The coach drove on through a thick forest, where it lighted up the way like a torch, and dazzled the eyes of some robbers, who could not bear to let it pass them unmolested.
``It is gold! it is gold!'' cried they, rushing forward, and seizing the horses. Then they struck the little jockeys, the coachman, and the footman dead, and pulled little Gerda out of the carriage.
``She is fat and pretty, and she has been fed with the kernels of nuts,'' said the old robber-woman, who had a long beard and eyebrows that hung over her eyes. ``She is as good as a little lamb; how nice she will taste!'' and as she said this, she drew forth a shining knife, that glittered horribly. ``Oh!'' screamed the old woman the same moment; for her own daughter, who held her back, had bitten her in the ear. She was a wild and naughty girl, and the mother called her an ugly thing, and had not time to kill Gerda.
``She shall play with me,'' said the little robber-girl; ``she shall give me her muff and her pretty dress, and sleep with me in my bed.'' And then she bit her mother again, and made her spring in the air, and jump about; and all the robbers laughed, and said, ``See how she is dancing with her young cub.''
``I will have a ride in the coach,'' said the little robber-girl; and she would have her own way; for she was so self-willed and obstinate.
She and Gerda seated themselves in the coach, and drove away, over stumps and stones, into the depths of the forest. The little robber-girl was about the same size as Gerda, but stronger; she had broader shoulders and a darker skin; her eyes were quite black, and she had a mournful look. She clasped little Gerda round the waist, and said,--
``They shall not kill you as long as you don't make us vexed with you. I suppose you are a princess.''
``No,'' said Gerda; and then she told her all her history, and how fond she was of little Kay.
The robber-girl looked earnestly at her, nodded her head slightly, and said, ``They sha'nt kill you, even if I do get angry with you; for I will do it myself.'' And then she wiped Gerda's eyes, and stuck her own hands in the beautiful muff which was so soft and warm.
The coach stopped in the courtyard of a robber's castle, the walls of which were cracked from top to bottom. Ravens and crows flew in and out of the holes and crevices, while great bulldogs, either of which looked as if it could swallow a man, were jumping about; but they were not allowed to bark. In the large and smoky hall a bright fire was burning on the stone floor. There was no chimney; so the smoke went up to the ceiling, and found a way out for itself. Soup was boiling in a large cauldron, and hares and rabbits were roasting on the spit.
``You shall sleep with me and all my little animals to-night,'' said the robber-girl, after they had had something to eat and drink. So she took Gerda to a corner of the hall, where some straw and carpets were laid down. Above them, on laths and perches, were more than a hundred pigeons, who all seemed to be asleep, although they moved slightly when the two little girls came near them.
``These all belong to me,'' said the robber-girl; and she seized the nearest to her, held it by the feet, and shook it till it flapped its wings. ``Kiss it,'' cried she, flapping it in Gerda's face. ``There sit the wood-pigeons,'' continued she, pointing to a number of laths and a cage which had been fixed into the walls, near one of the openings. ``Both rascals would fly away directly, if they were not closely locked up. And here is my old sweetheart `Ba;' '' and she dragged out a reindeer by the horn; he wore a bright copper ring round his neck, and was tied up. ``We are obliged to hold him tight too, or else he would run away from us also. I tickle his neck every evening with my sharp knife, which frightens him very much.''
And then the robber-girl drew a long knife from a chink in the wall, and let it slide gently over the reindeer's neck. The poor animal began to kick, and the little robber-girl laughed, and pulled down Gerda into bed with her.
``Will you have that knife with you while you are asleep?'' asked Gerda, looking at it in great fright.
``I always sleep with the knife by me,'' said the robber-girl. ``No one knows what may happen. But now tell me again all about little Kay, and why you went out into the world.''
Then Gerda repeated her story over again, while the wood-pigeons in the cage over her cooed, and the other pigeons slept. The little robber-girl put one arm across Gerda's neck, and held the knife in the other, and was soon fast asleep and snoring. But Gerda could not close her eyes at all; she knew not whether she was to live or die. The robbers sat round the fire, singing and drinking, and the old woman stumbled about. It was a terrible sight for a little girl to witness.
Then the wood-pigeons said, ``Coo, coo; we have seen little Kay. A white fowl carried his sledge, and he sat in the carriage of the Snow Queen, which drove through the wood while we were lying in our nest. She blew upon us, and all the young ones died excepting us two. Coo, coo.''
``What are you saying up there?'' cried Gerda. ``Where was the Snow Queen going? Do you know anything about it?''
``She was most likely travelling to Lapland, where there is always snow and ice. Ask the reindeer that is fastened up there with a rope.''
``Yes, there is always snow and ice,'' said the reindeer; ``and it is a glorious place; you can leap and run about freely on the sparkling ice plains. The Snow Queen has her summer tent there, but her strong castle is at the North Pole, on an island called Spitzbergen.''
``Oh, Kay, little Kay!'' sighed Gerda.
``Lie still,'' said the robber-girl, ``or I shall run my knife into your body.''
In the morning Gerda told her all that the wood-pigeons had said; and the little robber-girl looked quite serious, and nodded her head, and said, ``That is all talk, that is all talk. Do you know where Lapland is?'' she asked the reindeer.
``Who should know better than I do?'' said the animal, while his eyes sparkled. ``I was born and brought up there, and used to run about the snow-covered plains.''
``Now listen,'' said the robber-girl; ``all our men are gone away,-- only mother is here, and here she will stay; but at noon she always drinks out of a great bottle, and afterwards sleeps for a little while; and then, I'll do something for you.'' Then she jumped out of bed, clasped her mother round the neck, and pulled her by the beard, crying, ``My own little nanny goat, good morning.'' Then her mother filliped her nose till it was quite red; yet she did it all for love.
When the mother had drunk out of the bottle, and was gone to sleep, the little robber-maiden went to the reindeer, and said, ``I should like very much to tickle your neck a few times more with my knife, for it makes you look so funny; but never mind,--I will untie your cord, and set you free, so that you may run away to Lapland; but you must make good use of your legs, and carry this little maiden to the castle of the Snow Queen, where her play-fellow is. You have heard what she told me, for she spoke loud enough, and you were listening.''
Then the reindeer jumped for joy; and the little robber-girl lifted Gerda on his back, and had the forethought to tie her on, and even to give her her own little cushion to sit on.
``Here are your fur boots for you,'' said she; ``for it will be very cold; but I must keep the muff; it is so pretty. However, you shall not be frozen for the want of it; here are my mother's large warm mittens; they will reach up to your elbows. Let me put them on. There, now your hands look just like my mother's.''
But Gerda wept for joy. ``I don't like to see you fret,'' said the little robber-girl; ``you ought to look quite happy now; and here are two loaves and a ham, so that you need not starve.'' These were fastened on the reindeer, and then the little robber-maiden opened the door, coaxed in all the great dogs, and then cut the string with which the reindeer was fastened, with her sharp knife, and said, ``Now run, but mind you take good care of the little girl.''
And then Gerda stretched out her hand, with the great mitten on it, towards the little robber-girl, and said, ``Farewell,'' and away flew the reindeer, over stumps and stones, through the great forest, over marshes and plains, as quickly as he could. The wolves howled, and the ravens screamed; while up in the sky quivered red lights like flames of fire.
``There are my old northern lights,'' said the reindeer; ``see how they flash.'' And he ran on day and night still faster and faster, but the loaves and the ham were all eaten by the time they reached Lapland.
The Lapland Woman and the Finland Woman
They stopped at a little hut; it was very mean looking; the roof sloped nearly down to the ground, and the door was so low that the family had to creep in on their hands and knees, when they went in and out. There was no one at home but an old Lapland woman, who was cooking fish by the light of a train-oil lamp. The reindeer told her all about Gerda's story, after having first told his own, which seemed to him the most important, but Gerda was so pinched with the cold that she could not speak.
``Oh, you poor things,'' said the Lapland woman, ``you have a long way to go yet. You must travel more than a hundred miles farther, to Finland. The Snow Queen lives there now, and she burns Bengal lights every evening. I will write a few words on a dried stock-fish, for I have no paper, and you can take it from me to the Finland woman who lives there; she can give you better information than I can.'' So when Gerda was warmed, and had taken something to eat and drink, the woman wrote a few words on the dried fish, and told Gerda to take great care of it. Then she tied her again on the reindeer, and he set off at full speed. Flash, flash, went the beautiful blue northern lights in the air the whole night long.
And at length they reached Finland, and knocked at the chimney of the Finland woman's hut, for it had no door above the ground. They crept in, but it was so terribly hot inside that that woman wore scarcely any clothes; she was small and very dirty looking. She loosened little Gerda's dress, and took off the fur boots and the mittens, or Gerda would have been unable to bear the heat; and then she placed a piece of ice on the reindeer's head, and read what was written on the dried fish. After she had read it three times, she knew it by heart, so she popped the fish into the soup saucepan, as she knew it was good to eat, and she never wasted anything. The reindeer told his own story first, and then little Gerda's, and the Finlander twinkled with her clever eyes, but she said nothing. ``You are so clever,'' said the reindeer; ``I know you can tie all the winds of the world with a piece of twine. If a sailor unties one knot, he has a fair wind; when he unties the second, it blows hard; but if the third and fourth are loosened, then comes a storm, which will root up whole forests. Cannot you give this little maiden something which will make her as strong as twelve men, to overcome the Snow Queen?''
``The Power of twelve men!'' said the Finland woman; ``that would be of very little use.'' But she went to a shelf and took down and unrolled a large skin, on which were inscribed wonderful characters, and she read till the perspiration ran down from her forehead. But the reindeer begged so hard for little Gerda, and Gerda looked at the Finland woman with such beseeching tearful eyes, that her own eyes began to twinkle again; so she drew the reindeer into a corner, and whispered to him while she laid a fresh piece of ice on his head, ``Little Kay is really with the Snow Queen, but he finds everything there so much to his taste and his liking, that he believes it is the finest place in the world; but this is because he has a piece of broken glass in his heart, and a little piece of glass in his eye. These must be taken out, or he will never be a human being again, and the Snow Queen will retain her power over him.''
``But can you not give little Gerda something to help her to conquer this power?''
``I can give her no greater power than she has already,'' said the woman; ``don't you see how strong that is? How men and animals are obliged to serve her, and how well she has got through the world, barefooted as she is. She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has, which consists in her own purity and innocence of heart. If she cannot herself obtain access to the Snow Queen, and remove the glass fragments from little Kay, we can do nothing to help her. Two miles from here the Snow Queen's garden begins; you can carry the little girl so far, and set her down by the large bush which stands in the snow, covered with red berries. Do not stay gossiping, but come back here as quickly as you can.'' Then the Finland woman lifted little Gerda upon the reindeer, and he ran away with her as quickly as he could.
``Oh, I have forgotten my boots and my mittens,'' cried little Gerda, as soon as she felt the cutting cold, but the reindeer dared not stop, so he ran on till he reached the bush with the red berries; here he set Gerda down, and he kissed her, and the great bright tears trickled over the animal's cheeks; then he left her and ran back as fast as he could.
There stood poor Gerda, without shoes, without gloves, in the midst of cold, dreary, ice-bound Finland. She ran forwards as quickly as she could, when a whole regiment of snow-flakes came round her; they did not, however, fall from the sky, which was quite clear and glittering with the northern lights. The snow-flakes ran along the ground, and the nearer they came to her, the larger they appeared. Gerda remembered how large and beautiful they looked through the burning-glass. But these were really larger, and much more terrible, for they were alive, and were the guards of the Snow Queen, and had the strangest shapes. Some were like great porcupines, others like twisted serpents with their heads stretching out, and some few were like little fat bears with their hair bristled; but all were dazzlingly white, and all were living snow-flakes.
Then little Gerda
repeated the Lord's Prayer, and the cold was so great that she could see
her own breath come out of her mouth like steam as she uttered the words.
The steam appeared to increase, as she continued her prayer, till it took
the shape of little angels who grew larger the moment they touched the
earth. They all wore helmets on their heads, and carried spears and shields.
Their number continued to increase more and more; and by the time Gerda
had finished her prayers, a whole legion stood round her. They thrust their
spears into the terrible snow-flakes, so that they shivered into a hundred
pieces, and little Gerda could go forward with courage and safety. The
angels stroked her hands and feet, so that she felt the cold less, and
she hastened on to the Snow Queen's castle.
Of the Palace of the Snow Queen and What Happened There at Last.
The walls of the palace were formed of drifted snow, and the windows and doors of the cutting winds. There were more than a hundred rooms in it, all as if they had been formed with snow blown together. The largest of them extended for several miles; they were all lighted up by the vivid light of the aurora, and they were so large and empty, so icy cold and glittering! There were no amusements here, not even a little bear's ball, when the storm might have been the music, and the bears could have danced on their hind legs, and shown their good manners. There were no pleasant games of snap-dragon, or touch, or even a gossip over the tea-table, for the young-lady foxes. Empty, vast, and cold were the halls of the Snow Queen. The flickering flame of the northern lights could be plainly seen, whether they rose high or low in the heavens, from every part of the castle. In the midst of its empty, endless hall of snow was a frozen lake, broken on its surface into a thousand forms; each piece resembled another, from being in itself perfect as a work of art, and in the centre of this lake sat the Snow Queen, when she was at home. She called the lake ``The Mirror of Reason,'' and said that it was the best, and indeed the only one in the world.
Little Kay was quite blue with cold, indeed almost black, but he did not feel it; for the Snow Queen had kissed away the icy shiverings, and his heart was already a lump of ice. He dragged some sharp, flat pieces of ice to and fro, and placed them together in all kinds of positions, as if he wished to make something out of them; just as we try to form various figures with little tablets of wood which we call ``a Chinese puzzle.'' Kay's fingers were very artistic; it was the icy game of reason at which he played, and in his eyes the figures were very remarkable, and of the highest importance; this opinion was owing to the piece of glass still sticking in his eye. He composed many complete figures, forming different words, but there was one word he never could manage to form, although he wished it very much. It was the word ``Eternity.'' The Snow Queen had said to him, ``When you can find out this, you shall be your own master, and I will give you the whole world and a new pair of skates.'' But he could not accomplish it.
``Now I must hasten away to warmer countries,'' said the Snow Queen. ``I will go and look into the black craters of the tops of the burning mountains, Etna and Vesuvius, as they are called,--I shall make them look white, which will be good for them, and for the lemons and the grapes.'' And away flew the Snow Queen, leaving little Kay quite alone in the great hall which was so many miles in length; so he sat and looked at his pieces of ice, and was thinking so deeply, and sat so still, that any one might have supposed he was frozen.
Just at this moment it happened that little Gerda came through the great door of the castle. Cutting winds were raging around her, but she offered up a prayer and the winds sank down as if they were going to sleep; and she went on till she came to the large empty hall, and caught sight of Kay; she knew him directly; she flew to him and threw her arms round his neck, and held him fast, while she exclaimed, ``Kay, dear little Kay, I have found you at last.''
But he sat quite still, stiff and cold.
Then little Gerda wept hot tears, which fell on his breast, and penetrated into his heart, and thawed the lump of ice, and washed away the little piece of glass which had stuck there. Then he looked at her, and she sang--
``Roses bloom and cease to be, But we shall the Christ-child see.''
Then Kay burst into tears, and he wept so that the splinter of glass swam out of his eye. Then he recognized Gerda, and said, joyfully, ``Gerda, dear little Gerda, where have you been all this time, and where have I been?'' And he looked all around him, and said, ``How cold it is, and how large and empty it all looks,'' and he clung to Gerda, and she laughed and wept for joy. It was so pleasing to see them that the pieces of ice even danced about; and when they were tired and went to lie down, they formed themselves into the letters of the word which the Snow Queen had said he must find out before he could be his own master, and have the whole world and a pair of new skates. Then Gerda kissed his cheeks, and they became blooming; and she kissed his eyes, and they shone like her own; she kissed his hands and his feet, and then he became quite healthy and cheerful. The Snow Queen might come home now when she pleased, for there stood his certainty of freedom, in the word she wanted, written in shining letters of ice.
Then they took each other by the hand, and went forth from the great palace of ice. They spoke of the grandmother, and of the roses on the roof, and as they went on the winds were at rest, and the sun burst forth. When they arrived at the bush with red berries, there stood the reindeer waiting for them, and he had brought another young reindeer with him, whose udders were full, and the children drank her warm milk and kissed her on the mouth.
Then they carried Kay and Gerda first to the Finland woman, where they warmed themselves thoroughly in the hot room, and she gave them directions about their journey home. Next they went to the Lapland woman, who had made some new clothes for them, and put their sleighs in order. Both the reindeer ran by their side, and followed them as far as the boundaries of the country, where the first green leaves were budding. And here they took leave of the two reindeer and the Lapland woman, and all said--Farewell. Then the birds began to twitter, and the forest too was full of green young leaves; and out of it came a beautiful horse, which Gerda remembered, for it was one which had drawn the golden coach. A young girl was riding upon it, with a shining red cap on her head, and pistols in her belt. It was the little robber-maiden, who had got tired of staying at home; she was going first to the north, and if that did not suit her, she meant to try some other part of the world. She knew Gerda directly, and Gerda remembered her: it was a joyful meeting.
``You are a fine fellow to go gadding about in this way,'' said she to little Kay, ``I should like to know whether you deserve that any one should go to the end of the world to find you.''
But Gerda patted her cheeks, and asked after the prince and princess. ``They are gone to foreign countries,'' said the robber-girl. ``And the crow?'' asked Gerda. ``Oh, the crow is dead,'' she replied; ``his tame sweetheart is now a widow, and wears a bit of black worsted round her leg. She mourns very pitifully, but it is all stuff. But now tell me how you managed to get him back.''
Then Gerda and Kay told her all about it. ``Snip, snap, snare! it's all right at last,'' said the robber-girl. Then she took both their hands, and promised that if ever she should pass through the town, she would call and pay them a visit. And then she rode away into the wide world. But Gerda and Kay went hand-in-hand towards home; and as they advanced, spring appeared more lovely with its green verdure and its beautiful flowers. Very soon they recognized the large town where they lived, and the tall steeples of the churches, in which the sweet bells were ringing a merry peal as they entered it, and found their way to their grandmother's door. They went upstairs into the little room, where all looked just as it used to do.
The old clock was going ``tick, tick,'' and the hands pointed to the time of day, but as they passed through the door into the room they perceived that they were both grown up, and become a man and woman. The roses out on the roof were in full bloom, and peeped in at the window; and there stood the little chairs, on which they had sat when children; and Kay and Gerda seated themselves each on their own chair, and held each other by the hand, while the cold empty grandeur of the Snow Queen's palace vanished from their memories like a painful dream. The grandmother sat in God's bright sunshine, and she read aloud from the Bible, ``Except ye become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of God.'' And Kay and Gerda looked into each other's eyes, and all at once understood the words of the old song,
``Roses bloom and cease to be, But we shall the Christ-child see.''
And they both sat there, grown up, yet children at heart; and it was summer,--warm, beautiful summer.
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