Amazed and terrified he stood silent, not daring to speak. Meanwhile the twelve changed places one after another, each at last returning to his own seat. Then from the midst of the flames arose the white-bearded old man and spoke thus sternly to the rich man:
“Woe unto the willful! Thy brother is virtuous, therefore have I blessed him. As for thee, thou are wicked, and so shalt not escape our vengeance.”
At these words the twelve arose. The first seized the unfortunate man, struck him, and passed him on to the second; the second also struck him and passed him on to the third; and so did they all in their turn, until he was given up to the old man, who disappeared with him into the fire.
Days, weeks, months went by, but the rich man never returned, and none knew what had become of him. I think, between you and me, the younger brother had his suspicions but he very wisely kept them to himself.
THE TWELVE MONTHS
ADAPTED BY ALEXANDER CHODSKO
There was once a widow who had two daughters, Helen, her own child by her dead husband, and Marouckla, his daughter by his first wife. She loved Helen, but hated the poor orphan, because she was far prettier than her own daughter. Marouckla did not think about her good looks, and could not understand why her stepmother should be angry at the sight of her. The hardest work fell to her share; she cleaned out the rooms, cooked, washed, sewed, spun, wove, brought in the hay, milked the cow, and all this without any help. Helen, meanwhile, did nothing but dress herself in her best clothes and go to one amusement after another. But Marouckla never complained; she bore the scoldings and bad temper of mother and sister with a smile on her lips, and the patience of a lamb. But this angelic behavior did not soften them. They became even more tyrannical and grumpy, for Marouckla grew daily more beautiful while Helen’s ugliness increased. So the stepmother determined to get rid of Marouckla, for she knew that while she remained her own daughter would have no suitors. Hunger, every kind of privation, abuse, every means was used to make the girl’s life miserable. The most wicked of men could not have been more mercilessly cruel than these two vixens. But in spite of it all Marouckla grew ever sweeter and more charming.
One day in the middle of winter Helen wanted some wood-violets.
“Listen,” cried she to Marouckla; “you must go up the mountain and find me some violets, I want some to put in my gown; they must be fresh and sweet-scented—do you hear?”
“But, my dear sister, who ever heard of violets blooming in the snow?” said the poor orphan.
“You wretched creature! Do you dare to disobey me?” said Helen. “Not another word; off with you. If you do not bring me some violets from the mountain forest, I will kill you.”