The real reason why Marie didn't want to leave the Christmas table was that she had just caught sight of something she hadn't noticed before. Fritz's hussars had been parading near the tree. When they marched away, an excellent little man came into view. He stood there quietly, as though patiently waiting his turn.
One might have found fault with his build: his torso was too long and stout for his short, skinny legs, and his head was much too big for the rest of him. But, to make up for these disadvantages, the distinction of his dress showed him to be a man of taste and breeding. He was wearing a well-cut lavender hussar's jacket with lots of white frogging and buttons, breeches of the same stuff, and the daintiest little boots that had ever graced the feet of a student or even an officer. They were molded as neatly to his dainty little legs as if they had been painted on. Oddly enough, though, in view of these fine clothes, he had, hanging from his shoulders, a skimpy, ungainly cloak that looked almost as if it were made of wood, and he was wearing what appeared to be a miner's cap. But Marie remembered that Godfather Drosselmeier often wore a wretched-looking morning coat and a hideous cap, neither of which prevented him from being a dear, sweet godfather. And it also occurred to Marie that even if Godfather Drosselmeier were to dress as prettily as this little man, he wouldn't be as handsome. With Marie it was love at first sight, and the longer she gazed at the sweet little man, the more delighted she was with his good-natured face. His light green, slightly too prominent eyes were also full of kindness, and his well-curled, white-cotton beard was most becoming, as it brought out the sweet smile of his bright red lips.
"Oh, Father dear," Marie cried out, "who does the dear little man by the tree belong to?"
"Dear child," said Dr. Stahlbaum, "our friend here will serve you all well. He will crack hard nuts for all of you with his teeth, and he belongs to Louise as much as to you and Fritz."
Carefully picking him up from the table, Dr. Stahlbaum lifted his wooden cloak, whereupon the little man opened his mouth wide, revealing two rows of sharp white teeth. At her father's bidding, Marie put in a nut and — crack — the little man bit it in two, the shell fell down, and Marie found the sweet kernel in her hand.
Dr. Stahlbaum told the children that the pretty little man was descended from the Nutcracker family and practiced the trade of his forebears. Marie cried out for joy, and her father said, "Well, dear Marie, since you seem so fond of friend Nutcracker, he shall be entrusted to your special care, though, as I've already told you, Louise and Fritz have as much right to make use of him as you."
Marie picked him up and gave him nuts to crack, but she chose the smallest so the little man wouldn't have to open his mouth too wide, which did not really become him. Louise joined her, and friend Nutcracker had to work for them both. He seemed glad to do it, for he kept smiling in the friendliest way.
From Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffmann, pictures by Maurice Sendak. Copyright 1984 by Maurice Sendak. Excerpted with permission of Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.