One winter, when the snowflakes fell from the sky like feathers, a queen sat at a window. Her knitting-needle was black, and as she worked and the snow glittered, she pricked her finger, and three drops of blood fell into the snow. The red spots looked so beautiful in the white snow that the queen thought to herself: "Oh, if I only had a little child, I should like it to be as fair as snow, as rosy as the red blood, and with hair and eyes as black as ebony."
Very soon after this the queen had a little daughter who was very fair, had rosy cheeks, and hair as black as ebony; and they gave her the name of Snow White. But the queen died.
When Snow White was a year old, the king took another wife. She was so proud and vain that she could not endure anyone as beautiful as she. She owned a wonderful mirror, and when she stood before it to look at herself she would say:
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, Am I most beautiful of all?"
Then the mirror would reply:
"Young queen, thou are so wondrous fair,
None can with thee at all compare."
Then she would go away quite happy, for she knew the magic mirror could speak only the truth.
Years went by, and as Snow White grew up, she became ever more beautiful. People began to say that she would be more lovely even than the queen herself. So the proud woman went to her magic mirror, and asked:
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, Am I most beautiful of all?"
But the mirror answered:
"Queen, thou are lovely still to see,
But Snow White will be
A thousand times more beautiful than thee."
Then the queen turned green with jealousy. And this jealousy grew every day, like a disease, till she had no rest day or night.
At last she sent for a hunter, who lived near a forest, and said to him, "Hunter, take the child out into the woods, and if you bring me some proof that she is dead, I will reward you. Never let her appear before my eyes again."
So the hunter took the child into the woods; but when he took out his hunting-knife to kill Snow White, she fell on her knees and wept, and said, "Ah, dear hunter, leave me my life; I will run away into the wild wood, and never, never come home any more."
She looked so innocent and beautiful as she knelt, that the hunter's heart was moved with compassion: "Run away, then, thou poor child," he cried; "I cannot harm thee."
Snow White thanked him so sweetly, and was out of sight in a few moments.
To satisfy the queen, he took part of the inside of a young fawn, which the wicked woman thought was poor little Snow White, and was overjoyed to think she was dead.
But the poor little child, when she found herself alone in the wood, and saw nothing but trees and leaves, was frightened. At last she began to run over the sharp stones and through the thorns, and though the wild beasts sprang out before her, they did her no harm. She ran on as long as she could, and towards evening she saw a pretty little house. So she went up to it, and found the door open and no one at home.
It was a tiny little house, but everything in it was so clean and neat. In the middle of the room stood a small table, ready for supper. On it were arranged seven little plates, seven little spoons, seven little knives and forks, and seven mugs. By the wall stood seven little beds.
Poor Snow White was hungry and thirsty. She ate a few vegetables and a little bread from each plate, and drank a little drop of wine from each cup. After this, feeling very tired, she thought she would lie down and rest on one of the beds, but she found it difficult to choose one. One was too long, another too short; so she tried them all till she came to the seventh, and that was so comfortable that she laid herself down, and was soon fast asleep.
When it was dark the masters of the house came home. They were seven little dwarfs, who dug and searched in the mountains for minerals. First they lighted seven little lamps, and as soon as the room was full of light they saw that some one had been there, for everything did not stand in the order in which they had left it.
Then the eldest looked at his bed, and saw Snow White lying there fast asleep. He called the others, who came quickly, and cried out in wonder as they saw the sleeping child. "Oh, what a beautiful little child!" they said to each other, and were so delighted that they would not awaken her, but left her to sleep.
In the morning, when Snow White awoke, and saw all the dwarfs, she was terribly frightened. But they spoke kindly to her, till she lost all fear, and they asked her name.
"I am called Snow White," she replied.
"But did you come to our house?" asked one.
Then she told them all that had happened.
The dwarfs said, "Do you think you could be our little housekeeper, to make the beds, cook the dinner, and wash and sew and knit for us, and keep everything neat and clean and orderly? If you can, then you shall stay here with us, and nobody shall hurt you."
"Oh yes, I will try," said Snow White. So they let her stay, and she was a clever little thing. She managed very well, and kept the house quite clean and in order. And while they were gone to work, she got their supper ready, and they were very happy together.
Every morning when they left her, the dwarfs warned Snow White to be careful. While the maiden was alone they knew she was in danger, and told her not to show herself, for her stepmother would soon find out where she was, and said, "Whatever you do, let nobody into the house while we are gone."
After the wicked queen had proved, as she thought, that Snow White was dead, she felt quite satisfied there was no one in the world now likely to become so beautiful as herself, so she stepped up to her mirror and asked:
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who is most beautiful of all?"
To her vexation the mirror replied:
"Fair queen, at home there is none like thee,
But over the mountains is Snow White free,
With seven little dwarfs, who are strange to see;
A thousand times fairer than thou is she."
The queen was furious when she heard this, for she knew the mirror was truthful, and that the hunter must have deceived her, and that Snow White still lived. So she sat and thought over these facts, thinking what would be best to do, for as long as she was not the most beautiful woman in the land, her jealousy gave her no peace. After a time, she decided what to do.
She went into a lonely room where no one was allowed to come, and poisoned a beautiful apple. Outwardly it looked ripe and tempting, of a pale green with rosy cheeks, so that it made everyone's mouth water to look at it, but whoever ate even a small piece must die.
As soon as this apple was ready, the wicked queen, dressed as old woman, went over the mountains to the dwarfs' cottage.
When she knocked at the door, Snow White stretched her head out of the window, and said, "I dare not let you in; the seven dwarfs have forbidden me."
"But I am all right," said the old woman. "I will show you my apples. Are they not beautiful? Let me make you a present of one."
"No, thank you," cried Snow White.
"What!" cried the woman, "are you afraid it is poisoned? Look here now, I will cut the apple in halves; you shall have the rosy-cheek side, and I will eat the other."
The apple was so cleverly made that only the red side was poisonous. Snow White longed so much for the beautiful fruit as she saw the farmer's wife eat one half that she could not any longer resist, but stretched out her hand from the window and took the poisoned half. But no sooner had she taken one mouthful than she fell on the ground dead.
Then the wicked queen glanced in at the window with a horrible look in her eye, and laughed aloud as she exclaimed:
"White as snow, red as blood, and black as ebony; the dwarfs will not be able to awake thee."
And as soon as she arrived at home, and asked her mirror who was the most beautiful in the land, it replied:
"Fair queen, there is none in all the land
So beautiful as thou."
The little dwarfs, when they came home in the evening, found poor Snow White on the ground; really dead. Yet they tried in every way to restore her; they tried to extract the poison from her lips, they combed her hair, and washed it, but all to no purpose: the dear child gave no signs of life, and at last they knew she was dead. Then they laid her down, and the seven dwarfs seated themselves round her, and wept and mourned for three days. They would have buried her then, but there was no change in her appearance; her face was as fresh, and her cheeks and lips had their usual color. Then said one, "We cannot lay this beautiful child in the dark, cold earth."
So they agreed to have a coffin made entirely of glass, and they wrote in letters of gold her name on the lid, and that she was the daughter of a king. They placed the coffin on the side of the mountain, and each of them watched it by turns, so that it was never left alone. And the birds of the air came near and mourned for Snow White; first the owl, then the raven, and at last the dove. It seemed as if she slept; for her skin was snow white, her cheeks rosy red, and her hair black as ebony.
One day the son of a king, while riding in the forest, came by chance upon the dwarfs' house and asked for a night's lodging. As he left the next morning he saw the coffin on the mountainside, with beautiful Snow White lying in it, and read what was written upon the lid in letters of gold.
Then he said to the dwarfs, "Let me have this coffin, and I will give you for it whatever you ask."
But the elder dwarf answered, "We would not give it thee for all the gold in the world."
But the prince answered, "Let me have it as a gift, then. I know not why, but my heart is drawn towards this beautiful child, and I feel I cannot live without her. If you will let me have her, she shall be treated with the greatest honor and respect as one dearly beloved."
As he thus spoke the good little dwarfs were full of sympathy for him, and gave him the coffin. Then the prince called his servants, and the coffin was placed on their shoulders, and they carried it away, followed by the king's son, who watched it carefully. Now it happened that one of them stumbled. This shook the coffin, and caused the poisoned piece of apple, which Snow White had bitten to roll out of her mouth. A little while after she suddenly opened her eyes, lifted up the coffin-lid, raised herself and was again alive.
"Oh! Where am I?" she cried.
Full of joy, the king's son approached her, and said, "Dear Snow White, you are safe; you are with me."
Then he told her all that had happened, and what the little dwarfs had told him about her, and said at last, "I love you better than all in the world besides, dear little Snow White, and you must come with me to my father's castle and be my wife."