Once upon a time, there was a poor motherless child who had no shoes. But the child saved cloth scraps wherever she found them and over time sewed herself a pair of red shoes. They were crude but she loved them. They made her feel rich even though her days were spent gathering food in the thorny woods until far past dark.
One day, a fine, gilded carriage drew up beside her. Inside was an old woman who told her she was going to take her home and treat her as her own little daughter. So to the wealthy old woman’s house they went, and the child’s hair was cleaned and combed. She was given pure white undergarments and a fine wool dress and white stockings and shiny black shoes. When the child asked after her old clothes, especially her red shoes, the old woman said the clothes were so filthy, and the shoes so ridiculous, she had thrown them in the fire.
The child was very sad, for even with all the riches surrounding her, the humble red shoes made by her own hands had given her the greatest happiness. Now, she was made to sit still, to walk without skipping, to not speak unless she was spoken to, but a secret fire began to burn in her heart and she yearned for her old red shoes.
When the child was old enough to be confirmed the old woman took her to a crippled shoemaker to have a special pair of shoes made for the occasion. In the shoemaker’s case there stood a pair of red shoes made of the finest leather that practically glowed. Even though the shoes were scandalous for church, the child, who chose with a hungry heart, picked the red shoes. The old lady’s eyesight was poor and she did not see their colour. The old shoemaker winked at the child and wrapped them up.
The next day the church was agog about the child’s shoes. Everyone stared, even the icons on the wall, even the statues stared disapprovingly at her shoes. The child loved the shoes even more.
By the end of the day, the old woman had been told about the shoes.
Never, never wear those red shoes again!
When the next Sunday came, however, the child couldn’t resist wearing the shoes again. As she and the old woman neared the church, an old soldier with his arm in a sling bowed and asked permission to brush the dust from the child’s shoes. The child put out her foot, and he tapped the soles of her shoes with a little wig-a-jig-jig song that made the soles of her feet itch.
“Remember to stay for the dance,” he smiled, and winked at her.
Again everyone looked askance at the girl’s red shoes. But she so loved the shoes that were bright like crimson, bright like raspberries, that she could hardly think of anything else. She was so busy turning her feet this way and that, she forgot to sing.
As she and the old woman left the church, the injured soldier called out, “What beautiful dancing shoes!” His words made the girl take a few little twirls right there and then. But once her feet had begun to move, they would not stop, and she danced through the flower beds. She did a gavotte and then a csárdás and then waltzed by herself through the fields across the way.
The old woman’s coachman jumped up and ran after the girl, picked her up and carried her back to the carriage but the girl’s feet were still dancing in the air. The old woman and the coachman tugged and pulled, trying to pry off the red shoes. Finally, they got them off and the child’s feet were calmed.
… continued in part 2.