She woke to find herself lying cold and stiff in the ashen snow. It was dusk. Footsteps were receding down the darkened street. She staggered to her feet.
Alone she wandered the bleak and snowy streets of the city, stumbling and stopping often to rest, for she was tired, hungry, and weak. Dirty and ragged now, she no longer presented a very pretty sight. Only the dancing shoes remained as bright and beautiful as at the first.
She stopped to rest on a cold stone step and to comfort herself with the thought of her lovely shoes. But their comfort too had now grown cold.
“These dancing shoes are lovely beyond words,” she thought. “And yet of what use are the shoes without the dance? And now that the Voice has left me, I feel that I shall never dance again.”
Suddenly she looked up at the sound of a muffled sob close by. There, not an arm’s length away, huddled in the angle where the stair met the wall of the building, was another little girl. She too was ragged and dirty and thin, and her bare feet were soiled and red with the cold. Her weeping was very bitter.
“What’s the matter?” asked the dancer. “Why do you weep so?”
“Because I am lost and all alone,” the girl answered, “and have no place to stay.”
“Ah!” sighed the little dancer. “I too am lost and alone, nor have I any place in this city to call my own. Otherwise I would take you home with me.”
And so the two of them sat and wept together in silence.
Presently the dancer raised her head and said, “But is this the only reason you are crying? Is there nothing else I can do to help you?”
“I am so hungry!” answered the child. “I haven’t had anything to eat for days!”
“Ah!” sighed the little dancer. “I too am nearly starved and very weak with hunger. I have nothing to share with you. Otherwise you can be sure that I would.”
Again the two of them sat silently weeping together.
At last the dancer spoke for the third time. “Surely,” she said, “there must be something else. Your crying is so very bitter.”
“Yes,” said the girl. “My feet are so cold that I can no longer walk; and so I am afraid.”
The little dancer looked down at her own feet. For a long time she stared at her beautiful dancing shoes.
“Of what use are these shoes – or my feet, for that matter – without the dance?” she thought.
Then, stooping down, she carefully undid the graceful silken laces and slipped the shoes from her feet. Kneeling in the snow, she bound them on the feet of the little girl.
* * * * * * *