Once upon a time there lived a mother who had two daughters. One was her own child, the other her stepdaughter. She was very fond of her own daughter, but she could not so much as look at her step-daughter without shuddering. The only reason for this was that Marussa, her stepdaughter, was prettier than her own daughter, Holena.

The gentle-hearted Marusa did not know how beautiful she was, and so she could never understand why her mother was always so cross with her, no matter what she did.

She had to take hay to the cow and milk her. She had to do all the housework, tidying up the cottage, cooking, washing, spinning and sewing, and she did all this work alone, while Holena spent the time adorning herself and lazing about. But Marusa liked the work, for she was a patient girl, and even when her stepmother scolded and berated her, she bore it like a lamb.

It was no good, however, for her half sister and stepmother grew crueller and crueller every day, because anyone could see; Marusa was growing prettier and prettier and Holena uglier and uglier.

One day the mother thought: "Why should I keep a pretty stepdaughter in my house? When the lads come courting here, they will fall in love with Marusa and they won't even look at Holena."

From that moment the stepmother and her daughter were constantly scheming how to get rid of poor Marusa . They starved her and they beat her, but she bore it all, and in spite of all she kept on growing prettier every day. They invented torments that the cruellest of men would never have thought of trying to get rid of her.

One day - it was in the middle of January - Holena felt a longing for the scent of violets. "Go, Marusa , and get me some violets from the forest; I want to wear them in my hair and to smell their sweet scent," she said to her sister.

"Great heavens sister. What a strange notion! Who ever heard of violets growing under the snow?" exclaimed Marusa .

"You wretched tatterdemalion! How dare you argue when I tell you to do something? Off you go at once, and if you don't bring me violets from the forest, don't bother coming back!" said Holena threateningly.

The stepmother caught hold of Marusa, shoved her out of the door, and slammed it to after her.

Marusa fled into the forest, weeping bitterly. The snow lay deep, and there wasn't a human footprint to be seen. She wandered about for a long time, until tortured by hunger and trembling with cold, she begged God to take her from the world.

Suddenly she saw a faint light in the distance. She went towards the glow, and at last came to the top of a hight mountain. A huge fire was burning there, and round the fire were twelve stones with twelve people sitting on them. Three of them had snow-white beards, three were not so old, and three were even younger. The three youngest were children.


None of them spoke, they were just sitting there silently. These twelve people were the twelve months. Great January sat highest of all; his hair and beard were as white as snow, and in his hand he held a huge club.

Marusa was terrified. She stood still for a time in terror, but, cold and hunger drove her to grow bolder, she went up to them and with downcast eyes said: "Please, kind sirs, may I warm my hands at your fire? I am dying of the cold."

Great January nodded, and asked her: "Why have you come here in this weather? What on earth are you looking for?"

"I am looking for violets," answered Marusa .

January laughed heartily. "This is no time to be looking for violets you silly goose, for everything is covered with snow," he answered.

"Yes, I know; but my sister Holena and my stepmother said that I must bring them some violets from the forest. If I don't bring them, I can't go home. Tell me, please tell me where I can find some."

Great January frowned, then he stood up and went to one of the younger months - it was March - and, giving him the club, he said: "Brother, take the high seat."

March took the high seat upon the stone and waved the club over the fire. The fire blazed up, the snow began to melt, the trees began to bud, and the ground under the young beech-trees was at once covered with grass, and crimson daisy buds began to peep through the grass. Suddenly, magically, It was springtime, and under the bushes the violets were blooming among their little leaves. Before Marusa had time to think, so many of them had sprung up that they looked like a blue cloth spread out on the ground in front of her.

"Pick them quickly, Marusa!" commanded March.

Marusa picked them joyfully till she had a big bunch. Then she thanked the months with all her heart and scampered merrily home.

Holena and the stepmother were so shocked when they saw Marusa bringing the violets that they opened the door to her without thinking, and the scent of violets filled the whole cottage.


"Where did you get them?" asked Holena sulkily.

"They were growing under the bushes in the middle of the forest, on top of the highest mountain."

Holena put the violets in her hair. She let her mother smell their sweet fragrance, but she did not let her sister smell them.

The next day Holena was lolling near the stove, and now she longed for some strawberries. So she called out to her sister and said: "Go, Marusa , and get me some strawberries from the forest."

"Alas! dear sister, where could I find any strawberries? Who ever heard of strawberries growing under the snow?" asked Marusa .

"You wretched little tattderdemalion! How dare you argue when I tell you to do a thing? Go at once and get me the strawberries, or I'll kill you!"

Her stepmother caught hold of Marusa and pushed her out of the door and shut it after her. Marusa went to the forest again, weeping bitterly. The snow was lying deep, and there wasn't a human footprint to be seen anywhere. She wandered about for a long time, tortured by hunger and trembling with cold and wondering where the mountain could be.

At last she saw the same light she had seen the other day. Overjoyed, she stumbled towards it, and came once again to the great fire with the twelve months sitting round it.

"Please, kind sirs, let me warm my hands at the fire. I am dying of the cold."

Great January nodded, and asked her: "Why have you come again, and what are you looking for?"

Blushing, Marusa said, "I am looking for strawberries."

"But it is winter now, and strawberries don't grow in the snow," said January.

"Yes, I know," said Marusa sadly; "but my sister Holena and my stepmother ordered me to bring them some strawberries, and if I don't bring them, I can't go home. Tell me, kind sir, tell me, please, where I can find them."


Great January arose. He went over to the month sitting opposite to him - it was June - and he handed the club to her, saying: "Sister, take the high seat."

June took the high seat upon the stone and swung the club over the fire. The fire shot up, and its heat melted the snow in seconds. The ground was all green, the trees were covered with leaves, the birds began to sing, and the forest was filled with all kinds of flowers. It was summer, and the ground under the bushes was instantly covered with white starlets, the starry blossoms turning into strawberries in moments, and they ripened before Marusa's eyes.

"Pick them at once, Marusa!" commanded June. Marusa picked them joyfully till she had filled her apron full. Then she thanked the months with all her heart and scampered merrily home.

Holena and the stepmother were amazed when they saw Marusa bringing the strawberries. Her apron was full of them. They ran to open the door for her, and the scent of the strawberries filled the whole cottage.

"Where did you pick them?" asked Holena sulkily.

"There are plenty of them growing under the young beech-trees in the forest on the high mountain."

Holena took the strawberries, and she and her mother started to eat them till they could eat no more, but they didn't share any with Marusa.

Holena had enjoyed the strawberries so much that she grew greedy for other dainties, and so on the third day she longed for some red apples.

"Marusa, go into the forest and get me some juicy, red apples," she said to her sister.

"Alas! sister dear, how am I to get apples for you in winter?" protested Marusa.

"You wretched little tatterdemalion, how dare you argue with your betters? You got me violets, and you got me strawberries, so go to the forest at once, and if you don't bring me apples don't bother coming back!" threatened Holena.

Her stepmother caught hold of Marusa and pushed her out of the door and shut it after her. Marusa went to the forest weeping bitterly. The snow was lying deep; there wasn't a human footprint to be seen anywhere, but she didn't wander about this time. She ran straight to the top of the mountain where the big fire was burning. The twelve months were sitting round the fire; and Great January was sitting on the high seat.


"Please, kind sir, let me warm my hands at your fire once more. I am trembling with cold."

Great January nodded, and asked her: "Why have you come here again, and what are you looking for this time?"

"I am looking for red apples."

Frowning, January said, "It is winter now, and I'm sure you know that red apples don't grow in winter".

"Yes, I know," said Marusa sadly; "but my sister and my stepmother enjoyed the strawberries so much they bade me bring them some red apples from the forest. If I don't bring them, I can't go home. Tell me, father, tell me, please, where can I find some."

Great January rose up. He went over to one of the older months - it was September. He handed the club to him and said: "Brother, take the high seat."

September took the high seat upon the stone and swung the club over the fire. The fire began to burn with a red flame, and the snow began to melt. But the trees were not covered with green leaves; the leaves were red and gold, and fell to earth one after the other, and a cold wind drove them to and fro over the yellowing ground.

This time Marusa did not see many flowers. Only red pinks were blooming on the hillside, and meadow saffrons were flowering in the valley. High fern and thick ivy were growing under the young beech-trees. But Marusa was only looking for red apples, and at last she saw an apple-tree with red apples hanging high among its branches.

"Shake the tree at once, Marusa!" commanded September.

Delighted Marusa shook the tree, and one apple fell down. The tree cried, "Shake me again!", so she shook it a second time, and another one fell.

"Now, Marusa, run home quickly!" shouted the tree.

Marusa obeyed at once. She picked up the apples, thanked the apple tree and the 12 months with all her heart, and ran merrily home.

Holena and the stepmother were actually pleased when they saw Marusa this time and they ran to open the door for her, and she gave them the two apples.

"Where did you get them?" asked Holena.

"There are plenty of them in the forest on the high mountain," she replied.


"And why didn't you bring more? Or did you eat them on the way home?" asked Holena harshly.

"Oh, sister dear, I didn't eat a single one. But when shook the tree once, one apple fell down, and when it told me to shake it a second time, another apple fell down, and it wouldn't let me shake it again. It shouted to me to come straight home," protested Marusa.

Holena slapped her: "You greedy child! May you be struck by lightning!" 

Marusa began to cry bitterly, and ran into the kitchen.

Greedy Holena stopped cursing and began to eat the apple. It tasted so delicious, she and her mother agreed they had never tasted anything so wonderful. When they had finished, they craved more.

"Mother, give me my fur coat. I'll go to the forest myself. That ragged little wretch probably ate them all, and if we send her out she will do it again on her way home. I'll find the place all right, and I'll shake them all down, however much a stupid tree shouts at me."

Her mother tried to dissuade her, but it was no good. She grabbed her fur coat, wrapped a scarf round her head, and off she went to the forest, while her mother stood on the threshold.

The snow lay deep, and there wasn't a human footprint to be seen anywhere. Holena wandered about for a long time, but the desire for the sweet apple kept driving her on. At last she saw a light in the distance. She went towards it, and climbed to the top of the mountain where the big fire was burning, and round the fire on twelve stones the twelve months were sitting. She stepped up to the fire and stretched out her hands to warm them, but she didn't say as much as "By your leave" to the twelve months; no, she didn't say a single word to them.

"Why have you come here, and what are you looking for?" asked Great January crossly.

Holena looked at January, and all she saw was an old, old man.  "Why do you want to know, you old fool? It's no business of yours," replied Holena angrily, and she turned away from the fire and went into the forest.

Great January frowned and swung the club over his head. The sky grew dark in a moment, the fire burned low, the snow began to fall as thick as if feathers had been shaken out of a down quilt, and an icy wind began to blow through the forest. Holena couldn't see one step in front of her; she lost her way altogether, and several times she fell into snowdrifts. Then her limbs grew weak and began slowly to stiffen. The snow kept on falling and the icy wind blew more icily than ever, and she grew colder and colder, despite her fur coat.


Her mother was waiting for Holena; she kept on looking for her, first at the window, then outside the door, but all in vain.

"Maybe she likes the apples so much that she is eating them all. I must find them for myself," decided the stepmother at last. So she put on her fur coat, she wrapped a shawl round her head, and went out to look for the delicious apples.

The snow was lying deep; there wasn't a human footprint to be seen; and more snow began to fall fast, and an icy wind started to blow through the forest.

That evening Marusa had cooked the dinner, she had seen to the cow, and yet Holena and her mother had not come back.

"Where are they staying so long?" thought Marusa , as she sat down to work on her spinning wheel... The spindle was full and it was dark in the room, and yet Holena and the stepmother had not come back.

"Alas, what could have become of them?" cried Marusa , peering anxiously through the window. The snow was falling thickly, and the wind was blowing bitterly, and there wasn't a human soul to be seen... Sadly she shut the window; and prayed for her sister and her mother.

In the morning she waited with breakfast, she waited with dinner; but however much she waited, it was no good. Neither her mother nor her sister ever came back.