Once upon a time there was a mother who had two daughters – one was her own and the other one was her stepdaughter. The mother loved her own daughter very much but could not stand to look at her stepdaughter. The reason was that Maruška was nicer than her own daughter Holena. But Maruška was not aware of her own beauty. That is why she could not know understand why her stepmother wrinkled her forehead whenever she looked at her. Maruška thought perhaps that she did not comply with her mother’s will. When Holena adorned herself, rested in the room, and walked around the yard or in the street aimlessly, Maruška did all the housework – cleaned, cooked, washed, sewed, spun, carried hay home, and milked the cows. She did all the work, yet her stepmother cursed her every day. It did not matter that she suffered like a martyr! The situation grew worse and worse every day! The reason was that Maruška became prettier and prettier each day while Holena grew uglier and uglier.
The mother thought to herself, „What a problem it is to have a pretty stepdaughter in the house! When suitors come to visit us, they will fall in love with the pretty stepdaughter and will not want ugly Holena.“
She consulted with Holena and they devised such schemes which would not even enter the mind of a brave man.
One day, just after the New Year in severe winter, Holena wanted to smell violets. She said, „Maruša, go to the woods and collect a bouquet of violets for me. I want to wear them on my dress because I feel like smelling violets.“
„Goodness, my dear sister, what are you thinking? Has anybody ever heard of violets growing under the snow?“ asked the poor Maruška.
„You, worthless dolt, how can you be so defiant, when I order you to do something?“ Holena shouted at her.
„Disappear, and if you bring no violets from the forest, I will kill you!“ she threatened her. And the stepmother drove Maruška out, closed the door behind her, and barred the door.
The girl went crying into the forest. There were walls of snow and no human footstep could be seen. She was wandering and wandering for a long time, and hunger tormented her! She shivered with cold! Crying, she asked God to take her from this world! Suddenly, she could see a light in the distance! She went toward the light and reached the mountaintop. There was a big burning bonfire there. Twelve stones circled around the bonfire and twelve men were sitting on the stones. Three men were white and bearded. Three others were younger than the first ones. The next three were even younger and the final three were the youngest. They were sitting quietly, mutely and looking numbly into the fire. These twelve men were the twelve months. The great Sečeň1 was sitting on the top – on the highest stone. His hair and beard were as white as snow and he held a club in his hands.
Maruška became frightened and stood numbly. Gradually, she grew courageous, came closer to the men and asked, „My good people of God, let me get warm, I am shivering with cold.“
The great Sečeň nodded and asked her, „Why did you come, my girl? What are you looking for here?“
„I am looking for violets,“ answered Maruška.
„This is no time to be looking for violets. There is much snow indeed,“ said the great Sečeň.
„Oh, I know that, but my stepsister Holena and my stepmother ordered me to bring violets from the forest. If I do not bring them, they will kill me! I ask you politely, my uncles, tell me, where I would be able to pick them?“
The great Sečeň stood up, went to the youngest brother, gave him his club and said, „My brother Brezeň2, sit down in my place.“
Brezeň sat down on the highest stone and turned over the fire with the club. The flames flared up and the fire began to burn brigthly. The snow began to melt, the trees began to bud, and grass began to turn green under the beeches. It was spring! Violets bloomed, partially hidden under the shrubbery. When Maruška came to her senses, the ground looked like it was covered with a blue cloth.
„Pick them quickly, Maruška, quickly!“ ordered the young Brezeň. Happy Maruška picked the violets and made a big fragrant bouquet. Then she politely thanked the months and hurried home.
Holena and the stepmother marveled when they saw how Maruška was hurried home with the violets. They opened the door and the fragrance of the violets filled the whole house.
„Where did you pick them?“ Holena asked defiantly.
„Well, there, high, in the forest. They are growing under bushes and there are many of them,“ answered Maruška quietly. Holena tore the bouquet from her stepsister’s hands, fastened it to her waist and smelled the violets. She let her mother smell them too, but she did not allow her stepsister to smell the fragrant violets.
The next day Holena sat by the oven and suddenly had a craving for strawberries. She shouted, „Go, Maruška, and bring me fresh strawberries from the forest.“
„My kind sister, what are you thinking? Nobody has ever heard of strawberries growing under a blanket of snow!“
„Eh, you, worthless dolt, why do you have to talk back when I give an order? Go, go quickly and if you do not bring me any strawberries, I will kill you!“ threatened Holena.
The stepmother pushed Maruška out, closed the door behind her, and barred the door.
Crying, the poor girl set out for the forest. There were huge banks of snow and no human footprints. She was wandering and wandering for a long time. Hunger tortured her! She shivered with cold! She asked God to take her from this world! Suddenly, she saw a light in the distance as she had on the previous day. Maruška followed the glow of the fire again. Twelve men – the twelve months – were sitting around the fire even today. The great Sečeň, white and bearded, with a club in his hand, sat on the highest stone.
„My good people of God, please let me warm myself! The cold has crushed me completely,“ said Maruška.
Great Sečeň nodded and asked he, „And why have you come again, my girl, and what are you looking for?“
„I am looking for strawberries,“ responded the girl.
„Eh, well, it is winter and strawberries will not grow under a blanket of snow,“ said the great Sečeň.
„Well, I know,“ said Maruška sadly. „But my stepsister Holena and my stepmother ordered me to pick strawberries. If I do not pick them, they will kill me! My uncles, I am asking you politely, please tell me where I can find them.“
The great Sečeň stood up, went to the month sitting opposite him, gave him the club and told him, „My brother Lipeň, sit down in my place now!“
The Lipeň3 sat down on the highest stone and stirred the fire with the club. The flames rose three times higher. The snow melted in an instant! The trees budded, the birds chirped and sang, and there were lots of flowers everywhere! It was summer! It looked as if somebody had sowen small white stars under the bushes. Apparently, the white stars changed into strawberries and had ripened. By the time Maruška came to her senses there were so many strawberries that the ground looked like it was watered with blood!
„Pick quickly, Maruška, quickly!“ ordered Lipeň warmly.
Pleased, Maruška picked almost enough strawberries to fill her apron. She thanked the months politely and hurried home.
Holena and Maruška’s stepmother marveled once again when they saw that Maruška had filled her apron with fresh strawberries. They opened the door, and the aroma of the fresh strawberries filled the house!
„Where did you find them?“ Holena asked angrily.
And Maruška just answered quietly, „Well, over there, high in the hills. They are growing in the forest. There are lots of them there!“
Holena took the strawberries and ate until she was full. The stepmother ate the strawberries until she was satisfied too. But they did not invite Maruška, „Take a strawberry too.“
So Holena ate these delicacies until she was full, and on the third day she wanted to eat apples.
„Go, Maruša, go to the forest and bring me some red apples,“ she ordered.
„Goodness, my dear sister, what are thinking? Has anybody ever heard of apples ripening in winter?“
„Eh, you worthless dolt, why do you have to talk back when I order you to do something? Go to the forest quickly and if you do not bring me some red apples, I will truly kill you!“ threatened Holena. The stepmother pushed Maruška out the door, closed the door behind her, and barred it.
Crying, Maruška again went to the forest. There were banks of snow everywhere and no human footprints. She was wandering and wandering for a long time. Hunger tortured her! She shivered with cold! Again, she asked God to take her from this world! Suddenly, she saw a light in the distance again, and following the light she came to the bonfire.
The twelve men – the twelve months – were sitting around the fire, sitting like somebody had forged them together. The great Sečeň, white and bearded, sat on highest stone with the club in his hand.
„My good people, let me warm myself! The cold has completely crushed me, “ pleaded Maruška.
The great Sečeň nodded and asked her, “ Why have you come again, my girl?“
„I am looking for red apples,“ replied Maruška.
„It is winter! No red apples ripe in winter,“ said the great Sečeň.
„Well, I know,“ said Maruška sadly. „But Holena and my stepmother threatened me that if I could not bring red apples from the forest, they would kill me. My uncles, I am asking you politely once again, please help me just o,nce more time.“
The great Sečeň stood up, went to one of the older months, handed him the club and told him;
„My brother Rujeň, sit down in my place.“
The month Rujeň4 sat down on the highest stone and stirred the bonfire with the club. The bonfire blazed up. The snow disappeared, but no leaves developed on trees. Yellow leaves were falling down gradually, for it was autumn! Maruška could not see spring flowers any more. Nor would she look for them at all. She was just looking at the trees. And, indeed, there was an apple tree with red apples growing at the end of the branches.
„Maruška, pick them, but quickly!“ ordered Rujeň.
Maruška shook the apple tree, and one apple fell to the ground. She shook the tree for the second time and another apple fell down.
„Catch, Maruška, catch them quickly and run home,“ called Rujeň.
She caught the two apples, thanked the months politely and hurried home.
Holena and Maruška’s stepmother marveled again. When Maruška arrived home, they opened the door for her, and she gave them the two apples.
„And where did you pick them?“ asked Holena.
„They are growing high in the forest and there are still lots of them there,“ said Maruška.
Well, there was nothing more to tell Holena, except that there were still lots of apples left there.
„And you, worthless dolt, why did you not bring more of them? Didn’t you eat them on the way home?“ Holena flew at her.
„My dear sister, I did not take even one small bite. When I shook the tree the first time, an apple fell down. When I shook the tree the second time, another apple fell down. I was not allowed to shake the tree again and I was told to go home,“ Maruška said.
„Let the demon strike you!“ Holena cursed as she wanted to strike Maruška. And the stepmother, not hesitating, took a stick to Maruška. Maruška feared for her life, so she ran into the kitchen and hid there behind the oven.
Even with yearning to taste the apple, Holena could not stop cursing. However, in a short time, she began to eat one of the apples and she handed the other one to her mother. Now they could enjoy their delicacies!
„Mother, give me my fur coat, I’m going to go to the forest myself! The worthless girl would eat the apples again on the way home. I will find the place where the apples are growing, even if it is in hell. I will knock all the apples down since there are so many. Even if the devil would order me to stop, I would gather all of them.“
Holena shouted in this way and her mother tried in vain to dissuade her from her quest. Holena put on the fur coat and a kerchief for her head and went to the forest. Her mother just clasped her hands in despair. Standing on the treshold, she wondered what Holena intended to do.
Holena went to the forest. There were banks of snow everywhere and no human footprints could be seen. She wandered and wandered, but her craving for apples drove her even further, as if she had been driven by somebody. Suddenly, she saw a light in the distance! She set out for that light and came to the bonfire. Twelve men – twelve months were sitting around it. But Holena did not bow to them, did not acknowledge them, nor even asked them to warm herself. She just stretched her arms toward the fire and warmed herself as if the fire was only for her.
„Why did you come here? What are you looking for?“ the great Sečeň asked angrily.
„Why are you asking, you old fool? You don’t need to know where I am going and why,“ Holena answered back. She went further into the forest, as if ripe apples were waiting her there.
The great Sečeň wrinkled his forehead and waved the club over his head. At that moment the sky darkened, the fire went out, snow fell, and a strong wind blew. Holena could not see her next step and she sunk into the deepest snowdrifts. She cursed Maruška and God. Her limbs stiffened more and more. Her knees collapsed and she fell there.
Holena’s mother awaited her. At first, looking out of the window, she then went out in front of the door to see if her daughter was coming. Hour after hour she stood there but Holena did not come.
„Doesn’t she feel like leaving the apples? Oh, what is the matter? I must find her myself,“ said the mother. She put on her fur coat and wrapped a shawl around her head and shoulders and went out to look for her daughter.
The snow was falling more and more densely, and a colder and colder wind was blowing. There were snowdrifts everywhere. Maruška’s stepmother struggled through them and called her daughter, but not a voice answered her. She lost her way and did not know where she was. The mother cursed Holena and God. Her limbs stiffened, her knees collapsed, and she fell in the snow too, just as Holena had.
In the meantime, Maruška prepared dinner, took care of the cow and milked it, but neither Holena nor her stepmother came home.
„Where are they so long?“ worried Maruška. Sitting down at the spinning wheel, she worked late into the night. The spindle had been filled with thread, but there was no news about the two. Looking out the window anxiously, the good girl worried. „Goodness, what could have happened to them?“ Not a soul could be seen there. Only the stars were shining in the sky. The wind stopped blowing. The ground was shining with snow and the roofs were glittering from the cold. Maruška closed the window sadly and prayed for her stepsister and her stepmother. In the morning she waited for them with breakfast. Then she waited with dinner, but they did not come. She still did not realize that they both froze to death in the forest.
Maruška inherited the house, the cow, the small garden, and the field and meadows around the house. When spring came, a farmer had been found to manage the property. A handsome lad, he soon wed good Maruška – and they both lived well in peace and in love.
1 Sečeň means January.
2 Brezeň is March.
3 Lipeň is June.
4 Rujeň means September.
This tale was told by Božena Němcová’s servant Marka from Trenčianska.Kategorie: