Cinderella #347 Little Sister and the Month Brothers (Schenk de Regniers)
Once upon a time, in what is now the Slovak Republic, there lived "this girl. We don't know her name, but everyone called her Little Sister." She lived in a small dark hut with a mean stepsister and a cruel stepmother. These two made Little Sister do all of the hardest work, and believe me, there was a lot of that needed, just to get by. Sweeping, mopping and scrubbing were only a part of her day; she also had to spin wool, weave cloth, and mend clothes. Plus, milk the cow twice a day. Yet no matter how hard she worked, Little Sister kept her cool. "Most of the time, she sang or hummed while she worked."She seemed to grow prettier with each passing day, and, for some reason, her stepsister began to appear uglier. This the stepmother could not stand. She thought and thought, and finally contrived a plan to get rid of Little Sister. One subzero morning, Stepmother commanded Little Sister to go and find her "fresh violets....She pushed Little Sister outside, and told her not to come back without fresh violets." Then she slammed the door. Little Sister had barely taken a half dozen steps when she began to shake and shiver: she was not even wearing her cloak. The snow whirled around her, and she felt numb. In a moment, she thought, she would lie down and rest. Just then, she saw "a light shining high above the trees." It seemed to be coming from the top of great boulder. She scrambled up, and this is what she saw on the peak. "Twelve men were standing in a circle around a big fire." Three were youths, three grown men. "Their looked tall and strong and their capes were of green and gold." The three oldest gentleman "had brown beards and wore woolen capes of gold and brown." They could only be "the Month Brothers". Brother January asked the child what she was doing in the cold forest, and ,when he heard her plight, implored his brothers to help her. So "he passed his staff to February. An icy wind began to blow." Around the circle it was passed, finally reaching April. "Take the staff, Brother April," said January. "Only you can give us violets." So April did, and caused "a shower of warm rain" and soon, "in a circle around Brother April, there was a carpet of blue violets." So Little Sister quickly filled her apron, thanked the brothers, and hurried home. But Stepmother was not pleased to see Little Sister when she got home, violets or no. She snatched the bouquet, and shoved her right back out the door. This time, she demanded strawberries! Poor Little Sister nearly died from cold before she stumbled into the fire circle of the month brothers again. With some concern, Brother January asked why she had returned. Of course, when her heard of her need, he passed his staff round again, this time until it reached June. But Brother June told Little Sister to take just 5 of the berries home, and that is why Stepmother beat the girl when she got there. Now Stepsister, who had greedily eaten those berries and desired more, said she would go and find the old men in the woods. She flounced out the door in her furs and woolens. She had not gone far before she began to shiver and shake with cold. However she could see a fire up ahead, so she pressed on. Without so much as a by-your-leave, she seated herself before the fire. Then she demanded to know which one was the strawberry man? She needed a basketful, she declared. At this, Brother January "swung his staff in the air. The wind blew. The snow fell thick and fast. " The old brothers, their fire, all was lost in a swirl of white, flying snow. Stepsister soon disappeared into the storm. At home, Stepmother became worried. What was keeping the girl so long? She too bundled into her warmest things and set out. But she did not go far, for Brother January saw her go out and blew some more. Meanwhile, back at the cabin, "Little Sister waited and waited" but her cruel family members never came back. In fact, "no one ever saw them again." Little Sister went back to humming and whistling as she worked, and soon, the seasons turned. Spring came, and summer. The Month Brothers remembered good hearted Little Sister, and graced her garden with extra bounty. "One day, an honest farmer came to the door and asked Little Sister to marry him, and she did." She and her husband lived for many, many years "in peace and happiness".
From: Beatrice Schenk de Reginiers (1976) Little Sister and the Month Brothers. New York: Marshall Cavendish
Notes: I just adore Margot Tomes' artwork. Here we get accurate drawings of a spinning wheel in use. This story has several variations, in some there is a Baba Yaga figure.