ONCE upon a time there was
little girl, pretty and dainty. But in summer time she was obliged
to go barefooted because she was poor, and in winter she had to wear
large wooden shoes, so that her little instep grew quite red.
In the middle of the village lived an old shoemaker’s wife; she
sat down and made, as well as she could, a pair of little shoes out
of some old pieces of red cloth. They were clumsy, but she meant
well, for they were intended for the little girl, whose name was
Karen received the shoes and wore them for the first time on the
day of her mother’s funeral. They were certainly not suitable for
mourning; but she had no others, and so she put her bare feet into
them and walked behind the humble coffin.
Just then a large old carriage came by, and in it sat an old
lady; she looked at the little girl, and taking pity on her, said to
the clergyman, “Look here, if you will give me the little girl, I
will take care of her.”
Karen believed that this was all on account of the red shoes, but
the old lady thought them hideous, and so they were burnt. Karen
herself was dressed very neatly and cleanly; she was taught to read
and to sew, and people said that she was pretty. But the mirror told
her, “You are more than pretty—you are beautiful.”
One day the Queen was travelling through that part of the
country, and had her little daughter, who was a princess, with her.
All the people, amongst them Karen too, streamed towards the castle,
where the little princess, in fine white clothes, stood before the
window and allowed herself to be stared at. She wore neither a train
nor a golden crown, but beautiful red morocco shoes; they were
indeed much finer than those which the shoemaker’s wife had sewn for
little Karen. There is really nothing in the world that can be
compared to red shoes!
Karen was now old enough to be confirmed; she received some new
clothes, and she was also to have some new shoes. The rich shoemaker
in the town took the measure of her little foot in his own room, in
which there stood great glass cases full of pretty shoes and white
slippers. It all looked very lovely, but the old lady could not see
very well, and therefore did not get much pleasure out of it.
Amongst the shoes stood a pair of red ones, like those which the
princess had worn. How beautiful they were! and the shoemaker said
that they had been made for a count’s daughter, but that they had
not fitted her.
“I suppose they are of shiny leather?” asked the old lady. “They
“Yes, they do shine,” said Karen. They fitted her, and were
bought. But the old lady knew nothing of their being red, for she
would never have allowed Karen to be confirmed in red shoes, as she
was now to be.
Everybody looked at her feet, and the whole of the way from the
church door to the choir it seemed to her as if even the ancient
figures on the monuments, in their stiff collars and long black
robes, had their eyes fixed on her red shoes. It was only of these
that she thought when the clergyman laid his hand upon her head and
spoke of the holy baptism, of the covenant with God, and told her
that she was now to be a grown-up Christian.
The organ pealed forth solemnly, and the sweet children’s voices
mingled with that of their old leader; but Karen thought only of her
red shoes. In the afternoon the old lady heard from everybody that
Karen had worn red shoes. She said that it was a shocking thing to
do, that it was very improper, and that Karen was always to go to
church in future in black shoes, even if they were old.