The Snow Queen
A Hans Christian Andersen Tale
– Second Story –
A Little Boy and a Little Girl
In the big town, where there are so many houses and people that there is not room enough for every one to have a little garden, and where most people therefore must be content with flowers in flowerpots, there were, however, two poor children who had a garden somewhat bigger than a flower-pot. They were not brother and sister, but they loved each other quite as much as if they had been. Their parents lived just opposite each other; they lived in two garrets, where the roof of one neighbour’s house joined that of the other, with the gutter running between them. In each house was a little window. You had only to step across the gutter to get from one window to the other.
Outside each window the parents had placed a big wooden box, in which grew the vegetables that they used and a little rose-bush; there was one in each box, and they grew splendidly. The parents then thought of placing the boxes across the gutter, so that they nearly reached from one window to another, and looked just like two walls of flowers. Sweet peas hung over the boxes, and the rose-bushes sent out long shoots, which clustered round the windows and bent towards each other; it was almost like a triumphal arch of flowers and leaves. As the boxes were very high, and the children knew that they must not climb on them, they were often allowed to go out on to the roof behind the boxes, and to sit upon their little stools under the roses, and there they could play capitally.
In the winter there was an end of this amusement. The windows were sometimes frosted all over. But then they warmed coppers on the stove, and held the warm coins against the frosted pane; and this made a capital peep-hole, so round, so round! and out of each peeped a bright friendly eye, one from each window—it was the little boy and the little girl. His name was Kay and hers was Gerda.
In the summer they could get to each other at one jump, but in the winter they had to go down many stairs and up many stairs again, while the snow was falling outside.
“It is the white bees that are swarming,” said the old grand mother.
“Have they also a queen-bee?” asked the little boy, for he knew that there was one among the real bees.
“Yes, they have one,” said grandmother. “She always flies where they swarm thickest. She is the largest of them all, and never settles on the earth, but flies up again into the black sky. Many a winter’s night does she fly through the streets of the town, and looks in at the windows, and then they freeze fantastically and look like flowers.”
“Yes, I’ve seen that!” said both the children, and then they knew that it was true.
“Can the Snow Queen come in here?” asked the little girl.
“Let her try!” said the boy; “I’ll put her on the hot stove, and then she’ll melt.”
But the grandmother smoothed his hair, and told them some more tales.
In the evening, when little Kay was at home and half undressed, he climbed upon the chair by the window and looked out through the little hole. A few flakes of snow were falling outside, and one of them, the largest of all, settled on the edge of one of the flower-boxes. The snowflake grew larger and larger, till at last it became a maiden clothed in the finest white gauze, made of millions of star-like flakes. She was beautiful and delicate, but of ice—of blinding, sparkling ice. Yet she was alive; her eyes flashed like two bright stars, but there was no peace or rest in them. She nodded towards the window, and beckoned with her hand. The little boy was frightened, and jumped down from the chair, and the same moment it seemed as if a large bird flew by outside the window.
Next day it was clear and frosty, and then came the thaw, and with it the spring. The sun shone, the green shoots appeared, the swallows built their nests, the windows were opened, and the little children sat in their garden again, high up on the roof, at the top of the house.
How splendidly the roses bloomed that summer! The little girl had learned a hymn in which there was something about roses; and she thought of her own roses; so she sang it to the little boy, and he sang too:
Roses fade and die, but we
Our Infant Lord shall surely see.
And the little ones held each other’s hands, kissed the roses, and looked up at God’s bright sunshine and spoke to it, as if the Christ-child were there. What lovely summer days those were! How beautiful it was out there, by the sweet rose-bushes, which seemed as if they would never stop blooming!
Kay and Gerda sat and looked at the picture-book of beasts and birds. It was then, exactly as the clock struck five in the great church tower, that Kay said:
“Oh! Something has stabbed my heart! And now something has got into my eye!”
The little girl put her arms round his neck. He blinked his eyes. But no, there was nothing at all to be seen.
“I think it is gone,” said he; but it was not gone. It was one of those splinters of glass from the mirror—the goblin-mirror that we remember so well, the ugly glass that made everything great and good which was mirrored in it seem small and hideous, while the mean and the wicked things became distinct and large, and every fault was to be seen at once. Poor little Kay had also received a splinter right in his heart. And now that would soon become like a lump of ice. It did not hurt him any more, but the splinter was still there.
“Why are you crying?” he asked. “You look ugly like that. There’s nothing the matter with me. Oh, fie!” he cried suddenly; “that rose is worm-eaten, and look—this one is quite crooked! They’re ugly roses, after all—like the box they stand in!”
And he kicked the box with his foot, and tore both the roses off.
“Kay, what are you doing?” cried the little girl.
And seeing her dismay, he tore off another rose and jumped in at his own window, away from dear little Gerda.
When afterwards she came with her picture-book he said it was only fit for babies ; and when grandmother told stories he was always sure to put in a but; and when he could manage it he would get behind her, put on a pair of spectacles, and talk just as she did; he could do it perfectly, and people laughed at him. Soon he could mimic the voice and walk of everybody in the street. Everything that was peculiar or ugly about them Kay would imitate. And people said, “He must certainly have a remarkable head, that boy!” But it was the glass that had got into his eye, the glass that had stuck in his heart, that caused all this, and even made him tease little Gerda, who loved him with all her heart.
His games now became quite different from what they were before; they became quite sensible. One winter’s day, when the snow was falling, he came out with a great burning-glass, held up the tail of his blue coat, and let the snowflakes fall upon it.
“Now look through the glass, Gerda,” said he.
And every flake of snow was magnified, and looked like a splendid flower, or a star with ten points: it was lovely to see.
“Look, how clever!” said Kay. “That’s much more interesting than real flowers; and there is not a single fault in them—they’re quite regular until they begin to melt.”
Soon after Kay came out with thick gloves on, and with his sledge on his back. He shouted into Gerda’s ears, “I’ve got leave to go into the big square, where the other boys play,” and off he went.
In the big square the boldest among the boys often tied their sledges to the country people’s carts, and were dragged along a good way with them. It was great fun. At the height of their game there came along a big sledge. It was all painted white, and in it sat somebody wrapped in a rough white fur, and with a white rough cap on. The sledge drove twice round the square, and Kay managed to fasten his little sledge to it, and away he drove with it. It went faster and faster, straight into the next street. The driver turned round and nodded in a friendly way to Kay; it was just as if they knew one another: every time Kay wanted to cast loose his little sledge the stranger nodded again, and so Kay stayed where he was, and so they drove out at the town gate. Then the snow began to fall so fast that the boy could not see a hand’s breadth before him, but still on he went. Then he hastily dropped the cord, so as to get loose from the big sledge, but it was no use, for his little sledge was fast bound to the other, and they went on like the wind. Then he called out loudly, but nobody heard him; and the snow fell fast and the sledge flew on; every now and then it gave a jump, and they seemed to be flying over hedges and ditches. The boy was quite frightened. He wanted to say “Our Father,” but could remember nothing but the multiplication table.
The snowflakes became larger and larger; at last they looked like big white fowls. All at once they flew aside and the big sledge stopped, and the person who had driven it stood up. The fur and the cap were all made of snow; it was a lady, so tall and slender, and glittering white! It was the Snow Queen.
“We have travelled fast!” said she. “But you are shivering with cold! Creep under my bearskin.”
And she put him beside her in her own sledge, and wrapped the fur round him, and he felt as if he was sinking into a snowdrift.
“Are you still cold?” she asked, and then she kissed him on the forehead.
Ugh! that was colder than ice; it went right through to his heart, half of which was already a lump of Ice : he felt as if he was going to die—but only for a moment; and then he felt quite well again, and he did not notice the cold any more.
“My sledge! don’t forget my sledge!”
That was the first thing he thought of; and it was bound fast to one of the white fowls, which flew behind them with the sledge upon its back. The Snow Queen kissed Kay once more, and then he had forgotten little Gerda, and his grandmother, and all at home.
“Now you shall have no more kisses,” said she, “for if you did I should kiss you to death.”
Kay looked at her. She was so beautiful, he could not imagine a more wise or lovely face; she did not appear to be made of ice now, as before, when she sat outside the window and beckoned to him. In his eyes she was perfect; he did not feel at all afraid. He told her he could do mental arithmetic as far as fractions, and that he knew the number of square miles and the number of inhabitants in all countries. And all the time she smiled, and then it seemed to him that what he knew was not enough, and he looked up into the great space, and she flew with him high up upon the black cloud, and the storm blew and whistled; it seemed as though the wind sang old songs. They flew over forests and lakes, over sea and land: beneath them roared the cold wind, the wolves howled, the snow glistened; above them flew black screaming crows; but above all the moon shone bright and clear, and Kay gazed at it through the long, long winter night; by day he slept at the feet of the Snow Queen.