(A Russian Folktale)
Once upon a time, a woman named Sonja had two daughters. Ada was her stepdaughter, and Sasha was her own child. Sonja adored Sasha. Whatever the girl did, Sonja showered her with praise. But she never said anything kind to Ada, though she was as lovely and kind as could be.
Ada often wept herself to sleep, looking out the window and watching the snow swirl through the air. “I don’t understand,” she sobbed. “The wind sometimes stops blowing, but my stepmother never stops being cruel.”
And then one especially cold day, Sonja called to her husband and said, “I can no longer pretend to care for your daughter. She isn’t mine, after all. Take Ada away. Take her to the wide fields of crackling frost and leave her there, or I will never speak to you again.”
Ada’s father was terribly sad at his wife’s demands, but he meekly obeyed her. He wept, but because he was terrified of Sonja, he dutifully packed Ada into a sleigh. He was just about to cover her with a sheepskin to protect her from the bitter cold, but he turned and saw Sonja looking out the window, and so he did not cover Ada.
Instead, he rode off into the wide fields and left the poor girl there, all alone.
“Why, Papa?” Ada cried, as he turned and rode away. She was brokenhearted and terrified, shivering and praying all the prayers she knew.
Father Frost overheard her prayers.
Dressed in his thick, white furs, with his long white beard and shimmering crown made of ice, Father Frost appeared before Ada and said, “Do you know me? I am the red-nosed Father Frost.”
Ada smiled and said, “Welcome. Did the Lord send you to me?”
But Father Frost just asked, “Are you comfortable?” He wished her to be happy, you see, for he could see she was kind, and he could tell her heart was pure.
Ada nodded. Though she was breathless from cold, he was so bright and cheerful and crackling, she did not want to break his heart. “Yes, I’m comfortable, Father Frost. Your icy air is breathtaking!”
Father Frost understood that some human beings are good and some are not. He also understood that no human being can struggle too long against the power of frost. And Ada was so charming that he wished to treat her well.
“Here you go, take this gift from me,” he said, and he gave her an enormous trunk that was filled with many beautiful things. It included a fur-lined cloak and a dress ornamented with silver and jewels. There were gleaming necklaces and rings and silk quilts that were as light as feathers, but as warm as a loving mother’s embrace.
Father Frost fed Ada strong black tea. When she put on the dress and cloak, she was so beautiful that even the sun smiled, and suddenly Ada felt warm.
Meanwhile, at home the next morning, Sonja was baking pancakes. It was customary after a service for the dead to serve these to priests and to friends, and Sonja was planning for this.
She sharply told her husband to go to the fields: “Bring home your daughter’s body. We will bury her.”
So he set off, but when he was gone, their little dog began to bark furiously at Sonja: “Ada is on the way home, more beautiful than ever before,” he barked, “but Sasha and Sonja will be punished!”
“Quiet!” Sonja shouted at the dog. She couldn’t understand his message, but his barking drove her to distraction. She tossed him a pancake to quiet him.
The dog gobbled down the pancake, and once more began to bark a message to Sonja: “The old man’s daughter is returning home wealthy, but Sasha is as wicked as she has ever been!”
This went on and on, and Sonja was at her wit’s end. She swatted the dog on his rump, but just then she heard the gate outside opening. There were voices laughing and talking.
When she looked outside, she couldn’t believe her eyes. There stood Ada, bright and happy and dressed so beautifully in a fur-lined cloak. Her sarafan was gleaming with silver and jewels. Her father also carried a trunk so heavy that he was bent over.
Sonja could see that something magical had occurred. “Old man!” she cried. “Hitch our horses to the best sleigh, and drive Sasha to the same place where you left Ada in the wide fields.”
Naturally, he obeyed, and took the girl to the same place he’d left Ada. Sasha was bitterly cold and twisted her body in such a way as to guard against the biting winds.
Yet when Father Frost saw his new guest, he asked warmly, “Are you comfortable, fair maiden?”
Sasha answered harshly. “Hardly! Leave me alone, old man. Can’t you see my feet and hands are stiff from cold? I don’t like strangers. Don’t talk to me!”
Father Frost crackled and asked more questions, but Sasha would not answer. And so, at long last, he left her alone.
Back home the next morning, Sonja said to her husband, “Go fetch my daughter now, and be sure not to lose the trunk.”
The little dog again began to bark his wisdom: “Ada will marry one day, but Sasha shall soon be buried!”
“Take this pancake, beast!” Sonja shouted at the dog. “Soon you shall be barking at my daughter, clad in silver and gold.”
A few hours later, Sonja heard the gate open and she ran outside.
But she gasped when she saw poor Sasha lying in the carriage, stiff and blue with cold.
It was then that Sonja understood. Her envy and cruelty had killed her only love. Father Frost, you see, has no mercy for the wicked.