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HOME > Classical Novels > The Little Match Man > CHAPTER I MY SURPRISE
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I am going to tell you something that you must never tell any one. Stupid people wouldn’t believe it, anyway; and there are so many stupid people that I should seem like the greatest fibber in the world. But if you will keep still I will confide in you.

Once on a time, I was in Japan in a city called Takoshima. It rained buckets full. I was thoroughly disgusted, and not being able to walk about the streets, decorated with lanterns and weathercocks, and through the gardens full of flowers, I had to stay shut up in a [14] little room sitting on the floor, for in Japan they don’t use chairs.

I kept yawning like a dog in front of a fire.

Trying to forget how tedious it was I began to poke into all the corners of the room, hoping to discover something with which to amuse myself. After a thorough search, all I found was a box of matches. For lack of anything else to do they might help me to pass the time, as I could place them in all sorts of positions, and make any number of interesting designs.

In the box, however, there were only three, and you know with three matches even a genius can’t make anything but a triangle, the simplest of all the figures in geometry.

After all, I might try to make a little man. I had learned that game long ago when I wore short trousers and went to school, and always had my pockets stuffed full of marbles, pens, peach stones, buttons, twine and other precious things—sometimes even matches.

With patience and a little string I used to tie them together and make arms and legs, and so transform them into a very slim person that seemed to me altogether lovely.


I began to work, and in a quarter of an hour the three matches had become the little man that I remembered; and I can assure you, he still looked to me extremely fine.

First he was very bold, with arms and legs stretched out in the position of a fierce warrior. Then I changed him into a calm and civilized person, and made him sit down on his box, and then began to hold an old time conversation with him.

“Good-morning, little match[1]; how are you?”

I suppose that you are surprised that a man of my age could still amuse himself with this game. But you know a man is always a boy when he is all by himself and lonely. If you look over the manuscripts of illustrious scientists and celebrated writers, you will see here and there the same kind of scribbling and the same little drawings that they made in their copy books when they were boys and didn’t want to write their compositions.

The little match naturally greeted my advances with dignified silence. When I was young and talked to my toys, I made up their answers too, and so it was [16] possible to hold long and animated discussions. But in these days my imagination is worn out. After a few minutes, my little man looked to me like nothing but a match, and I thought I had better use him in the way I was accustomed to. I put a cigarette in my mouth and holding out my hand I said to him:

“Dear little match, I will now strike your head and....”


But I got no further. The little man moved, and falling on his knees held out his hands as if in prayer.

I was very much surprised, and examined him carefully on every side. I had made a great many little men just like him, but I had never seen any one of them move by himself. I looked to see if there was anywhere a bit of string that I had pulled without meaning to. But no, I found nothing. The little man remained quite still in his new position, until at last I was reassured. I thought the jar of some one passing outside, or a puff of air had thrown him from the box, he was so slim and light. I sat him up again and watched him closely.

After a few minutes I saw distinctly that he moved himself. For some time he trembled very slightly, then he held out his arms, and slowly rose to his feet. I could hear a tiny voice, which seemed to come from him, but it was so feeble that compared with it the voice of a cricket would sound like a trombone.

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