THE children, in their little sheepskin coats and high felt boots and
fur hats, trudged along the forest path in the snow. Vanya went first,
then Maroosia, and then old Peter. The ground was white and the snow
was hard and crisp, and all over the forest could be heard the
crackling of the frost. And as they walked, old Peter told them the
story of the old woman who wanted Frost to marry her daughters.
Once upon a time there were an old man and an old woman. Now the old
woman was the old man's second wife. His first wife had died, and had
left him with a little daughter: Martha she was called. Then he
married again, and God gave him a cross wife, and with her two more
 daughters, and they were very different from the first.
The old woman loved her own daughters, and gave them red kisel jelly
every day, and honey too, as much as they could put into their greedy
little mouths. But poor little Martha, the eldest, she got only what
the others left. When they were cross they threw away what they left,
and then she got nothing at all.
The children grew older, and the stepmother made Martha do all the
work of the house. She had to fetch the wood for the stove, and light
it and keep it burning. She had to draw the water for her sisters to
wash their hands in. She had to make the clothes, and wash them and
mend them. She had to cook the dinner, and clean the dishes after the
others had done before having a bite for herself.
For all that the stepmother was never satisfied, and was for ever
shouting at her: "Look, the kettle is in the wrong place;" "There is
dust on the floor;" "There is a spot on the tablecloth;" or, "The
spoons are not clean, you stupid, ugly, idle hussy." But Martha was
not idle. She worked all day long, and got up before the sun, while
her sisters never stirred from their beds till it was time for dinner.
And she was not stupid.
 She always had a song on her lips, except when
her stepmother had beaten her. And as for being ugly, she was the
prettiest little girl in the village.
Her father saw all this, but he could not do anything, for the old
woman was mistress at home, and he was terribly afraid of her. And as
for the daughters, they saw how their mother treated Martha, and they
did the same. They were always complaining and getting her into
trouble. It was a pleasure to them to see the tears on her pretty
Well, time went on, and the little girl grew up, and the daughters of
the stepmother were as ugly as could be. Their eyes were always cross,
and their mouths were always complaining. Their mother saw that no one
would want to marry either of them while there was Martha about the
house, with her bright eyes and her songs and her kindness to
So she thought of a way to get rid of her stepdaughter, and a cruel
way it was.
"See here, old man," says she, "it is high time Martha was married,
and I have a bridegroom in mind for her. To-morrow morning you must
harness the old mare to the sledge, and put a bit of food together and
be ready to start early, as I'd like to see you back before night."
 To Martha she said: "To-morrow you must pack your things in a box, and
put on your best dress to show yourself to your betrothed."
"Who is he?" asked Martha with red cheeks.
"You will know when you see him," said the stepmother.
All that night Martha hardly slept. She could hardly believe that she
was really going to escape from the old woman at last, and have a hut
of her own, where there would be no one to scold her. She wondered who
the young man was. She hoped he was Fedor Ivanovitch, who had such
kind eyes, and such nimble fingers on the balalaika, and such a merry
way of flinging out his heels when he danced the Russian dance. But
although he always smiled at her when they met, she felt she hardly
dared to hope that it was he. Early in the morning she got up and said
her prayers to God, put the whole hut in order, and packed her things
into a little box. That was easy, because she had such few things. It
was the other daughters who had new dresses. Any old thing was good
enough for Martha. But she put on her best blue dress, and there she
was, as pretty a little maid as ever walked under the birch trees in
The old man harnessed the mare to the sledge
 and brought it to the
door. The snow was very deep and frozen hard, and the wind peeled the
skin from his ears before he covered them with the flaps of his fur
"Sit down at the table and have a bite before you go," says the old
The old man sat down, and his daughter with him, and drank a glass of
tea and ate some black bread. And the old woman put some cabbage soup,
left from the day before, in a saucer, and said to Martha, "Eat this,
my little pigeon, and get ready for the road." But when she said "my
little pigeon," she did not smile with her eyes, but only with her
cruel mouth, and Martha was afraid. The old woman whispered to the old
man: "I have a word for you, old fellow. You will take Martha to her
betrothed, and I'll tell you the way. You go straight along, and then
take the road to the right into the forest ... you know ... straight
to the big fir tree that stands on a hillock, and there you will give
Martha to her betrothed and leave her. He will be waiting for her, and
his name is Frost."
The old man stared, opened his mouth, and stopped eating. The little
maid, who had heard the last words, began to cry,
"Now, what are you whimpering about?"
 screamed the old woman. "Frost
is a rich bridegroom and a handsome one. See how much he owns. All the
pines and firs are his, and the birch trees. Any one would envy his
possessions, and he himself is a very bogatir,
a man of strength and power."
The old man trembled, and said nothing in reply. And Martha went on
crying quietly, though she tried to stop her tears. The old man
packed up what was left of the black bread, told Martha to put on her
sheepskin coat, set her in the sledge and climbed in, and drove off
along the white, frozen road.
The road was long and the country open, and the wind grew colder and
colder, while the frozen snow blew up from under the hoofs of the mare
and spattered the sledge with white patches. The tale is soon told,
but it takes time to happen, and the sledge was white all over long
before they turned off into the forest.
They came in the end deep into the forest, and left the road, and over
the deep snow through the trees to the great fir. There the old man
stopped, told his daughter to get out of the sledge, set her little
box under the fir, and said, "Wait here for your bridegroom, and when
 be sure to receive him with kind words." Then he turned the
mare round and drove home, with the tears running from his eyes and
freezing on his cheeks before they had had time to reach his beard.
The little maid sat and trembled. Her sheepskin coat was worn through,
and in her blue bridal dress she sat, while fits of shivering shook
her whole body. She wanted to run away; but she had not strength to
move, or even to keep her little white teeth from chattering between
her frozen lips.
Suddenly, not far away, she heard Frost crackling among the fir trees,
just as he is crackling now. He was leaping from tree to tree,
crackling as he came.
He leapt at last into the great fir tree, under which the little maid
was sitting. He crackled in the top of the tree, and then called; down
out of the topmost branches,—
"Are you warm, little maid?"
"Warm, warm, little Father Frost."
Frost laughed, and came a little lower in the tree and crackled and
crackled louder than before. Then he asked,—
"Are you still warm, little maid? Are you warm, little red cheeks?"
 The little maid could hardly speak. She was nearly dead, but she
"Warm, dear Frost; warm, little father."
Frost climbed lower in the tree, and crackled louder than ever, and
"Are you still warm, little maid? Are you warm, little red cheeks?
Are you warm, little paws?"
The little maid was benumbed all over, but she whispered so that Frost
could just hear her,—
"Warm, little pigeon, warm, dear Frost,"
And Frost was sorry for her, leapt down with a tremendous crackle and
a scattering of frozen snow, wrapped the little maid up in rich furs,
and covered her with warm blankets.
In the morning the old woman said to her husband, "Drive off now to
the forest, and wake the young couple."
The old man wept when he thought of his little daughter, for he was
sure that he would find her dead. He harnessed the mare, and drove off
through the snow. He came to the tree, and heard his little daughter
singing merrily, while Frost crackled and laughed. There she was,
alive and warm, with a good fur cloak about her shoulders, a rich
veil, costly blankets round her feet, and a box full of splendid
There she was, a good fur cloak about her shoulders and
costly blankets round her feet.
 The old man did not say a word. He was too surprised. He just sat in
the sledge staring, while the little maid lifted her box and the box
of presents, set them in the sledge, climbed in, and sat down beside
They came home, and the little maid, Martha, fell at the feet of her
stepmother. The old woman nearly went off her head with rage when she
saw her alive, with her fur cloak and rich veil, and the box of
splendid presents fit for the daughter of a prince.
"Ah, you slut," she cried, "you won't get round me like that!"
And she would not say another word to the little maid, but went about
all day long biting her nails and thinking what to do.
At night she said to the old man,—
"You must take my daughters, too, to that bridegroom in the forest. He
will give them better gifts than these."
Things take time to happen, but the tale is quickly told. Early next
morning the old woman woke her daughters, fed them with good food,
dressed them like brides, hustled the old man, made him put clean hay
in the sledge and warm blankets, and sent them off to the forest.
The old man did as he was bid—drove to the
 big fir tree, set the
boxes under the tree, lifted out the stepdaughters and set them on the
boxes side by side, and drove back home.
They were warmly dressed, these two, and well fed, and at first, as
they sat there, they did not think about the cold.
"I can't think what put it into mother's head to marry us both at
once," said the first, "and to send us here to be married. As if there
were not enough young men in the village. Who can tell what sort of
fellows we shall meet here!"
Then they began to quarrel.
"Well," says one of them, "I'm beginning to get the cold shivers. If
our fated ones do not come soon, we shall perish of cold."
"It's a flat lie to say that bridegrooms get ready early. It's already
"What if only one comes?"
"You'll have to come another time."
"You think he'll look at you?"
"Well, he won't take you, anyhow."
"Of course he'll take me."
"Take you first! It's enough to make any one laugh!"
They began to fight and scratch each other, so that their cloaks fell
open and the cold entered their bosoms.
 Frost, crackling among the trees, laughing to himself, froze the hands
of the two quarrelling girls, and they hid their hands in the sleeves
of their fur coats and shivered, and went on scolding and jeering at
"Oh, you ugly mug, dirty nose! What sort of a housekeeper will you
"And what about you, boasting one? You know nothing but how to gad
about and lick your own face. We'll soon see which of us he'll take."
And the two girls went on wrangling and wrangling till they began to
freeze in good earnest.
Suddenly they cried out together,—
"Devil take these bridegrooms for being so long in coming! You have
turned blue all over."
And together they replied, shivering,—
"No bluer than yourself, tooth-chatterer."
And Frost, not so far away, crackled and laughed, and leapt from fir
tree to fir tree, crackling as he came.
The girls heard that some one was coming through the forest.
"Listen! there's some one coming. Yes, and with bells on his sledge!"
 "Shut up, you slut! I can't hear, and the frost is taking the skin off
They began blowing on their fingers.
And Frost came nearer and nearer, crackling, laughing, talking to
himself, just as he is doing to-day. Nearer and nearer he came,
leaping from tree-top to tree-top, till at last he leapt into the
great fir under which the two girls were sitting and quarrelling.
He leant down, looking through the branches, and asked,—
"Are you warm, maidens? Are you warm, little red cheeks? Are you warm,
"Ugh, Frost, the cold is hurting us. We are frozen. We are waiting for
our bridegrooms, but the cursed fellows have not turned up."
Frost came a little lower in the tree, and crackled louder and
"Are you warm, maidens? Are you warm, my little red cheeks?"
"Go to the devil!" they cried out. "Are you blind? Our hands and feet
Frost came still lower in the branches, and cracked and crackled
louder than ever.
"Are you warm, maidens?" he asked.
"Into the pit with you, with all the fiends," the girls screamed at
him, "you ugly, wretched
 fellow!"... And as they were cursing at him
their bad words died on their lips, for the two girls, the cross
children of the cruel stepmother, were frozen stiff where they sat.
Frost hung from the lowest branches of the tree, swaying and crackling
while he looked at the anger frozen on their faces. Then he climbed
swiftly up again, and crackling and cracking, chuckling to himself, he
went off, leaping from fir tree to fir tree, this way and that through
the white, frozen forest.
In the morning the old woman says to her husband,—
"Now then, old man, harness the mare to the sledge, and put new hay in
the sledge to be warm for my little ones, and lay fresh rushes on the
hay to be soft for them; and take warm rugs with you, for maybe they
will be cold, even in their furs. And look sharp about it, and don't
keep them waiting. The frost is hard this morning, and it was harder
in the night."
The old man had not time to eat even a mouthful of black bread before
she had driven him out into the snow. He put hay and rushes and soft
blankets in the sledge, and harnessed the mare, and went off to the
forest. He came to the great fir, and found the two girls sitting
 under it dead, with their anger still to be seen on their frozen, ugly
He picked them up, first one and then the other, and put them in the
rushes and the warm hay, covered them with the blankets, and drove
The old woman saw him coming, far away, over the shining snow. She ran
to meet him, and shouted out,—
"Where are the little ones?"
"In the sledge."
She snatched off the blankets and pulled aside the rushes, and found
the bodies of her two cross daughters.
Instantly she flew at the old man in a storm of rage. "What have you
done to my children, my little red cherries, my little pigeons? I will
kill you with the oven fork! I will break your head with the poker!"
The old man listened till she was out of breath and could not say
another word. That, my dears, is the only wise thing to do when a
woman is in a scolding rage. And as soon as she had no breath left
with which to answer him, he said,—
"My little daughter got riches for soft words, but yours were always
rough of the tongue. And
 it's not my fault, anyhow, for you yourself
sent them into the forest."
Well, at last the old woman got her breath again, and scolded away
till she was tired out. But in the end she made her peace with the old
man, and they lived together as quietly as could be expected.
As for Martha, Fedor Ivanovitch sought her in marriage, as he had
meant to do all along—yes, and married her; and pretty she looked in
the furs that Frost had given her. I was at the feast, and drank beer
and mead with the rest. And she had the prettiest children that ever
were seen—yes, and the best behaved. For if ever they thought of
being naughty, the old grandfather told them the story of crackling
Frost, and how kind words won kindness, and cross words cold
treatment. And now, listen to Frost. Hear how he crackles away! And
mind, if ever he asks you if you are warm, be as polite to him as you
can. And to do that, the best way is to be good always, like little
Martha. Then it comes easy.
The children listened, and laughed quietly, because they knew they
were good. Away in the forest they heard Frost, and thought of him
crackling and leaping from one tree to another. And just then they
came home. It was dusk, for dusk comes early in winter, and a little
way through the trees before them they saw the lamp of their hut
glittering on the snow. The big dog barked and ran forward, and the
children with him. The soup was warm on the stove, and in a few
minutes they were sitting at the table, Vanya, Maroosia, and old
Peter, blowing at their steaming spoons.