Russian Folk Tale
Source: Edith M. S. Hodgetts, Tales and Legends from the Land of the Tzar: Collection of Russian Stories, 2nd edition (London: Griffith Farran and Company, 1891), pp. 46-52.
Many years ago, in a distant Russian village, there lived a peasant, by name Akem, with his wife Masha; they lived in a small wooden hut, where they spent their days in love and harmony; but children had they none. This was a very sore point with both of them, they used to sit by the window or at the door of their little hut looking at their neighbours’ children playing about, and wished that they had some of their own; but finding that it was no use wishing, they at last became sad in their old age.
One cold winter’s day, when the snow lay thick upon the uneven country roads, and the little village boys were running about throwing snowballs to keep themselves warm, and making snowmen and women, old Akem and Masha sat by their window looking at them in silence. Suddenly Akem looked up at his wife, and said, laughing, “Masha, what do you say to coming out into the road and making ourselves a snowman or woman, like those little boys yonder?”
Masha laughed, too, it seemed such a queer thing to do at their time of life! “Yes, if you like,” she replied; “let us go, it may cheer us up a bit; but I don’t see why we should make a snowman or woman, let us rather make a child out of snow, as Providence does not seem to wish us to have a real one!”
“I do believe you are getting quite clever in your old age, Masha! Come along, then, and let us set to work.”
Off went the old couple, laughing at themselves all the while, and sure enough they commenced making a snow child! They made the legs, arms, hands, feet, and a snowball for the head.
“What, in the name of wonder, are you up to?” exclaimed a passerby, stopping suddenly in front of the two old people.
“A snow child!” laughed Masha, as she began to explain everything to the stranger.
“May the saints help you!” said he, as he went his way.
When they had got the legs, arms, hands, feet, and head fixed up together, Akem began making the nose, two holes for the eyes, and was just drawing a small line for the mouth, when he suddenly, much to his surprise, felt warm breath come out of it. He took his hand away quickly, and on looking up at the two holes made for the eyes, beheld two real, beautiful blue eyes; the lips became full and rosy, and as for the nose, it was the dearest little nose ever seen.
“Good heavens! what does this mean? Is it a temptation of the Evil One?” cried Akem, crossing himself several times, while the snow child threw her arms round his neck, and kissed him as though she were alive.
“O Akem! Akem!” cried Masha, trembling with joy, “Providence has at last taken pity on us, and sent us this child to cheer us in our old age.”
She was about to throw her arms around the snow child and embrace it, when, to the astonishment of both the old man and woman, the snow fell off, and left in Masha’s arms a beautiful little girl.
“Oh, my little Snow Maiden! my little darling!” cried the happy Masha, as she led the lovely child into their hut. Meanwhile, Akem could not get over his wonder. He rubbed his head, and felt sorely puzzled; he did not know whether he was asleep or awake, but felt almost sure that something had gone wrong with him somewhere.
But to return to the Snow Maiden (as Masha was pleased to call her). She grew very rapidly — not only daily but hourly — into a tall, beautiful, and graceful girl; the peasants were delighted with her — Akem had come to the conclusion that it was all right — their hut was now always in constant mirth. The village girls and boys were frequent visitors to it; they played, read, and sang with the Snow Maiden, who understood it all thoroughly, and did her best to amuse all around her. She talked, laughed, and was altogether so cheerful and good natured, that everybody loved her dearly, and tried to please her in every possible way, — at the same time a better and more obedient daughter never was. She had the most lovely white skin, just like snow; her eyes were like forget-me-nots, her lips and cheeks like roses; in fact, she was the very picture of health and beauty; with her lovely golden hair hanging down her back, she looked just like a girl of seventeen, though she was only a few days old.
“Akem,” said Masha, one day to her husband, “how good Providence has been to us; how Snow Maiden has brightened us, in these few days, and how wicked we were to grumble as we did.”
“Yes, Masha,” returned Akem, “we ought to thank Providence for all that He has done for us, and thank Him that we have mirth instead of gloom, in our little home.”
Winter passed, the heavens rejoiced, the spring sun came out, the swallows began to fly about, and the grass and trees became green once more.
The lovely Russian peasant girls gathered themselves together, and met their young cavaliers under the trees in the forest, where they danced and sang their pretty Russian songs. But the Snow Maiden was dull.
“What is the matter with you, my darling?” asked Masha; “are you ill? You are always so bright and cheerful as a rule, and now you are so dull all at once. Has any bad man thrown a spell over you?”
“No, mother mine; nothing is the matter with me, darling,” the Snow Maiden replied, but still she continued to be dull, and by degrees she lost her beautiful colour, and began to droop sadly, greatly to the alarm of those around her.
The last snow had now vanished, the gardens began to bloom, the rivers and lakes rippled, the birds sang merrily; in fact all the wide world seemed happy; yet our little Snow Maiden drooped and looked sad.
She sat with her hands folded in the coolest part of the hut. She loved the cold winter, it was her best friend, but this horrid heat she hated. She was glad when it rained a little, there was no broiling sun then. She did not mind the winter sun, but the summer sun was her enemy; and quite natural, too, poor thing, when she was born in the winter in the snow! At last the great summer feast arrived, the village youths and maidens came to the Snow Maiden and asked her to join them in a romp through the woods, and begged Masha to let her go with them. At first Masha refused, but the girls begged so hard that at last, on thinking it over, she consented, for she thought it might cheer Snow Maiden up.
“But,” said she, “take care of her, for she is the apple of my eye, and if anything happens to her, I don’t know what I shall do!”
“All right! all right! we shall take care of her, she is just as dear to us! “cried the young people, as they took Snow Maiden and ran off with her into the forest, where the girls wove themselves wreaths, while the young men gathered sticks, which they piled up high; and at sunset they set fire to them, and then they arranged themselves all in a row one after another, boys and girls, and prepared to jump over the burning heap. Our Snow Maiden was the last in the row.
” Mind,” said the girls to her, ” don’t stay behind but jump after us.”
One! two! three ! and away they went, jumping over the flames in great delight. Suddenly they heard a piercing scream, and on looking round discovered that Snow Maiden was missing.
” Ah,” cried they, laughing, “she is up to one of her tricks again, and has most likely gone and hidden herself somewhere. Come, let us go and search for her.”
They all ran off in pairs in different directions, but nowhere could they find their missing companion. Their happy young faces soon turned very grave, and their joy gave place to sorrow and alarm. They met at last in the road outside the forest, and began asking each other what they had best do.
“Perhaps she has run home,” said one.
This seemed a happy thought; so they ran to the hut, but no Snow Maiden was there. They looked for her all through the next day and night, and on the third, and fourth. They sought her in the village, hut after hut, and in the forest, tree after tree, bush after bush; but all in vain, nowhere could they find her. As for poor Akem and Masha, it is needless to say, that their grief was too great for words, no one could comfort them. Day after day, night after night, did poor Masha wander into the forest, calling like the cuckoo, “Oh, my little Snow Maiden! Oh, my little darling.”
But there was no answer to her call, not one word from that sweet voice did Masha get in reply. Snow Maiden was not to be found, that was certain, but how had she vanished, and whither had she gone? Had the wild beasts of the forest eaten her up? or had the robber-bird carried her off to the blue sea? No, it was not the wild beasts, nor was it the robber-bird, but — as our little friend was jumping over the flames after her companions she evaporated into a thin cloud, and flew to the heights of the heavens.