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- Journeys Through Bookland V2 - 20/71 -
where consequently most persons are compelled to be content with flowers in pots, were two poor children who possessed a garden somewhat larger than a flowerpot. They were not brother and sister, but they loved each other quite as much as if they had been. Their parents lived just opposite each other in two garrets, there where the roof of one neighbor's house joined that of another. And where the water pipe ran between the two houses was a little window; one had only to step across the pipe to get from one window to the other.
The parents of each child had a great box, in which grew kitchen herbs that they used, and a little rosebush; there was one in each box, and they grew famously. Now, it occurred to the parents to place the boxes across the pipe, so that they reached from one window to another, and looked quite like two embankments of flowers. Pea plants hung down over the boxes, and the rosebushes shot forth long twigs, which clustered round the windows and bent down toward each other; it was almost like a triumphal arch of flowers and leaves. As the boxes were very high, and the children knew that they might not creep upon them, they often obtained permission to step out upon the roof behind the boxes, and to sit upon their little stools under the roses, and there they could play capitally.
In the winter time there was an end of this amusement. The windows were sometimes quite frozen over. But then they warmed copper shillings on the stove, and held the warm coins against the frozen pane; and this made a capital peep-hole, so round! so round! and behind it gleamed a pretty mild eye at each window; and these eyes belonged to the little boy and the little girl. His name was Kay and the little girl's was Gerda.
In the summer they could get to one another at one bound; but in the winter they had to go down and up the long staircase, while the snow was pelting without.
"Those are the white bees swarming," said the old grandmother.
"Have they a queen bee?" asked the little boy. For he knew that there is one among the real bees.
"Yes, they have one," replied grandmamma. "She always flies where they swarm thickest. She is the largest of them all, and never remains quiet upon the earth; she flies up again into the black cloud. Many a midnight she is flying through the streets of the town, and looks in at the windows, and then they freeze in such a strange way, and look like flowers."
"Yes, I've seen that!" cried both the children; and now they knew that it was true.
[Illustration: THE SNOWFLAKE AT LAST BECAME A MAIDEN]
"Can the Snow Queen come in here?" asked the little girl.
"Only let her come," cried the boy; "I'll set her upon the warm stove, and then she'll melt."
But grandmother smoothed his hair, and told some other tales. In the evening, when little Kay was at home and half undressed, he clambered upon the chair by the window, and looked through the little hole. A few flakes of snow were falling outside, and one of them, the largest of them all, remained lying on the edge of one of the flower boxes.
The snowflake grew larger and larger, and at last became a maiden clothed in the finest white gauze, put together of millions of starry flakes. She was beautiful and delicate, but of ice--of shining, glittering ice. Yet she was alive; her eyes flashed like two clear stars, but there was no peace or rest in them. She nodded toward the window, and beckoned with her hand. The little boy was frightened, and sprang down from the chair; then it seemed as if a great bird flew by outside, in front of the window.
Next day there was a clear frost, and then the spring came; the sun shone, the green sprouted forth, the swallows built nests, the windows were opened, and the little children again sat in their garden high up in the roof, over all the floors.
How splendidly the roses bloomed this summer! The little girl had learned a psalm, in which mention was made of roses; and, in speaking of roses, she thought of her own; and she sang it to the little boy, and he sang, too:
"The roses will fade and pass away, But we the Christ-child shall see one day."
And the little ones held each other by the hand, kissed the roses, looked at God's bright sunshine, and spoke to it, as if the Christ-child were there. What splendid summer days those were! How beautiful it was without, among the fresh rosebushes!
Kay and Gerda sat and looked at the picture book of beasts and birds. Then it was, while the clock was just striking twelve on the church tower, that Kay said:
"Oh! something struck my heart and pricked me in the eye." The little girl fell upon his neck; he blinked his eyes. No, there was nothing at all to be seen.
"I think it is gone," said he; but it was not gone. It was just one of those glass fragments which sprang from the mirror--the magic mirror that we remember well, the ugly glass that made every great and good thing which was mirrored in it to seem small and mean, but in which the mean and the wicked things were brought out in relief, and every fault was noticeable at once. Poor little Kay had also received a splinter just in his heart, and that will now soon become like a lump of ice. It did not hurt him now, but the splinter was still there.
"Why do you cry?" he asked. "You look ugly like that. There's nothing the matter with me. Oh, fie!" he suddenly exclaimed, "that rose is worm- eaten, and this one is quite crooked. After all, they're ugly roses. They're like the box in they stand."
And then he kicked the box with his foot, and tore both the roses off.
"Kay, what are you about?" cried the little girl.
And when he noticed her fright he tore off another rose, and then sprang in at his own window, away from pretty little Gerda.
When she afterward came with her picture book, he said it was only fit for babies in arms; and when his grandmother told stories he always came in with a BUT; and when he could manage it, he would get behind her, put on a pair of spectacles, and talk just as she did; he could do that very cleverly, and the people laughed at him. Soon he could mimic the speech and the gait of everybody in the street. Everything that was peculiar or ugly about people, Kay would imitate; and every one said, "That boy must certainly have a remarkable genius." But it was the glass that struck deep in his heart; so it happened that he even teased little Gerda, who loved him with all her heart.
His games now became quite different from what they were before; they became quite sensible. One winter's day when it snowed he came out with a great burning glass, held up the blue tail of his coat, and let the snowflakes fall upon it.
"Now look at the glass, Gerda," said he.
And every flake of snow was magnified, and looked like a splendid flower, or a star with ten points--it was beautiful to behold.
"See how clever that is," said Kay. "That's much more interesting than real flowers; and there's not a single fault in it--they're quite regular until they begin to melt."
Soon after, Kay came in thick gloves, and with his sledge upon his back. He called up to Gerda. "I've got leave to go into the great square, where the other boys play;" and he was gone.
In the great square the boldest among the boys often tied their sledges to the country people's carts, and thus rode with them a good way. They went capitally. When they were in the midst of their playing there came a great sledge. It was painted quite white, and in it sat somebody wrapped in a rough, white fur, with a white, rough cap on his head. The sledge drove twice round the square, and Kay bound his little sledge to it, and so he drove on with it. It went faster and faster, straight into the next street. The man who drove turned round and nodded in a familiar way to Kay; it was as if they knew one another. Each time when Kay wanted to cast loose his little sledge, the stranger nodded again, and then Kay remained where he was, and thus they drove out at the town gate. Then the snow began to fall so rapidly that the boy could not see a hand's breadth before him; but still he drove on. Now he hastily dropped the cord, so as to get loose from the great sledge; but that was no use, for his sledge was fast bound to the other, and they went on like the wind. Then he called out quite loudly, but nobody heard him; and the snow beat down, and the sledge flew onward. Every now and then it gave a jump, and they seemed to be flying over hedges and ditches. The boy was quite frightened. He wanted to say his prayer, but could remember nothing but the multiplication table.
The snowflakes became larger and larger; at last they looked like white fowls. All at once they sprang aside, the great sledge stopped, and the person who had driven it rose up. The fur and the cap were made altogether of ice. It was A LADY, tall and slender, and brilliantly white: it was the Snow Queen!
"We have driven well!" said she. "But why do you tremble with cold? Creep into my fur."
And she seated him beside her in her own sledge, and wrapped the fur round him, and he felt as if he sank into a snowdrift.
"Are you still cold?" asked she, and then she kissed him on the forehead.
Oh, that was colder than ice; it went quite through to his heart, half of which was already a lump of ice. He felt as if he were going to die, but only for a moment; for then he seemed quite well, and he did not notice the cold all about him.
"My sledge! Don't forget my sledge."
That was the first thing he thought of; and it was bound fast to one of the white chickens, and this chicken flew behind him with the sledge upon its back. The Snow Queen kissed Kay again, and then he had forgotten little Gerda, his grandmother, and all at home.
"Now you shall have no more kisses," said she, "for if you did I should kiss you to death."
Kay looked at her. She was so beautiful, he could not imagine a more sensible or lovely face; she did not appear to him to be made of ice
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