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The Snow-image

from Boys And Girls Bookshelf - STORIES BY FAVORITE AMERICAN WRITERS





BY NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE


One afternoon of a cold winter's day, when the sun shone forth with
chilly brightness, after a long storm, two children asked leave of
their mother to run out and play in the new-fallen snow.

The elder child was a little girl, whom, because she was of a tender
and modest disposition, and was thought to be very beautiful, her
parents and other people who were familiar with her used to call
Violet.

But her brother was known by the title of Peony, on account of the
ruddiness of his broad and round little phiz, which made everybody
think of sunshine and great scarlet flowers.

"Yes, Violet--yes, my little Peony," said their kind mother; "you may
go and play in the snow."

Forth sallied the two children, with a hop-skip-and-jump that carried
them at once into the very heart of a huge snowdrift, whence Violet
emerged like a snow bunting, while little Peony floundered out with his
round face in full bloom.

Then what a merry time had they! To look at them frolicking in the
wintry garden, you would have thought that the dark and pitiless storm
had been sent for no other purpose but to provide a new plaything for
Violet and Peony; and that they themselves had been created, as the
snowbirds were, to take delight only in the tempest and in the white
mantle which it spread over the earth.

At last, when they had frosted one another all over with handfuls of
snow, Violet, after laughing heartily at little Peony's figure, was
struck with a new idea.

"You look exactly like a snow-image, Peony," said she, "if your cheeks
were not so red. And that puts me in mind! Let us make an image out of
snow--an image of a little girl--and it shall be our sister, and shall
run about and play with us all winter long. Won't it be nice?"

"Oh, yes!" cried Peony, as plainly as he could speak, for he was but a
little boy. "That will be nice! And mamma shall see it!"

"Yes," answered Violet; "mamma shall see the new little girl. But she
must not make her come into the warm parlor, for, you know, our little
snow-sister will not love the warmth."

And forthwith the children began this great business of making a
snow-image that should run about; while their mother, who was sitting
at the window and overheard some of their talk, could not help smiling
at the gravity with which they set about it. They really seemed to
imagine that there would be no difficulty whatever in creating a live
little girl out of the snow.

Indeed, it was an exceedingly pleasant sight--those bright little souls
at their tasks. Moreover, it was really wonderful to observe how
knowingly and skillfully they managed the matter. Violet assumed the
chief direction and told Peony what to do, while, with her own delicate
fingers, she shaped out all the nicer parts of the snow-figure.

It seemed, in fact, not so much to be made by the children, as to grow
up under their hands, while they were playing and prattling about it.
Their mother was quite surprised at this; and the longer she looked,
the more and more surprised she grew.

Now, for a few moments there was a busy and earnest but indistinct hum
of the two children's voices, as Violet and Peony wrought together with
one happy consent. Violet still seemed to be the guiding spirit; while
Peony acted rather as a laborer and brought her the snow from far and
near. And yet the little urchin evidently had a proper understanding of
the matter.

"Peony, Peony!" cried Violet; for her brother was at the other side of
the garden. "Bring me those light wreaths of snow that have rested on
the lower branches of the pear tree. You can clamber on the snowdrift,
Peony, and reach them easily. I must have them to make some ringlets
for our snow-sister's head!"

"Here they are, Violet!" answered the little boy. "Take care you do not
break them. Well done! Well done! How pretty!"

"Does she not look sweet?" said Violet, with a very satisfied tone;
"and now we must have some little shining bits of ice to make the
brightness of her eyes. She is not finished yet. Mamma will see how
very beautiful she is; but papa will say, 'Tush! nonsense! come in out
of the cold!'"

"Let us call mamma to look out," said Peony; and then he shouted,
"Mamma! mamma!! mamma!!! Look out and see what a nice 'ittle girl we
are making!"

"What a nice playmate she will be for us all winter long!" said Violet.
"I hope papa will not be afraid of her giving us a cold! Shan't you
love her dearly, Peony?"

"Oh, yes!" cried Peony. "And I will hug her and she shall sit down
close by me and drink some of my warm milk."

"Oh, no, Peony!" answered Violet, with grave wisdom. "That will not do
at all. Warm milk will not be wholesome for our little snow-sister.
Little snow-people, like her, eat nothing but icicles. No, no, Peony;
we must not give her anything warm to drink!"

There was a minute or two of silence; for Peony, whose short legs were
never weary, had gone again to the other side of the garden. All of a
sudden, Violet cried out, loudly and joyfully:

"Look here, Peony! Come quickly! A light has been shining on her cheek
out of that rose-colored cloud! And the color does not go away! Is not
that beautiful?"

"Yes, it is beau-ti-ful," answered Peony, pronouncing the three
syllables with deliberate accuracy. "O Violet, only look at her hair!
It is all like gold!"

"Oh, certainly," said Violet, as if it were very much a matter of
course. "That color, you know, comes from the golden clouds that we
see up there in the sky. She is almost finished now. But her lips must
be made very red--redder than her cheeks. Perhaps, Peony, it will make
them red if we both kiss them!"

Accordingly, the mother heard two smart little smacks, as if both her
children were kissing the snow-image on its frozen mouth. But as this
did not seem to make the lips quite red enough, Violet next proposed
that the snow-child should be invited to kiss Peony's scarlet cheek.

"Come, 'ittle snow-sister, kiss me!" cried Peony.

"There! she has kissed you," added Violet, "and now her lips are very
red. And she blushed a little, too!"

"Oh, what a cold kiss!" cried Peony.

Just then there came a breeze of the pure west wind sweeping through
the garden, and rattling the parlor windows. It sounded so wintry cold
that the mother was about to tap on the window-pane with her thimbled
finger to summon the two children in when they both cried out to her
with one voice:

"Mamma! mamma! We have finished our little snow-sister, and she is
running about the garden with us!"

"What imaginative little beings my children are!" thought the mother,
putting the last few stitches into Peony's frock. "And it is strange,
too, that they make me almost as much a child as they themselves are! I
can hardly help believing now that the snow-image has really come to
life!"

"Dear mamma!" cried Violet, "pray look out and see what a sweet
playmate we have!"

The mother, being thus entreated, could no longer delay to look forth
from the window. The sun was now gone out of the sky, leaving, however,
a rich inheritance of his brightness among those purple and golden
clouds which make the sunsets of winter so magnificent.

But there was not the slightest gleam or dazzle, either on the window
or on the snow; so that the good lady could look all over the garden
and see everything and everybody in it. And what do you think she saw
there? Violet and Peony, of course, her own two darling children.

Ah, but whom or what did she see besides? Why, if you will believe
me, there was a small figure of a girl, dressed all in white, with
rose-tinged cheeks and ringlets of golden hue, playing about the garden
with the two children!

A stranger though she was, the child seemed to be on as familiar terms
with Violet and Peony, and they with her, as if all the three had been
playmates during the whole of their little lives.

The mother thought to herself that it must certainly be the daughter of
one of the neighbors, and that, seeing Violet and Peony in the garden,
the child had run across the street to play with them.

So this kind lady went to the door, intending to invite the little
runaway into her comfortable parlor; for, now that the sunshine was
withdrawn, the atmosphere out of doors was already growing very cold.

But, after opening the house door, she stood an instant on the
threshold, hesitating whether she ought to ask the child to come in, or
whether she should even speak to her. Indeed, she almost doubted whether
it were a real child after all, or only a light wreath of the new-fallen
snow, blown hither and thither about the garden by the intensely cold
west wind.

There was certainly something very singular in the aspect of the little
stranger. Among all the children of the neighborhood the lady could
remember no such face, with its pure white and delicate rose-color, and
the golden ringlets tossing about the forehead and cheeks.

And as for her dress, which was entirely of white, and fluttering in the
breeze, it was such as no reasonable woman would put upon a little girl
when sending her out to play in the depth of winter. It made this kind
and careful mother shiver only to look at those small feet, with nothing
in the world on them except a very thin pair of white slippers.

Nevertheless, airily as she was clad, the child seemed to feel not the
slightest inconvenience from the cold, but danced so lightly over the
snow that the tips of her toes left hardly a print in its surface; while
Violet could but just keep pace with her, and Peony's short legs
compelled him to lag behind.

All this while, the mother stood on the threshold, wondering how a
little girl could look so much like a flying snowdrift, or how a
snowdrift could look so very like a little girl.

"Violet, my darling, what is this child's name?" asked she. "Does she
live near us?"

"Why, dearest mamma," answered Violet, laughing to think that her mother
did not comprehend so very plain an affair, "this is our little
snow-sister whom we have just been making!"

"Yes, dear mamma," cried Peony, running to his mother and looking up
simply into her face. "This is our snow-image! Is it not a nice 'ittle
child?"

"Violet," said her mother, greatly perplexed, "tell me the truth without
any jest. Who is this little girl?"

"My darling mamma," answered Violet, looking seriously into her mother's
face, surprised that she should need any further explanation, "I have
told you truly who she is. It is our little snow-image which Peony and I
have been making. Peony will tell you so, as well as I."

"Yes, mamma," asseverated Peony, with much gravity in his crimson little
phiz; "this is 'ittle snow-child. Is not she a nice one? But, mamma, her
hand is, oh, so very cold!"

While mamma still hesitated what to think and what to do, the street
gate was thrown open and the father of Violet and Peony appeared,
wrapped in a pilot-cloth sack, with a fur cap drawn down over his ears,
and the thickest of gloves upon his hands.

Mr. Lindsey was a middle-aged man, with a weary and yet a happy look in
his wind-flushed and frost-pinched face, as if he had been busy all the
day long and was glad to get back to his quiet home. His eyes brightened
at the sight of his wife and children, although he could not help
uttering a word or two of surprise at finding the whole family in the
open air on so bleak a day, and after sunset, too.

He soon perceived the little white stranger, sporting to and fro in the
garden like a dancing snow-wreath, and the flock of snowbirds fluttering
about her head.

"Pray, what little girl may that be?" inquired this very sensible man.
"Surely her mother must be crazy to let her go out in such bitter
weather as it has been to-day, with only that flimsy white gown and
those thin slippers!"

"My dear husband," said his wife, "I know no more about the little thing
than you do. Some neighbor's child, I suppose. Our Violet and Peony,"
she added, laughing at herself for repeating so absurd a story, "insist
that she is nothing but a snow-image which they have been busy about in
the garden almost all the afternoon."

As she said this, the mother glanced her eyes toward the spot where the
children's snow-image had been made. What was her surprise on perceiving
that there was not the slightest trace of so much labor!--no image at
all!--no piled-up heap of snow!--nothing whatever save the prints of
little footsteps around a vacant space!

"This is very strange!" said she.

"What is strange, dear mother?" asked Violet. "Dear father, do not you
see how it is? This is our snow-image, which Peony and I have made
because we wanted another playmate. Did not we, Peony?"

"Yes, papa," said crimson Peony. "This be our 'ittle snow-sister. Is she
not beau-ti-ful? But she gave me such a cold kiss!"

"Poh, nonsense, children!" cried their good, honest father, who had a
plain matter-of-fact way of looking at matters. "Do not tell me of
making live figures out of snow. Come, wife; this little stranger must
not stay out in the bleak air a moment longer. We will bring her into
the parlor; and you shall give her a supper of warm bread and milk, and
make her as comfortable as you can."

So saying, this honest and very kind-hearted man was going toward the
little white damsel, with the best intentions in the world. But Violet
and Peony, each seizing their father by the hand, earnestly besought him
not to make her come in.

"Nonsense, children, nonsense, nonsense!" cried the father, half-vexed,
half-laughing. "Run into the house, this moment! It is too late to play
any longer now. I must take care of this little girl, or she will catch
her death-a-cold!"

And so, with a most benevolent smile, this very well-meaning gentleman
took the snow-child by the hand and led her toward the house.

She followed them, droopingly and reluctant, for all the glow and
sparkle were gone out of her figure; and whereas just before she had
resembled a bright, frosty, star-gemmed evening, with a crimson gleam on
the cold horizon, she now looked as dull and languid as a thaw.

As kind Mr. Lindsey led her up the steps of the door, Violet and Peony
looked into his face, their eyes full of tears, which froze before they
could run down their cheeks, and entreated him not to bring their
snow-image into the house.

"Not bring her in!" exclaimed the kind-hearted man. "Why, you are crazy,
my little Violet--quite crazy, my small Peony! She is so cold already
that her hand has almost frozen mine, in spite of my thick gloves. Would
you have her freeze to death?"

His wife, as he came up the steps, had been taking another long, earnest
gaze at the little white stranger. She hardly knew whether it was a
dream or no; but she could not help fancying that she saw the delicate
print of Violet's fingers on the child's neck. It looked just as if,
while Violet was shaping out the image, she had given it a gentle pat
with her hand, and had neglected to smooth the impression quite away.

"After all, husband," said the mother, "after all, she does look
strangely like a snow-image! I do believe she is made of snow!"

A puff of the west wind blew against the snow-child, and again she
sparkled like a star.

"Snow!" repeated good Mr. Lindsey, drawing the reluctant guest over his
hospitable threshold. "No wonder she looks like snow. She is half
frozen, poor little thing! But a good fire will put everything to
rights."

The common-sensible man placed the snow-child on the hearthrug, right in
front of the hissing and fuming stove.

"Now she will be comfortable!" cried Mr. Lindsey, rubbing his hands and
looking about him, with the pleasantest smile you ever saw. "Make
yourself at home, my child."

Sad, sad and drooping, looked the little white maiden as she stood on
the hearthrug, with the hot blast of the stove striking through her like
a pestilence. Once she threw a glance toward the window, and caught a
glimpse, through its red curtains, of the snow-covered roofs and the
stars glimmering frostily and all the delicious intensity of the cold
night. The bleak wind rattled the window panes as if it were summoning
her to come forth. But there stood the snow-child, drooping, before the
hot stove!

But the common-sensible man saw nothing amiss.

"Come, wife," said he, "let her have a pair of thick stockings and a
woolen shawl or blanket directly; and tell Dora to give her some warm
supper as soon as the milk boils. You, Violet and Peony, amuse your
little friend. She is out of spirits, you see, at finding herself in a
strange place. For my part, I will go around among the neighbors and
find out where she belongs."

The mother, meanwhile, had gone in search of the shawl and stockings.
Without heeding the remonstrances of his two children, who still kept
murmuring that their little snow-sister did not love the warmth, good
Mr. Lindsey took his departure, shutting the parlor door carefully
behind him.

Turning up the collar of his sack over his ears, he emerged from the
house, and had barely reached the street-gate when he was recalled by
the screams of Violet and Peony and the rapping of a thimbled finger
against the parlor window.

"Husband! husband!" cried his wife, showing her horror-stricken face
through the window panes. "There is no need of going for the child's
parents!"

"We told you so, father!" screamed Violet and Peony, as he re-entered
the parlor. "You would bring her in; and now our poor--dear--beau-ti-ful
little snow-sister is thawed!"

And their own sweet little faces were already dissolved in tears; so
that their father, seeing what strange things occasionally happen in
this everyday world, felt not a little anxious lest his children might
be going to thaw, too. In the utmost perplexity, he demanded an
explanation of his wife.

She could only reply that, being summoned to the parlor by the cries of
Violet and Peony, she found no trace of the little white maiden, unless
it were the remains of a heap of snow which, while she was gazing at it,
melted quite away upon the hearthrug.

"And there you see all that is left of it!" added she, pointing to a
pool of water in front of the stove.

"Yes, father," said Violet, looking reproachfully at him through her
tears, "there is all that is left of our dear little snow-sister!"

"Father!" cried Peony, stamping his foot, and--I shudder to say--shaking
his little fist at the common-sensible man. "We told you how it would
be. What for did you bring her in?"

And the stove, through the isinglass of its door, seemed to glare at
good Mr. Lindsey, like a red-eyed demon triumphing in the mischief which
it had done!





Next: The Castle Of Gems

Previous: By Abbie Farwell Brown



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