A soldier came down the road one night. He walked as if he were marching, one, two, one, two. His duffle bag was on his back. His sword was at his side. He’d been to the wars. Now he was going home. On the road, he met a witch. “Hello, soldier,” she said. ”What a big sword you have! You’re a real soldier, I must say.” “Thank you, witch,” said the soldier. “Do you see that big tree by the road?” she asked. “It’s hollow inside. There’s a hole at the top. If you climb up, you can drop down inside, right to the bottom of the tree. I’ll put a rope around your waist, and pull you out when you’re ready.”
“What would I do at the bottom of the tree?” asked the soldier. “You’d get money,” said the witch. “At the bottom of the tree you will find yourself in a wide tunnel. It is lit by lamps. You’ll see three doors with keys in their locks. In the first room is a big chest and on top of it sits a dog. That mustn’t stop you. Take my apron along. Spread it on the floor. Pick up the dog and set him on the apron. Take all the money you want from the chest. It’s full of copper. “If you want silver, go to the next room. There you’ll see another dog. Spread my apron, set the dog on it, and take silver from the chest.
“If it’s gold you want, go to the third room. There you’ll see a quite dog. Set him on my apron, and take all gold you want from the chest.”
“Not bad,” said the soldier. “But what do you want out of it for yourself?” “Not a penny,” said the witch. “I only want an old tinder box that it’s left down there.”
“All right,” said the soldier. “Tie the rope round my waist, and I’ll go.”
The soldier climbed up the tree, and let himself down the hole. He saw the rooms and the dogs the witch had told him of, and he did what the witch told him. He filled his bag with copper, silver and gold. He called up the tree trunk, “Pull me up, witch. I’m ready.”
“Have you the tinder box?” she screeched. “Just a minute,” he called. “I almost forgot.” He got the tinder box and the witch hauled him out. “What will you do with the tinder box, witch?” asked the soldier politely. “None of your ding-dang business, soldier,” answered the witch. But the soldier took her apron to carry his money in, and shoved the tinder box back into his pocket. Then he went to the big, beautiful city. He went to the best inn, and took the best room they had. He ordered a dinner of everything he liked best. He was a rich man now, because he had so much money. He bought a lot of expensive clothes, and he became the most elegant man in town. He made a lot of fine friends, who told him all about the sights of the city, and especially about the king’s daughter. “How can I see her?” asked the elegant soldier. “You can’t,” they said. “She’s locked behind walls and gardens and more walls in a big steel castle. Only the king and queen ever see her. A fairy once said she’d marry a plain common soldier. Naturally, the king can’t let that happen.” “Too bad,” thought the soldier. “I’d have liked to see her.” He continued to lead a gay life. He went to the theater. He gave a lot of money to poor people, because he knew how hard it is not to have enough to eat. There were many who helped him spend his gold, and who told him he was wonderful. He liked that.
But he wasn’t working at anything, except spending money. Soon he had no money left.
He moved from his excellent inn into a tiny furnished room. He lost all his fawning friends, who only enjoyed people with money to spend. One dark evening, he had no light. He sat in the dark, until he remembered a candle stub in his duffle bag. He got it out, along with the tinder box he’d found down the tree. He struck the tinder box.
The door opened at once, and there was the dog. The dog said, “What does my mater desire?”
“I’d like some money, please” said the soldier. The dog was gone. He was back again, with a sack full of copper money. The soldier knew then that the tinder box was magic.
If he struck it once, the copper chest dog came. Twice, and the silver chest dog appeared.
If he struck it three times, the gold chest dog appeared. He got back his excellent apartment at the inn, and his fine clothes. The friends who’d forgotten him when he was poor remembered him again. One evening he thought, “Why can’t I get to see the princess? I’d like to. They say she’s beautiful. But beauty’s no use if no one sees it.”
He took his tinder box and struck it once. The copper chest dog appeared. “It’s midnight, I know,” said the soldier. “But I’d like to see the princess right away.” The dog was gone. He was back. He carried the princess, fast asleep, on his back. She was so beautiful anyone could see she was a real. The soldier kissed her, for he was a real soldier. Then the dog brought the princess back to her castle. At breakfast next morning the princess said to her parents, “I had a dream last night about a soldier and his dog. The dog carried me on his back, and the soldier gave me a kiss.”
“What a dreadful dream,” said the queen. She ordered a lady to guard the princess that night, for she wanted to know if it was only a dream. The soldier wanted to see the princess again.
The dog ran fast with the princess on his back. But the lady in waiting saw him. She pulled on magic boots and sped after him. She saw him vanish through the soldier’s window. Quickly the lady marked a big white cross on the soldier’s door. Then she went home to bed. When the dog came out with the princess, he saw the white cross. He took some chalk and marked white crosses on every door in town. No one could tell which door had been marked by the lady in waiting. Early the next morning, the king and the queen and the lady went to see where the princess had been. “There!” cried the lady when she saw the first door with a white cross. “No, there!” cried the queen, when she saw the next door. “There are another, and another,” cried the king. “All the doors have white crosses.” They saw it was hopeless to try and find the soldier, and they went home.
Then the queen filled a tiny cloth bag with flour, and sewed it in the princess’ gown. Then she made a tiny hole in the bag. The dog came again that night. He took the princess on his back and ran to the soldier, who by now loved her dearly. The dog never noticed the bag and the trail of flour leading from the palace to the soldier’s window. Next morning the king saw where his daughter had been and he quickly put the soldier in jail. “Tomorrow you’ll hang,” the guards told the soldier. The soldier wasn’t pleased to hear it. He had left his tinder box at home. A cobbler passed near the cell window. “Hey there!” cried the soldier. “If you’ll go to my home, and bring me my tinder box, I’ll give you a gold coin.” The cobbler liked the idea of good pay for short work. He brought the tinder box to the soldier.
The soldier struck his tinder box one, and one, two, and one, two, three times. Bing! And Bing! And Bing! Three big dogs appeared. “Help me quickly,” said the soldier, “for I’m about to be hung.” The dogs leaped on the judges. They tossed them high in the air, and let them fall squashed to the ground. “Don’t!” cried the king. But the dogs took the king, and the queen as well. The soldier was terrified. Everyone cried out, “Soldier, be our king. Make the princess your queen.” They put the soldier in the king’s carriage. The princess came out of her steel castle and became queen, which pleased her very much.
The dogs sat at the royal table. Everyone had a very good time.
(The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Andersen)