Illustrations by Rachel Finnegan
(Please check out her work at: http://www.rachelfineganillustration.blogspot.co.uk )
There was once a boarding school that squatted on a rock just off the coast of Kent. During its years many students lived there, learning the ways of magic and growing into who they were to be. Amongst these students were two sisters who couldn’t have been more different. One was very lazy; she would sleep during lessons and slouch down the corridors laughing harshly, surrounded by friends. The other was very hard-working; she would always listen during lessons, but she would often be seen walking down the corridors with a frown on her face. She wasn’t very popular and would often be forced to do her peers’ chores for them.
‘After all, she’s the hard-working one so why shouldn’t she do all the hard work?’ The lazy sister would say, as her sister scrubbed the toilets.
One of the weekly chores was to take her peers’ school uniforms down to the water to scrub them against the washboard. Now, it chanced that one day the bullied sister’s mind was on other things. She forgot to pay attention to the board and sliced her finger open on one of the blades. As she brought her stinging finger to her mouth to suck at the wound, a droplet of blood fell into the water. The blood spread out until it was a thin disc of red. As it started to drift apart, the water rippled and started to form into a blue, translucent hand. The fingers flexed and then reached for the girl, the hand caught hold of her wrist and pulled her into the water. As she was dragged along, her vision became dark and her thoughts were stilled. Unconsciousness overcame her.
When she awoke the girl found herself in a beautiful meadow, full of sunshine and with countless flowers blooming in every direction. She picked herself up and, seeing how pretty the place was, started to walk over the meadow. A cool breeze wafted over her, bringing with it the scent of baking dough. Following the smell, she came to a baker’s oven full of bread. Inside, the loaves started to cry to her, ‘Take us out, take us out, or alas! We shall be burnt to a cinder; we were baked through long ago.’ The bread-shovel was leaning against the wall beside the oven. Picking it up, she thrust it into the oven and drew them all out. She laid the bread down on the table and continued on her way.
She went on a little farther until she came to an orchard. In the orchard, all the fruit trees had been harvested apart from one, which was full of red and shiny apples. ‘Shake me, shake me, I pray,’ said the tree. ‘My apples, all of them, are ripe. If they grow any longer they’ll burst into flame and I’ll go up with them!’ She took the trunk in her hands and shook it with all her might. The apples rained down upon her, some bruising and scorching her skin, but she continued shaking until the tree no longer had any apples upon it. Then she gathered the apples in a heap under the tree and walked on.
Next she came to a thatched cottage, where an old woman was looking out. She had gigantic teeth and a large boil upon her nose, the girl turned sharply around in order to run away. But the old woman called, saying, ‘What are you afraid of, dear child? Stay with me; if you will do the work of my house properly, I will make you very happy. You must be very careful to make my bed correctly. The duvet should always be shaken so that the feathers fly about. Those in the world seem to love it when the feathers fly, for I am Mother Winter and my duvets make it snow.’ The old woman spoke so kindly and softly that the girl timidly nodded and agreed to enter her service.
She made sure to do everything that Mother Winter asked, in the same diligent way she did at the boarding school. She made sure the pots were scrubbed so that they reflected like mirrors; the floors were swept so they were smooth enough to be slid along, and every time she made the bed she shook the duvet with all her might so the feathers flew about like snowflakes. As for Mother Winter, she was kind and never spoke angrily to her, and gave her roast meats with delicious vegetables every day.
So the girl stayed with Mother Winter for a while, but she slowly became unhappy. At first, she couldn’t put her finger on why she felt uncomfortable and sad, but then she became conscious of a great longing to go back to the school. She missed the long corridors, the interesting lessons and the grand buildings; even though she was much better off with Mother Winter than with her sister and her sister’s band of friends. After trying to ignore the feeling for a while, she went to Mother Winter and said, ‘I am so homesick that I cannot stay here any longer. Although I am very happy here, very happy, I must return to where I belong.’
Then Mother Winter said, ‘I am pleased you should want to go home. As you’ve served me so well and faithfully, I’ll take you home myself.’
The old woman led the girl by the hand up to a broad gateway at the end of her garden. The gate was opened, and as the girl passed through a shower of gold fell upon her. The gold clung to her so she was covered all over with it.
‘That is a reward for your industry,’ said Mother Winter.
The gate was then closed and the girl found herself next to the washing board. She looked at the pile of clothes she’d left and saw that they were no longer dirty but washed and folded neatly. Smiling, she gathered them into her arms and walked back to the common room, where her sister and friends would be waiting. When she entered, they stared at her golden skin and then stood up and embraced her, as she was so richly covered with gold. She told them all that had happened, and when her sister’s closest friend heard how the sister had become golden, thought she should like her friend to go and try her fortune. So, when it was the next time for the golden girl to scrub the school uniforms, her bully of a sister went in her place. She sliced her finger on the washing board and made sure that a drop of blood fell in the water. The hand that had dragged the gold girl through to Mother Winter’s world formed and dragged the lazy girl in.
Like her sister she awoke in the beautiful meadow. She stared around and, spotting the baker’s oven her sister had mentioned, walked over to it. Bending over so she could look into the oven, she heard the baking bread cry out, ‘Take us out, take us out, or alas! We shall be burnt to a cinder; we were baked through long ago.’ But the lazy girl merely looked at them and scornfully said, ‘Do you think I’m going to get my hands dirty for you?’ The baking bread cried out louder for help but she ignored them and decided to carry on walking.
Next she strode to the orchard and, just like her golden sister, saw that all the trees but one had their fruit gathered beneath them. The apple tree cried to her and said, ‘Shake me, shake me, I pray; my apples, all of them, are ripe. If they continue to grow, they’ll go up in flame and I’ll go up with them.’
But she only said, ‘A nice thing to ask me to do. One of the apples might fall on me and bruise my skin.’ She spat at the tree’s trunk and passed on. As she walked away, the apples on the branches exploded in flames. Soon, the tree was ablaze. A slight gust picked up and blew some of the embers from the tree onto one beside it. Soon the whole orchard was on fire.
At last she came to Mother Winter’s house, and as she had heard all about the large teeth and the boil on her nose from her sister, she wasn’t afraid of the old woman and introduced herself without delay.
On the first day she was very obedient and industrious, and exerted herself to make Mother Winter happy. The thought of the gold sticking to her skin motivated her through the pot washing, floor polishing and bed making. The next day, she started to dawdle over her chores. The pans weren’t as sparkling clean, the floors weren’t as smooth, and when she shook the duvet only a few feathers flew out and around the room. On the third day, she was so slow Mother Winter had to continuously encourage her to work. It wasn’t long until she began to lie in bed in the mornings and refuse to rise. Mother Winter swiftly became tired of her and told her she might go. The lazy girl was delighted and thought to herself, ‘The gold will soon be mine.’
Mother Winter led her, as she had led her gold sister, to the broad gateway at the bottom of the garden. However, as the lazy girl walked through the gate she wasn’t covered in gold. Nay, thick, slimy and muddy water that smelt of rotten eggs poured down and coated her.
‘That is in return for your services,’ said Mother Winter, and slammed the gate.
When the lazy girl woke up beside the wash board and the dirty uniforms, she saw that the uniforms were much muddier than they had been before she entered Mother Winter’s world. Looking disdainfully at them, she didn’t bother washing the clothes but strode straight to the showers. But no matter how hard she scrubbed or how long she stood under the shower she could not get rid of the mud. The smell stuck to her as long as she attended the school.
Based on The Brothers’ Grimm’s Mother Holle