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She danced over the churchyard, but the dead did not dance--they had
something better to do than to dance. She wished to seat herself on a
poor man's grave, where the bitter tansy grew; but for her there was
neither peace nor rest; and when she danced towards the open church
door, she saw an angel standing there. He wore long, white garments; he
had wings which reached from his shoulders to the earth; his countenance
was severe and grave; and in his hand he held a sword, broad and
"Dance shalt thou!" said he. "Dance in thy red shoes till thou art pale
and cold! Till thy skin shrivels up and thou art a skeleton! Dance shalt
thou from door to door, and where proud, vain children dwell, thou shalt
knock, that they may hear thee and tremble! Dance shalt thou--!"
"Mercy!" cried Karen. But she did not hear the angel's reply, for the
shoes carried her through the gate into the fields, across roads and
bridges, and she must keep ever dancing.
One morning she danced past a door which she well knew. Within sounded
a psalm; a coffin, decked with flowers, was borne forth. Then she knew
that the old lady was dead, and felt that she was abandoned by all, and
condemned by the angel of God.
She danced, and she was forced to dance through the gloomy night. The
shoes carried her over stack and stone; she was torn till she bled; she
danced over the heath till she came to a little house. Here, she knew,
dwelt the executioner; and she tapped with her fingers at the window,
and said, "Come out! Come out! I cannot come in, for I am forced to
And the executioner said, "Thou dost not know who I am, I fancy? I
strike bad people's heads off; and I hear that my axe rings!"
"Don't strike my head off!" said Karen. "Then I can't repent of my sins!
But strike off my feet in the red shoes!"
And then she confessed her entire sin, and the executioner struck off
her feet with the red shoes, but the shoes danced away with the little
feet across the field into the deep wood.
And he carved out little wooden feet for her, and crutches, taught
her the psalm criminals always sing; and she kissed the hand which had
wielded the axe, and went over the heath.
"Now I have suffered enough for the red shoes!" said she. "Now I will
go into the church that people may see me!"
And she hastened towards the church door
but when she was near it, the red shoes danced before her,
and she was terrified, and turned round. The whole week she was unhappy,
and wept many bitter tears; but when Sunday returned, she said, "Well,
now I have suffered and struggled enough! I really believe I am as good
as many a one who sits in the church, and holds her head so high!"
And away she went boldly; but she had not got farther than the
churchyard gate before she saw the red shoes dancing before her; and she
was frightened, and turned back, and repented of her sin from her heart.
And she went to the parsonage, and begged that they would take her
into service; she would be very industrious, she said, and would do
everything she could; she did not care about the wages, only she wished
to have a home, and be with good people. And the clergyman's wife was
sorry for her and took her into service; and she was industrious and