THERE was once upon a time a peasant named Ivan, who had a wife named Mary. They had been married many years, and loved one another, but they had no children, and this caused them so much sorrow that they could find no pleasure but in watching the children of their neighbours. What could they do? Heaven had willed it so. Things in this world do not go as we wish, but as Heaven ordains.
One day, in the winter, the children played about in the road and the two old folk looked on, sitting in the window seat. At last the children began to make a beautiful snow figure. Ivan and Mary looked on enjoying it.
All of a sudden Ivan said—
“Wife, suppose we make a snow figure?”
Mary was ready.
“Why not?” said she; “we might as well amuse ourselves a little. But what is the use of making a big figure? Better make a snow-child, since God has not given us a living one.”
“You are right,” said Ivan, and he took his hat and went out into the garden with his wife.
So they set to work to make a snow-child. They fashioned a little body, little hands, and little feet, and when all that was done they rolled a snow-ball and shaped it into a head.
“Heaven bless you!” cried a passer-by.
“Thanks,” replied Ivan.
“The help of Heaven is always good,” said Mary.
“What are you doing?” asked the stranger.
“Look,” said Ivan.
“We are making a snow-girl,” said Mary.
On the ball of snow which stood for a head they made the nose and the chin. Then they put two little holes for the eyes. As Ivan finished the work, oh, wonderful! the figure became alive! He felt a warm breath come from its lips. Ivan drew back, and looked. The child had sparkling eyes, and there was a smile upon its lips.
“Heavens! what is this?” cried Ivan, making the sign of the cross.
The snow figure bent its head as if it was alive, and stirred its little arms and legs in the snow as if it was a real child.
“Ivan! Ivan!” cried Mary, trembling with joy, “Heaven has heard our prayers,” and she threw herself on the child and covered her with kisses. The snow fell away from the little girl like the shell from a chicken.
“Ah, my dear Snyegurka!” cried Mary, embracing the long wished for and unexpected child, and she carried her off into the cottage.
Ivan had much to do to recover himself, he was so surprised, and Mary was foolish with joy.
Snyegurka grew hour by hour, and became more and more beautiful. Ivan and Mary were overjoyed, and their hut was full of life and merriment. The village girls were always there playing with Snyegurka, dressing her, chattering with her, singing songs to her, teaching her all they knew. Snyegurka was very clever; she noticed everything, and learnt things quickly. During that winter she grew as big as a three-year-old child. She understood things, and when she spoke her voice was so sweet that one could have listened to it for ever. She was amiable, obedient, and affectionate. Her skin was white, her hair the colour of flax, and her eyes deep blue; her cheeks, however, had no rosy flush in them, for she had no blood, but she was so good and so amiable that every one loved her.
“You see,” said Mary, “what joy has Heaven given us in our old age.”
“Heaven be thanked,” responded Ivan.
At last the winter was ended, and the spring sun shone down and warmed the earth. The snow melted, the green grass sprang up in the fields, and the lark sang high up in the sky. The village girls went singing—
“Sweet spring, how did you come to us?
How did you come?
Did you come on a plough, or on a harrow?”
Snyegurka, however, became very sad. “What is the matter with you, my dear child?” said Mary, drawing her to her and caressing her. “Are you not well? You are not merry. Has an evil eye glanced on you?”
“No,” answered Snyegurka; “it is nothing, mother. I am quite well.”
The last snow of the winter had melted and disappeared. Flowers sprang up in all the gardens and fields. In the woods the nightingale and all the birds sang, and all the world seemed very happy save Snyegurka, who became more and more sad. She would run away from her companions, and hide herself from the sun in dark nooks, like a timid flower under the trees. She liked nothing save playing by the water-side under the green willows. She seemed to enjoy only the cool and the shower. At night-time she was happy; and when a good storm occurred, a fierce hail-storm, she was as pleased with the drops as if they had been pearls. When the sun broke forth again—when the hail was melted—then Snyegurka began to weep bitterly.
The spring was ended, the summer came, and the feast of Saint John was at hand. The girls were going to play in the woods, and they called for Snyegurka to go with them.
Mary was afraid to let her go, but she thought that the outing might do her child good, so she got her ready, embraced her, and said—
“Go, my child, and play with your friends; and you, my daughters, look well after her. You know I love her better than the apple of my eye.”
“All right,” cried they all, and they ran off in a body to the woods.
There they plucked the wild-flowers, made themselves wreaths, and sang songs.
When the sun was setting they made a fire of dry grass and placed themselves in a row by it, each of them having a crown of flowers on her head. “Look at us,” said they to Snyegurka, “how we run, and follow us,” and then they began to sing and to jump, around and over the little fire.
All of a sudden they heard, behind them, a sigh—
They looked about them, and then at one another. There was nothing to be seen. They looked again, and found that Snyegurka was no longer among them.
“She has hidden herself,” cried they. Then they looked for her, but could not find her, calling out and shouting her name, but there was no answer.
“Where can she be? She must have gone home,” said they.
They ran back to the village, but there no one had seen Snyegurka. All the folk searched during the next day and the day following. They went through all the woods, they looked through every thicket, but no trace of the child was discovered.
Ivan and Mary were inconsolable, and for a long time did the poor mother seek her child in the woods, crying—
“Snyegurka, my sweet, come to me.”
Sometimes she thought she could hear the voice of her child replying to her; but no, it was not Snyegurka.
“What could have become of her?” folk asked one another; “can a wild beast have carried her off into the woods? Has some bird of prey flown off with her?”
No beast had carried her off, nor had a bird flown away with her. When she began to run with her companions she suddenly changed into a light vapour, and was carried up to heaven.