THERE was once a girl who trod on a loaf to avoid soiling
her shoes, and the misfortunes that happened to her in
consequence are well known. Her name was Inge; she was a poor
child, but proud and presuming, and with a bad and cruel
disposition. When quite a little child she would delight in
catching flies, and tearing off their wings, so as to make
creeping things of them. When older, she would take
cockchafers and beetles, and stick pins through them. Then she
pushed a green leaf, or a little scrap of paper towards their
feet, and when the poor creatures would seize it and hold it
fast, and turn over and over in their struggles to get free
from the pin, she would say, 'The cockchafer is reading; see
how he turns over the leaf.' She grew worse instead of better
with years, and, unfortunately, she was pretty, which caused
her to be excused, when she should have been sharply reproved.
'Your headstrong will requires severity to conquer it,'
her mother often said to her. 'As a little child you used to
trample on my apron, but one day I fear you will trample on my
heart.' And, alas! this fear was realized.
Inge was taken to the house of some rich people, who lived
at a distance, and who treated her as their own child, and
dressed her so fine that her pride and arrogance increased.
When she had been there about a year, her patroness said
to her, 'You ought to go, for once, and see your parents,
So Inge started to go and visit her parents; but she only
wanted to show herself in her native place, that the people
might see how fine she was. She reached the entrance of the
village, and saw the young laboring men and maidens standing
together chatting, and her own mother amongst them. Inge's
mother was sitting on a stone to rest, with a fagot of sticks
lying before her, which she had picked up in the wood. Then
Inge turned back; she who was so finely dressed she felt
ashamed of her mother, a poorly clad woman, who picked up wood
in the forest. She did not turn back out of pity for her
mother's poverty, but from pride.
Another half-year went by, and her mistress said, 'you
ought to go home again, and visit your parents, Inge, and I
will give you a large wheaten loaf to take to them, they will
be glad to see you, I am sure.'
So Inge put on her best clothes, and her new shoes, drew
her dress up around her, and set out, stepping very carefully,
that she might be clean and neat about the feet, and there was
nothing wrong in doing so. But when she came to the place
where the footpath led across the moor, she found small pools
of water, and a great deal of mud, so she threw the loaf into
the mud, and trod upon it, that she might pass without wetting
her feet. But as she stood with one foot on the loaf and the
other lifted up to step forward, the loaf began to sink under
her, lower and lower, till she disappeared altogether, and
only a few bubbles on the surface of the muddy pool remained
to show where she had sunk. And this is the story.
But where did Inge go? She sank into the ground, and went
down to the Marsh Woman, who is always brewing there.
The Marsh Woman is related to the elf maidens, who are
well-known, for songs are sung and pictures painted about
them. But of the Marsh Woman nothing is known, excepting that
when a mist arises from the meadows, in summer time, it is
because she is brewing beneath them. To the Marsh Woman's
brewery Inge sunk down to a place which no one can endure for
long. A heap of mud is a palace compared with the Marsh
Woman's brewery; and as Inge fell she shuddered in every limb,
and soon became cold and stiff as marble. Her foot was still
fastened to the loaf, which bowed her down as a golden ear of
corn bends the stem.
An evil spirit soon took possession of Inge, and carried
her to a still worse place, in which she saw crowds of unhappy
people, waiting in a state of agony for the gates of mercy to
be opened to them, and in every heart was a miserable and
eternal feeling of unrest. It would take too much time to
describe the various tortures these people suffered, but
Inge's punishment consisted in standing there as a statue,
with her foot fastened to the loaf. She could move her eyes
about, and see all the misery around her, but she could not
turn her head; and when she saw the people looking at her she
thought they were admiring her pretty face and fine clothes,
for she was still vain and proud. But she had forgotten how
soiled her clothes had become while in the Marsh Woman's
brewery, and that they were covered with mud; a snake had also
fastened itself in her hair, and hung down her back, while
from each fold in her dress a great toad peeped out and
croaked like an asthmatic poodle. Worse than all was the
terrible hunger that tormented her, and she could not stoop to
break off a piece of the loaf on which she stood. No; her back
was too stiff, and her whole body like a pillar of stone. And
then came creeping over her face and eyes flies without wings;
she winked and blinked, but they could not fly away, for their
wings had been pulled off; this, added to the hunger she felt,
was horrible torture.
'If this lasts much longer,' she said, 'I shall not be
able to bear it.' But it did last, and she had to bear it,
without being able to help herself.
A tear, followed by many scalding tears, fell upon her
head, and rolled over her face and neck, down to the loaf on
which she stood. Who could be weeping for Inge? She had a
mother in the world still, and the tears of sorrow which a
mother sheds for her child will always find their way to the
child's heart, but they often increase the torment instead of
being a relief. And Inge could hear all that was said about
her in the world she had left, and every one seemed cruel to
her. The sin she had committed in treading on the loaf was
known on earth, for she had been seen by the cowherd from the
hill, when she was crossing the marsh and had disappeared.
When her mother wept and exclaimed, 'Ah, Inge! what grief
thou hast caused thy mother' she would say, 'Oh that I had
never been born! My mother's tears are useless now.'
And then the words of the kind people who had adopted her
came to her ears, when they said, 'Inge was a sinful girl, who
did not value the gifts of God, but trampled them under her
'Ah,' thought Inge, 'they should have punished me, and
driven all my naughty tempers out of me.'
A song was made about 'The girl who trod on a loaf to keep
her shoes from being soiled,' and this song was sung
everywhere. The story of her sin was also told to the little
children, and they called her 'wicked Inge,' and said she was
so naughty that she ought to be punished. Inge heard all this,
and her heart became hardened and full of bitterness.
But one day, while hunger and grief were gnawing in her
hollow frame, she heard a little, innocent child, while
listening to the tale of the vain, haughty Inge, burst into
tears and exclaim, 'But will she never come up again?'
And she heard the reply, 'No, she will never come up
'But if she were to say she was sorry, and ask pardon, and
promise never to do so again?' asked the little one.
'Yes, then she might come; but she will not beg pardon,'
was the answer.
'Oh, I wish she would!' said the child, who was quite
unhappy about it. 'I should be so glad. I would give up my
doll and all my playthings, if she could only come here again.
Poor Inge! it is so dreadful for her.'
These pitying words penetrated to Inge's inmost heart, and
seemed to do her good. It was the first time any one had said,
'Poor Inge!' without saying something about her faults. A
little innocent child was weeping, and praying for mercy for
her. It made her feel quite strange, and she would gladly have
wept herself, and it added to her torment to find she could
not do so. And while she thus suffered in a place where
nothing changed, years passed away on earth, and she heard her
name less frequently mentioned. But one day a sigh reached her
ear, and the words, 'Inge! Inge! what a grief thou hast been
to me! I said it would be so.' It was the last sigh of her
After this, Inge heard her kind mistress say, 'Ah, poor
Inge! shall I ever see thee again? Perhaps I may, for we know
not what may happen in the future.' But Inge knew right well
that her mistress would never come to that dreadful place.
Time-passed- a long bitter time- then Inge heard her name
pronounced once more, and saw what seemed two bright stars
shining above her. They were two gentle eyes closing on earth.
Many years had passed since the little girl had lamented and
wept about 'poor Inge.' That child was now an old woman, whom
God was taking to Himself. In the last hour of existence the
events of a whole life often appear before us; and this hour
the old woman remembered how, when a child, she had shed tears
over the story of Inge, and she prayed for her now. As the
eyes of the old woman closed to earth, the eyes of the soul
opened upon the hidden things of eternity, and then she, in
whose last thoughts Inge had been so vividly present, saw how
deeply the poor girl had sunk. She burst into tears at the
sight, and in heaven, as she had done when a little child on
earth, she wept and prayed for poor Inge. Her tears and her
prayers echoed through the dark void that surrounded the
tormented captive soul, and the unexpected mercy was obtained
for it through an angel's tears. As in thought Inge seemed to
act over again every sin she had committed on earth, she
trembled, and tears she had never yet been able to weep rushed
to her eyes. It seemed impossible that the gates of mercy
could ever be opened to her; but while she acknowledged this
in deep penitence, a beam of radiant light shot suddenly into
the depths upon her. More powerful than the sunbeam that
dissolves the man of snow which the children have raised, more
quickly than the snowflake melts and becomes a drop of water
on the warm lips of a child, was the stony form of Inge
changed, and as a little bird she soared, with the speed of
lightning, upward to the world of mortals. A bird that felt
timid and shy to all things around it, that seemed to shrink
with shame from meeting any living creature, and hurriedly
sought to conceal itself in a dark corner of an old ruined
wall; there it sat cowering and unable to utter a sound, for
it was voiceless. Yet how quickly the little bird discovered
the beauty of everything around it. The sweet, fresh air; the
soft radiance of the moon, as its light spread over the earth;
the fragrance which exhaled from bush and tree, made it feel
happy as it sat there clothed in its fresh, bright plumage.
All creation seemed to speak of beneficence and love. The bird
wanted to give utterance to thoughts that stirred in his
breast, as the cuckoo and the nightingale in the spring, but
it could not. Yet in heaven can be heard the song of praise,
even from a worm; and the notes trembling in the breast of the
bird were as audible to Heaven even as the psalms of David
before they had fashioned themselves into words and song.
Christmas-time drew near, and a peasant who dwelt close by
the old wall stuck up a pole with some ears of corn fastened
to the top, that the birds of heaven might have feast, and
rejoice in the happy, blessed time. And on Christmas morning
the sun arose and shone upon the ears of corn, which were
quickly surrounded by a number of twittering birds. Then, from
a hole in the wall, gushed forth in song the swelling thoughts
of the bird as he issued from his hiding place to perform his
first good deed on earth,- and in heaven it was well known who
that bird was.
The winter was very hard; the ponds were covered with ice,
and there was very little food for either the beasts of the
field or the birds of the air. Our little bird flew away into
the public roads, and found here and there, in the ruts of the
sledges, a grain of corn, and at the halting places some
crumbs. Of these he ate only a few, but he called around him
the other birds and the hungry sparrows, that they too might
have food. He flew into the towns, and looked about, and
wherever a kind hand had strewed bread on the window-sill for
the birds, he only ate a single crumb himself, and gave all
the rest to the rest of the other birds. In the course of the
winter the bird had in this way collected many crumbs and
given them to other birds, till they equalled the weight of
the loaf on which Inge had trod to keep her shoes clean; and
when the last bread-crumb had been found and given, the gray
wings of the bird became white, and spread themselves out for
'See, yonder is a sea-gull!' cried the children, when they
saw the white bird, as it dived into the sea, and rose again
into the clear sunlight, white and glittering. But no one
could tell whither it went then although some declared it flew
straight to the sun.