“Come to bed soon, dear Marie, or you will not be up in time tomorrow morning,” called her mother from the stairs. Marie had something she wanted to do, though she wasn’t sure why she had chosen to keep it a secret from her mother. As soon as she was alone, she set quickly to task. She carried the wounded Nutcracker in her arms, rolled up in her handkerchief, gently placed him on the table, unwrapped the cloth, and examined his injury. Nutcracker was pale, but he still managed to crack a smile (pun intended) that went straight to Marie’s heart.
“Nutcracker,” she whispered to him, “do not be angry at Fritz for hurting you. He didn’t mean to be rough; the wild soldier’s life has made him a little heartless. I can assure you he is a good boy, deep down. Now, I’ll take care of you until you’re feeling better, but Godfather Drosselmeier will need to fix your teeth and set your shoulders. He’s the expert on such things.”
But before Marie could finish, Nutcracker made a weird face at the mention of Godfather Drosselmeier. It was like green sparkles were shooting out of his eyes. Marie was almost frightened, but then she realized it was just the sad smile on Nutcracker’s face distorted by the lamp, which, stirred by the draft, had flared up, and strangely distorted his features.
Why am I so easily scared?” Marie asked herself. “I know Nutcracker is just a wooden puppet and can’t make faces at me. But I love him so much because he’s so sweet and kind. I will take good care of him.” With that, Marie picked up Nutcracker, walked over to the glass case, and spoke to her new doll. “Miss Clara, would you mind giving up your bed for Nutcracker? He’s hurt and needs to rest. You can sleep on the sofa. Remember, you’re healthy and happy, or you wouldn’t have such rosy cheeks. Not many dolls have such comfortable couches.”
Miss Clara looked grand and fancy in her Christmas clothes but also annoyed. She didn’t say anything. “Why am I being so polite?” Marie asked. Taking the bed out of the case, she put Nutcracker down gently and wrapped another ribbon around his poor shoulders. She covered him up with the blankets and tucked him in so tightly that nothing was showing but his nose. “He doesn’t need to stay with mean old Clara,” she said, lifting the bed to the shelf where Fritz’s Hussars camped. Locking the case, she was about to go to bed when she heard a rustling sound.
Soft at first, it began to swoosh and whisper and rattle around under the hearth, behind the chairs, the cupboards, and the glass case. The great clock whirred loudly, hands spinning, trying futilely to strike the hour. The large gilt owl sitting atop the timepiece dropped its wings, covering the whole clock face. It stretched out its ugly head like a cat with a short, crooked beak. And it still whirred louder. Dick—ry, dick—ry, dock—whirr, softly clock, Mouse-King has a fine ear—prr—pum—pum—the old song let him hear—prr—prr—pum—pum—or he might—run away in a fright—now clock strike softly and light.
And finally, it struck with a dull, deadened sound twelve times. Marie trembled in terror and was about to run out of the room when she saw Godfather Drosselmeier, perched atop the clock where there should have been the owl, his brown coat tails flapping like wings. Gathering her courage, she cried loudly, “Godfather Drosselmeier, what are you doing up there? Stop playing games, you’re scaring me!”
Just then, a wild squeaking broke out on all sides. From behind the walls, Marie heard running, as if a thousand little feet set in motion. The crevices in the floor flashed with a thousand tiny lights. But they were not lights; they were the sparking eyes of mice, peeping out and working their way into the room. In small and large parties, rodents galloped across and placed themselves in lines and columns like Fritz ‘s soldiers preparing for battle. Despite her fear, Marie found this all rather amusing, as she lacked the usual aversion to mice.
Her amusement at the gathering mouse army ceased the moment she heard a screech so terrible that it pierced her spine with icy chills. No doubt, dear reader, that like the brave soldier Fritz Stahlbaum, you know courage. Still, if you had seen what Marie had heard, and what she was about to see, you would have run. You would have jumped into bed as quickly as possible, pulling the covers over your ears.
But poor Marie couldn’t do that, for just then, there was an explosion at her feet. Bursting out of sand and lime and crumbled wall stones, as if compelled by subterranean force, a screeching seven mice-heads with seven sparkling crowns rose out of the floor. A single mouse body worked its way out after the seven heads. A Mouse King stood, squeaking loudly, huzzahed in full chorus as he advanced to meet his army. Before she could respond, the mouse army set to motion, heading straight towards the glass case.
Marie stood in front of the glass case, directly blocking the path of the mice army. She felt like her heart would burst out of her chest. It was like her blood had stopped flowing. She felt so weak that she lost her balance, fell backward, and shattered a glass pane in the cabinet as she landed on her left elbow. A sharp pain cut her arm, but Marie was so relieved she didn’t care. The squeaking and squealing abated. Everything was quiet. Too afraid to look, she believed the mice, frightened by the clatter of breaking glass, had retreated into their holes.
Suddenly, Marie heard another noise coming from the glass case behind her. It sounded like a bunch of tiny creatures were rustling and moving around. She could hear small voices saying, “Wake up, wake up, it’s time to fight!” It was like a bunch of tiny bells were ringing out. “Oh, that’s my adorable musical clock!” Marie exclaimed, turning to see.
The miniature doll’s clock flashed strangely in the glass case, and the shelves came to life in a flurry. Figures crisscrossed past each other, working and stretching out their arms, readying themselves for action. The Nutcracker jumped out of bed, throwing off the covers, shouting, “Crack those mice, stupid pack! Drive them back!” With these words, he drew his sword with a flourish, crying, “Friends, nobles, and countrymen, will you stand by me in this fight?”
Upon hearing this rallying cry, three Scaramouches, a Harlequin, four Chimney-sweepers, two Guitar-players, and a Drummer replied, “Yes, my lord, we will follow you with fidelity and courage! We will march with you to battle—victory or death!” And with that, they made the treacherous two-foot leap from the soldier’s shelf to the floor.
It was easy enough for them to perform this feat. Besides their elaborate garments of thick cloth and silk, they were stuffed with cotton. When they jumped, they bounced, like plump bags of wool. This feat was far more dangerous for Nutcracker to attempt; But the Nutcracker’s body was as brittle as Linden wood. Seeing the threat of broken limbs, Miss Clara sprang quickly from her sofa and caught him in an embrace.
“Oh, dear Clara,” sobbed Marie, “how I misjudged you! Of course, you willingly resigned your bed to our Nutcracker.”
Miss Clara spoke softly as she clung to the young hero. “You can’t go into battle like this! Your loyal followers are ready to fight, and they’re sure they’ll win. Even the porcelain figures are excited. Why don’t you rest on the sofa and let us watch your victory together?”
Nutcracker’s response was not as cordial. Kicking and struggling, he rebuffed Clara’s concern, and she let him go quickly. He then dropped gracefully upon one knee and said, “Fair lady, the memory of your kindness will inspire me in the challenges ahead.”
Clara knelt to take Nutcracker’s arm, pulling him from his knees. Removing her bejeweled sash, she was about to throw it across his neck when he stepped back two steps, laid his hand upon his breast, and spoke earnestly. “I cannot, my fair lady. Do not lavish me with gifts, for—” Sighing heavily, he tore Marie’s ribbon off his shoulders, pressed it to his lips, and hung it across his chest like a scarf. Then flourishing his sword again, he leaped like a bird over the edge of the glass case to the floor.
You understand, dear reader, the Nutcracker knew Marie’s love and kindness from the moment he came to life. He didn’t want to wear Miss Clara’s fancy sash. The true and faithful Nutcracker preferred Marie’s simple ribbon.
The squeaking and whistling resumed as soon as Nutcracker made his leap. The savage mice gathered in vast numbers under the large table, commanded by their dreadful Mouse King from the tabletop above.