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ABOUT A LITTLE BOY AND A LITTLE GIRL

from Hans Andersen






Many a winter's night she flies through the streets and
peeps in at the windows, and then the ice freezes on the panes into
wonderful patterns like flowers





In a big town crowded with houses and people, where there is no room for
gardens, people have to be content with flowers in pots instead. In one
of these towns lived two children who managed to have something bigger
than a flower pot for a garden. They were not brother and sister, but
they were just as fond of each other as if they had been. Their parents
lived opposite each other in two attic rooms. The roof of one house just
touched the roof of the next one, with only a rain-water gutter between
them. They each had a little dormer window, and one only had to step
over the gutter to get from one house to the other. Each of the parents
had a large window-box, in which they grew pot herbs and a little
rose-tree. There was one in each box, and they both grew splendidly.
Then it occurred to the parents to put the boxes across the gutter, from
house to house, and they looked just like two banks of flowers. The pea
vines hung down over the edges of the boxes, and the roses threw out
long creepers which twined round the windows. It was almost like a green
triumphal arch. The boxes were high, and the children knew they must not
climb up on to them, but they were often allowed to have their little
stools out under the rose-trees, and there they had delightful games. Of
course in the winter there was an end to these amusements. The windows
were often covered with hoar-frost; then they would warm coppers on the
stove and stick them on the frozen panes, where they made lovely
peep-holes, as round as possible. Then a bright eye would peep through
these holes, one from each window. The little boy's name was Kay, and
the little girl's Gerda.

In the summer they could reach each other with one bound, but in the
winter they had to go down all the stairs in one house and up all the
stairs in the other, and outside there were snowdrifts.

'Look! the white bees are swarming,' said the old grandmother.

'Have they a queen bee, too?' asked the little boy, for he knew that
there was a queen among the real bees.

'Yes, indeed they have,' said the grandmother. 'She flies where the
swarm is thickest. She is biggest of them all, and she never remains on
the ground. She always flies up again to the sky. Many a winter's night
she flies through the streets and peeps in at the windows, and then the
ice freezes on the panes into wonderful patterns like flowers.'

'Oh yes, we have seen that,' said both children, and then they knew
it was true.

'Can the Snow Queen come in here?' asked the little girl.

'Just let her come,' said the boy, 'and I will put her on the stove,
where she will melt.'

But the grandmother smoothed his hair and told him more stories.

In the evening when little Kay was at home and half undressed, he crept
up on to the chair by the window, and peeped out of the little hole. A
few snow-flakes were falling, and one of these, the biggest, remained on
the edge of the window-box. It grew bigger and bigger, till it became
the figure of a woman, dressed in the finest white gauze, which appeared
to be made of millions of starry flakes. She was delicately lovely, but
all ice, glittering, dazzling ice. Still she was alive, her eyes shone
like two bright stars, but there was no rest or peace in them. She
nodded to the window and waved her hand. The little boy was frightened
and jumped down off the chair, and then he fancied that a big bird flew
past the window.

The next day was bright and frosty, and then came the thaw--and after
that the spring. The sun shone, green buds began to appear, the swallows
built their nests, and people began to open their windows. The little
children began to play in their garden on the roof again. The roses were
in splendid bloom that summer; the little girl had learnt a hymn, and
there was something in it about roses, and that made her think of her
own. She sang it to the little boy, and then he sang it with her--

'Where roses deck the flowery vale,
There, Infant Jesus, we thee hail!'

The children took each other by the hands, kissed the roses, and
rejoiced in God's bright sunshine, and spoke to it as if the Child Jesus
were there. What lovely summer days they were, and how delightful it was
to sit out under the fresh rose-trees, which seemed never tired of
blooming.

Kay and Gerda were looking at a picture book of birds and animals one
day--it had just struck five by the church clock--when Kay said, 'Oh,
something struck my heart, and I have got something in my eye!'

The little girl put her arms round his neck, he blinked his eye; there
was nothing to be seen.

'I believe it is gone,' he said; but it was not gone. It was one of
those very grains of glass from the mirror, the magic mirror. You
remember that horrid mirror, in which all good and great things
reflected in it became small and mean, while the bad things were
magnified, and every flaw became very apparent.

Poor Kay! a grain of it had gone straight to his heart, and would soon
turn it to a lump of ice. He did not feel it any more, but it was still
there.

'Why do you cry?' he asked; 'it makes you look ugly; there's nothing the
matter with me. How horrid!' he suddenly cried; 'there's a worm in that
rose, and that one is quite crooked; after all, they are nasty roses,
and so are the boxes they are growing in!' He kicked the box and broke
off two of the roses.

'What are you doing, Kay?' cried the little girl. When he saw her alarm,
he broke off another rose, and then ran in by his own window, and left
dear little Gerda alone.

When she next got out the picture book he said it was only fit for
babies in long clothes. When his grandmother told them stories he always
had a but--, and if he could manage it, he liked to get behind her
chair, put on her spectacles and imitate her. He did it very well and
people laughed at him. He was soon able to imitate every one in the
street; he could make fun of all their peculiarities and failings. 'He
will turn out a clever fellow,' said people. But it was all that bit of
glass in his heart, that bit of glass in his eye, and it made him tease
little Gerda who was so devoted to him. He played quite different games
now; he seemed to have grown older. One winter's day, when the snow was
falling fast, he brought in a big magnifying glass; he held out the tail
of his blue coat, and let the snow flakes fall upon it.

'Now look through the glass, Gerda!' he said; every snowflake was
magnified, and looked like a lovely flower, or a sharply pointed star.

'Do you see how cleverly they are made?' said Kay. 'Much more
interesting than looking at real flowers. And there is not a single flaw
in them; they are perfect, if only they would not melt.'

Shortly after, he appeared in his thick gloves, with his sledge on his
back. He shouted right into Gerda's ear, 'I have got leave to drive in
the big square where the other boys play!' and away he went.

In the big square the bolder boys used to tie their little sledges to
the farm carts and go a long way in this fashion. They had no end of fun
over it. Just in the middle of their games a big sledge came along; it
was painted white, and the occupant wore a white fur coat and cap. The
sledge drove twice round the square, and Kay quickly tied his sledge on
behind. Then off they went, faster, and faster, into the next street.
The driver turned round and nodded to Kay in the most friendly way, just
as if they knew each other. Every time Kay wanted to loose his sledge
the person nodded again, and Kay stayed where he was, and they drove
right out through the town gates. Then the snow began to fall so heavily
that the little boy could not see a hand before him as they rushed
along. He undid the cords and tried to get away from the big sledge, but
it was no use, his little sledge stuck fast, and on they rushed, faster
than the wind. He shouted aloud, but nobody heard him, and the sledge
tore on through the snow-drifts. Every now and then it gave a bound, as
if they were jumping over hedges and ditches. He was very frightened,
and he wanted to say his prayers, but he could only remember the
multiplication tables.

The snow-flakes grew bigger and bigger, till at last they looked like
big white chickens. All at once they sprang on one side, the big sledge
stopped and the person who drove got up, coat and cap smothered in snow.
It was a tall and upright lady all shining white, the Snow Queen
herself.

'We have come along at a good pace,' she said; 'but it's cold enough to
kill one; creep inside my bearskin coat.'

She took him into the sledge by her, wrapped him in her furs, and he
felt as if he were sinking into a snowdrift.

'Are you still cold?' she asked, and she kissed him on the forehead.
Ugh! it was colder than ice, it went to his very heart, which was
already more than half ice; he felt as if he were dying, but only for a
moment, and then it seemed to have done him good; he no longer felt the
cold.

'My sledge! don't forget my sledge!' He only remembered it now; it was
tied to one of the white chickens which flew along behind them. The Snow
Queen kissed Kay again, and then he forgot all about little Gerda,
Grandmother, and all the others at home.

'Now I mustn't kiss you any more,' she said, 'or I should kiss you to
death!'

Kay looked at her, she was so pretty; a cleverer, more beautiful face
could hardly be imagined. She did not seem to be made of ice now, as she
was outside the window when she waved her hand to him. In his eyes she
was quite perfect, and he was not a bit afraid of her; he told her that
he could do mental arithmetic, as far as fractions, and that he knew the
number of square miles and the number of inhabitants of the country. She
always smiled at him, and he then thought that he surely did not know
enough, and he looked up into the wide expanse of heaven, into which
they rose higher and higher as she flew with him on a dark cloud, while
the storm surged around them, the wind ringing in their ears like
well-known old songs.

They flew over woods and lakes, over oceans and islands; the cold wind
whistled down below them, the wolves howled, the black crows flew
screaming over the sparkling snow, but up above, the moon shone bright
and clear--and Kay looked at it all the long, long winter nights; in the
day he slept at the Snow Queen's feet.





Next: THE GARDEN OF THE WOMAN LEARNED IN MAGIC

Previous: WHICH DEALS WITH A MIRROR AND ITS FRAGMENTS



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