The Twelve Months - A Slav Legend





BY ALEXANDER CHODZKO (ADAPTED)



There was once a widow who had two daughters, Helen, her own child by

her dead husband, and Marouckla, his daughter by his first wife. She

loved Helen, but hated the poor orphan because she was far prettier than

her own daughter.



Marouckla did not think about her good looks, and could not understand

why her stepmother should be angry at the sight of her. The hardest work

fell to her share. She cleaned out the rooms, cooked, washed, sewed,

spun, wove, brought in the hay, milked the cow, and all this without any

help.



Helen, meanwhile, did nothing but dress herself in her best clothes and

go to one amusement after another.



But Marouckla never complained. She bore the scoldings and bad temper of

mother and sister with a smile on her lips, and the patience of a lamb.

But this angelic behavior did not soften them. They became even more

tyrannical and grumpy, for Marouckla grew daily more beautiful, while

Helen's ugliness increased. So the stepmother determined to get rid of

Marouckla, for she knew that while she remained, her own daughter would

have no suitors. Hunger, every kind of privation, abuse, every means was

used to make the girl's life miserable. But in spite of it all Marouckla

grew ever sweeter and more charming.



One day in the middle of winter Helen wanted some wood-violets.



"Listen," cried she to Marouckla, "you must go up the mountain and

find me violets. I want some to put in my gown. They must be fresh and

sweet-scented-do you hear?"



"But, my dear sister, whoever heard of violets blooming in the snow?"

said the poor orphan.



"You wretched creature! Do you dare to disobey me?" said Helen. "Not

another word. Off with you! If you do not bring me some violets from the

mountain forest I will kill you."



The stepmother also added her threats to those of Helen, and with

vigorous blows they pushed Marouckla outside and shut the door upon her.

The weeping girl made her way to the mountain. The snow lay deep, and

there was no trace of any human being. Long she wandered hither and

thither, and lost herself in the wood. She was hungry, and shivered with

cold, and prayed to die.



Suddenly she saw a light in the distance, and climbed toward it till she

reached the top of the mountain. Upon the highest peak burned a large

fire, surrounded by twelve blocks of stone on which sat twelve strange

beings. Of these the first three had white hair, three were not quite so

old, three were young and handsome, and the rest still younger.



There they all sat silently looking at the fire. They were the Twelve

Months of the Year. The great January was placed higher than the others.

His hair and mustache were white as snow, and in his hand he held a

wand. At first Marouckla was afraid, but after a while her courage

returned, and drawing near, she said:--



"Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire? I am chilled by the winter

cold."



The great January raised his head and answered: "What brings thee here,

my daughter? What dost thou seek?"



"I am looking for violets," replied the maiden.



"This is not the season for violets. Dost thou not see the snow

everywhere?" said January.



"I know well, but my sister Helen and my stepmother have ordered me to

bring them violets from your mountain. If I return without them they

will kill me. I pray you, good shepherds, tell me where they may be

found."



Here the great January arose and went over to the youngest of the

Months, and, placing his wand in his hand, said:--



"Brother March, do thou take the highest place."



March obeyed, at the same time waving his wand over the fire.

Immediately the flames rose toward the sky, the snow began to melt and

the trees and shrubs to bud. The grass became green, and from between

its blades peeped the pale primrose. It was spring, and the meadows were

blue with violets.



"Gather them quickly, Marouckla," said March.



Joyfully she hastened to pick the flowers, and having soon a large bunch

she thanked them and ran home. Helen and the stepmother were amazed at

the sight of the flowers, the scent of which filled the house.



"Where did you find them?" asked Helen.



"Under the trees on the mountain-side," said Marouckla.



Helen kept the flowers for herself and her mother. She did not even

thank her stepsister for the trouble she had taken. The next day she

desired Marouckla to fetch her strawberries.



"Run," said she, "and fetch me strawberries from the mountain. They must

be very sweet and ripe."



"But whoever heard of strawberries ripening in the snow?" exclaimed

Marouckla.



"Hold your tongue, worm; don't answer me. If I don't have my

strawberries I will kill you," said Helen.



Then the stepmother pushed Marouckla into the yard and bolted the door.

The unhappy girl made her way toward the mountain and to the large

fire round which sat the Twelve Months. The great January occupied the

highest place.



"Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire? The winter cold chills me,"

said she, drawing near.



The great January raised his head and asked: "Why comest thou here? What

dost thou seek?"



"I am looking for strawberries," said she.



"We are in the midst of winter," replied January, "strawberries do not

grow in the snow."



"I know," said the girl sadly, "but my sister and stepmother have

ordered me to bring them strawberries. If I do not they will kill me.

Pray, good shepherds, tell me where to find them."



The great January arose, crossed over to the Month opposite him, and

putting the wand in his hand, said: "Brother June, do thou take the

highest place."



June obeyed, and as he waved his wand over the fire the flames leaped

toward the sky. Instantly the snow melted, the earth was covered with

verdure, trees were clothed with leaves, birds began to sing, and

various flowers blossomed in the forest. It was summer. Under the bushes

masses of star-shaped flowers changed into ripening strawberries, and

instantly they covered the glade, making it look like a sea of blood.



"Gather them quickly, Marouckla," said June.



Joyfully she thanked the Months, and having filled her apron ran happily

home.



Helen and her mother wondered at seeing the strawberries, which filled

the house with their delicious fragrance.



"Wherever did you find them?" asked Helen crossly.



"Right up among the mountains. Those from under the beech trees are not

bad," answered Marouckla.



Helen gave a few to her mother and ate the rest herself. Not one did she

offer to her stepsister. Being tired of strawberries, on the third day

she took a fancy for some fresh, red apples.



"Run, Marouckla," said she, "and fetch me fresh, red apples from the

mountain."



"Apples in winter, sister? Why, the trees have neither leaves nor

fruit!"



"Idle thing, go this minute," said Helen; "unless you bring back apples

we will kill you."



As before, the stepmother seized her roughly and turned her out of the

house. The poor girl went weeping up the mountain, across the deep snow,

and on toward the fire round which were the Twelve Months. Motionless

they sat there, and on the highest stone was the great January.



"Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire? The winter cold chills me,"

said she, drawing near.



The great January raised his head. "Why comest thou here? What does thou

seek?" asked he.



"I am come to look for red apples," replied Marouckla.



"But this is winter, and not the season for red apples," observed the

great January.



"I know," answered the girl, "but my sister and stepmother sent me to

fetch red apples from the mountain. If I return without them they will

kill me."



Thereupon the great January arose and went over to one of the elderly

Months, to whom he handed the wand saying:--



"Brother September, do thou take the highest place."



September moved to the highest stone, and waved his wand over the fire.

There was a flare of red flames, the snow disappeared, but the fading

leaves which trembled on the trees were sent by a cold northeast wind in

yellow masses to the glade. Only a few flowers of autumn were visible.

At first Marouckla looked in vain for red apples. Then she espied a tree

which grew at a great height, and from the branches of this hung the

bright, red fruit. September ordered her to gather some quickly. The

girl was delighted and shook the tree. First one apple fell, then

another.



"That is enough," said September; "hurry home."



Thanking the Months she returned joyfully. Helen and the stepmother

wondered at seeing the fruit.



"Where did you gather them?" asked the stepsister.



"There are more on the mountain-top," answered Marouckla.



"Then, why did you not bring more?" said Helen angrily. "You must have

eaten them on your way back, you wicked girl."



"No, dear sister, I have not even tasted them," said Marouckla. "I shook

the tree twice. One apple fell each time. Some shepherds would not allow

me to shake it again, but told me to return home."



"Listen, mother," said Helen. "Give me my cloak. I will fetch some more

apples myself. I shall be able to find the mountain and the tree. The

shepherds may cry 'Stop!' but I will not leave go till I have shaken

down all the apples."



In spite of her mother's advice she wrapped herself in her pelisse,

put on a warm hood, and took the road to the mountain. Snow covered

everything. Helen lost herself and wandered hither and thither. After

a while she saw a light above her, and, following in its direction,

reached the mountain-top.



There was the flaming fire, the twelve blocks of stone, and the Twelve

Months. At first she was frightened and hesitated; then she came nearer

and warmed her hands. She did not ask permission, nor did she speak one

polite word.



"What hath brought thee here? What dost thou seek?" said the great

January severely.



"I am not obliged to tell you, old graybeard. What business is it of

yours?" she replied disdainfully, turning her back on the fire and going

toward the forest.



The great January frowned, and waved his wand over his head. Instantly

the sky became covered with clouds, the fire went down, snow fell in

large flakes, an icy wind howled round the mountain. Amid the fury of

the storm Helen stumbled about. The pelisse failed to warm her benumbed

limbs.



The mother kept on waiting for her. She looked from the window, she

watched from the doorstep, but her daughter came not. The hours passed

slowly, but Helen did not return.



"Can it be that the apples have charmed her from her home?" thought the

mother. Then she clad herself in hood and pelisse, and went in search of

her daughter. Snow fell in huge masses. It covered all things. For long

she wandered hither and thither, the icy northeast wind whistled in the

mountain, but no voice answered her cries.



Day after day Marouckla worked, and prayed, and waited, but neither

stepmother nor sister returned. They had been frozen to death on the

mountain.



The inheritance of a small house, a field, and a cow fell to Marouckla.

In course of time an honest farmer came to share them with her, and

their lives were happy and peaceful.





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