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HOME > Classical Novels > The Little Match Man > CHAPTER IV ABOUT A STORK AND A BATTLE
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This is what he told me.

“My father was the geni of a maple tree. My mother was the spirit of a birch tree. They died of old age when their trees withered. I was lively and vigorous. My tree was the first one to get its leaves in the spring and the last one to lose them in the autumn. I always tried to be faithful, and after a hundred years I hadn’t a single dry branch, so attentive had I been in keeping my tree in good condition.”

“Isn’t it tiresome to be a tree and always stay still and be quiet?” I interrupted.

“Oh, no. I played with the wind, which would swing my branches, and I amused myself with the birds that came to me by the hundreds, and made their nests among my leaves. I was just a hundred and fifty years old when the quiet of the woods was broken by a great event. But I am afraid I am tiring you.”

“No, no, go on, please tell me.”


“Listen, then. One evening in May, a wonderful evening, my friend the stork arrived. He was always traveling around, and when he passed by the mountain Hamiyama he never failed to rest himself on my third branch toward the east. He was called To. He brought a lot of news from the other mountains and from the plains across which he had flown in his travels. This evening while he was still far off, he stopped in the air, poising on his wings, and looking about for his favorite branch began to cry, ‘Mikara! terrible things are happening. It is a miracle that I am still alive.’

“‘What is the matter?’ I asked.


“He sat down, arranging the feathers on his breast, smoothing them with his beak, and all out of breath replied, ‘Horrors, I have escaped from the midst of a cloud of arrows which flew hissing about me. Brrrr...!’”

Fiam paused, absorbed in his thoughts. Anxious to hear the rest, I said earnestly:

“And who shot the arrows?”

“Exactly the question I asked To.

“‘Who? The men!’ replied To. ‘The valley is full of soldiers, who are fighting with bows and arrows, with lances and spears. There is war! They are killing each other; they pursue, they shout, they gallop on horseback; they are covered with shining armour. A great castle is burning, and all around the ground is covered with the dead. Listen,’ added To, as he scratched his head with one of his long claws, as he always did when he was thinking. ‘I must leave you. Don’t be offended if I don’t pass the night with you. I must go farther on. Not that I am afraid, you know, quite otherwise, but it is best to be careful. Lances and spears don’t frighten me, but arrows—you never know. Adieu, Mikara,’ and he drew in his [38] claws and stretched his wings and swept away into the air just like an arrow himself, without giving me time to say good-bye. He said he wasn’t afraid, but really he was trembling. Never believe in the courage of any one who boasts of not being afraid.”

“And weren’t you afraid?” I asked Fiam.

“To tell the truth, I wasn’t any too brave. I kept thinking about the castle on fire. My father had often told me, when I was a little tree, that in war men burned the woods in order to drive out the enemy. If the war came near me and the woods were burned, poor me! You can imagine how anxiously I waited. I listened all night. When the wind blew I held my branches still so they wouldn’t make a noise. At midnight a cuckoo came. As he was a good friend I begged him to keep quiet.

“‘I can’t,’ he said; ‘it is my duty to call “Cuckoo, cuckoo” a thousand times every night. That is my work. But if it will give you any pleasure I will go to another part of the mountain,’ and so he did. The night passed peacefully. The dawn came, and then....”

“I beg of you, don’t stop. What happened at dawn?”


“At dawn I heard some noises here and there. I raised my leaves to listen better and heard the sound of animals in flight.

“I waited to see some of them and to ask questions, and pretty soon out of a hole came a family of boars; father, mother and two sons. I didn’t love wild boars; they are worthless and badly educated beasts that often came around to clean their tusks on my trunk, stripping off all my bark, but this time I forgot all about my hatred and tried to welcome them by holding out a branch. The father boar tore off some leaves and went on without even saying thank you, and all the family followed grunting.

“By good luck, soon after, a roebuck came along. ‘What is happening?’ I whispered to him. He turned panting, and held up one ear, all anxiety, and replied:

“‘They are coming here.’


“‘Armed men,’ he said and scampered away.

“‘And I must stay here,’ I thought.”

“Poor little match man!”

“Oh, yes. If I had only been able to fly. Even a [40] mosquito can defend himself, but a willow, even if he is large and has lived a hundred and fifty years, can’t protect himself from any peril. It is terrible!”

“Indeed it is.”

“But to go on. Not long after I heard a cautious step and a rustling among the shrubs. My leaves shivered all over when I saw approaching—guess what!”

“A ferocious wild beast.”

“Worse! I saw a man coming.

“‘This is the first,’ I said to myself. ‘Now others will come—they will set fire to the woods, and I shall die tortured in the flames.’ And my leaves shook even harder, as if there had been I don’t know what kind of a wind.

“But no more men came, and I began to calm myself and to look about coolly. This man was very handsome, and dressed all in silver armour. He was so exhausted he could hardly walk. It seemed to me he left drops of blood behind him. He breathed hard. He stumbled over tufts of grass, he fell and rose again and went on staggering. Where he fell the grass was covered with blood. I am telling the truth when I [41] say I forgot my own danger, I was so full of pity for him.”

“Good for you, Fiam!”

“At last he fell, close to my trunk. I looked at him. He was very young. The armour on his breast was broken. He took off his helmet, which was tied with a red cord under his chin, and laid his head against me to rest better. The sun had risen and I gave some shade to the wounded man. Some time passed, but I don’t know how long it was when I heard a distant noise.”

“Was it the others?”

“Wait. I heard the sound of arms, of steps, of voices. Little by little the tumult drew nearer. It came from all sides. It filled the woods. And the young warrior also heard it. He rose slowly to his feet, and stood immovable, leaning against me listening.

“Suddenly a voice shouted, ‘Haiya, Hay!’ a kind of hurrah. A hundred voices from every side called ‘Haiya!’ and the first said, ‘Come, I have found traces of his blood! Let us follow it! Hay!’

“The other voices howled, ‘Haiya’ with so much eagerness and satisfaction that I thought they were all [42] friends and followers of this unfortunate young man, happy to find him to save him, and care for him. So little did I know about men.”

“And weren’t they friends?”

“Far from it! The first voice said, ‘He can’t escape us any longer! He is our prisoner!’ The others echoed, ‘He is ours. Haiya!’ They were enemies looking for him, do you understand? He heard them. He knelt down and bowed his head calling on Amaterasu, the god of the sun, the god who made Japan. Then he took off his armour and bared his chest, which was covered with blood, and put his hand to his side to find the hilt of his sword. I saw at once that he didn’t wish to fall alive into the hands of his enemies, and I decided to save him.”

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