|Illustration from "The Twelve Months"|
by Haviland, V. (1966)
Once upon a time, in a "small, cold village", there lived an unkind woman. She had a little girl, who she indulged in every way, and a stepdaughter, whose name was Christina. That poor child was worked nearly to death to keep the household clean and the fire blazing. The girl was sent out in bitter cold, driving rain, and scorching sun to gather firewood, do the laundry, and tend the garden. One cold December day, while the girl was out hunting for firewood, she was amazed to hear the animals of the woodland chattering in a language which she understood! Their speech so delighted her that an old soldier, who was passing by, offered to help her gather wood, and carry a large load of it home. And when he asked her why she was laughing in the cold and the dark of December, and she had told him about the animals and their language, he said,"It is a day for miracles. Today is the last day of the old year. ...Until midnight, all of the animals can speak in human voices." He also told her that it was a day for reflection, and for making plans for self betterment in the coming year. Then he told her a story that his own gret-great-grandfather had told him long ago. There were 12 brothers, he said, who met every year to choose "a kindhearted person to watch over for the year". And he asked the girl's help in completing a task of his own. That was to choose the Christmas tree for the young queen. She was an angry little girl, recently orphaned and mad with power. She commanded, at pain of death to her servants, whatever she wanted. He had been ordered to bring the best Christmas tree in the forest. So the girl helped the old soldier, and he helped the girl,and before long, both had completed their tasks. When the girl and the soldier had stacked the huge load of firewood in front of her home, he departed. But when the girl tried to come inside to warm up, her stepmother forbade it! She thrust a basket into her hands instead, and ordered that she go and fill it with snowdrops. Though Christina protested in horror, saying that such flowers grew only in April. She would die if she was forced to search for them now. But her stepmother told her that the young queen had decreed that a basket of gold would be given to the person who brought the flowers, and that if she did not go and search for them, then she would kill the girl herself. So the poor, tired girl trudged off into the forest, crying bitter tears. Darkness was falling, and wolves began to howl. The girl climbed to the top of the tallest tree she could find for safety. And that is how she saw the glow of a bonfire, in a clearing not far away. So she climbed down again, and ran to it. And there was a blazing, wonderful fire, and she ran right to it, and warmed her frozen self. Then she realized that 12 gentlemen, all "beautifully dressed in fine robes and warm cloaks" were seated round the fire. She said,"I only wanted to get warm. I didn't mean to disturb you." And one of them answered, "Oh, please join us. But tell me, what is the basket for?"Then she told her story. And then the twelve brothers made a deal. January would lend April an hour of time, and, in this way, the snowdrops would bloom. The girl watched in amazement as the darkness lifted and the snow ran clear. Snowdrops bloomed, and she gather a basketful in no time. Then January guided her safely home, and returned to his brothers. Now a discussion took place about the cruelty the stepmother, and meanness of the stepsister. So the 12 months agreed that, since the girl was so kindhearted, they would watch over her for a year. And when morning came, the months strode silently through the woods, and listened at the windows of the girl's cottage. They heard the stepmother and her daughter abusing the poor girl, berating her for refusing to tell where she had picked the flowers. Then they burst through the door, driving the girl like a dog. When the stepmother kicked the girl along the path, and dragged her deep into the forest, the 12 months followed. And when the stepmother began to shiver with cold, and the stepsister wished aloud for a fur coat, even though it were made of dog fur, the months were listening. That is when they became visible again, and thrust a pair of dog fur coats at them. They said, "Take these coats, they are yours forever!" and then they transformed them into a pair of dogs! Then "Brother January harnessed the dogs to a sled and rode back to his brothers and the bonfire." Meanwhile, back at the palace, the queen was delighted by the tree which the old soldier had brought. In fact, so delighted that she ordered him to take her to the very part of the forest in which he had found it. And that is when she passed Christina, traveling with the brothers in a marvelous sled. It was "covered in silver bells and led by strong and graceful horses". At once, the young queen ordered her own sleight be stopped, and to changed places with Christina. But the twelve old months would not allow this, and so the Queen ordered her servants to kill the disobedient months. Then Brother February towered over her and made her tremble. He said, "You must learn manners befitting a queen. If you ask nicely, you might be surprised at the answer...Christina is a very nice girl. She could be your friend." So the queen tried again, saying, "Excuse me, Christina. May I have a ride with you? I'm very cold." And Christina agreed. The queen hopped under the cozy fur robes with Christina, and soon they were chattering like old friends. Then Chirstina thanked the months, saying that she would "always remember [their] warm New Year's fire!" And the young queen said, "I will try in this new year to be a kinder and better person. I hope to learn how from my good friend, Christina." And the two girls rode off together, the warm deeds of the twelve months, and the kind words of those fellows, filling their hearts.
From Mikhail Baryshnikov's Stories from My Childhood. (2002) New York: Harry N, Abramms Inc.