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Snowdrop

It was the middle of winter, when the broad flakes of snow werefalling around, that the queen of a country many thousand...

Snowdrop

It was the middle of winter, when the broad flakes of snow werefalling around, that the queen of a country many thousand miles off satworking at her window. The frame of the window was made of fine blackebony, and as she sat looking out upon the snow, she pricked herfinger, and three drops of blood fell upon it. Then she gazedthoughtfully upon the red drops that sprinkled the white snow, and said,«Would that my little daughter may be as white as that snow, as red asthat blood, and as black as this ebony windowframe!» And so the littlegirl really did grow up; her skin was as white as snow, her cheeks asrosy as the blood, and her hair as black as ebony; and she was calledSnowdrop.

But this queen died; and the king soon married another wife, whobecame queen, and was very beautiful, but so vain that she could notbear to think that anyone could be handsomer than she was. Shehad a fairy looking-glass, to which she used to go, and then shewould gaze upon herself in it, and say:

«Tell me, glass, tell me true! Of all the ladies in the land, Who is fairest, tell me, who?»

And the glass had always answered:

«Thou, queen, art the fairest in all the land.»

But Snowdrop grew more and more beautiful; and when she was sevenyears old she was as bright as the day, and fairer than the queenherself. Then the glass one day answered the queen, when she wentto look in it as usual:

«Thou, queen, art fair, and beauteous to see, But Snowdrop is lovelier far than thee!»

When she heard this she turned pale with rage and envy, and called toone of her servants, and said, «Take Snowdrop away into the wide wood,that I may never see her any more.» Then the servant led her away; buthis heart melted when Snowdrop begged him to spare her life, and hesaid, «I will not hurt you, thou pretty child.» So he left her byherself; and though he thought it most likely that the wild beastswould tear her in pieces, he felt as if a great weight were taken offhis heart when he had made up his mind not to kill her but to leaveher to her fate, with the chance of someone finding and saving her.

Then poor Snowdrop wandered along through the wood in great fear; andthe wild beasts roared about her, but none did her any harm. In theevening she came to a cottage among the hills, and went in to rest, forher little feet would carry her no further. Everything was spruce andneat in the cottage: on the table was spread a white cloth, andthere were seven little plates, seven little loaves, and seven littleglasses with wine in them; and seven knives and forks laid in order;and by the wall stood seven little beds. As she was very hungry, shepicked a little piece of each loaf and drank a very little wine out ofeach glass; and after that she thought she would lie down and rest. Soshe tried all the little beds; but one was too long, and another was tooshort, till at last the seventh suited her: and there she laid herselfdown and went to sleep.

By and by in came the masters of the cottage. Now they were sevenlittle dwarfs, that lived among the mountains, and dug and searchedfor gold. They lighted up their seven lamps, and saw at once that allwas not right. The first said, «Who has been sitting on my stool?» Thesecond, «Who has been eating off my plate?» The third, «Who has beenpicking my bread?» The fourth, «Who has been meddling with my spoon?’The fifth, «Who has been handling my fork?» The sixth, «Who has beencutting with my knife?» The seventh, «Who has been drinking my wine?’Then the first looked round and said, «Who has been lying on my bed?’And the rest came running to him, and everyone cried out thatsomebody had been upon his bed. But the seventh saw Snowdrop, andcalled all his brethren to come and see her; and they cried out withwonder and astonishment and brought their lamps to look at her, andsaid, «Good heavens! what a lovely child she is!» And they were veryglad to see her, and took care not to wake her; and the seventhdwarf slept an hour with each of the other dwarfs in turn, till thenight was gone.

In the morning Snowdrop told them all her story; and they pitied her,and said if she would keep all things in order, and cook and wash andknit and spin for them, she might stay where she was, and they wouldtake good care of her. Then they went out all day long to their work,seeking for gold and silver in the mountains: but Snowdrop was leftat home; and they warned her, and said, «The queen will soon find outwhere you are, so take care and let no one in.»

But the queen, now that she thought Snowdrop was dead, believed thatshe must be the handsomest lady in the land; and she went to herglass and said:

«Tell me, glass, tell me true! Of all the ladies in the land, Who is fairest, tell me, who?»

And the glass answered:

«Thou, queen, art the fairest in all this land: But over the hills, in the greenwood shade, Where the seven dwarfs their dwelling have made, There Snowdrop is hiding her head; and she Is lovelier far, O queen! than thee.»

Then the queen was very much frightened; for she knew that theglass always spoke the truth, and was sure that the servant hadbetrayed her. And she could not bear to think that anyone lived whowas more beautiful than she was; so she dressed herself up as an oldpedlar, and went her way over the hills, to the place where the dwarfsdwelt. Then she knocked at the door, and cried, «Fine wares to sell!’Snowdrop looked out at the window, and said, «Good day, good woman!what have you to sell?» «Good wares, fine wares,» said she; «laces andbobbins of all colours.» «I will let the old lady in; she seems to bea very good sort of body,» thought Snowdrop, as she ran down andunbolted the door. «Bless me!» said the old woman, «how badly yourstays are laced! Let me lace them up with one of my nice new laces.’Snowdrop did not dream of any mischief; so she stood before the oldwoman; but she set to work so nimbly, and pulled the lace so tight,that Snowdrop’s breath was stopped, and she fell down as if she weredead. «There’s an end to all thy beauty,» said the spiteful queen,and went away home.

In the evening the seven dwarfs came home; and I need not say howgrieved they were to see their faithful Snowdrop stretched out upon theground, as if she was quite dead. However, they lifted her up, andwhen they found what ailed her, they cut the lace; and in a littletime she began to breathe, and very soon came to life again. Then theysaid, «The old woman was the queen herself; take care another time,and let no one in when we are away.»

When the queen got home, she went straight to her glass, and spoke toit as before; but to her great grief it still said:

«Thou, queen, art the fairest in all this land: But over the hills, in the greenwood shade, Where the seven dwarfs their dwelling have made, There Snowdrop is hiding her head; and she Is lovelier far, O queen! than thee.»

Then the blood ran cold in her heart with spite and malice, to seethat Snowdrop still lived; and she dressed herself up again, but inquite another dress from the one she wore before, and took with her apoisoned comb. When she reached the dwarfs» cottage, she knocked at thedoor, and cried, «Fine wares to sell!» But Snowdrop said, «I darenot let anyone in.» Then the queen said, «Only look at my beautifulcombs!» and gave her the poisoned one. And it looked so pretty, thatshe took it up and put it into her hair to try it; but the moment ittouched her head, the poison was so powerful that she fell downsenseless. «There you may lie,» said the queen, and went her way.But by good luck the dwarfs came in very early that evening; and whenthey saw Snowdrop lying on the ground, they thought what had happened,and soon found the poisoned comb. And when they took it away she gotwell, and told them all that had passed; and they warned her oncemore not to open the door to anyone.

Meantime the queen went home to her glass, and shook with rage whenshe read the very same answer as before; and she said, «Snowdrop shalldie, if it cost me my life.» So she went by herself into herchamber, and got ready a poisoned apple: the outside looked very rosyand tempting, but whoever tasted it was sure to die. Then shedressed herself up as a peasant’s wife, and travelled over the hillsto the dwarfs» cottage, and knocked at the door; but Snowdrop put herhead out of the window and said, «I dare not let anyone in, for thedwarfs have told me not.» «Do as you please,» said the old woman,«but at any rate take this pretty apple; I will give it you.» «No,’said Snowdrop, «I dare not take it.» «You silly girl!» answered theother, «what are you afraid of? Do you think it is poisoned? Come!do you eat one part, and I will eat the other.» Now the apple was somade up that one side was good, though the other side was poisoned.Then Snowdrop was much tempted to taste, for the apple looked so verynice; and when she saw the old woman eat, she could wait no longer.But she had scarcely put the piece into her mouth, when she fell downdead upon the ground. «This time nothing will save thee,» said thequeen; and she went home to her glass, and at last it said:

«Thou, queen, art the fairest of all the fair.»

And then her wicked heart was glad, and as happy as such a heart couldbe.

When evening came, and the dwarfs had gone home, they found Snowdroplying on the ground: no breath came from her lips, and they were afraidthat she was quite dead. They lifted her up, and combed her hair, andwashed her face with wine and water; but all was in vain, for thelittle girl seemed quite dead. So they laid her down upon a bier, andall seven watched and bewailed her three whole days; and then theythought they would bury her: but her cheeks were still rosy; and herface looked just as it did while she was alive; so they said, «We willnever bury her in the cold ground.» And they made a coffin of glass, sothat they might still look at her, and wrote upon it in golden letterswhat her name was, and that she was a king’s daughter. And the coffinwas set among the hills, and one of the dwarfs always sat by it andwatched. And the birds of the air came too, and bemoaned Snowdrop; andfirst of all came an owl, and then a raven, and at last a dove, and satby her side.

And thus Snowdrop lay for a long, long time, and still only lookedas though she was asleep; for she was even now as white as snow, and asred as blood, and as black as ebony. At last a prince came and calledat the dwarfs» house; and he saw Snowdrop, and read what was writtenin golden letters. Then he offered the dwarfs money, and prayed andbesought them to let him take her away; but they said, «We will notpart with her for all the gold in the world.» At last, however, theyhad pity on him, and gave him the coffin; but the moment he lifted itup to carry it home with him, the piece of apple fell from betweenher lips, and Snowdrop awoke, and said, «Where am I?» And the princesaid, «Thou art quite safe with me.»

Then he told her all that had happened, and said, «I love you farbetter than all the world; so come with me to my father’s palace, andyou shall be my wife.» And Snowdrop consented, and went home with theprince; and everything was got ready with great pomp and splendour fortheir wedding.

To the feast was asked, among the rest, Snowdrop’s old enemy thequeen; and as she was dressing herself in fine rich clothes, shelooked in the glass and said:

«Tell me, glass, tell me true! Of all the ladies in the land, Who is fairest, tell me, who?»

And the glass answered:

«Thou, lady, art loveliest here, I ween; But lovelier far is the new-made queen.»

When she heard this she started with rage; but her envy and curiositywere so great, that she could not help setting out to see the bride.And when she got there, and saw that it was no other than Snowdrop,who, as she thought, had been dead a long while, she choked with rage,and fell down and died: but Snowdrop and the prince lived and reignedhappily over that land many, many years; and sometimes they went upinto the mountains, and paid a visit to the little dwarfs, who had beenso kind to Snowdrop in her time of need.

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