"How shall I find her?" says the little girl, nearly ready to cry, for she knew that her aunt was Baba Yaga, the bony-legged, the witch.
The stepmother took hold of the little girl's nose and pinched it.
"That is your nose," she says. "Can you feel it?"
"Yes," says the poor little girl.
"You must go along the road into the forest till you come to a fallen tree; then you must turn to your left, and then follow your nose and you will find her," says the stepmother. "Now, be off with you, lazy one. Here is some food for you to eat by the way." She gave the little girl a bundle wrapped up in a towel.
The little girl wanted to go into the shed to tell the mouseykin she was going to Baba Yaga, and to ask what she should do. But she looked back, and there was the stepmother at the door watching her. So she had to go straight on.
She walked along the road through the forest till she came to the fallen tree. Then she turned to the left. Her nose was still hurting where the stepmother had pinched it, so she knew she had to go straight ahead. She was just setting out when she heard a little noise under the fallen tree. "Scratch—scratch."
And out jumped the little mouse, and sat up in the road in front of her.
"O mouseykin, mouseykin," says the little girl, "my stepmother has sent me to her sister. And that is Baba Yaga, the bony-legged, the witch, and I do not know what to do."
"It will not be difficult," says the little mouse, "because of your kind heart. Take all the things you find in the road, and do with them what you like. Then you will escape from Baba Yaga, and everything will be well."
"Are you hungry, mouseykin?" said the little girl
"I could nibble, I think," says the little mouse.
The little girl unfastened the towel, and there was nothing in it but stones. That was what the stepmother had given the little girl to eat by the way.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," says the little girl. "There's nothing for you to eat."
"Isn't there?" said mouseykin, and as she looked at them the little girl saw the stones turn to bread and jam. The little girl sat down on the fallen tree, and the little mouse sat beside her, and they ate bread and jam until they were not hungry any more.
"Keep the towel," says the little mouse; "I think it will be useful. And remember what I said about the things you find on the way. And now good-bye," says he.
"Good-bye," says the little girl, and runs along.
As she was running along she found a nice new handkerchief lying in the road. She picked it up and took it with her. Then she found a little bottle of oil. She picked it up and took it with her. Then she found some scraps of meat.
"Perhaps I'd better take them too," she said; and she took them.
Then she found a gay blue ribbon, and she took that. Then she found a little loaf of good bread, and she took that too.
"I daresay somebody will like it," she said.
And then she came to the hut of Baba Yaga, the bony-legged, the witch. There was a high fence round it with big gates. When she pushed them open they squeaked miserably, as if it hurt them to move. The little girl was sorry for them.
"How lucky," she says, "that I picked up the bottle of oil!" and she poured the oil into the hinges of the gates.
Inside the railing was Baba Yaga's hut, and it stood on hen's legs and walked about the yard. And in the yard there was standing Baba Yaga's servant, and she was crying bitterly because of the tasks Baba Yaga set her to do. She was crying bitterly and wiping her eyes on her petticoat.
"How lucky," says the little girl, "that I picked up a handkerchief!" And she gave the handkerchief to Baba Yaga's servant, who wiped her eyes on it and smiled through her tears.
Close by the hut was a huge dog, very thin, gnawing a dry crust.
"How lucky," says the little girl, "that I picked up a loaf!" And she gave the loaf to the dog, and he gobbled it up and licked his lips.
The little girl went bravely up to the hut and knocked on the door.
"Come in," says Baba Yaga.
The little girl went in, and there was Baba Yaga, the bony-legged, the witch, sitting weaving at a loom. In a corner of the hut was a thin black cat watching a mouse-hole.
"Good-day to you, auntie," says the little girl, trying not to tremble.
"Good-day to you, niece," says Baba Yaga.
"My stepmother has sent me to you to ask for a needle and thread to mend a shirt."
"Very well," says Baba Yaga, smiling, and showing her iron teeth. "You sit down here at the loom, and go on with my weaving, while I go and get you the needle and thread."
The little girl sat down at the loom and began to weave.
Baba Yaga went out and called to her servant, "Go, make the bath hot and scrub my niece. Scrub her clean. I'll make a dainty meal of her."
The servant came in for the jug. The little girl begged her, "Be not too quick in making the fire, and carry the water in a sieve." The servant smiled, but said nothing, because she was afraid of Baba Yaga. But she took a very long time about getting the bath ready.
Baba Yaga came to the window and asked,—
"Are you weaving, little niece? Are you weaving, my pretty?"
"I am weaving, auntie," says the little girl.
When Baba Yaga went away from the window, the little girl spoke to the thin black cat who was watching the mouse-hole.
"What are you doing, thin black cat?"
"Watching for a mouse," says the thin black cat. "I haven't had any dinner for three days."
"How lucky," says the little girl, "that I picked up the scraps of meat!" And she gave them to the thin black cat. The thin black cat gobbled them up, and said to the little girl,—
"Little girl, do you want to get out of this?"
"Catkin dear," says the little girl, "I do want to get out of this, for Baba Yaga is going to eat me with her iron teeth."
"Well," says the cat, "I will help you."
Just then Baba Yaga came to the window.
"Are you weaving, little niece?" she asked. "Are you weaving, my pretty?"
"I am weaving, auntie," says the little girl, working away, while the loom went clickety clack, clickety clack.
Baba Yaga went away.
Says the thin black cat to the little girl: "You have a comb in your hair, and you have a towel. Take them and run for it while Baba Yaga is in the bath-house. When Baba Yaga chases after you, you must listen; and when she is close to you, throw away the towel, and it will turn into a big, wide river. It will take her a little time to get over that. But when she does, you must listen; and as soon as she is close to you throw away the comb, and it will sprout up into such a forest that she will never get through it at all."
"But she'll hear the loom stop," says the little girl.
"I'll see to that," says the thin black cat.
The cat took the little girl's place at the loom.
Clickety clack, clickety clack; the loom never stopped for a moment.
The little girl looked to see that Baba Yaga was in the bath-house, and then she jumped down from the little hut on hen's legs, and ran to the gates as fast as her legs could flicker.
The big dog leapt up to tear her to pieces. Just as he was going to spring on her he saw who she was.
"Why, this is the little girl who gave me the loaf," says he. "A good journey to you, little girl;" and he lay down again with his head between his paws.
When she came to the gates they opened quietly, quietly, without making any noise at all, because of the oil she had poured into their hinges.
Outside the gates there was a little birch tree that beat her in the eyes so that she could not go by.
"How lucky," says the little girl, "that I picked up the ribbon!" And she tied up the birch tree with the pretty blue ribbon. And the birch tree was so pleased with the ribbon that it stood still, admiring itself, and let the little girl go by.
How she did run!
Meanwhile the thin black cat sat at the loom. Clickety clack, clickety clack, sang the loom; but you never saw such a tangle as the tangle made by the thin black cat.
And presently Baba Yaga came to the window.
"Are you weaving, little niece?" she asked. "Are you weaving, my pretty?"
"I am weaving, auntie," says the thin black cat, tangling and tangling, while the loom went clickety clack, clickety clack.
"That's not the voice of my little dinner," says Baba Yaga, and she jumped into the hut, gnashing her iron teeth; and there was no little girl, but only the thin black cat, sitting at the loom, tangling and tangling the threads.
"Grr," says Baba Yaga, and jumps for the cat, and begins banging it about. "Why didn't you tear the little girl's eyes out?"
"In all the years I have served you," says the cat, "you have only given me one little bone; but the kind little girl gave me scraps of meat."
Baba Yaga threw the cat into a corner, and went out into the yard.
"Why didn't you squeak when she opened you?" she asked the gates.
"Why didn't you tear her to pieces?" she asked the dog.
"Why didn't you beat her in the face, and not let her go by?" she asked the birch tree.
"Why were you so long in getting the bath ready? If you had been quicker, she never would have got away," said Baba Yaga to the servant.
And she rushed about the yard, beating them all, and scolding at the top of her voice.
"Ah!" said the gates, "in all the years we have served you, you never even eased us with water; but the kind little girl poured good oil into our hinges."
"Ah!" said the dog, "in all the years I've served you, you never threw me anything but burnt crusts; but the kind little girl gave me a good loaf."
"Ah!" said the little birch tree, "in all the years I've served you, you never tied me up, even with thread; but the kind little girl tied me up with a gay blue ribbon."
"Ah!" said the servant, "in all the years I've served you, you have never given me even a rag; but the kind little girl gave me a pretty handkerchief."
Baba Yaga gnashed at them with her iron teeth. Then she jumped into the mortar and sat down. She drove it along with the pestle, and swept up her tracks with a besom, and flew off in pursuit of the little girl.
The little girl ran and ran. She put her ear to the ground and listened. Bang, bang, bangety bang! she could hear Baba Yaga beating the mortar with the pestle. Baba Yaga was quite close. There she was, beating with the pestle and sweeping with the besom, coming along the road.
As quickly as she could, the little girl took out the towel and threw it on the ground. And the towel grew bigger and bigger, and wetter and wetter, and there was a deep, broad river between Baba Yaga and the little girl.
The little girl turned and ran on. How she ran!
Baba Yaga came flying up in the mortar. But the mortar could not float in the river with Baba Yaga inside. She drove it in, but only got wet for her trouble. Tongs and pokers tumbling down a chimney are nothing to the noise she made as she gnashed her iron teeth. She turned home, and went flying back to the little hut on hen's legs. Then she got together all her cattle and drove them to the river.
"Drink, drink!" she screamed at them; and the cattle drank up all the river to the last drop. And Baba Yaga, sitting in the mortar, drove it with the pestle, and swept up her tracks with the besom, and flew over the dry bed of the river and on in pursuit of the little girl.
The little girl put her ear to the ground and listened. Bang, bang, bangety bang! She could hear Baba Yaga beating the mortar with the pestle. Nearer and nearer came the noise, and there was Baba Yaga, beating with the pestle and sweeping with the besom, coming along the road close behind.
The little girl threw down the comb, and grew bigger and bigger, and its teeth sprouted up into a thick forest, thicker than this forest where we live—so thick that not even Baba Yaga could force her way through. And Baba Yaga, gnashing her teeth and screaming with rage and disappointment, turned round and drove away home to her little hut on hen's legs.
The little girl ran on home. She was afraid to go in and see her stepmother, so she ran into the shed.
Scratch, scratch! Out came the little mouse.
"So you got away all right, my dear," says the little mouse. "Now run in. Don't be afraid. Your father is back, and you must tell him all about it."
The little girl went into the house.
"Where have you been?" says her father; "and why are you so out of breath?"
The stepmother turned yellow when she saw her, and her eyes glowed, and her teeth ground together until they broke.
But the little girl was not afraid, and she went to her father and climbed on his knee, and told him everything just as it had happened. And when the old man knew that the stepmother had sent his little daughter to be eaten by Baba Yaga, he was so angry that he drove her out of the hut, and ever afterwards lived alone with the little girl. Much better it was for both of them.
"And the little mouse?" said Ivan.
"The little mouse," said old Peter, "came and lived in the hut, and every day it used to sit up on the table and eat crumbs, and warm its paws on the little girl's glass of tea."
"Tell us a story about a cat, please, grandfather," said Vanya, who was sitting with Vladimir curled up in his arms.
"The story of a very happy cat," said Maroosia; and then, scratching Bayan's nose, she added, "and afterwards a story about a dog."
"I'll tell you the story of a very unhappy cat who became very happy," said old Peter. "I'll tell you the story of the Cat who became Head-forester."
THE CAT WHO BECAME HEAD-FORESTER.
If you drop Vladimir by mistake, you know he always falls on his feet. And if Vladimir tumbles off the roof of the hut, he always falls on his feet. Cats always fall on their feet, on their four paws, and never hurt themselves. And as in tumbling, so it is in life. No cat is ever unfortunate for very long. The worse things look for a cat, the better they are going to be.
Well, once upon a time, not so very long ago, an old peasant had a cat and did not like him. He was a tom-cat, always fighting; and he had lost one ear, and was not very pretty to look at. The peasant thought he would get rid of his old cat, and buy a new one from a neighbour. He did not care what became of the old tom-cat with one ear, so long as he never saw him again. It was no use thinking of killing him, for it is a life's work to kill a cat, and it's likely enough that the cat would come alive at the end.
So the old peasant he took a sack, and he bundled the tom-cat into the sack, and he sewed up the sack and slung it over his back, and walked off into the forest. Off he went, trudging along in the summer sunshine, deep into the forest. And when he had gone very many versts into the forest, he took the sack with the cat in it and threw it away among the trees.
"You stay there," says he, "and if you do get out in this desolate place, much good may it do you, old quarrelsome bundle of bones and fur!"
And with that he turned round and trudged home again, and bought a nice-looking, quiet cat from a neighbour in exchange for a little tobacco, and settled down comfortably at home with the new cat in front of the stove; and there he may be to this day, so far as I know. My story does not bother with him, but only with the old tom-cat tied up in the sack away there out in the forest.
The bag flew through the air, and plumped down through a bush to the ground. And the old tom-cat landed on his feet inside it, very much frightened but not hurt. Thinks he, this bag, this flight through the air, this bump, mean that my life is going to change. Very well; there is nothing like something new now and again.
And presently he began tearing at the bag with his sharp claws. Soon there was a hole he could put a paw through. He went on, tearing and scratching, and there was a hole he could put two paws through. He went on with his work, and soon he could put his head through, all the easier because he had only one ear. A minute or two after that he had wriggled out of the bag, and stood up on his four paws and stretched himself in the forest.
"The world seems to be larger than the village," he said. "I will walk on and see what there is in it."
He washed himself all over, curled his tail proudly up in the air, cocked the only ear he had left, and set off walking under the forest trees.
"I was the head-cat in the village," says he to himself. "If all goes well, I shall be head here too." And he walked along as if he were the Tzar himself.
Well, he walked on and on, and he came to an old hut that had belonged to a forester. There was nobody there, nor had been for many years, and the old tom-cat made himself quite at home. He climbed up into the loft under the roof, and found a little rotten hay.
"A very good bed," says he, and curls up and falls asleep.
When he woke he felt hungry, so he climbed down and went off in the forest to catch little birds and mice. There were plenty of them in the forest, and when he had eaten enough he came back to the hut, climbed into the loft, and spent the night there very comfortably.
You would have thought he would be content. Not he. He was a cat. He said, "This is a good enough lodging. But I have to catch all my own food. In the village they fed me every day, and I only caught mice for fun. I ought to be able to live like that here. A person of my dignity ought not to have to do all the work for himself."
Next day he went walking in the forest. And as he was walking he met a fox, a vixen, a very pretty young thing, gay and giddy like all girls. And the fox saw the cat, and was very much astonished.
"All these years," she said—for though she was young she thought she had lived a long time—"all these years," she said, "I've lived in the forest, but I've never seen a wild beast like that before. What a strange-looking animal! And with only one ear. How handsome!"
And she came up and made her bows to the cat, and said,—
"Tell me, great lord, who you are. What fortunate chance has brought you to this forest? And by what name am I to call your Excellency?"
Oh! the fox was very polite. It is not every day that you meet a handsome stranger walking in the forest.
The cat arched his back, and set all his fur on end, and said, very slowly and quietly,—
"I have been sent from the far forests of Siberia to be Head-forester over you. And my name is Cat Ivanovitch."
"O Cat Ivanovitch!" says the pretty young fox, and she makes more bows. "I did not know. I beg your Excellency's pardon. Will your Excellency honour my humble house by visiting it as a guest?"
"I will," says the cat. "And what do they call you?"
"My name, your Excellency, is Lisabeta Ivanovna."
"I will come with you, Lisabeta," says the cat.
And they went together to the fox's earth. Very snug, very neat it was inside; and the cat curled himself up in the best place, while Lisabeta Ivanovna, the pretty young fox, made ready a tasty dish of game. And while she was making the meal ready, and dusting the furniture with her tail, she looked at the cat. At last she said, shyly,—
"Tell me, Cat Ivanovitch, are you married or single?"
"Single," says the cat.
"And I too am unmarried," says the pretty young fox, and goes busily on with her dusting and cooking.
Presently she looks at the cat again.
"What if we were to marry, Cat Ivanovitch? I would try to be a good wife to you."
"Very well, Lisabeta," says the cat; "I will marry you."
The fox went to her store and took out all the dainties that she had, and made a wedding feast to celebrate her marriage to the great Cat Ivanovitch, who had only one ear, and had come from the far Siberian forests to be Head-forester.
They ate up everything there was in the place.
Next morning the pretty young fox went off busily into the forest to get food for her grand husband. But the old tom-cat stayed at home, and cleaned his whiskers and slept. He was a lazy one, was that cat, and proud.
The fox was running through the forest, looking for game, when she met an old friend, the handsome young wolf, and he began making polite speeches to her.
"What had become of you, gossip?" says he. "I've been to all the best earths and not found you at all."
"Let be, fool," says the fox very shortly. "Don't talk to me like that. What are you jesting about? Formerly I was a young, unmarried fox; now I am a wedded wife."
"Whom have you married, Lisabeta Ivanovna?"
"What!" says the fox, "you have not heard that the great Cat Ivanovitch, who has only one ear, has been sent from the far Siberian forests to be Head-forester over all of us? Well, I am now the Head-forester's wife."
"No, I had not heard, Lisabeta Ivanovna. And when can I pay my respects to his Excellency?"
"Not now, not now," says the fox. "Cat Ivanovitch will be raging angry with me if I let any one come near him. Presently he will be taking his food. Look you. Get a sheep, and make it ready, and bring it as a greeting to him, to show him that he is welcome and that you know how to treat him with respect. Leave the sheep near by, and hide yourself so that he shall not see you; for, if he did, things might be awkward."
"Thank you, thank you, Lisabeta Ivanovna," says the wolf, and off he goes to look for a sheep.
The pretty young fox went idly on, taking the air, for she knew that the wolf would save her the trouble of looking for food.
Presently she met the bear.
"Good-day to you, Lisabeta Ivanovna," says the bear; "as pretty as ever, I see you are."
"Bandy-legged one," says the fox; "fool, don't come worrying me. Formerly I was a young, unmarried fox; now I am a wedded wife."
"I beg your pardon," says the bear, "whom have you married, Lisabeta Ivanovna?"
"The great Cat Ivanovitch has been sent from the far Siberian forests to be Head-forester over us all. And Cat Ivanovitch is now my husband," says the fox.
"Is it forbidden to have a look at his Excellency?"
"It is forbidden," says the fox. "Cat Ivanovitch will be raging angry with me if I let any one come near him. Presently he will be taking his food. Get along with you quickly; make ready an ox, and bring it by way of welcome to him. The wolf is bringing a sheep. And look you. Leave the ox near by, and hide yourself so that the great Cat Ivanovitch shall not see you; or else, brother, things may be awkward."
The bear shambled off as fast as he could go to get an ox.
The pretty young fox, enjoying the fresh air of the forest, went slowly home to her earth, and crept in very quietly, so as not to awake the great Head-forester, Cat Ivanovitch, who had only one ear and was sleeping in the best place.
Presently the wolf came through the forest, dragging a sheep he had killed. He did not dare to go too near the fox's earth, because of Cat Ivanovitch, the new Head-forester. So he stopped, well out of sight, and stripped off the skin of the sheep, and arranged the sheep so as to seem a nice tasty morsel. Then he stood still, thinking what to do next. He heard a noise, and looked up. There was the bear, struggling along with a dead ox.
"Good-day, brother Michael Ivanovitch," says the wolf.
"Good-day, brother Levon Ivanovitch," says the bear. "Have you seen the fox, Lisabeta Ivanovna, with her husband, the Head-forester?"
"No, brother," says the wolf. "For a long time I have been waiting to see them."
"Go on and call out to them," says the bear.
"No, Michael Ivanovitch," says the wolf, "I will not go. Do you go; you are bigger and bolder than I."
"No, no, Levon Ivanovitch, I will not go. There is no use in risking one's life without need."
Suddenly, as they were talking, a little hare came running by. The bear saw him first, and roared out,—
"Hi, Squinteye! trot along here."
The hare came up, slowly, two steps at a time, trembling with fright.
"Now then, you squinting rascal," says the bear, "do you know where the fox lives, over there?"
"I know, Michael Ivanovitch."
"Get along there quickly, and tell her that Michael Ivanovitch the bear and his brother Levon Ivanovitch the wolf have been ready for a long time, and have brought presents of a sheep and an ox, as greetings to his Excellency ..."
"His Excellency, mind," says the wolf; "don't forget."
The hare ran off as hard as he could go, glad to have escaped so easily. Meanwhile the wolf and the bear looked about for good places in which to hide.
"It will be best to climb trees," says the bear. "I shall go up to the top of this fir."
"But what am I to do?" says the wolf. "I can't climb a tree for the life of me. Brother Michael, Brother Michael, hide me somewhere or other before you climb up. I beg you, hide me, or I shall certainly be killed."
"Crouch down under these bushes," says the bear, "and I will cover you with the dead leaves."
"May you be rewarded," says the wolf; and he crouched down under the bushes, and the bear covered him up with dead leaves, so that only the tip of his nose could be seen.
Then the bear climbed slowly up into the fir tree, into the very top, and looked out to see if the fox and Cat Ivanovitch were coming.
They were coming; oh yes, they were coming! The hare ran up and knocked on the door, and said to the fox,—
"Michael Ivanovitch the bear and his brother Levon Ivanovitch the wolf have been ready for a long time, and have brought presents of a sheep and an ox as greetings to his Excellency."
"Get along, Squinteye," says the fox; "we are just coming."
And so the fox and the cat set out together.
The bear, up in the top of the tree, saw them, and called down to the wolf,—
"They are coming, Brother Levon; they are coming, the fox and her husband. But what a little one he is, to be sure!"
"Quiet, quiet," whispers the wolf. "He'll hear you, and then we are done for."
The cat came up, and arched his back and set all his furs on end, and threw himself on the ox, and began tearing the meat with his teeth and claws. And as he tore he purred. And the bear listened, and heard the purring of the cat, and it seemed to him that the cat was angrily muttering, "Small, small, small...."
And the bear whispers: "He's no giant, but what a glutton! Why, we couldn't get through a quarter of that, and he finds it not enough. Heaven help us if he comes after us!"
The wolf tried to see, but could not, because his head, all but his nose, was covered with the dry leaves. Little by little he moved his head, so as to clear the leaves away from in front of his eyes. Try as he would to be quiet, the leaves rustled, so little, ever so little, but enough to be heard by the one ear of the cat.
The cat stopped tearing the meat and listened.
"I haven't caught a mouse to-day," he thought.
Once more the leaves rustled.
The cat leapt through the air and dropped with all four paws, and his claws out, on the nose of the wolf. How the wolf yelped! The leaves flew like dust, and the wolf leapt up and ran off as fast as his legs could carry him.
Well, the wolf was frightened, I can tell you, but he was not so frightened as the cat.
When the great wolf leapt up out of the leaves, the cat screamed and ran up the nearest tree, and that was the tree where Michael Ivanovitch the bear was hiding in the topmost branches.
"Oh, he has seen me. Cat Ivanovitch has seen me," thought the bear. He had no time to climb down, and the cat was coming up in long leaps.
The bear trusted to Providence, and jumped from the top of the tree. Many were the branches he broke as he fell; many were the bones he broke when he crashed to the ground. He picked himself up and stumbled off, groaning.
The pretty young fox sat still, and cried out, "Run, run, Brother Levon!... Quicker on your pins, Brother Michael! His Excellency is behind you; his Excellency is close behind!"
Ever since then all the wild beasts have been afraid of the cat, and the cat and the fox live merrily together, and eat fresh meat all the year round, which the other animals kill for them and leave a little way off.
And that is what happened to the old tom-cat with one eye, who was sewn up in a bag and thrown away in the forest.
"Just think what would happen to our handsome Vladimir if we were to throw him away!" said Vanya.
SPRING IN THE FOREST.
Warmer the sun shone, and warmer yet. The pines were green now. All the snow had melted off them, drip, drip, the falling drops of water making tiny wells in the snow under the trees. And the snow under the trees was melting too. Much had gone, and now there were only patches of snow in the forest—like scraps of a big white blanket, shrinking every day.
"Isn't it lucky our blankets don't shrink like that?" said Maroosia.
Old Peter laughed.
"What do you do when the warm weather comes?" he asked. "Do you still wear sheepskin coats? Do you still roll up at night under the rugs?"
"No," said Maroosia; "I throw the rugs off, and put my fluffy coat away till next winter."
"Well," said old Peter, "and God, the Father of us all, He does for the earth just what you do for yourself; but He does it better. For the blankets He gives the earth in winter get smaller and smaller as the warm weather comes, little by little, day by day."
"And then a hard frost comes, grandfather," said Ivan.
"God knows all about that, little one," said old Peter, "and it's for the best. It's good to have a nip or two in the spring, to make you feel alive. Perhaps it's His way of telling the earth to wake up. For the whole earth is only His little one after all."
That night, when it was story-time, Ivan and Maroosia consulted together; and when old Peter asked what the story was to be, they were ready with an answer.
"The snow is all melting away," said Ivan.
"The summer is coming," said Maroosia.
"We'd like the tale of the little snow girl," said Ivan.
"'The Little Daughter of the Snow,'" said Maroosia.
Old Peter shook out his pipe, and closed his eyes under his bushy eyebrows, thinking for a minute. Then he began.
THE LITTLE DAUGHTER OF THE SNOW.
There were once an old man, as old as I am, perhaps, and an old woman, his wife, and they lived together in a hut, in a village on the edge of the forest. There were many people in the village; quite a town it was—eight huts at least, thirty or forty souls, good company to be had for crossing the road. But the old man and the old woman were unhappy, in spite of living like that in the very middle of the world. And why do you think they were unhappy? They were unhappy because they had no little Vanya and no little Maroosia. Think of that. Some would say they were better off without them.
"Would you say that, grandfather?" asked Maroosia.
"You are a stupid little pigeon," said old Peter, and he went on.
Well, these two were very unhappy. All the other huts had babies in them—yes, and little ones playing about in the road outside, and having to be shouted at when any one came driving by. But there were no babies in their hut, and the old woman never had to go to the door to see where her little one had strayed to, because she had no little one.
And these two, the old man and the old woman, used to stand whole hours, just peeping through their window to watch the children playing outside. They had dogs and a cat, and cocks and hens, but none of these made up for having no children. These two would just stand and watch the children of the other huts. The dogs would bark, but they took no notice; and the cat would curl up against them, but they never felt her; and as for the cocks and hens, well, they were fed, but that was all. The old people did not care for them, and spent all their time in watching the Vanyas and Maroosias who belonged to the other huts.
In the winter the children in their little sheepskin coats....
"Like ours?" said Vanya and Maroosia together.
"Like yours," said old Peter.
In their little sheepskin coats, he went on, played in the crisp snow. They pelted each other with snowballs, and shouted and laughed, and then they rolled the snow together and made a snow woman—a regular snow Baba Yaga, a snow witch; such an old fright!
And the old man, watching from the window, saw this, and he says to the old woman,—
"Wife, let us go into the yard behind and make a little snow girl; and perhaps she will come alive, and be a little daughter to us."
"Husband," says the old woman, "there's no knowing what may be. Let us go into the yard and make a little snow girl."
So the two old people put on their big coats and their fur hats, and went out into the yard, where nobody could see them.
And they rolled up the snow, and began to make a little snow girl. Very, very tenderly they rolled up the snow to make her little arms and legs. The good God helped the old people, and their little snow girl was more beautiful than ever you could imagine. She was lovelier than a birch tree in spring.
Well, towards evening she was finished—a little girl, all snow, with blind white eyes, and a little mouth, with snow lips tightly closed.
"Oh, speak to us," says the old man.
"Won't you run about like the others, little white pigeon?" says the old woman.
And she did, you know, she really did.
Suddenly, in the twilight, they saw her eyes shining blue like the sky on a clear day. And her lips flushed and opened, and she smiled. And there were her little white teeth. And look, she had black hair, and it stirred in the wind.
She began dancing in the snow, like a little white spirit, tossing her long hair, and laughing softly to herself.
Wildly she danced, like snowflakes whirled in the wind. Her eyes shone, and her hair flew round her, and she sang, while the old people watched and wondered, and thanked God.
This is what she sang:—
"No warm blood in me doth glow, Water in my veins doth flow; Yet I'll laugh and sing and play By frosty night and frosty day— Little daughter of the Snow.
"But whenever I do know That you love me little, then I shall melt away again. Back into the sky I'll go— Little daughter of the Snow."
"God of mine, isn't she beautiful!" said the old man. "Run, wife, and fetch a blanket to wrap her in while you make clothes for her."
The old woman fetched a blanket, and put it round the shoulders of the little snow girl. And the old man picked her up, and she put her little cold arms round his neck.
"You must not keep me too warm," she said.
Well, they took her into the hut, and she lay on a bench in the corner farthest from the stove, while the old woman made her a little coat.
The old man went out to buy a fur hat and boots from a neighbour for the little girl. The neighbour laughed at the old man; but a rouble is a rouble everywhere, and no one turns it from the door, and so he sold the old man a little fur hat, and a pair of little red boots with fur round the tops.
Then they dressed the little snow girl.
"Too hot, too hot," said the little snow girl. "I must go out into the cool night."
"But you must go to sleep now," said the old woman.
"By frosty night and frosty day," sang the little girl. "No; I will play by myself in the yard all night, and in the morning I'll play in the road with the children."
Nothing the old people said could change her mind.
"I am the little daughter of the Snow," she replied to everything, and she ran out into the yard into the snow.
How she danced and ran about in the moonlight on the white frozen snow!
The old people watched her and watched her. At last they went to bed; but more than once the old man got up in the night to make sure she was still there. And there she was, running about in the yard, chasing her shadow in the moonlight and throwing snowballs at the stars.
In the morning she came in, laughing, to have breakfast with the old people. She showed them how to make porridge for her, and that was very simple. They had only to take a piece of ice and crush it up in a little wooden bowl.
Then after breakfast she ran out in the road, to join the other children. And the old people watched her. Oh, proud they were, I can tell you, to see a little girl of their own out there playing in the road! They fairly longed for a sledge to come driving by, so that they could run out into the road and call to the little snow girl to be careful.
And the little snow girl played in the snow with the other children. How she played! She could run faster than any of them. Her little red boots flashed as she ran about. Not one of the other children was a match for her at snowballing. And when the children began making a snow woman, a Baba Yaga, you would have thought the little daughter of the Snow would have died of laughing. She laughed and laughed, like ringing peals on little glass bells. But she helped in the making of the snow woman, only laughing all the time.
When it was done, all the children threw snowballs at it, till it fell to pieces. And the little snow girl laughed and laughed, and was so quick she threw more snowballs than any of them.
The old man and the old woman watched her, and were very proud.
"She is all our own," said the old woman.
"Our little white pigeon," said the old man.
In the evening she had another bowl of ice-porridge, and then she went off again to play by herself in the yard.
"You'll be tired, my dear," says the old man.
"You'll sleep in the hut to-night, won't you, my love," says the old woman, "after running about all day long?"
But the little daughter of the Snow only laughed. "By frosty night and frosty day," she sang, and ran out of the door, laughing back at them with shining eyes.
And so it went on all through the winter. The little daughter of the Snow was singing and laughing and dancing all the time. She always ran out into the night and played by herself till dawn. Then she'd come in and have her ice-porridge. Then she'd play with the children. Then she'd have ice-porridge again, and off she would go, out into the night.
She was very good. She did everything the old woman told her. Only she would never sleep indoors. All the children of the village loved her. They did not know how they had ever played without her.
It went on so till just about this time of year. Perhaps it was a little earlier. Anyhow the snow was melting, and you could get about the paths. Often the children went together a little way into the forest in the sunny part of the day. The little snow girl went with them. It would have been no fun without her.
And then one day they went too far into the wood, and when they said they were going to turn back, little snow girl tossed her head under her little fur hat, and ran on laughing among the trees. The other children were afraid to follow her. It was getting dark. They waited as long as they dared, and then they ran home, holding each other's hands.
And there was the little daughter of the Snow out in the forest alone.
She looked back for the others, and could not see them. She climbed up into a tree; but the other trees were thick round her, and she could not see farther than when she was on the ground.
She called out from the tree,—
"Ai, ai, little friends, have pity on the little snow girl."
An old brown bear heard her, and came shambling up on his heavy paws.
"What are you crying about, little daughter of the Snow?"
"O big bear," says the little snow girl, "how can I help crying? I have lost my way, and dusk is falling, and all my little friends are gone."
"I will take you home," says the old brown bear.
"O big bear," says the little snow girl, "I am afraid of you. I think you would eat me. I would rather go home with some one else."
So the bear shambled away and left her.
An old gray wolf heard her, and came galloping up on his swift feet. He stood under the tree and asked,—
"What are you crying about, little daughter of the Snow?"
"O gray wolf," says the little snow girl, "how can I help crying? I have lost my way, and it is getting dark, and all my little friends are gone."
"I will take you home," says the old gray wolf.
"O gray wolf," says the little snow girl, "I am afraid of you. I think you would eat me. I would rather go home with some one else."
So the wolf galloped away and left her.
An old red fox heard her, and came running up to the tree on his little pads. He called out cheerfully,—
"What are you crying about, little daughter of the Snow?"
"O red fox," says the little snow girl, "how can I help crying? I have lost my way, and it is quite dark, and all my little friends are gone."
"I will take you home," says the old red fox.
"O red fox," says the little snow girl, "I am not afraid of you. I do not think you will eat me. I will go home with you, if you will take me."
So she scrambled down from the tree, and she held the fox by the hair of his back, and they ran together through the dark forest. Presently they saw the lights in the windows of the huts, and in a few minutes they were at the door of the hut that belonged to the old man and the old woman.
And there were the old man and the old woman, crying and lamenting.
"Oh, what has become of our little snow girl?"
"Oh, where is our little white pigeon?"
"Here I am," says the little snow girl. "The kind red fox has brought me home. You must shut up the dogs."
The old man shut up the dogs.
"We are very grateful to you," says he to the fox.
"Are you really?" says the old red fox; "for I am very hungry."
"Here is a nice crust for you," says the old woman.
"Oh," says the fox, "but what I would like would be a nice plump hen. After all, your little snow girl is worth a nice plump hen."
"Very well," says the old woman, but she grumbles to her husband.
"Husband," says she, "we have our little girl again."
"We have," says he; "thanks be for that."
"It seems waste to give away a good plump hen."
"It does," says he.
"Well, I was thinking," says the old woman, and then she tells him what she meant to do. And he went off and got two sacks.
In one sack they put a fine plump hen, and in the other they put the fiercest of the dogs. They took the bags outside and called to the fox. The old red fox came up to them, licking his lips, because he was so hungry.
They opened one sack, and out the hen fluttered. The old red fox was just going to seize her, when they opened the other sack, and out jumped the fierce dog. The poor fox saw his eyes flashing in the dark, and was so frightened that he ran all the way back into the deep forest, and never had the hen at all.
"That was well done," said the old man and the old woman. "We have got our little snow girl, and not had to give away our plump hen."
Then they heard the little snow girl singing in the hut. This is what she sang:—
"Old ones, old ones, now I know Less you love me than a hen, I shall go away again. Good-bye, ancient ones, good-bye, Back I go across the sky; To my motherkin I go— Little daughter of the Snow."
They ran into the house. There were a little pool of water in front of the stove, and a fur hat, and a little coat, and little red boots were lying in it. And yet it seemed to the old man and the old woman that they saw the little snow girl, with her bright eyes and her long hair, dancing in the room.
"Do not go! do not go!" they begged, and already they could hardly see the little dancing girl.
But they heard her laughing, and they heard her song:—
"Old ones, old ones, now I know Less you love me than a hen, I shall melt away again. To my motherkin I go— Little daughter of the Snow."
And just then the door blew open from the yard, and a cold wind filled the room, and the little daughter of the Snow was gone.
"You always used to say something else, grandfather," said Maroosia.
Old Peter patted her head, and went on.
"I haven't forgotten. The little snow girl leapt into the arms of Frost her father and Snow her mother, and they carried her away over the stars to the far north, and there she plays all through the summer on the frozen seas. In winter she comes back to Russia, and some day, you know, when you are making a snow woman, you may find the little daughter of the Snow standing there instead."
"Wouldn't that be lovely!" said Maroosia.
Vanya thought for a minute, and then he said,—
"I'd love her much more than a hen."
PRINCE IVAN, THE WITCH BABY, AND THE LITTLE SISTER OF THE SUN.
Once upon a time, very long ago, there was a little Prince Ivan who was dumb. Never a word had he spoken from the day that he was born—not so much as a "Yes" or a "No," or a "Please" or a "Thank you." A great sorrow he was to his father because he could not speak. Indeed, neither his father nor his mother could bear the sight of him, for they thought, "A poor sort of Tzar will a dumb boy make!" They even prayed, and said, "If only we could have another child, whatever it is like, it could be no worse than this tongue-tied brat who cannot say a word." And for that wish they were punished, as you shall hear. And they took no sort of care of the little Prince Ivan, and he spent all his time in the stables, listening to the tales of an old groom.
He was a wise man was the old groom, and he knew the past and the future, and what was happening under the earth. Maybe he had learnt his wisdom from the horses. Anyway, he knew more than other folk, and there came a day when he said to Prince Ivan,—
"Little Prince," says he, "to-day you have a sister, and a bad one at that. She has come because of your father's prayers and your mother's wishes. A witch she is, and she will grow like a seed of corn. In six weeks she'll be a grown witch, and with her iron teeth she will eat up your father, and eat up your mother, and eat up you too, if she gets the chance. There's no saving the old people; but if you are quick, and do what I tell you, you may escape, and keep your soul in your body. And I love you, my little dumb Prince, and do not wish to think of your little body between her iron teeth. You must go to your father and ask him for the best horse he has, and then gallop like the wind, and away to the end of the world."
The little Prince ran off and found his father. There was his father, and there was his mother, and a little baby girl was in his mother's arms, screaming like a little fury.
"Well, she's not dumb," said his father, as if he were well pleased.
"Father," says the little Prince, "may I have the fastest horse in the stable?" And those were the first words that ever left his mouth.
"What!" says his father, "have you got a voice at last? Yes, take whatever horse you want. And see, you have a little sister; a fine little girl she is too. She has teeth already. It's a pity they are black, but time will put that right, and it's better to have black teeth than to be born dumb."
Little Prince Ivan shook in his shoes when he heard of the black teeth of his little sister, for he knew that they were iron. He thanked his father and ran off to the stable. The old groom saddled the finest horse there was. Such a horse you never saw. Black it was, and its saddle and bridle were trimmed with shining silver. And little Prince Ivan climbed up and sat on the great black horse, and waved his hand to the old groom, and galloped away, on and on over the wide world.
"It's a big place, this world," thought the little Prince. "I wonder when I shall come to the end of it." You see, he had never been outside the palace grounds. And he had only ridden a little Finnish pony. And now he sat high up, perched on the back of the great black horse, who galloped with hoofs that thundered beneath him, and leapt over rivers and streams and hillocks, and anything else that came in his way.
On and on galloped the little Prince on the great black horse. There were no houses anywhere to be seen. It was a long time since they had passed any people, and little Prince Ivan began to feel very lonely, and to wonder if indeed he had come to the end of the world, and could bring his journey to an end.
Suddenly, on a wide, sandy plain, he saw two old, old women sitting in the road.
They were bent double over their work, sewing and sewing, and now one and now the other broke a needle, and took a new one out of a box between them, and threaded the needle with thread from another box, and went on sewing and sewing. Their old noses nearly touched their knees as they bent over their work.
Little Prince Ivan pulled up the great black horse in a cloud of dust, and spoke to the old women.
"Grandmothers," said he, "is this the end of the world? Let me stay here and live with you, and be safe from my baby sister, who is a witch and has iron teeth. Please let me stay with you, and I'll be very little trouble, and thread your needles for you when you break them."
"Prince Ivan, my dear," said one of the old women, "this is not the end of the world, and little good would it be to you to stay with us. For as soon as we have broken all our needles and used up all our thread we shall die, and then where would you be? Your sister with the iron teeth would have you in a minute."
The little Prince cried bitterly, for he was very little and all alone. He rode on further over the wide world, the black horse galloping and galloping, and throwing the dust from his thundering hoofs.
He came into a forest of great oaks, the biggest oak trees in the whole world. And in that forest was a dreadful noise—the crashing of trees falling, the breaking of branches, and the whistling of things hurled through the air. The Prince rode on, and there before him was the huge giant, Tree-rooter, hauling the great oaks out of the ground and flinging them aside like weeds.
"I should be safe with him," thought little Prince Ivan, "and this, surely, must be the end of the world."
He rode close up under the giant, and stopped the black horse, and shouted up into the air.
"Please, great giant," says he, "is this the end of the world? And may I live with you and be safe from my sister, who is a witch, and grows like a seed of corn, and has iron teeth?"
"Prince Ivan, my dear," says Tree-rooter, "this is not the end of the world, and little good would it be to you to stay with me. For as soon as I have rooted up all these trees I shall die, and then where would you be? Your sister would have you in a minute. And already there are not many big trees left."
And the giant set to work again, pulling up the great trees and throwing them aside. The sky was full of flying trees.
Little Prince Ivan cried bitterly, for he was very little and was all alone. He rode on further over the wide world, the black horse galloping and galloping under the tall trees, and throwing clods of earth from his thundering hoofs.
He came among the mountains. And there was a roaring and a crashing in the mountains as if the earth was falling to pieces. One after another whole mountains were lifted up into the sky and flung down to earth, so that they broke and scattered into dust. And the big black horse galloped through the mountains, and little Prince Ivan sat bravely on his back. And there, close before him, was the huge giant Mountain-tosser, picking up the mountains like pebbles and hurling them to little pieces and dust upon the ground.
"This must be the end of the world," thought the little Prince; "and at any rate I should be safe with him."
"Please, great giant," says he, "is this the end of the world? And may I live with you and be safe from my sister, who is a witch, and has iron teeth, and grows like a seed of corn?"
"Prince Ivan, my dear," says Mountain-tosser, resting for a moment and dusting the rocks off his great hands, "this is not the end of the world, and little good would it be to you to stay with me. For as soon as I have picked up all these mountains and thrown them down again I shall die, and then where would you be? Your sister would have you in a minute. And there are not very many mountains left."
And the giant set to work again, lifting up the great mountains and hurling them away. The sky was full of flying mountains.
Little Prince Ivan wept bitterly, for he was very little and was all alone. He rode on further over the wide world, the black horse galloping and galloping along the mountain paths, and throwing the stones from his thundering hoofs.
At last he came to the end of the world, and there, hanging in the sky above him, was the castle of the little sister of the Sun. Beautiful it was, made of cloud, and hanging in the sky, as if it were built of red roses.
"I should be safe up there," thought little Prince Ivan, and just then the Sun's little sister opened the window and beckoned to him.
Prince Ivan patted the big black horse and whispered to it, and it leapt up high into the air and through the window, into the very courtyard of the castle.
"Stay here and play with me," said the little sister of the Sun; and Prince Ivan tumbled off the big black horse into her arms, and laughed because he was so happy.
Merry and pretty was the Sun's little sister, and she was very kind to little Prince Ivan. They played games together, and when she was tired she let him do whatever he liked and run about her castle. This way and that he ran about the battlements of rosy cloud, hanging in the sky over the end of the world.
But one day he climbed up and up to the topmost turret of the castle. From there he could see the whole world. And far, far away, beyond the mountains, beyond the forests, beyond the wide plains, he saw his father's palace where he had been born. The roof of the palace was gone, and the walls were broken and crumbling. And little Prince Ivan came slowly down from the turret, and his eyes were red with weeping.
"My dear," says the Sun's little sister, "why are your eyes so red?"
"It is the wind up there," says little Prince Ivan.
And the Sun's little sister put her head out of the window of the castle of cloud and whispered to the winds not to blow so hard.
But next day little Prince Ivan went up again to that topmost turret, and looked far away over the wide world to the ruined palace. "She has eaten them all with her iron teeth," he said to himself. And his eyes were red when he came down.
"My dear," says the Sun's little sister, "your eyes are red again."
"It is the wind," says little Prince Ivan.
And the Sun's little sister put her head out of the window and scolded the wind.
But the third day again little Prince Ivan climbed up the stairs of cloud to that topmost turret, and looked far away to the broken palace where his father and mother had lived. And he came down from the turret with the tears running down his face.
"Why, you are crying, my dear!" says the Sun's little sister. "Tell me what it is all about."
So little Prince Ivan told the little sister of the Sun how his sister was a witch, and how he wept to think of his father and mother, and how he had seen the ruins of his father's palace far away, and how he could not stay with hen happily until he knew how it was with his parents.
"Perhaps it is not yet too late to save them from her iron teeth, though the old groom said that she would certainly eat them, and that it was the will of God. But let me ride back on my big black horse."
"Do not leave me, my dear," says the Sun's little sister. "I am lonely here by myself."
"I will ride back on my big black horse, and then I will come to you again."
"What must be, must," says the Sun's little sister; "though she is more likely to eat you than you are to save them. You shall go. But you must take with you a magic comb, a magic brush, and two apples of youth. These apples would make young once more the oldest things on earth."
Then she kissed little Prince Ivan, and he climbed up on his big black horse, and leapt out of the window of the castle down on the end of the world, and galloped off on his way back over the wide world.
He came to Mountain-tosser, the giant. There was only one mountain left, and the giant was just picking it up. Sadly he was picking it up, for he knew that when he had thrown it away his work would be done and he would have to die.
"Well, little Prince Ivan," says Mountain-tosser, "this is the end;" and he heaves up the mountain. But before he could toss it away the little Prince threw his magic brush on the plain, and the brush swelled and burst, and there were range upon range of high mountains, touching the sky itself.
"Why," says Mountain-tosser, "I have enough mountains now to last me for another thousand years. Thank you kindly, little Prince."
And he set to work again, heaving up mountains and tossing them down, while little Prince Ivan galloped on across the wide world.
He came to Tree-rooter, the giant. There were only two of the great oaks left, and the giant had one in each hand.
"Ah me, little Prince Ivan," says Tree-rooter, "my life is come to its end; for I have only to pluck up these two trees and throw them down, and then I shall die."
"Pluck them up," says little Prince Ivan. "Here are plenty more for you." And he threw down his comb. There was a noise of spreading branches, of swishing leaves, of opening buds, all together, and there before them was a forest of great oaks stretching farther than the giant could see, tall though he was.
"Why," says Tree-rooter, "here are enough trees to last me for another thousand years. Thank you kindly, little Prince."
And he set to work again, pulling up the big trees, laughing joyfully and hurling them over his head, while little Prince Ivan galloped on across the wide world.
He came to the two old women. They were crying their eyes out.
"There is only one needle left!" says the first.
"There is only one bit of thread in the box!" sobs the second.
"And then we shall die!" they say both together, mumbling with their old mouths.
"Before you use the needle and thread, just eat these apples," says little Prince Ivan, and he gives them the two apples of youth.
The two old women took the apples in their old shaking fingers and ate them, bent double, mumbling with their old lips. They had hardly finished their last mouthfuls when they sat up straight, smiled with sweet red lips, and looked at the little Prince with shining eyes. They had become young girls again, and their gray hair was black as the raven.
"Thank you kindly, little Prince," say the two young girls. "You must take with you the handkerchief we have been sewing all these years. Throw it to the ground, and it will turn into a lake of water. Perhaps some day it will be useful to you."
"Thank you," says the little Prince, and off he gallops, on and on over the wide world.
He came at last to his father's palace. The roof was gone, and there were holes in the walls. He left his horse at the edge of the garden, and crept up to the ruined palace and peeped through a hole. Inside, in the great hall, was sitting a huge baby girl, filling the whole hall. There was no room for her to move. She had knocked off the roof with a shake of her head. And she sat there in the ruined hall, sucking her thumb.
And while Prince Ivan was watching through the hole he heard her mutter to herself,—
"Eaten the father, eaten the mother, And now to eat the little brother"
And she began shrinking, getting smaller and smaller every minute.
Little Prince Ivan had only just time to get away from the hole in the wall when a pretty little baby girl came running out of the ruined palace.
"You must be my little brother Ivan," she called out to him, and came up to him smiling. But as she smiled the little Prince saw that her teeth were black; and as she shut her mouth he heard them clink together like pokers.
"Come in," says she, and she took little Prince Ivan with her to a room in the palace, all broken down and cobwebbed. There was a dulcimer lying in the dust on the floor.
"Well, little brother," says the witch baby, "you play on the dulcimer and amuse yourself while I get supper ready. But don't stop playing, or I shall feel lonely." And she ran off and left him.
Little Prince Ivan sat down and played tunes on the dulcimer—sad enough tunes. You would not play dance music if you thought you were going to be eaten by a witch.
But while he was playing a little gray mouse came out of a crack in the floor. Some people think that this was the wise old groom, who had turned into a little gray mouse to save Ivan from the witch baby.
"Ivan, Ivan," says the little gray mouse, "run while you may. Your father and mother were eaten long ago, and well they deserved it. But be quick, or you will be eaten too. Your pretty little sister is putting an edge on her teeth!"
Little Prince Ivan thanked the mouse, and ran out from the ruined palace, and climbed up on the back of his big black horse, with its saddle and bridle trimmed with silver. Away he galloped over the wide world. The witch baby stopped her work and listened. She heard the music of the dulcimer, so she made sure he was still there. She went on sharpening her teeth with a file, and growing bigger and bigger every minute. And all the time the music of the dulcimer sounded among the ruins.
As soon as her teeth were quite sharp she rushed off to eat little Prince Ivan. She tore aside the walls of the room. There was nobody there—only a little gray mouse running and jumping this way and that on the strings of the dulcimer.
When it saw the witch baby the little mouse ran across the floor and into the crack and away, so that she never caught it. How the witch baby gnashed her teeth! Poker and tongs, poker and tongs—what a noise they made! She swelled up, bigger and bigger, till she was a baby as high as the palace. And then she jumped up so that the palace fell to pieces about her. Then off she ran after little Prince Ivan.
Little Prince Ivan, on the big black horse, heard a noise behind him. He looked back, and there was the huge witch, towering over the trees. She was dressed like a little baby, and her eyes flashed and her teeth clanged as she shut her mouth. She was running with long strides, faster even than the black horse could gallop—and he was the best horse in all the world.
Little Prince Ivan threw down the handkerchief that had been sewn by the two old women who had eaten the apples of youth. It turned into a deep, broad lake, so that the witch baby had to swim—and swimming is slower than running. It took her a long time to get across, and all that time Prince Ivan was galloping on, never stopping for a moment.
The witch baby crossed the lake and came thundering after him. Close behind she was, and would have caught him; but the giant Tree-rooter saw the little Prince galloping on the big black horse, and the witch baby tearing after him. He pulled up the great oaks in armfuls, and threw them down just in front of the witch baby. He made a huge pile of the big trees, and the witch baby had to stop and gnaw her way through them with her iron teeth.
It took her a long time to gnaw through the trees, and the black horse galloped and galloped ahead. But presently Prince Ivan heard a noise behind him. He looked back, and there was the witch baby, thirty feet high, racing after him, clanging with her teeth. Close behind she was, and the little Prince sat firm on the big black horse, and galloped and galloped. But she would have caught him if the giant Mountain-tosser had not seen the little Prince on the big black horse, and the great witch baby running after him. The giant tore up the biggest mountain in the world and flung it down in front of her, and another on the top of that. She had to bite her way through them, while the little Prince galloped and galloped.
At last little Prince Ivan saw the cloud castle of the little sister of the Sun, hanging over the end of the world and gleaming in the sky as if it were made of roses. He shouted with hope, and the black horse shook his head proudly and galloped on. The witch baby thundered after him. Nearer she came and nearer.
"Ah, little one," screams the witch baby, "you shan't get away this time!"
The Sun's little sister was looking from a window of the castle in the sky, and she saw the witch baby stretching out to grab little Prince Ivan. She flung the window open, and just in time the big black horse leapt up, and through the window and into the courtyard, with little Prince Ivan safe on its back.
How the witch baby gnashed her iron teeth!
"Give him up!" she screams.
"I will not," says the Sun's little sister.
"See you here," says the witch baby, and she makes herself smaller and smaller and smaller, till she was just like a real little girl. "Let us be weighed in the great scales, and if I am heavier than Prince Ivan, I can take him; and if he is heavier than I am, I'll say no more about it."
The Sun's little sister laughed at the witch baby and teased her, and she hung the great scales out of the cloud castle so that they swung above the end of the world.
Little Prince Ivan got into one scale, and down it went.
"Now," says the witch baby, "we shall see."
And she made herself bigger and bigger and bigger, till she was as big as she had been when she sat and sucked her thumb in the hall of the ruined palace. "I am the heavier," she shouted, and gnashed her iron teeth. Then she jumped into the other scale.
She was so heavy that the scale with the little Prince in it shot up into the air. It shot up so fast that little Prince Ivan flew up into the sky, up and up and up, and came down on the topmost turret of the cloud castle of the little sister of the Sun.
The Sun's little sister laughed, and closed the window, and went up to the turret to meet the little Prince. But the witch baby turned back the way she had come, and went off, gnashing her iron teeth until they broke. And ever since then little Prince Ivan and the little sister of the Sun play together in the castle of cloud that hangs over the end of the world. They borrow the stars to play at ball, and put them back at night whenever they remember.
"So when there are no stars?" asked Maroosia.
"It means that Prince Ivan and the Sun's little sister have gone to sleep over their games and forgotten to put their toys away."
THE STOLEN TURNIPS, THE MAGIC TABLECLOTH, THE SNEEZING GOAT, AND THE WOODEN WHISTLE.
This is the story which old Peter used to tell whenever either Vanya or Maroosia was cross. This did not often happen; but it would be no use to pretend that it never happened at all. Sometimes it was Vanya who scolded Maroosia, and sometimes it was Maroosia who scolded Vanya. Sometimes there were two scoldings going on at once. And old Peter did not like crossness in the hut, whoever did the scolding. He said it spoilt his tobacco and put a sour taste in the tea. And, of course, when the children remembered that they were spoiling their grandfather's tea and tobacco they stopped just as quickly as they could, unless their tongues had run right away with them—which happens sometimes, you know, even to grown-up people. This story used to be told in two ways. It was either the tale of an old man who was bothered by a cross old woman, or the tale of an old woman who was bothered by a cross old man. And the moment old Peter began the story both children would ask at once, "Which is the cross one?"—for t hen they would know which of them old Peter thought was in the wrong.
"This time it's the old woman," said their grandfather; "but, as like as not, it will be the old man next."
And then any quarrelling there was came to an end, and was forgotten before the end of the story. This is the story.
An old man and an old woman lived in a little wooden house. All round the house there was a garden, crammed with flowers, and potatoes, and beetroots, and cabbages. And in one corner of the house there was a narrow wooden stairway which went up and up, twisting and twisting, into a high tower. In the top of the tower was a dovecot, and on the top of the dovecot was a flat roof.
Now, the old woman was never content with the doings of the old man. She scolded all day, and she scolded all night. If there was too much rain, it was the old man's fault; and if there was a drought, and all green things were parched for lack of water, well, the old man was to blame for not altering the weather. And though he was old and tired, it was all the same to her how much work she put on his shoulders. The garden was full. There was no room in it at all, not even for a single pea. And all of a sudden the old woman sets her heart on growing turnips.
"But there is no room in the garden," says the old man.
"Sow them on the top of the dovecot," says the old woman.
"But there is no earth there."
"Carry earth up and put it there," says she.
So the old man laboured up and down with his tired old bones, and covered the top of the dovecot with good black earth. He could only take up a very little at a time, because he was old and weak, and because the stairs were so narrow and dangerous that he had to hold on with both hands and carry the earth in a bag which he held in his teeth. His teeth were strong enough, because he had been biting crusts all his life. The old woman left him nothing else, for she took all the crumb for herself. The old man did his best, and by evening the top of the dovecot was covered with earth, and he had sown it with turnip seed.
Next day, and the day after that and every day, the old woman scolded the old man till he went up to the dovecot to see how those turnip seeds were getting on.
"Are they ready to eat yet?"
"They are not ready to eat."
"Is the green sprouting?"
"The green is sprouting."
And at last there came a day when the old man came down from the dovecot and said: "The turnips are doing finely—quite big they are getting; but all the best ones have been stolen away."
"Stolen away?" cried the old woman, shaking with rage. "And have you lived all these years and not learned how to keep thieves from a turnip bed, on the top of a dovecot, on the top of a tower, on the top of a house? Out with you, and don't you dare to come back till you have caught the thieves."
The old man did not dare to tell her that the door had been bolted, although he knew it had, because he had bolted it himself. He hurried away out of the house, more because he wanted to get out of earshot of her scolding than because he had any hope of finding the thieves. "They may be birds," thinks he, "or the little brown squirrels. Who else could climb so high without using the stairs? And how is an old man like me to get hold of them, flying through the tops of the high trees and running up and down the branches?"
And so he wandered away without his dinner into the deep forest.
But God is good to old men. Hasn't He given me two little pigeons, who nearly always are as merry as all little pigeons should be? And God led the old man through the forest, though the old man thought he was just wandering on, trying to lose himself and forget the scolding voice of the old woman.
And after he had walked a long way through the dark green forest, he saw a little hut standing under the pine trees. There was no smoke coming from the chimney, but there was such a chattering in the hut you could hear it far away. It was like coming near a rookery at evening, or disturbing a lot of starlings. And as the old man came slowly nearer to the hut, he thought he saw little faces looking at him through the window and peeping through the door. He could not be sure, because they were gone so quickly. And all the time the chattering went on louder and louder, till the old man nearly put his hands to his ears.
And then suddenly the chattering stopped. There was not a sound—no noise at all. The old man stood still. A squirrel dropped a fir cone close by, and the old man was startled by the fall of it, because everything else was so quiet.
"Whatever there is in the hut, it won't be worse than the old woman," says the old man to himself. So he makes the sign of the holy Cross, and steps up to the little hut and takes a look through the door.
There was no one to be seen. You would have thought the hut was empty.
The old man took a step inside, bending under the little low door. Still he could see nobody, only a great heap of rags and blankets on the sleeping-place on the top of the stove. The hut was as clean as if it had only that minute been swept by Maroosia herself. But in the middle of the floor there was a scrap of green leaf lying, and the old man knew in a moment that it was a scrap of green leaf from the top of a young turnip.
And while the old man looked at it, the heap of blankets and rugs on the stove moved, first in one place and then in another. Then there was a little laugh. Then another. And suddenly there was a great stir in the blankets, and they were all thrown back helter-skelter, and there were dozens and dozens of little queer children, laughing and laughing and laughing, and looking at the old man. And every child had a little turnip, and showed it to the old man and laughed.
Just then the door of the stove flew open, and out tumbled more of the little queer children, dozens and dozens of them. The more they came tumbling out into the hut, the more there seemed to be chattering in the stove and squeezing to get out one over the top of another. The noise of chattering and laughing would have made your head spin. And everyone of the children out of the stove had a little turnip like the others, and waved it about and showed it to the old man, and laughed like anything.
"Ho," says the old man, "so you are the thieves who have stolen the turnips from the top of the dovecot?"
"Yes," cried the children, and the chatter rattled as fast as hailstones on the roof. "Yes! yes! yes! We stole the turnips."
"How did you get on to the top of the dovecot when the door into the house was bolted and fast?"
At that the children all burst out laughing, and did not answer a word.
"Laugh you may," said the old man; "but it is I who get the scolding when the turnips fly away in the night."
"Never mind! never mind!" cried the children. "We'll pay for the turnips."
"How can you pay for them?" asks the old man. "You have got nothing to pay with."
All the children chattered together, and looked at the old man and smiled. Then one of them said to the old man, "Are you hungry, grandfather?"
"Hungry!" says the old man. "Why, yes, of course I am, my dear. I've been looking for you all day, and I had to start without my dinner."
"If you are hungry, open the cupboard behind you."
The old man opened the cupboard.
"Take out the tablecloth."
The old man took out the tablecloth.
"Spread it on the table."
The old man spread the tablecloth on the table.
"Now!" shouted the children, chattering like a thousand nests full of young birds, "we'll all sit down and have dinner."
They pulled out the benches and gave the old man a chair at one end, and all crowded round the table ready to begin.
"But there's no food," said the old man.
How they laughed!
"Grandfather," one of them sings out from the other end of the table, "you just tell the tablecloth to turn inside out,"
"How?" says he.
"Tell the tablecloth to turn inside out. That's easy enough."
"There's no harm in doing that," thinks the old man; so he says to the tablecloth as firmly as he could, "Now then you, tablecloth, turn inside out!"
The tablecloth hove itself up into the air, and rolled itself this way and that as if it were in a whirlwind, and then suddenly laid itself flat on the table again. And somehow or other it had covered itself with dishes and plates and wooden spoons with pictures on them, and bowls of soup and mushrooms and kasha, and meat and cakes and fish and ducks, and everything else you could think of, ready for the best dinner in the world.
The chattering and laughing stopped, and the old man and those dozens and dozens of little queer children set to work and ate everything on the table.
"Which of you washes the dishes?" asked the old man, when they had all done.
The children laughed.
"Tell the tablecloth to turn outside in."
"Tablecloth," says the old man, "turn outside in."
Up jumped the tablecloth with all the empty dishes and dirty plates and spoons, whirled itself this way and that in the air, and suddenly spread itself out flat again on the table, as clean and white as when it was taken out of the cupboard. There was not a dish or a bowl, or a spoon or a plate, or a knife to be seen; no, not even a crumb.
"That's a good tablecloth," says the old man.
"See here, grandfather," shouted the children: "you take the tablecloth along with you, and say no more about those turnips."
"Well, I'm content with that," says the old man. And he folded up the tablecloth very carefully and put it away inside his shirt, and said he must be going.
"Good-bye," says he, "and thank you for the dinner and the tablecloth."
"Good-bye," say they, "and thank you for the turnips."
The old man made his way home, singing through the forest in his creaky old voice until he came near the little wooden house where he lived with the old woman. As soon as he came near there he slipped along like any mouse. And as soon as he put his head inside the door the old woman began,—
"Have you found the thieves, you old fool?"
"I found the thieves."
"Who were they?"
"They were a whole crowd of little queer children."
"Have you given them a beating they'll remember?"
"No, I have not."
"What? Bring them to me, and I'll teach them to steal my turnips!"
"I haven't got them."
"What have you done with them?"
"I had dinner with them."
Well, at that the old woman flew into such a rage she could hardly speak. But speak she did—yes, and shout too and scream—and it was all the old man could do not to run away out of the cottage. But he stood still and listened, and thought of something else; and when she had done he said, "They paid for the turnips."
"Paid for the turnips!" scolded the old woman. "A lot of children! What did they give you? Mushrooms? We can get them without losing our turnips."
"They gave me a tablecloth," said the old man; "it's a very good tablecloth."
He pulled it out of his shirt and spread it on the table; and as quickly as he could, before she began again, he said, "Tablecloth, turn inside out!"
The old woman stopped short, just when she was taking breath to scold with, when the tablecloth jumped up and danced in the air and settled on the table again, covered with things to eat and to drink. She smelt the meat, took a spoonful of the soup, and tried all the other dishes.
"Look at all the washing up it will mean," says she.
"Tablecloth, turn outside in!" says the old man; and there was a whirl of white cloth and dishes and everything else, and then the tablecloth spread itself out on the table as clean as ever you could wish.
"That's not a bad tablecloth," says the old woman; "but, of course, they owed me something for stealing all those turnips."
The old man said nothing. He was very tired, and he just laid down and went to sleep.
As soon as he was asleep the old woman took the tablecloth and hid it away in an iron chest, and put a tablecloth of her own in its place. "They were my turnips," says she, "and I don't see why he should have a share in the tablecloth. He's had a meal from it once at my expense, and once is enough." Then she lay down and went to sleep, grumbling to herself even in her dreams.
Early in the morning the old woman woke the old man and told him to go up to the dovecot and see how those turnips were getting on.
He got up and rubbed his eyes. When he saw the tablecloth on the table, the wish came to him to have a bite of food to begin the day with. So he stopped in the middle of putting on his shirt, and called to the tablecloth, "Tablecloth, turn inside out!"
Nothing happened. Why should anything happen? It was not the same tablecloth.
The old man told the old woman. "You should have made a good feast yesterday," says he, "for the tablecloth is no good any more. That is, it's no good that way; it's like any ordinary tablecloth."
"Most tablecloths are," says the old woman. "But what are you dawdling about? Up you go and have a look at those turnips."
The old man went climbing up the narrow twisting stairs. He held on with both hands for fear of falling, because they were so steep. He climbed to the top of the house, to the top of the tower, to the top of the dovecot, and looked at the turnips. He looked at the turnips, and he counted the turnips, and then he came slowly down the stairs again wondering what the old woman would say to him.
"Well," says the old woman in her sharp voice, "are they doing nicely? Because if not, I know whose fault it is."
"They are doing finely," said the old man; "but some of them have gone. Indeed, quite a lot of them have been stolen away."
"Stolen away!" screamed the old woman. "How dare you stand there and tell me that? Didn't you find the thieves yesterday? Go and find those children again, and take a stick with you, and don't show yourself here till you can tell me that they won't steal again in a hurry."
"Let me have a bite to eat," begs the old man. "It's a long way to go on an empty stomach."
"Not a mouthful!" yells the old woman. "Off with you. Letting my turnips be stolen every night, and then talking to me about bites of food!"
So the old man went off again without his dinner, and hobbled away into the forest as quickly as he could to get out of earshot of the old woman's scolding tongue.
As soon as he was out of sight the old woman stopped screaming after him, and went into the house and opened the iron chest and took out the tablecloth the children had given the old man, and laid it on the table instead of her own. She told it to turn inside out, and up it flew and whirled about and flopped down flat again, all covered with good things. She ate as much as she could hold. Then she told the tablecloth to turn outside in, and folded it up and hid it away again in the iron chest.
Meanwhile the old man tightened his belt, because he was so hungry. He hobbled along through the green forest till he came to the little hut standing under the pine trees. There was no smoke coming from the chimney, but there was such a chattering you would have thought that all the Vanyas and Maroosias in Holy Russia were talking to each other inside.
He had no sooner come in sight of the hut than the dozens and dozens of little queer children came pouring out of the door to meet him. And every single one of them had a turnip, and showed it to the old man, and laughed and laughed as if it were the best joke in the world.
"I knew it was you," said the old man.
"Of course it was us," cried the children. "We stole the turnips."
"But how did you get to the top of the dovecot when the door into the house was bolted and fast?"
The children laughed and laughed and did not answer a word.
"Laugh you may," says the old man; "but it is I who get the scolding when the turnips fly away in the night."
"Never mind! never mind!" cried the children. "We'll pay for the turnips."
"All very well," says the old man; "but that tablecloth of yours—it was fine yesterday, but this morning it would not give me even a glass of tea and a hunk of black bread."
At that the faces of the little queer children were troubled and grave. For a moment or two they all chattered together, and took no notice of the old man. Then one of them said,—
"Well, this time we'll give you something better. We'll give you a goat."
"A goat?" says the old man.
"A goat with a cold in its head," said the children; and they crowded round him and took him behind the hut where there was a gray goat with a long beard cropping the short grass.
"It's a good enough goat," says the old man; "I don't see anything wrong with him."
"It's better than that," cried the children. "You tell it to sneeze."
The old man thought the children might be laughing at him, but he did not care, and he remembered the tablecloth. So he took off his hat and bowed to the goat. "Sneeze, goat," says he.
And instantly the goat started sneezing as if it would shake itself to pieces. And as it sneezed, good gold pieces flew from it in all directions, till the ground was thick with them.
"That's enough," said the children hurriedly; "tell him to stop, for all this gold is no use to us, and it's such a bother having to sweep it away."
"Stop sneezing, goat," says the old man; and the goat stopped sneezing, and stood there panting and out of breath in the middle of the sea of gold pieces.
The children began kicking the gold pieces about, spreading them by walking through them as if they were dead leaves. My old father used to say that those gold pieces are lying about still for anybody to pick up; but I doubt if he knew just where to look for them, or he would have had better clothes on his back and a little more food on the table. But who knows? Some day we may come upon that little hut somewhere in the forest, and then we shall know what to look for.
The children laughed and chattered and kicked the gold pieces this way and that into the green bushes. Then they brought the old man into the hut and gave him a bowl of kasha to eat, because he had had no dinner. There was no magic about the kasha; but it was good enough kasha for all that, and hunger made it better. When the old man had finished the kasha and drunk a glass of tea and smoked a little pipe, he got up and made a low bow and thanked the children. And the children tied a rope to the goat and sent the old man home with it. He hobbled away through the forest, and as he went he looked back, and there were the little queer children all dancing together, and he heard them chattering and shouting: "Who stole the turnips? We stole the turnips. Who paid for the turnips? We paid for the turnips. Who stole the tablecloth? Who will pay for the tablecloth? Who will steal turnips again? We will steal turnips again."