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The Twelve Months

Everybody knows that there are twelve months in a year and each month follows the last and that they never meet. It has never happened that Febrary has come before January is finished, nor that May is over before April. But the old folks say that long ago there was a little girl who saw all twelve months at one time!
In a small village there lived a greedy and wicked woman. She has one daughter of her own whom she loved very much, and a stepdaughter whom she didn’t love. What ever this girl did, it was wrong. Her own daughter slept the day away on a feather bed and ate honey-cakes. The stepdaughter worked for days on end and even hadn’t time to rest. She brought water, gathered brushwood in the forest, laundered and weeded the garden. The poor girl worked every day, no matter what the feather it was in the street. May be that it is why she was lucky to see all twelve months at the same time.
One day in January there was so much snow that it had to be removed from doors of cottages with shovels. The trees in the forest were copmletely covered with snow and that is why they even couldn’t rock from the wind. In all the cottages of the village the peasants kept fires in the stoves trying to keep themselves warm and nobody could dare to go out.
In the evening the greedy woman opened the door, peered out at the bitter cold night and said to her stepdaughter:
“Go to the forest! Tomorrow is your sister’s birthday and I want to present her flowers. Go to the forest and bring snowdrops for us!”
The little girl looked at her stepmother in amazement.
“How can I possibly find any snowdrops in the winter? Snowdrops will appear only at the end of March.”
Her sister said: “Well go out anyway. If you freeze that will be no loss. Here is a basket. Do not return until it is filled with flowers.”
There was nothing to do and the little girl cried bitterly, wrapped herself as closely as she could in her shabby coat and went out into the harsh winter night. The wind was blowing violently in the forest and the girl could hardly walk. All was dark around her; the heavens were black. She sat on a stump. What difference would it make where she froze to death. Suddenly she saw a light that resemled a brilliant star hanging low in the heavens. She walked slowly toward the light and as she walked it became brighter and clearer. She began to smell wood smoke and to hear the cracking of burning logs. The girl hastened her steps and found herself on an open glade. There was a camp-fire in the middle of the glade. The bright camp-fire illuminated everything around and the girl noticed a group of people who were sitting around the fire and quietly talking. Who were those men? They bore little resemblance to hunters or woodcutters. The men were beautifully dressed, some of them were dressed in vestment embroidered with gold and silver, another were dressed in green velvet clothes and rich furs. The girl counted them and saw that there were twelve in all. Three of the men were quite old, three were young men and the last three were boys.
One of the oldest men saw the little girl and turned towards her. The girl was very frightened and wanted to run away but it was too late. The old man said loudly: “Who are you, where have you come from and what do you want here?”
The little girl bowed low to him, showed him her empty basket and said: “I must fill this basket with snowdrops.”
The old man laughed. “You must be joking! Snowdrops don’t grow in January!”
The little girl replied: “I don’t joke; I was sent here by my stepmother who told me that I must fill the basket with snowdrops or else never return home.”
The twelve men looked at each other and started to talk together. The girl couldn’t understand their speech; their voices resembled murmur of the forest.
They talked and talked and then the oldest of them asked her: “What will you do if you do not find snowdrops? You know that they do not come out from the ground until the end of March.”
“I will stay in the forest and wait for March. It’s better to die in the forest than to return home without flowers.” And so saying she burst into bitter tears.
Suddenly one of the young men, with a fur cape on one shoulder came to the oldest man and said to him: “Let me take your place for few minutes, brother January.”
The old man replied: “But that is impossible. You cannot come before February.”
At this, another of the old men said: “All right! We must help this girl. All of us are familiar with her. We saw her in the forest carrying a cord of wood or picking mushrooms and berries in the summer, we met her at an ice-hole carrying heavy pails of water in the winter. Take my place, March, with my blessing!”
January, the eldest, then struck his stave into the ground. Everything around them became quiet; the snowflakes began to fall on the ground. He turned to February and said: “It is now your turn, brother February,” and stepped aside.
February struck the ground with his stave; the wind began to blow furiously and the snowstorm began. He turned to March and said: “Now it is your turn.”
The girl clasped her hands from amusement. Snowdrifts and icicles disappeared completely. The ground became soft and slushy. Then, before her eyes, fresh green leaves burst out on the branches of the trees around them and flowers pushed up through the earth in front of her. The little girl stood there in utter disbelief.
“What are you waiting for, little one. Go and pick your snowdrops. You have but an hour to do so.” She came to herself and ran in the forest. Every she looked the snowdrops were peering out from the ground, - under the trees, in the glade, under the old logs. She picked the full basket of snowdrops and then she filled her apron as well with the fragrant little flowers.
She ran back to the glade and bowed low to each month in turn, thanking each one most sincerely and then she ran home. At home the stepmother and the stepsister asked the little girl: “Where are the flowers?”
The girl said nothing to them, but simply put the basket, which was full of snowdrops and opened her apron from which hundreds of the lovely little flowers fell and put them next to the basket.
“Where did you get them?” cried the stepmother.
The little girl told them of her adventures. The stepmother looked at her and asked: “Didn’t the months give you anything else?”
“I didn’t ask them for anything else” replied the girl.
“What a fool!” exclaimed her sister “I would have known what to ask for in your place! I would have asked for apples and pears from August, for berries from June, for fresh cucumbers and mushrooms from July. Can you just imagine what money we could make if we could sell strawberries and fresh apples and pears in January?”
The stepmother said: “You are a clever girl. Go to the forest and find the Twelve months. You will know what to ask for.”
The girl put a warm kerchief over her head, took three large empty baskets with her and rushed out into the night. It was so miserably cold and dark around her in the forest and the girl was thinking that she had been foolish to leave her warm cozy house when suddenly she saw the fire ahead of her, just as her stepsister had described. The girl walked directly up to the campfire. The brothers noticed the girl at once, looked at each other and stopped talking. It became quiet in the forest.
January asked the girl: “Who are you and what do you want in the forest in the dark of night?”
“My stepsister told me that you gave her the snowdrops that she brought home today.”
“We know your sister,” said January. “But we do not know you at all. What do you want from us?”
“I want you to give me presents. You, June, fill my basket with strawberries and raspberries, but make sure that they are large and juicy! July, I want pure white mushrooms from you and also fresh cucumbers. From you, August, I want apples and pears and from September I want a basket full of nuts. And from October, I want…”
“Just a moment,” said January. “Spring does not come before the end of winter. Summer can not come before the end of Spring. It is a far way yet before June. I am still king for 30 days!”
“You are so angry!” said the girl roughly. “I have not come to ask anything of you at all, for all you can give is ice and snow. I am talking only with the summer months! Saying this, she turned away from him. “Very well, look for summer in winter!” cried out January. And saying this, he waved his arms and a dreadful storm began. The snow covered everything from the ground to the skies. Nothing was to be seen. Not the glade, not the brothers, not the fire. The girl was very frightened. “Stop,” she screamed. “Enough!” But no one answered. A huge whirlwind of snow became higher and higher and covered her completely from head to foot.
At home, the stepmother waited and waited for her daughter’s return. She peered out of the window; she peered out of the door. But her daughter was nowhere to be seen. Finally, she bundled herself up as warmly as she could and went out to look for her daughter. She went into the forest and looked in all directions, but to no avail. Suddenly a tremendous cloud of snow and ice engulfed her and she froze to death.
So both the cruel stepmother and her spiteful daughter waited, frozen in the forest, for spring to arrive.
The little orphan girl remained in the house. Years passed and she grew up to be a beautiful young lady. She married and had many children. It is told that she had a marvelous garden near her house. The flowers in her garden bloomed earlier than those in any other garden. The strawberries and raspberries in her garden ripened long before any others in the area; the apples and pears were juiciest and sweetest to be found. In the summer time, it was always cooler in her house and garden than anywhere else. In the winter, the worst of the storms and blizzards seemed to miss her house.
It was said that the Twelve Months were guests in her home from time to time. No one knows for sure – but could it really have happened?