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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Nutcracker and the King of Mice
By Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (1776–1822)
 
From ‘The Serapion Brethren’: Translation of Alexander Ewing

AS soon as Marie was alone, she set rapidly to work to do the thing which was chiefly at her heart to accomplish, and which, though she scarcely knew why, she somehow did not like to set about in her mother’s presence. She had been holding Nutcracker, wrapped in the handkerchief, carefully in her arms all this time; and she now laid him softly down on the table, gently unrolled the handkerchief, and examined his wounds.  1
  Nutcracker was very pale, but at the same time he was smiling with a melancholy and pathetic kindliness which went straight to Marie’s heart.  2
  “O my darling little Nutcracker!” said she very softly, “don’t you be vexed because brother Fritz has hurt you so: he didn’t mean it, you know; he’s only a little bit hardened with his soldiering and that; but he’s a good nice boy, I can assure you: and I’ll take the greatest care of you and nurse you till you’re quite, quite better and happy again. And your teeth shall be put in again for you, and your shoulder set right; godpapa Drosselmeier will see to that; he knows how to do things of the kind—”  3
  Marie could not finish what she was going to say, because at the mention of godpapa Drosselmeier, friend Nutcracker made a most horrible ugly face. A sort of green sparkle of much sharpness seemed to dart out of his eyes. This was only for an instant, however; and just as Marie was going to be terribly frightened, she found that she was looking at the very same nice, kindly face, with the pathetic smile, which she had seen before, and she saw plainly that it was nothing but some draught of air making the lamp flicker that had seemed to produce the change.  4
  “Well!” she said, “I certainly am a silly girl to be so easily frightened, and think that a wooden doll could make faces at me! But I’m too fond really of Nutcracker, because he’s so funny, and so kind and nice; and so he must be taken the greatest care of, and properly nursed till he’s quite well.”  5
  With which she took him in her arms again, approached the cupboard, and kneeling down beside it, said to her new doll:—  6
  “I’m going to ask a favor of you, Miss Clara: that you will give up your bed to this poor, sick, wounded Nutcracker, and make yourself as comfortable as you can on the sofa here. Remember that you’re quite well and strong yourself, or you wouldn’t have such fat red cheeks, and that there are very few dolls indeed who have as comfortable a sofa as this to lie upon.”  7
  Miss Clara, in her Christmas full dress, looked very grand and disdainful, and said not so much as “Muck!”  8
  “Very well,” said Marie, “why should I make such a fuss, and stand on any ceremony?”—took the bed and moved it forward; laid Nutcracker carefully and tenderly down on it; wrapped another pretty ribbon, taken from her own dress, about his hurt shoulder, and drew the bed-clothes up to his nose.  9
  “But he shan’t stay with that nasty Clara,” she said, and moved the bed, with Nutcracker in it, up to the upper shelf, so that it was placed near the village in which Fritz’s hussars had their cantonments. She closed the cupboard and was moving away to go to bed, when—listen, children!—there began a low soft rustling and rattling, and a sort of whispering noise, all round, in all directions, from all quarters of the room,—behind the stove, under the chairs, behind the cupboards. The clock on the wall “warned” louder and louder, but could not strike. Marie looked at it, and saw that the big gilt owl which was on the top of it had drooped its wings so that they covered the whole of the clock, and had stretched its cat-like head, with the crooked beak, a long way forward. And the “warning” kept growing louder and louder, with distinct words: “Clocks, clockies, stop ticking. No sound, but cautious ‘warning.’ Mousey king’s ears are fine. Prr-prr. Only sing ‘poom, poom’; sing the olden song of doom! prr-prr; poom, poom. Bells go chime! Soon rings out the fated time!” And then came “Poom! poom!” quite hoarsely and smothered, twelve times.  10
  Marie grew terribly frightened, and was going to rush away as best she could, when she noticed that godpapa Drosselmeier was up on the top of the clock instead of the owl, with his yellow coat-tails hanging down on both sides like wings. But she manned herself, and called out in a loud voice of anguish:—  11
  “Godpapa! godpapa! what are you up there for? Come down to me, and don’t frighten me so terribly, you naughty, naughty godpapa Drosselmeier!”  12
  But then there began a sort of wild kickering and queaking, everywhere, all about, and presently there was a sound as of running and trotting, as of thousands of little feet behind the walls and thousands of little lights began to glitter out between the chinks of the woodwork. But they were not lights; no, no! little glittering eyes; and Marie became aware that everywhere mice were peeping and squeezing themselves out through every chink. Presently they were trotting and galloping in all directions over the room; orderly bodies, continually increasing, of mice, forming themselves into regular troops and squadrons, in good order, just as Fritz’s soldiers did when manœuvres were going on. As Marie was not afraid of mice (as many children are), she could not help being amused by this; and her first alarm had nearly left her, when suddenly there came such a sharp and terrible piping noise that the blood ran cold in her veins. Ah! what did she see then? Well, truly, kind reader, I know that your heart is in the right place, just as much as my friend Field Marshal Fritz’s is, itself: but if you had seen what now came before Marie’s eyes, you would have made a clean pair of heels of it; nay, I consider that you would have plumped into your bed, and drawn the blankets further over your head than necessity demanded.  13
  But poor Marie hadn’t it in her power to do any such thing, because, right at her feet, as if impelled by some subterranean power, sand and lime and broken stone came bursting up, and then seven mouse-heads, with seven shining crowns upon them, rose through the floor, hissing and piping in a most horrible way. Quickly the body of the mouse which had those seven crowned heads forced its way up through the floor, and this enormous creature shouted, with its seven heads, aloud to the assembled multitude, squeaking to them with all the seven mouths in full chorus; and then the entire army set itself in motion, and went trot, trot, right up to the cupboard—and in fact, to Marie who was standing beside it.  14
  Marie’s heart had been beating so with terror that she had thought it must jump out of her breast, and she must die. But now it seemed to her as if the blood in her veins stood still. Half fainting, she leant backwards, and then there was a “klirr, klirr, prr,” and the pane of the cupboard, which she had broken with her elbow, fell in shivers to the floor. She felt for a moment a sharp, stinging pain in her arm, but still this seemed to make her heart lighter; she heard no more of the queaking and piping. Everything was quiet; and though she didn’t dare to look, she thought the noise of the glass breaking had frightened the mice back to their holes.  15
  But what came to pass then? Right behind Marie a movement seemed to commence in the cupboard, and small faint voices began to be heard, saying:—
  “Come, awake, measures take;
Out to the fight, out to the fight;
Shield the right, shield the right;
Arm and away,—this is the night.”
And harmonica bells began ringing as prettily as you please.
  16
  “Oh! that’s my little peal of bells!” cried Marie, and went nearer and looked in. Then she saw that there was bright light in the cupboard, and everything busily in motion there; dolls and little figures of various kinds all running about together, and struggling with their little arms. At this point, Nutcracker rose from his bed, cast off the bedclothes, and sprung with both feet on to the floor (of the shelf), crying out at the top of his voice:—
  “Knack, knack, knack,
Stupid mousey pack,
All their skulls we’ll crack.
Mousey pack, knack, knack,
Mousey pack, crick and crack,
Cowardly lot of schnack!”
  17
  And with this he drew his little sword, waved it in the air, and cried:—  18
  “Ye, my trusty vassals, brethren and friends, are ye ready to stand by me in this great battle?”  19
  Immediately three scaramouches, one pantaloon, four chimneysweeps, two zither-players, and a drummer, cried in eager accents:—  20
  “Yes, your Highness: we will stand by you in loyal duty; we will follow you to the death, the victory, and the fray!” And they precipitated themselves after Nutcracker (who in the excitement of the moment had dared that perilous leap) to the bottom shelf. Now they might well dare this perilous leap; for not only had they got plenty of clothes on, of cloth and silk, but besides, there was not much in their insides except cotton and sawdust, so that they plumped down like little wood-sacks. But as for poor Nutcracker, he would certainly have broken his arms and legs; for, bethink you, it was nearly two feet from where he had stood to the shelf below, and his body was as fragile as if he had been made of elm-wood. Yes, Nutcracker would have broken his arms and legs had not Miss Clara started up from her sofa at the moment of his spring, and received the hero, drawn sword and all, in her tender arms.  21
  “O you dear good Clara!” cried Marie, “how I did misunderstand you! I believe you were quite willing to let dear Nutcracker have your bed.”  22
  But Miss Clara now cried, as she pressed the young hero gently to her silken breast:—  23
  “O my lord! go not into this battle and danger, sick and wounded as you are. See how your trusty vassals—clowns and pantaloon, chimney-sweeps, zithermen, and drummer—are already arrayed below; and the puzzle figures, in my shelf here, are in motion and preparing for the fray! Deign, then, O my lord, to rest in these arms of mine, and contemplate your victory from a safe coign of vantage.”  24
  Thus spoke Clara. But Nutcracker behaved so impatiently, and kicked so with his legs, that Clara was obliged to put him down on the shelf in a hurry. However, he at once sank gracefully on one knee, and expressed himself as follows:—  25
  “O lady! the kind protection and aid which you have afforded me will ever be present to my heart, in battle and in victory!”  26
  On this, Clara bowed herself so as to be able to take hold of him by his arms, raised him gently up, quickly loosed her girdle, which was ornamented with many spangles, and would have placed it about his shoulders. But the little man drew himself swiftly two steps back, laid his hand upon his heart, and said with much solemnity:—  27
  “O lady! do not bestow this mark of your favor upon me; for—” He hesitated, gave a deep sigh, took the ribbon with which Marie had bound him from his shoulders, pressed it to his lips, put it on as a cognizance for the fight, and waving his glittering sword, sprang like a bird over the ledge of the cupboard down to the floor.  28
  You will observe, kind reader, that Nutcracker, even before he really came to life, had felt and understood all Marie’s goodness and regard, and that it was because of his gratitude and devotion to her that he would not take, or wear even, a ribbon of Miss Clara’s, although it was exceedingly pretty and charming. This good, true-hearted Nutcracker preferred Marie’s much commoner and more unpretending token.  29
  But what is going to happen further, now? At the moment when Nutcracker sprang down, the queaking and piping commenced again worse than ever. Alas! under the big table the hordes of the mouse army had taken up a position, densely massed, under the command of the terrible mouse with the seven heads. So what is to be the result?  30
 
The Battle

  “BEAT the Générale, trusty vassal drummer!” cried Nutcracker very loud; and immediately the drummer began to roll his drum in the most splendid style, so that the windows of the glass cupboard rattled and resounded. Then there began a cracking and a clattering inside, and Marie saw all the lids of the boxes in which Fritz’s army was quartered bursting open, and the soldiers all came out and jumped down to the bottom shelf, where they formed up in good order. Nutcracker hurried up and down the ranks, speaking words of encouragement.
  31
  “There’s not a dog of a trumpeter taking the trouble to sound a call!” he cried in a fury. Then he turned to the pantaloon (who was looking decidedly pale), and wobbling his long chin a good deal, said in a tone of solemnity:—  32
  “I know how brave and experienced you are, General! What is essential here is a rapid comprehension of the situation, and immediate utilization of the passing moment. I intrust you with the command of the cavalry and artillery. You can do without a horse; your own legs are long, and you can gallop on them as fast as is necessary. Do your duty!”  33
  Immediately Pantaloon put his long lean fingers to his mouth, and gave such a piercing crow that it rang as if a hundred little trumpets had been sounding lustily. Then there began a tramping and a neighing in the cupboard; and Fritz’s dragoons and cuirassiers—but above all, the new glittering hussars—marched out, and then came to a halt, drawn up on the floor. They then marched past Nutcracker by regiments, with guidons flying and bands playing; after which they wheeled into line, and formed up at right angles to the line of march. Upon this, Fritz’s artillery came rattling up, and formed action-front in advance of the halted cavalry. Then it went “boom-boom!” and Marie saw the sugar-plums doing terrible execution amongst the thickly massed mouse battalions, which were powdered quite white by them, and greatly put to shame. But a battery of heavy guns, which had taken up a strong position on mamma’s footstool, was what did the greatest execution; and “poom-poom-poom!” kept up a murderous fire of gingerbread nuts into the enemy’s ranks with most destructive effect, mowing the mice down in great numbers. The enemy, however, was not materially checked in his advance, and had even possessed himself of one or two of the heavy guns, when there came “prr-prr-prr!” and Marie could scarcely see what was happening, for smoke and dust; but this much is certain, that every corps engaged fought with the utmost bravery and determination, and it was for a long time doubtful which side would gain the day. The mice kept on developing fresh bodies of their forces, as they were advanced to the scene of action; their little silver balls—like pills in size—which they delivered with great precision (their musketry practice being specially fine) took effect even inside the glass cupboard. Clara and Gertrude ran up and down in utter despair, wringing their hands and loudly lamenting.  34
  “Must I—the very loveliest doll in all the world—perish miserably in the very flower of my youth?” cried Miss Clara.  35
  “Oh! was it for this,” wept Gertrude, “that I have taken such pains to conserver myself all these years? Must I be shot here in my own drawing-room after all?”  36
  On this they fell into each other’s arms, and howled so terribly that you could hear them above all the din of the battle. For you have no idea of the hurly-burly that went on now, dear auditor! It went prr-prr-poof, piff-schnetterdeng — schnetterdeng — boom-booroom — boom-booroom — boom—all confusedly and higgledy-piggledy; and the mouse king and the mice squeaked and screamed; and then again Nutcracker’s powerful voice was heard shouting words of command and issuing important orders, and he was seen striding along amongst his battalions in the thick of the fire.  37
  Pantaloon had made several most brilliant cavalry charges, and covered himself with glory. But Fritz’s hussars were subjected—by the mice—to a heavy fire of very evil-smelling shot, which made horrid spots on their red tunics: this caused them to hesitate, and hang rather back for a time. Pantaloon made them take ground to the left, in échelon; and in the excitement of the moment, he, with his dragoons and cuirassiers, executed a somewhat analogous movement. That is to say, they brought up the right shoulder, wheeled to the left, and marched home to their quarters. This had the effect of bringing the battery of artillery on the footstool into imminent danger; and it was not long before a large body of exceedingly ugly mice delivered such a vigorous assault on this position that the whole of the footstool, with the guns and gunners, fell into the enemy’s hands. Nutcracker seemed much disconcerted, and ordered his right wing to commence a retrograde movement. A soldier of your experience, my dear Fritz, knows well that such a movement is almost tantamount to a regular retreat, and you grieve with me, in anticipation, for the disaster which threatens the army of Marie’s beloved little Nutcracker. But turn your glance in the other direction, and look at this left wing of Nutcracker’s, where all is still going well, and you will see that there is yet much hope for the commander-in-chief and his cause.  38
  During the hottest part of the engagement, masses of mouse cavalry had been quietly debouching from under the chest of drawers, and had subsequently made a most determined advance upon the left wing of Nutcracker’s force, uttering loud and horrible queakings. But what a reception they met with! Very slowly, as the nature of the terrain necessitated (for the ledge at the bottom of the cupboard had to be passed), the regiment of motto figures, commanded by two Chinese emperors, advanced and formed square. These fine, brilliantly uniformed troops, consisting of gardeners, Tyrolese, Tungooses, hair-dressers, harlequins, Cupids, lions, tigers, unicorns, and monkeys, fought with the utmost courage, coolness, and steady endurance. This bataillon d’élite would have wrested the victory from the enemy had not one of his cavalry captains, pushing forward in a rash and foolhardy manner, made a charge upon one of the Chinese emperors and bitten off his head. This Chinese emperor, in his fall, knocked over and smothered a couple of Tungooses and a unicorn; and this created a gap, through which the enemy effected a rush which resulted in the whole battalion being bitten to death. But the enemy gained little advantage by this; for as soon as one of the mouse cavalry soldiers bit one of these brave adversaries to death, he found that there was a small piece of printed paper sticking in his throat, of which he died in a moment. Still, this was of small advantage to Nutcracker’s army, which, having once commenced a retrograde movement, went on retreating farther and farther, suffering greater and greater loss. So that the unfortunate Nutcracker found himself driven back close to the front of the cupboard, with a very small remnant of his army.  39
  “Bring up the reserves! Pantaloon! Scaramouch! Drummer! where the devil have you got to?” shouted Nutcracker, who was still reckoning on reinforcements from the cupboard. And there did, in fact, advance a small contingent of brown gingerbread men and women, with gilt faces, hats, and helmets; but they laid about them so clumsily that they never hit any of the enemy, and soon knocked off the cap of their commander-in-chief, Nutcracker himself. And the enemy’s chasseurs soon bit their legs off, so that they tumbled topsy-turvy, and killed several of Nutcracker’s companions-in-arms into the bargain.  40
  Nutcracker was now hard pressed, and closely hemmed in by the enemy, and in a position of extreme peril. He tried to jump the bottom ledge of the cupboard, but his legs were not long enough. Clara and Gertrude had fainted; so they could give him no assistance. Hussars and heavy dragoons came charging up at him, and he shouted in wild despair:—  41
  “A horse! a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”  42
  At this moment two of the enemy’s riflemen seized him by his wooden cloak, and the king of the mice went rushing up to him, squeaking in triumph out of all his seven throats.  43
  Marie could contain herself no longer. “O my poor Nutcracker!” she sobbed; took off her left shoe without very distinctly knowing what she was about, and threw it as hard as she could into the thick of the enemy, straight at their king.  44
  Instantly everything vanished and disappeared. All was silence. Nothing to be seen. But Marie felt a more stinging pain than before in her left arm, and fell on the floor insensible.  45
 
 
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