The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf
The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf
Once upon a time there was a girl who
Her name was Inge. She was a poor child, but proud and arrogant, with a rotten, cruel disposition. As a tiny child, she delighted in catching flies and tearing off their wings to make creeping things of them. And, sad to report, as the years passed, she grew worse instead of better. Unfortunately, she was very pretty, which caused people to excuse her behavior, when she should have been punished.
Inge was taken to the house of some rich neighbors. They treated her as their own child and dressed her in such fancy clothes and showered her with so many gifts that that her arrogance grew.
After a year, Inge set out to visit her parents; but when she reached the village, she saw her mother working as a laborer, picking up stones. Inge turned back. How could she, in her fine clothes, be the daughter of a common laborer?
Six months passed, and her mistress said, “You ought to go home again and visit your parents, Inge. I will give you a large loaf of bread to take to them. They will be so happy to see you.”
So Inge put on her best clothes and her new shoes and set out, stepping very carefully so as not to dirty her shoes. When she came to some small pools of water, and a great deal of mud, she threw the loaf into the mud and trod upon it, so 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. She sank lower and lower, until she disappeared altogether. Finally, only a few bubbles on the surface of the muddy pool remained to show where she had gone.
But where did Inge go? She sank into the ground and went down to the Marsh Woman. Nothing is known of the Marsh Woman, except that when a mist arises from the meadows, it is because she is brewing beneath them. Inge sunk down to the Marsh Woman's brewery, a place no one can endure for long. A heap of mud could be considered a palace compared with the Marsh Woman's
An evil spirit soon took possession of Inge and carried her to a still worse place, where she saw crowds of unhappy people. Inge's punishment was to stand 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. 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 dirty her clothes had become while in the Marsh Woman's brewery. They were covered with mud. 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 creeping over her face and eyes were flies without wings. She winked and blinked, but they could not fly away, for their wings had been pulled off.
To add to her torture, Inge could hear what others were saying about her. They knew the sin she had committed in treading on the loaf because a young boy had seen her as she crossed the marsh and disappeared.
When her mother wept and exclaimed, “Oh, Inge! What sadness you have caused me,” Inge would say, “Oh, I wish 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: “Inge was a vain and arrogant girl.”
A song was made about “the girl who trod on a loaf to keep her shoes from getting dirty.” It was sung everywhere. Inge heard the song and she became full of bitterness.
But one day Inge heard a child, while listening to the tale of Inge, burst into tears and exclaim, “But will she never come up again?”
She heard the reply, “No, she will never come up again.”
“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.
A long, bitter time passed before Inge heard her name again and saw what seemed like two bright stars shining above her. Many years had passed since the little girl had lamented and wept about “poor Inge.” That child was now an old woman and God was taking her to heaven. In heaven, as she had done when a little child on Earth, she wept and prayed for poor Inge. Her tears freed Inge from her torment. Inge changed from stone to a little bird and she soared, with the speed of lightning, to the world above the marsh. Soon, the little bird discovered the beauty of everything around it.
Christmas drew near, and a peasant who lived close by an old wall stuck up a pole with some ears of corn fastened to the top for the birds to feast. 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 thoughts of the bird about to perform her first good deed on Earth.
The winter was very hard. The ponds were covered with ice, and there was very little food. The bird found here and there, in the ruts of the roads, a grain of corn and some crumbs. Of these she ate only a few. She shared the rest with the hungry birds around her. During the course of the winter, the bird collected many crumbs and gave them to other birds. Finally, the weight of the crumbs equaled 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 away, the gray wings of the bird became white, and she spread them out for flight.
“Look, there is a seagull!” cried the children, when they saw the white bird, as it dived into the sea and rose again into the clear sunlight, glittering white. But no one could tell where it went, although some were sure it flew straight to the sun.