"Gather them quickly, Marouckla," said Tchervene.

Joyfully she thanked the months, and having filled her apron ran happily home. Helen and her mother wondered at seeing the strawberries, which filled the house with their delicious fragrance.

"Wherever did you find them?" asked Helen crossly.

"Right up among the mountains; those from under the beech trees are not bad".

Helen gave a few to her mother and ate the rest herself; not one did she offer to her step-sister. Being tired of strawberries, on the third day she took a fancy for some fresh red apples.

"Run, Marouckla," said she, "and fetch me fresh red apples from the mountain".

"Apples in winter, sister? why, the trees have neither leaves nor fruit".

"Idle slut, go this minute," said Helen; "unless you bring back apples we will kill you".

As before, the stepmother seized her roughly and turned her out of the house. The poor girl went weeping up the mountain, across the deep snow upon which lay no human footprint, and on towards the fire round which were the twelve months. Motionless sat they, and on the highest stone was the great Setchene.

"Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire? The winter cold chills me," said she, drawing near.

The great Setchene raised his head.

"Why com'st thou here? What dost thou seek?" asked he.

"I am come to look for red apples," replied Marouckla.

"But this is winter, and not the season for red apples," observed the great Setchene.

The Twelve Months Continued 7

"I know," answered the girl, "but my sister and stepmother sent me to fetch red apples from the mountain; if I return without them they will kill me".

Thereupon the great Setchene arose and went over to one of the elderly months, to whom he handed the wand, saying:

"Brother Zare (September), do thou take the highest place".

Zare" moved to the highest stone and waved his wand over the fire. There was a flare of red flames, the snow disappeared, but the fading leaves which trembled on the trees were sent by a cold north-east wind in yellow masses to the glade. Only a few flowers of autumn were visible, such as the fleabane and red gillyflower, autumn colchicums in the ravine, and under the beeches bracken and tufts of northern heather. At first Marouckla looked in vain for red apples. Then she espied a tree which grew at a great height, and from the branches of this hung the bright red fruit. Zare ordered her to gather some quickly. The girl was delighted and shook the tree. First one apple fell, then another.

"That is enough," said Zare, "hurry home".

Thanking the months, she returned joyfully. Helen marvelled and the stepmother wondered at seeing the fruit.

"Where did you gather them?" asked the step-sister.

"There are more on the mountain top," answered Marouckla.

"Then why did you not bring more?" said Helen angrily; "you must have eaten them on your way back, you wicked girl".

"No, dear sister, I have not even tasted them," said Marouckla. "I shook the tree twice; one apple fell each time. I was not allowed to shake it again, but was told to return home".

"May Perum smite you with his thunderbolt," said Helen, striking her.

Marouckla prayed to die rather than suffer such ill-treatment. Weeping bitterly, she took refuge in the kitchen. Helen and her mother found the apples more delicious than any they had ever tasted, and when they had eaten both longed for more.

"Listen, mother," said Helen. "Give me my cloak; I will fetch some more apples myself, or else that good-for-nothing wretch will eat them all on the way. I shall be able to find the mountain and the tree. The shepherds may cry 'Stop,' but I shall not leave go till I have shaken down all the apples".

In spite of her mother's advice she put on her pelisse, covered her head with a warm hood, and took the road to the mountain. The mother stood and watched her till she was lost in the distance.

Snow covered everything, not a human footprint was to be seen on its surface. Helen lost herself and wandered hither and thither. After a while she saw a light above her, and following in its direction reached the mountain top. There was the flaming fire, the twelve blocks of stone, and the twelve months. At first she was frightened and hesitated ; then she came nearer and warmed her hands. She did not ask permission, nor did she speak one polite word.

"What has brought thee here? What dost thou seek?" said the great Setchene severely.

"I am not obliged to tell you, old greybeard; what business is it of yours?" she replied disdainfully, turning her back on the fire and going towards the forest.

The great Setchene frowned, and waved his wand over his head. Instantly the sky became covered with clouds, the fire went down, snow fell in large flakes, an icy wind howled round the mountain. Amid the fury of the storm Helen added curses against her step-sister. The pelisse failed to warm her benumbed limbs. The mother kept on waiting for her; she looked from the window, she watched from the doorstep, but her daughter came not. The hours passed slowly, but Helen did not return.

"Can it be that the apples have charmed her from her home?" thought the mother. Then she clad herself in hood and pelisse and went in search of her daughter. Snow fell in huge masses; it covered all things, it lay untouched by human footsteps. For long she wandered hither and thither; the icy north-east wind whistled in the mountain, but no voice answered her cries.

Day after day Marouckla worked and prayed, and waited; but neither stepmother nor sister returned, they had been frozen to death on the mountain. The inheritance of a small house, a field, and a cow fell to Marouckla. In course of time an honest farmer came to share them with her, and their lives were happy and peaceful.