428 THE STORY OF THE YEAR
' Who is that old man yonder ? ' asked the Sparrows.
' I know who he is/ quoth an old Raven, who sat on the fence-rail, and was condescending enough to acknowledge that we are all like little birds in the sight of Heaven, and therefore was not above speaking to the Sparrows, and giving them information. ' I know who the old man is. It is Winter, the old man of last year. He is not dead, as the calendar says, but is guardian to little Prince Spring, who is to come. Yes, Winter bears sway here. Ugh ! the cold makes you shiver, does it not, you little ones ? '
' Yes. Did I not tell the truth ? ' said the smallest Sparrow : ' the calendar is only an invention of man, and is not arranged according to nature ! They ought to leave these things to us, who are born cleverer than they.'
And one week passed away, and two passed away. The forest was black, the frozen lake lay hard and stiff, looking like a sheet of lead, and damp icy mists lay brooding over the land ; the great black crows flew about in long lines, but silently ; and it seemed as if nature slept. Then a sunbeam glided along over the lake, and made it shine like burnished tin. The snowy covering on the field and on the hill did not glitter as it had done ; but the white form, Winter himself, still sat there, his gaze fixed unswervingly upon the south. He did not notice that the snowy carpet seemed to sink as it were into the earth, and that here and there a little grass-green patch appeared, and that all these patches were crowded with Sparrows, which cried, * Kee-wit ! kee-wit! Is spring coming now ? '
' Spring ! ' The cry resounded over field and meadow, and through the black-brown woods, where the moss still glimmered in bright green upon the tree trunks; and from the south the first two storks came flying through the air. On the back of each sat a pretty little child— one was a girl and the other a boy. They greeted the earth with a kiss, and wherever they set their feet, white flowers grew up from beneath the snow. Then they went hand in hand to the old ice man, Winter, clung to his breast embracing him, and in a moment they, and he, and all the region around were hidden in a thick damp mist, dark and heavy, that closed over all like a veil. Gradually the wind rose, and now it rushed roaring along, and drove