THERE was once a dreadfully wicked hobgoblin. One day he was in capital spirits because he had made a looking-glass which reflected everything that was good and beautiful in such a way that it dwindled almost to nothing, but anything that was bad and ugly stood out very clearly and looked much worse. The most beautiful landscapes looked like boiled spinach, and the best people looked repulsive or seemed to stand on their heads with no bodies; their faces were so changed that they could not be recognised, and if anyone had a freckle you might be sure it would be spread over the nose and mouth.
That was the best part of it, said the hobgoblin.
But one day the looking-glass was dropped, and it broke into a million-billion and more pieces.
And now came the greatest misfortune of all, for each of the pieces was hardly as large as a grain of sand and they flew about all over the world, and if anyone had a bit in his eye there it stayed, and then he would see everything awry, or else could only see the bad sides of a case. For every tiny splinter of the glass possessed the same power that the whole glass had.
Some people got a splinter in their hearts, and that was dreadful, for then it began to turn into a lump of ice.
The hobgoblin laughed till his sides ached, but still the tiny bits of glass flew about.
And now we will hear all about it.
In a large town, where there were so many people and houses that there was not room enough for everybody to have gardens, lived two poor children. They were not brother and sister, but they loved each other just as much as if they were. Their parents lived opposite one another in two attics, and out on the leads they had put two boxes filled with flowers. There were sweet peas in it, and two rose trees, which grow beautifully, and in summer the two children were allowed to take their little chairs and sit out under the roses. Then they had splendid games.
In the winter they could not do this, but then they put hot pennies against the frozen window-panes, and made round holes to look at each other through.
His name was Kay, and hers was Gerda.
Outside it was snowing fast.
‘Those are the white bees swarming,’ said the old grandmother.
‘Have they also a queen bee?’ asked the little boy, for he knew that the real bees have one.
‘To be sure,’ said the grandmother. ‘She flies wherever they swarm the thickest. She is larger than any of them, and never stays upon the earth, but flies again up into the black clouds. Often at midnight she flies through the streets, and peeps in at all the windows, and then they freeze in such pretty patterns and look like flowers.’
‘Yes, we have seen that,’ said both children; they knew that it was true.
‘Can the Snow-queen come in here?’ asked the little girl.
‘Just let her!’ cried the boy, ‘I would put her on the stove, and melt her!’
But the grandmother stroked his hair, and told some more stories.
In the evening, when little Kay was going to bed, he jumped on the chair by the window, and looked through the little hole. A few snow-flakes were falling outside, and one of the, the largest, lay on the edge of one of the window-boxes. The snow-flake grew larger and larger till it took the form of a maiden, dressed in finest white gauze.
She was so beautiful and dainty, but all of ice, hard bright ice.
Still she was alive; her eyes glittered like two clear stars, but there was no rest or peace in them. She nodded at the window, and beckoned with her hand. The little boy was frightened, and sprang down from the chair. It seemed as if a great white bird had flown past the window.
The next day there was a harder frost than before.
Then came the spring, then the summer, when the roses grew and smelt more beautifully than ever.
Kay and Gerda were looking at one of their picture-books--the clock in the great church-tower had just struck five, when Kay exclaimed, ‘Oh! something has stung my heart, and I’ve got something in my eye!’
The little girl threw her arms round his neck; he winked hard with both his eyes; no, she could see nothing in them.
‘I think it is gone now,’ said he; but it had not gone. It was one of the tiny splinters of the glass of the magic mirror which we have heard about, that turned everything great and good reflected in it small and ugly. And poor Kay had also a splinter in his heart, and it began to change into a lump of ice. It did not hurt him at all, but the splinter was there all the same.
‘Why are you crying?’ he asked; ‘it makes you look so ugly! There’s nothing the matter with me. Just look! that rose is all slug-eaten, and this one is stunted! What ugly roses they are!’
And he began to pull them to pieces.
‘Kay, what are you doing?’ cried the little girl.
And when he saw how frightened she was, he pulled off another rose, and ran in at his window away from dear little Gerda.
When she came later on with the picture book, he said that it was only fit for babies, and when his grandmother told them stories, he was always interrupting with, ‘But--’ and then he would get behind her and put on her spectacles, and speak just as she did. This he did very well, and everybody laughed. Very soon he could imitate the way all the people in the street walked and talked.
His games were now quite different. On a winter’s day he would take a burning glass and hold it out on his blue coat and let the snow-flakes fall on it.
‘Look in the glass, Gerda! Just see how regular they are! They are much more interesting than real flowers. Each is perfect; they are all made according to rule. If only they did not melt!’
One morning Kay came out with his warm gloves on, and his little sledge hung over his shoulder. He shouted to Gerda, ‘I am going to the market-place to play with the other boys,’ and away he went.
In the market-place the boldest boys used often to fasten their sledges to the carts of the farmers, and then they got a good ride.
When they were in the middle of their games there drove into the square a large sledge, all white, and in it sat a figure dressed in a rough white fur pelisse with a white fur cap on.
The sledge drove twice round the square, and Kay fastened his little sledge behind it and drove off. It went quicker and quicker into the next street. The driver turned round, and nodded to Kay ina friendly way as if they had known each other before. Every time that Kay tried to unfasten his sledge the driver nodded again, and Kay sat still once more. Then they drove out of the town, and the snow began to fall so thickly that the little boy could not see his hand before him, and on and on they went. He quickly unfastened the cord to get loose from the big sledge, but it was of no use; his little sledge hung on fast, and it went on like the wind.
Then he cried out, but nobody heard him. He was dreadfully frightened.
The snowflakes grew larger and larger till they looked like great white birds. All at once they flew aside, the large sledge stood still, and the figure who was driving stood up. The fur cloak and cap were all of snow. It was a lady, tall and slim, and glittering. It was the Snow-queen.
‘We have come at a good rate,’ she said; ‘but you are almost frozen. Creep in under my cloak.’
And she set him close to her in the sledge and drew the cloak over him. He felt as though he were sinking into a snow-drift.
‘Are you cold now?’ she asked, and kissed his forehead. The kiss was cold as ice and reached down to his heart, which was already half a lump of ice.
‘My sledge! Don’t forget my sledge!’ He thought of that first, and it was fastened to one of the great white birds who flew behind with the sledge on its back.
The Snow-queen kissed Kay again, and then he forgot all about little Gerda, his grandmother, and everybody at home.
‘Now I must not kiss you any more,’ she said, ‘or else I should kiss you to death.’
Then away they flew over forests and lakes, over sea and land. Round them whistled the cold wind, the wolves howled, and the snow hissed; over them flew the black shrieking crows. But high up the moon shone large and bright, and thus Kay passed the long winter night. In the day he slept at the Snow-queen’s feet.
But what happened to little Gerda when Kay did not come back?
What had become of him? Nobody knew. The other boys told how they had seen him fasten his sledge on to a large one which had driven out of the town gate.
Gerda cried a great deal. The winter was long and dark to her.
Then the spring came with warm sunshine. ‘I will go and look for Kay,’ said Gerda.
So she went down to the river and got into a little boat that was there. Presently the stream began to carry it away.
‘Perhaps the river will take me to Kay,’ thought Gerda. She glided down, past trees and fields, till she came to a large cherry garden, in which stood a little house with strange red and blue windows and a straw roof. Before the door stood two wooden soldiers, who were shouldering arms.
Gerda called to them, but they naturally did not answer. The river carried the boat on to the land.
Gerda called out still louder, and there came out of the house a very old woman. She leant upon a crutch, and she wore a large sun-hat which was painted with the most beautiful flowers.
‘You poor little girl!’ said the old woman.
And then she stepped into the water, brought the boat in close with her crutch, and lifted little Gerda out.
‘And now come and tell me who you are, and how you came here,’ she said.
Then Gerda told her everything, and asked her if she had seen Kay. But she said he had not passed that way yet, but he would soon come.
She told Gerda not to be sad, and that she should stay with her and take of the cherry trees and flowers, which were better than any picture-bok, as they could each tell a story.
She then took Gerda’s hand and led her into the little house and shut the door.
The windows were very high, and the panes were red, blue, and yellow, so that the light came through in curious colours. On the table were the most delicious cherries, and the old woman let Gerda eat as many as she liked, while she combed her hair with a gold comb as she ate.
The beautiful sunny hair rippled and shone round the dear little face, which was so soft and sweet. ‘I have always longed to have a dear little girl just like you, and you shall see how happy we will be together.’
And as she combed Gerda’s hair, Gerda thought less and less about Kay, for the old woman was a witch, but not a wicked witch, for she only enchanted now and then to amuse herself, and she did want to keep little Gerda very much.
So she went into the garden and waved her stick over all the rose bushes and blossoms and all; they sank down into the black earth, and no one could see where they had been.
The old woman was afraid that if Gerda saw the roses she would begin to think about her own, and then would remember Kay and run away.
Then she led Gerda out into the garden. How glorious it was, and what lovely scents filled the air! All the flowers you can think of blossomed there all the year round.
Gerda jumped for joy and played there till the sun set behind the tall cherry trees, and then she slept in a beautiful bed with red silk pillows filled with violets, and she slept soundly and dreamed as a queen does on her wedding day.
The next day she played again with the flowers in the warm sunshine, and so many days passed by. Gerda knew every flower, but although there were so many, it seemed to her as if one were not there, though she could not remember which.
She was looking one day at the old woman’s sun-hat which had hte painted flowers on it, and there she saw a rose.
The witch had forgotten to make that vanish when she had made the other roses disappear under the earth. it was so difficult to think of everything.
‘Why, there are no roses here!’ cried Gerda,, and she hunted amongst all the flowers, but not one was to be found. Then she sat down and cried, but her tears fell just on the spot where a rose bush had sunk, and when her warm tears watered the earth, the bush came up in full bloom just as it had been before. Gerda kissed the roses and thought of the lovely roses at home, and with them came the thought of little Kay.
‘Oh, what have I been doing!’ said the little girl. ‘I wanted to look for Kay.’
She ran to the end of the garden. The gate was shut, but she pushed against the rusty lock so that it came open.
She ran out with her little bare feet. No one came after her. At last she could not run any longer, and she sat down on a large stone. When she looked round she saw that the summer was over; it was late autumn. It had not changed in the beautiful garden, where were sunshine and flowers all the year round.
‘Oh, dear, how late I have made myself!’ said Gerda. ‘It’s autumn already! I cannot rest!’ And she sprang up to run on.
Oh, how tired and sore her little feet grew, and it became colder and colder.
She had to rest again, and there on the snow in front of her was a large crow.
It had been looking at her for some time, and it nodded its head and said, ‘Caw! caw! good day.’ Then it asked the little girl why she was alone in the world. She told the crow her story, and asked if he had seen Kay.
The crow nodded very thoughtfully and said, ‘It might be! It might be!’
‘What! Do you think you have?’ cried the little girl, and she almost squeezed the crow to death as she kissed him.
‘Gently, gently!’ said the crow. ‘I think--I know I think--it might be little Kay, but now he has forgotten you for the princess!’
‘Does he live with a princess?’ asked Gerda.
‘Yes, listen,’ said the crow.
Then he told her all he knew.
‘In the kingdom in which we are now sitting lives a princess who is dreadfully clever. She has read all the newspapers in the world and has forgotten them again. She is as clever as that. The other day she came to the throne, and that is not so pleasant as people think. Then she began to say, “Why should I not marry?” But she wanted a husband who could answer when he was spoken to, not one who would stand up stiffly and look respectable--that would be too dull.
‘When she told all the Court ladies, they were delighted. You can believe every word I say,’ said the crow, ‘I have a tame sweetheart in the palace, and she tells me everything.’
Of course his sweetheart was a crow.
‘The newspapers came out next morning with a border of hearts round it, and the princess’s monogram on it, and inside you could read that every good-looking young man might come into the palace and speak to the princess, and whoever should speak loud enough to be heard would be well fed and looked after, and the one who spoke best should become the princess’s husband. Indeed,’ said the crow, ‘you can quite believe me. It is as true as that I am sitting here.
‘Young men came in streams, and there was such a crowding and a mixing together! But nothing came of it on the first nor on the second day. They could all speak quite well when they were in the street, but as soon as they came inside the palace door, and saw the guards in silver, and upstairs the footmen in gold, and the great hall all lighted up, then their wits left them! And when they stood in front of the throne where the princess was sitting, then they could not think of anything to say except to repeat the last word she had spoken, and she did not much care to hear that again. It seemed as if they were walking in their sleep until they came out into the street again, when they could speak once more. There was a row stretching from the gate of the town up to the castle.
‘They were hungry and thirsty, but in the palace they did not even get a glass of water.
‘A few of the cleverest had brought some slices of bread and butter with them, but they did not share them with their neighbour, for they thought, “If he looks hungry, the princess will not take him!”’
‘But what about Kay?’ asked Gerda. ‘When did he come? Was he in the crowd?’
‘Wait a bit; we are coming to him! On the third day a little figure came without horse or carriage and walked jauntily up to the palace. His eyes shone as yours do; he had lovely curling hair, but quite poor clothes.’
‘That was Kay!’ cried Gerda with delight. ‘Oh, then I have found him!’ and she clapped her hands.
‘He had a little bundle on his back,’ said the crow.
‘No, it must have been his skates, for he went away with his skates!’
‘Very likely,’ said the crow, ‘I did not see for certain. But I know this from my sweetheart, that when he came to the palace door and saw the royal guards in silver, and on the stairs the footmen in gold, he was not the least bit put out. He nodded to them, saying, “It must be rather dull standing on the stairs; I would rather go inside!”
‘The halls blazed with lights; councillors and ambassadors were walking about in noiseless shoes carrying gold dishes. It was enough to make one nervous! His boots creaked dreadfully loud, but he was not frightened.’
‘That must be Kay!’ said Gerda. ‘I know he had new boots on; I have heard them creaking in his grandmother’s room!’
‘They did creak, certainly!’ said the crow. ‘And, not one bit afraid, up he went to the princess, who was sitting on a large pearl as round as a spinning wheel. All the ladies-in-waiting were standing round, each with their attendants, and the lords-in-waiting with their attendants. The nearer they stood to the door the prouder they were.’
‘It must have been dreadful!’ said little Gerda. ‘And Kay did win the princess?’
‘I heard from my tame sweetheart that he was merry and quick-witted; he had not come to woo, he said, but to listen to the princess’s wisdom. And the end of it was that they fell in love with each other.’
‘Oh, yes; that was Kay!’ said Gerda. ‘He was so clever; he could do sums with fractions. Oh, do lead me to the palace!’
‘That’s easily said!’ answered the crow, ‘but how are we to manage that? I must talk it over with my tame sweetheart. She may be able to advise us, for I must tell you that a little girl like you could never get permission to enter it.’
‘Yes, I will get it!’ said Gerda. ‘When Kay hears that I am there he will come out at once and fetch me!’
‘Wait for me by the railings,’ said the crow, and he nodded his head and flew away.
It was late in the evening when he came back.
‘Caw, caw!’ he said, ‘I am to give you her love, and here is a little roll for you. She took it out of the kitchen; there’s plenty there, and you must be hungry. You cannot come into the palace. The guards in silver and the footmen in gold would not allow it. But don’t cry! You shall get in all right. My sweetheart knows a little back-stairs which leads to the sleeping-room, and she knows where to find the key.’
They went into the garden, and when the lights in the palace were put out one after the other, the crow led Gerda to a back-door.
Oh, how Gerda’s heart beat with anxiety and longing! It seemed as if she were going to do something wrong, but she only wanted to know if it were little Kay. Yes, it must be he! She remembered so well his clever eyes, his curly hair. She could see him smiling as he did when they were at home under the rose trees! He would be so pleased to see her, and to hear how they all were at home.
Now they were on the stairs; a little lamp was burning, and on the landing stood the tame crow. She put her head on one side and looked at Gerda, who bowed as her grandmother had taught her.
‘My betrothed has told me many nice things about you, my dear young lady,’ she said. ‘Will you take the lamp while I go in front? We go this way so as to meet no one.’
Through beautiful rooms they came to the sleeping-room. In the middle of it, hung on a thick rod of gold, were two beds, shaped like lilies, one all white, in which lay the princess, and the other red, in which Gerda hoped to find Kay. She pushed aside the curtain, and saw a brown neck. Oh, it was Kay! She called his name out loud, holding the lamp towards him.
He woke up, turned his head and--it was not Kay!
It was only his neck that was like Kay’s, but he was young and handsome. The princess sat up in her lily-bed and asked who was there.
Then Gerda cried, and told her story and all that the crows had done.
‘You poor child!’ said the prince and princess, and they praised the crows, and said that they were not angry with them, but that they must not do it again. Now they should have a reward.
‘Would you like to fly away free?’ said the princess, ‘or will you have a permanent place as court crows with what you can get in the kitchen?’
And both crows bowed and asked for a permanent appointment, for they thought of their old age.
And they put Gerda to bed, and she folded her hands, thinking, as she fell asleep, ‘How good people and animals are to me!’
The next day she was dressed from head to foot in silk and satin. They wanted her to stay on in the palace, but she begged for a little carriage and a horse, and a pair of shoes so that she might go out again into the world to look for Kay.
They gave her a muff as well as some shoes; she was warmly dressed, and when she was ready, there in front of the door stood a coach of pure gold, with a coachman, footmen and postilions with gold crowns on.
The prince and princess helped her into the carriage and wished her good luck.
The wild crow who was now married drove with her for the first three miles; the other crow could not come because she had a bad headache.
‘Good-bye, good-bye!’ called the prince and princess; and little Gerda cried, and the crow cried.
When he said good-bye, he flew on to a tree and waved with his black wings as long as the carriage, which shone like the sun, was in sight.
They came at last to a dark wood, but the coach lit it up like a torch. When the robbers saw it, they rushed out, exclaiming, ‘Gold! gold!’
They seized the horses, killed the coachman, footmen and postilions, and dragged Gerda out of the carriage.
‘She is plump and tender! I will eat her!’ said the old robber-queen, and she drew her long knife, which glittered horribly.
‘You shall not kill her!’ cried her little daughter. ‘She shall play with me. She shall give me her muff and her beautiful dress, and she shall sleep in my bed.’
The little robber-girl was as big as Gerda, but was stronger, broader, with dark hair and black eyes. She threw her arms round Gerda and said, ‘They shall not kill you, so long as you are not naughty. Aren’t you a princess?’
‘No,’ said Gerda, and she told all that had happened to her, and how dearly she loved little Kay.
The robber-girl looked at her very seriously, and nodded her head, saying, ‘They shall not kill you, even if you are naughty, for then I will kill you myself!’
And she dried Gerda’s eyes, and stuck both her hands in the beautiful warm muff.
The little robber-girl took Gerda to a corner of the robbers’ camp where she slept.
All round were more than a hundred wood-pigeons which seemed to be asleep, but they moved a little when the two girls came up.
There was also, near by, a reindeer which the robber-girl teased by tickling it with her long sharp knife.
Gerda lay awake for some time.
‘Coo, coo!’ said the wood-pigeons. ‘We have seen little Kay. A white bird carried his sledge; he was sitting in the Snow-queen’s carriage which drove over the forest when our little ones were in the nest. She breathed on them, and all except we two died. Coo, coo!’
‘What are you saying over there?’ cried Gerda. ‘Where was the Snow-queen going to? Do you know at all?’
‘She was probably travelling to Lapland, where there is always ice and snow. Ask the reindeer.’
‘There is capital ice and snow there!’ said the reindeer. ‘One can jump about there in the great sparkling valleys. There the Snow-queen has her summer palace, but her best palace is up by the North Pole, on the island called Spitzbergen.’
‘O Kay, my little Kay!’ sobbed Gerda.
‘You must lie still,’ said the little robber-girl, ‘or else I shall stick my knife into you!’
In the morning Gerda told her all that the wood-pigeons had said. She nodded. ‘Do you know where Lapland is?’ she asked the reindeer.
‘Who should know better than I?’ said the beast, and his eyes sparkled. ‘I was born and bred there on the snow-fields.’
‘Listen!’ said the robber-girl to Gerda; ‘you see that all the robbers have gone; only my mother is left, and she will fall asleep in the afternoon--then I will do something for you!’
When her mother had fallen asleep, the robber-girl went up to the reindeer and said, ‘I am going to set you free so that you can run to Lapland. But you must go quickly and carry this little girl to the Snow-queen’s palace, where her playfellow is. You must have heard all that she told about it, for she spoke loud enough!’
The reindeer sprang high for joy. The robber-girl lifted little Gerda up, and had the foresight to tie her on firmly, and even gave her a little pillow for a saddle. ‘You must have your fur boots,’ she said, ‘for it will be cold; but I shall keep your muff, for it is so cosy! But, so that you may not freeze, here are my mother’s great fur gloves; they will come up to your elbows. Creep into them!’
And Gerda cried for joy.
‘Don’t make such faces!’ said the little robber-girl. ‘You must look very happy. And here are two loaves and a sausage; now you won’t be hungry!’
They were tied to the reindeer, the little robber-girl opened the door, made all the big dogs come away, cut through the halter with her sharp knife, and said to the reindeer, ‘Run now! But take great care of the little girl.’
And Gerda stretched out her hands with the large fur gloves towards the little robber-girl and said, ‘Good-bye!’
Then the reindeer flew over the ground, through the great forest, as fast as he could.
The wolves howled, the ravens screamed, the sky seemed on fire.
‘Those are my dear old northern lights,’ said the reindeer; ‘see how they shine!’
And then he ran faster still, day and night.
The loaves were eaten, and the sausage also, and then they came to Lapland.
They stopped by a wretched little house; the roof almost touched the ground, and the door was so low that you had to creep in and out.
There was no one in the house except an old Lapland woman who was cooking fish over an oil-lamp. The reindeer told Gerda’s whole history, but first he told his own, for that seemed to him much more important, and Gerda was so cold that she could not speak.
‘Ah, you poor creatures!’ said the Lapland woman; ‘you have still further to go! You must go over a hundred miles into Finland, for there the Snow-queen lives, and every night she burns Bengal lights. I will write some words on a dried stock-fish, for I have no paper, and you must give it to the Finland woman, for she can give you better advice than I can.’
And when Gerda was warmed and had had something to eat and drink, the Lapland woman wrote on a dried stock-fish, and begged Gerda to take care of it, tied Gerda securely on the reindeer’s back, and away they went again.
The whole night was ablaze with northern lights, and then they came to Finland and knocked at the Finland woman’s chimney, for door she had none.
Inside it was so hot that the Finland woman wore very few clothes; she loosened Gerda’s clothes and drew off her fur gloves and boots. She laid a piece of ice on the reindeer’s head, and then read what was written on the stock-fish. She read it over three times till she knew it by heart, and then put the fish in the saucepan, for she never wasted anything.
Then the reindeer told his story, and afterwards little Gerda’s and the Finland woman blinked her eyes but said nothing.
‘You are very clever,’ said the reindeer. ‘I know. Cannot you give the little girl a drink so that she may have the strength of twelve men and overcome the Snow-queen?’
‘The strength of twelve men!’ said the Finland woman; ‘that would not help much. Little Kay is with the Snow-queen and he likes everything there very much and thinks it the best place in the world. But that is because he has a splinter of glass in his heart and a bit in his eye. If these do not come out, he will never be free, and the Snow-queen will keep her power over him.’
‘But cannot you give little Gerda something so that she can have power over her?’
‘I can give her no greater power than she has already; don’t you see how great it is? Don’t you see how men and beasts must help her when she wanders into the wide world with her bare feet? She is powerful already, because she is a dear little innocent child. If she cannot by herself conquer the Snow-queen and take away the glass splinters from little Kay, we cannot help her! The Snow-queen’s garden begins two miles from here. You can carry the little maiden so far; put her down by the large bush with red berries growing in the snow. Then you must come back here as fast as you can.’
Then the Finland woman lifted little Gerda on the reindeer and away he sped.
‘Oh, I have left my gloves and boots behind!’ cried Gerda. She missed them in the piercing cold, but the reindeer did not dare to stop. On he ran till he came to the bush with red berries. Then he set Gerda down and kissed her mouth, and great big tears ran down his cheeks, and then he ran back. There stood poor Gerda, without shoes or gloves in the middle of the bitter cold of Finland.
She ran on as fast as she could. A regiment of gigantic snowflakes came against her, but they melted when they touched her, and she went on with fresh courage.
And now we must see what Kay was doing. He was not thinking of Gerda, and never dreamt that she was standing outside the palace.
The walls of the palace were built of driven snow, and the doors and windows of piercing winds. There were more than a hundred halls in it all of frozen snow. The largest was several miles long; the bright Northern lights lit them up, and very large and empty and cold and glittering they were! In the middle of the great hall was a frozen lake which had cracked in a thousand pieces; each piece was exactly like the other. Here the Snow-queen used to sit when she was at home.
Little Kay was almost blue and black with cold, but he did not feel it, for she had kissed away his feelings and his heart was a lump of ice.
He was pulling about some sharp, flat pieces of ice, and trying to fit one into the other. He thought each was most beautiful, but that was because of the splinter of glass in his eye. He fitted them into a great many shapes, but he wanted to make them spell the word ‘Love.’ The Snow-queen had said, ‘If you can spell out that word you shalt be your own master. I will give you the whole world and a new pair of skates.’
But he could not do it.
‘Now I must fly to warmer countries,’ said the Snow-queen. ‘I must go and powder my black kettles!’ (This was what she called Mount Etna and Mount Vesuvius.) ‘It does the lemons and grapes good.’
And off she flew, and Kay sat alone in the great hall trying to do his puzzle.
He sat so still that you would have thought he was frozen.
Then it happened that little Gerda stepped into the hall. The biting cold winds became quiet as if they had fallen asleep when she appeared in the great, empty, freezing hall.
She caught sight of Kay; she recognised him, and ran and put her arms round his neck, crying, ‘Kay! dear little Kay! I have found you at last!’
But he sat quite still and cold. Then Gerda wept hot tears which fell on his neck and thawed his heart and swept away the bit of the looking-glass. He looked at her and then he burst into tears. He cried so much that the glass splinter swam out of his eye; then he knew her, and cried out, ‘Gerda! dear little Gerda! Where have you been so long? and where have I been?’
And he looked round him.
‘How cold it is here! How wide and empty!’ and he threw himself on Gerda, and she laughed and wept for joy. It was such a happy time that the pieces of ice even danced round them for joy, and when they were tired and lay down again they formed themselves into the letters that the Snow-queen had said he must spell in order to become his own master and have the whole world and a new pair of skates.
And Gerda kissed his cheeks and they grew rosy; she kissed his eyes and they sparkled like hers; she kissed his hands and feet and he became warm and glowing. The Snow-queen might come home now; his release--the word ‘Love’--stood written in sparkling ice.
They took each other’s hands and wandered out of the great palace; they talked about the grandmother and the roses on the leads, wherever they came the winds hushed and the sun came out. When they reached the bush with red berries there stood the reindeer waiting for them.
He carried Kay and Gerda first to the Finland woman, who warmed them in her hot room and gave them advice for their journey home.
Then they went to the Lapland woman, who gave them new clothes and mended their sleigh. The reindeer ran with them until they came to the green fields fresh with the spring green. Here he said good-bye.
They came to the forest, which was bursting into bud, and out of it came a splendid horse which Gerda knew; it was the one which had drawn the gold coach ridden by a young girl with a red cap on and pistols in her belt. It was the little robber girl who was tired of being at home and wanted to go out into the world. She and Gerda knew each other at once.
‘You are a nice fellow!’ she said to Kay. ‘I should like to know if you deserve to be run all over the world!’
But Gerda patted her cheeks and asked after the prince and princess.
‘They are travelling about,’ said the robber girl.
‘And the crow?’ asked Gerda.
‘Oh, the crow is dead!’ answered the robber-girl. ‘His tame sweetheart is a widow and hops about with a bit of black crape round her leg. She makes a great fuss, but that’s all nonsense. But tell me what happened to you, and how you caught him.’
And Kay and Gerda told her all.
‘Dear, dear!’ said the robber-girl, shook both their hands, and promised that if she came to their town she would come and see them. Then she rode on.
But Gerda and Kay went home hand in hand. There they found the grandmother and everything just as it had been, but when they went through the doorway they found they were grown-up.
There were the roses on the leads; it was summer, warm, glorious summer.