Gateway to the Classics: A Child's Book of Stories by Penrhyn W. Coussens
A Child's Book of Stories by  Penrhyn W. Coussens


O NCE upon a time, in the middle of winter when the snowflakes were falling like feathers on the earth, a queen sat at a window framed in black ebony, and sewed. And as she sewed and gazed out at the white landscape, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell on the snow outside, and because the red showed so well against the white she thought to herself:

"Oh! what wouldn't I give to have a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as ebony!"

And her wish was granted, for not long after a little daughter was born to her, with a skin as white as snow, lips and cheeks as red as blood, and hair black as ebony. They called her Snowdrop, and not long after her birth the queen died.

After a year the king married again. His new wife was a beautiful woman, but so proud and overbearing that she could n't stand any rival to her beauty. She possessed a magic mirror, and when she used to stand before it gazing at her own reflection, and asked:

"Mirror, mirror, hanging here,

Who in all the land's most fair?"

it always replied:

"You are most fair, my Lady Queen,

None fairer in the land, I ween."

Then she was quite happy, for she knew the mirror always spoke the truth.

But Snowdrop was growing prettier and prettier every day, and when she was seven years old she was as beautiful as she could be, and fairer even than the queen herself. One day when the latter asked her mirror the usual question, it replied,

"My Lady Queen, you are fair, 'tis true,

But Snowdrop is fairer far than you."

Then the queen flew into the most awful passion, and turned every shade of green in her jealousy. From this hour she hated poor Snowdrop like poison, and every day her envy, hatred, and malice grew, for envy and jealousy are like evil weeds which spring up and choke the heart. At last she could endure Snowdrop's presence no longer, and, calling a huntsman to her, she said:

"Take the child into the wood, and never let me see her face again. You must kill her, and bring me back proof that she is dead."

The huntsman did as he was told and let Snowdrop out into the wood, but as he was in the act of drawing out his knife to slay her, she began to cry, and said:

"Oh, dear huntsman, spare my life, and I will promise to fly forth into the wood and never to return home again."

And because she was so young and pretty the huntsman had pity on her, and said:

"Well, run along, poor child." For he thought to himself, "The wild beasts will soon eat her up."

And his heart felt lighter because he had n't had to do the deed himself.

Now when the poor child found herself alone in the big wood the very trees around her seemed to assume strange shapes, and she felt so frightened that she did n't know what to do. Then she began to run over the sharp stones, and through the bramble bushes, and the wild beasts ran past her, but they did her no harm. She ran as far as her legs would carry her, and as evening approached she saw a little house, and she stepped inside to rest. Everything was very small in the little house, but cleaner and neater than anything you can imagine. In the middle of the room there stood a table, covered with a white tablecloth, and seven little plates and forks and spoons and knives and tumblers. Side by side against the wall there were seven little beds, covered with snow-white counterpanes. Snowdrop felt so hungry and so thirsty that she ate a bit of bread and a little porridge from each plate, and drank a drop of wine out of each tumbler. Then feeling tired and sleepy she lay down on one of the beds, but it wasn't comfortable; then she tried all the others in turn, but one was too long, and another too short, and it was only when she got to the seventh that she found one to suit her exactly. So she lay down upon it, said her prayers like a good child, and fell fast asleep.

When it got quite dark the masters of the little house returned. They were seven dwarfs who worked in the mines right down deep in the heart of the mountain. They lighted their seven little lamps, and as soon as their eyes got accustomed to the glare they saw that some one had been in the room, for all was not in the same order as they had left it.

The first one said:

"Who's been sitting in my chair?"

The second said:

"Who's been eating my little loaf?"

The third said:

"Who's been tasting my porridge?"

The fourth said:

"Who's been eating out of my little plate?"

The fifth said:

"Who's been using my little fork?"

The sixth said:

"Who's been cutting with my little knife?"

The seventh said:

"Who's been drinking out of my little tumbler?"

Then the first dwarf looked round and saw a little hollow in his bed, and he asked again:

"Who's been lying on my bed?"

The others came running round, and cried when their saw their beds:

"Somebody has lain on ours, too."

But when the seventh came to his bed he started back in amazement, for there he beheld Snowdrop fast asleep. Then he called to the others, who turned their little lamps full on the bed, and when they saw Snowdrop lying there they nearly fell down with surprise.

"Goodness gracious!" they cried, "what a beautiful child!"

And they were so enchanted by her beauty that they did not wake her, but let her sleep on in the little bed. But the seventh dwarf slept with companions one hour in each bed, and in this way he managed to pass the night.

In the morning Snowdrop awoke, but when she saw the seven little dwarfs she felt very frightened. But they were so friendly, and asked her what her name was in such a kind way that she replied:

"I am Snowdrop."

"Why did you come to our house?" continued the dwarfs.


Then she told them how her stepmother had wished her put to death, and how the huntsman had spared her life, and how she had run the whole day long till she had come to their little house. The dwarfs, when they had heard her sad story, asked her:

"Will you stay and keep house for us, cook, make the beds, do the washing, sew and knit? And if you give satisfaction and keep everything neat and clean, you shall want for nothing."

"Yes," answered Snowdrop, "I will gladly do all you ask."

And so she took up her abode with them. Every morning the dwarfs went to the mountain, to dig for gold, and in the evening when they returned home, Snowdrop always had their supper ready for them. But during the day the girl was left quite alone, so the good dwarfs warned her, saying:

"Beware of your stepmother. She will soon find out you are here, and whatever you do don't let anyone into the house."

Now the queen, supposing Snowdrop to be dead, never dreamed but that she was once more the most beautiful woman in the world; so stepping before her mirror one day she said:

"Mirror, mirror, hanging here,

Who in all the land's most fair?"

and the mirror replied:

"My Lady Queen, you are fair, 'tis true,

But Snowdrop is fairer far than you.

Snowdrop, who dwells with seven little men,

Is as fair as you, as fair again."

When the queen heard these words she was nearly struck dumb with horror, for the mirror always spoke the truth, and she knew now that the huntsman must have deceived her, and Snowdrop was still alive. She pondered day and night how she might destroy her, for as long as she felt she had a rival in the land her jealous heart left her no rest. At last she hit upon a plan. She stained her face and dressed herself up as an old peddler wife, so that she was quite unrecognizable. In this guise she went over the seven hills till she came to the house of the seven dwarfs. Then she knocked at the door, calling out at the same time:

"Fine wares to sell! fine wares to sell!"

Snowdrop peeped out of the window, and called out:

"Good-day, mother. What have you to sell?"

"Good wares, fine wares," she answered; "laces of every shade and description," and she held up one that was made of some gay-colored silk.

"Surely I can let the honest woman in," thought Snowdrop; so she unbarred the door and bought the pretty lace.

"Good gracious, child!" said the old woman, "what a figure you've got! Come, I'll lace you up properly for once."

Snowdrop, suspecting no evil, stood before her and let her lace her bodice up, but the old woman laced her up so quickly and so tightly that it took Snowdrop's breath away, and she fell down dead.

"Now you are no longer the fairest," said the wicked old woman; and then she hastened away.

In the evening the seven dwarfs came home, and you may think what a fright they got when they saw their dear Snowdrop lying on the floor, as still and motionless as a dead person. They lifted her up tenderly and when they saw how tightly laced she was they cut the lace in two, and she began to breathe a little and gradually came back to life. When the dwarfs heard what had happened they said:

"Depend upon it, the old peddler wife was none other than the old queen. In future you must be sure to let no one in, if we are not at home."

As soon as the wicked queen got home she went straight to her mirror and said:

"Mirror, mirror, hanging here,

Who in all the land's most fair?"

and the mirror answered as before:

"My Lady Queen, you are fair, 'tis true,

But Snowdrop is fairer far than you.

Snowdrop, who dwells with seven little men,

Is as fair as you, as fair again."

When she heard this she became as pale as death, because she saw at once that Snowdrop must be alive again.

"This time," she said to herself, "I will think of something that will make an end of her once and for all."

And by the witchcraft which she understood so well she made a poisonous comb; then she dressed herself up and assumed the form of another woman. So she went over the seven hills till she reached the house of the seven dwarfs, and knocking at the door she called out:

"Fine wares for sale!"

Snowdrop looked out of the window and said:

"You must go away, for I may not let any one in."

"But surely you are not forbidden to look out?" said the old woman, and she held up the poisonous comb for her to see.

It pleased the girl so much that she let herself be taken in, and opened the door. When they had settled their bargain the old woman said:

"Now I'll comb your hair properly for you, for once in the way."

Poor Snowdrop thought no evil, but hardly had the comb touched her hair than the poison worked and she fell down unconscious.

"Now, my fine lady, you're really done for this time," said the wicked woman, and she made her way home as fast as she could.

Fortunately it was now near evening, and the seven dwarfs returned home. When they saw Snowdrop lying dead on the ground, they at once suspected her wicked stepmother had been at work again; so they searched till they found the poisonous comb, and the moment they pulled it out of her head Snowdrop came to herself again, and told them what had happened. They warned her once more to be on her guard, and to open the door to no one.

As soon as the queen got home she went straight to her mirror and asked:

"Mirror, mirror, hanging here,

Who in all the land's most fair?"

and the mirror replied:

"My Lady Queen, you are fair, 'tis true,

But Snowdrop is fairer far than you.

Snowdrop, who dwells with seven little men,

Is as fair as you, as fair again."

When she heard this she literally trembled and shook with rage.

"Snowdrop shall die," she cried; "yes, though it cost me my own life."

Then she went to the little secret chamber, which no one knew of but herself, and there she made a poisonous apple. Outwardly it looked beautiful, white with red cheeks, so that everyone who saw it longed to eat it, but any one who might do so would certainly die on the spot. When the apple was quite finished she stained her face and dressed herself up as a peasant, and so she went over the seven hills to the seven dwarfs. She knocked at the door, as usual, but Snowdrop put her head out of the window and called out:

"I may not let any one in: the seven dwarfs have forbidden me to do so."

"Are you afraid of being poisoned?" asked the old woman. "See, I will cut this apple in half. I'll eat the white cheek and you can eat the red."

But the apple was so cunningly poisoned that only the red cheek was poisonous. Snowdrop longed to eat this tempting fruit, and when she saw the peasant woman was eating it herself, she could n't resist the temptation any longer, and stretching out her hand she took the poisonous half. But hardly had the first bite passed her lips than she fell down dead on the ground. Then the eyes of the cruel queen sparkled with glee, and laughing aloud, she cried:

"As white as snow, as red as blood, as black as ebony, this time the dwarfs won't be able to bring you back to life."

When she got home she asked the mirror:

"Mirror, mirror, hanging here,

Who in all the land's most fair?"

And this time it replied:

"You are most fair, my Lady Queen,

None fairer in the land, I ween."

Then her jealous heart was at rest—at least as much at rest as a jealous heart can ever be.

When evening came, the dwarfs returned home, they found Snowdrop lying on the ground: no breath passed her lips, and they were afraid she was quite dead. They lifted her up, and combed her hair, and washed her face with wine and water; but all was in vain, for the little girl seemed quite dead. So they laid her down upon a bier, and all seven watched and bewailed her three whole days; then they proposed to bury her: but her cheeks were still rosy, and her face looked just as it did while she was alive; so they said:

"We will never bury her in the cold ground," and they made a coffin of glass so that they might still look at her, and wrote her name upon it in golden letters, and that she was a king's daughter. And the coffin was placed upon the hill and one of the dwarfs always sat by it and watched. And the birds of the air came, too, and bemoaned Snowdrop. First of all came an owl, and then a raven, but at last came a dove.

And thus Snowdrop lay for a long, long time, and still only looked as if she were asleep; for she was even now as white as snow, and as red as blood, and as black as ebony. At last a prince came and called at the dwarfs' house; and he saw Snowdrop, and read what was written in golden letters. Then he offered the dwarfs money, and earnestly prayed them to let him take her away; but they said: "We will not part with her for all the gold in the world." At last, however, they had pity on him, and gave him the coffin; but the moment he lifted it up to carry it home with him, the piece of apple fell from between her lips, and Snowdrop awoke and said: "Where am I?" And the prince answered: "Thou art safe with me." Then he told her all that had happened, and said, "I love you better than all the world: come with me to my father's palace, and you shall be my wife." And Snowdrop consented, and went home with the prince; and everything was prepared with great pomp and splendor for their wedding.

To the feast was invited, among the rest, Snowdrop's old enemy, the queen, and as she was dressing herself in fine rich clothes, she looked in the glass and said:

"Tell me, mirror, tell me true!

Of all the ladies in the land

Who is fairest? tell me who?"

And the glass answered:

"Thou, lady, are loveliest here, I ween;

But lovelier far is the new-made queen."

When she heard this, she started with rage; but envy and curiosity were so great, that she could not help setting out to see the bride. And when she arrived, and saw that it was no other than Snowdrop, who, as she thought, had been dead a long while, she choked with passion, and fell ill and died; but Snowdrop and the prince lived and reigned happily over that land many, many years.

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