The coach drove on through a thick forest where some robbers stopped it. ‘It is gold! It is gold!’ cried they, rushing forward and seizing the horses. Then they killed the coachman and pulled little Gerda out of the carriage.

‘She is fat and pretty’ said the old robber-woman who had a long beard and thick eyebrows. ‘How tasty she will be!’ And saying this she took out a long horrible knife. ‘Oh!’ screamed she suddenly when her daughter bit her in the ear. She was a wild girl and her mother turned to her and had no time to kill Gerda.

‘She will play with me,’ said the little robber-girl. ‘She will give me her pretty coat and muff and sleep with me in my bed. Snip, snup, snare’. And then she bit her mother in another ear, and her mother screamed again and all the robbers began to laugh.

‘I will have a ride in the coach,’ said the little robber-girl. And she and Gerda sat down in the coach and drove away into the forest. The little robber-girl was about as tall as Gerda but stronger; she had broader shoulders and a darker skin; her eyes were quite black. She kissed Gerda and said, ‘They won’t kill you as long as I defend you. I think you are a princess.’

‘No,’ said Gerda, and then she told the robber-girl her story and how she was fond of little Kay. The robber-girl nodded her head and said, ‘Nobody will kill you because if I get angry with you, I’ll kill you myself. Snip, snup, snare.’

The coach stopped in the courtyard of the robbers’ house. Two terrible bulldogs were jumping about, but they were not allowed to bark and bite. ‘You will sleep with me and my animals to-night,’ said the robber-girl after they had something to eat and drink. So she took Gerda to a corner of the big hall where some straw carpets were laid down. Above them there were more than a hundred pigeons.

‘They all belong to me’ said the robber girl, and she seized the nearest pigeon, held it by the feet and shook it till it flapped its wings. ‘And here is my old friend Ba’ and she pulled out a reindeer by its horn. Then she drew a long knife from the wall and touched the reindeer’s neck with it. The poor animal began to kick, and the little robber-girl laughed and pulled down Gerda onto the straw carpets with her.

‘Will you keep this knife with you while you are asleep?’ asked Gerda looking at it with horror.

‘I always sleep with the knife by me’ said the little robber-girl. ‘No one knows what may happen. But now tell me again all about Kay.’ She put one arm across Gerda’s neck and held the knife in the other. Soon she was fast asleep. But Gerda could not close her eyes — she did not know if she will live or die. The robbers sat round the fire singing and drinking.


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