The Twelve Months -- A Slav Legend
by Alexander Chodzko (Adapted from Slav Fairy Tales)
was once a widow who had two daughters, Helen, her own child by her dead
husband, and Marouckla, his daughter by his first wife. She loved Helen,
but hated the poor orphan because she was far prettier than her own daughter.
Marouckla did not think about her good looks,
and could not understand why her stepmother should be angry at the sight
of her. The hardest work fell to her share. She cleaned out the rooms,
cooked, washed, sewed, spun, wove, brought in the hay, milked the cow,
and all this without any help.
Helen, meanwhile, did nothing but dress herself
in her best clothes and go to one amusement after another.
But Marouckla never complained. She bore the scoldings
and bad temper of mother and sister with a smile on her lips, and the patience
of a lamb. But this angelic behavior did not soften them. They became even
more tyrannical and grumpy, for Marouckla grew daily more beautiful, while
Helen's ugliness increased. So the stepmother determined to get rid
of Marouckla, for she knew that while she remained, her own daughter would
have no suitors. Hunger, every kind of privation, abuse, every means
was used to make the girl's life miserable. But in spite of it all
Marouckla grew ever sweeter and more charming.
One day in the middle of winter Helen wanted
``Listen,'' cried she to Marouckla, ``you
must go up the mountain and find me violets. I want some to put in
my gown. They must be fresh and sweet-scented -- do you hear?''
``But, my dear sister, whoever heard of violets
blooming in the snow?'' said the poor orphan.
``You wretched creature! Do you dare
to disobey me?'' said Helen. ``Not another word. Off with you!
If you do not bring me some violets from the mountain forest I will kill
The stepmother also added her threats to those
of Helen, and with vigorous blows they pushed Marouckla outside and shut
the door upon her. The weeping girl made her way to the mountain. The snow
lay deep, and there was no trace of any human being. Long she wandered
hither and thither, and lost herself in the wood. She was hungry,
and shivered with cold, and prayed to die.
Suddenly she saw a light in the distance,
and climbed toward it till she reached the top of the mountain. Upon
the highest peak burned a large fire, surrounded by twelve blocks of stone
on which sat twelve strange beings. Of these the first three had
white hair, three were not quite so old, three were young and handsome,
and the rest still younger.
There they all sat silently looking at the
fire. They were the Twelve Months of the Year. The great January
was placed higher than the others. His hair and mustache were white as
snow, and in his hand he held a wand. At first Marouckla was afraid, but
after a while her courage returned, and drawing near, she said:--
``Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire?
I am chilled by the winter cold.''
The great January raised his head and answered:
``What brings thee here, my daughter? What dost thou seek?''
``I am looking for violets,'' replied the
``This is not the season for violets.
Dost thou not see the snow everywhere?'' said January.
``I know well, but my sister Helen and my
stepmother have ordered me to bring them violets from your mountain.
If I return without them they will kill me. I pray you, good shepherds,
tell me where they may be found.''
Here the great January arose and went over
to the youngest of the Months, and, placing his wand in his hand, said:--
``Brother March, do thou take the highest
March obeyed, at the same time waving his
wand over the fire. Immediately the flames rose toward the sky, the snow
began to melt and the trees and shrubs to bud. The grass became green,
and from between its blades peeped the pale primrose. It was spring,
and the meadows were blue with violets.
``Gather them quickly, Marouckla,'' said March.
Joyfully she hastened to pick the flowers,
and having soon a large bunch she thanked them and ran home. Helen
and the stepmother were amazed at the sight of the flowers, the scent of
which filled the house.
``Where did you find them?'' asked Helen.
``Under the trees on the mountain-side,''
Helen kept the flowers for herself and her
mother. She did not even thank her stepsister for the trouble she had taken.
The next day she desired Marouckla to fetch her strawberries.
``Run,'' said she, ``and fetch me strawberries
from the mountain. They must be very sweet and ripe.''
``But whoever heard of strawberries ripening
in the snow?'' exclaimed Marouckla.
``Hold your tongue, worm; don't answer me.
If I don't have my strawberries I will kill you,'' said Helen.
Then the stepmother pushed Marouckla into
the yard and bolted the door. The unhappy girl made her way toward
the mountain and to the large fire round which sat the Twelve Months. The
great January occupied the highest place.
``Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire? The
winter cold chills me,'' said she, drawing near.
The great January raised his head and asked:
``Why comest thou here? What dost thou seek?''
``I am looking for strawberries,'' said she.
``We are in the midst of winter,'' replied
January, ``strawberries do not grow in the snow.''
``I know,'' said the girl sadly, ``but my
sister and stepmother have ordered me to bring them strawberries. If I
do not they will kill me. Pray, good shepherds, tell me where to find them.''
The great January arose, crossed over to the Month
opposite him, and putting the wand in his hand, said: ``Brother June,
do thou take the highest place.''
June obeyed, and as he waved his wand over
the fire the flames leaped toward the sky. Instantly the snow melted,
the earth was covered with verdure, trees were clothed with leaves, birds
began to sing, and various flowers blossomed in the forest. It was
summer. Under the bushes masses of star-shaped flowers changed into
strawberries, and instantly they covered the glade, making it look
like a sea of blood.
``Gather them quickly, Marouckla,'' said June.
Joyfully she thanked the Months, and having
filled her apron ran happily home.
Helen and her mother wondered at seeing the
strawberries, which filled the house with their delicious fragrance.
``Wherever did you find them?'' asked Helen
``Right up among the mountains. Those
from under the beech trees are not bad,'' answered Marouckla.
Helen gave a few to her mother and ate the
rest herself. Not one did she offer to her stepsister. Being tired
of strawberries, on the third day she took a fancy for some fresh, red
said she, ``and fetch me fresh, red apples from the mountain.''
``Apples in winter, sister? Why, the
trees have neither leaves nor fruit!''
``Idle thing, go this minute,'' said Helen;
``unless you bring back apples we will kill you.''
As before, the stepmother seized her roughly
and turned her out of the house. The poor girl went weeping up the
mountain, across the deep
snow, and on toward the fire round which were the Twelve Months. Motionless
they sat there, and on the highest stone was the great January.
``Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire?
The winter cold chills me,'' said she, drawing near.
The great January raised his head. ``Why
comest thou here? What does thou seek?'' asked he.
``I am come to look
for red apples,'' replied Marouckla.
``But this is winter, and not the season for
red apples,'' observed the great January.
``I know,'' answered the girl, ``but my sister
and stepmother sent me to fetch red apples from the mountain. If
I return without them they will kill me.''
Thereupon the great January arose and went
over to one of the elderly Months, to whom he handed the wand saying:--
``Brother September, do thou take the highest
September moved to the highest stone, and
waved his wand over the fire. There was a flare of red flames, the
snow disappeared, but the fading leaves which trembled on the trees were
sent by a cold northeast wind in yellow masses to the glade. Only a few
flowers of autumn were visible. At first Marouckla looked in vain for red
apples. Then she espied a tree which grew at a great height, and from the
branches of this hung the bright, red fruit. September ordered her
to gather some quickly. The girl was delighted and
shook the tree. First one apple fell, then another.
``That is enough,'' said September; ``hurry
Thanking the Months she returned joyfully.
Helen and the stepmother wondered at seeing the fruit.
``Where did you gather them?'' asked the stepsister.
``There are more on the mountain-top,'' answered
``Then, why did you not bring more?'' said
Helen angrily. ``You must have eaten them on your way back, you wicked
``No, dear sister, I have not even tasted
them,'' said Marouckla. ``I shook the tree twice. One apple
fell each time. Some shepherds would not allow me to shake it again,
but told me to return home.''
``Listen, mother,'' said Helen. ``Give
me my cloak. I will fetch some more apples myself. I shall
be able to find the mountain and the tree. The shepherds may cry `Stop!'
but I will not leave go till I have shaken down all the apples.''
In spite of her mother's advice she wrapped
herself in her pelisse, put on a warm hood, and took the road to the mountain.
Snow covered everything. Helen lost herself and wandered hither and
thither. After a while she saw a light above her, and, following
in its direction, reached the mountain-top.
There was the flaming fire, the twelve blocks
of stone, and the Twelve Months. At first she was frightened and
hesitated; then she came
nearer and warmed her hands. She did not ask permission, nor
did she speak one polite word.
``What hath brought thee here? What
dost thou seek?'' said the great January severely.
``I am not obliged to tell you, old graybeard.
What business is it of yours?'' she replied disdainfully, turning her back
on the fire and going toward the forest.
The great January frowned, and waved his wand
over his head. Instantly the sky became covered with clouds, the
fire went down, snow fell in large flakes, an icy wind howled round the
mountain. Amid the fury of the storm Helen stumbled about.
The pelisse failed to warm her benumbed limbs.
The mother kept on waiting for her.
She looked from the window, she watched from the doorstep, but her daughter
came not. The hours passed
slowly, but Helen did not return.
``Can it be that the apples have charmed her
from her home?'' thought the mother. Then she clad herself in hood
and pelisse, and went in search of her daughter. Snow fell in huge
masses. It covered all things. For long she wandered hither and thither,
the icy northeast wind whistled in the mountain, but no voice answered
Day after day Marouckla worked, and prayed,
and waited, but neither stepmother nor sister returned. They had been frozen
to death on the mountain.
The inheritance of a small house, a field,
and a cow fell to Marouckla. In course of time an honest farmer came
to share them with her, and their lives were happy and peaceful.
from Olcott, Frances Jenkins, Good
Stories For Holidays (1914)