The Snow Queen
A Hans Christian Andersen Tale
– Fifth Story –
The Little Robber Girl
They drove on through a dark forest, but the coach gleamed like a torch, that dazzled the robbers’ eyes, and that they could not bear.
“It is gold! It is gold!” cried they, and rushed forward and seized the horses, killed the little postilions, the coachman, and the footmen, and then dragged little Gerda out of the carriage.
“She is fat—she is pretty—she has been fattened on nuts!” said the old robber woman, who had a long matted beard, and eyebrows that hung down over her eyes. “She’s as good as a little fatted lamb! How well she will taste!”
And she drew out her shining knife, that glittered in a horrible way.
“Oh!” screamed the old woman at the same moment; for her ear was bitten by her own little daughter, who hung on her back and was as wild and savage as an animal. “You ugly brat!” said her mother, and she had not time to kill Gerda then.
“She shall play with me!” said the little robber girl. “She shall give me her muff and her pretty dress, and sleep with me in my bed!”
And then she bit her again, so that the woman jumped high in the air and turned about, and all the robbers laughed and said:
“Look how she dances with her young!”
“I will go in the carriage!” said the little robber girl.
And she would have her own way, for she was so spoiled and obstinate; and she and Gerda sat in the carriage, and off they drove over stock and stone deep into the forest. The little robber girl was as big as Gerda, but stronger and more broad-shouldered, and she had a dark skin. Her eyes were quite black, and they looked almost mournful. She took little Gerda round the waist, and said:
“They shall not kill you as long as I don’t get angry with you. I suppose you are a princess?”
“No,” replied Gerda. And she told all that had happened to her, and how fond she was of little Kay.
The robber girl looked at her earnestly, and gave a little nod with her head, and said:
“They shall not kill you even if I do get angry with you, for then I will do it myself.”
And then she dried Gerda’s eyes, and put her two hands into the beautiful muff that was so soft and warm.
Soon the coach stopped, and they were in the courtyard of a robber’s castle. Its walls had cracked from the top to the bottom; ravens and crows flew out of the open holes, and big bulldogs—each of which looked as if he could devour a man—jumped high in the air, but they did not bark, for that was forbidden.
In the great old smoky hall a big fire was burning in the middle of the stone floor. The smoke went up to the ceiling, and had to find its own way out. A big cauldron of soup was boiling, and hares and rabbits were roasting on the spit.
“You shall sleep here to-night with me and all my little animals,” said the robber girl.
They got something to eat and drink, and then went over into a corner, where there were lying some straw and some carpets. Overhead, sitting on laths and perches, were nearly a hundred pigeons. They all seemed to be asleep, but they moved a little when the two little girls came.
“They are all mine,” said the little robber girl; and she quickly seized one of the nearest, held it by the feet, and shook it till it flapped its wings. “Kiss it!” she cried, and beat it in Gerda’s face. “There sit rascals from the wood,” she went on, pointing to a number of laths that had been nailed in front of a hole high up in the wall. “Those are wood rascals, those two; they fly away at once if one does not keep them properly shut up. And here’s my old sweetheart ‘Bae.’” And she dragged out by the horns a reindeer that was tied up and had a polished copper ring round its neck. “We have to keep him fast too, or he’d run away from us. Every evening I tickle his neck with my sharp knife, and that frightens him terribly!”
And the little girl drew a long knife out of a crack in the wall and let it slide over the reindeer’s neck. The poor animal kicked out with its legs, and the robber girl laughed, and pulled Gerda into bed with her.
“Do you keep the knife with you while you’re asleep?” asked Gerda, and looked at it rather frightened.
“I always sleep with my knife,” replied the robber girl. “One never knows what may happen. But tell me once again what you told me before about little Kay, and why you went out into the wide world.”
And Gerda told it all over again, and the wood pigeons cooed above them in their cage, and the other pigeons slept. The little robber girl put her arm round Gerda’s neck, held her knife in the other hand, and slept so that anyone could hear her; but Gerda could not close her eyes at all—she did not know whether she was to live or die.
The robbers sat round the fire, sang, and drank, and the old robber woman turned somersaults. It was terrible for the little girl to see.
Then the wood pigeons said, “Coo! coo! We have seen little Kay. A white hen was carrying his sledge. He sat in the Snow Queen’s carriage, which drove close by the forest as we lay in our nests. She blew upon us young pigeons, and all died except us two. Coo! coo!”
“What are you saying up there?” asked Gerda. “Where was the Snow Queen going? Do you know anything about it?”
“She was probably going to Lapland, for there, there’s always ice and snow. Ask the reindeer that is tied up by the rope.”
“There, there is snow and ice. There it is glorious and fine!” said the reindeer. “There one runs free in the wide glittering valleys! There the Snow Queen has her summer tent; but her stronghold is up nearer the North Pole, on the island they call Spitzbergen.”
“Oh, Kay, little Kay!” sighed Gerda.
“You must lie still,” said the robber girl, “or else you will feel the knife in your body.”
In the morning Gerda told her all that the wood pigeons had said, and the robber girl looked very serious, and nodded her head, and said:
“That’s all the same—that’s all the same. Do you know where Lapland is?” she asked the reindeer.
“Who should know better than I?” said the animal, and its eyes shone in its head. “There was I born and bred! There have I leaped about over the snowfields!”
“Listen!” said the robber girl to Gerda. “You see all our men-folk have gone. Only mother is here still, and she’ll stay; but towards noon she drinks out of the big bottle, and then she sleeps for a little; then I’ll do something for you.”
Then she sprang out of bed, and clasped her mother round the neck and pulled her beard, saying:
“Good morning, my own dear nanny-goat!” And her mother filliped her nose till it was red and blue; but that was all done out of pure love.
When the mother had drunk out of her bottle and was taking a little nap the robber girl went to the reindeer, and said:
“I should like very much to tickle you a few times more with the knife, for then you are so funny; but it’s all the same. I’ll loosen your rope and help you out, so that you may run to Lapland; but you must use your legs well, and carry this little girl to the palace of the Snow Queen, where her playfellow is. You’ve heard what she told me, for she spoke loud enough, and you were listening.”
The reindeer jumped high for joy. The robber girl lifted little Gerda up, and had the sense to tie her on, and even to give her her own little cushion to sit on. “It’s all the same,” said she, “and there are your fur boots for you, for it’s growing cold; but I shall keep the muff, for it’s so very pretty. Still, you shall not freeze, for all that: here are my mother’s big mittens—they’ll reach right up to your elbows. Put them on! Now your hands look just like my ugly mother’s!”
And Gerda wept for joy.
“I can’t bear to see you whimpering,” said the little robber girl. “You ought to be looking delighted! And here are two loaves and a ham for you, so you can’t starve.”
These were tied on the reindeer’s back. The little robber girl opened the door, called in all the big dogs, and then cut the rope with he knife, and said to the reindeer:
“Now run, but take good care of the little girl!”
And Gerda stretched out her hands, with the big mittens, towards the little robber girl, and said, “Farewell!”
And off flew the reindeer over stumps and stones, away through the great forest, over marshes and steppes, as fast as it could go. The wolves howled and the ravens croaked. “Hiss! hiss!” it went in the air. It was as if the sky was red with fire.
“Those are my old Northern Lights,” said the reindeer. “Look how they flash!” And then he ran on faster than ever, day and night. The loaves were eaten, and the ham too, and so they reached Lapland.