"The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf"
By Hans Christian Andersen
The story of the girl who trod on the loaf
to avoid soiling her shoes, and of the
misfortune that befell this girl, is well
known. It has been written, and even printed.
She was a poor child, but proud and
presumptuous ; there was a bad foundation in
her, as the saying is. When she was quite a
little child, it was her delight to catch
flies and tear off their wings, so as to
make them into creeping things. She would
take cockchafers and beetles, and
spit them on pins. Then she pushed a green
leaf or a little scrap of paper towards
their feet, and the poor creatures seized
it, and held it fast, and turned it over and
over, struggling to get free from the pin.
' The cockchafer is reading, said little
Inger. ' See how he turns the leaf ! '
With years she grew worse rather than better
; but she was pretty, and that was her
misfortune ; otherwise she would have been
more sharply reproved than she was.
' Your headstrong will requires something
strong to break it ! ' her own mother often
said. ' As a little child, you used to
trample on my apron ; but I fear you will
day trample on my heart.'
And that is what she really did.
She was sent into the country, into service
in the house of rich people, who treated her
as their own child, and dressed her
accordingly. She looked well, and her
When she had been there about a year, her
mistress said to her, ' You ought now to
visit your parents, Inger.
And she went too, but it was only to show
herself, that they might see how grand she
had become ; but when she came to the
entrance of the village, and the young
husbandmen and maids stood there chatting,
and her own mother appeared among them,
sitting on a stone to rest, and with a
faggot of sticks before her that she had
picked up in the wood, then Inger turned
back, for she felt ashamed that she, who was
so finely dressed, should have for a mother
a ragged woman, who picked up wood in the
forest. She did not in the least feel sorry
for having turned back, she was only annoyed.
And another half-year went by, and her
mistress said again, ' You ought to go to
your home, and visit your old parents,
Inger. I'll make you a present of a great
wheaten loaf that you may give to them :
they will certainly be glad to see you again.'
And Inger put on her best clothes, and her
new shoes, and drew her skirts around her,
and set out, stepping very carefully, that
she might be clean and neat about the feet ;
and there was no harm in that. But when she
came to the place where the footway led
across the marsh, and where there was mud
and puddles, she threw the loaf into the mud,
and trod upon it to pass over without
wetting her feet. But as she stood there
with one foot upon the loaf and the other
uplifted to step farther, the loaf sank with
her, deeper and deeper, till she disappeared
altogether, and only a great puddle, from
which the bubbles rose, remained where she
And that 's the story.
But whither did Inger go ? She went down to
the marsh woman, who is always brewing there.
The marsh woman is cousin to the elf maidens,
who are w r ell enough known, of whom songs
are sung, and of whom pictures are painted ;
but concerning the marsh woman it is only
known that when the meadows steam in
summertime it is because she is brewing.
Into the marsh
woman's brewery did Inger sink down ; and no
one can endure that place long. A box of mud
is a palace compared with the marsh woman's
brewery. Every barrel there had an odour
that almost takes away one's senses ; and
the barrels stand close to each other ; and
wherever there is a little opening among
them, through which one might push one's way,
then one cannot get through for the number
of damp toads and fat snakes who are all in
a tangle there. Among this company did Inger
fall ; and all the horrible mass of living
creeping things was so icy cold, that she
shuddered in all her limbs , and became
stark and stiff. She continued fastened to
the loaf, and the loaf drew her down as an
amber button draws a fragment of straw.
The marsh woman was at home, and on that day
the Devil and his grandmother had come to
inspect the brewery ; and she is a venomous
old woman, who is never idle : she never
rides out to pay a visit without taking her
work with her ; she also had it here. She
leather to be worked into men's shoes, and
that makes them wander about unable to
settle anywhere. She wove webs of lies, and
strung together hastily-spoken words that
had fallen to the ground ; and all this was
done for the injury and ruin of mankind. Yes,
indeed, she knew how to sew, to weave, and
to string, did this old grandmother !
Catching sight of Inger, she put up her
double eye-glass, and took another look at
1 That 's a girl who has ability ! ' she
observed, ' and I beg you will give me the
little one as a memento of my visit here .
She 'I make a capital statue to stand in my
grandson 's antechamber.'
And Inger was given up to her, and this is
how Inger came into Hell. People don't
always go there by the direct path, but they
can get there by roundabout routes if they
have a tendency in that direction.
That was a never-ending antechamber. The
visitor became giddy who looked forward, and
doubly giddy when he looked back, and saw a
whole crowd of people, almost utterly
exhausted, waiting till the gate of mercy
should be opened to them they had to wait a
long time ! Great fat waddling spiders spun
webs of a thousand years over their feet,
and these webs cut like wire, and bound them
like bronze fetters ; and, moreover, there
was an eternal unrest working in every heart
a miserable Unrest. The miser stood there,
and had forgotten the key of his strong box,
and he knew the key was sticking in the lock.
It would take too long to describe the
various sorts of torture that were found
there together. Inger felt a terrible pain
while she had to stand there as a statue,
for she was tied fast to the loaf.
' That 's the fruit of wishing to keep one's
feet neat and tidy she said to herself. '
Just look how they're all staring at me ! '
Yes, certainly, the eyes of all were fixed
upon her, and their evil thoughts gleamed
forth from their eyes, and they spoke to one
another, moving their lips, from which no
sound whatever came forth : they were very
horrible to behold.
' It must be a great pleasure to look at me
! ' thought Inger, ' and indeed I have a
pretty face and fine clothes.' And she
turned her eyes ; her neck was too stiff to
turn. But she had not considered how her
clothes had been soiled in the marsh woman's
brewhouse. Her garments were covered with
mud ; a snake had fastened in her hair, and
dangled down her back ; and out of each fold
of her frock a great toad looked forth,
croaking like an asthmatic poodle. That was
very unpleasant. ' But all the rest of them
down here also look horrible,' she observed
and derived consolation from the thought.
The worst of all was the terrible hunger
that tormented her. But could she not stoop
and break off a piece of the loaf on which
she stood ? No, her back was too stiff, her
hands and arms were benumbed, and her whole
body was like a pillar of stone ; she was
only able to turn her eyes in
her head, to turn them quite round, so that
she could see backwards : it was an ugly
sight. And then the flies came up, and crept
to and fro over her eyes, and she blinked
her eyes, but the flies would not go away,
for they could not fly : their wings had
been pulled out, so that they were
converted into creeping insects : it was
horrible torment added to the hunger,forshe
felt empty, quite, entirely empty.
' If this lasts much longer,' she said, ' I
shall not be able to bear it.'
But she had to bear it, and it lasted on and
Then a hot tear fell down upon her head,
rolled over her face and neck, down on to
the loaf on which she stood ; and then
another tear rolled down, followed by many
more. Who might be weeping for Inger ? Had
she not still a mother in the world ? The
tears of sorrow which a mother weeps for her
child always make their way to the child ;
but they do not relieve it, they only
increase its torment. And now to bear this
unendurable hunger, and yet not to be able
to touch the loaf on which she stood ! She
felt as if she had been feeding on herself,
and had become
like a thin hollow reed that takes in every
sound, for she heard everything that was
said of her up in the world, and all that
she heard was hard and evil. Her mother,
indeed, wept much and sorrowed for her, but
for all that she said, ' A haughty spirit
goes before a fall. That was thy ruin,
Inger. Thou hast sorely grieved thy mother.'
Her mother and all on earth knew of the sin
she had committed ; knew that she had
trodden upon the loaf, and had sunk and
disappeared ; for the cowherd had seen it
from the hill beside the marsh.
1 Greatly hast thou grieved thy mother,
Inger said the mother ; ' yes, yes, I
thought it would be thus.'
' Oh that I had never been born ! ' thought
Inger ; ' it would have been far better. But
what use is my mother's weeping now ? '
And she heard how her master and mistress,
who had kept and cherished her like kind
parents, now said she was a sinful child,
and did not value the gifts of God, but
trampled them under her feet, and that the
gates of mercy would only open slowly to
' They should have punished me,' thought
Inger, ' and have driven out the whims I had
in my head.'
She heard how a complete song was made about
her, a song of the proud girl who trod upon
the loaf to keep her shoes clean, and she
heard how the song was sung everywhere.
' That I should have to bear so much evil
for that ! ' thought Inger ; ' the others
ought to be punished, too, for their sins.
Yes, then there would be plenty of punishing
to do. Ah, how I'm being tortured ! '
And her heart became harder than her outward
' Here in this company one can't even become
better she said, ' and I don't want to becom
better ! Look, how they're all staring at me
! ' And her heart was full of anger and
malice against all men. ' Now they've
something to talk about at last up yonder.
Ah, how I'm being tortured ! '
And then she heard how her story was told to
the little children, and the little ones
called her the godless Inger, and said she
was so naughty and ugly that she must be
Thus even the children's mouths spoke hard
words of her.
But one day, while grief arid hunger gnawed
her hollow frame, and she heard her name
mentioned and her story told to an innocent
child, a little girl, she became aware that
the little one burst into tears at the tale
of the haughty, vain Inger.
' But will Inger never coine up here again ?
' asked the little girl.
And the reply was, ' She will never come up
' But if she were to beg for forgiveness,
and say she would never do so again ? '
' But she will not beg for forgiveness,' was
' I should be so glad if she would,' said
the little girl ; and she was quite
inconsolable. ' I'll give my doll and all my
playthings if she may only come up. It 's
too dreadful poor Inger ! '
And these words penetrated to Inger's heart,
and seemed to do her good. It was the first
time any one had said, ' Poor Inger,'
without adding anything about her faults : a
little innocent child was weeping and
praying for her. It made her feel quite
strangely, and she herself would gladly have
wept, but she could not weep, and that was a
torment in itself.
While years were passing above her, for
where she was there was no change, she heard
herself spoken of more and more seldom. At
last one day a sigh struck on her ear : '
Inger, Inger, how you have grieved me ! I
said how it would be ! ' It was the last
sigh of her dying mother.
Occasionally she heard her name spoken by
her former employers, and they were pleasant
words when the woman said, ' Shall I ever
see thee again, Inger ? One knows not what
But Inger knew right well that her good
mistress would never come to the place where
And again time went on a long, bitter time.
Then Inger heard her name pronounced once
more, and saw two bright stars that seemed
gleaming above her. They were two gentle
eyes closing upon earth. So many years had
gone by since the little girl had been
inconsolable and wept
about ' poor Inger ', that the child had
become an old woman, who was now to be
called home to heaven ; and in the last hour
of existence, when the events of the whole
life stand at once before us, the old woman
remembered how as a child she had cried
heartily at the story of Inger.
That time and that impression came so
clearly before the old woman in her last
hour, that she called out quite loud : '
Have not I also, like Inger, often trod upon
the gifts of heaven without thinking ? have
not I also gone about with pride at my heart
? Yet Thou in Thy mercy hast not let me
sink, but hast held me up. Leave me not in
my last hour ! '
And the eyes of the old woman closed, and
the eye of her soul was opened to look upon
the hidden things. She, in whose last
thoughts Inger had been present so vividly,
saw how deeply the poor girl had sunk, and
burst into tears at the sight ; in heaven
she stood like a child, and wept
for poor Inger. And her tears and prayers
sounded like an echo in the dark empty space
that surrounded the tormented captive soul,
and the unhoped-for love from above
conquered her, for an angel was weeping for
her. Why was this vouchsafed to her ? The
tormented soul seemed to gather in her
thoughts every deed she had done on earth,
and she, Inger, trembled and wept such tears
as she had never yet wept. She was filled
with sorrow about herself : it seemed as
though the gate of mercy could never open to
her ; and while in deep penitence she
ledged this, a beam of light shot radiantly
down into the depths to her ; with a greater
force than that of the sunbeam which melts
the snow man the boys have built up ; and
quicker than the snow-flake .melts, and
becomes a drop of water that falls on the
warm lips of a child, the stony form of
Inger was changed to mist, and a little bird
soared with the speed of lightning upward
into the world of men. But the bird was
timid and shy towards all things around ; it
was ashamed of itself, ashamed to encounter
any living thing, and hurriedly sought to
conceal itself in a dark hole in an old
crumbling wall ; there it sat cowering,
trembling through its whole frame, and
unable to utter a sound, for it had no voice.
Long it sat there before it could rightly
see all the beauty around it ; for beauty
there was. The air was fresh and mild, the
moon shone so clear ; trees and bushes
exhaled fragrance, and it was right pleasant
where it sat, and its coat of feathers was
clean and pure. How all creation seemed to
speak of beneficence and love ! The bird
wanted to sing of the thoughts that stirred
in its breast, but it could not ; gladly
would it have sung as the cuckoo and the
nightingale sang in spring-time. But Heaven,
that hears the mute song of
praise of the worm, could hear the notes of
praise which now trembled in the breast of
the bird, as David's psalms were heard
before they had fashioned themselves into
words and song.
For weeks these toneless songs stirred
within the bird ; at last, the holy
Christmas -time approached. The peasant who
dwelt near set up a pole by the old wall,
with some ears of corn bound to the top,
that the birds of heaven might have a good
meal, and rejoice in the happy, blessed
And on Christmas morning the sun arose and
shone upon the ears of corn, which were
surrounded by a number of twittering birds.
Then out of the hole in the wall streamed
forth the voice of another bird, and the
bird soared forth from its hiding-place ;
and in heaven it was well known what bird
It was a hard winter. The ponds were covered
with ice, and the beasts of the field and
the birds of the air were stinted for food.
Our little bird flew away over the high road,
and in the ruts of the sledges it found here
and there a grain of corn, and at the
halting-places some crumbs. Of these it ate
only a few, but it called all the other
hungry sparrows around it, that they, too,
might have some food. It flew into the towns,
and looked round about ; and whereever a
kind hand had strewn bread on the
window-sill for the birds, it only ate a
single crumb itself, and gave all
the rest to the other birds.
In the course of the winter, the bird had
collected so many bread crumbs, and given
them to the other birds, that they equalled
the weight of the loaf on which Inger had
trod to keep her shoes clean ; and when the
last bread crumb had been found and given,
the grey wings of the bird became white, and
spread far out.
' Yonder is a sea-swallow, flying away
across the water,' said the children when
they saw the white bird. Now it dived into
the sea, and now it rose again into the
clear sunlight. It gleamed white ; but no
one could tell whither it went, though some
asserted that it flew straight into