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The Story of the Year

The lean horses ran until steamy smoke seemed to rise from them. The snow creaked with the cold, and the sparrows hopped around in the ruts and shivered. "Peep! When will spring come? It's taking a very long time about it!"

"Very long," sounded a deep voice from the highest snowcoverd hill, far across the field. Perhaps it was an echo, or perhaps the words had been spoken by a strange old man who was sitting, in spite of wind and weather, on the top of a high drift of snow. He was all white, with long hair, a pale face, and big clear eyes, dressed like a peasant in a coarse white coat of frieze.

"Who is that old fellow over there?" demanded the sparrows.

"I know who he is," said an old raven sitting on a fence rail. Now, this raven was wise enough to know that we are all like little birds in the sight of the Lord, so he wasn't above speaking to the sparrows and answering their question.

"Yes, I know who the old man is. He's Winter, the old man of last year. He isn't dead, as the calendar says; no, he is guardian to little Prince Spring, who is coming. Yes, Winter rules here now. Ugh! The cold makes you shiver, doesn't it, you small creatures?"

"Yes," replied the smallest sparrow. "Didn't I tell you? The calendar is only a stupid invention of men, and isn't arranged according to nature. They ought to leave that sort of thing to us; we're born much more sensitive than they are."

So one week passed away; yes, almost two weeks went by. The forest was black, and the frozen lake still lay hard and stiff, looking like a sheet of lead. The clouds, like damp cold mists, lay brooding over the land, while the great black crows flew in long silent lines. It was as if nature were sleeping.

Then a sunbeam glided over the surface of the lake, and it shone like melted tin. The snowy blanket over field and hill did not glitter quite so coldly. But still the white form of King Winter sat, his gaze fixed unswervingly toward the south. He did not notice that the snowy carpet seemed to sink very slowly into the earth itself and that here and there little grass-green patches were appearing.

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