A poor widow once lived in a little cottage. In front of the cottage was a garden, in which were growing two rose trees; one of these bore white roses, and the other red.
She had two children, who resembled the rose trees. One was called Snow-White, and the other Rose-Red; and they were as religious and loving, busy and untiring, as any two children ever were.
Snow-White was more gentle, and quieter than her sister, who liked better skipping about the fields, seeking flowers, and catching summer birds; while Snow-White stayed at home with her mother, either helping her in her work, or, when that was done, reading aloud.
The two children had the greatest affection the one for the other. They were always seen hand in hand; and should Snow-White say to her sister, “We will never separate,” the other would reply, “Not while we live,” the mother adding, “That which one has, let her always share with the other.”
They constantly ran together in the woods, collecting ripe berries; but not a single animal would have injured them; quite the reverse, they all felt the greatest esteem for the young creatures. The hare came to eat parsley from their hands, the deer grazed by their side, the stag bounded past them unheeding; the birds, likewise, did not stir from the bough, but sang in entire security. No mischance befell them; if benighted in the wood, they lay down on the moss to repose and sleep till the morning; and their mother was satisfied as to their safety, and felt no fear about them.
Once, when they had spent the night in the wood, and the bright sunrise awoke them, they saw a beautiful child, in a snow-white robe, shining like diamonds, sitting close to the spot where they had reposed. She arose when they opened their eyes, and looked kindly at them; but said no word, and passed from their sight into the wood. When the children looked around they saw they had been sleeping on the edge of a precipice,
and would surely have fallen over if they had gone forward two steps further in the darkness. Their mother said the beautiful child must have been the angel who keeps watch over good children.
Snow-White and Rose-Red kept their mother’s cottage so clean that it gave pleasure only to look in. In summer-time Rose-Red attended to the house, and every morning, before her mother awoke, placed by her bed a bouquet which had in it a rose from each of the rose-trees. In winter-time Snow-White set light to the fire, and put on the kettle, after polishing it until it was like gold for brightness. In the evening, when snow was falling, her mother would bid her bolt the door, and then, sitting by the hearth, the good widow would read aloud to them from a big book while the little girls were spinning. Close by them lay a lamb, and a white pigeon, with its head tucked under its wing, was on a perch behind.
One evening, as they were all sitting cosily together like this, there was a knock at the door, as if someone wished to come in.
“Make haste, Rose-Red!” said her mother; “open the door; it is surely some traveller seeking shelter.” Rose-Red accordingly pulled back the bolt, expecting to see some poor man. But it was nothing of the kind; it was a bear, that thrust his big, black head in at the open door. Rose-Red cried out and sprang back, the lamb bleated, the dove fluttered her wings, and Snow-White hid herself behind her mother’s bed. The bear began speaking, and said, “Do not be afraid; I will not do you any harm; I am half-frozen and would like to warm myself a little at your fire.”