THE RED SHOES
HERE was once a little girl, a very nice, pretty little
girl. But in summer she had to go barefoot because she
was poor, and in winter she wore thick wooden shoes, so
that her little instep became quite red, altogether
In the middle of the village lived an old shoemaker's
wife; she sat and sewed, as well as she could, a pair
of little shoes, of old strips of red cloth; they were
clumsy enough, but well meant, and the little girl was
to have them. The little girl's name was Karen.
On the day when her mother was buried she received the
red shoes and wore them for the first time. They were
certainly not suited for mourning, but she had no
others, and therefore thrust her little bare feet into
them and walked behind the plain deal coffin.
Suddenly a great carriage came by, and in the carriage
sat an old lady: she looked at the little girl and felt
pity for her, and said to the clergyman:
"Give me the little girl and I will provide for her."
Karen thought this was for the sake of the shoes, but
the Old Lady declared they were hideous; and they were
burned. But Karen herself was clothed neatly and
properly. She was taught
 to read and to sew, and the people said she was
agreeable. But her mirror said, "You are much more than
agreeable; you are beautiful."
Once the Queen traveled through the country, and had
her little daughter with her; and the daughter was a
Princess. And the people flocked toward the castle, and
Karen, too, was among them; and the little Princess
stood in a fine white dress at a window and let herself
be gazed at. She had neither train nor golden crown,
but she wore splendid red morocco shoes; they were
certainly far handsomer than those the shoemaker's wife
had made for little Karen. Nothing in the world can
compare with red shoes!
Now Karen was old enough to be confirmed. New clothes
were made for her, and she was to have new shoes. The
rich shoemaker in the town took the measure of her
little feet; this was done in his own house, in his
little room, and there stood great glass cases with
neat shoes and shining boots. It had quite a charming
appearance, but the Old Lady could not see well, and
therefore took no pleasure in it. Among the shoes stood
a red pair, just like those which the Princess had
worn. How beautiful they were! The shoemaker also said
they had been made for a count's child, but they had
"That must be patent leather," observed the Old Lady,
"the shoes shine so!"
"Yes, they shine!" replied Karen; and they fitted her,
and were bought. But the Old Lady did not know they
were red, for she would never have allowed Karen to go
to her confirmation in red shoes, and that is what
Every one was looking at her shoes. And when she went
across the church porch toward the door of the choir it
seemed to her as if the old pictures on the tombstones,
the portraits of clergymen and clergymen's wives, in
their stiff collars and long black garments, fixed
their eyes upon her red shoes. And she thought of her
shoes only when the priest laid his hand upon her head
and spoke holy words. And the organ pealed solemnly,
 the children sang with their fresh, sweet voices, and
the old precentor sang, too; but Karen thought only of
her red shoes.
In the afternoon the Old Lady was informed by every one
that the shoes were red, and she said it was naughty
and unsuitable and that when Karen went to church in
future she would always go in black shoes, even if they
Next Sunday was Sacrament Sunday. And Karen looked at
the black shoes, and looked at the red ones, looked at
them again, and put on the red ones.
The sun shone gloriously; Karen and the Old Lady went
along the foot-path through the fields, and it was
By the church door stood an old invalid soldier with a
crutch and a long beard; the beard was rather red than
white for it was red altogether; and he bowed down
almost to the ground and asked the Old Lady if he might
dust her shoes. And Karen also stretched out her little
"Look, what pretty dancing-shoes!" said the Old
Soldier. "Fit so tightly when you dance!"
And he tapped the soles with his hand. And the Old Lady
gave the Soldier an alms, and went into the church with
And every one in the church looked at Karen's red
shoes, and all the pictures looked at them. And while
Karen knelt in the church she only thought of her red
shoes; and she forgot to sing her psalm and forgot to
say her prayer.
Now all the people went out of church, and the Old Lady
stepped into her carriage. Karen lifted up her foot to
step in, too; then the Old Soldier said:
"Look, what beautiful dancing-shoes!"
And Karen could not resist; she was obliged to dance a
few steps, and when she once began her legs went on
dancing. It was just as thought the shoes had obtained
power over her. She danced round the corner of the
church—she could not help it; the coachman was
obliged to run behind her and seize her; he lifted her
into the carriage, but her feet went on dancing, so
that she kicked the good Old Lady violently. At last
they took off her shoes and her legs became quiet.
 At home the shoes were put away in a cupboard, but
Karen could not resist looking at them.
Now the Old Lady became very ill, and it was said she
would not recover. She had to be nursed and waited on;
and this was no one's duty so much as Karen's. But
there was to be a great ball in the town, and Karen was
invited. She looked at the Old Lady who could not
recover; she looked at the red shoes, and thought there
would be no harm in it. She put on the shoes, and that
she might very well do; but they went to the ball and
began to dance.
But when she wished to go to the right hand the shoes
danced to the left, and when she wanted to go up-stairs
the shoes danced downward, down into the street and out
at the town gate. She danced and was obliged to dance
straight out into the dark wood.
There was something glistening up among the trees, and
she thought it was the moon, for she saw a face. But it
was the Old Soldier with the red beard; he sat and
nodded and said:
"Look, what beautiful dancing-shoes!"
Then she was frightened and wanted to throw away the
red shoes; but they clung fast to her. And she tore off
her stockings, but the shoes had grown fast to her
feet. And she danced and was compelled to go dancing
over field and meadow in rain and sunshine, by night
and by day; but it was most dreadful at night.
She danced out into the open church-yard; but the dead
there do not dance; they have far better things to do.
She wished to sit down on the poor man's grave, where
the bitter fern grows, but there was no peace nor rest
for her. And when she danced toward the open church
door she saw there an Angel in long white garments with
wings that reached from his shoulders to his feet; his
countenance was serious and stern, and in his hand he
held a sword that was broad and gleaming.
"Thou shalt dance!" he said. "Dance in thy read shoes
till thou art pale and cold, and till thy body shrivels
to a skeleton. Thou shalt dance from door to door; and
where proud, haughty
 children dwell shalt thou knock, that they may hear
thee and be afraid of thee! Thou shalt danx, dance!"
"Mercy!" cried Karen.
But she did not hear what the Angel answered, for the
shoes carried her away—carried her through the
door on to the field, over stock and stone, and she was
always obliged to dance.
One morning she danced past a door which she knew well.
There was a sound of psalm-singing within, and a coffin
was carried out, adorned with flowers. Then she knew
that the Old Lady was dead, and she felt that she was
deserted by all and condemned by the Angel of Heaven.
She danced, and was compelled to dance—to dance in
the dark night. The shoes carried her on over thorn and
brier; she scratched herself till she bled; she danced
away across the heath to a little lonely house. Here
she knew the executioner dwelt; and she tapped with her
fingers on the panes and called: "Come out, come out! I
cannot come in, for I must dance!"
And the Executioner said: "You probably don't know who
I am? I cut off the bad people's heads with my ax, and
mark how my ax rings!"
"Do not strike off my head," said Karen, "for if you do
I cannot repent of my sin. But strike off my feet with
the red shoes!"
And then she confessed all her sin, and the Executioner
cut off her feet with the red shoes; but the shoes
dance away with the little feet over the fields and
into the deep forest.
And he cut her a pair of wooden feet with crutches and
taught her a psalm which the criminals always sing; and
she kissed the hand that had held the ax and went away
across the heath.
"Now I have suffered pain enough for the red shoes,"
said she. "Now I will go into the church, that they may
And she went quickly toward the church door; but when
she came there the red shoes danced before her so that
she was frightened and turned back.
The whole week through she was sorrowful and wept many
bitter tears; but when Sunday came she said:
 "Now I have suffered and striven enough! I think that I
am just as good as many of those who sit in the church
and carry their heads high."
And then she went boldly on; but she did not get
farther than the church-yard gate before she saw the
red shoes dancing along before her; then she was seized
with terror and turned back and repented of her sin
And she went to the parsonage and begged to be taken
there as a servant. She promised to be industrious and
to do all she could; she did not care for wages, and
only wished to be under a roof with good people. The
clergyman's wife pitied her and took her into her
service. And she was industrious and thoughtful.
Silently she sat and listened when in the evening the
pastor read the Bible aloud. All the little ones were
very fond of her; but when they spoke of dress and
splendor and beauty she would shake her head.
Next Sunday they all went to church, and she was asked
if she wished to go, too; but she looked sadly with
tears in her eyes at her crutches. And then the others
went to hear God's work; but she alone into her little
room, which was only large enough to contain her bed
and a chair. And here she sat with her hymn-book; and
as she read it with a pious mind the wind bore the
notes of the organ over to her from the church; and she
lifted her face, wet with tears, and said:
"O Lord, help me!"
Then the sun shone so brightly; and before her stood
the Angel in the white garments, the same she had seen
that night at the church door. But he no longer grasped
the sharp sword; he held a green branch covered with
roses; and he touched the ceiling, and it rose up high,
and wherever he touched it a golden star gleamed forth;
and he touched the walls, and they spread forth widely,
and she saw the organ which was pealing its rich
sounds; and she saw the old pictures of clergyman and
their wives; and the congregation sat in the decorated
seats and sang from their hymn-books. The church had
come to the poor girl in her narrow room, or her
chamber had become a church. She
 sat in the chair with the rest of the clergyman's
people; and when they had finished the psalm and looked
up they nodded and said:
"That was right that you came here, Karen."
"It was a mercy!" said she.
And the organ sounded its glorious notes; and the
children's voices singing in chorus sounded sweet and
lovely; the clear sunshine streamed so warm through the
window upon the chair in which Karen sat; and her heart
became so filled with sunshine, peace, and joy that it
broke. Her soul flew on the sunbeams to heaven; and
there was nobody who asked after the