Chapter 4:

As you enter the Stahlbaum family living room from the front door, to your left is a beautiful glass-fronted cabinet in which the children keep all of the wonderful things they receive every year. Louise was still very small when their father hired a skilled carpenter to build the cabinet, and he used such brilliant panes of glass and set them so skillfully that anything you put inside looked brighter and prettier than when you held it in your hands.

In the highest shelf (too high for Fritz and Marie to reach) were Godfather Drosselmeier's works of art. On the shelf below were the picture-books, and on the two shelves below that Fritz and Marie could put whatever they wanted, though it always happened that Marie put her dolls on the bottom shelf and Fritz quartered his soldiers on the shelf above it.

And so tonight Fritz put his hussars in the second shelf, and Marie moved Madame Trudie out of the way to make room for her new doll in the beautifully-furnished room and invited herself in for sweets.

As I've said, the room was very beautifully-furnished, and that's the truth. I don't know whether you, my attentive reader, have such a nice miniature flower-print sofa, charming little chairs, an adorable tea-table - and best of all, a bed with a bright and shiny frame for your most beautiful dolls to rest on. Everything stood in the cabinet's corner, where the walls were papered with colorful little pictures, and you can well imagine that the new doll Marie had received (whose name was Madame Clarette, as Marie had learned that evening) was quite content with her quarters.

It was now very late - almost midnight, and Godfather Drosselmeier had long since gone home. But the children did not want to leave the cabinet, so their mother had to remind them that it was time for bed.

"You're right," Fritz said finally. "The poor fellows-" (referring to his hussars) "-want a little peace and quiet, and they don't dare nod off while I'm still around!" And so Fritz scampered off.

But Marie said, "Just a little while longer, just a minute. Leave me here, Mama. I have some things to take care of, and once I finish I'll go straight to bed."

Marie was a trustworthy child, so her mother knew she could leave her alone with the toys without worry. Still, she was concerned that Marie might be so distracted by her new doll and the other new toys that she might forget to put out the lights before leaving, so Mrs. Stahlbaum extinguished all of the lights except for the one that hung from the middle of the ceiling, which cast a gentle, graceful light into the room.

"Come to bed soon, dear, or you won't be able to get up on time!" she called as she left for her bedroom. Once Marie was alone, she hurried to do what had been on her mind, something that she wasn't sure why she hadn't been able to mention to her mother earlier. She carried the injured Nutcracker to the table and gently set him there, where she unwrapped her makeshift bandages to see the wound. The Nutcracker was very pale, but he smiled a kind, sad smile that wrenched her heart.

"Oh, Nutcracker," she said softly, "I know Fritz hurt you badly, but he didn't mean any harm. It's just that his wild soldier's life has made him a little hard-hearted, but otherwise he's a very good boy. I promise I'll take very good care of you until you're healthy and happy and can use your teeth and stand with your shoulders straight. Godfather Drosselmeier will fix you up, he knows all about-"

Marie could not finish what she had started saying because when she had said the name "Drosselmeier," Nutcracker's face had turned up in disgust and his eyes shot green sparks. But just as she became frightened, Nutcracker looked at her with his kind, sad smile again. Marie realized that the awful face she had seen was only a trick of the light caused by the flickering lamp above.

"I'm not a silly girl who gets scared so easily, who thinks that a wooden doll could make faces!" Marie told herself. "But I love Nutcracker because he's so funny and kind, which is why he must be looked after - which is proper."

So Marie took her friend the Nutcracker into her arms and took him to the glass-fronted cabinet, where she knelt down in front of it. "I request, Miss Clarette, that you give up your bed to the injured Nutcracker, and manage with the sofa as well as you can. Remember, you're quite healthy and full of energy, because otherwise you wouldn't have such round red cheeks - and anyway, very few dolls - even the most beautiful - have such a comfortable sofa."

Madame Clarette looked very grand and morose in her Christmas finery, but she didn't make a peep.

"What else can I do..." Marie wondered. She took the bed out of the cabinet and gently laid Nutcracker upon it, still wrapped in a beautiful waist-sash from his sore shoulders to above his nose.

"He can't stay with naughty Clarette," she said, and lifted the bed along with the Nutcracker up to the second shelf, where she placed it next to the picturesque village where Fritz had stationed his hussars. She locked the cabinet and was making her to make her way to her bedroom when - pay attention now! - a quiet whispering and rustling sound came from behind the stove, the chairs, and the walls. The clock whirred over them, but it didn't strike. Marie looked up at the clock, and the large gold-painted owl that sat on the top had lowered its wings so that the whole clock was covered, and its ugly cat-like head and beak jutted forward. What's more, the owl seemed to be speaking with audible words:

Tick-tock, Stahlbaum clocks, only whir and purr
Mouse-king is so sharp of ear (whir whir, purr purr)
Only sing the old song (whir whir, purr purr)
Ding dong, ding dong.
I promise you, he won't last long

Marie was now terrified and was just about to run away when she saw that Godfather Drosselmeier, not the owl, was sitting on top of the clock. What she had taken for wings were really his yellow coat tails.

Marie gathered up what little courage she had left and cried up tearfully, "Godfather Drosselmeier! Godfather Drosselmeier! What are you doing up there? Come down and stop scaring me, you bad Godfather Drosselmeier!"

But suddenly there was a great commotion all around - first a shrill giggling and squeaking, then a pitter-patter like a thousand tiny feet behind the walls, and then a thousand tiny lights peeping out from the cracks in the floorboards. No - not lights! They were small, twinkling eyes! From every crack and crevice, mice had begun to squidge and squeeze their furry gray bodies into the room. Soon there were packs of mice running back and forth everywhere, until they all stood in rank and file just as Fritz would position his soldiers before a battle.

Marie thought they looked quite cute (unlike some children, she was not at all afraid of mice), and her fear had all but passed when a squeal so shrill and sharp pierced the air that it made ice-cold shivers run through her back! And oh, what she saw!

Now dear readers, I know that you're just as clever and courageous as young Commander Fritz Stahlbaum, but I honestly think if you had seen what stood before Marie's eyes, you would have run away, jumped into your bed, and pulled up the covers high above your ears.

But poor Marie couldn't run to the safety of her bedroom, because - listen! - just in front of her feet, a plume of sand, lime, and brick shards spouted into the air as if by some underground force, and seven mouse heads with seven shining crowns rose hissing and squeaking from the ground. Then up came a mouse's body, at whose neck all seven heads were attached. The mouse army gave three cheers in unison upon the arrival of this horrendous beast.

The mouse army had been sitting until now, but now they hopped to their feet and set themselves into motion. They hopped right toward the cabinet - and toward Marie, who stood near it. She was so terrified that her heart beat so violently she thought it might jump out of her chest and she would die. Then her blood seemed to stand completely still in her veins.

Nearly fainting, she stepped backward - and with a crash and a tinkle, shards of glass fell from the cabinet doorpane, which she had accidentally pushed her elbow into. She felt a very sharp pain in her left arm, but her chest untightened and she no longer heard the squeaks and squeals of the mice. Everything had become completely quiet, and although she didn't look she believed that the noise of the breaking glass had frightened them into scampering back into their holes.

But wait! What was that? Just behind Marie, in the cabinet, a small, delicate voice began: "Awake! Awake! Onto battle! This very night! Awake! Awake!"

And then there was a beautiful and musical tinkling of bells. "Oh, that's my miniature carillon!" Marie exclaimed happily. She jumped quickly to the side and looked inside the cabinet. There was a strange glow coming from within, and several dolls were running helter-skelter with their small arms waving about. Suddenly, Nutcracker rose up, threw off his blanket, and jumped with both feet out of the bed, and loudly shouted:

Crack crack crack!
Stupid mousepack!
Squeaking, squealing!
Gnawing, clawing!
Crack crack crack!
Stupid mousepack!

And Nutcracker drew his little sword, brandished it in the air, and shouted, "my dear vassals, friends, and brothers, will you assist me in this difficult fight?"

Three scaramouches, a Pantaloon, four chimney sweeps, two zither players, and a drummer immediately shouted, "Yes, my lord! We will loyally follow you through death, victory, and battle!"

Inspired by the Nutcracker's speech, they made the dangerous leap down from the second shelf to the floor.

They were not at all hurt because, not only were they dressed in soft wool and silk, there wasn't much inside them other than cotton and sawdust. So they plopped down like little sacks of wool.

Nutcracker, on the other hand, would have almost certainly broken himself to pieces. He he two feet to fall to the ground, and his body was as brittle as linden wood. Indeed, he would have likely broken his arms and legs had not Madame Clarette sprang from the sofa and thrust herself out from the bottom shelf to catch the Nutcracker (who had descended brandishing his sword) in her arms.

"Oh, good dear Clarette!" Marie cried. "I've misjudged you so badly. I'm sure you were happy to give the Nutcracker your bed!"

But Madame Clarette spoke now, embracing the young hero in her silken chest. "Please, my lord, as injured and sick as you are, do not go into the battle. See how your courageous vassals are ready to fight and how certain they are of victory. Scaramouche, Pantaloon, chimney sweep, zither player, and drummer are already down, and you can see that the standard bearers on my shelf are moving. Please, my lord, either rest in my arms or watch your victory from the brim of my feathered hat."

Thus Clarette spoke, but Nutcracker refused to be still and kicked his legs until she had no choice to put him down.

Nutcracker politely bowed on one knee and said, "my lady, I will always remember your grace and compassion in combat and strife."

Then Clarette bent down so she could take Nutcracker by the arm. She gently lifted him up, quickly took off her sequined cincher, and tried to put it about his shoulders as a cape. But he took two steps back, put his hand on his breast, and said solemnly, "please do not waste your favors on me, my lady, because..." he paused, then tore off the ribbon that Marie had put about his shoulders and pressed it to his lips. He let it fall, and it hung from him like a field bandage.

Brandishing his sword, he jumped as nimbly as a bird over the ledge of the bottom shelf and down to the floor.

You have probably noticed, observant reader, that the Nutcracker had felt Marie's love and kindness before he was properly alive, which is why he preferred Marie's simple white ribbon over Clarette's, even though it was quite shiny and looked very pretty.

And what now?

As Nutcracker jumped down, the squeaks and squeals began again. What a noise! Under the big Christmas table, the deadly hordes of mice waited, and over all of them the monstrous mouse with seven heads loomed.

What will happen next?

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