Once upon a time in Greenland there were a man and a woman, who met each other. They fell into conversation.
“What do you live on in your house?” said the man.
“Soup,” answered the woman.
“So do we,” said the man.
“I hate soup!” said the woman.
“It makes me sick!” said the man.
So they fell into each other’s arms and agreed to live on ice for the rest of their lives.
On the way home from the wedding the sleigh drove past the great lake of Nix, which stretches away up over the curve of the Earth to the North Pole, which is called by some the Great Hub of Immobility, and by others the Centre of All Indifference.
“Jingle jingle!” went the bells.
“Hou-hy-hou-hy-hou-hy-hou,” sneezed the horses, as their shoes rang and clopped over the frozen ground.
“Look!” said the Man, pointing out across the frozen lake, which lay gleaming and sparkling in the moonlight, “how broad! how peaceful! how free!—the Great Red Moon, and under it the Lake and the Mountains! We will eat nothing but ice. Then we too shall be calm and beautiful and free!”
“No more soup!” said the Woman.
“Your ice,” said the Man, expounding, “is your perfect nutritive. It is both food and drink. First you eats it, and then it melts in your mouth and you drinks it. Thus do we see how economy may be combined with efficiency and hygiene. Marvellous are the workings of Providence and the more recent discoveries of Science.”
“How much further is it?” said the Woman. “I’m getting a little chilly.”
And when they reached the Man’s little cottage, she got out two plates and two knives and forks, while he went out into the road, found a puddle, and chipped off two pieces of yellow ice, which they ate for supper.
Now they both had so much soup inside them that they found living on ice suited them really very well. So their meals cost them nothing. As for their clothes and furniture and little extras such as a Spinning-wheel for the Woman and a Sackbut for the Man to play on in the long winter evenings, they bought these with the money which the Man earned by cutting down the tall Pine-trees in the forest. For he was a woodcutter by trade, and his little cottage stood in the middle of the wood.
In this way they were soon able to bring up a large family.
They had three daughters and a son. The daughters were called Monica, Pronica, and Tronica; but the son was called the Youngest of the Family.
And from the very beginning they fed all the children on ice and nothing else.
“No soup for my chicks,” said the Woman,—“ugh! the stuff!”
“What stuff?” said the Man.
“Hot stuff!” answered the Woman, laughing immoderately.
As the children grew older, the Man and the Woman used to gather them about their knees in the evenings and discourse to them of the wonder and glory of ice, telling them of the beautiful lake of Nix, and how it glimmers and shimmers in the moonlight. Then they would fall to question and answer:
“What’s nicer than ice?” the Woman would ask in a sing-song voice.
“None nicer!” came the answer from Monica.
“None nicer!” from Pronica, and
“None nicer!” from Tronica.
Well, when the time came, the children all went to a Dame-school. And on the very first day, at dinner time, when the other children sat about in the playground, drinking the nice hot soup they had brought with them from home, these four went to the nearest puddle and chipped off little yellow pieces of ice for themselves.
“Oo! they live on ice!” said all the other children, poking their little pink noses out of their little fur tippets and staring rudely.
“Never mind them!” said Monica, proudly, when she heard what they were saying, “They don’t know any better. I expect they were brought up in narrow circles.”
So the four children sat together a little way apart from the others, and munched their yellow pieces of ice. And when they had finished, the Youngest of the Family stood up and, beating time with his ruler, cried out to his sisters:—
“What’s nicer than ice?”
“None nicer!” came the answer from Monica.
“None nicer!” from Pronica, and:
“None Nicer!” from Tronica.
But the other children only laughed louder than ever, and after that the three girls were always known at school as the Three Nuns.
Then one day the Youngest of the Family made friends with one of the other scholars at that same Dame-school:—
“What do you bring with you from home for dinner?” he asked him.
“Soup,” said the other scholar.
“Does it warm your gizzards?” asked the Youngest of the Family.
“It does that,” answered the other scholar. “Are your gizzards freezy?”
“They are that!” said the Youngest of the Family.
That evening, when the Family were all at supper, gravely munching their pieces of ice, the Man had a suspicion.
“What have you got there?” he said to the Youngest of the Family.
“Where?” said the Youngest of the Family innocently.
“In that receptacle you are hiding on your lap,” said the Man.
“Soup!” said the Youngest, making a clean breast of it.
“Eya! Eya!” cried the Man and the Woman, lifting their voices in lamentation, “he has brought dishonour on the old homestead.” And they bowed their heads in grief.
“O, Youngest of the Family,” said Monica in a great sad voice, “you cruel, wicked, ungrateful boy!” and she went on eating her bit of ice with the utmost gravity.
But as the months passed by, poor Monica, Pronica and Tronica grew colder and colder. You see, they had never had any soup inside them at all, to keep them warm, ever since they were born. And at last the ice began to turn Monica’s stomach. It turned it round and round like a corkscrew, and then it turned the rest of her round the same way, and last of all it turned her head. So there she stood, leaning up against the corner of the hut, a great, twisty, twiny, white icicle. And in the two opposite corners were two other twisty, twiny, white icicles, with the faces of Pronica and Tronica. But in the fourth corner the Youngest of the Family sat on a little three-legged stool, sipping soup from a brown bowl. And in the middle of the room the Man and the Woman sat at table, eating up their pieces of ice with the utmost gravity.
“What’s happened to the Three Nuns?” said the Man, without looking up.
“I don’t know!” said the Woman, “if they want their meals, they must be here in time for them.”
“May I come in?” said a voice outside the door. And then it opened, and in strode a Huntsman in buckskin boots.
“Where is Monica?” he said, looking round him. “A week ago I passed her walking in the Forest, and ever since then I have been waiting for to ask her to be my bride.”
The Man looked up, and then he looked all round the hut.
“Where is Monica?” he said to the Youngest of the Family.
So the Youngest of the Family pointed to the glittering icicle leaning against the nearest corner of the hut.
“Tut!” said the Man. “How exasperating!” But the Woman cried out to the Huntsman:—
“Embrace her! Embrace her! and all will be well!” for she had read many pretty stories in which everything comes right in the end.
So the Huntsman strode up to the white icicle and clasped it in his strong arms. But as he pressed it to his bosom, the ice grew warmer and warmer, till at last it all melted away, and there was a little pool of water on the floor.
“You silly old couple!” said the Huntsman to the Man and Woman, as he felt the damp strike through to his skin. And with that he jumped on his horse and rode away into the Forest.
“You silly old couple!” said the Youngest of the Family, mopping up the pool on the floor with a dish-clout.