There was once a large wax light which was very proud of itself. "I was born in wax and made in a mould," it said; "I shine better and burn longer than other lights; my place is in the chandelier or the silver candlestick!"
"That must be delightful!" said the tallow candle. "I am only of tallow, only a dip, but I always console myself by remembering that at any rate, I am something more than a rush light; that is only dipped twice, while I am dipped four times to give me my thickness. I am quite satisfied; no doubt it is luckier to be born in wax and not in tallow, but one does not order one's place in the world. They get into the glass chandelier in the dining room. I stay in the kitchen, but the kitchen is a good place too; the whole house gets its food from there."
"But there is something more important than food," said the wax candle. "Society! To see people shine and to shine one's self! There will be a ball here this evening. Now you'll see that I and all my family will be sent for at once!"
Scarcely had this been said when all the wax candles were sent for, but the tallow candle came along with them too. The lady of the house herself held it in her dainty hand and carried it into the kitchen; there stood a little boy with a basket which was filled with potatoes and apples. All this the good lady gave to the poor boy. "And there's a candle for you as well, my little friend!" said she; "your mother sits and works right through the night; she can make use of it!" The little daughter of the house stood close by and when she heard the words "right through the night," she said with hearty joy; "I shall be up all night, too; we are going to have a ball, and I shall have my large red bows on." How her face beamed! No wax candle can shine like those child-eyes! So the tallow candle was laid beneath the basket-lid and the boy went away with it.
"I wonder where I am going now! thought the candle. "I am on my way to poor people; perhaps I shall get a brass holder, while the wax-candle sits in silver and sees the most elegant people. How delightful it must be to shine before the grand folk. But it is my lot to be tallow, not wax!" And the candle came to the poor people, a widow with three children in a little low room right opposite the rich house. "God bless the good lady for what she gave!" said the mother, "'tis really a lovely light! It may last the whole night." And the candle was lit. "Fut-foi!" it spluttered. "That was a nasty-smelling sulphur match she lit me with! That's not the sort of thing they would be likely to offer the wax candle in the rich house over the way!"
There, too, candles were lit, they shone over the street; the carriages rumbled along with the smartly dressed ball guests and the music sounded. "Now they are beginning over there," said the tallow candle, and it thought of the little rich girl's beaming face, more beaming than all the wax lights. "I shall never see that sight again!"
Then the smallest of the children of that poor house came in; a little girl. She put her arms round the necks of her brother and sister; she had something very important to tell them, so important that it must be whispered: "This-evening-we-are-going-to-have-only fancy!-we-are-going to-have-hot potatoes!" And her face beamed with delight; the candle shone on it; it saw there a joy, a happiness, as great as in the rich house yonder where the little girl had said, "We are going to have a ball this evening, and I shall have my large red bows on!"
"Is it such a great thing to have hot potatoes!" thought the candle; "there's just as much joy among the little ones here as over there!" And it sneezed on the strength of it, that is to say it spluttered, which is as much as a tallow candle can do. The table was laid, the potatoes were eaten. Oh, how nice they tasted! It was quite a dinner, and every one got an apple in the bargain, and the smallest child of all said this little verse: "Thou God so good, my thanks to Thee; that thou has given food to me! Amen."
"Wasn't that nicely said, mother?" said the little one right afterward. "Do not be proud!" said the mother, "you should think about the good God who has fed you!"
The little ones were put to bed, were kissed and went straight off to sleep and the mother sat and sewed till late into the night. And the candles shone from the rich house over the way, and the music sounded. The stars twinkled over all the houses, as brightly on the poor as on the rich; there was no difference.
"That was a lovely evening after all!" said the tallow candle. And it thought of the pair of happy children, the one that was light by the wax candle and the one that was lit by the tallow candle!