The little matchgirl. A tale re-told. Part 2 of 2

nightA spiteful wind howls around the streets. Blows away the fog, the smoke – the warmth.

Jack Frost mocks the locked gates of the arcade. Dances through their iron bars, into the doorway where the little girl huddles. Touches her toes and nose and fingers. Nips at the elbows poking through holes in her threadbare cardigan.

Molly is fast asleep – and dreaming. Of hot stew and fur boots. Of feather cushions and roaring fires.

But Jack Frost’s teeth bite harder – and she opens her eyes. Looks at the matches in her lap. Thinks of that leaping fire.

Beside her a low brick wall rises up to meet the curved glass window. She takes a match and strikes it on the brick.

The light flares.

Molly smiles at the brightness and the sudden spurt of warmth. Holds the match to the window and sees its reflection. Leans closer.

Inside the window, a mannequin models a long fur coat.

The match goes out. The fur coat disappears.

There’s no going home, now, she knows. Without pennies her father will beat her. Without matches or pennies he may well kill her.

Tomorrow she’ll have to think of something. But tomorrow’s so far away.

And she’s so cold.

Molly ties the red flannel around her head. Takes a bundle of matches and tiptoes from doorway to doorway. In each she strikes a match and waits till it goes out, nose pressed close against the glass.

In one short evening Molly sees a world she will never know. Gold and wine. Books and chocolates. Fur-lined boots and cut glass decanters.

As the clock chimes midnight Molly finds the warmest doorway and lights the remaining matches, one by one. Imagines that each is a falling star, the kind you wish upon, as they die their beautiful deaths.

And then, she sleeps, still wishing.

At five o’clock the clock strikes. Long before the invisible dawn.

One of the iron gates groans as it opens. Groans again as it’s shut.

A woman, Elspeth, enters the arcade. Her job – to brush away any dirt that blew in overnight.

Her jaw hurts badly, today. But at least she’s alive. Thank God.

She puts the small lantern she’s carrying down. Bends to pick up a heap of old newspaper, blown into the corner of a dark shop doorway.

But it’s not newspaper. It’s a little girl.

Molly is barely alive. The woman picks her up. Cradles her in strong arms. Breathes warm breath on her face.

Molly dreams of a smoking fire, putting out a strange smell and wonders what’s burning. Her little eyes open and she sees a miracle. A face, shining in the dark.

The woman with the ugly face – for ugly it is – smiles as best she can. Molly gasps, startled, as the vision becomes real – and awful.

She wails.

The woman shushes her.

Elspeth, old at thirty, puts her shawl over Molly and bids her stay still while she cleans.

Her tasks over, she bears Molly, piggyback, all the way home. In the dark.

Elspeth’s jaw gleams when she speaks. When she smiles. When she’s silent.

She works, by night, at any job she can find, when it’s dark and no-one can see her. Stays at home by day, safe from the stares, the shouts and the spitting.

She’s had the worst of it removed, now. She should not die.

Not yet.

Molly is frightened, at first, by this ugly woman and her shining jaw.

But as she sips at a bowl of hot soup, wrapped up in Elspeth’s blanket, in the flickering light of Elspeth’s small fire, she thinks she understands.

The lady’s a saint. It’s just the halo slipped.

Perhaps her saintliness came from her words, not her thoughts.

Yes, Molly likes that idea. And she smiles the first smile that her ugly saviour has seen in months.

And so Molly sleeps. And dreams.

Feels safe.

Tonight she’ll eat bread with beef dripping.

Tomorrow, she’ll have a new job. Making matches, for the Salvation Army.

And for Christmas, this year, she’ll eat ham hock with cabbage.

Luck, at last, has visited our poor little match girl. But Luck, as we know, can be a fickle friend.

Fear not, though, for Molly.

For thanks to a stranger’s Charity, now, she will always know Hope.

And, this year, her first happy Christmas.


 

Merry Christmas (or whatever you’d like to celebrate), to one and all!

If you’d like to know a little of the background to this little match girl’s story read on:
For years in the late 19th century the match firm Bryant and May used white phosphorus for making its matches, even when it became clear that it could cause terrible sickness and death. It was very poorly paid work. The young women and girls who did it were not allowed to take time out for eating so ate while they worked which transferred the phosphorus to their mouths. ‘Phossy jaw’ began with pain, progressed to glowing bones, necrosis of the tissue and – if the jaw bone was not removed (and often even if it was) – to death.
The plight of the ‘match girls’ became famous (or infamous) when campaigner Clementina Black, an influential and early women’s trade unionist, gave a speech at a Fabian society meeting which was heard by journalist Annie Besant. Besant helped organise the Match girls’ Strike of 1888. Better working conditions were eventually agreed, but it took years before B&M stopped using white phosphorus and in the meantime the Salvation Army set up a matchmaking business using the safer red phosphorus – which B&M eventually took over.

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22 Responses to The little matchgirl. A tale re-told. Part 2 of 2

  1. Thel says:

    Beautifully done. You did not disappoint. I am moved to tears. Thank you Mary for the best Christmas gift ever!

    Like

  2. Christa says:

    Beautiful, evocative story-telling. You are good at this Mary!! Have a happy (and warm) Christmas.

    Like

  3. Judy Barnes says:

    Very beautiful Mary and particularly poignant thinking of the refugees and the homeless as opposed to the commercialism and hype attached to a day on the calendar that marks the birth of Christ,born of unmarried,homeless parents .

    Like

  4. Elizabeth S Ferguson says:

    Glad to hear your version has a happy ending ,love it ! Liz x

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  5. Miz B says:

    Good heavens, Husk! I was worried about you. First, you were having dark thoughts about Gilbert and Sullivan, and then you decided to retell “The Little Match Girl.” The retelling is beautifully detailed and engaging, of course, but I was relieved when part two had a happy-ish ending. I’m glad I read the additional information about the Match Girls strike. That clarified one of your themes with information that was new to me. I’m so glad the little match girl met the adult Match Girl, who still has an open heart after her own horrible difficulties. Still, Husk, I think you need a couple weeks of sunshine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! Thank you Miz B, nice to have someone worry about me …
      The Little Matchgirl is a story I didn’t actually grow up with – and it was a special request from one of my followers (who happens to be a sister-in-law). It’s the first time I’ve done a special request and it was ages before I could come up with an approach I liked. I’m glad you enjoyed it – the story of the matchgirls is very sad but also optimistic given the outcome – the much maligned trades unions arose to stop such horrible exploitative practices in industry.
      The endless rain and grey skies here – they’ve been the norm for weeks now – are indeed not good for the spirits – but at least we are not flooded like people a little further north so count our blessings. Sunshine would be my best Christmas gift – but the weather forecast shows … more rain. But there is joy in curling up with a good book or good boxed set when there is nothing to do and nowhere to go – like tomorrow. I hope you have a merry or at least happy, peaceful Christmas and look forward to catching up on your blog over the next few days. m

      Liked by 1 person

  6. mud4fun says:

    Lovely story M, you have a remarkable skill for drawing images in my mind with your words.

    Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas to you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mr Mud, kind of you to say so – and I’m glad! Good to hear from you – I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas feast. Are the leaves still on your mock currants? 😉 Ours are … despite the rain and wind. Happy Christmas and all the best for 2016.

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      • mud4fun says:

        No, leaves long gone from most of garden. I think we had colder weather than you a few weeks back. It was snowing here on the last weekend of March and we had a couple of weeks with night time temperatures below zero.That saw off most of the foliage. My wife was rather happy though as it meant we could start harvesting the parsnips which always taste so much better after a few frosts 🙂

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  7. An old tale retold with skill and grace.
    May your Christmas be merry and bright

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  8. Alison Parry says:

    Enjoyed this moving story, especially as I had not read it before… Thanks for ‘illuminating’ notes too!
    And hope you have had a lovely birthday. Love Alison xx

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    • I didn’t know the Little Matchgirl, I had to read it several times before I could respond to this challenge! Thanks for reading Alison and thanks for the card. Hope to see you/talk to you soon mxx

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  9. EllaDee says:

    I think you’ve done a kindness to the Little Matchgirl. With the passing of time and circumstance we should if possible take the opprotunity to revisit our experiences of the past and memories, and see them with the fresh eyes and strong hearts. What seemed distressing and irredeemable may be somewhat transformed by hope and faith even if borne of endurance and survival, and made a little easier.

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    • It’s odd that this is a tale I didn’t know before the retelling was asked of me as a special request. My sister knows it, my sister in law knows it – why not me? Anyway, thank you as ever for your kind comments – I couldn’t leave the story as it was and while life wasn’t going to be necessarily rosy for her – there was at least hope, wasn’t there? And that’s a good starting point for renewal. And I like what you say about revisiting past experiences – though this last week I revisited one aspect of the past with a joke at my fingertips only to find an unexpected sadness. Ho hum, onwards!

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Thanks for reading, please comment if it struck a chord

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