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The Snow Maiden
Once upon a time there lived a woodcutter and his old wife. They were poor and had no children. The old man cut logs in the forest and carried them into town; in this way he eked out a living. As they grew older they became sadder and sadder at being childless.
"We are growing so old. Who will take care of us?" the wife would ask from time to time.
"Do not worry, old woman. God will not abandon us. He will come to our aid in time," answered the old man.
One day, in the dead of winter, he went into the forest to chop wood and his wife came along to help him. The cold was intense and they were nearly frozen.
"We have no child," said the woodcutter to his wife. "Shall we make a little snow girl to amuse us?"
They began to roll snowballs together, and in a short while they had made a "snegurochka," a snow maiden, so beautiful that no pen could describe her. The old man and the old woman gazed at her and grew even sadder.
"If only the good Lord had sent us a little girl to share our old age!" said the old woman.
They thought on this so strongly that suddenly a miracle happened. They looked at their snow maiden, and were amazed at what they saw. The eyes of the snow maiden twinkled; a diadem studded with precious stones sparkled like fire on her head; a cape of brocade covered her shoulders; embroidered boots appeared on her feet.
The old couple looked at her and did not believe their eyes. Then the mist of breath parted the red lips of Snegurochka; she trembled, looked around, and took a step forward.
The old couple stood there, stupefied; they thought they were dreaming. Snegurochka came toward them and said:
"Good day, kind folk, do not be frightened! I will be a good daughter to you, the joy of your old age. I will honor you as father and mother."
"My darling daughter, let it be as you desire," answered the old man. "Come home with us, our longed-for little girl!" They took her by her white hands and led her from the forest.
As they went, the pine trees swayed goodbye, saying their farewell to Snegurochka, with their rustling wishing her safe journey, happy life.
The old couple brought Snegurochka home to their wooden hut, their 'isba,' and she began her life with them, helping them to do the chores. She was always most respectful, she never contradicted them, and they could not praise her enough, nor tire of gazing at her, she was so kind and so beautiful.
Snegurochka, nevertheless, worried her adopted parents. She was not at all talkative and her little face was always pale, so pale. She did not seem to have a drop of blood, yet her eyes shone like little stars. And her smile! When she smiled she lighted up the isba like a gift of rubles.
They lived together thus for one month, two months; time passed. The old couple could not rejoice enough in their little daughter, gift of God.
One day the old woman said to Snegurochka: "My darling daughter, why are you so shy? You see no friends, you always stay with us, old people; that must be tiresome for you. Why do you not go out and play with your friends, show yourself and see people? You should not spend all your time with us, aged folk."
"I have no wish to go out, dear Mother," answered Snegurochka. "I am happy here."
Carnival time arrived. The streets were alive with strollers, with singing from early morning until late at night. Snegurochka watched the merrymaking through the little frozen window panes. She watched ... and finally she could resist no longer; she gave in to the old woman, put on her little cape, and went into the street to join the throng.
In the same village there lived a maiden called Kupava. She was a true beauty, with hair as black as a raven's wing, skin like blood and milk, and arching brows.
One day a rich merchant came through town. His name was Mizgir, and he was young and tall. He saw Kupava and she pleased him. Kupava was not at all shy; she was saucy and never turned down an invitation to stroll.
Mizgir stopped in the village, called to all the young girls, gave them nuts and spiced bread, and danced with Kupava. From that moment he never left town, and, it must be said, he soon became Kupava's lover. There was Kupava, the belle of the town, parading around in velvets and silks, serving sweet wines to the youths and the maidens and living the joyful life.
The day Snegurochka first strolled in the street, she met Kupava, who introduced all her friends. From then on Snegurochka came out more often and looked at the yours. A young boy, a shepherd, pleased her. He was named Lel. Snegurochka pleased him too, and they became inseparable. Whenever the young girls came out to stroll and to sing, Lel would run to Snegurochka's isba, tap on the window and say: "Snegurochka, dearest, come out and join the dancing." Once she appeared, he never left her side.
One day Mizgir came to the village as the maidens were dancing in the street. He joined in with Kupava and made them all laugh. He noticed Snegurochka and she pleased him; she was so pale and so pretty! From then on Kupava seemed too dark and too heavy. Soon he found her unpleasant. Quarrels and scenes broke out between them and Mizgir stopped seeing her.
Kupava was desolate, but what could she do? One cannot please by force nor revive the past! She noticed that Mizgir often returned to the village and went to the house of Snegurochka's old parents. The rumor flew that Mizgir had asked for Snegurochka's hand in marriage.
When Kupava learned this, her heart trembled. She ran to Snegurochka's isba, reproached her, insulted her, called her a viper, a traitor, made such a scene that they had to force her to leave.
"I will go to the Tsar!" she cried. "I will not suffer this dishonor. There is no law that allows a man to compromise a maiden, then throw her aside like a useless rag!"
So Kupava went to the Tsar to beg for his help against Snegurochka, who she insisted had stolen her lover.
Tsar Berendei ruled this kingdon; he was a good and gracious Tsar who loved truth and watched over all his subjects. He listened to Kupava and ordered Snegurochka brought before him.
The Tsar's envoys arrived at the village with a proclamation ordering Snegurochka to appear before their master.
"Good subjects of the Tsar! Listen well and tell us where the maiden Snegurochka lives. The Tsar summons her! Let her make ready in haste! If she does not come of her will we will take her by force!"
The old woodcutters were filled with fear. But the Tsar's word was law. They helped Snegurochka to make ready and decided to accompany her, to present her to the Tsar.
Tsar Berendei lived in a splendid palace with walls of massive oak and wrought-iron doors; a large stairway led to great halls where Bukhara carpets covered the floors and guardsmen stood in scarlet kaftans with shining axes. All the vast courtyard was filled with people.
Once inside the sumptuous palace, the old couple and Snegurochka stood amazed. The ceilings and arches were covered with paintings, the precious plate was lined up on shelves, along the walls ran benches covered with carpets and brocades, and on these benches were seated the boyars wearing tall hats of bear fur trimmed with gold. Musicians played intricate music on their tympanums. At the far end of the hall, Tsar Berendei himself sat erect on his gilded and sculptured throne. Around him stood bodyguards in kaftans white as snow, holding silver axes.
Tsar Berendei's long white beard fell to his belt. His fur hat was the tallest; his kaftan of precious brocade was embroidered all over with jewels and with gold.
Snegurochka was frightened; she did not dare to take a step nor to raise her eyes.
Tsar Berendei said to her: "Come here, young maiden, come closer, gentle Snegurochka. Do not be afraid, answer my questions. Did you commit the sin of separating two lovers, after stealing the heart of Kupava's beloved? Did you flirt with him and do you intend to marry him? Make sure that you tell me the truth!"
Snegurochka approached the Tsar, curtsied low, knelt before him, and spoke the truth; that she was not at fault, neither in body nor in soul; that it was true that the merchant Mizgir had asked for her in marriage, but that he did not please her and she had refused his hand.
Tsar Benendei took Snegurochka's hands to help her to rise, looked into her eyes and said: "I see in your eyes, lovely maiden, that you speak the truth, that you are nowhere at fault. Go home now in peace and do not be upset!"
And the Tsar let Snegurochka leave with her adoptive parents.
When Kupava learned of the Tsar's decision she went wild with grief. She ripped her sarafan, tore her pearl necklace from her white neck, ran from her isba, and threw herself in the well.
From that day on, Segurochka grew sadder and sadder. She no longer went out in the street to stroll, not even when Lel begged her to come.
Meanwhile, spring had returned. The glorious sun rose higher and higher, the snow melted, the tender grass sprouted, the bushes turned green, the birds sang and made their nests. But the more the sun shone, the paler and sadder Snegurochka grew.
One beautiful spring morning Lel came to Snegurochka's little window and pleaded with her to come out with him, just once, for just a moment. For a long while Snegurochka refused to listen, but finally her heart could no longer resist Lel's pleas, and she went with her beloved to the edge of the village.
"Lel, oh my Lel, play your flute for me alone!" she asked. She stood before Lel, barely alive, her feet tingling, not a drop of blood in her pale face!
Let took out his flute and began to play Snegurochka's favorite air.
She listened to the song, and tears rolled down from her eyes. Then her feet melted beneath her; she fell onto the damp earth and suddenly vanished.
Lel saw nothing but a light mist rising from where she had fallen. The vapor rose, rose, and disappeared slowly in the blue sky ...
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