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THE STORY OF THE YEAR

 

IT was far in Januaryand a terrible fall of snow was pelting downThe snow eddied through the streets and lanesthe windowpanes seemed plastered with snow on the outsidesnow plumped down in masses from the roofsand a sudden hurry had seized on the peoplefor they ranand jostledand fell into each other's armsand as they clutched each other fast for a momentthey felt that they were safe at least for that length of timeCoaches and horses seemed frosted with sugarThe footmen stood with their backs against the carriagesso as to turn their faces from the windThe foot passengers kept in the shelter of the carriageswhich could only move slowly on in the deep snowand when the storm at last abatedand a narrow path was swept clean alongside the housesthe people stood still in this path when they metfor none liked to take the first step aside into the deep snow to let the other pass himThus they stood silent and motionlesstillas if by tacit consenteach sacrificed one legandstepping asideburied it in the deep snowheap

Towards evening it grew calmThe sky looked as if it had been sweptand had become more lofty and transparentThe stars looked as if they were quite newand some of them were amazingly bright and pureIt froze so hard that the snow creakedand the upper rind of snow might well have grown hard enough to bear the Sparrows in the morningThese little birds hopped up and down where the sweeping had been donebut they found very little foodand were not a little cold

Piep!”said one of them to another;“they call this a new yearand it is worse than the lastWe might just as well have kept the old oneI'm dissatisfiedand I've reason to be so.”

Yesand the people ran about and fired off shots to celebrate the New Year,” said a shivering little Sparrow;“and they threw pans and pots against the doorsand were quite boisterous with joy because the Old Year was goneI was glad of it toobecause I hoped we should have had warm daysbut that has come to nothing——it freezes much harder than beforePeople have made a mistake in reckoning the time!”

That they have!”a third put inwho was oldand had a white poll:“they've something they call the calendar——it's an invention of their own——and everything is to be arranged according to thatbut it won't doWhen spring comesthen the year begins——that is the course of nature.”

But when will spring come?”the others inquired

It will come when the stork comes backBut his movements are very uncertainand here in town no one knows anything about itin the country they are better informedShall we fly out there and waitThereat any ratewe shall be nearer to spring.”

Yesthat may be all very well,” observed one of the Sparrowswho had been hopping about for a long timechirpingwithout saying anything decided.“I've found a few comforts here in townwhich I am afraid I should miss out in the countryNear this neighbourhoodin a courtyardthere lives a family of peoplewho have taken the very sensible notion of placing three or four flowerpots against the wallwith their mouths all turned inwardsand the bottom of each pointing outwardsIn each flowerpot a hole has been cutbig enough for me to fly in and out at itI and my husband have built a nest in one of those potsand have brought up our young family thereThe family of people of course made the whole arrangement that they might have the pleasure of seeing usor else they would not have done itTo please themselves they also strew crumbs of breadand so we have foodand are in a manner provided forSo I think my husband and I will stay where we arealthough we are very dissatisfied——but we shall stay.”

And we will fly into the country to see if spring is not coming!”And away they flew

Out in the country it was hard winterand the glass was a few degrees lower than in the townThe sharp winds swept across the snowcovered fieldsThe farmermuffled in warm mittenssat in his sledgeand beat his arms across his breast to warm himselfand the whip lay across his kneesThe horses ran till they smoked againThe snow creakedand the Sparrows hopped about in the rutsand shivered,“Piepwhen will spring comeit is very long in coming!”

Very long,”sounded from the next snowcovered hillfar over the fieldIt might be the echo which was heardor perhaps the words were spoken by yonder wonderful old manwho sat in wind and weather high on the heap of snowHe was quite whiteattired like a peasant in a coarse white coat of friezehe had long white hair and white beardand was quite palewith big blue eyes

Who is that old man yonder?”asked the Sparrows

I know who he is,”quoth an old Ravenwho sat on the fencerailand was condescending enough to acknowledge that we are all like little birds in the sight of Heavenand therefore was not above speaking to the Sparrowsand giving them information.“I know who the old man isIt is Winterthe old man of last yearHe is not deadas the calendar saysbut is guardian to little Prince Springwho is to comeYesWinter bears sway hereUghthe cold makes you shiverdoes it notyou little ones?”

YesDid I not tell the truth?” said the smallest Sparrow;“the calendar is only an invention of manand is not arranged according to natureThey ought to leave these things to uswho are born cleverer than they.”

And one week passed awayand two passed awayThe forest was blackthe frozen lake lay hard and stifflooking like a sheet of leadand damp icy mists lay brooding over the landthe great black crows flew about in long linesbut silentlyand it seemed as if nature sleptThen a sunbeam glided along over the lakeand made it shine like burnished tinThe snowy covering on the field and on the hill did not glitter as it had donebut the white formWinter himselfstill sat therehis gaze fixed unswervingly upon the southHe did not notice that the snowy carpet seemed to sink as it were into the earthand that here and there a little grassgreen patch appearedand that all these patches were crowded with Sparrowswhich cried,“Kee-witkee-witIs spring coming now?”

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Spring!”The cry resounded over field and meadowand through the blackbrown woodswhere the moss still glimmered in bright green upon the tree trunksand from the south the first two storks came flying through the airOn the back of each sat a pretty little child——one was a girl and the other a boyThey greeted the earth with a kissand wherever they set their feetwhite flowers grew up from beneath the snowThen they went hand in hand to the old ice manWinterclung to his breast embracing himand in a moment theyand heand all the region around were hidden in a thick damp mistdark and heavythat closed over all like a veilGradually the wind roseand now it rushed roaring alongand drove away the mistso that the sun shone warmly forthand Winter himself vanishedand the beautiful children of Spring sat on the throne of the year

That's what I call New Year,”cried each of the Sparrows.“Now we shall get our rightsand have amends for the stern winter.”

Wherever the two children turnedgreen buds burst forth on bushes and treesthe grass shot upwardsand the commafields turned green and became more and more lovelyAnd the little maiden strewed flowers all aroundHer apronwhich she held up before herwas always full of themthey seemed to spring up therefor her lap continued fullhowever zealously she strewed the blossoms aroundand in her eagerness she scattered a snow of blossoms over apple trees and peach treesso that they stood in full beauty before their green leaves had fairly come forth

And she clapped her handsand the boy clapped hisand then flocks of birds came flying upnobody knew whenceand they all twittered and sang,“Spring has come.”

That was beautiful to beholdMany an old granny crept forth over the threshold into the sunshineand tripped gleefully aboutcasting a glance at the yellow flowers which shone everywhere in the fieldsjust as they used to do when she was youngThe world grew young again to herand she said,“It is a blessed day out here today!”

The forest still wore its brown-green dressmade of budsbut the woodruff was already therefresh and fragrantthere were violets in plentyanemones and primroses came forthand there was sap and strength in every blade of grassThat was certainly a beautiful carpet to sit uponand there accordingly the young spring pair sat hand in handand sang and smiledand grew on

A mild rain fell down upon them from the skybut they did not notice it for the raindrops were mingled with their own tears of joyThey kissed each other as bride and bridegroomand in the same moment the verdure of the woods was unfoldedand when the sun rosethe forest stood there arrayed in green

And hand in hand the betrothed pair wandered under the pendent roof of fresh leaveswhere the rays of the sun gleamed through the green in lovelyeverchanging huesWhat virgin puritywhat refreshing balm in the delicate leaves The brooks and streams rippled clearly and merrily among the green velvety rushes and over the coloured pebblesAll nature seemed to say,“There is plentyand there shall be plenty always!”And the cuckoo sang and the lark carolledit was a charming springbut the willows had woolly gloves over their blossomsthey were desperately carefuland that is tiresome

And days went by and weeks went byand the heat came as it were rolling downHot waves of air came through the cornthat became yellower and yellowerThe white waterlily of the North spread its great green leaves over the glassy mirror of the woodland lakesand the fishes sought out the shady spots beneathand at the sheltered side of the woodwhere the sun shone down upon the walls of the farm-housewarming the blooming rosesand the cherry treeswhich hung full of juicy black berriesalmost hot with the fierce beamsthere sat the lovely wife of Summerthe same being whom we have seen as a child and as a brideand her glance was fixed upon the black gathering cloudswhich in wavy outlines——blueblack and heavy——were piling themselves uplike mountainshigher and higherThey came from three sidesand growing like a petrified seathey came swooping towards the forestwhere every sound had been silenced as if by magicEvery breath of air was hushedevery bird was muteThere was a seriousness——a suspense throughout all naturebut in the highways and lanesfootpassengersand ridersand men in carriageswere hurrying on to get under shelter

Then suddenly there was a flashing of lightas if the sun were burst forth——flamingburningalldevouringAnd the darkness returned amid a rolling crashThe rain poured down in streamsand there was alternate darkness and blinding lightalternate silence and deafening clam-ourThe young brownfeathery reeds on the moor moved to and fro in long wavesthe twigs of the woods were hidden in a mist of watersand still came darkness and lightand still silence and roaring followed one anotherthe grass and corn lay beaten down and swampedlooking as though they could never raise themselves againBut soon the rain fell only in gentle dropsthe sun peered through the cloudsthe water-drops glittered like pearls on the leavesthe birds sangthe fishes leaped up from the surface of the lakethe gnats danced in the sunshineand yonder on the rockin the salt heaving sea watersat Summer himself——a strong man with sturdy limbs and long dripping hair——there he satstrengthened by the cool bathin the warm sunshineAll nature round about was renewedeverything stood luxuriantstrongand beautifulit was summerwarmlovely summer

And pleasant and sweet was the fragrance that streamed upwards from the rich clover-fieldwhere the bees swarmed round the old ruined place of meetingthe bramble wound itself around the altar stonewhichwashed by the rainglittered in the sunshineand thither flew the Queenbee with her swarmand prepared wax and honeyOnly Summer saw ithe and his strong wifefor them the altar table stood covered with the offerings of nature

And the evening sky shone like goldshone as no church dome can shineand in the interval between the evening and the morning red there was moonlightit was summer

And days went byand weeks went byThe bright scythes of the reapers gleamed in the cornfieldsthe branches of the apple trees bent downheavy with red and-yellow fruitThe hops smelt sweetlyhanging in large clustersand under the hazel busheswhere hung great bunches of nutsrested a man and woman——Summer and his quiet consort

What wealth!”exclaimed the woman:“all around a blessing is diffusedeverywhere the scene looks homelike and goodand yet——I know not why——I long for peace and rest——I know not how to express itNow they are already ploughing again in the fieldThe people want to gain more and moreSeethe storks flock togetherand follow at a little distance behind the plough——the bird of Egypt that carried us through the airDo you remember how we came as children to this land of the NorthWe brought with us flowersand pleasant sunshineand green to the woodsthe wind has treated them roughlyand they have become dark and brown like the trees of the Southbut they do notlike thembear golden fruit.”

Do you wish to see the golden fruit?” said Summer:“then rejoice.”

And he lifted his armand the leaves of the forest put on hues of red and goldand beauteous tints spread over all the woodlandThe rose bush gleamed with scarlet hipsthe elder-branches hung down with great heavy bunches of dark berriesthe wild chestnuts fell ripe from their dark husksand in the depths of the forests the violets bloomed for the second time

But the Queen of the Year became more and more silentand paler and paler

It blows cold,” she said,“and night brings damp mistsI long for the land of my childhood.”

And she saw the storks fly awayone and alland she stretched forth her hands towards themShe looked up at the nestswhich stood emptyIn one of them the longstalked cornflower was growingin anotherthe yellow mustardseedas if the nest were only there for its protectionand the Sparrows were flying up into the storks' nests

Piepwhere has the master goneI suppose he can't bear it when the wind blowsand that therefore he has left the countryI wish him a pleasant journey!”

The forest leaves became more and more yellowleaf fell down upon leafand the stormy winds of autumn howledThe year was now far advancedand the Queen of the Year reclined upon the fallen yellow leavesand looked with mild eyes at the gleaming starand her husband stood by herA gust swept through the leavesit fell againand the Queen was gonebut a butterflythe last of the seasonflew through the cold air

The wet fogs camean icy wind blewand the long dark nights drew on apaceThe Ruler of the Year stood there with locks white as snowbut he knew not it was his hair that gleamed so white——he thought snowflakes were falling from the cloudsand soon a thin covering of snow was spread over the fields

And then the church bells rang for the Christmas-time

The bells ring for the newborn,”said the Ruler of the Year.“Soon the new King and Queen will be bornand I shallgo to restas my wife has done——to rest in the gleaming star.”

And in the fresh green fir-woodwhere the snow laystood the Angel of Christmasand consecrated the young trees that were to adorn his feast

May there be joy in the room and under the green boughs,”said the Ruler of the YearIn a few weeks he had become a very old manwhite as snow.“My time for rest draws nearand the young pair of the year shall now receive my crown and sceptre.”

But the might is still thine,”said the Angel of Christmas;“the might and not the restLet the snow lie warmly upon the young seedLearn to bear itthat another receives homage while thou yet reignestLearn to bear being forgotten while thou art yet aliveThe hour of they release will come when spring appears.”

And when will spring come?”asked Winter

It will come when the stork returns.”

And with white locks and snowy beardcoldbentand hoarybut strong as the wintry storm and firm as iceold Winter sat on the snowy drift on the hilllooking to-wards the southas the Winter before had sat and gazedThe ice crackedthe snow creakedthe skaters skimmed to and fro on the smooth lakesravens and crows stood out well against the white groundand not a breath of wind stirredAnd in the quiet air old Winter clenched his fistsand the ice was fathoms thick between land and land

Then the Sparrows came again out of the townand asked,“Who is that old man yonder?”

And the Raven sat there againor a son of hiswhich comes to quite the same thingand answered them and said,“It is Winterthe old man of last yearHe is not deadas the almanac saysbut he is the guardian of Springwho is coming.”

When will spring come?”asked the Sparrows.“Then we shall have good times and a better ruleThe old one was worth nothing.”

And Winter nodded in quiet thought at the leafless forestwhere every tree showed the graceful form and bend of its twigsand during the winter sleep the icy mists of the clouds came downand the ruler dreamed of his youthful daysand of the time of his manhoodand towards the morning dawn the whole wood was clothed in glittering hoar frostThat was the summer dream of Winterand the sun scattered the hoar frost from the boughs

When will spring come?”asked the Sparrows

The spring!”sounded like an echo from the hills on which the snow layThe sun shone warmerthe snow melt-edand the birds twittered ,“Spring is coming!”

And aloft through the air came the first storkand the second followed himA lovely child sat on the back of eachand they alighted on the fieldkissed the earthand kissed the old silent manand he disappearedshrouded in the cloudy mistAnd the story of the year was done

That is all very well,”said the Sparrows;“it is very beautiful toobut it is not according to the almanacand therefore it is irregular.”

 


 

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