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Literary Essays on Horror, Ghost Stories & Weird Fiction

— from Mary Shelley to M. R. James —

by M. Grant Kellermeyer

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E. T. A. Hoffmann's "The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King" (An English Translation)

Christmas Eve

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.”

The Presents

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.

The Fosterling

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?

The Battle

“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.

The Illness

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.