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The Candles

Hans Christian Andersen (1870)

 

There was once a big wax-candle which knew its own importance quite well.

“I am born of wax and moulded in a shape,” it said “I give better light and burn longer than other candles my place is in a chandelier or on a silver candlestick!”

“That must be a lovely existence!” said the tallow-candle. “I am only made of tallow, but I comfort myself with the thought that it is always a little better than being a farthing dip: that is only dipped twice, and I am dipped eight times to get my proper thickness. I am content! it is certainly finer and more fortunate to be born of wax instead of tallow, but one does not settle one’s own place in this world. You are placed in the big room in the glass chandelier, I remain in the kitchen, but that is also a good place; from there the whole house gets its food.”

“But there is something which is more important than food,” said the wax-candle. “Society! to see it shine, and to shine oneself! There is a ball this evening, and soon I and all my family will be fetched.”

Scarcely was the word spoken, when all the wax-candles were fetched, but the tallow-candle also went with them. The lady herself took it in her dainty hand, and carried it out to the kitchen: a little boy stood there with a basket, which was filled with potatoes; two or three apples also found their way there. The good lady gave all this to the poor boy.

“There is a candle for you as well, my little friend,” said she. “Your mother sits and works till late in the night; she can use it!”

The little daughter of the house stood close by, and when she heard the words “late in the night,” she said with great delight, “I also shall stay up till late in the night! We shall have a ball, and I shall wear My big red sash!;” How her face shone! that was with joy! No wax-candle can shine like two childish eyes!

“That is a blessing to see,” thought the tallow-candle; “I shall never forget it, and I shall certainly never see it again.”

And so it was laid in the basket, under the lid, and the boy went away with it.

“Where shall I go now?” thought the candle; “I shall go to poor people, and perhaps not even get a brass candlestick, while the wax-candle sits in silver and sees all the grand people. How lovely it must be to shine for the grand people! but it was my lot to be tallow and not way!”

And so the candle came to poor people, a widow with three children, in a little, low room, right opposite the rich house.

“God bless the good lady for her gifts,” said the mother, “what a lovely candle that is! it can burn till late in the night.”

And then the candle was lighted.

“Fut, foi,” it said, “what a horrid-smelling match that was she lighted me with! the wax-candle over in the rich house would not have such treatment offered to it.”

There also the candles were lighted: they shone, out across the street; the carriages rolled up with the elegant ball-guests and the music played.

“Now they begin across there,” the tallow-candle noticed, and thought of the beaming face of the rich little girl, more sparkling than all the wax-lights. “That sight I shall never see again!”

Then the smallest of the children in the poor house, a little girl, came and took her brother and sister round the neck: she had something very important to tell them, and it must be whispered. “To-night we shall have just think!—To-night we shall have hot potatoes!”

And her face shone with happiness: the tallow-candle shone right into it, and it saw a gladness, a happiness as great as over in the rich house, where the little girl said, “We shall have a ball to-night, and I shall wear my big red sash!”

“It is just as much to get hot potatoes,” thought the candle. “Here there is just as much joy amongst the children.” And it sneezed at that; that is to say, it spattered; a tallow-candle can do no more.

The table was laid, and the potatoes eaten. Oh, how good they tasted! it was a perfect feast, and each one got an apple besides, and the smallest child said the little verse:

“Thou good God, I give thanks to Thee

That Thou again bast nourished me. Amen!”

“Was that not nicely said, Mother?” broke out the little one.

“You must not ask that again,” said the mother; “you must think only of the good God who has fed you.”

The little ones went to bed, got a kiss and fell asleep at once, and the mother sat and sewed late into the night to get the means of support for them and for herself. And over from the big house the lights shone and the music sounded. The stars shone over all the houses, over the rich and over the poor, equally clear and blessed.

“This has really been a delightful evening!” thought the tallow-candle. “I wonder if the wax-candles had it any better in the silver candlestick? I would like to know that before I am burn burned out.”

And it thought of the two happy ones, the one lighted by the wax-candle, and the other by the tallow-candle.

Yes, that is the whole story!