The Snow Queen (part 2)
Author: Hans Christian Andersen
A Tale in Seven Stories
The Little Robber Girl
The carriage rolled on into a dark forest. Like a blazing torch, it shone in the eyes of some robbers. They could not bear it.
“That’s gold! That’s gold!” they cried. They sprang forward, seized the horses, killed the little postilions, the coachman, and the footman, and dragged little Gerda out of the carriage.
“How plump and how tender she looks, just as if she’d been fattened on nuts!” cried the old robber woman, who had a long bristly beard, and long eyebrows that hung down over her eyes. “She looks like a fat little lamb. What a dainty dish she will be!” As she said this she drew out her knife, a dreadful, flashing thing.
“Ouch!” the old woman howled. At just that moment her own little daughter had bitten her ear. The little girl, whom she carried on her back, was a wild and reckless creature. “You beasty brat!” her mother exclaimed, but it kept her from using that knife on Gerda.
“She shall play with me,” said the little robber girl. “She must give me her muff and that pretty dress she wears, and sleep with me in my bed.” And she again gave her mother such a bite that the woman hopped and whirled around in pain. All the robbers laughed, and shouted:
“See how she dances with her brat.”
“I want to ride in the carriage,” the little robber girl said, and ride she did, for she was too spoiled and headstrong for words. She and Gerda climbed into the carriage and away they drove over stumps and stones, into the depths of the forest. The little robber girl was no taller than Gerda, but she was stronger and much broader in the shoulders. Her skin was brown and her eyes coal-black-almost sad in their expression. She put her arms around Gerda, and said:
“They shan’t kill you unless I get angry with you. I think you must be a Princess.”
“No, I’m not,” said little Gerda. And she told about all that had happened to her, and how much she cared for little Kay. The robber girl looked at her gravely, gave a little nod of approval, and told her:
“Even if I should get angry with you, they shan’t kill you, because I’ll do it myself!” Then she dried Gerda’s eyes, and stuck her own hands into Gerda’s soft, warm muff.
The carriage stopped at last, in the courtyard of a robber’s castle. The walls of it were cracked from bottom to top. Crows and ravens flew out of every loophole, and bulldogs huge enough to devour a man jumped high in the air. But they did not bark, for that was forbidden.
In the middle of the stone-paved, smoky old hall, a big fire was burning. The smoke of it drifted up to the ceiling, where it had to find its own way out. Soup was boiling in a big caldron, and hares and rabbits were roasting on the spit.
“Tonight you shall sleep with me and all my little animals,” the robber girl said. After they had something to eat and drink, they went over to a corner that was strewn with rugs and straw. On sticks and perches around the bedding roosted nearly a hundred pigeons. They seemed to be asleep, but they stirred just a little when the two little girls came near them.
“They are all mine, ” said the little robber girl. She seized the one that was nearest to her, held it by the legs and shook it until it flapped its wings. “Kiss it,” she cried, and thrust the bird in Gerda’s face. “Those two are the wild rascals,” she said, pointing high up the wall to a hole barred with wooden sticks. “Rascals of the woods they are, and they would fly away in a minute if they were not locked up.”
“And here is my old sweetheart, Bae,” she said, pulling at the horns of a reindeer that was tethered by a shiny copper ring around his neck. “We have to keep a sharp eye on him, or he would run away from us too. Every single night I tickle his neck with my knife blade, for he is afraid of that.” From a hole in the wall she pulled a long knife, and rubbed it against the reindeer’s neck. After the poor animal had kicked up its heals, the robber girl laughed and pulled Gerda down into the bed with her.
“Are you going to keep that knife in bed with you?” Gerda asked, and looked at it a little frightened.
“I always sleep with my knife,” the little robber girl said. “You never can tell what may happen. But let’s hear again what you told me before about little Kay, and about why you are wandering through the wide world.”
Gerda told the story all over again, while the wild pigeons cooed in their cage overhead, and the tame pigeons slept. The little robber girl clasped one arm around Gerda’s neck, gripped her knife in the other hand, fell asleep, and snored so that one could hear her. But Gerda could not close her eyes at all. She did not know whether she was to live or whether she was to die. The robbers sat around their fire, singing and drinking, and the old robber woman was turning somersaults. It was a terrible sight for a little girl to see.
Then the wood pigeons said, “Coo, coo. We have seen little Kay. A white hen was carrying his sled, and Kay sat in the Snow Queen’s sleigh. They swooped low, over the trees where we lay in our nest. The Snow Queen blew upon us, and all the young pigeons died except us. Coo, coo.”
“What is that you are saying up there?” cried Gerda. “Where was the Snow Queen going? Do you know anything about it?”
“She was probably bound for Lapland, where they always have snow and ice. Why don’t you ask the reindeer who is tethered beside you?”
“Yes, there is ice and snow in that glorious land,” the reindeer told her. “You can prance about freely across those great, glittering fields. The Snow Queen has her summer tent there, but her stronghold is a castle up nearer the North Pole, on the island called Spitzbergen.”
“Oh, Kay, little Kay,” Gerda sighed.
“Lie still,” said the robber girl, “or I’ll stick my knife in your stomach.”
In the morning Gerda told her all that the wood pigeons had said. The little robber girl looked quite thoughtful. She nodded her head, and exclaimed, “Leave it to me! Leave it to me.
“Do you know where Lapland is?” she asked the reindeer.
“Who knows it better than I?” the reindeer said, and his eyes sparkled. “There I was born, there I was bred, and there I kicked my heels in freedom, across the fields of snow.”
“Listen!” the robber girl said to Gerda. “As you see, all the men are away. Mother is still here, and here she’ll stay, but before the morning is over she will drink out of that big bottle, and then she usually dozes off for a nap. As soon as that happens, I will do you a good turn.”
She jumped out of bed, rushed over and threw her arms around her mother’s neck, pulled at her beard bristles, and said, “Good morning, my dear nanny-goat.” Her mother thumped her nose until it was red and blue, but all that was done out of pure love.
As soon as the mother had tipped up the bottle and dozed off to sleep, the little robber girl ran to the reindeer and said, “I have a good notion to keep you here, and tickle you with my sharp knife. You are so funny when I do, but never mind that. I’ll untie your rope, and help you find your way outside, so that you can run back to Lapland. But you must put your best leg forward and carry this little girl to the Snow Queen’s palace, where her playmate is. I suppose you heard what she told me, for she spoke so loud, and you were eavesdropping.”
The reindeer was so happy that he bounded into the air. The robber girl hoisted little Gerda on his back, carefully tied her in place, and even gave her a little pillow to sit on. I don’t do things half way,” she said. “Here, take back your fur boots, for it’s going to be bitter cold. I’ll keep your muff, because it’s such a pretty one. But your fingers mustn’t get cold. Here are my mother’s big mittens, which will come right up to your elbows. Pull them on. Now your hands look just like my ugly mother’s big paws.”
And Gerda shed happy tears.
“I don’t care to see you blubbering,” said the little robber girl. “You ought to look pleased now. Here, take these two loaves of bread and this ham along, so that you won’t starve.”
When these provisions were tied on the back of the reindeer, the little robber girl opened the door and called in all the big dogs. Then she cut the tether with her knife and said to the reindeer, “Now run, but see that you take good care of the little girl.”
Gerda waved her big mittens to the little robber girl, and said good-by. then the reindeer bounded away, over stumps and stones, straight through the great forest, over swamps and across the plains, as fast as he could run. The wolves howled, the ravens shrieked, and ker-shew, ker-shew! the red streaks of light ripped through the heavens, with a noise that sounded like sneezing.
“Those are my old Northern Lights,” said the reindeer. “See how they flash.” And on he ran, faster than ever, by night and day. The loaves were eaten and the whole ham was eaten-and there they were in Lapland.
The Lapp Woman and the Finn Woman
They stopped in front of the little hut, and a makeshift dwelling it was. The roof of it almost touched the ground, and the doorway was so low that the family had to lie on their stomachs to crawl in it or out of it. No one was at home except an old Lapp woman, who was cooking fish over a whale-oil lamp. The reindeer told her Gerda’s whole story, but first he told his own, which he thought was much more important. Besides, Gerda was so cold that she couldn’t say a thing.
“Oh, you poor creatures,” the Lapp woman said, “you’ve still got such a long way to go. Why, you will have to travel hundreds of miles into the Finmark. For it’s there that the Snow Queen is taking a country vacation, and burning her blue fireworks every evening. I’ll jot down a message on a dried codfish, for I haven’t any paper. I want you to take it to the Finn woman who lives up there. She will be able to tell you more about it than I can.”
As soon as Gerda had thawed out, and had had something to eat and drink, the Lapp woman wrote a few words on a dried codfish, told Gerda to take good care of it, and tied her again on the back of the reindeer. Off he ran, and all night long the skies crackled and swished as the most beautiful Northern Lights flashed over their heads. At last they came to the Finmark, and knocked at the Finn woman’s chimney, for she hadn’t a sign of a door. It was so hot inside that the Finn woman went about almost naked. She was small and terribly dowdy, but she at once helped little Gerda off with her mittens and boots, and loosened her clothes. Otherwise the heat would have wilted her. Then the woman put a piece of ice on the reindeer’s head, and read what was written on the codfish. She read it three times and when she knew it by heart, she put the fish into the kettle of soup, for they might as well eat it. She never wasted anything.
The reindeer told her his own story first, and then little Gerda’s. The Finn woman winked a knowing eye, but she didn’t say anything.
“You are such a wise woman,” said the reindeer, “I know that you can tie all the winds of the world together with a bit of cotton thread. If the sailor unties one knot he gets a favorable wind. If he unties another he gets a stiff gale, while if he unties the third and fourth knots such a tempest rages that it flattens the trees in the forest. Won’t you give this little girl something to drink that will make her as strong as twelve men, so that she may overpower the Snow Queen?”
“Twelve strong men,” the Finn woman sniffed. ” Much good that would be.”
She went to the shelf, took down a big rolled-up skin, and unrolled it. On this skin strange characters were written, and the Finn woman read them until the sweat rolled down her forehead.
The reindeer again begged her to help Gerda, and little Gerda looked at her with such tearful, imploring eyes, that the woman began winking again. She took the reindeer aside in a corner, and while she was putting another piece of ice on his head she whispered to him:
“Little Kay is indeed with the Snow Queen, and everything there just suits him fine. He thinks it is the best place in all the world, but that’s because he has a splinter of glass in his heart and a small piece of it in his eye. Unless these can be gotten out, he will never be human again, and the Snow Queen will hold him in her power.”
“But can’t you fix little Gerda something to drink which will give her more power than all those things?”
“No power that I could give could be as great as that which she already has. Don’t you see how men and beasts are compelled to serve her, and how far she has come in the wide world since she started out in her naked feet? We mustn’t tell her about this power. Strength lies in her heart, because she is such a sweet, innocent child. If she herself cannot reach the Snow Queen and rid little Kay of those pieces of glass, then there’s no help that we can give her. The Snow Queen’s garden lies about eight miles from here. You may carry the little girl there, and put her down by the big bush covered with red berries that grows on the snow. Then don’t you stand there gossiping, but hurry to get back here.”?
The Finn woman lifted little Gerda onto the reindeer, and he galloped away as fast as he could.
“Oh!” cried Gerda, “I forgot my boots and I forgot my mittens.” She soon felt the need of them in that knife-like cold, but the reindeer did not dare to stop. He galloped on until they came to the big bush that was covered with red berries. Here he set Gerda down and kissed her on the mouth, while big shining tears ran down his face. Then he ran back as fast as he could. Little Gerda stood there without boots and without mittens, right in the middle of icy Finmark.
She ran as fast as ever she could. A whole regiment of snowflakes swirled toward her, but they did not fall from the sky, for there was not a cloud up there, and the Northern Lights were ablaze.
The flakes skirmished along the ground, and the nearer they came the larger they grew. Gerda remembered how large and strange they had appeared when she looked at them under the magnifying glass. But here they were much more monstrous and terrifying. They were alive. They were the Snow Queen’s advance guard, and their shapes were most strange. Some looked like ugly, overgrown porcupines. Some were like a knot of snakes that stuck out their heads in every direction, and others were like fat little bears with every hair a-bristle. All of them were glistening white, for all were living snowflakes.
It was so cold that, as little Gerda said the Lord’s Prayer, she could see her breath freezing in front of her mouth, like a cloud of smoke. It grew thicker and thicker, and took the shape of little angels that grew bigger and bigger the moment they touched the ground. All of them had helmets on their heads and they carried shields and lances in their hands. Rank upon rank, they increased, and when Gerda had finished her prayer she was surrounded by a legion of angels. They struck the dread snowflakes with their lances and shivered them into a thousand pieces. Little Gerda walked on, unmolested and cheerful. The angels rubbed her hands and feet to make them warmer, and she trotted briskly along to the Snow Queen’s palace.
But now let us see how little Kay was getting on. Little Gerda was furthest from his mind, and he hadn’t the slightest idea that she was just outside the palace.
What Happened in The Snow Queen’s Palace and What Came of it
The walls of the palace were driven snow. The windows and doors were the knife-edged wind. There were more than a hundred halls, shaped as the snow had drifted, and the largest of these extended for many a mile. All were lighted by the flare of the Northern Lights. All of the halls were so immense and so empty, so brilliant and so glacial! There was never a touch of gaiety in them; never so much as a little dance for the polar bears, at which the storm blast could have served for music, and the polar bears could have waddled about on their hind legs to show off their best manners. There was never a little party with such games as blind-bear’s buff or hide the paw-kerchief for the cubs, nor even a little afternoon coffee over which the white fox vixens could gossip. Empty, vast, and frigid were the Snow Queen’s halls. The Northern Lights flared with such regularity that you could time exactly when they would be at the highest and lowest. In the middle of the vast, empty hall of snow was a frozen lake. It was cracked into a thousand pieces, but each piece was shaped so exactly like the others that it seemed a work of wonderful craftsmanship. The Snow Queen sat in the exact center of it when she was at home, and she spoke of this as sitting on her “Mirror of Reason.” She said this mirror was the only one of its kind, and the best thing in all the world.
Little Kay was blue, yes, almost black, with the cold. But he did not feel it, because the Snow Queen had kissed away his icy tremblings, and his heart itself had almost turned to ice.
He was shifting some sharp, flat pieces of ice to and fro, trying to fit them into every possible pattern, for he wanted to make something with them. It was like the Chinese puzzle game that we play at home, juggling little flat pieces of wood about into special designs. Kay was cleverly arranging his pieces in the game of ice-cold reason. To him the patterns were highly remarkable and of the utmost importance, for the chip of glass in his eye made him see them that way. He arranged his pieces to spell out many words; but he could never find the way to make the one word he was so eager to form. The word was “Eternity.” The Snow Queen had said to him, “If you can puzzle that out you shall be your own master, and I’ll give you the whole world and a new pair of skates.” But he could not puzzle it out.
“Now I am going to make a flying trip to the warm countries,” the Snow Queen told him. “I want to go and take a look into the black caldrons.” She meant the volcanos of Etna and Vesuvius. “I must whiten them up a bit. They need it, and it will be such a relief after all those yellow lemons and purple grapes.”
And away she flew. Kay sat all alone in that endless, empty, frigid hall, and puzzled over the pieces of ice until he almost cracked his skull. He sat so stiff and still that one might have thought he was frozen to death.
All of a sudden, little Gerda walked up to the palace through the great gate which was a knife-edged wind. But Gerda said her evening prayer. The wind was lulled to rest, and the little girl came on into the vast, cold, empty hall. Then she saw Kay. She recognized him at once, and ran to throw her arms around him. She held him close and cried, “Kay, dearest little Kay! I’ve found you at last!”
But he sat still, and stiff, and cold. Gerda shed hot tears, and when they fell upon him they went straight to his heart. They melted the lump of ice and burned away the splinter of glass in it. He looked up at her, and she sang:
“Where roses bloom so sweetly in the vale, There shall you find the Christ Child, without fail.”
Kay burst into tears. He cried so freely that the little piece of glass in his eye was washed right out. “Gerda!” He knew her, and cried out in his happiness, “My sweet little Gerda, where have you been so long? And where have I been?” He looked around him and said, “How cold it is here! How enormous and empty!” He held fast to Gerda, who laughed until happy tears rolled down her cheeks. Their bliss was so heavenly that even the bits of glass danced about them and shared in their happiness. When the pieces grew tired, they dropped into a pattern which made the very word that the Snow Queen had told Kay he must find before he became his own master and received the whole world and a new pair of skates.
Gerda kissed his cheeks, and they turned pink again. She kissed his eyes, and they sparkled like hers. She kissed his hands and feet, and he became strong and well. The Snow Queen might come home now whenever she pleased, for there stood the order for Kay’s release, written in letters of shining ice.
Hand in hand, Kay and Gerda strolled out of that enormous palace. They talked about Grandmother, and about the roses on their roof. Wherever they went, the wind died down and the sun shone out. When they came to the bush that was covered with red berries, the reindeer was waiting to meet them. He had brought along a young reindeer mate who had warm milk for the children to drink, and who kissed them on the mouth. Then these reindeer carried Gerda and Kay first to the Finn woman. They warmed themselves in her hot room, and when she had given them directions for their journey home they rode on to the Lapp woman. She had made them new clothes, and was ready to take them along in her sleigh.
Side by side, the reindeer ran with them to the limits of the North country, where the first green buds were to be seen. Here they said good-by to the two reindeer and to the Lapp woman. “Farewell,” they all said.
Now the first little birds began to chirp, and there were green buds all around them in the forest. Through the woods came riding a young girl on a magnificent horse that Gerda recognized, for it had once been harnessed to the golden carriage. The girl wore a bright red cap on her head, and a pair of pistols in her belt. She was the little robber girl, who had grown tired of staying at home, and who was setting out on a journey to the North country. If she didn’t like it there, why, the world was wide, and there were many other places where she could go. She recognized Gerda at once, and Gerda knew her too. It was a happy meeting.
“You’re a fine one for gadding about,” she told little Kay. “I’d just like to know whether you deserve to have someone running to the end of the earth for your sake.”
But Gerda patted her cheek and asked her about the Prince and the Princess.
“They are traveling in foreign lands,” the girl told her.
“And the crow?”
“Oh, the crow is dead,” she answered. “His tame ladylove is now a widow, and she wears a bit of black wool wrapped around her leg. She takes great pity on herself, but that’s all stuff and nonsense. Now tell me what has happened to you and how you caught up with Kay.”
Gerda and Kay told her their story.
“Snip snap snurre, basse lurre,” said the robber girl. “So everything came out all right.” She shook them by the hand, and promised that if ever she passed through their town she would come to see them. And then she rode away.
Kay and Gerda held each other by the hand. And as they walked along they had wonderful spring weather. The land was green and strewn with flowers, church bells rang, and they saw the high steeples of a big town. It was the one where they used to live. They walked straight to Grandmother’s house, and up the stairs, and into the room, where everything was just as it was when they left it. And the clock said tick-tock, and its hands were telling the time. But the moment they came in the door they noticed one change. They were grown-up now.
The roses on the roof looked in at the open window, and their two little stools were still out there. Kay and Gerda sat down on them, and held each other by the hand. Both of them had forgotten the icy, empty splendor of the Snow Queen’s palace as completely as if it were some bad dream. Grandmother sat in God’s good sunshine, reading to them from her Bible:
“Except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Kay and Gerda looked into each other’s eyes, and at last they understood the meaning of their old hymn:
“Where roses bloom so sweetly in the vale, There shall you find the Christ Child, without fail.”
And they sat there, grown-up, but children still-children at heart. And it was summer, warm, glorious summer.