THE RED SHOES 327
'Come out, come out! I cannot.come in, for I must dance!'
And the executioner said,
1 You probably don't know who I am ? I cut off the bad people's heads with my axe, and mark how my axe rings !'
1 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 danced 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 axe, 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 see me.'
And she went quickly towards 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,
1 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 churchyard 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 right heartily.
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 and 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 splendour and beauty she would shake her head.