Continued from the Last Issue
But what of little Gerda after Kai did not return? Where could he be, she wondered. No one knew. One boy said he had seen Kai tie his sled to a big white sledge that drove off through the city gates.
As time went by, people said he must be dead, no doubt drowned in the river beyond the town. Oh how long and dismal was the winter now!
Little Gerda cried and cried.
At last spring came to warm the land, but Kai had not returned.
"Kai must be dead," moaned little Gerda.
"Indeed that is not so," the sunbeams breathed.
"He must be dead and gone," she told the swallows.
"Indeed, that is not so," they answered.
That gave her heart.
"I shall put on my new red shoes," she said early one morning, "the ones that Kai has never seen. And I'll go down to the river to ask about him."
So she kissed her grandmother who was still sleeping, put on her new red shoes and went alone through the city gates and out towards the river to ask about him.'
So she kissed her grandmother who was still sleeping, put on her new red shoes and went alone through the city gates and out towards the river.
"Is it true," she asked the waves, "that you have taken Kai away? I shall give you my red shoes if you will bring him back."
She fancied the ripples of the river nodded strangely to her: so she took off her shoes - even though she prized them more than all she owned - and threw them to the stream. They fell into the water just by the bank and the waves returned them to her, as if they would not take them. But little Gerda thought she had not thrown the shoes in far enough. Therefore, stepping into a little boat that lay among the reeds, she cast the shoes out into mid-stream. Suddenly, the boat, not being fastened, began to move, and little Gerda hastened to escape. It was too late. The boat was already too far from land. It picked up speed and swiftly floated with current down the river.
Poor Gerda was very frightened and began to cry. But no one heard her save the little sparrows, and they could not take her back to land. To keep her company they flew along the banks, singing, "Have no fear, Gerda, have no fear."
Gerda sat very still. Her new red shoes floated on behind the boat, just out of reach. Gerda was now travelling past lovely countryside. Along the daisy-covered banks were stately trees, with green hills in the distance on which grazed sheep and cows. But no a single person came in sight.
"Perhaps the river will take me to dear Kai," thought Gerda, and she cheered up at the thought.
At long last the boat drifted towards the river bank, near a little cottage with thatched roof and stianed-glass windows. Before the door stood two toy soldiers who presented arms when they caught sight of the girl. Gerda called out to them, but they did not reply.
All at one an old lady, leaning on a stick appeared at the open cottage door. She wore a large-brimmed hat adorned with every flower imaginable.
“Poor little child," she said on seeing Gerda. "The mighty river has brought you far from home."
Thereupon she pulled the boat into a bank with her walking stick and led out the little girl. How glad Gerda was to be on dry land again. But she was afraid of the strange tall lady.
"Come in and tell me who you are and how you came to be here ," the woman said to Gerda.
When Gerda had told her all there was to tell, the old lady shook her head and clicked her tongue. And when Gerda asked if she had been seen poor Kai, she said he had not passed but he was sure to come there soon.
"In the meantime, don't be sad," she said. "You can stay with me and eat ripe cherries, look at my flower garden which is prettier than any picture book; each flower can tell a different story."
As Gerda gazed about the room she saw that the windows had panes of different coloured glass - of red and blue and yellow, so that as the daylight filtered through, it lit up the room most splendidly in rainbow hues. Upon a table in the center was a bowl of dark red cherries. Gerda could have as many as she liked. While she was eating, the old woman combed Gerda's hair with a golden comb, so that her flaxen ringlets curled about her lovely rosebud face.
"I've always wanted a little girl like you," the lady said.
"I'm sure we'll get on well together."
As her hair was being combed, Gerda's thoughts of her playmate Kai began to dim. For, in truth, the old woman was a sorceress. But not an evil one; she just liked to try a little magic now and then for her own amusement. And now she wanted very much to keep Gerda with her. Knowing that if the girl saw roses she would recall the roses at her home and then the lost boy Kai, she went into the garden and pointed her stick at every rose bush. Thereupon the full-leaved blossoms sank into the soil and vanished without a trace. No one would have guessed that roses had once grown there.
"Let me show you my flower garden," she said later, leading Gerda by the hand.
Oh, how beautiful and fragrant the garden was. Flowers of every country and season grea there in colorful abundance, all of them in full bloom. To be sure, no picture book could compare in beauty. Gerda clapped her hands for joy, and played among the flowers until the red sun set behind the cherry trees. Then she was given a pretty little bed with dark red pillows filled with violets; and there she slept so sweetly, dreaming rosier dreams than a queen before her coronation.
Retold by James Riordan
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