There was once an old man who had a wife and three daughters. The wife had no love for the eldest of the three, who was her stepdaughter, but was always scolding her. Moreover, she used to make her get up ever so early in the morning, and gave her all the work of the house to do. Before daybreak the girl would feed the cattle and give them to drink, fetch wood and water indoors, light the fire in the stove, give the room a wash, mend the dresses, and set everything in order. Even then her stepmother was never satisfied, but would grumble away at Marfa, exclaiming:—
“What a lazybones! what a slut! Why here’s a brush not in its place, and there’s something put wrong, and she’s left the muck inside the house!”
The girl held her peace, and wept; she tried in every way to accommodate herself to her stepmother, and to be of service to her stepsisters. But they, taking pattern by their mother, were always insulting Marfa, quarrelling with her, and making her cry: that was even a pleasure to them! As for them, they lay in bed late, washed themselves in water got ready for them, dried themselves with a clean towel, and didn’t sit down to work till after dinner.
Well, our girls grew and grew, until they grew up and were old enough to be married. The old man felt sorry for his eldest daughter, whom he loved because she was industrious and obedient, never was obstinate, always did as she was bid, and never uttered a word of contradiction. But he didn’t know how he was to help her in her trouble. He was feeble, his wife was a scold, and her daughters were as obstinate as they were indolent.
Well, the old folks set to work to consider—the husband how he could get his daughters settled, the wife how she could get rid of the eldest one. One day she says to him:—
“I say, old man! let’s get Marfa married.”
“Gladly,” says he, slinking off (to the sleeping-place) above the stove. But his wife called after him:—
“Get up early to-morrow, old man, harness the mare to the sledge, and drive away with Marfa. And, Marfa, get your things together in a basket, and put on a clean shift; you’re going away to-morrow on a visit.”
Poor Marfa was delighted to hear of such a piece of good luck as being invited on a visit, and she slept comfortably all night. Early next morning she got up, washed herself, prayed to God, got all her things together, packed them away in proper order, dressed herself (in her best things), and looked something like a lass!—a bride fit for any place whatsoever!
Now it was winter time, and out of doors was a rattling frost. Early in the morning, between daybreak and sunrise, the old man harnessed the mare to the sledge, and led it up to the steps. Then he went indoors, sat down on the window-sill, and said:—
“Now then! I’ve got everything ready.”
“Sit down to table and swallow your victuals!” replied the old woman.
The old man sat down to table, and made his daughter sit by his side. On the table stood a pannier; he took out a loaf, and cut bread for himself and his daughter. Meantime his wife served up a dish of old cabbage soup, and said:—
“There, my pigeon, eat and be off; I’ve looked at you quite enough! Drive Marfa to her bridegroom, old man. And look here, old greybeard! drive straight along the road at first, and then turn off from the road to the right, you know, into the forest—right up to the big pine that stands on the hill, and there hand Marfa over to Morozko (Frost).”
The old man opened his eyes wide, also his mouth, and stopped eating, and the girl began lamenting.
“Now then, what are you hanging your chaps and squealing about?” said her stepmother. “Surely your bridegroom is a beauty, and he’s that rich! Why, just see what a lot of things belong to him, the firs, the pine-tops, and the birches, all in their robes of down—ways and means that any one might envy; and he himself a bogatir!”
The old man silently placed the things on the sledge, made his daughter put on a warm pelisse, and set off on the journey. After a time, he reached the forest, turned off from the road; and drove across the frozen snow. When he got into the depths of the forest, he stopped, made his daughter get out, laid her basket under the tall pine, and said:—
“Sit here, and await the bridegroom. And mind you receive him as pleasantly as you can.”
Then he turned his horse round and drove off homewards.
The girl sat and shivered. The cold had pierced her through. She would fain have cried aloud, but she had not strength enough; only her teeth chattered. Suddenly she heard a sound. Not far off, Frost was cracking away on a fir. From fir to fir was he leaping, and snapping his fingers. Presently he appeared on that very pine under which the maiden was sitting and from above her head he cried:—
“Art thou warm, maiden?”
“Warm, warm am I, dear Father Frost,” she replied.
Frost began to descend lower, all the more cracking and snapping his fingers. To the maiden said Frost:—
“Art thou warm, maiden? Art thou warm, fair one?”
The girl could scarcely draw her breath, but still she replied:
“Warm am I, Frost dear: warm am I, father dear!”
Frost began cracking more than ever, and more loudly did he snap his fingers, and to the maiden he said:—
“Art thou warm, maiden? Art thou warm, pretty one? Art thou warm, my darling?”
The girl was by this time numb with cold, and she could scarcely make herself heard as she replied:—
“Oh! quite warm, Frost dearest!”
Then Frost took pity on the girl, wrapped her up in furs, and warmed her with blankets.
Next morning the old woman said to her husband:—
“Drive out, old greybeard, and wake the young couple!”
The old man harnessed his horse and drove off. When he came to where his daughter was, he found she was alive and had got a good pelisse, a costly bridal veil, and a pannier with rich gifts. He stowed everything away on the sledge without saying a word, took his seat on it with his daughter, and drove back. They reached home, and the daughter fell at her stepmother’s feet. The old woman was thunderstruck when she saw the girl alive, and the new pelisse and the basket of linen.
“Ah, you wretch!” she cries. “But you shan’t trick me!”
Well, a little later the old woman says to her husband:—
“Take my daughters, too, to their bridegroom. The presents he’s made are nothing to what he’ll give them.”
Well, early next morning the old woman gave her girls their breakfast, dressed them as befitted brides, and sent them off on their journey. In the same way as before the old man left the girls under the pine.
There the girls sat, and kept laughing and saying:
“Whatever is mother thinking of! All of a sudden to marry both of us off! As if there were no lads in our village, forsooth! Some rubbishy fellow may come, and goodness knows who he may be!”
The girls were wrapped up in pelisses, but for all that they felt the cold.
“I say, Prascovia! the frost’s skinning me alive. Well, if our bridegroom doesn’t come quick, we shall be frozen to death here!”
“Don’t go talking nonsense, Mashka; as if suitors generally turned up in the forenoon. Why it’s hardly dinner-time yet!”
“But I say, Prascovia! if only one comes, which of us will he take?”
“Not you, you stupid goose!”
“Then it will be you, I suppose!”
“Of course it will be me!”
“You, indeed! there now, have done talking stuff and treating people like fools!”
Meanwhile, Frost had numbed the girl’s hands, so our damsels folded them under their dress, and then went on quarrelling as before.
“What, you fright! you sleepy-face! you abominable shrew! why, you don’t know so much as how to begin weaving: and as to going on with it, you haven’t an idea!”
“Aha, boaster! and what is it you know? Why, nothing at all except to go out to merry-makings and lick your lips there. We’ll soon see which he’ll take first!”
While the girls went on scolding like that, they began to freeze in downright earnest. Suddenly they both cried out at once:
“Whyever is he so long coming. Do you know, you’ve turned quite blue!”
Now, a good way off, Frost had begun cracking, snapping his fingers, and leaping from fir to fir. To the girls it sounded as if some one was coming.
“Listen, Prascovia! He’s coming at last, and with bells, too!”
“Get along with you! I won’t listen; my skin is peeling with cold.”
“And yet you’re still expecting to get married!”
Then they began blowing on their fingers.
Nearer and nearer came Frost. At length he appeared on the pine, above the heads of the girls, and said to them:
“Are ye warm, maidens? Are ye warm, pretty ones? Are ye warm, my darlings?”
“Oh, Frost, it’s awfully cold! we’re utterly perished! We’re expecting a bridegroom, but the confounded fellow has disappeared.”
Frost slid lower down the tree, cracked away more, snapped his fingers oftener than before.
“Are ye warm, maidens? Are ye warm, pretty ones?”
“Get along with you! Are you blind that you can’t see our hands and feet are quite dead?”
Still lower descended Frost, still more put forth his might, and said:
“Are ye warm, maidens?”
“Into the bottomless pit with you! Out of sight, accursed one!” cried the girls—and became lifeless forms.
Next morning the old woman said to her husband:
“Old man, go and get the sledge harnessed; put an armful of hay in it, and take some sheep-skin wraps. I daresay the girls are half-dead with cold. There’s a terrible frost outside! And, mind you, old greybeard, do it quickly!”
Before the old man could manage to get a bite he was out of doors and on his way. When he came to where his daughters were, he found them dead. So he lifted the girls on to the sledge, wrapped a blanket round them, and covered them up with a bark mat. The old woman saw him from afar, ran out to meet him, and called out ever so loud:
“Where are the girls?”
“In the sledge.”
The old woman lifted the mat, undid the blanket, and found the girls both dead.
Then, like a thunderstorm, she broke out against her husband, abusing him saying:
“What have you done, you old wretch? You have destroyed my daughters, the children of my own flesh and blood, my never-enough-to-be-gazed-on seedlings, my beautiful berries! I will thrash you with the tongs; I will give it you with the stove-rake.”
“That’s enough, you old goose! You flattered yourself you were going to get riches, but your daughters were too stiff-necked. How was I to blame? it was you yourself would have it.”
The old woman was in a rage at first, and used bad language; but afterwards she made it up with her stepdaughter, and they all lived together peaceably, and thrived, and bore no malice. A neighbor made an offer of marriage, the wedding was celebrated, and Marfa is now living happily. The old man frightens his grandchildren with (stories about) Frost, and doesn’t let them have their own way.