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Nursery Rhymes . . . for children.

Once upon a time . . . . .  from our fabulous collection of Fairy Tales for children . . .  they lived happily ever after . . .

The Story Of The Year

IT was near the end of January, and a terrible fall of
snow was pelting down, and whirling through the streets and
lanes; the windows were plastered with snow on the outside,
snow fell in masses from the roofs. Every one seemed in a
great hurry; they ran, they flew, fell into each other's arms,
holding fast for a moment as long as they could stand safely.
Coaches and horses looked as if they had been frosted with
sugar. The footmen stood with their backs against the
carriages, so as to turn their faces from the wind. The foot
passengers kept within the shelter of the carriages, which
could only move slowly on in the deep snow. At last the storm
abated, and a narrow path was swept clean in front of the
houses; when two persons met in this path they stood still,
for neither liked to take the first step on one side into the
deep snow to let the other pass him. There they stood silent
and motionless, till at last, as if by tacit consent, they
each sacrificed a leg and buried it in the deep snow. Towards
evening, the weather became calm. The sky, cleared from the
snow, looked more lofty and transparent, while the stars shone
with new brightness and purity. The frozen snow crackled under
foot, and was quite firm enough to bear the sparrows, who
hopped upon it in the morning dawn. They searched for food in
the path which had been swept, but there was very little for
them, and they were terribly cold. 'Tweet, tweet,' said one to
another; they call this a new year, but I think it is worse
than the last. We might just as well have kept the old year;
I'm quite unhappy, and I have a right to be so.'

'Yes, you have; and yet the people ran about and fired off
guns, to usher in the new year,' said a little shivering
sparrow. 'They threw things against the doors, and were quite
beside themselves with joy, because the old year had
disappeared. I was glad too, for I expected we should have
some warm days, but my hopes have come to nothing. It freezes
harder than ever; I think mankind have made a mistake in
reckoning time.'

'That they have,' said a third, an old sparrow with a
white poll; 'they have something they call a calendar; it's an
invention of their own, and everything must be arranged
according to it, but it won't do. When spring comes, then the
year begins. It is the voice of nature, and I reckon by that.'

'But when will spring come?' asked the others.

'It will come when the stork returns, but he is very
uncertain, and here in the town no one knows anything about
it. In the country they have more knowledge; shall we fly away
there and wait? we shall be nearer to spring then, certainly.'

'That may be all very well,' said another sparrow, who had
been hopping about for a long time, chirping, but not saying
anything of consequence, 'but I have found a few comforts here
in town which, I'm afraid, I should miss out in the country.
Here in this neighborhood, there lives a family of people who
have been so sensible as to place three or four flower-pots
against the wall in the court-yard, so that the openings are
all turned inward, and the bottom of each points outward. In
the latter a hole has been cut large enough for me to fly in
and out. I and my husband have built a nest in one of these
pots, and all our young ones, who have now flown away, were
brought up there. The people who live there of course made the
whole arrangement that they might have the pleasure of seeing
us, or they would not have done it. It pleased them also to
strew bread-crumbs for us, and so we have food, and may
consider ourselves provided for. So I think my husband and I
will stay where we are; although we are not very happy, but we
shall stay.'

'And we will fly into the country,' said the others, 'to
see if spring is coming.' And away they flew.

In the country it was really winter, a few degrees colder
than in the town. The sharp winds blew over the snow-covered
fields. The farmer, wrapped in warm clothing, sat in his
sleigh, and beat his arms across his chest to keep off the
cold. The whip lay on his lap. The horses ran till they
smoked. The snow crackled, the sparrows hopped about in the
wheel-ruts, and shivered, crying, 'Tweet, tweet; when will
spring come? It is very long in coming.'

'Very long indeed,' sounded over the field, from the
nearest snow-covered hill. It might have been the echo which
people heard, or perhaps the words of that wonderful old man,
who sat high on a heap of snow, regardless of wind or weather.
He was all in white; he had on a peasant's coarse white coat
of frieze. He had long white hair, a pale face, and large
clear blue eyes. 'Who is that old man?' asked the sparrows.

'I know who he is,' said an old raven, who sat on the
fence, and was condescending enough to acknowledge that we are
all equal in the sight of Heaven, even as little birds, and
therefore he talked with the sparrows, and gave them the
information they wanted. 'I know who the old man is,' he said.
'It is Winter, the old man of last year; he is not dead yet,
as the calendar says, but acts as guardian to little Prince
Spring who is coming. Winter rules here still. Ugh! the cold
makes you shiver, little ones, does it not?'

'There! Did I not tell you so?' said the smallest of the
sparrows. 'The calendar is only an invention of man, and is
not arranged according to nature. They should leave these
things to us; we are created so much more clever than they

One week passed, and then another. The forest looked dark,
the hard-frozen lake lay like a sheet of lead. The mountains
had disappeared, for over the land hung damp, icy mists. Large
black crows flew about in silence; it was as if nature slept.
At length a sunbeam glided over the lake, and it shone like
burnished silver. But the snow on the fields and the hills did
not glitter as before. The white form of Winter sat there
still, with his un-wandering gaze fixed on the south. He did
not perceive that the snowy carpet seemed to sink as it were
into the earth; that here and there a little green patch of
grass appeared, and that these patches were covered with

'Tee-wit, tee-wit; is spring coming at last?'

Spring! How the cry resounded over field and meadow, and
through the dark-brown woods, where the fresh green moss still
gleamed on the trunks of the trees, and from the south came
the two first storks flying through the air, and on the back
of each sat a lovely little child, a boy and a girl. They
greeted the earth with a kiss, and wherever they placed their
feet white flowers sprung up from beneath the snow. Hand in
hand they approached the old ice-man, Winter, embraced him and
clung to his breast; and as they did so, in a moment all three
were enveloped in a thick, damp mist, dark and heavy, that
closed over them like a veil. The wind arose with mighty
rustling tone, and cleared away the mist. Then the sun shone
out warmly. Winter had vanished away, and the beautiful
children of Spring sat on the throne of the year.

'This is really a new year,' cried all the sparrows, 'now
we shall get our rights, and have some return for what we
suffered in winter.'

Wherever the two children wandered, green buds burst forth
on bush and tree, the grass grew higher, and the corn-fields
became lovely in delicate green.

The little maiden strewed flowers in her path. She held
her apron before her: it was full of flowers; it was as if
they sprung into life there, for the more she scattered around
her, the more flowers did her apron contain. Eagerly she
showered snowy blossoms over apple and peach-trees, so that
they stood in full beauty before even their green leaves had
burst from the bud. Then the boy and the girl clapped their
hands, and troops of birds came flying by, no one knew from
whence, and they all twittered and chirped, singing 'Spring
has come!' How beautiful everything was! Many an old dame came
forth from her door into the sunshine, and shuffled about with
great delight, glancing at the golden flowers which glittered
everywhere in the fields, as they used to do in her young
days. The world grew young again to her, as she said, 'It is a
blessed time out here to-day.' The forest already wore its
dress of dark-green buds. The thyme blossomed in fresh
fragrance. Primroses and anemones sprung forth, and violets
bloomed in the shade, while every blade of grass was full of
strength and sap. Who could resist sitting down on such a
beautiful carpet? and then the young children of Spring seated
themselves, holding each other's hands, and sang, and laughed,
and grew. A gentle rain fell upon them from the sky, but they
did not notice it, for the rain-drops were their own tears of
joy. They kissed each other, and were betrothed; and in the
same moment the buds of the trees unfolded, and when the sun
rose, the forest was green. Hand in hand the two wandered
beneath the fresh pendant canopy of foliage, while the sun's
rays gleamed through the opening of the shade, in changing and
varied colors. The delicate young leaves filled the air with
refreshing odor. Merrily rippled the clear brooks and rivulets
between the green, velvety rushes, and over the many-colored
pebbles beneath. All nature spoke of abundance and plenty. The
cuckoo sang, and the lark carolled, for it was now beautiful
spring. The careful willows had, however, covered their
blossoms with woolly gloves; and this carefulness is rather
tedious. Days and weeks went by, and the heat increased. Warm
air waved the corn as it grew golden in the sun. The white
northern lily spread its large green leaves over the glossy
mirror of the woodland lake, and the fishes sought the shadows
beneath them. In a sheltered part of the wood, the sun shone
upon the walls of a farm-house, brightening the blooming
roses, and ripening the black juicy berries, which hung on the
loaded cherry-trees, with his hot beams. Here sat the lovely
wife of Summer, the same whom we have seen as a child and a
bride; her eyes were fixed on dark gathering clouds, which in
wavy outlines of black and indigo were piling themselves up
like mountains, higher and higher. They came from every side,
always increasing like a rising, rolling sea. Then they
swooped towards the forest, where every sound had been
silenced as if by magic, every breath hushed, every bird mute.
All nature stood still in grave suspense. But in the lanes and
the highways, passengers on foot or in carriages were hurrying
to find a place of shelter. Then came a flash of light, as if
the sun had rushed forth from the sky, flaming, burning,
all-devouring, and darkness returned amid a rolling crash of
thunder. The rain poured down in streams,- now there was
darkness, then blinding light,- now thrilling silence, then
deafening din. The young brown reeds on the moor waved to and
fro in feathery billows; the forest boughs were hidden in a
watery mist, and still light and darkness followed each other,
still came the silence after the roar, while the corn and the
blades of grass lay beaten down and swamped, so that it seemed
impossible they could ever raise themselves again. But after a
while the rain began to fall gently, the sun's rays pierced
the clouds, and the water-drops glittered like pearls on leaf
and stem. The birds sang, the fishes leaped up to the surface
of the water, the gnats danced in the sunshine, and yonder, on
a rock by the heaving salt sea, sat Summer himself, a strong
man with sturdy limbs and long, dripping hair. Strengthened by
the cool bath, he sat in the warm sunshine, while all around
him renewed nature bloomed strong, luxuriant, and beautiful:
it was summer, warm, lovely summer. Sweet and pleasant was the
fragrance wafted from the clover-field, where the bees swarmed
round the ruined tower, the bramble twined itself over the old
altar, which, washed by the rain, glittered in the sunshine;
and thither flew the queen bee with her swarm, and prepared
wax and honey. But Summer and his bosom-wife saw it with
different eyes, to them the altar-table was covered with the
offerings of nature. The evening sky shone like gold, no
church dome could ever gleam so brightly, and between the
golden evening and the blushing morning there was moonlight.
It was indeed summer. And days and weeks passed, the bright
scythes of the reapers glittered in the corn-fields, the
branches of the apple-trees bent low, heavy with the red and
golden fruit. The hop, hanging in clusters, filled the air
with sweet fragrance, and beneath the hazel-bushes, where the
nuts hung in great bunches, rested a man and a woman- Summer
and his grave consort.

'See,' she exclaimed, 'what wealth, what blessings
surround us. Everything is home-like and good, and yet, I know
not why, I long for rest and peace; I can scarcely express
what I feel. They are already ploughing the fields again; more
and more the people wish for gain. See, the storks are
flocking together, and following the plough at a short
distance. They are the birds from Egypt, who carried us
through the air. Do you remember how we came as children to
this land of the north; we brought with us flowers and bright
sunshine, and green to the forests, but the wind has been
rough with them, and they are now become dark and brown, like
the trees of the south, but they do not, like them, bear
golden fruit.'

'Do you wish to see golden fruit?' said the man, 'then
rejoice,' and he lifted his arm. The leaves of the forest put
on colors of red and gold, and bright tints covered the
woodlands. The rose-bushes gleamed with scarlet hips, and the
branches of the elder-trees hung down with the weight of the
full, dark berries. The wild chestnuts fell ripe from their
dark, green shells, and in the forests the violets bloomed for
the second time. But the queen of the year became more and
more silent and pale.

'It blows cold,' she said, 'and night brings the damp
mist; I long for the land of my childhood.' Then she saw the
storks fly away every one, and she stretched out her hands
towards them. She looked at the empty nests; in one of them
grew a long-stalked corn flower, in another the yellow mustard
seed, as if the nest had been placed there only for its
comfort and protection, and the sparrows were flying round
them all.

'Tweet, where has the master of the nest gone?' cried one,
'I suppose he could not bear it when the wind blew, and
therefore he has left this country. I wish him a pleasant

The forest leaves became more and more yellow, leaf after
leaf fell, and the stormy winds of Autumn howled. The year was
now far advanced, and upon the fallen, yellow leaves, lay the
queen of the year, looking up with mild eyes at a gleaming
star, and her husband stood by her. A gust of wind swept
through the foliage, and the leaves fell in a shower. The
summer queen was gone, but a butterfly, the last of the year,
flew through the cold air. Damp fogs came, icy winds blew, and
the long, dark nights of winter approached. The ruler of the
year appeared with hair white as snow, but he knew it not; he
thought snow-flakes falling from the sky covered his head, as
they decked the green fields with a thin, white covering of
snow. And then the church bells rang out for Christmas time.

'The bells are ringing for the new-born year,' said the
ruler, 'soon will a new ruler and his bride be born, and. I
shall go to rest with my wife in yonder light-giving star.'

In the fresh, green fir-wood, where the snow lay all
around, stood the angel of Christmas, and consecrated the
young trees that were to adorn his feast.

'May there be joy in the rooms, and under the green
boughs,' said the old ruler of the year. In a few weeks he had
become a very old man, with hair as white as snow. 'My
resting-time draws near; the young pair of the year will soon
claim my crown and sceptre.'

'But the night is still thine,' said the angel of
Christmas, 'for power, but not for rest. Let the snow lie
warmly upon the tender seed. Learn to endure the thought that
another is worshipped whilst thou art still lord. Learn to
endure being forgotten while yet thou livest. The hour of thy
freedom 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 beard, cold, bent, and
hoary, but strong as the wintry storm, and firm as the ice,
old Winter sat on the snowdrift-covered hill, looking towards
the south, where Winter had sat before, and gazed. The ice
glittered, the snow crackled, the skaters skimmed over the
polished surface of the lakes; ravens and crows formed a
pleasing contrast to the white ground, and not a breath of
wind stirred, and in the still air old Winter clenched his
fists, and the ice lay fathoms deep between the lands. Then
came the sparrows again out of the town, and asked, 'Who is
that old man?' The raven sat there still, or it might be his
son, which is the same thing, and he said to them,-

'It is Winter, the old man of the former year; he is not
dead, as the calendar says, but he is guardian to the spring,
which is coming.'

'When will Spring come?' asked the sparrows, 'for we shall
have better times then, and a better rule. The old times are
worth nothing.'

And in quiet thought old Winter looked at the leafless
forest, where the graceful form and bends of each tree and
branch could be seen; and while Winter slept, icy mists came
from the clouds, and the ruler dreamt of his youthful days and
of his manhood, and in the morning dawn the whole forest
glittered with hoar frost, which the sun shook from the
branches,- and this was the summer dream of Winter.

'When will Spring come?' asked the sparrows. 'Spring!'
Again the echo sounded from the hills on which the snow lay.
The sunshine became warmer, the snow melted, and the birds
twittered, 'Spring is coming!' And high in the air flew the
first stork, and the second followed; a lovely child sat on
the back of each, and they sank down on the open field, kissed
the earth, and kissed the quiet old man; and, as the mist from
the mountain top, he vanished away and disappeared. And the
story of the year was finished.

'This is all very fine, no doubt,' said the sparrows, 'and
it is very beautiful; but it is not according to the calendar,
therefore, it must be all wrong.'

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