THE RED SHOES
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 into the open churchyard ; but the dead there did not dance; they had something better to do. She wished to sit down on the poor man's grave, where the bitter tansy grows ; but there was no peace nor rest for her. And when she danced towards 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 red 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 dance, dance !'
' Mercy !' cried Karen.
But she did not hear what the angel answered, for the shoes carried her away—carried her through the gate 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 God.
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,