Marie hesitated to leave the table because she had spied on something no one else had seen. As Fritz’s soldiers marched away from the tree, a peculiar tiny man came into view. He stood calmly as if waiting for his moment to be acknowledged. To be sure, his physical appearance was not remarkable. His head was out of proportion with his narrow legs and stocky torso. Fine attire compensated for these flaws, leading to the assumption that he was a man of taste and good breeding. He was dressed in a bright violet Hussar’s jacket with white loops and buttons, matching pantaloons, and the most handsome boots ever seen on an officer’s foot. It was amusing to observe that he was wearing a small, awkward wooden cloak on his back and a woodman’s cap on his head.
Marie noticed how the small man’s face radiated love and warmth. His emerald eyes, a little too big for his head, shone with goodness and generosity. His cotton-white goatee, neatly clipped to his chin, enhanced his features and highlighted his endearing grin.
Marie couldn’t help but think that Godfather Drosselmeier, while being a wonderful godfather, was never half as well dressed as this little fellow. He always wore a dirty old cloak and an unattractive cap.
“Father,” Marie said, “to whom does this wonderful little man under the tree belong?”
“He will work industriously for all of you,” her father responded. “He can crack the toughest nuts with his teeth and belongs to Luisa as much as you and Fritz.” Her father carefully removed the Nutcracker from the table and raised his wooden cape as he spoke. The little man opened his red lips, revealing two rows of gleaming white teeth. Marie inserted a nut at her father’s instruction, and the Nutcracker bit it in half, the tasty kernel falling into her hand after the shell broke off. Marie and her siblings learned that this exquisite little man came from a Nutcracker family and worked in the profession of his forebears. Marie was ecstatic. According to Dr. Stahlbaum, “Dear Marie, because my companion Nutcracker is such a favorite, I entrust him to your special care and preservation. But remember that Luisa and Fritz have the same right to his services as you.”
Marie instantly took him in her arms and began cracking nuts with him. She chose the tiniest nuts so that the little fellow didn’t have to open his mouth so wide, which was unbecoming of him. Louisa joined Marie, and Nutcracker did the same for her cheerfully. Tired of riding and parading his soldiers, Fritz was captivated by the joyous cracking of the nuts. He dashed to his sisters, laughing heartily at the amusing little man, who was soon working to crack nuts for all three children because Fritz had to participate in the activity, too. Fritz had chosen the most extensive and most difficult nuts when all of a sudden—CRACK. Nutcracker’s teeth fell out, and his entire underjaw became loose and creaky. “Oh, my poor Nutcracker!” exclaimed Marie taking him from Fritz’s grasp.
“What a moron,” Fritz remarked. “He wants to be a nutcracker but has bad teeth and doesn’t know what he’s doing. Marie, give him to me. He’ll crack nuts for me even if he loses all his teeth and chin in the bargain. What’s the big deal about this guy?”
“No, no,” Marie sobbed, “you shall not have my dear Nutcracker. Look how sad he looks at me and shows me his poor mouth. You are a hard-hearted fellow, Fritz. You beat your horses, and recently you had one of your soldiers shot through the head!”
“You wouldn’t understand that,” Fritz retorted. “But Nutcracker belongs to all of us, so give him to me.”
Marie began to cry hysterically and immediately rolled up the sick Nutcracker in her pocket handkerchief, garnering their parents’ and Godfather Drosselmeier’s attention. To Marie’s chagrin, the latter sided with Fritz. However, their father stated, “I’ve assigned Nutcracker to Marie. I see he requires care, so give her complete authority over him; no one can challenge this. I’m wondering if Fritz should make a maimed veteran do extra service. A competent soldier understands that the wounded will not take their position in the ranks.”
Without further ado, an embarrassed Fritz stole to the opposite end of the table, where his Hussars had set camp for the night. Marie gathered Nutcracker’s missing teeth and tied his chin with a magnificent white ribbon from her dress, wrapping him more securely than before. She held him, rocking him in her arms like a little child, as she poured over the beautiful pictures in the new picture book she discovered among her other Christmas gifts.
She was irritated with Godfather Drosselmeier, which was unusual for her. He kept laughing at her and asking how she enjoyed caring for such an unsightly little fellow. That strange parallel she drew with Drosselmeier when she first saw Nutcracker came back to her mind. “Who knows, Godfather, if you were dressed like my favorite Nutcracker and had such colorful little boots—maybe you would be as handsome as he is!” she wondered aloud.
Marie didn’t understand why her parents were laughing so loudly, why Drosselmeier’s face became so red, or why he wasn’t laughing as hard as he had before, although there had to be an explanation.