The Friendship of a Vila and of the Months
(An Illyrian-Slovenish Tale)
A WICKED woman married a poor man, who had already a little daughter named Maritza. Afterwards God gave her a daughter of her own, whom she loved and cherished more than her own eyes. On her stepdaughter, who was a good and very handsome child, she could scarcely bear to cast a look; therefore she drove her about, teased and tormented her, in order as soon as possible to make an end of her; she threw her the poorest remnants of food and everything, just as she would have done to a dog. Indeed, she would have given her a snake's tail to eat, if she had had one at hand; and instead of a bed, she sent her to sleep in an old trough.
When her so-called mother saw that the girl, in spite of all this, was good and patient, and grew handsomer than her daughter, she thought and thought how to find a pretext to get rid of the orphan out of the house, and devised one.
One day she sent her daughter and stepdaughter to wash wool; to her own daughter she gave white wool, to her stepdaughter black, and said to her with sharp threats: 'If you don't wash the black wool as white as my daughter will hers, don't come home any more, or else I shall beat you out of the house.' The poor stepdaughter wept piteously, entreated her, and said that it was impossible for her to do this. But all in vain. Seeing that there was no mercy for her, she tied up the wool and went weeping after her half-sister. When they came to the water, they undid their bundles, and began to wash, when a beautiful fair damsel from somewhere joined and saluted them: 'Good luck, friends! do you want any help?' The stepmother's daughter said with a scornful laugh: 'I want no help; my wool will soon be white; but our stepdaughter's yonder will not be so in a hurry.' Thereupon the strange damsel stepped up to the sorrowful Maritza, saying: 'Come! let us see whether that wool will allow itself to be washed white.' Both began immediately to rinse and wash, and in a jiffy the black wool became as white as fresh-fallen snow. When they had finished washing, her fair friend vanished nobody knew whither. The stepmother, seeing the white wool, was amazed and angry, because she had no excuse for driving her stepdaughter away.
Some time after this came sharp cold and snow. The wicked stepmother was continually thinking how best to persecute her unfortunate stepdaughter, and now ordered her: 'Take a basket and go off to the mountain; there gather me ripe strawberries for the new year. If you don't bring me them, it will be better for you to stay on the mountain.' The orphan Maritza wept piteously, entreated her, and said: 'How shall poor I procure ripe strawberries in sharp winter cold?' But all in vain. She was obliged to take the basket and go.
As she was going all in tears over the mountain she met twelve young men, whom she saluted courteously. They received the salutation in a friendly manner, and asked her: 'Whither are you wading, dear girl, in the snow thus in tears?' She told them the whole story prettily. The young men said to her: 'We will help you if you will tell us which month of the whole year is the best?' Maritza said in reply: 'They are all good, but the month of March is the best, for it brings us most hope.' They were pleased with her answer, and said: 'Go into the first glen on the sunny side; there you will get as many strawberries as you wish.' And indeed she brought her stepmother a basketful of most excellent strawberries for the new year, and told her that the young men whom she had met on the mountain had shown them to her.
Some days later, when the weather had become milder, the mother said to her own daughter: 'Go now into the mountain for strawberries; maybe you will find those young men, and they will give you similar good fortune, for they have shown themselves so wonderfully kind to our greasy stepdaughter.' The daughter dressed herself grandly, took the basket, and skipped off merrily on to the mountain. When she got there, she did actually meet the twelve young men, to whom she said haughtily: 'Show me where the strawberry-plants grow, as you showed our stepdaughter.' The young men said: 'Good! provided you guess which month is the best of the whole year.' She answered quickly: 'They are all bad, and the month of March is the worst.' But at that speech the whole mountain clouded over in a jiffy, and a storm beat upon her so that she scarcely panted home alive. The young men were the twelve months.
Meanwhile the goodness and beauty of the ill-used step-daughter was noised about in the district, and a young, rich and honourable lord arranged with her stepmother to come on such and such a day with his retinue to betroth the stepdaughter to be his wife. The stepmother, jealous of the orphan, did not tell her a single word of this, but thought to thrust her own daughter surreptitiously into this good fortune.
When the appointed evening came the infamous step-mother packed her stepdaughter off in good time to the trough to sleep, then cleared up the house, prepared supper, dressed out her daughter to the best of her ability, and placed her at table with some knitting in her hands. Thereupon up came the betrothal party; the stepmother welcomed them, conducted them into the house, and said to them: 'There is my dear stepdaughter.' But what good was it? For in the house they had a cock, who began with all his might, and without intermission, to crow: 'Kukuriku, pretty Maritza in trough! kukuriku, pretty Maritza in trough!' and so forth. When the betrothal party understood and comprehended the cock's crowing, they insisted that the real stepdaughter must come out of the trough, and when they saw her, they could not sufficiently express their admiration at her beauty and grace, and took her away with them that very evening, and the wicked stepmother and her daughter remained put to shame before all people. Maritza was happy with her husband and with all her house to a great age and an easy death, for a Vila and all the months were her friends.