This is a story by the short story writer and novelist


Hans Christian Andersen


A mother has not slept for three days and nights watching over her sick child. When she closes her eyes for just a moment, Death comes and takes her child. The mother rushes into the street and asks a woman, who is Night, which way Death went.


Death walks faster than the wind and never returns what he has taken.


Tell me which way he went and I will find him!


Night tells her to go into the forest, but first the mother must sing every lullaby that she has ever sung for her child. In the forest, a thorn bush tells her which way to continue, but only after she has warmed the bush by pressing it to her chest, causing her to bleed. The mother then reaches a lake that carries her across in exchange for her eyes, which she cries out.


The now blind mother reaches the greenhouse where Death cares for the flowers and trees, each one a human life. Here the mother finds the little sick plant that is her child, recognizing it by the sound of its heartbeat. The old woman who helps care for the greenhouse tells her, in exchange for her hair, that when Death comes, she must threaten to rip up the other flowers. Death will then be afraid for he must answer to God; only God decides when the plants are pulled up and planted in the garden of Paradise, where we do not know what happens.


Death comes carrying the child and when he asks the mother how she could have gotten there before him, she answers, “I am a mother.” She threatens to rip out two of the flowers, but when Death asks her if she would make two other mothers as unhappy as she is, she immediately lets go.


Death gives her back her eyes and asks her to look into a well. Here she sees the futures of two children, one full of happiness and love, the other full of misery and despair. He says that one of these futures would be the future of her child, were it to live.


Then the mother screams in fear, “Which is my child! Rather carry my child into God’s kingdom than allow it to suffer such a life.


Death says, “I do not understand. Do you want your child back or should I carry it away into the unknown?


And the mother wrings her hands, gets down on her knees, and prays to God: “Do not listen to me when I ask against your will! Do not listen to me, do not listen to me, do not listen to me!


And Death leaves, carrying her child into the unknown land.