Mama stepped through the doorway, took the children by the hand, and said, “Come along now, come along now, dear children, and see what the holy Christ[child] has given you.”
I call upon you personally, my dear gentle reader or listener—Fritz or Theodor or Ernst or whatever your name may be—to revivify in your mind’s eye the image of the last Christmas table you saw, to picture all those lovely, parti-colored, jewel-encrusted presents, that you may be capable of imagining how the children with their shining eyes stood transfixed and completely speechless [in the middle of the drawing room]; how by and by Marie, fetching a deep sigh exclaimed, “Ah, how beautiful! How beautiful!” and Fritz attempted to cut a few brisk capers [around the room] with remarkable success. The children must have been especially well-behaved and attentive to their religious duties throughout the preceding year, for never before had they received a Christmas offering of such beauty and splendor as this one. The great Christmas tree in the middle was festooned with [dozens of] golden and silver apples; and sugared almonds, parti-colored bonbons, and other types of confectionery sprouted from its every branch like so many buds and flowers. [But] the most beautiful attribute of this marvelous tree was surely the hundreds of tiny candles that twinkled like little stars amidst its dark greenery, whereby in both radiating and containing light it seemed practically to be inviting the children to help themselves to its treasury of fruits and flowers. All the objects heaped up around the tree shone with superlative splendor and brilliance of color; every type of beautiful object imaginable was represented there; it was indeed quite literally indescribable! Marie could espy dolls of exquisitely delicate features, all manner of sprucely constructed items of [dolls’] furniture, and what was most beautiful of all to behold, a little silk dress trimmed with delicate, parti-colored ribbons, which hung on a frame positioned in such a way that little Marie could contemplate it from all sides, as she proceeded to do while exclaiming over and over again, “Ah what a beautiful, ah what a lovely, lovely little dress: and to think that I shall actually—and most certainly—be allowed to put it on!”
Fritz had meanwhile galloped and trotted around the table another three or four times in search of his new fox, which he did indeed find [stationed] on the table. Dismounting [from his invisible horse], he said that the fox was a wild beast and basically a do-nothing, that he would come back for him later; and turned to the inspection of his new squadron of hussars, which were clad in red and gold, equipped with weapons of pure silver, and mounted on horses of such a lustrously white sheen that one would have thought that they too were made of pure silver. Now that the children had calmed down somewhat, they asked for their picture books, which were [duly] brought over and [placed open before them]; on the pages of these books they could behold lovely flowers of all species, men and women of various colors, and even adorable, frolicking children painted so naturally that they seemed to be living and speaking. [But] no sooner had the children asked for these marvelous books than the bell sounded again. [By this signal] they knew that Godfather Drosselmeier was about to present his gifts [to them], and they ran to the table standing against the wall. Briskly the screen behind which he had been hiding for so long was whisked aside. [And] what did the children then behold? On a verdant lawn bejeweled with flowers of various brilliant colors stood a most majestic castle with numerous looking-glass windows and gates of gold. [A few notes of music in the timbre of] a glockenspiel were heard, gates and windows [flew] open, and in the [various] rooms [inside the castle] one could see tiny but daintily [elegant] ladies and gentlemen in plumed hats and long-trained gowns promenading about. In the middle room, which seemed to be virtually bathed in fire—so many miniature candles were burning in its chandeliers—children clad in little doublets and gowns were dancing to the accompaniment of the glockenspiel.
[Meanwhile] a gentleman in an emerald-green cloak kept peeping through one of the windows [of the castle]; he would peer out [of the window] and then vanish again, just like Godfather Drosselmeier himself, and yet he was hardly bigger than Papa’s thumb; from time to he would appear down there [at this window] near the gate of the castle, and then once again withdraw. Now that he had propped his arms up on the table and taken a good look at the beautiful castle with its dancing and promenading little figures, Fritz said, “Godfather Drosselmeier! Please let me go into the castle!” The high court councilor gave him to understand that at present this simply and categorically would not be possible. And he was not mistaken, for it was [sheer] madness on the part of Fritz to propose entering a castle that [even] with its [lofty] golden towers included was still shorter than Fritz himself. Fritz, too, realized this. By and by, as the ladies and gentlemen kept promenading to and fro, the children kept dancing, and the emerald man kept peeping through the same window—all exactly as they had been doing from the beginning—Godfather Drosselmeier interposed himself [between Fritz] and the [front] gates of the castle, prompting Fritz to cry out impatiently, “Godfather Drosselmeier, why don’t you come [out of the castle] at that other gate over there?” “That is not possible, my dear little Fritz,” replied the high court councilor. “Well then,” Fritz resumed, “why don’t you let that green man who keeps sticking his head out like a cuckoo walk about with the other people?” “That won’t be possible either,” demurred the high court councilor once again. “Well then,” cried Fritz, “the children will have to come downstairs so that I can get a better look at them." “Nothing [you have asked for] is possible,” the high court councilor peevishly rejoined: “the mechanism must perform as it was designed to perform.” “Oh, re-e-e-ally?” asked Fritz, in an excruciated tone, “is none of it possible?” Listen here Godfather Drosselmeier: if those squeaky-clean figurines of yours can’t do anything but move about in the same way over and over again, they aren’t worth a fig, and I shan’t take any further interest in them. No, give me my hussars over them any day: they have to maneuver forwards, backwards, whichever way I want them to, and they’re not locked up in some house.” And with that he dashed over to the Christmas table and let his squadron trot and traverse and assemble and fire to and fro on their sliver steeds to his heart’s content. Marie, too, had moved away from the castle, but softly and by degrees; for although she too had quickly grown tired of the little dolls’ promenading and dancing, she was much nicer and better behaved than her brother and did not wish to draw so much attention to herself.
“Artifices of such intricacy as mine,” Drosselmeier rather dyspeptically remarked to the children’s parents, “are wasted on children as stupid as yours; I shall pack up my castle forthwith”; but their mother temporized by allowing the high court councilor to show her the inner workings of the castle and the marvelously intricate clockwork mechanism whereby the various movements of the little dolls were actuated. The councilor took the whole thing apart and then put it back together. This demonstration restored Drosselmeier’s good cheer in its entirety and prompted him to present a few more gifts to the children—a small assortment of lovely brown-skinned men and women whose faces, hands, and legs were all made of gold. They were well outside the periphery of the castle and exuded an aroma as sweet and agreeable as that of gingerbread, to the enormous delight of both Fritz and Marie. In conformity with her mother’s wishes, their sister Luise had donned the lovely dress that she had received as a present, and was looking wonderfully pretty, but Marie—who had been told to don her own dress—preferred to spend a bit more time looking on. This privilege she was readily granted.
In point of fact, Marie was none too keen to leave the Christmas table, for there was one object on it that she had yet to look at as closely or attentively as she wished. Amid the thickly clustering parade of Fritz’s hussars, she could make out a quite splendid little man who was standing there silently and unassumingly at the base of the tree as if calmly awaiting the moment when the processing ranks would draw level with him. Admittedly, an exacting connoisseur of the human form would have found much to object to in his physique, inasmuch as, on top of the fact that his tall and hefty torso was entirely out of proportion with his short, spindly legs, his head was far too large. His costume, however, did much to make up for these shortcomings in suggesting that he was a man of both good taste and good breeding. Specifically, he was clad in a truly gorgeous hussar’s tunic of iridescent violet festooned with a multitude of white braids and little buttons, along with matching trousers and as lovely a pair of little boots as had ever graced the feet of any university student—nay, of any army officer. They fitted his dainty little legs as tightly as a pair of gloves, as though they had been painted on. To be sure, the splendor of his costume proper was rather drolly offset by the shabby, literally wooden-looking cape that hung from his shoulders and the tiny miner’s cap that surmounted his head; and this contrast set Marie musing that Godfather Drosselmeier was no less lovable a godfather for all his similar predilection for tatty capes and unsightly caps. And yet, Marie reflected, even if Godfather Drosselmeier were to dress as dapperly as the little man, he would certainly not be as handsome as him by a long chalk. The longer Marie gazed at this attractive man whom she had taken a shine to at first sight, the more keenly and intimately she became aware of the profound good nature bespoken by his face. His pale green, slightly bulging eyes evinced nothing but a combination of friendliness and benevolence. Luckily for him, the neatly trimmed beard that graced his chin was of white cotton and hence allowed one to perceive the gentle smile that played upon his bright red lips. “Oh,” Marie at length exclaimed, “oh, dear father, to whom does that adorable man at the foot of the tree belong?” “That man,” replied her father, “that man, my dear child, “is here to work like a draft-horse for you all; with his teeth he will make mincemeat of the toughest nut; and he belongs just as much to Luise as to you and Fritz.” Whereupon her father carefully picked the man up off the table, and as he lifted the wooden cape [as] high [as it would go], the little man’s mouth opened very, very wide, revealing two rows of white, pointy teeth. At her father’s behest, Marie shoved a nut into [the opening] and—Crack!—the man had bitten right through the nut, causing its shell to crumble away and letting its [soft] kernel fall into Marie’s hand. Now there was no concealing from anybody including Marie the fact that this elegant little man was a latter-day member of the [ancient] Nutcracker family and an exponent of the [eponymous] profession of his ancestors. Marie emitted a great cry of joy, prompting her father to say to her, “As you are so very fond of our friend Mr. Nutcracker, you must take especial care of him and protect him, notwithstanding the fact that Luise and Fritz are as fully entitled as you are to make use of him!” Marie immediately took the nutcracker into her arms and started cracking nuts with him, but she selected only the smallest specimens so that the little man would not have to open his mouth too wide; but the whole operation eventually proved detrimental to him. Marie was presently joined by Luise, and thus was Marie’s friend Mr. Nutcracker conscripted into cracking nuts for her sister, which, to judge by his unflaggingly friendly smile, he seemed more than game to do. By this point Fritz was worn out from his numerous marching drills and riding exercises, and having been highly delighted to hear the sound of cracking nuts, he bounded over to his sisters and burst into a hearty laugh at the expense of the funny little man who now, as Fritz also wanted to eat some nuts, passed from hand to hand and what with all the snapping open and shut scarcely got to keep his mouth still for a second.
Fritz kept shoving in the biggest and toughest nuts, [until finally,] all at once—crack…crack—two little teeth fell out of the nutcracker’s mouth and his entire lower jaw went slack and wobbly. “Oh my poor dear nutcracker!” Marie cried, and snatched the little man from out of Fritz’s hands. That is one dopey, simpleminded fellow [you’ve got there],” said Fritz. “He wants to be a nutcracker, and he hasn’t even got a proper set of teeth—I’ll even bet he doesn’t know a single thing about his trade. Give him [back] to me, Marie! The [stupid] good-for-nothing is duty-bound to keep biting open nuts for me, even if he loses the rest of his teeth and his whole chin into the bargain, which is what he deserves [anyway].” “No, no,” cried Marie, who was now past the verge of tears, “you shan’t take my little nutcracker from me; just look at how sadly he’s gazing at me and pointing at his wounded little mouth! But you are [completely] heartless: you whip your horses and think nothing of sending a [poor] soldier off to get shot to death.” “These things have to be done,” cried Fritz, “as you [obviously] don’t understand; but that nutcracker belongs to me as much as to you; hand him over this instant.” Marie began weeping fervently and swathed the ailing nutcracker in her little pocket handkerchief. Now their parents came over with Godfather Drosselmeier.
To Marie’s distress her Godfather sided with Fritz. But her father said, “I have expressly placed the nutcracker in Marie’s care, and as I see that care is what he stands in greatest need of at present, he must receive it from her, to the exclusion of all other contenders. I should add that I am truly astonished at Fritz’s exacting of gratuitous service from an ailing subordinate. As a seasoned military man ought he not to know better than to include a wounded soldier in the active rank and file?" Fritz was thoroughly abashed [by this lecture], and, having ceased to care a jot about nuts and nutcrackers, he slunk away to the opposite side of the table, where, after posting the requisite sentries, his hussars had retired to their quarters for the night. Marie gathered up the nutcracker’s missing teeth; she had bound his broken chin in a slip of a white ribbon taken from her dress, and had subsequently swathed him in her kerchief even more solicitously than before. [And] so she cradled him like a little child in her arms, [while] brows[ing] the lovely pictures in the new picture-books that lay amongst the day’s profusion of other presents. She grew quite uncharacteristically cross when Godfather Drosselmeier, laughing heartily all the while, repeatedly asked her how she could ever [take such pleasure] in flirting with such a fundamentally hideous little man [as this]? That curious comparison to Drosselmeier that she had made the first time she laid eyes on the little man [now] came [rushing] back into her mind, and in a tone of the utmost seriousness, she said [to her Godfather], “Who knows, dear Godfather, whether even if you dressed yourself up as nicely as my dear nutcracker, and put on such lovely, shiny little boots [as he’s wearing]—who knows if even then you’d look half as handsome as he does!” Marie was at a complete loss to explain why her parents now burst into such vociferous peals of laughter, or why the high court councilor’s nose was now turning such a deep shade of red, or why he was not laughing with them nearly as loudly as [he had done] before. Perhaps he had his own, private reasons [for not doing so].
To your immediate left as you as you enter the public health officer’s sitting room, there stands against the broad wall a tall, glass-windowed cupboard, in which the children store up all the lovely Christmas presents they have received from year to year. Luise was still a little baby when her father commissioned the cupboard from a highly skilled carpenter, who fitted it with panes of such heavenly pellucidity, and contrived to assemble the whole thing so artfully, that everything in it looked almost shinier and prettier than it would have looked in the viewer’s own hands. On the top shelf, which Marie and Fritz could not reach, stood Godfather Drosselmeier’s artifices; immediately beneath it was the shelf for the picture books; the two lowest shelves Fritz and Marie had permanently at their joint disposal; for all that, Marie always ended up stowing her dolls in the bottom shelf, while Fritz billeted his troops in the one above it. Today had witnessed no exception to this arrangement, for while Fritz had installed his hussars on top, Marie had placed Goody Truchten on one side underneath, inserted her lovely, immaculately clean new doll into the extremely well-appointed [doll’s] room, and treated herself to the sweets she had with her. I said that the room was extremely well appointed, and that is very much the truth, for I do not know whether you, my attentive auditress Marie, just like little Miss Stahlbaum--you know full well, of course, that your first name is also Marie--but anyway!—as I was saying, I do not know whether you, like her, own a tiny sofa upholstered in a lovely floral pattern, a handful of the most delightful-looking little chairs, a dainty tea-table—but above all possessions a plain, neatly made little bed upon which the loveliest little dolls repose themselves? All these things were to be found in the corner of the cupboard, whose walls even here were papered with colorful little pictures, and you can well imagine how the new doll whom Marie had only just learned to call Goody Claerchen must have felt very much at home.
It had grown quite late; indeed, midnight itself was impending, and Godfather Drosselmeier had long since departed, and yet the children had hardly gotten their fill of the glass cupboard, for all their mother’s ardent admonitions to the effect that they really should at long last be getting to bed. “Granted,” Fritz at length exclaimed: “these poor fellows” (i.e., his hussars) “really could do with a snooze, and I’m sure as heck sure they’ll have a fat chance of getting one as long as I’m here!” Whereupon he left the room; Marie, on the other hand, ardently entreated [her mother] thus: “Please, dear Mother, let me stay here just a little while longer, just the tiniest bit longer; I have a few things left to attend to, and once I have attended to them, I certainly plan to go straight to bed!” Marie was a thoroughly pious and sensible child, and so her worthy mother felt no qualms whatsoever about leaving her on her own with her playthings. But Marie’s newly granted liberty, far from enhancing her interest in her new doll and lovely playthings, seemed only to render her oblivious of the candles that were burning in a circle around the cupboard; her mother extinguished them all one by one, leaving only the lamp that hung suspended from the middle of the ceiling to disperse a gentle, ingratiating light throughout the room. “Don’t stay up too much longer, Marie dear, if you want to be able to get up on time tomorrow!” cried her mother, as she withdrew into her bedroom. As soon as Marie found herself alone, she rushed to the object of her heart’s preoccupation, a preoccupation that—for all its urgency, and for reasons unknown even to herself--she was quite incapable of disclosing to her mother. All this time she had been carrying slung over her arm the ailing nutcracker, who was still swathed in her pocket handkerchief. Now she carefully laid him on the table, gently, gently unwound the kerchief, and looked after the wound. [The] nutcracker was very pale, and yet smiling with an intensely wistful geniality, [such] that [the sight of him] pierced Marie straight through the heart. “Ah, my little nutcracker,” she said ever so gently, “don’t be angry at Fritz for having hurt you so much; he didn’t mean to be so cruel; it’s just that this savage soldier’s life he’s been leading has made him a bit hard-hearted—otherwise he’s a truly worthy young man; I can assure you of that. But now I intend to care for you solicitously until your good health and good cheer are entirely restored to you; to set your teeth firmly [back] in place, to straighten out your shoulder; these must be done by Godfather Drosselmeier, who is an expert in such things.”
But Marie could not finish saying her piece, for at her mentioning of the name Drosselmeier, her friend Mr. Nutcracker cocked his jaw at a devilishly wry angle, and his eyes scintillated with pinpricks of green light. But just when Marie was on the point of being thoroughly horrified, she beheld once again the honest Nutcracker’s familiar face with its familiar wistful smile, and she realized that its disfigurement a moment earlier had been owing entirely to a brief flaring up of light cast by the ceiling lamp courtesy of an equally transitory draught of air. “I am not some silly little girl who scares so easily as to fancy that a wooden doll is pulling faces at her! But I am too fond of Nutcracker by half because he is so droll and yet so good-natured, and so he has to be taken care of, as is only proper.” Whereupon Marie cradled her friend Nutcracker in her arms, approached the cupboard, crouched down in front of it, and addressed her new doll thus: “I heartily beseech you, Goody Claerchen, to give up your bed to the injured nutcracker, and to commit yourself, for lack of a better alternative, to the sofa. Remember that you are in perfect health, and in full possession of your strength; otherwise your cheeks would not be so plump and such a deep shade of red; and also remember that very few of even the loveliest dolls own such a comfortable sofa [as yours].” Goody Claerchen, too shy to make a peep, simply kept silently sulking in all her resplendent Yuletide brand-newness. “But why am I making such a fuss about this?” said Marie, [as] she pulled the bed out, gently and tenderly laid the Nutcracker in it, wrapped around his injured shoulders a lovely little ribbon that she usually wore around her waist, and tucked him in right up to the underside of his nose. “But,” she continued, “I can’t very well leave him in the same room as naughty Clara,” and [so saying she] placed the little bed, nutcracker and all, in the shelf above hers, so that it came to nestle alongside the lovely village where Fritz’s troops were billeted. She shut and locked the cupboard and headed towards her bedroom, but then—listen up, children!—then she began to hear a faint, ever so faint, whispering and flustering and rustling on all sides of the room—behind the stove, behind the chairs, behind the cupboards. All the while the clock on the wall was whirring ever more loudly and yet [somehow] failing to chime.
Marie looked at the clock: the gilded owl perched on top of it had covered it from top to bottom with its lowered wings, through and well to the fore of which its hideous pug-nosed cat’s head jutted. And it whirred even more violently, and in its whirring the following words could clearly be discerned: “softly whirr and cause no fear: that’s the task of every gear. Mouse-King has a subtle ear; lull him with an ancient tune; dully sound the nightside noon; for him it will be lights out soon!” And in exact conformity with these orders the clock struck twelve as softly and unreverberantly as could be! Marie began to be genuinely quite frightened, and she nearly fled the room in horror when she saw Godfather Drosselmeier sitting in place of the owl on top of the clock, with his yellow coat-tails dangling down on either side of the clock like wings; but she pulled herself together, and cried out loudly and tearfully, “Godfather Drosselmeier, Godfather Drosselmeir, what are you doing up there? Come down and stop frightening me so, you naughty Godfather Drosselmeier!” But then from all sides of the room issued peals of demented laughter and whistling, and a thousand tiny feet [could be heard] scampering and scurrying behind the walls, and a thousand tiny lights [could be seen] gleaming through the cracks between the floorboards. Wait: no!—they weren’t lights, but tiny flashing eyes, and Marie suddenly realized that all around her mice were poking their noses out and pulling themselves up from beneath the floor to its surface. Soon they were trotting, trotting, trotting, and hopping, hopping, hopping, into every side and corner of the room; ever thicker and ever more luminous heaps of mice were galloping to and fro; and at length they arranged themselves into ranks and files of the sort that Fritz would arrange his troops into when he was about to lead them into battle.
Marie found this all extremely comical, for unlike many other children she had no natural aversion to mice; and the very last trace of her fear was on the point of vanishing when there suddenly commenced a [peculiar, steady] whistling sound that was so ghastly and piercing that it made icy chills run down her spine! Ah what things she now beheld! No, in all frankness, my [dear and] honored reader Fritz, I know that you, just like the wise and courageous General Fritz Stahlbaum, have your heart in the right place, but if you had seen what Marie now saw before her very eyes, in all frankness you would have run away; I even believe you would have leapt straight into bed and pulled the covers much farther over your ears than was strictly necessary. But of course poor Marie was hardly in a position to do any of those things now, for—listen up, children!—right smack dab in front of her feet a jet of sand and lime and pieces of broken marble stones shot up from the floor with a truly ghastly hissing and whistling sound, and seven mouse-heads with seven brightly scintillating crowns heaved themselves to the surface. Presently the body of the mouse on whose necks the seven heads had grown worked its way completely above ground and the large mouse with the seven bejeweled diadems squeaked a resonant cheer at the entire horde, which proceeded to set itself in motion and--giddy-up and off!—galloped, galloped, galloped, right up to the very doors of the cupboard, right up to Marie herself, who was still standing directly in front of it. So far Marie’s heart for sheer terror and panic had been throbbing so violently that she had been thinking that it was bound at any second to burst out of her chest and thereby kill her; but now she suddenly felt as though the circulation of the blood in her veins had come to a standstill. Half unconscious, she tottered backwards; then she heard a rumble and a clink, and the glass front of the cupboard, which she [evidently had] just smashed open with her elbow, collapsed in shards. She immediately felt a stabbing pain in her left arm, but also a sudden and pronounced relaxation of tension around her heart; the squeaking and whistling had stopped, [and] complete silence permeated the room; and although she could not see them, she assumed that the mice [were still nearby,] and had [merely] been frightened back into their holes by the sound of the shattering glass. But then what was this?
Directly behind her in the cupboard she heard a curious rumbling as the faintest voices began muttering as follows: “We’re up and about, up and about—to arms and the field, before the night's out—we’re up and about—to arms straightaway!” And immediately thereafter she heard several little bells sounding together concordantly, to the most exquisitely charming effect. “Ah, of course: it’s my glockenspiel!” Marie delightedly exclaimed, and briskly leaping aside to get a view of the cupboard, she saw therein the most strangely lit and peopled and busied sight she had ever seen. Several dolls were running in every which direction and thrusting at and parrying each other. Then all of a sudden, Nutcracker flung aside the counterpane, leapt out of the bed with both feet forward, and loudly exclaimed: “Crack, crack, crack—you stupid rodent pack—stupid crazy guff –enough’s enough—crick and crack and huff and puff—the purest guff.” And with that he drew his tiny sword and flourished it in the air and cried: “You, my dear retainers, friends, and brothers—do you intend to assist me in my arduous struggle?” Immediately three scaramouches, a pantaloon, four chimney-sweeps, two zither-players, and a drummer heartily rejoined, “Yes, sir: we are your loyal servants; we’ll struggle alongside you through thick and thin—win or lose, live or die!” and hastened to follow the lead of the ecstatic Nutcracker, who was now attempting to negotiate the risky leap to the bottom shelf. Yes! The other dolls had all successfully made the plunge, for not only were they clad in splendid garments of lawn and silk, but also their very innards were basically nothing but cotton and chaff, so that they plumped down on to the bottom shelf just like little sacks of wool. But as for poor Nutcracker: well, he would certainly have broken both his arms and legs—for I’ll have you know it was a two-foot drop to the bottom shelf, and his body was as brittle as if it had been carved directly out of a single piece of linden-wood—had not Goody Claerchen leapt from the sofa and caught our sword-brandishing hero in her accommodatingly pliant arms just in the nick of time. “Oh my dear, worthy, wonderful Claerchen!” sobbed Marie: “How sorely I misjudged you! You were in fact only too happy to give up your little bed to our friend Mr. Nutcracker!” But now Goody Claerchen spoke thus, as she tenderly clasped the young hero to her silken bosom: “For pity’s sake, my lord, give heed to your present wounds and infirmities and avoid the battlefield; behold how your valiant retainers are rallying with gusto for battle and in full certainty of victory. The scaramouche[s], the pantaloon[s], the chimney-sweep[s], the zither-player[s], and the drummer[s] are already down there, and the figurines on my shelf are already up and bestirring themselves with remarkable alacrity; I beg you, my lord, to rest [out the battle] in my arms, or else to spectate on your victory from the lofty [security] of my plumed hat!”
Thus spoke Claerchen, but Nutcracker grew so refractory and started kicking so hard to be set free that Claerchen ultimately had no choice but to set him down on the floor. But no sooner had he been set free than he fell with exemplary gallantry to his knees and whispered, “Oh dear lady! In every battle and in all adversity that comes my way, I shall treasure the memory of your most gracious and merciful succor!” Then Claerchen stooped down low enough to grab him by both his little arms, gently lifted him up, quickly undid her sequin-spangled waistband, and made as if to wrap the little man up in it, but he fell back two steps, laid his hand on his breast, and solemnly intoned: “Waste not your kindness on me, dear lady, for—” he broke off, fetched a deep sigh, tore off the little ribbon in which Marie had swathed his shoulder, pressed it to his lips, tied it [round one of his ankles] like a gaiter, and, brandishing his drawn sword, leapt as quickly and nimbly as a sparrow over the ledge of the cupboard and on to the floor. Note well, my most dear and gentle listeners, that long before he had come properly to life Nutcracker was most cannily sensible of Marie’s tender and virtuous feelings for him, and that it was only on account of his settled attachment to Marie that he refused to accept or wear Goody Claerchen’s ribbon, for all its lustrous handsomeness. Out of loyalty and affection Nutcracker preferred to trick himself out in Marie’s unassuming little ribbon. But what ever was to happen next? As soon as Nutcracker touched down, the cheeping and squeaking started up again. Oh no! beneath the large table [in the center of the room] the hideous and immeasurably huge horde of mice were gathered, and amidst the lot of them stood tall and proud the abominable mouse with seven heads! What ever was to happen next?
“You, my loyal retainer, Mr. Drummer,” cried Nutcracker: “summon the troops to march!” whereupon the drummer launched into a tattoo of such extraordinary virtuosity that it set the windows of the cupboard shaking and trembling. Now from within the cupboard Marie heard a good deal of bashing and clattering, and it eventually dawned on her that the lid of the case that served as the quarters of Fritz’s army had been forced open, and that the soldiers had escaped and jumped to the bottom shelf, where they were now assembling in neatly serried ranks.
Nutcracker dashed up and down the lists, mercilessly hectoring the troops in his enthusiasm. “Not a dog of a trumpeter is shifting or stirring!” he furiously exclaimed, only to turn abruptly to the pantaloon—he whose face had turned rather pale and whose oversized chin was shaking quite violently—and solemnly address him thus: “General, I know of your courage and experience, I entrust to you the command of the complete cavalry and artillery; you have no need of a horse, as your legs are so long that you can reach a tolerable gallop on your own two feet. Now follow your function.” So pantaloon immediately thrust two of his lanky little fingers into his mouth and whistled so forcefully, that the resultant sound was as strident as a hundred toy trumpets sounding simultaneously at full volume. Then there was a tremendous amount of whinnying and stamping inside the cupboard, and lo! Fritz’s cuirassiers, dragoons, and, most spectacular of all, his resplendently shiny new hussars, emerged from the case and descended to the floor, where they presently drew to an expectant halt. Now with standards flying and drums and trumpets sounding, regiment upon regiment paraded past Nutcracker and contributed its long row of soldiers to an army that eventually covered the entire floor of the room. But now in front of the front-most row of troops were posted Fritz’s cannons, attended on all sides by their gunners, and before Marie knew it, there was a boom and another boom; and she beheld whole crowds within the horde of mice covered to their embarrassment in white pulverized pea-powder. Especially damaging to them, though, was a heavy discharge of the ordnance that alit on Mama’s footstool and—Boom!—Boom!—sent all the mice in its vicinity toppling. And yet the mice continued to draw ever nearer and even managed to overrun a few of the cannons, but then there was a noise that went PRR—PRR—PRR, and Marie could scarcely see what was happening for all the smoke and dust. But this much was certain: that each side was laying into the other with the bitterest intensity, and that victory was in no hurry to yield itself up to either one.
The army of mice was continuing to grow larger and larger, and the tiny silver pellets that they wielded with considerable aplomb as missiles were now smashing into the cupboard itself. Despair-stricken, Claerchen and Truchten were running about in every which direction and wringing their tiny hands raw. “Am I—the loveliest doll yet sewn--destined to die in the most efflorescent hour of my maidenhood?" cried Claerchen. “Have I preserved myself so well for so long only to perish here within the four walls of my own apartment?” cried Truchten. With that they fell into each other’s arms, and wailed so loudly that they could be heard even above the infernal din of the battle. For of the spectacle that was now commencing you, my honored listeners, will scarcely form an adequate notion. First Marie heard a sound like this--Prr, prrr—puff, piff—shnetterding—shnetterding—boom, brrroom, boom, brruom, boom—which set the mice and their king squeaking and squealing, and then she once again heard Nutcracker’s powerful voice, parceling out orders for needful tasks; and finally she saw Nutcracker in person striding directly through the beleaguered battalions! Pantaloon had accrued considerable glory in a handful of cavalry charges, but Fritz’s hussars were being pelted with the fetid discharge of the mice’s artillery, which bored lethal holes into their red jerkins and thereby prevented them from even attempting to advance. Pantaloon let them turn aside to the left and in the delirium of command, he forced his own cuirassiers and dragoons to do the same; so that they all turned left and headed homeward. In so doing, they left the battery posted on the footstool exposed to attack; and in no time flat, a hideous troop of mice assailed it with such force that they overturned the entire footstool, including the gunners and cannons. Nutcracker seemed quite dismayed and ordered the right wing to make a retrograde movement.
Now you know full well, my dear listener Fritz, what with all your experience of war, that to make such a movement is virtually tantamount to retreating; and you will have already begun to join me in mourning in advance the disaster that was all but destined to overwhelm the army of Marie’s beloved little Nutcracker! For all that, avert your eyes from this calamity and behold the left flank of Nutcracker’s army, wherein everything is still very much in order, and commander-in-chief and army alike still have very good reason to be hopeful. During the most heated period of the battle several mouse cavalry squadrons had quietly, quietly debouched from under the chest of drawers, and, emitting loud squeaks of rage, had pounced on to the left flank of Nutcracker’s army—but what resistance did they meet with there for all their fury! Slowly-to the extent permitted by the roughness of the terrain, the figurines escorted by two Chinese emperors, had advanced and gathered themselves together into a square formation. This valiant, splendid, and brilliantly parti-colored contingent composed of numerous gardeners, Tyroleans, Tunguses, hairdressers, harlequins, cupids, lions, tigers, meerkats, and monkeys, fought with exemplary composure, courage, and stamina. This elite battalion most certainly would have snatched victory from the foe’s jaws with Spartan-worthy valor had not a charging enemy cavalry captain been so rash and impertinent as to bite off the head of one of the Chinese emperors, or had the head in its descent not happened to strike dead a meerkat and two Tunguses. These casualties produced a gap through which the enemy surged, and in short order the entire battalion was gnawed to bits. But the enemy gained precious little advantage from this outrage.
No sooner had one of the mouse-army’s cavalry officers gnawed through his valiant adversary than he received a tiny printed label in the neck, whereupon he immediately died. But what did this avail Nutcracker’s army, an army that had long been steadily diminishing in strength and losing more and more men, such that by now the unfortunate Nutcracker was standing with his back flush against the cupboard and defending it with the assistance of only a tiny handful of subordinates? “Reserves: I order you to advance! Pantaloon, Scaramouche, Drummer—where are you?” Thus cried Nutcracker, who still hoped to elicit one more deployment of fresh troops from the cupboard. The figures that actually emerged were a handful of brown-skin thornwood men and women with golden faces, hats, and helmets, who thrashed about so fumblingly that their weapons never even so much as grazed any of the enemy; such that, indeed, if left to their own devices they surely would have knocked their own general’s—Nutcracker’s—cap off his head. In any event, the enemy chasseurs soon bit their legs off, causing them to topple over and collaterally crush to death several of Nutcracker’s comrades in arms. Now Nutcracker was completely surrounded by the enemy, at the highest pitch of fear and need. He tried to leap over the threshold of the cupboard, but his legs were too short; Claerchen and Truchten lay unconscious, dead to the world; they could not help him. The giddy capering of mounted hussars and dragoons in every direction but towards him prompted him to cry out in abject despair, “A horse, a horse!—A kingdom for a horse!” In the blink of an eye, two enemy skirmishers seized hold of him by his wooden cape; and then, squeaking triumphantly from all seven of his voice-boxes, the king of the mice came bounding up to him. Marie could no longer contain herself: “O my poor Nutcracker—my poor Nutcracker!” she exclaimed through a succession of sobs; then, without being quite fully aware of what she was doing, she pulled off her left shoe and flung it with main force into the thick of the horde of mice at their king. In the blink of an eye they all seemed to fly away and vanish even as Marie felt a second--and this time much more strident—stabbing pain in her left arm, and fainted dead away on to the floor.
When Marie next woke up, from a sleep of deathlike profundity, she was lying in her own little bed, and the sun was shining brightly and coruscatingly through the frosted panes of her bedroom window. Close beside her was sitting a strange man; but his strangeness did not last long, as she soon recognized in him Herr Wendelstern the surgeon. He quietly announced, “She is awake!” Whereupon her mother drew near and gazed at her with harriedly searching eyes. “Ah, Mother dear,” little Marie gently murmured: “does this mean that all the horrible mice are now gone, and that my worthy Nutcracker is safe and sound?” ”Don’t talk such foolish nonsense, Marie dear,” replied her mother: “what do mice have to do with the nutcracker? This is the kind of thing that happens when children are froward and headstrong and don’t obey their parents. Last night you were up very late playing with your dolls; you got sleepy, and it’s possible that you were frightened by some little mouse—not that we’ve ever had any mouse problems here—dashing out into the room; at any event, you hit your arm against one of the door-panes of the glass cupboard and cut your arm so badly that in the opinion of Herr Wendelstern, who has removed the shards of glass that were still stuck in the wound, if one of those shards had touched an artery you might very well have ended up with a paralyzed arm, or even bled to death. Thank God I happened to wake up at midnight and, on noticing that you were still absent despite the lateness of the hour, to get out of bed and go into the sitting room. You were lying there unconscious on the floor next to the cupboard, and bleeding profusely. In my terror I came quite close to fainting dead away myself. You were lying there, and I saw strewn all around you multitudes of Fritz’s lead soldiers and other dolls—figurines, gingerbread men; but Nutcracker was lying clasped in the crook of your bleeding arm, and not far away from you lay your left shoe." “Oh mother dear, mother dear,” Marie interjected, “don’t you see? Those were just traces of the mighty battle between the dolls and the mice, and the only reason I got so frightened was that the mice were about to take prisoner poor Nutcracker, who was the commander of the army of dolls. Then I hurled my shoe into the horde of mice, and I don’t remember anything that happened after that." Herr Wendelstern exchanged a significant glance with Marie’s mother and whispered gently to Marie, “That really will do, my dear child! Calm yourself: the mice are all gone, and your little nutcracker is residing happily and healthily in the glass cupboard.”
Then the doctor entered the room and spoke at length with Herr Wendelstern; then he took Marie’s pulse and she could clearly hear that they were conferring about a case of septic fever. And so she had to stay in bed and take medicine for the next several days, even though, apart from the occasional twinge in her arm, she did not feel the least bit unwell. She knew that little Nutcracker had escaped unscathed from the battle, and from time to time as if in a dream she fancied she heard him say quite distinctly but sadly, “Marie, my dearest lady, I am much obliged to you, but there yet remains something you can do for me!” Marie tried as hard as she could to think of what this something could be; but in vain, for nothing came to mind. Marie could not play with her toys at all on account of the injury to her arm, and tried instead to read, or rather leaf through, her picture books; but the images swam before her eyes in such a bizarre fashion that she was forced to leave off. And so time passed for her with wearisome slowness, and she could hardly wait for the close of each day, when her mother would sit down at her bedside and read aloud and recount to her many a splendid tale. Her mother had just finished the excellent story of Prince Fakardin when the door opened, and Godfather Drosselmeier walked in, saying, “I really must see with my own eyes how this ailing and injured girl Marie is faring.” As soon as Marie beheld Father Drosselmeier in his little yellow coat, the image from that night when Nutcracker lost the battle against the mice came quite palpably to life before her eyes, and she reflexively cried out to the high court councilor, “O Godfather Drosselmeier, you behaved really horribly; I saw you sitting on the clock and covering it with your wings so that it wouldn’t make any noise when it struck, lest the mice should be scared away; and I heard you calling out to the mouse-king! Why didn’t you come to the aid of Nutcracker? Why didn’t you come to my aid? Wasn’t it really all your awful fault that I ended up ailing and injured in bed in the first place?” “What ever has gotten into you, Marie dear?” asked her mother in a thoroughly appalled tone of voice. But Godfather Drosselmeier started pulling the most outlandish faces and uttered the following words in a burring monotone: "The clock could not but softly whirr: its pendulum refused to stir. Now sounds its bell both loud and clear; my little maiden have no fear; the bell is sounding in the night to put the Mouse-King in full flight. And now the owl has taken wing; the bell’s still sounding ding, ding, ding. The clock could not but softly whirr: its pendulum refused to stir; whirr and purr and purr and whirr; purr and whirr." Marie stared transfixed by the sight of Godfather Drosselmeier, for he now looked both altogether different from and much more hideous than he usually did, and he was flitting his right hand about this way and that, exactly as though he were operating some sort of invisible marionette. These antics of her godfather’s would have been enough to make her shudder had her mother not been present from their beginning, and had Fritz not slunk into the room in their midst and eventually interrupted them with peals of boisterous laughter. “There you go again, Godfather Drosselmeier,” cried Fritz: “acting much too silly by half; you’re behaving today exactly like my old jumping jack, which I threw away behind the kitchen stove ages ago.” The children’s mother remained obdurately unsmiling and said, “My dear High Court Councilor, this fooling about of yours is downright bizarre; what, pray tell, exactly do you mean by it?” “Good heavens!” replied Drosselmeier with a laugh. “Have you all quite forgotten my little watchmaker’s ditty? It is my constant wont to sing it to such invalids as Marie.” Whereupon he made a beeline for Marie’s immediate bedside, and said, “Please don’t be too cross with me because I failed to gouge out all fourteen of the Mouse-king’s eyes, for it just wasn’t to be; but in lieu of this achievement, I am determined to do something that will properly enrapture you.”
With these words, the high court councilor reached into his satchel and gently, ever so gently, extracted from it nothing less than Nutcracker himself, whose missing teeth he had expertly remounted and whose broken jawbone he had no less skillfully reset. Marie gave out a loud cry of joy, but her mother said with a smile, “Don’t you see at last now how kindly disposed Godfather Drossemleier is to your nutcracker?” “But you must of course make allowances, Marie,” said the high court councilor, disregarding the public health officer’s wife’s remark, “for the fact that even before he was hurt Nutcracker wasn’t exactly an ideal specimen of an adult male human, and that his face hasn’t ever been exactly pretty.” If you are inclined to listen to it, I shall be more than happy to recount to you the story of how this strain of hideousness was introduced into the Nutcrackers’ family bloodline and subsequently transmitted to generations of Nutcrackers. But perchance you are already familiar with the history of Princess Pirlipat, Mouserinks the sorceress, and the expert watchmaker? “Wait a minute, Godfather Drosselmeier,” broke in Fritz from out of the blue; “wait a minute: you’ve sure enough reset Nutcracker’s teeth, and his chin isn’t wobbly any longer; but why is he missing his sword? Why haven’t you bothered to sling a sword round his waist?” “Ai-ai-ai!” exclaimed the high court councilor in utter exasperation: “Must you nitpick and bellyache about absolutely everything, my boy? What the devil do I care about Nutcracker’s sword? I’ve cured his physical ailments; now he can jolly well scrounge up for himself whatever blasted kind of sword he wants.” “That’s right!” cried Fritz: “He’s quite a clever fellow, so he’ll know exactly how to go about finding weapons.” “So Marie,” resumed the high court councilor: “Are you or are you not familiar with the history of Princess Pirlipat?” “Indeed I’m not,” replied Marie: “do tell it, dear godfather; do tell it!” “I hope, my dear high court councilor,” said the public health officer’s wife, "I hope that this story will not be as horrifying as the ones you usually tell.” “On the contrary, my dearest lady,” replied Drosselmeier: “the discourse I am about to have the honor of delivering is downright comical.” “Do tell it, dear Godfather, do tell it!” cried the children, and so the high court councilor began thus:
The Fairy Tale about the Hard Nut
“Pirlipat’s mother was the wife of a king, hence she was a queen; and Pirlipat herself was from the very instant of her birth onwards a born princess. The king was beside himself with joy at the sight of his lovely little daughter lying in her cradle; he gave a great shout of jubilation; he jigged and pirouetted about, and exclaimed over and over again, ‘Huzzah! Has anyone ever seen anything more beautiful than my little Pirlipat?’ Whereupon all the ministers, generals, presidents, and field-officers leapt and pirouetted about just like their sovereign, and shouted ‘No, never!’ And indeed it could hardly be denied that no fairer child than Princess Pirlipat had been born in the history of the earth’s existence. Her little face seemed to have been woven from lily-white and rose-red silk fleece, her little eyes were scintillating orbs of living azure, and the sight of her hair curling in tiny locks of golden thread was downright adorable. In addition, Pirlipat had brought into the world two rows of tiny pearl-white teeth, with which, only two hours after her birth, she bit the finger of the Chancellor as he was trying to get a closer look at her features, and thereby provoked him to exclaim, ‘By jiminy!’ Actually, some people maintain that he exclaimed, ‘Ouch!’; to this day the question remains hotly disputed. In any case, she really did bite the chancellor’s finger, and thereby proved to the delight of the entire country that not only beauty but also spirit, brains, and courage dwelt in Pirlipat’s angelic little body. As I said, everybody was very merry—apart from the queen, who was exceedingly anxious and restless; nobody knew why. Her anxiety manifested itself most conspicuously in the extreme elaborateness of her arrangements to keep intruders away from Pirlipat’s cradle. Not only were two gentlemen-at-arms posted at the entrance to the child’s room; but also, in addition to the two nurses stationed immediately beside the cradle itself, six others were disposed about the room and obliged to sit up all night every night. But even more incomprehensibly, and to all appearances downright insanely, each of these six nurses was required to take a tomcat into her lap and stroke it throughout her vigil, so that the animal was kept in a state of constant agitation.
No matter how long you tried, my dear children, you would never guess the reason for the queen’s institution of all these bizarre rituals; fortunately, I know what that reason was and intend to disclose it to you forthwith. Some years earlier a number of noble kings and handsome princes had gathered at the court of Pirlipat’s father; and for the duration of their stay there was no shortage of pomp and pageantry as the guests were regaled with a succession of jousting-matches, plays, and balls. To show that he was not lacking in gold and silver on this occasion, the king planned to dig deep into the royal treasury and put on a truly lavish entertainment. And as the palace chef had privately informed him that according to the astronomer royal the present moment was an especially propitious one for pig-slaughtering, he decided that the great event would be a mighty sausage-fest; and having done so, he jumped into his carriage and personally invited all the kings and princes ‘round for a spoonful or two of soup,’ grossly understating the scale and nature of the event so that he might revel in the surprise his guests would feel at the sight of all those mouth-watering sausages. Then he addressed his wife, the queen, in affectionately coaxing tones, thus: ‘Now you know very well, darling, how much I love sausage!’ The queen indeed knew very well what he meant by this, namely nothing less than that, as on all previous sausage-exigent occasions, she herself should personally undertake the needful task of preparing the sausages. The treasurer was obliged immediately to deliver the large gold sausage-pot and the silver saucepans to the cook; a mighty sandalwood-fueled fire was lit; the queen donned her damask apron, and soon the pot was exuding the fragrant steam of sausage-soup. The ingratiating aroma permeated every room in the palace, including the privy council chamber; the king could not contain himself for sheer enraptured delight. ‘Excuse me, gentlemen!’ he cried, then dashed to the kitchen, embraced the queen, stirred the mixture in the pot a bit with his golden scepter, and returned pacified to the privy council chamber. A critical moment had just been reached—the moment when the lard was to be sliced into cubes and roasted on silver gridirons. The ladies-in-waiting stood aside, as the queen, out of reverent devotion to her regal spouse, insisted on attending to this business single-handedly. But no sooner had the lard begun to sizzle than a reedy little voice was heard to whisper, ‘Give me a bite of the sausage, sister! I will have my share of the feast, for I too am a queen, after all. Give me a bite of the sausage!’
The queen instantly recognized the voice as that of Mistress Mouserinks. Mistress Mouserinks had been living in the King’s palace for quite a number of years. She claimed to be related to the royal family and even to be queen of the kingdom of Mausolea, and in keeping with these pretensions she presided over a sizable court of her own under the stove. The queen was a kind and charitable soul, and so, although she had no intention of acknowledging Mistress Mouserinks as a queen and her sister, she sincerely harbored no wish to see her starve on this festive day, and therefore cried: “Come on out, Mistress Mouserinks: of course I’ll let you have a taste of my lard.” Whereupon Mistress Mouserinks very nimbly and gaily leapt out and on to the top of the stove and with her dainty little paws snatched away one after the other the little dollops of lard that the queen guilelessly handed out to her. But then all of Mistress Mouserinks’s godfathers and aunties came leaping out along with her seven sons (very naughty boys); the lot of them laid into the lard, and, alone as she was, the affrighted queen was powerless to stop them. Fortunately, just then the mistress of ceremonies walked in and chased away the importunate guests in time to spare a small portion of the lard, which, with the help of the emergency expertise of the mathematician royal, was then ingeniously distributed among all the sausages. Drums and trumpets sounded, and all the visiting princes and potentates—some on white palfreys, others in crystal coaches—processed in their resplendent ceremonial robes to the sausage-fest.
The king welcomed them warmly and respectfully, and sat down at the head of the table as behooved the crowned and sceptered ruler of the land. As early as the serving of the liver-sausage course, one could see the king growing paler and paler and lifting his eyes heavenward; faint sighs escaped his breast; a violent pain seemed to be gnawing at his heart. But with the serving of the black pudding, he sank back into his easy chair sobbing and groaning; he clasped both hands over his eyes; he wailed and moaned. The banqueters all leapt from their chairs; the physician in ordinary labored in vain to ascertain the unfortunate king’s pulse-rate; a profound and nameless affliction seemed to be tearing him to pieces. At last, at long last, after many lengthy entreaties, after the application of such strong remedies as burnt goose-feathers and the like, the king came round after a fashion, and stammered out the scarcely audible words ‘Not enough lard.’ Whereupon the queen in despair threw herself at his feet and sobbed, ‘O my poor, unfortunate royal spouse! O what pain must you have suffered! But behold the culprit here at your feet—punish her, punish her severely—ah—Mistress Mouserinks with her seven sons, godfathers, and aunties devoured the lard and—’ here she broke off and fell over in a dead faint. But now the king leapt up freshly afire with rage and exclaimed, ‘Mistress of Ceremonies, how did this happen?’ The mistress of ceremonies related to him as much as she knew, and the king resolved to take revenge on Mistress Mouserinks and her family for having gobbled away his lard. The privy council were summoned; they resolved to bring Mistress Mouserinks to trial and to confiscate all her goods and chattels; but the king, convinced as he was that pending her conviction she would continue stealing lard from him, decided to turn the entire matter over to his watchmaker royal-cum-china manufacturer.
This gentleman, who happened, just like me, to be named Christian Elias Drosselmeier, promised that by means of a most peculiar political operation he would drive Mistress Mouserinks and her family away from the palace for all time. The operation centered on a collection of ingenious little machines of his own invention, machines into which one placed a tiny sliver of grilled lard. Drosselmeier installed these machines all around Mistress Mouserinks’s dwelling. Mistress Mouserinks herself was far too shrewd not to see through Drosselmeier’s stratagem, and she did her best to apprise her dimmer relatives of it; but all her warnings and expostulations came to nought: lured by the sweet aroma of grilled lard, all seven of her sons and her many, many godfathers and aunties marched straight into Drosselmeier’s machines, wherein, just as they were about to nibble up the lard, they were trapped by the abrupt descent of a metal grating—and immediately thereafter they were ignominiously executed in the kitchen. Carrying her little bundle of things, Mistress Mouserinks quit this scene of terror. Sorrow, despair, and revenge swelled her breast. Everybody at court heartily rejoiced at this turn of events; but the queen was distraught, for she understood Mistress Mouserinks’s cast of mind and knew full well that she would not let the death of her sons and relations go unavenged. And indeed one day not long afterwards, while the queen was in the midst of preparing for her royal spouse a lung puree that he especially fancied, Mistress Mouserinks appeared out of nowhere and said, ‘My sons, my godfathers, and my aunties have been slain; be vigilant, Mistress Queen, lest the mouse queen bite your little princess in half; be very vigilant.’ Whereupon she vanished once again, apparently for good; but the queen was so startled by the whole event that she dropped the puree into the fire; thus once again one of the king’s favorite dishes was ruined thanks to Mistress Mouserinks, and once again the king was wildly enraged as a consequence. But that’s enough for tonight; the rest will have to wait until next time.”
The more ardently Marie begged Godfather Drosselmeier to continue telling the story, by which she was utterly captivated, the more obdurately he refused to be persuaded; until finally he leapt to his feet and said, “Too much all at once is unhealthy; the rest really must wait until tomorrow.” Just as the high court councilor was about to step out the door, Fritz said, “But tell me, Godfather Drosselmeier: is it really true then that you invented the mousetrap?” “What a foolish question!” cried Fritz’s mother, but the high court councilor smiled a very peculiar smile and softly said, “I am certainly no expert watchmaker, and hardly deserve to be thought capable of inventing even a simple mousetrap.”
The Fairy Tale about the Hard Nut Continued
“Now you know children,” resumed High Court Councilor Drosselmeier the following evening, “now you know, children, exactly why the queen had the exquisitely beautiful little Princess Pirlipat so solicitously watched over. Was she not compelled to fear that Mistress Mouserinks would carry out her threat, and bite the little princess to death? Drosselmeier’s machines were of no use whatsoever against the shrewd and clever Mistress Mouserinks, but the astronomer royal, who was also an augur and an astrologer, claimed as a certainty that tomcats of the Purr family were capable of keeping Mistress Mouserinks away from the cradle; and it was for this reason that each of the nurses held a son of this family—who had meanwhile been engaged as undersecretaries for foreign affairs by the court—in her lap, and was obliged to try through judicious petting to alleviate some of the tediousness of his service to the State.
One night on the very stroke of twelve, one of the two head-nurses sitting right next to the cradle awoke with a start as if from a profound slumber. The entire room was fast asleep: nary a purr could be heard; the silence was so profoundly dead that you could make out the pecking of the woodworms against the background of it—but imagine the shock the head nurse got when right under her nose she beheld a large and extremely hideous mouse standing erect on its hind legs and already nuzzling the princess’s face with its repulsive muzzle. With a horrified shriek she leapt to her feet; everybody else immediately woke up, but by then Mistress Mouserinks (for the large mouse in Pirlipat’s cradle had been none other than she) was dashing towards one of the corners of the room. The undersecretaries rushed after her, but too late—she had vanished through a crack in the floor. All the uproar woke up little Pirlipat, who began crying most pitiably. ‘Thank Heaven!” exclaimed the nurses: ‘she’s alive.’ But how great was their horror when they glanced at Pirlipat and noticed what had become of the tender, lovely little infant! In place of her roseate little angel’s head crowned with golden tresses, a disproportionately large, misshapen giant’s noggin sat atop the scrunched up body of a diminutive hunchback; her wee button eyes of clearest azure had metamorphosed into a pair of huge, goggling green bug eyes, and her delicate little mouth had been distended into a hideous rictus stretching from one ear to the other. The queen in her woe and lamentation was fain to die; and the king’s study had to be lined with padded rugs because he now did nothing but run over and over again headfirst into its walls while exclaiming in an exceedingly lugubrious tone, ‘Oh what an unfortunate monarch am I!’ Although he now readily perceived that he would have done better to eat lard-free sausages and leave Mistress Mouserinks and her kindred in peace under the stove, it never occurred to him to admit as much; instead, he simply laid all the blame for his calamity on his watchmaker royal-cum-china manufacturer, Christian Elias Drosselmeier from Nuremberg. In this spirit, he sagely decreed that unless Drosselmeier restored Princess Pirlipat to her former condition within four weeks, or at least paid down a certain fixed sum of money towards this same restoration, he was to suffer an ignominious death under the executioner’s axe. Drosselmeier was more than mildly terrified; but for all that, he did not scruple to stake his future on his own professional skill, and he immediately set to work on the operation that first struck him as likely to be effectual. With great dexterity he took little Princess Pirlipat apart, unscrewed her little hands and feet, and forthwith examined her inner structure; but to his disappointment he discovered that the Princess would remain just as grotesque as she was now the older and bigger she got, and he was at an utter loss what to say or do about this problem. He carefully put the princess back together and sank dejectedly to the floor before her cradle, which he was forbidden to leave.
“By now the fourth week had arrived; indeed, it was already Wednesday, and the king stopped by the nursery to glare at him with rage-enkindled eyes and wave his scepter menacingly at him as he cried, ‘Christian Elias Drosselmeier, cure the princess, or thou needs must die!’ Drosselmeier then began to weep bitterly, while little Princess Pirlipat gaily cracked a succession of nuts. For the first time the china manufacturer was struck by Pirlipat’s unusual appetite for nuts, and by the coincidental circumstance that she had come into the world with a full set of teeth. In point of fact, just after her metamorphosis she would not stop crying until by chance somebody offered her a nut, which she promptly cracked open; then she devoured its contents and immediately calmed down. And since then the nurses had found that nothing but nuts would do the trick of pacifying her. ‘Oh holy instinct of nature, eternally inscrutable mutual sympathy of all beings!” cried Johann Elias Drosselmeier: ‘thou hast pointed me to the door of the mystery; I will knock, and it will open.’ He immediately asked for permission to speak with the astronomer royal, to whom under heavy guard he was then led. The two gentlemen embraced amid much weeping, for they were intimate friends; then they withdrew into a secret closet and consulted numerous books treating of instinct, of sympathies and antipathies and other mysterious subjects. Night settled in; the astronomer royal gazed at the stars, and with the help of Drosselmeier, who was also highly skilled in this art, he cast Princess Pirlipat’s horoscope. This was no easy task, for the orbits of her stars and planets kept getting more and more tangled up in each other the longer they studied them; but eventually—O joy of joys!—it became clear to them that to undo the spell that was disfiguring her and regain her former beauty the princess needed only to partake of the sweet kernel of a certain nut called the Krakatuk.
“The Krakatuk nut had such a hard shell that a forty eight-pound cannon could run over it without breaking it. And yet according to the horoscope, this selfsame hard nut would have to be bitten open in the presence of the princess by a man who had never before shaved or worn boots, and who was subsequently supposed to proffer to her the nut’s kernel while keeping his eyes shut. Only after then taking seven steps backward without stumbling would the young man be permitted to open his eyes. Drosselmeier had been working with the astronomer for three days and three nights straight, and the king was just sitting down to lunch on Saturday, when Drosselmeier, who was scheduled to be beheaded at the crack of dawn the following day, dashed flush with joy and jubilation into the dining-hall and announced the means he had discovered of restoring to Princess Pirlipat her lost beauty. The king embraced him with hearty goodwill, and promised him a diamond-studded sword, four medals, and two new Sunday coats. ‘Right after lunch,’ he chummily added, ‘we’ll get to work; see to it, my dear china manufacturer, that the requisite Krakatuk nut-bearing unshaven young fellow in low-tops is ready to hand, and don’t let him touch a drop of wine before the job, lest he stumble while doing that seven-step crabwalk; afterwards he can drink himself into a stupor if he likes.’
Drosselmeier was mightily dismayed by this little speech of the king, to whom he only just managed to stammer out amid much quaking and quailing that although the hard nut and the young man with the powerful bite had been definitively ascertained as the means to effect the desired retransformation, it nonetheless remained a matter of some doubt whether the nut and the nutcracker themselves could ever be found. Incensed in the extreme, the king brandished his scepter high in the air, above the top of his crown, and roared, ‘Then be it on your own head!’ Luckily for the fear and sorrow-stricken Drosselmeier, the king had very much enjoyed his lunch on that day and was therefore more disposed than usual to give audience to rational arguments; arguments with which the magnanimous queen did not neglect to ply her husband, moved as she was by Drosselmeier’s plight. Drosselmeier himself eventually screwed up enough courage to point out that he had after all accomplished in full the task that had been assigned to him—namely, that of discovering the means by which the princess was to be cured—and had consequently earned the privilege of continuing to live. The king dismissed this remonstration as mere artless quibbling and idle twaddle, but in the end, after drinking a glass of stomach-tonic, he resolved that the watchmaker and the astronomer should hit the road and not return until they had bagged an authentic Krakatuk nut. Meanwhile, in an arrangement devised by the queen, the nut-biter would be procured by way of a series of summonses to be run as advertisements in the major newspapers and intelligence-gazettes both at home and abroad.” Here the high court councilor once again left off, and promised to tell them the rest of the tale the following evening.
The Fairy Tale about the Hard Nut Concluded
First thing the following evening, right after the candles had been lit, Godfather Drosselmeier turned up again and resumed his tale thus: “Drosselmeier and the astronomer royal spent fifteen whole years on the road without managing to track down the Krakatuk nut. I could fill four entire weeks relating to you all the places they passed through and all the strange and peculiar things that happened to them during this period; in lieu of that, though, I shall content myself with saying that at the end of those fifteen years, in the midst of his despondency over the nut, Drosselmeier was suddenly seized by a profound yearning for his beloved native city of Nuremburg. This yearning came upon him with especial acuity on one occasion in particular, when he and his friend were smoking a little pipe of shag tobacco in the middle of a huge forest in Asia. ‘O fair native city of Nuremburg—fair city: he who thee lately has not seen—wheresoever else he may have been, from London to Paris to Petrovaradeen—must find his own heart a cold and empty shell; within thy walls he always longs to dwell—within the walls of Nuremberg, fair city, whose windowed houses look so pretty.’ As Drosselmeier carried on in this exceedingly lugubrious vein, the astronomer was sympathetically overcome by his friend’s sorrow and launched into a moan so reverberantly pathetic that it could be heard throughout the length and breadth of Asia. But he presently recovered his composure, wiped the tears from his eyes, and asked, ‘But why, my esteemed colleague, are we sitting here moaning? Why don’t we just go to Nuremberg; for after all, does it really make any difference where or how we look for this blasted Krakatuk nut?’ ‘No, I guess it doesn’t,’ replied Drosselmeier, who was much consoled by his friend’s reflection. The two men instantly stood up, emptied their pipe, and straightaway made a beeline out of the forest in the middle of Asia and towards Nuremburg.
As soon as they got there, Drosselmeier dashed off to visit his cousin, the doll-maker, varnisher, and gilder Christoph Zacharias Drosselmeier, whom he had not seen in many, many years, and to whom the watchmaker now related the entire history of Princess Pirlipat, Mistress Mouserinks, and the Kraktuk nut, during which tale Christoph Zacharias repeatedly clapped his hands and exclaimed in astonishment, ‘Ah cousin, cousin: what marvelous events are these!’ Drosselmeier also told him about the adventures he had met with during his extensive travels—about how he had spent two years at the court of the Date King, how he had been haughtily refused an audience by the Almond Prince, how he had futilely consulted the scientific researchers at the Acorn Institute—in short, about all the ways and places in which he had failed to catch the faintest whiff of a trail to the Krakatuk nut. During this second narrative, Christoph Zacharias frequently snapped his fingers, pivoted about on one foot, clicked his tongue, and followed up this series of movements with an ejaculation of ‘Hm hm—ee—ai—oh—speak of the devil!’ Finally he threw his wig and cap into the air and cried, ‘Cousin, cousin! You may put your mind at ease; at ease may your mind be put, I tell you; for as sure as I’ve ever been right about anything, I know I’m in possession of the very Krakatuk nut of which you have been speaking.’ Whereupon he produced a box from which he pulled out a gilded nut that was no bigger or smaller than a nut usually is. ‘You see,’ he said, while showing the nut to his cousin; ‘You see, there’s a rather interesting story behind this nut. Once many years ago there came to Nuremberg at Christmastime a strange man with a bag full of nuts, nuts that he was offering for sale.
Directly in front of my puppet stall in the town market, he got into a fight, and he put the bag down in order to defend himself more capably against his opponent, our local nut-vendor, who had pounced on the stranger because he did not want him selling nuts here. At that moment a heavily laden wagon drove over the bag; all the nuts inside it were smashed to bits—all, that is, except one, which the strange man, smiling a peculiar smile, offered to sell for a single shiny twenty-thaler coin from the year 1720. Miraculously enough, I discovered a twenty-thaler piece from that very year in my wallet, and I bought the nut without quite knowing why I was willing to pay so much for it; then I gilded it without quite knowing why I thought it deserved such an honor.’ Any suspicion that Cousin Cristoph’s nut might not be the sought-after Krakatuk nut after all vanished the instant it was examined by the astronomer royal, who had been summoned to the doll-maker’s house and who, after scraping the gold shell of the nut clean, descried on its surface the name Krakatuk engraved in Chinese characters. The delight of the travelers was boundless, and Cousin Christoph was the happiest man under the sun when Drosselmeier averred to him that his fortune was made, that in addition to a handsome pension he would from now on be receiving as much gilding-gold as he needed for free. Both the china-manufacturer and the astronomer had already donned their nightcaps and were about to go to bed, when the latter—namely the astronomer—remarked, ‘Esteemed and most worthy colleague, good things only ever happen in pairs. Is it not possible that we have discovered here not only the Krakatuk nut but also the young man who will bite it open and restore the princess’s beauty? The youth I am referring to is none other than the son of your esteemed cousin! No,’ he enthusiastically continued: ‘I refuse to sleep a wink; rather, I shall devote tonight to casting this young man’s horoscope, which I am determined to have finished doing by dawn.’ Whereupon he tore off his nightcap and immediately began his observation of the heavens.
Cousin Christoph’s son did indeed happen to be a tall, attractive youth who had never either shaved or worn boots. Granted, in his early adolescence he had performed a stint as a jumping-jack for a few consecutive Christmases, but nobody ever held this against him, for the performance had merely been a part and consequence of the painstaking course of study his father had imposed on him. On all twelve days of each of these Christmases he wore an outfit consisting of a beautiful gold-trimmed scarlet coat, a sword, a hat—which he kept off his head and tucked under one arm—and an exquisitely coiffed bag wig. Thus resplendently attired he would stand in his father’s stall and crack open nuts for young girls out of instinctive chivalry, in recognition of which service the girls sweetly dubbed him the Little Nutcracker. The next morning the astronomer exultantly threw his arms around the china-manufacturer and cried, ‘He’s the one! We’ve got him! We’ve found him! There are only two things we must make sure of. First of all, you’ve got to braid your excellent nephew a sturdy wooden pigtail to be attached to his lower jawbone in such a fashion that the latter can be raised and lowered with great speed and vigor; next, when we go to the palace we must take great care not to let on that we have brought the young nut-biter along with us; he must arrive some time after us. I have read in the horoscope that after a few unsuccessful dental attempts on the nut, the king will promise the hand of the princess and succession to the throne to whoever bites open the nut and restores to the princess her lost beauty. The doll-maker was highly gratified that his little son was to marry Princess Pirlipat and become a prince and a king, and without hesitation he confided the boy to the exclusive care of the two emissaries. The pigtail that Drosselmeier attached to the jaw of his young and promising nephew worked amazingly well, enabling him to pulverize spectacularly the super-tough peach-stones on which he was practicing his biting skills. No sooner did Drosselmeier and the astronomer inform the royal court of their discovery of the Krakatuk nut and repair to the palace with that magic restorative of beauty in hand than the necessary summonses were issued and the royal residence began filling up with scads of extremely handsome young men, some of whom were even princes and all of whom wanted to employ their healthy young chops in an attempt at reversing the spell on the princess.
The emissaries were more than slightly appalled when they beheld the princess for the first time in sixteen years. Her little body with its tiny hands and feet could scarcely bear the weight of her huge, shapeless head. The hideousness of her face was compounded by a thick white cotton moustache-and-beard that had sprouted from her upper lip and chin. Everything happened just as the horoscope had said it would. One shoe-shod greenhorn after another bit his teeth and jaws sore on the nut without doing the princess the slightest good, and afterwards, as he was dragged away half unconscious to the dentist in attendance, each of them would sigh, ‘That’s a hard nut to crack!’ When desperation finally prompted the king to promise his daughter and kingdom to anyone who succeeded in breaking the spell, the polite and mild-mannered Drosselmeier boy came forward and asked for permission to begin his attempt. Princess Pirlipat had not fancied any of the other contenders nearly as much as she did young Drosselmeier; she clasped her tiny hands to her heart and ardently sighed, ‘Ah, if only he should be the one finally to bite open the Krakatuk nut, and to become my husband!’ After saluting the king, queen, and, finally, Princess Pirlipat, with courtly grace, young Drosselmeier received the Krakatuk nut from the hands of the master of ceremonies, placed it between his teeth without further ado, gave a hefty tug to his pigtail, and—crack! crack!—the shell of the nut crumbled into a heap of fragments. He deftly picked the kernel clean of the fibers of the inner integument that still clung to it, then handed it over to the princess with a deferential bow, and finally shut his eyes and began walking backwards. The princess directly swallowed the kernel and—o wonder of wonders!—the deformed figure vanished, and in its place appeared a young woman of angelic beauty whose face seemed to have been [woven] from flocks of lilywhite and rose-red silk, whose eyes were as dazzlingly blue as the sky, whose full lustrous tresses were like crimped filaments of gold. Fanfares on trumpets and kettledrums mingled with the uproarious jubilation of the crowd of spectators. The king along with his whole court danced about on one leg each just as they had done on the day of Pirlipat’s birth, and eau de cologne had to be administered to the queen because she had fallen into a swoon for sheer joy and delight. All this hullabaloo was more than slightly detrimental to the concentration of young Drosselmeier, who had yet to complete his sequence of steps, but he retained enough composure to continue all the way to the seventh and final one, which he was just extending his right foot to execute when who should emerge from beneath the floor but Mistress Mouserinks, squeaking and squealing in a most hideous timbre; such that when Drosselmeier lowered his foot he stepped on her and stumbled so precipitately that he nearly fell flat on his face. And then—o misfortune of misfortunes!—all of a sudden the young man became as deformed as the princess had been a few minutes earlier. His body was wizened, shriveled, and could scarcely bear the weight of his fat, misshapen head with its large, bulging eyes and broad, gaping mouth. In place of the pigtail, there now hung along his back a short wooden cape with which he controlled the movement of his lower jaw.
The watchmaker and astronomer were beside themselves with terror and revulsion at this metamorphosis, but for all that they could not help taking in the simultaneous spectacle of Mistress Mouserinks wallowing on the floor in her own blood. Her wickedness had not gone unavenged, for the sharp heel of young Drosselmeier’s shoe had cut into her neck so forcefully that she was bound to die of the wound. But even in the midst of her death throes she squeaked and squealed most pitiably, ‘O super-hard nut Krakatuk, thou brings’t an end to all my luck. Nutcracker you’ll receive your boon: you too will be in death’s hands soon; my seven-crowned little son will pay you back for what you’ve done; his mother’s vengeance he’ll secure; of that, Nutcracker, do be sure. O life, so fresh and red to see, how loathly am I torn from thee!’ With this cry Mistress Mouserinks expired and was removed from the royal kitchen-stove. Meanwhile everybody had quite forgotten about young Drosselmeier; but by and by the princess reminded the king of his promise, whereupon he immediately ordered the young hero to be brought into the royal presence. But when the unfortunate young man stepped forward in all his misshapenness, the princess covered her face with both hands and screamed, ‘Away, away, with this abominable nutcracker!’ And with that the court marshal seized him by his diminutive shoulders and flung him all the way to the front door of the palace. The king was flush with rage at the thought that a nutcracker had been presented to him as a prospective son-in-law; he blamed the whole debacle on the ineptitude of the watchmaker and the astronomer and banished them both from his court for all time. The fact that none of these misfortunes had been mentioned in the horoscope he had cast at Nuremberg did nothing to deter the astronomer from once again consulting the stars, which he construed as predicting that young Drosselmeier would acquit himself so well in his new station in life that he would become a prince and king despite his disfigurement. But the disfigurement would vanish only after he had slain the mouse-king—the seven-headed son borne by Mistress Mouserinks since the death of her first brood—and won the heart of a lady in spite of his unprepossessing shape. And indeed at subsequent Christmases young Drosselmeier has been allegedly sighted at his father’s stall at Nuremburg, where he is said to carry on his old vocation of nutcracker—but with the newfound regal bearing of a prince! That, children, is the fairy tale about the hard nut, and now you know why people so often say that somebody or something ‘is a hard nut to crack,’ and how nutcrackers came to be so hideous.”
Thus the high court councilor concluded his tale. Marie was of the opinion that Princess Pirlipat was basically nothing but an ungrateful little so-and-so; Fritz for his part assured her that if Nutcracker would just start acting like a brave fellow, he would make short work of the mouse-king and get back his old handsome face and body straight-away.
Uncle and Nephew
If any of my most highly honored readers or listeners has ever been unlucky enough to cut himself on a piece of glass, he will know at first hand how painful it is when it is happening, as well as what a nasty business it tends to make for one afterwards, in that it takes such a long time for the wound to heal. But on top of these vexations, Marie had to stay in bed for almost a full week, because every time she tried to get up, she would immediately feel violently dizzy. At long last, though, she recovered completely, and felt quite well enough to gambol about the sitting room as merrily as she had done before the accident. The glass cupboard presented an exquisitely lovely appearance, for its shelves were lined with brand new-looking trees and flowers and houses and beautiful dolls in dazzling attire. Before taking a closer look at anything else, Marie searched for her Nutcracker, whom she discovered standing on the second shelf and grinning at her through two uninterrupted rows of perfectly straight little teeth. As she now at long last beheld her darling, she suddenly realized with an anxious tremor of the heart that everything that Godfather Drosselmeier had related during those three nights at her bedside—namely, of course, the history of Nutcracker and of his quarrel with Mistress Mouserinks and her son—had actually happened.
Now she knew that her Nutcracker could be none other than young Drosselmeier from Nuremberg, Godfather Drosselmeier’s charming but regrettably witch-cursed nephew. For at no point during her godfather’s tale had she doubted that the expert watchmaker at the court of Pirlipat’s father had been High Court Councilor Drosselmeier himself. “But why then didn’t your uncle help you; why didn’t he help you?” Marie wailed, as it became ever more keenly apparent to her that the battle she had witnessed had effectively secured Nutcracker a kingdom and a crown. For after all, were not all the rest of the dolls now his subjects, and hence had the astronomer royal’s prophecy not been fulfilled, and young Drosselmeier not become king of the realm of dolls? While clever little Marie was pondering all these matters so thoroughly, she was also beginning to credit Nutcracker and his vassals with present life and motion, to fancy that they were all actually living and stirring at that very instant. A moment later, though, she was forced to renounce this deep conviction, to observe and acknowledge that none of the dolls in the cupboard had moved at all since she had entered the room, that they had been standing there impassive and motionless all along; but she blamed their collective catatonia entirely onMistress Mouserinks and her seven-headed son. “And yet,” she said aloud to the Nutcracker, “even if you are incapable of moving or uttering a single word to me, dear Mr. Drosselmeier, I still know that you understand me and know how much I am looking out for you; you can count on my help if you need it. At the very least I intend to ask your uncle to come to your aid with his expertise the next time you are in a fix.” Nutcracker remained silent and composed, but it seemed to Marie that he was breathing a gentle sigh through the glass doors of the cupboard, which thereupon seemed to sing in a tiny tintinnabulatory voice the scarcely audible words: “Oh little Marie, protectress of me: yours shall I be, my little Marie.” The blood-chilling shudders that now shook Marie’s frame paradoxically imbued her with a curious but pronounced sense of well-being. Dusk had set in; the public health officer entered the house in the company of Godfather Drosselmeier, and it was not long before Luise had set the tea-table and the family were all sitting around it and conversing about all manner of mirthful topics.
During the first general lull in the conversation, Marie fixed her big blue eyes directly on Godfather Drosselmeier’s and said, “I now know, dear Godfather Drosselmeier, that my Nutcracker is your nephew, young Drosselmeier from Nuremburg; that he has actually become a prince, or, rather, a king, as your companion the astronomer predicted; but you of course know that he is now involved in a war to the death with Mistress Mouserinks’s son, the hideous mouse-king. Why won’t you help him?” Marie now once again recounted the entire history of the battle and of how she had come to witness it, although numerous times she was forced to leave off by the peals of raucous laughter her tale elicited from her mother and Luise. Of all present only Fritz and Father Drosselmeier seemed completely unamused. “Where ever does the girl get all these crazy notions from?” asked the public health officer. “Well,” replied the girl’s mother, “you know she has a very active imagination, but these particular products of it are just daydreams she had under the powerful influence of septic fever.” “The whole story is a lie,” said Fritz: “my red hussars—by Pasha Manelka’s wounds!—are by no means such cowards as she makes them out to be, as I could show you in any pitched battle.” But now Godfather Drosselmeier smiled a peculiar smile, picked up little Marie, set her down on his lap, and said more gently than ever before, “Ah, our dear Marie is more blessed by fortune than everybody else here including me: like Pirlipat, you, Marie, are a born princess, for you reign unchallenged in a kingdom of shimmering beauty. But much suffering awaits you if you take our poor misshapen Nutcracker under your protection, for the mouse-king is determined to destroy him by hook or by crook. But I cannot save him; you and you alone can do so; be steadfast and true.” Neither Marie nor anybody else understood what he meant by these words; and the public health officer found them so odd that he checked Drosselmeier’s pulse and said, “my dear friend, you are suffering from acute incipient cephalic congestion; I shall prescribe you something to clear it up.” But the public health officer’s wife thoughtfully shook her head and softly said, “I understand exactly what the high court councilor means, only I can’t quite put it into words.”
One moonlit night not long afterwards, Marie was awoken by a strange racket that seemed to be coming from a corner of the room. It sounded like tiny pebbles being rolled and tossed to and fro, interspersed with a truly nauseating succession of squeaks and squeals. “Ah, the mice, the mice are coming back!” Marie exclaimed in terror, and she wished with all her heart to wake up her mother; but every sound she tried to make stuck in her throat, and every muscle she tried to move refused to budge, as she beheld the mouse-king, complete with seven scintillating crowns and seven scintillating pairs of eyes, emerging from a hole in the wall, circling the room along the wainscoting, and finally leaping in a single mighty bound from the floor on to the little table right beside Marie’s bed. “Hee-hee-hee, little girl: give me all your sugar peas and your marzipan, or I’ll bite your nutcracker in two—in two!” Thus squealed the mouse-king, snapping and gnashing his teeth all the while, before dashing straight back to and back through the hole in the wall. Marie was so terrified by this ghastly vision that next morning her face was as pale as could be, and on the inside she was thoroughly discomposed, almost too confused to utter a single word. A hundred times she was on the point of telling her mother or Luise or at least Fritz what had happened to her, but each of these times she was checked by this thought: “Will any of them believe me anyway, and won’t they all laugh me out of the room besides?” But one thing was quite clear to her: if she wanted to save Nutcracker’s life, she would have to hand over her sugar peas and marzipan to the mouse-king. Accordingly, the following evening she placed her entire store of these two confections at the foot of the toy-cupboard. In the morning the public health officer’s wife said, “I don’t know where all these mice that have suddenly appeared in our sitting room are coming from. Look, Marie, my poor child!—they have eaten up all your candy.”
Indeed most of the candy was now gone; although for all his voracity the mouse-king had not found the stuffed marzipan quite to his liking and so had merely nibbled at it with his sharp teeth, such that it was inedible anyhow and would have to be thrown away. But Marie was far from being at all upset about the candy; to the contrary, she was immeasurably delighted because from its disappearance she inferred that her Nutcracker’s life had been saved. But just imagine how she felt when the following night she heard something squeaking and squealing right next to her ear. It was once again the mouse-king; his eyes were scintillating even more abominably, and he was squeaking even more revoltingly through his teeth, than two nights before. “Give me your sugar dolls and gum dragon dolls, little girl, or I’ll bite your nutcracker in two, in two!” were his words this time, and then he once again dashed off. Marie was quite distraught; next morning, she went to the cupboard and gazed with the most woebegone expression at her little sugar dolls and gum dragon dolls. But she was well within her rights to be upset; for you, the other Marie, my attentive auditress, can only begin to imagine what a superlatively lovely collection of sugar and gum dragon figurines little Marie Stahlbaum possessed. Right abreast of an adorable shepherd who in company with his shepherdess was grazing a complete herd of tiny milk-white sheep round whom his little sheepdog friskily leaped about; right abreast of this shepherd, I say, two postmen trudged along with letters in their hands, and four adorable little couples—four sprucely attired swains and four resplendently groomed maidens—swung to and fro in a Russian swing-set. Then, behind a small group of dancers, were Farmer Caraway and the Maid of Orleans, neither of whom Marie cared very much about; but even farther back, in one of the rear corners of the shelf, stood a rosy-cheeked little boy whom she loved more than all the others; and as Marie sighted him her eyes welled up with tears. “Ah,” she cried, turning to Nutcracker: “dear Mr. Drosselmeier, you know I’m doing everything in my power to try to save you; but it’s really hard!” Yet so tearful was the expression on Nutcracker’s face, and so vivid in her mind was the image of Mouse-king’s seven sets of jaws agape to devour the unfortunate youth, that Marie resolved to sacrifice her entire collection to the loathsome rodent. And so that evening she did the same with the little sugar dolls as she had done with the candy: she set them at the foot of the cupboard. She kissed the shepherd, the shepherdess, the lambkins, and finally pulled her favorite, the rosy-cheeked little gum dragon boy, out of his corner; though she took care that he should keep his place at the very back of the group. Farmer Caraway and the Maid of Orleans, on the other hand, were obliged to trade their third-row position for a first-row one. “No, this is too much,” cried the public health officer’s wife next morning: “there really must be some mouse of monstrously huge size living in the glass cupboard, because all of Marie’s lovely little sugar dolls have been gnawed and chewed to pieces.” Marie naturally could not forbear weeping at first, but she was soon all smiles again upon thinking, “What difference does it make as long as Nutcracker’s life has been saved?” That evening, as Marie’s mother was telling the high court councilor about the mischief that a mouse had wrought in the children’s glass cupboard, the public health officer said, “It’s a truly abominable pity that we can’t manage to exterminate this rotten mouse that has gotten up to so much mischief in the glass cupboard and devoured all of poor Marie’s candy.” “Hey,” Fritz merrily chimed in: “the baker downstairs has a really first-rate gray undersecretary for foreign affairs that I’ll go borrow for us. This undersecretary will put an end to the whole thing straight away by biting the head off the awful mouse, who I guarantee is either Mistress Mouserinks herself or her son, the mouse-king.” “And not only will he take care of the mouse,” said the public health officer’s wife with a laugh, “but he’ll also jump all over our chairs and tables, and overturn cups and glasses, and cause a thousand other kinds of damage.” “No he won’t,” dissented Fritz: “the baker’s undersecretary is a highly capable fellow; I’d give anything to be able to walk along pointy rooftops as gracefully as him.” “Please, let us not have any cats prowling around here at night,” pleaded Luise, who could not stand cats. “In all fairness,” said the public health officer, “in all fairness, Fritz’s idea of getting a cat is a very good one; for now, though, let us try setting a trap. Haven’t we got any?” “We really should get Godfather Drosselmeier to make us one,” cried Fritz, “for after all he invented the thing.” Everybody laughed, and in the wake of the public health officer’s wife’s subsequent assurances that not a single mousetrap was to be found in the entire house, the high court councilor announced that he owned several machines of that sort, and he immediately had a truly first-rate mousetrap brought over from his lodgings. At this point Fritz and Marie realized that they were about to witness in the living present the events of their godfather’s fairy tale about the hard nut. While their cook Dottie was grilling the lard, Marie quivered and trembled, her imagination suffused with the tale and its marvels, and she said to this simple woman whom she had known all her life, “Ah, your majesty, my queen, beware of Mistress Mouserinks and her family.” Fritz, for his part, had drawn his trusty broadsword, and he said, “Just let them try to show their snouts here; I’m just itching for a chance to have at them.” But not a creature stirred either on or beneath the stove. Next, after the high court councilor had secured the lard with a piece of thin thread and gently, ever so gently, placed the trap at the foot of the glass cupboard, Fritz cried, “Make sure, Godfather Watchmaker, that the mouse-king doesn’t play any tricks on you.” But oh, what a horrible night the following one was for Marie! She woke up to ice-cold shivers rippling up and down her arm, and a nauseatingly scraggy something brushing against her cheek, and a telltale succession of squeaks and squeals sounding in her ear. The abominable mouse-king was actually sitting on her shoulder, drooling blood from all seven of his mouths, and gnashing and snapping his teeth, as he hissed in the ear of the terror-and-horror-stricken Marie: “Tee-hee, tee-hee, I’m not coming to tea! You’ll never catch me, tee-hee! Give me all your picture books, your little dress too, or you’ll never get a minute’s rest. For then will you be able to do? Your little Nutcracker will be bit in two, and then you’ll sure be feeling blue. Tee-hee, tee-hee, squeak, squeak!" Now Marie was full of sorrow and sadness; her face turned quite wan and perturbed when next morning her mother said, “That naughty mouse still hasn’t been caught,” whereupon her mother, believing that Marie’s pallor was owing to grief at the loss of her candy, continued, “but don’t worry, my dear child: we’re bound to get rid of this awful mouse in the end. As the trap hasn’t worked, we’ll just have to let Fritz bring in his gray undersecretary for foreign affairs.” No sooner did Marie find herself alone in the sitting room than she stepped up to the glass cupboard, and sobbingly addressed the nutcracker thus: “Ah my dear, worthy Mr. Drosselmeier, what can I, a wretched unfortunate young girl, do for you? Suppose I do now offer up all my picture-books, and even that lovely little new dress that the Holy Christ Child gave to me, to the teeth of the abominable mouse-king? Won’t he then just keep asking for more and more things anyway, until I finally have nothing left to give, and he tries to bite me instead of you in two? Oh, what ever am I, poor child that I am, to do now? What ever am I to do now?” As little Marie was bemoaning and lamenting her plight thus, she noticed that over the course of the previous night Nutcracker had acquired a large spot of blood on his neck. Since learning that her Nutcracker was actually the young nephew of the high court councilor, she had stopped carrying him about and kissing and cuddling him; indeed, out of a kind of bashfulness she had been reluctant even to touch him; but now, she carefully took him off the shelf and began wiping away the bloodstain from his neck with her handkerchief. But just imagine her state of mind when she suddenly felt Nutcracker's body growing warm in her hands, and then beginning to stir. Straight-away she set him back down on the shelf, whereupon the little Nutcracker's tiny mouth started wobbling to and fro, as he laboriously and softly murmured, "Ah, most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, my dear and most excellent friend, how grateful I am for all that you have done for me! But don't, please don't, sacrifice any picture books or Christmas dresses for my sake. Just find me a sword, a sword, I promise to take care of the rest, no matter--" Here Nutcracker’s power of speech deserted him, and his eyes ceased being animated by the most ardently wistful melancholy and became cold and lifeless once again. But Marie felt not the slightest trace of horror; to the contrary, she fairly leapt for joy at the realization that she now had a means of saving Nutcracker without making any further aggrieving sacrifices to the mouse-king. But where was she to get hold of a sword for the little fellow? Marie decided to seek Fritz’s advice; and that evening, as the two of them were sitting on their own in the sitting room before the glass cupboard, she told him of all her experiences with Nutcracker and the mouse-king, and of the need for someone to intervene to save Nutcracker’s life. No part of Marie’s account made Fritz more gravely pensive than her report that his hussars had been so badly routed in the battle. He asked her very earnestly whether such a thing had actually happened, and after Marie gave him her word that it actually had, Fritz marched briskly up to the cupboard and harangued his hussars with great pathos; then, by way of punishing them for their selfishness and cowardice, he snipped the insignias off their caps one by one, and forbade them to play their regimental trumpet march at all during the next year. After he had finished administering punishment to his troops, Fritz returned to Marie and said, “As for the sword, I can fit the nutcracker out with one, because just yesterday I gave an old colonel in my cuirassiers an honorable discharge with a retirement pension, so he won’t be needing his fine, sharp saber any longer.” The aforesaid colonel was spending his newly awarded retirement in one of the rear corners of the third shelf. He was summarily fetched down and forced to relinquish his splendid little silver saber, which was then slung round the waist of Nutcracker.
Next night Marie could not get to sleep for sheer panicked worry; round midnight, she fancied she could hear a curious din of rustling and rattling somewhere in the room. Then all of a sudden there came a loud “Squeak!“ “The mouse-king, the mouse-king!” cried Marie, leaping out of bed in terrified shock. Now all was silent, and remained so for a while; but by and by there was a faint, faint knock at the door, followed by a dainty little voice exclaiming, “Dearest Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, I pray you, open up at once; I have wonderful, happy tidings for you!” Marie recognized the voice as young Drosselmeier’s and immediately threw on her nightgown and flung open the door. There in the passageway stood little Nutcracker, holding a bloody sword in his right hand and a wax candle in his left. As soon as he saw Marie, he fell to his knees and said, “Dear lady! You alone steeled my knightly courage and gave my arm the strength to do battle with the wanton villain who dared fleer and gibe at you. The perfidious mouse-king now lies vanquished and writhing in his own blood! Do not, I beseech you, dear lady, disdain to accept the trophies of this victory from the hand of your eternally devoted knight!” Whereupon with exemplary dexterity he shook the mouse-king’s seven golden crowns off his left arm and into the hands of Marie, who received the diadems with boundless joy. Nutcracker rose and continued thus: “Ah, worthiest Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, what glorious sights I could reveal to you now that I have vanquished my foe, if you should only deign to follow me for a few brief paces! Oh please do, most worthy, worthy young lady; please do!”
The Kingdom of Dolls
I trust that on this occasion not one of you children would have scrupled for an instant to follow honest, good-natured Nutcracker, to whom nothing was more foreign than an unkind thought. But Marie was all the more willing to follow him because she was well aware of the extent of Nutcracker’s debt of gratitude to her, and was confident that he would be as good as his word and indeed show her many a glorious sight. Accordingly, she said to him, “I will go with you, Mr. Drosselmeier, but you mustn’t take me very far, and I mustn’t be gone for very long, because I certainly haven’t got anywhere near a full night’s rest yet.” “For that very reason,” replied Nutcracker, “I have chosen the shortest route, although it is somewhat arduous.” He led the way, and Marie followed him, to the vestibule of the house, where he drew to a halt before the enormous wardrobe stationed there. Marie noticed to her astonishment that the doors of this wardrobe, which were normally kept shut and locked, were now standing wide open, so that she could distinctly see her father’s traveling coat of fox fur hanging at the very front. With great agility, Nutcracker climbed on to the bottom ledge and over its ridge of ornamental woodwork, so that he could reach and lay hold of the great tassel attached to the end of a thick cord that hung from the back of the fox-fur coat. Nutcracker gave a mighty tug to this tassel, and immediately a very elegant flight of cedar-wood steps descended from the coat’s [nearer] sleeve. “Will your ladyship very kindly ascend?” cried Nutcracker. Marie would and did, but no sooner had she climbed through the sleeve—no sooner was she gazing out at the coat’s collar—than she was met by a flood of dazzlingly bright light, and suddenly found herself standing in a vast, splendid meadow fragrant with the sweetest smells and sparkling with a million tiny lights like so many scintillating precious stones. “We are now standing in the Candy Meadow, said Nutcracker, “but we are just about to walk through that gateway.” Now, upon raising her eyes, Marie first became aware of the beautiful gateway rising from the meadow only a few paces ahead of them. It looked as if it were made entirely of white, brown, and crimson–streaked marble, but as Marie drew nearer to it she could clearly see that the entire structure consisted of sugared almonds and raisins that had been fused together by baking, for precisely which reason—so Nutcracker assured her, as they were passing through the gateway—it was known as the Almond-and-Raisin Gate. Vulgar souls very boorishly called it the Students’ Slop Portal. On a gallery built into this gateway, a gallery made to all appearances out of barley-sugar, six little monkeys in scarlet jackets performed janissary music of such unexampled beauty that Marie scarcely noticed that she was steadily moving ever farther forward into the meadow of parti-colored marble that was really nothing more than an exquisitely wrought tissue of sweetmeats. By and by she was wafted by the sweetest aromas, which emanated from a marvelous little forest that was unfolding on either side of their path.
The gloom of the foliage was shot through here and there and from time to time by tiny flashes of light that shone so brightly that during their brief term one could clearly see fruits of gold and silver dangling from brilliantly parti-colored branches, and tree-trunks and boughs festooned with ribbons and bunches of flowers, like so many brides-and-grooms and their merry wedding guests. And when the draughts of fragrance emanating from the orange trees began soughing like undulating zephyrs, they set the twigs and the leaves stirring and the tinsel crinkling and tinkling in a way that sounded just like jubilant music, to whose accompaniment the scintillating little points of light could not help frisking about and dancing. “Ah, how lovely it is here!” cried Marie for sheer overwhelming bliss and delight. “We are in the Christmas Forest, most worthy young lady,” said little Nutcracker. “Ah,” Marie continued, “If only I could linger here for just a little while! Oh, it’s really too lovely by half here.” Nutcracker clapped his little hands and straight-away they were approached by a small band of tiny shepherds and shepherdesses and hunters and huntresses who were so white that one might have thought they were made of pure sugar, and whom Marie hitherto had not noticed, even though they had been roaming about the forest all the while. They brought up to Marie a delightful armchair of pure gold, laid a white liquorice cushion on its seat, and with courtly politeness invited her to sit down on it. No sooner had she done so than the shepherds and shepherdesses launched into a very nicely choreographed ballet, which was most genteelly accompanied by the hunters on their horns and trumpets. “I beg your pardon, most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum,” said Nutcracker, “I beg your pardon, for the miserable quality of the dancing; but those people all hailed from our automated ballet corps, who are incapable of doing anything but the same steps over and over again, and there is likewise an explanation for the somnolence and insipidity of the hunters’ trumpeteering. You see, while the sugar-basket does indeed hang above their nose[s] in the Christmas trees, it is suspended from a rather great height! But shall we not walk a bit farther?” “No, no, it was all very nice, and I liked it very much!” [protested] Marie as she rose from the chair and set off behind Nutcracker, who was already leading the way forward. They were walking along a sweetly rushing and whispering stream from which all the glorious fragrances that pervaded the entire forest seemed to be wafting. “It is the Orange Stream,” said Nutcracker in reply to Marie’s query about it, “but for all its fragrance, it cannot compare in point of breadth and beauty with the Lemonade River, which likewise empties into the Almond-Milk Sea.” And in point of fact, very soon afterwards Marie became aware of a pronounced rushing and babbling sound as her gaze alighted upon the broad course of the Lemonade River, which meandered along in proud, cream-colored rapids surging between carbuncles of a vividly incandescent green. A breeze of exceptional coolness, fortifying to heart and lungs alike, billowed up from the noble current.
Not far from it a creek of deep yellow-hued waters plodded laboriously along; on its banks were seated all manner of adorable little children angling for plump little fishes that were no sooner caught than devoured. On drawing nearer Marie noticed that these fish looked like hazelnuts. A short distance away and beside this river lay an exceedingly pretty little village; all its buildings—houses, church, parsonage, barns—were dark brown in color, yet adorned with roofs of [bright] gold, and many of the walls were so colorfully painted that it looked as though whole candied lemon-peels and almonds had been applied to them. That is Gingerbreadville,” said Nutcracker, “which lies on the banks of the Honey River; its inhabitants are quite charming but also generally rather ill-tempered, because they suffer from the most horrible toothaches, and so I don’t think we should even stop by there.” At that moment Marie noticed a little town composed of a colorful assortment of houses that were both literally transparent and charming to behold. Nutcracker made straight for the town; and Marie heard a ridiculously loud din like that of a celebrating crowd of people as they approached its market square, where she beheld thousands of overladen carts—like so many dainty little lights—parking, looking for places to park, and waiting to unload. But to all appearances, their cargo entirely consisted of brightly colored pieces of paper and [unwrapped] bars of chocolate. We are in Bonbonton,” said Nutcracker, “where a consignment from Paperland and the Chocolate King has just arrived. The poor Bonbontonians were recently badly menaced by the Admiral of the Gnats, and this is why they are now covering their houses with the presents from Paperland and erecting fortifications made of the sturdy wall-segments sent to them by the Chocolate King. But most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, we simply haven’t the time to visit every little town and village in this country: to the capital! To the capital! Nutcracker hurried onwards, and aglow with curiosity, Marie followed him. It was not long before a magnificent perfume of roses began to pervade the air and everything in every direction seemed to be bathed in a gentle roseate luster. Marie [soon] perceived that this was all the reflection of a glittering pinkish-red pool whose waters surged and rippled towards them in little waves like a succession of marvelously lovely notes and melodies. On the surface of this charming body of water, which extended far in every direction like a large lake, a number of majestically beautiful silver swans with gold necklaces swam about and vied with each other for first prize in the singing of the prettiest songs, in time to which hundreds of tiny diamond fishes leapt out of and into the roseate waters like so many coordinated dancers. “Ah!” cried Marie in rapt delight, “Ah: this is the real-life original of the lake that Godfather Drosselmeier was planning to build for me, and I myself am the girl who was going to caress the lovely little swans.” Little Nutcracker smiled a highly derisive smile that she had never seen on his face before, and said, “My uncle certainly could never manage to build such a thing; you, dear Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, are much better qualified to do so—but let us stop brooding over this at once and begin our voyage across Rose Lake to the capital."
Little Nutcracker clapped his little hands once again, whereupon the Rose Lake began to surge more violently; the waves splashed at a higher crest, and from off in the distance there drew ever nearer an object that Marie gradually realized was a seashell-shaped coach made out of actual sunbeam-scintillating precious stones and drawn by two dolphins covered in scales of pure gold. Twelve of the most adorable little moors in little caps and aprons woven out of lustrous hummingbird feathers leapt on to the shore and, gliding ever so gently through the intervening waves, carried first Marie and then Nutcracker into the coach, which forthwith launched itself back into the lake. Oh, what a beautiful sight was Marie’s traversal of that lake in that seashell coach wafted all about by the fragrance of roses and coddled all about by roseate waves!
The two gold-scaled dolphins raised their nostrils and spouted into the air jets of pure crystal, which in subsequently descending into the shimmering and sparkling waves sounded like two delicate little silver voices sweetly singing thus: “Who swims these waters pink and bright? The sprite! Little midges! ding ding little fishes, sim sim—swans! swa swa, golden bird! trarah, surging waves—at ease! ring, sing, fly, pry—little sprites, little sprites [come drawn]; rose waves, chill, swill, swill aloft! aloft!” But the twelve little moors who had leapt up on to the back of the seashell coach seemed genuinely offended by the singing of the jets of water, for they shook their parasols so violently that the date-leaves out of which they were made crinkled and crackled, and with their feet stamped out an extraordinarily curious rhythm and sang: “Clap and clip and clip and clap, up and down—Moors’ dance-riots shan’t be quiet; at ease, fish—at ease, swans, drone on seashell coach, drone on, clap and clip and clip and clap and up and down!”
“Moors make for very amusing company,” said Nutcracker in a somewhat disconcerted tone, “but they are turning my lake into one huge enclave of insurrection.” And in actual fact, there presently commenced a bewildering din of marvelous voices, which seemed to be swimming through both the lake itself and the air above it, but Marie paid it no mind and instead gazed into the aromatic rose-waves, from each of which the fetchingly gracious countenance of a young girl smiled up at her. “Oh,” she joyfully exclaimed while clapping together her tiny little hands, “oh, do come take a look, dear Mr. Drosselmeier! That girl down there smiling that magically lovely smile at me is Princess Pirlipat. Oh, do please just come and take a look, dear Mr. Drosselmeier!” But Nutcracker simply sighed a quasi-lugubrious sigh and said, “O most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, that girl is not Princess Pirlipat, but you; and each and every one of those faces smiling so fetchingly up at you from the rose-waves is none other than your own sweet countenance.” Whereupon Marie suddenly started back from the reflection and clamped her eyes shut for sheer shame and embarrassment. At this same moment the twelve moors lifted her out of the seashell coach and conveyed her ashore.
She found herself in a little copse, which was almost even more beautiful than the Christmas Forest, given how resplendently the whole of it shimmered and sparkled; but the most exceptionally wonderful part of it was its array of exotic fruits, which hung on every tree and not only bore skins of the most peculiar colors but also exuded an assortment of truly marvelous scents. “We are in the Grove of Preserves,” said Nutcracker, “but the capital is over yonder.” And what did Marie now behold? How shall I ever begin to describe to you, children, the beauty and majesty of that city that now loomed so resplendently before Marie’s gaze, on the horizon at the far end of a meadow teeming with flowers? Not only were the walls and spires of the town bedecked with the most majestic colors, but even from a strictly architectural point of view its buildings were simply beyond compare. For in lieu of roofs the houses were topped by crowns wrought in an elegant wickerwork pattern, and the towers were wreathed in the most elegant and colorful crockets the human eye had ever seen. As they passed through the city gate, which looked as though it had been built out of whole macaroons and candied fruits, a division of silver soldiers presented arms and a little man in a brocaded dressing-gown threw his arms around Nutcracker’s neck and cried, “Welcome, my most worthy lord and prince, welcome to Sweetsburg!” Marie marveled not a little at seeing young Nutcracker acknowledged as a prince by this man who was obviously of a very high rank. But now she heard a chorus of well-tuned little voices that was so clamorous, so joyful and mirthful, so lyrical and playful, that Marie could pay no mind to anything else, and simply asked Nutcracker point-blank what ever the meaning of the whole thing was. “O most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum,” replied Nutcracker, “it is nothing unusual; Sweetsburg is both a populous and a merry town, here one is always surrounded by people singing and laughing like this; but if you please, don’t let us tarry.” The very briefest of walks brought them to the town’s large market square, which afforded an especially splendid view. On all sides the buildings were made of filigreed confectionery, gallery upon gallery towered overhead, in the center stood a tall, sugar-glazed baumkuchen obelisk surrounded by four exquisitely wrought fountains that sprayed [orange]ade, lemonade and other noble sweetened beverages into the air, and the basin was filling with pure cream that looked so delicious that one wanted to spoon it up. But prettier than all of this were the superlatively lovely little people that jostled against one another cheek by jowl in the thousands and shouted for joy and laughed and jested and sang—this was, in short, the source of the clamor that Marie had already heard in the distance and that proximity was now swelling to a near-deafening volume.
The crowd was composed of elegantly attired ladies and gentlemen, Armenians and Greeks, Jews and Tyroleans, officers and enlisted soldiers, and priests and shepherds and clowns–in short entirely of such people as could actually be found in the world. In one corner of the square, the tumult increased; the sea of people parted to make way for the grand mogul, who was being carried along on a litter, escorted by ninety-three grandees of the kingdom and seven-hundred slaves. But it happened that in the opposite corner the five hundred-strong fishermen’s guild were holding their annual parade, such that it was most untimely of the Turkish lord to get it into his head to ride through the square with three thousand janissaries, who were followed by the great procession from the interrupted Feast of the Sacrifice, playing their tintinnabulatory marching-tune, singing, “Thanks be to the almighty sun-god,” and heading straight for—and eventually reaching—the baumkuchen. What a prodigious amount of crowding and jostling and surging and screaming it all amounted to! And soon it was augmented by many a wail of lamentation, for a fisherman had knocked off a Brahmin’s head, and the Grand Mogul had come very close to being run over by a clown. The din grew more and more riotous, and people were already beginning to kick and punch one another throughout the crowd, when the man in the brocaded dressing gown who had greeted Nutcracker at the gate scrambled up on to the baumkuchen and, after ringing a bell with a highly resonant peal three times, called out three times very loudly: “Pastry-cook! Pastry-cook! Pastry-cook!” The tumult immediately subsided; everybody tired to make do as best he could, and after the two processions had extricated themselves from each other, the begrimed Grand Mogul had been dusted off, and the Brahmin had had his head reset, the clamor recommenced in its original merry tone. “What was the meaning of that business about the pastry-cook, worthy Mr. Drosselmeier?” asked Marie. “Ah, most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum,” replied Nutcracker, “in this place Pastry-cook is an unknown but very horrible power that people believe can fashion human beings into whatever it desires; it is the doom that rules over this merry little nation, and they fear it so very much that the mere mention of its name can calm the most riotous outbreak of disorder, as our esteemed mayor has just demonstrated. When Pastry-cook’s name is mentioned, everybody gives over all thought of earthly matters, all thought of breaking ribs and smashing heads, and looks into himself and asks, “What is man and what can be made out of him?” Marie could not contain a loud cry of wonderment, nay of the utmost astonishment, as she now suddenly found herself standing before a castle bathed in a roseate luster and topped with a hundred skyscraping towers. But here and there against the castle’s outer walls were strewn refulgent bouquets of violets, narcissuses, tulips, and gillyflowers, whose darkly incandescent hues only enhanced the dazzling, pinkishly opalescent whiteness of the background. The large cupola of the central structure and the pyramidal roofs of the towers were studded with a thousand coruscating little gold and silver stars. “Now we are standing before the marzipan castle,” said Nutcracker. Marie was totally overwhelmed by the sight of the magic palace, but in the midst of her excitement she did not fail to notice the badly damaged state of the roof of one of the taller towers, which a number of tiny little men on a cinnamon-stick scaffold seemed to be trying to repair. Before she had a chance to ask Nutcracker about this, he was already explaining it to her. “Not long ago this beautiful castle was threatened with devastating damage, if not outright destruction. Our city had fallen into the baneful path of Sweet Tooth the giant, a path whose traversal very speedily saw the giant making short work of the roof of that tower and beginning to tuck into the great cupola itself; but at this point the Sweetsburgers brought him as tribute an entire city district plus a considerable portion of the Grove of Preserves, and having managed to sate himself on these offerings, he pressed on to fresher feeding-grounds.” At that moment gentle and highly ingratiating strains of music were heard; the castle gates flew open and out stepped twelve tiny pages with lighted clove stems that they carried like torches in their tiny little hands. Each of their heads consisted of a single pearl, their bodies were made of rubies and emeralds, and, what was more, they moved about on the most exquisite little feet of pure wrought gold. The pages were followed by four ladies, each of whom was nearly as tall as Marie’s doll Goody Claerchen; but they were all so exquisitely and resplendently attired that Marie instantly recognized them as the born princesses that they were. They embraced Nutcracker with the utmost tenderness, all the while exclaiming in bittersweet tones, “O my prince! My most worthy prince! O my brother!” Nutcracker seemed very much moved; he wiped copious tears from his eyes, then he took Marie by the hand and said with great pathos, “This is Mademoiselle Marie Stahlbaum, the daughter of a highly estimable public health officer, and the savior of my life! Had she not flung her slipper just in the nick of time, had she not secured for me the saber of a certain retired colonel, I would now be lying, bitten to death by the execrable mouse-king, in my grave. Ah what a wonderful young lady—this Mademoiselle Stahlbaum! Is Princess Pirlipat, for all her royal birth, truly her equal in point of beauty, kindness, and virtue? No, I say, no!” All the ladies cried in echo, “No!” and threw their arms around her neck and exclaimed through heartfelt sobs, “O you noble savior of our dear princely brother—most excellent Mademoiselle Stahlbaum!”
Now the ladies escorted Marie and Nutcracker into the heart of the palace, and indeed into a hall whose walls were made out of iridescently coruscating pure crystals. But what Marie delighted in more than anything else were the exquisitely lovely little chairs, chests of drawers, writing-desks etc. disposed about the room; all of these were made out of cedar or Brazil-wood and strewn with golden flowers. The princesses entreated Marie and Nutcracker to be seated, and said that they would forthwith prepare a dinner with their own hands. Next they carried in a heap of tiny little pots and little bowls made from the finest Japanese porcelain; of spoons, knives, and forks; of graters, stew-pots, and other requisites for cooking. Then they brought in the loveliest pieces of fruit and confectionery that Marie had ever seen, and with the tenderest motions of their tiny little snow-white hands they began to squeeze the fruit, to pulverize the spices, to grate the sugared almonds—in short to act the housewife with such aplomb, that Marie could easily perceive that they were all consummate masters of the culinary arts, and that she and Nutcracker could look forward to a truly exquisite meal. In her keen desire to familiarize herself properly with such things, Marie secretly wished she could join in the princesses’ activities as a full-fledged fellow-cook. Whereupon the most beautiful of Nutcracker’s sisters, as if having divined this wish, handed Marie a little golden mortar and pestle and said to her, “O my dear friend, the precious savior of my brother, do pulverize a little of this sugar-candy!” As Marie now cheerfully betook herself to the pestle, and thereby elicited from the mortar the most charming and delightful reverberation, like the strains of a winsome little ditty, Nutcracker began to recount in considerable detail how his army had come to fight a gruesome battle with the army of the Mouse-king, how he had been half defeated by the cowardice of his own troops, how the Mouse-king had subsequently tried to bite him in two, and how Marie in order to save Nutcracker from this fate had had to sacrifice several of his subjects who had entered into her service, etc. At some point during this story, Marie noticed that the words Nutcracker was uttering, and indeed the blows of her pestle, were sounding more and more remote and less and less distinct; soon she saw ascending heaps of silver gauze like banks of fog, in which the princesses, the pages, Nutcracker, and, indeed, even she herself, were swimming—she could hear a curious singing and humming and whirring sound that seemed to be dying away into the distance as it approached; now Marie felt herself rising, as if on ascending billows of air, ever higher and higher—higher and higher—higher and higher…
With a “Prr!,” nay, a “Puff!,” Marie hit the ground from an immeasurable height. What a jolt it gave her! But straight-away she opened her eyes, and found herself lying in her own little bed; it was broad daylight, and her mother was standing beside her and saying, “I don’t know how you can stand to sleep so late; breakfast was over ages ago!” Doubtless you, my distinguished readers and listeners, will have correctly gathered by now that Marie, having been fairly stupefied by all the wonders she had beheld, eventually fell asleep in the great hall of the marzipan palace, and that the moors or the pages or possibly even the princesses themselves then brought her home and put her to bed. “O mother, dear mother, you won’t believe all the places young Mr. Drosselmeier took me to last night, and all the lovely things I saw there!” She then proceeded to relate all the events of the night before almost as accurately as I have just done, and her mother gazed at her in utter astonishment. When Marie had finished, her mother said, “You have had a long and very lovely dream, Marie dear, but now you must clear your mind of all that.” But Marie maintained with hard nut-like obstinacy that she had not been dreaming, that she had really and truly seen everything she had just described; and so her mother went to the glass cupboard, took out Nutcracker, who had been standing at his usual place on the third shelf, and said, “You foolish girl! How can you possibly believe this wooden doll from Nuremberg capable of life and motion?” “But mother dear!” cried Marie, “I am as certain as can be that my little Nutcracker is young Mr. Drosselmeier from Nuremberg, Godfather Drosselmeier’s nephew.” Whereupon both the public health officer and his wife burst into peals of resounding laughter. “Ah” Marie continued in an almost lachrymose voice, “father dear, to think you’re actually laughing at my Nutcracker even though he spoke some very kind words about you, because you see, when we had arrived at the marzipan palace and he was introducing me to his sisters, he said that you were a highly estimable public health officer!”
The laughter at her expense grew even louder, as Luise, and eventually even Fritz, joined in it. And so Marie ran into the next room, pulled out of her tiny little jewelry box the mouse-king’s seven crowns, and handed them over to her mother with these words: “See, mother dear: these are the mouse-king’s seven crowns, which last night Mr. Drosselmeier handed over to me as tokens of his victory.” In rapt astonishment the public health officer’s wife contemplated the little crowns, which had been so finely wrought out of some unidentifiable but highly scintillating metal, that she found it hard to believe that they were the work of human hands. Even the chief medical officer could not get enough of gazing at the little crowns, and soon father and mother alike were pressing Marie to tell them where she had got the crowns from. But of course she could not help sticking to what she had originally said, and when her father then scolded her roundly and even called her a no-good little liar, she began copiously weeping, and she wailed, “Oh what a poor child am I! Oh what a poor child am I! What ever am I supposed to say?” At that moment the door opened. The high court councilor entered and cried: “What’s this? What’s this? My little goddaughter Marie weeping and sobbing? What’s this? What’s this?” The public health officer informed him of everything that had just happened, at the same time showing him the crowns. No sooner had the high court councilor set his eyes on them, than he laughed and exclaimed, “Poppycock, poppycock! These are the little crowns that years ago I used to wear on my watch-chain, and that I gave to little Marie as a present for her second birthday. Do you perchance know something about them that I don’t?” Both the public health officer and his wife were at a loss for words, but Marie, now realizing if nothing else that her parents’ faces were both looking much friendlier, rushed up to Godfather Drosselmeier and cried, “Ah, of course you know the whole truth about it, Godfather Drosselmeier; why won’t you come out and say it? Why won’t you say that my Nutcracker is your nephew, young Mr. Drosselmeier from Nuremberg, and that it is he who gave me the crowns?”
But the high court councilor merely scowled at her with fearsome glumness and muttered, “What inane, simple-minded poppycock.” Whereupon the public health officer took little Marie aside and said to her in a very serious tone, “Listen to me, Marie: I want you to stop all this joking and tall tale-telling at once, and if I hear you say one more time that that silly, misshapen Nutcracker is the high court councilor’s nephew, I swear I will throw not only Nutcracker but also every single one of your other dolls—Goody Claerchen included—straight out the window.” Now poor Marie was obviously debarred from talking about the very thing that was her heart and mind’s chief preoccupation, for you may well and rightly believe that a person who has experienced such splendid and beautiful things as Marie had experienced can hardly forget them. Even—note well, my distinguished reader or listener Fritz—even your comrade Fritz Stahlbaum would immediately turn his back on his sister if she started to tell him about the marvelous kingdom in which she had been so very happy. He is said even to have occasionally muttered the phrase “Silly goose!” through clenched teeth, but I find it very hard to believe that in the light of his otherwise universally attested kind-heartedness; in any case, this much is certain—that he no longer believed a word that Marie had ever told him; at a public parade of his hussars he made a formal apology to them for the aspersions he had cast on them; by way of replacing their lost standards he pinned on them much taller and more lustrous goose-quill plumes, and he even allowed them to play their regimental march again. Well, now! You and I know better than anyone else the kind of showing the hussars’ courage made once those awful bullets started blemishing their fancy red jackets. Marie was no longer allowed to speak about her adventures, but images of the marvelous fairy kingdom flitted about her in sweetly undulating delirium and mild beauteous euphony; she had only to concentrate her thoughts on the beloved kingdom to behold it once again in its entirety, and so by and by she ceased to play with her toys and began to spend all her time sitting motionless and silent and withdrawn, which caused her to be upbraided as a silly little dreamer by everyone in the house. One day the high court councilor happened to be repairing a clock at the public health officer’s house. Marie was sitting in front of the glass cupboard, immersed in her dreams and gazing at the Nutcracker; then all of a sudden, as if involuntarily, she blurted out, “Ah, dear Mr. Drosselmeier; if only you were actually alive, I would never act like Princess Pirlipat and spurn you because for my sake you had stopped being a handsome young man!” Like a shot the high court councilor cried out: “Poppycock, absolute poppycock!” But at that same instant, from out of nowhere came a loud bang, like the sound of an explosion, that was of such volume and forcefulness that it knocked Marie unconscious and out of her chair.
When Marie came to, she found her mother busying herself about her and saying, “I don’t see how a big girl like you can’t even manage to keep her place in a chair! Here is the high court councilor’s nephew just arrived from Nuremberg: do please be on your best behavior!” She looked up; the high court counselor had re-donned his glass wig and yellow frock coat, and he was placidly smiling; but he was also holding the hand of an admittedly short but extremely well-proportioned young man. This young man’s little face was like a composition in milk and blood; he was wearing a magnificent scarlet frock coat trimmed with gold brocade, white silk stockings, and low-cut shoes; in his frilly shirt-front he sported an exquisitely lovely bunch of flowers; his hair was elegantly coiffed and powdered, and down his back hung a truly splendid pigtail. The tiny sword at his side glittered with genuine precious stones and shone most resplendently, and the little hat tucked under his arm had been woven out of flocks of silk. The ingratiating impeccability of the youth’s manners was instantly attested to by the heap of splendid sweetmeats and playthings—including notably some exquisite marzipan and the very same figurines the mouse-king had gnawed to bits–that he had brought with him for Marie, and to which he had not forgotten to add a saber of wondrously beautiful workmanship for Fritz. During dinner this polite young man cracked nuts for the entire table; the hardest of these nuts were no match for him; with his right hand he would stick the nut in his mouth, with his left he would tug at his pigtail, and—crack!—the nut would crumble to pieces. Marie had turned bright red the moment she set eyes on the well-mannered youth, and she turned even redder when after dinner young Drosselmeier invited her to go with him to the glass cupboard in the drawing-room.
“Play together to your hearts’ content, children,” cried the high court councilor: “now that my clocks are all in fine working order, my objections are at an end.” But no sooner did young Drosselmeier find himself alone with Marie than he fell on one knee and said, “O my supremely excellent lady, Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, you behold at your feet the blessed Drosselmeier whose life you saved on this very spot!” You graciously declared that you would not try to shame me as that loathsome Princess Pirlipat did after I became ugly for her sake!—at that instant I stopped being a lowly nutcracker and regained my original, not-displeasing form. O my excellent lady, bless me with the gift of your dear hand, share with me my kingdom and my crown, rule alongside me at the marzipan castle, for there I have been enthroned as king!” Marie raised the youth to his feet and gently said, “Dear Mr. Drosselmeier! You are a good-tempered and virtuous individual, and as you also rule over an attractive country inhabited by extremely charming and merry people, I shall accept you as my husband!” Whereupon Marie was immediately betrothed to Drosselmeier. They say that exactly one year later he had her brought to him in a golden carriage drawn by silver horses. Their wedding ball was attended by twenty two-thousand exquisitely resplendent dolls bedizened from head to foot with pearls and diamonds, and as of this very hour Marie is said still to be queen of a realm in every corner of which one may behold coruscating Christmas forests, translucent marzipan castles; in short, all manner of superlatively splendid things—provided one has eyes that can perceive them.
You can find our annotated and illustrated edition of Hoffmann's best weird tales and dark fairy tales HERE!