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Russian Fairy Tales - A Choice Collection of Muscovite Folk-lore
by W. R. S. Ralston
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"Well, to-morrow run off into the blue sea."

Again did Prince Ivan sleep through the night. Next morning the Baba Yaga sent him forth to watch the mares:

"If you don't take good care of them," says she, "your bold head will be stuck on that pole!"

He drove the mares afield. Immediately they cocked up their tails, disappeared from sight, and fled into the blue sea. There they stood, up to their necks in water. Prince Ivan sat down on the stone, wept, and fell asleep. But when the sun had set behind the forest, up came flying a bee and said:—

"Arise, Prince! The mares are all collected. But when you get home, don't let the Baba Yaga set eyes on you, but go into the stable and hide behind the mangers. There you will find a sorry colt rolling in the muck. Do you steal it, and at the dead of night ride away from the house."

Prince Ivan arose, slipped into the stable, and lay down behind the mangers, while the Baba Yaga was storming away at her mares and shrieking:—

"Why did ye come back?"

"How could we help coming back? There came flying bees in countless numbers from all parts of the world, and began stinging us on all sides till the blood came!"

The Baba Yaga went to sleep. In the dead of the night Prince Ivan stole the sorry colt, saddled it, jumped on its back, and galloped away to the fiery river. When he came to that river he waved the handkerchief three times on the right hand, and suddenly, springing goodness knows whence, there hung across the river, high in the air, a splendid bridge. The Prince rode across the bridge and waved the handkerchief twice only on the left hand; there remained across the river a thin—ever so thin a bridge!

When the Baba Yaga got up in the morning, the sorry colt was not to be seen! Off she set in pursuit. At full speed did she fly in her iron mortar, urging it on with the pestle, sweeping away her traces with the broom. She dashed up to the fiery river, gave a glance, and said, "A capital bridge!" She drove on to the bridge, but had only got half-way when the bridge broke in two, and the Baba Yaga went flop into the river. There truly did she meet with a cruel death!

Prince Ivan fattened up the colt in the green meadows, and it turned into a wondrous steed. Then he rode to where Marya Morevna was. She came running out, and flung herself on his neck, crying:—

"By what means has God brought you back to life?"

"Thus and thus," says he. "Now come along with me."

"I am afraid, Prince Ivan! If Koshchei catches us, you will be cut in pieces again."

"No, he won't catch us! I have a splendid heroic steed now; it flies just like a bird." So they got on its back and rode away.

Koshchei the Deathless was returning home when his horse stumbled beneath him.

"What art thou stumbling for, sorry jade? dost thou scent any ill?"

"Prince Ivan has come and carried off Marya Morevna."

"Can we catch them?"

"God knows! Prince Ivan has a horse now which is better than I."

"Well, I can't stand it," says Koshchei the Deathless. "I will pursue."

After a time he came up with Prince Ivan, lighted on the ground, and was going to chop him up with his sharp sword. But at that moment Prince Ivan's horse smote Koshchei the Deathless full swing with its hoof, and cracked his skull, and the Prince made an end of him with a club. Afterwards the Prince heaped up a pile of wood, set fire to it, burnt Koshchei the Deathless on the pyre, and scattered his ashes to the wind. Then Marya Morevna mounted Koshchei's horse and Prince Ivan got on his own, and they rode away to visit first the Raven, and then the Eagle, and then the Falcon. Wherever they went they met with a joyful greeting.

"Ah, Prince Ivan! why, we never expected to see you again. Well, it wasn't for nothing that you gave yourself so much trouble. Such a beauty as Marya Morevna one might search for all the world over—and never find one like her!"

And so they visited, and they feasted; and afterwards they went off to their own realm.[104]

With the Baba Yaga, the feminine counterpart of Koshchei and the Snake, we shall deal presently, and the Waters of Life and Death will find special notice elsewhere.[105] A magic water, which brings back the dead to life, plays a prominent part in the folk-lore of all lands, but the two waters, each performing one part only of the cure, render very noteworthy the Slavonic stories in which they occur. The Princess, Marya Morevna, who slaughters whole armies before she is married, and then becomes mild and gentle, belongs to a class of heroines who frequently occur both in the stories and in the "metrical romances," and to whom may be applied the remarks made by Kemble with reference to a similar Amazon.[106] In one of the variants of the story the representative of Marya Morevna fights the hero before she marries him.[107] The Bluebeard incident of the forbidden closet is one which often occurs in the Skazkas, as we shall see further on; and the same may be said about the gratitude of the Bird, Bee, and Lioness.

The story of Immortal Koshchei is one of very frequent occurrence, the different versions maintaining a unity of idea, but varying considerably in detail. In one of them,[108] in which Koshchei's part is played by a Snake, the hero's sisters are carried off by their feathered admirers without his leave being asked—an omission for which a full apology is afterwards made; in another, the history of "Fedor Tugarin and Anastasia the Fair,"[109] the hero's three sisters are wooed and won, not by the Falcon, the Eagle, and the Raven, but by the Wind, the Hail, and the Thunder. He himself marries the terrible heroine Anastasia the Fair, in the forbidden chamber of whose palace he finds a snake "hung up by one of its ribs." He gives it a lift and it gets free from its hook and flies away, carrying off Anastasia the Fair. Fedor eventually finds her, escapes with her on a magic foal which he obtains, thanks to the aid of grateful wolves, bees, and crayfish, and destroys the snake by striking it "on the forehead" with the stone which was destined to be its death. In a third version of the story,[110] the hero finds in the forbidden chamber "Koshchei the Deathless, in a cauldron amid flames, boiling in pitch." There he has been, he declares, for fifteen years, having been lured there by the beauty of Anastasia the Fair. In a fourth,[111] in which the hero's three sisters marry three beggars, who turn out to be snakes with twenty, thirty, and forty heads apiece, Koshchei is found in the forbidden chamber, seated on a horse which is chained to a cauldron. He begs the hero to unloose the horse, promising, in return, to save him from three deaths.

[Into the mystery of the forbidden chamber I will not enter fully at present. Suffice to say that there can be little doubt as to its being the same as that in which Bluebeard kept the corpses of his dead wives. In the Russian, as well as in the Oriental stories, it is generally the curiosity of a man, not of a woman, which leads to the opening of the prohibited room. In the West of Europe the fatal inquisitiveness is more frequently ascribed to a woman. For parallels see the German stories of "Marienkind," and "Fitchers Vogel." (Grimm, KM., Nos. 3 and 46, also the notes in Bd. iii. pp. 8, 76, 324.) Less familiar than these is, probably, the story of "Die eisernen Stiefel" (Wolf's "Deutsche Hausmaerchen," 1851, No. 19), in which the hero opens a forbidden door—that of a summer-house—and sees "deep down below him the earth, and on the earth his father's palace," and is seized by a sudden longing after his former home. The Wallachian story of "The Immured Mother" (Schott, No. 2) resembles Grimm's "Marienkind" in many points. But its forbidden chamber differs from that of the German tale. In the latter the rash intruder sees "die Dreieinigkeit im Feuer und Glanz sitzen;" in the former, "the Holy Mother of God healing the wounds of her Son, the Lord Christ." In the Neapolitan story of "Le tre Corune" (Pentamerone, No. 36), the forbidden chamber contains "three maidens, clothed all in gold, sitting and seeming to slumber upon as many thrones" (Liebrecht's translation, ii. 76). The Esthonian tale of the "Wife-murderer" (Loewe's "Ehstnische Maerchen," No. 20) is remarkably—not to say suspiciously—like that French story of Blue Beard which has so often made our young blood run cold. Sister Anne is represented, and so are the rescuing brothers, the latter in the person of the heroine's old friend and playmate, Toennis the goose-herd. Several very curious Gaelic versions of the story are given by Mr. Campbell ("Tales of the West Highlands," No. 41, ii. 265-275). Two of the three daughters of a poor widow look into a forbidden chamber, find it "full of dead gentlewomen," get stained knee-deep in blood, and refuse to give a drop of milk to a cat which offers its services. So their heads are chopped off. The third daughter makes friends with the cat, which licks off the tell-tale blood, so she escapes detection. In a Greek story (Hahn, ii. p. 197) the hero discovers in the one-and-fortieth room of a castle belonging to a Drakos, who had given him leave to enter forty only, a magic horse, and before the door of the room he finds a pool of gold in which he becomes gilded. In another (Hahn, No. 15) a prince finds in the forbidden fortieth a lake in which fairies of the swan-maiden species are bathing. In a third (No. 45) the fortieth room contains a golden horse and a golden dog which assist their bold releaser. In a fourth (No. 68) it imprisons "a fair maiden, shining like the sun," whom the demon proprietor of the castle has hung up within it by her hair.

As usual, all these stories are hard to understand. But one of the most important of their Oriental equivalents is perfectly intelligible. When Saktideva, in the fifth book of the "Kathasaritsagara," comes after long travel to the Golden City, and is welcomed as her destined husband by its princess, she warns him not to ascend the central terrace of her palace. Of course he does so, and finds three chambers, in each of which lies the lifeless form of a fair maiden. After gazing at these seeming corpses, in one of which he recognizes his first love, he approaches a horse which is grazing beside a lake. The horse kicks him into the water; he sinks deep—and comes up again in his native land. The whole of the story is, towards its termination, fully explained by one of its principal characters—one of the four maidens whom Saktideva simultaneously marries. With the version of this romance in the "Arabian Nights" ("History of the Third Royal Mendicant," Lane, i. 160-173), everyone is doubtless acquainted. A less familiar story is that of Kandarpaketu, in the second book of the "Hitopadesa," who lives happily for a time as the husband of the beautiful semi-divine queen of the Golden City. At last, contrary to her express commands, he ventures to touch a picture of a Vidyadhari. In an instant the pictured demigoddess gives him a kick which sends him flying back into his own country.

For an explanation of the myth which lies at the root of all these stories, see Cox's "Mythology of the Aryan Nations," ii. 36, 330. See also Professor de Gubernatis's "Zoological Mythology," i. 168.]

We will now take one of those versions of the story which describe how Koshchei's death is brought about by the destruction of that extraneous object on which his existence depends. The incident is one which occupies a prominent place in the stories of this class current in all parts of Europe and Asia, and its result is almost always the same. But the means by which that result is brought about differ considerably in different lands. In the Russian tales the "death" of the Evil Being with whom the hero contends—the substance, namely, the destruction of which involves his death—is usually the last of a sequence of objects either identical with, or closely resembling, those mentioned in the following story of—

KOSHCHEI THE DEATHLESS.[112]

In a certain country there once lived a king, and he had three sons, all of them grown up. All of a sudden Koshchei the Deathless carried off their mother. Then the eldest son craved his father's blessing, that he might go and look for his mother. His father gave him his blessing, and he went off and disappeared, leaving no trace behind. The second son waited and waited, then he too obtained his father's blessing—and he also disappeared. Then the youngest son, Prince Ivan, said to his father, "Father, give me your blessing, and let me go and look for my mother."

But his father would not let him go, saying, "Your brothers are no more; if you likewise go away, I shall die of grief."

"Not so, father. But if you bless me I shall go; and if you do not bless me I shall go."

So his father gave him his blessing.

Prince Ivan went to choose a steed, but every one that he laid his hand upon gave way under it. He could not find a steed to suit him, so he wandered with drooping brow along the road and about the town. Suddenly there appeared an old woman, who asked:

"Why hangs your brow so low, Prince Ivan?"

"Be off, old crone," he replied. "If I put you on one of my hands, and give it a slap with the other, there'll be a little wet left, that's all."[113]

The old woman ran down a by-street, came to meet him a second time, and said:

"Good day, Prince Ivan! why hangs your brow so low?"

Then he thought:

"Why does this old woman ask me? Mightn't she be of use to me?"—and he replied:

"Well, mother! because I cannot get myself a good steed."

"Silly fellow!" she cried, "to suffer, and not to ask the old woman's help! Come along with me."

She took him to a hill, showed him a certain spot, and said:

"Dig up that piece of ground."

Prince Ivan dug it up and saw an iron plate with twelve padlocks on it. He immediately broke off the padlocks, tore open a door, and followed a path leading underground. There, fastened with twelve chains, stood a heroic steed which evidently heard the approaching steps of a rider worthy to mount it, and so began to neigh and to struggle, until it broke all twelve of its chains. Then Prince Ivan put on armor fit for a hero, and bridled the horse, and saddled it with a Circassian saddle. And he gave the old woman money, and said to her:

"Forgive me, mother, and bless me!" then he mounted his steed and rode away.

Long time did he ride; at last he came to a mountain—a tremendously high mountain, and so steep that it was utterly impossible to get up it. Presently his brothers came that way. They all greeted each other, and rode on together, till they came to an iron rock[114] a hundred and fifty poods in weight, and on it was this inscription, "Whosoever will fling this rock against the mountain, to him will a way be opened." The two elder brothers were unable to lift the rock, but Prince Ivan at the first try flung it against the mountain—and immediately there appeared a ladder leading up the mountain side.

Prince Ivan dismounted, let some drops of blood run from his little finger into a glass, gave it to his brothers, and said:

"If the blood in this glass turns black, tarry here no longer: that will mean that I am about to die." Then he took leave of them and went his way.

He mounted the hill. What did not he see there? All sorts of trees were there, all sorts of fruits, all sorts of birds! Long did Prince Ivan walk on; at last he came to a house, a huge house! In it lived a king's daughter who had been carried off by Koshchei the Deathless. Prince Ivan walked round the enclosure, but could not see any doors. The king's daughter saw there was some one there, came on to the balcony, and called out to him, "See, there is a chink in the enclosure; touch it with your little finger, and it will become a door."

What she said turned out to be true. Prince Ivan went into the house, and the maiden received him kindly, gave him to eat and to drink, and then began to question him. He told her how he had come to rescue his mother from Koshchei the Deathless. Then the maiden said:

"It will be difficult for you to get at your mother, Prince Ivan. You see, Koshchei is not mortal: he will kill you. He often comes here to see me. There is his sword, fifty poods in weight. Can you lift it? If so, you may venture to go."

Not only did Prince Ivan lift the sword, but he tossed it high in the air. So he went on his way again.

By-and-by he came to a second house. He knew now where to look for the door, and he entered in. There was his mother. With tears did they embrace each other.

Here also did he try his strength, heaving aloft a ball which weighed some fifteen hundred poods. The time came for Koshchei the Deathless to arrive. The mother hid away her son. Suddenly Koshchei the Deathless entered the house and cried out, "Phou, Phou! A Russian bone[115] one usen't to hear with one's ears, or see with one's eyes, but now a Russian bone has come to the house! Who has been with you? Wasn't it your son?"

"What are you talking about, God bless you! You've been flying through Russia, and got the air up your nostrils, that's why you fancy it's here," answered Prince Ivan's mother, and then she drew nigh to Koshchei, addressed him in terms of affection, asked him about one thing and another, and at last said:

"Whereabouts is your death, O Koshchei?"

"My death," he replied, "is in such a place. There stands an oak, and under the oak is a casket, and in the casket is a hare, and in the hare is a duck, and in the duck is an egg, and in the egg is my death."

Having thus spoken, Koshchei the Deathless tarried there a little longer, and then flew away.

The time came—Prince Ivan received his mother's blessing, and went to look for Koshchei's death. He went on his way a long time without eating or drinking; at last he felt mortally hungry, and thought, "If only something would come my way!" Suddenly there appeared a young wolf; he determined to kill it. But out from a hole sprang the she wolf, and said, "Don't hurt my little one; I'll do you a good turn." Very good! Prince Ivan let the young wolf go. On he went and saw a crow. "Stop a bit," he thought, "here I shall get a mouthful." He loaded his gun and was going to shoot, but the crow exclaimed, "Don't hurt me; I'll do you a good turn."

Prince Ivan thought the matter over and spared the crow. Then he went farther, and came to a sea and stood still on the shore. At that moment a young pike suddenly jumped out of the water and fell on the strand. He caught hold of it, and thought—for he was half dead with hunger—"Now I shall have something to eat." All of a sudden appeared a pike and said, "Don't hurt my little one, Prince Ivan; I'll do you a good turn." And so he spared the little pike also.

But how was he to cross the sea? He sat down on the shore and meditated. But the pike knew quite well what he was thinking about, and laid herself right across the sea. Prince Ivan walked along her back, as if he were going over a bridge, and came to the oak where Koshchei's death was. There he found the casket and opened it—out jumped the hare and ran away. How was the hare to be stopped?

Prince Ivan was terribly frightened at having let the hare escape, and gave himself up to gloomy thoughts; but a wolf, the one he had refrained from killing, rushed after the hare, caught it, and brought it to Prince Ivan. With great delight he seized the hare, cut it open—and had such a fright! Out popped the duck and flew away. He fired after it, but shot all on one side, so again he gave himself up to his thoughts. Suddenly there appeared the crow with her little crows, and set off after the duck, and caught it, and brought it to Prince Ivan. The Prince was greatly pleased and got hold of the egg. Then he went on his way. But when he came to the sea, he began washing the egg, and let it drop into the water. However was he to get it out of the water? an immeasurable depth! Again the Prince gave himself up to dejection.

Suddenly the sea became violently agitated, and the pike brought him the egg. Moreover it stretched itself across the sea. Prince Ivan walked along it to the other side, and then he set out again for his mother's. When he got there, they greeted each other lovingly, and then she hid him again as before. Presently in flew Koshchei the Deathless and said:

"Phoo, Phoo! No Russian bone can the ear hear nor the eye see, but there's a smell of Russia here!"

"What are you talking about, Koshchei? There's no one with me," replied Prince Ivan's mother.

A second time spake Koshchei and said, "I feel rather unwell."

Then Prince Ivan began squeezing the egg, and thereupon Koshchei the Deathless bent double. At last Prince Ivan came out from his hiding-place, held up the egg and said, "There is your death, O Koshchei the Deathless!"

Then Koshchei fell on his knees before him, saying, "Don't kill me, Prince Ivan! Let's be friends! All the world will lie at our feet."

But these words had no weight with Prince Ivan. He smashed the egg, and Koshchei the Deathless died.

Ivan and his mother took all they wanted and started homewards. On their way they came to where the King's daughter was whom Ivan had seen on his way, and they took her with them too. They went further, and came to the hill where Ivan's brothers were still waiting for him. Then the maiden said, "Prince Ivan! do go back to my house. I have forgotten a marriage robe, a diamond ring, and a pair of seamless shoes."

He consented to do so, but in the mean time he let his mother go down the ladder, as well as the Princess—whom it had been settled he was to marry when they got home. They were received by his brothers, who then set to work and cut away the ladder, so that he himself would not be able to get down. And they used such threats to his mother and the Princess, that they made them promise not to tell about Prince Ivan when they got home. And after a time they reached their native country. Their father was delighted at seeing his wife and his two sons, but still he was grieved about the other one, Prince Ivan.

But Prince Ivan returned to the home of his betrothed, and got the wedding dress, and the ring, and the seamless shoes. Then he came back to the mountain and tossed the ring from one hand to the other. Immediately there appeared twelve strong youths, who said:

"What are your commands?"

"Carry me down from this hill."

The youths immediately carried him down. Prince Ivan put the ring on his finger—they disappeared.

Then he went on to his own country, and arrived at the city in which his father and brothers lived.

There he took up his quarters in the house of an old woman, and asked her:

"What news is there, mother, in your country?"

"What news, lad? You see our queen was kept in prison by Koshchei the Deathless. Her three sons went to look for her, and two of them found her and came back, but the third, Prince Ivan, has disappeared, and no one knows where he is. The King is very unhappy about him. And those two Princes and their mother brought a certain Princess back with them; and the eldest son wants to marry her, but she declares he must fetch her her betrothal ring first, or get one made just as she wants it. But although they have made a public proclamation about it, no one has been found to do it yet."

"Well, mother, go and tell the King that you will make one. I'll manage it for you," said Prince Ivan.

So the old woman immediately dressed herself, and hastened to the King, and said:

"Please, your Majesty, I will make the wedding ring."

"Make it, then, make it, mother! Such people as you are welcome," said the king. "But if you don't make it, off goes your head!"

The old woman was dreadfully frightened; she ran home, and told Prince Ivan to set to work at the ring. But Ivan lay down to sleep, troubling himself very little about it. The ring was there all the time. So he only laughed at the old woman, but she was trembling all over, and crying, and scolding him.

"As for you," she said, "you're out of the scrape; but you've done for me, fool that I was!"

The old woman cried and cried until she fell asleep. Early in the morning Prince Ivan got up and awakened her, saying:

"Get up, mother, and go out! take them the ring, and mind, don't accept more than one ducat for it. If anyone asks who made the ring, say you made it yourself; don't say a word about me."

The old woman was overjoyed and carried off the ring. The bride was delighted with it.

"Just what I wanted," she said. So they gave the old woman a dish full of gold, but she took only one ducat.

"Why do you take so little?" said the king.

"What good would a lot do me, your Majesty? if I want some more afterwards, you'll give it me."

Having said this the old woman went away.

Time passed, and the news spread abroad that the bride had told her lover to fetch her her wedding-dress or else to get one made, just such a one as she wanted. Well, the old woman, thanks to Prince Ivan's aid, succeeded in this matter too, and took her the wedding-dress. And afterwards she took her the seamless shoes also, and would only accept one ducat each time and always said that she had made the things herself.

Well, the people heard that there would be a wedding at the palace on such-and-such a day. And the day they all anxiously awaited came at last. Then Prince Ivan said to the old woman:

"Look here, mother! when the bride is just going to be married, let me know."

The old woman didn't let the time go by unheeded.

Then Ivan immediately put on his princely raiment, and went out of the house.

"See, mother, this is what I'm really like!" says he.

The old woman fell at his feet.

"Pray forgive me for scolding you," said she.

"God be with you," said he.[116]

So he went into the church and, finding his brothers had not yet arrived, he stood up alongside of the bride and got married to her. Then he and she were escorted back to the palace, and as they went along, the proper bridegroom, his eldest brother, met them. But when he saw that his bride and Prince Ivan were being escorted home together, he turned back again ignominiously.

As to the king, he was delighted to see Prince Ivan again, and when he had learnt all about the treachery of his brothers, after the wedding feast had been solemnized, he banished the two elder princes, but he made Ivan heir to the throne.

In the story of "Prince Arikad,"[117] the Queen-Mother is carried off by the Whirlwind,[118] instead of by Koshchei. Her youngest son climbs the hill by the aid of iron hooks, kills Vikhor, and lowers his mother and three other ladies whom he has rescued, by means of a rope made of strips of hide. This his brothers cut to prevent him from descending.[119] They then oblige the ladies to swear not to betray them, the taking of the oath being accompanied by the eating of earth.[120] The same formality is observed in another story in which an oath of a like kind is exacted.[121]

The sacred nature of such an obligation may account for the singular reticence so often maintained, under similar circumstances, in stories of this class.

In one of the descriptions of Koshchei's death, he is said to be killed by a blow on the forehead inflicted by the mysterious egg—that last link in the magic chain by which his life is darkly bound.[122] In another version of the same story, but told of a Snake, the fatal blow is struck by a small stone found in the yolk of an egg, which is inside a duck, which is inside a hare, which is inside a stone, which is on an island [i.e., the fabulous island Buyan].[123] In another variant[124] Koshchei attempts to deceive his fair captive, pretending that his "death" resides in a besom, or in a fence, both of which she adorns with gold in token of her love. Then he confesses that his "death" really lies in an egg, inside a duck, inside a log which is floating on the sea. Prince Ivan gets hold of the egg and shifts it from one hand to the other. Koshchei rushes wildly from side to side of the room. At last the prince breaks the egg. Koshchei falls on the floor and dies.

This heart-breaking episode occurs in the folk-tales of many lands.[125] It may not be amiss to trace it through some of its forms. In a Norse story[126] a Giant's heart lies in an egg, inside a duck, which swims in a well, in a church, on an island. With this may be compared another Norse tale,[127] in which a Haugebasse, or Troll, who has carried off a princess, informs her that he and all his companions will burst asunder when above them passes "the grain of sand that lies under the ninth tongue in the ninth head" of a certain dead dragon. The grain of sand is found and brought, and the result is that the whole of the monstrous brood of Trolls or Haugebasser is instantaneously destroyed. In a Transylvanian-Saxon story[128] a Witch's "life" is a light which burns in an egg, inside a duck, which swims on a pond, inside a mountain, and she dies when it is put out. In the Bohemian story of "The Sun-horse"[129] a Warlock's "strength" lies in an egg, which is within a duck, which is within a stag, which is under a tree. A Seer finds the egg and sucks it. Then the Warlock becomes as weak as a child, "for all his strength had passed into the Seer." In the Gaelic story of "The Sea-Maiden,"[130] the "great beast with three heads" which haunts the loch cannot be killed until an egg is broken, which is in the mouth of a trout, which springs out of a crow, which flies out of a hind, which lives on an island in the middle of the loch. In a Modern Greek tale the life of a dragon or other baleful being comes to an end simultaneously with the lives of three pigeons which are shut up in an all but inaccessible chamber,[131] or inclosed within a wild boar.[132] Closely connected with the Greek tale is the Servian story of the dragon[133] whose "strength" (snaga) lies in a sparrow, which is inside a dove, inside a hare, inside a boar, inside a dragon (ajdaya) which is in a lake, near a royal city. The hero of the story fights the dragon of the lake, and after a long struggle, being invigorated at the critical moment by a kiss which the heroine imprints on his forehead—he flings it high in the air. When it falls to the ground it breaks in pieces, and out comes the boar. Eventually the hero seizes the sparrow and wrings its neck, but not before he has obtained from it the charm necessary for the recovery of his missing brothers and a number of other victims of the dragon's cruelty.

To these European tales a very interesting parallel is afforded by the Indian story of "Punchkin,"[134] whose life depends on that of a parrot, which is in a cage placed beneath the lowest of six jars of water, piled one on the other, and standing in the midst of a desolate country covered with thick jungle. When the parrot's legs and wings are pulled off, Punchkin loses his legs and arms; and when its neck is wrung, his head twists round and he dies.

One of the strangest of the stories which turn on this idea of an external heart is the Samoyed tale,[135] in which seven brothers are in the habit, every night, of taking out their hearts and sleeping without them. A captive damsel whose mother they have killed, receives the extracted hearts and hangs them on the tent-pole, where they remain till the following morning. One night her brother contrives to get the hearts into his possession. Next morning he takes them into the tent, where he finds the brothers at the point of death. In vain do they beg for their hearts, which he flings on the floor. "And as he flings down the hearts the brothers die."

The legend to which I am now about to refer will serve as a proof of the venerable antiquity of the myth from which the folk-tales, which have just been quoted, appear to have sprung. A papyrus, which is supposed to be "of the age of the nineteenth dynasty, about B.C. 1300," has preserved an Egyptian tale about two brothers. The younger of these, Satou, leaves the elder, Anepou (Anubis) and retires to the Valley of the Acacia. But, before setting off, Satou states that he shall take his heart and place it "in the flowers of the acacia-tree," so that, if the tree is cut down, his heart will fall to the ground and he will die. Having given Anepou instructions what to do in such a case, he seeks the valley. There he hunts wild animals by day, and at night he sleeps under the acacia-tree on which his heart rests. But at length Noum, the Creator, forms a wife for him, and all the other gods endow her with gifts. To this Egyptian Pandora Satou confides the secret of his heart. One day a tress of her perfumed hair floats down the river, and is taken to the King of Egypt. He determines to make its owner his queen, and she, like Rhodope or Cinderella, is sought for far and wide. When she has been found and brought to the king, she recommends him to have the acacia cut down, so as to get rid of her lawful husband. Accordingly the tree is cut down, the heart falls, and Satou dies.

About this time Anepou sets out to pay his long-lost brother a visit. Finding him dead, he searches for his heart, but searches in vain for three years. In the fourth year, however, it suddenly becomes desirous of returning to Egypt, and says, "I will leave this celestial sphere." Next day Anepou finds it under the acacia, and places it in a vase which contains some mystic fluid. When the heart has become saturated with the moisture, the corpse shudders and opens its eyes. Anepou pours the rest of the fluid down its throat, the heart returns to its proper place, and Satou is restored to life.[136]

In one of the Skazkas, a volshebnitsa or enchantress is introduced, whose "death," like that of Koshchei, is spoken of as something definite and localized. A prince has loved and lost a princess, who is so beautiful that no man can look at her without fainting. Going in search of her, he comes to the home of an enchantress, who invites him to tea and gives him leave to inspect her house. As he wanders about he comes to a cellar in which "he sees that beautiful one whom he loves, in fire." She tells him her love for him has brought her there; and he learns that there is no hope of freeing her unless he can find out "where lies the death of the enchantress." So that evening he asks his hostess about it, and she replies:

"In a certain lake stands a blue rose-tree. It is in a deep place, and no man can reach unto it. My death is there."

He sets out in search of it, and, aided by a magic ring, reaches the lake, "and sees there the blue rose-tree, and around it a blue forest." After several failures, he succeeds in plucking up the rose-tree by the roots, whereupon the enchantress straightway sickens. He returns to her house, finds her at the point of death, and throws the rose-bush into the cellar where his love is crying, "Behold her death!" and immediately the whole building shakes to its foundations—"and becomes an island, on which are people who had been sitting in Hell, and who offer up thanks to Prince Ivan."[137]

In another Russian story,[138] a prince is grievously tormented by a witch who has got hold of his heart, and keeps it perpetually seething in a magic cauldron. In a third,[139] a "Queen-Maiden" falls in love with the young Ivan, and, after being betrothed to him, would fain take him away to her own land and marry him. But his stepmother throws him into a magic slumber, and the Queen-Maiden has to return home without him. When he awakes, and learns that she has gone, he sorrows greatly, and sets out in search of her. At last he learns from a friendly witch that his betrothed no longer cares for him, "her love is hidden far away." It seems "that on the other side of the ocean stands an oak, and on the oak a coffer, and in the coffer a hare, and in the hare a duck, and in the duck an egg, and in the egg the love of the Queen-Maiden." Ivan gets possession of the egg, and the friendly witch contrives to have it placed before the Queen-Maiden at dinner. She eats it, and immediately her love for Ivan returns in all its pristine force. He appears, and she, overjoyed, carries him off to her own land and there marries him.

* * * * *

After this digression we will now return to our Snakes. All the monstrous forms which figure in the stories we have just been considering appear to be merely different species of the great serpent family. Such names as Koshchei, Chudo Yudo, Usuinya, and the like, seem to admit of exchange at the will of the story-teller with that of Zmei Goruinuich, the many-headed Snake, who in Russian storyland is represented as the type of all that is evil. But in the actual Russia of to-day, snakes bear by no means so bad a character. Their presence in a cottage is considered a good omen by the peasants, who leave out milk for them to drink, and who think that to kill such visitors would be a terrible sin.[140] This is probably a result of some remembrance of a religious cultus paid to the household gods under the form of snakes, such as existed of old, according to Kromer, in Poland and Lithuania. The following story is more in keeping with such ideas as these, than with those which are expressed in the tales about Koshchei and his kin.

THE WATER SNAKE.[141]

There was once an old woman who had a daughter; and her daughter went down to the pond one day to bathe with the other girls. They all stripped off their shifts, and went into the water. Then there came a snake out of the water, and glided on to the daughter's shift. After a time the girls all came out, and began to put on their shifts, and the old woman's daughter wanted to put on hers, but there was the snake lying on it. She tried to drive him away, but there he stuck and would not move. Then the snake said:

"If you'll marry me, I'll give you back your shift."

Now she wasn't at all inclined to marry him, but the other girls said:

"As if it were possible for you to be married to him! Say you will!" So she said, "Very well, I will." Then the snake glided off from the shift, and went straight into the water. The girl dressed and went home. And as soon as she got there, she said to her mother,

"Mammie, mammie, thus and thus, a snake got upon my shift, and says he, 'Marry me or I won't let you have your shift;' and I said, 'I will.'"

"What nonsense are you talking, you little fool! as if one could marry a snake!"

And so they remained just as they were, and forgot all about the matter.

A week passed by, and one day they saw ever so many snakes, a huge troop of them, wriggling up to their cottage. "Ah, mammie, save me, save me!" cried the girl, and her mother slammed the door and barred the entrance as quickly as possible. The snakes would have rushed in at the door, but the door was shut; they would have rushed into the passage, but the passage was closed. Then in a moment they rolled themselves into a ball, flung themselves at the window, smashed it to pieces, and glided in a body into the room. The girl got upon the stove, but they followed her, pulled her down, and bore her out of the room and out of doors. Her mother accompanied her, crying like anything.

They took the girl down to the pond, and dived right into the water with her. And there they all turned into men and women. The mother remained for some time on the dike, wailed a little, and then went home.

Three years went by. The girl lived down there, and had two children, a son and a daughter. Now she often entreated her husband to let her go to see her mother. So at last one day he took her up to the surface of the water, and brought her ashore. But she asked him before leaving him,

"What am I to call out when I want you?"

"Call out to me, 'Osip, [Joseph] Osip, come here!' and I will come," he replied.

Then he dived under water again, and she went to her mother's, carrying her little girl on one arm, and leading her boy by the hand. Out came her mother to meet her—was so delighted to see her!

"Good day, mother!" said the daughter.

"Have you been doing well while you were living down there?" asked her mother.

"Very well indeed, mother. My life there is better than yours here."

They sat down for a bit and chatted. Her mother got dinner ready for her, and she dined.

"What's your husband's name?" asked her mother.

"Osip," she replied.

"And how are you to get home?"

"I shall go to the dike, and call out, 'Osip, Osip, come here!' and he'll come."

"Lie down, daughter, and rest a bit," said the mother.

So the daughter lay down and went to sleep. The mother immediately took an axe and sharpened it, and went down to the dike with it. And when she came to the dike, she began calling out,

"Osip, Osip, come here!"

No sooner had Osip shown his head than the old woman lifted her axe and chopped it off. And the water in the pond became dark with blood.

The old woman went home. And when she got home her daughter awoke.

"Ah! mother," says she, "I'm getting tired of being here; I'll go home."

"Do sleep here to-night, daughter; perhaps you won't have another chance of being with me."

So the daughter stayed and spent the night there. In the morning she got up and her mother got breakfast ready for her; she breakfasted, and then she said good-bye to her mother and went away, carrying her little girl in her arms, while her boy followed behind her. She came to the dike, and called out:

"Osip, Osip, come here!"

She called and called, but he did not come.

Then she looked into the water, and there she saw a head floating about. Then she guessed what had happened.

"Alas! my mother has killed him!" she cried.

There on the bank she wept and wailed. And then to her girl she cried:

"Fly about as a wren, henceforth and evermore!"

And to her boy she cried:

"Fly about as a nightingale, my boy, henceforth and evermore!"

"But I," she said, "will fly about as a cuckoo, crying 'Cuckoo!' henceforth and evermore!"

[Stories about serpent-spouses are by no means uncommon, but I can find no parallel to the above so far as the termination is concerned. Benfey quotes or refers to a great number of the transformation tales in which a husband or a wife appears at times in the form of a snake (Panchatantra, i. pp. 254-7 266-7). Sometimes, when a husband of this kind has doffed his serpent's skin, his wife seizes it, and throws it into the fire. Her act generally proves to be to her advantage, as well as to his, but not always. On a story of this kind was doubtless founded the legend handed down to us by Appuleius of Cupid and Psyche. Among its wildest versions are the Albanian "Schlangenkind" (Hahn, No. 100), a very similar Roumanian tale (Ausland 1857, No. 43, quoted by Benfey), the Wallachian Trandafiru (Schott, No. 23, in which the husband is a pumpkin (Kuerbiss) by day), and the second of the Servian tales of the Snake-Husband (Vuk Karajich, No. 10).]

The snakes which figure in this weird story, the termination of which is so unusually tragic, bear a strong resemblance to the Indian Nagas, the inhabitants of Patala or the underground world, serpents which take at will the human shape and often mix with mortals. They may, also, be related to the mermen and mermaids of the sea-coasts, and to the similar beings with which, under various names, tradition peoples the lakes, and streams, and fountains of Europe. The South-Russian peasantry have from immemorial times maintained a firm belief in the existence of water-nymphs, called Rusalkas, closely resembling the Nereids of Modern Greece, the female Nixies of the North of Europe, and throughout the whole of Russia, at least in outlying districts, there still lingers a sort of cultus of certain male water-sprites who bear the name of Vodyanies, and who are almost identical with the beings who haunt the waters of various countries—such as the German Nix, the Swedish Nek, the Finnish Naekke, etc.[142]

In the Skazkas we find frequent mention of beauteous maidens who usually live beneath the wave, but who can transform themselves into birds and fly wherever they please. We may perhaps be allowed to designate them by the well-known name of Swan-Maidens, though they do not always assume, together with their plumage-robes, the form of swans, but sometimes appear as geese, ducks, spoonbills, or aquatic birds of some other species. They are, for the most part, the daughters of the Morskoi Tsar, or Water King—a being who plays an important part in Slavonic popular fiction. He is of a somewhat shadowy form, and his functions are not very clearly defined, for the part he usually fills is sometimes allotted to Koshchei or to the Snake, but the stories generally represent him as a patriarchal monarch, living in subaqueous halls of light and splendor, whence he emerges at times to seize a human victim. It is generally a boy whom he gets into his power, and who eventually obtains the hand of one of his daughters, and escapes with her to the upper world, though not without considerable difficulty. Such are, for instance, the leading incidents in the following skazka, many features of which closely resemble those of various well-known West-European folk-tales.

THE WATER KING AND VASILISSA THE WISE.[143]

Once upon a time there lived a King and Queen, and the King was very fond of hunting and shooting. Well one day he went out hunting, and he saw an Eaglet sitting on an oak. But just as he was going to shoot at it the Eaglet began to entreat him, crying:—

"Don't shoot me, my lord King! better take me home with you; some time or other I shall be of service to you."

The King reflected awhile and said, "How can you be of use to me?" and again he was going to shoot.

Then the Eaglet said to him a second time:—

"Don't shoot me, my lord King! better take me home with you; some time or other I shall be of use to you."

The King thought and thought, but couldn't imagine a bit the more what use the Eaglet could be to him, and so he determined to shoot it. Then a third time the Eaglet exclaimed:—

"Don't shoot me, my lord King! better take me home with you and feed me for three years. Some time or other I shall be of service to you!"

The King relented, took the Eaglet home with him, and fed it for a year, for two years. But it ate so much that it devoured all his cattle. The King had neither a cow nor a sheep left. At length the Eagle said:—

"Now let me go free!"

The King set it at liberty; the Eagle began trying its wings. But no, it could not fly yet! So it said:—

"Well, my lord King! you have fed me two years; now, whether you like it or no, feed me for one year more. Even if you have to borrow, at all events feed me; you won't lose by it!"

Well, this is what the King did. He borrowed cattle from everywhere round about, and he fed the Eagle for the space of a whole year, and afterwards he set it at liberty. The Eagle rose ever so high, flew and flew, then dropt down again to the earth and said:—

"Now then, my lord King! Take a seat on my back! we'll have a fly together?"

The King got on the Eagle's back. Away they went flying. Before very long they reached the blue sea. Then the Eagle shook off the King, who fell into the sea, and sank up to his knees. But the Eagle didn't let him drown! it jerked him on to its wing, and asked:—

"How now, my lord King! were you frightened, perchance?"

"I was," said the King; "I thought I was going to be drowned outright!"

Again they flew and flew till they reached another sea. The Eagle shook off the King right in the middle of the sea; the King sank up to his girdle. The Eagle jerked him on to its wing again, and asked:—

"Well, my lord King, were you frightened, perchance?"

"I was," he replied, "but all the time I thought, 'Perhaps, please God, the creature will pull me out.'"

Away they flew again, flew, and arrived at a third sea. The Eagle dropped the King into a great gulf, so that he sank right up to his neck. And the third time the Eagle jerked him on to its wing, and asked:—

"Well, my lord King! Were you frightened, perchance?"

"I was," says the King, "but still I said to myself, 'Perhaps it will pull me out.'"

"Well, my lord King! now you have felt what the fear of death is like! What I have done was in payment of an old score. Do you remember my sitting on an oak, and your wanting to shoot me? Three times you were going to let fly, but I kept on entreating you not to shoot, saying to myself all the time, 'Perhaps he won't kill me; perhaps he'll relent and take me home with him!'"

Afterwards they flew beyond thrice nine lands: long, long did they fly. Says the Eagle, "Look, my lord King! what is above us and what below us?"

The King looked.

"Above us," he says, "is the sky, below us the earth."

"Look again; what is on the right hand and on the left?"

"On the right hand is an open plain, on the left stands a house."

"We will fly thither," said the Eagle; "my youngest sister lives there."

They went straight into the courtyard. The sister came out to meet them, received her brother cordially, and seated him at the oaken table. But on the King she would not so much as look, but left him outside, loosed greyhounds, and set them at him. The Eagle was exceedingly wroth, jumped up from table, seized the King, and flew away with him again.

Well, they flew and flew. Presently the Eagle said to the King, "Look round; what is behind us?"

The King turned his head, looked, and said, "Behind us is a red house."

"That is the house of my youngest sister—on fire, because she did not receive you, but set greyhounds at you."

They flew and flew. Again the Eagle asked:

"Look again, my lord King; what is above us, and what below us?"

"Above us is the sky, below us the earth."

"Look and see what is on the right hand and on the left."

"On the right is the open plain, on the left there stands a house."

"There lives my second sister; we'll go and pay her a visit."

They stopped in a wide courtyard. The second sister received her brother cordially, and seated him at the oaken table; but the King was left outside, and she loosed greyhounds, and set them at him. The Eagle flew into a rage, jumped up from table, caught up the King, and flew away farther with him. They flew and flew. Says the Eagle:

"My lord King! look round! what is behind us?"

The King looked back.

"There stands behind us a red house."

"That's my second sister's house burning!" said the Eagle. "Now we'll fly to where my mother and my eldest sister live."

Well, they flew there. The Eagle's mother and eldest sister were delighted to see them, and received the King with cordiality and respect.

"Now, my lord King," said the Eagle, "tarry awhile with us, and afterwards I will give you a ship, and will repay you for all I ate in your house, and then—God speed you home again!"

So the Eagle gave the King a ship and two coffers—the one red, the other green—and said:

"Mind now! don't open the coffers until you get home. Then open the red coffer in the back court, and the green coffer in the front court."

The King took the coffers, parted with the Eagle, and sailed along the blue sea. Presently he came to a certain island, and there his ship stopped. He landed on the shore, and began thinking about the coffers, and wondering whatever there could be in them, and why the Eagle had told him not to open them. He thought and thought, and at last couldn't hold out any more—he longed so awfully to know all about it. So he took the red coffer, set it on the ground, and opened it—and out of it came such a quantity of different kinds of cattle that there was no counting them: the island had barely room enough for them.

When the King saw that, he became exceedingly sorrowful, and began to weep and therewithal to say:

"What is there now left for me to do? how shall I get all this cattle back into so little a coffer?"

Lo! there came out of the water a man—came up to him, and asked:

"Wherefore are you weeping so bitterly, O lord King?"

"How can I help weeping!" answers the King. "How shall I be able to get all this great herd into so small a coffer?"

"If you like, I will set your mind at rest. I will pack up all your cattle for you. But on one condition only. You must give me whatever you have at home that you don't know of."

The King reflected.

"Whatever is there at home that I don't know of?" says he. "I fancy I know about everything that's there."

He reflected, and consented. "Pack them up," says he. "I will give you whatever I have at home that I know nothing about."

So that man packed away all his cattle for him in the coffer. The King went on board ship and sailed away homewards.

When he reached home, then only did he learn that a son had been born to him. And he began kissing the child, caressing it, and at the same time bursting into such floods of tears!

"My lord King!" says the Queen, "tell me wherefore thou droppest bitter tears?"

"For joy!" he replies.

He was afraid to tell her the truth, that the Prince would have to be given up. Afterwards he went into the back court, opened the red coffer, and thence issued oxen and cows, sheep and rams; there were multitudes of all sorts of cattle, so that all the sheds and pastures were crammed full. He went into the front court, opened the green coffer, and there appeared a great and glorious garden. What trees there were in it to be sure! The King was so delighted that he forgot all about giving up his son.

Many years went by. One day the King took it into his head to go for a stroll, and he came to a river. At that moment the same man he had seen before came out of the water, and said:

"You've pretty soon become forgetful, lord King! Think a little! surely you're in my debt!"

The King returned home full of grief, and told all the truth to the Queen and the Prince. They all mourned and wept together, but they decided that there was no help for it, the Prince must be given up. So they took him to the mouth of the river and there they left him alone.

The Prince looked around, saw a footpath, and followed trusting God would lead him somewhere. He walked and walked, and came to a dense forest: in the forest stood a hut, in the hut lived a Baba Yaga.

"Suppose I go in," thought the Prince, and went in.

"Good day, Prince!" said the Baba Yaga. "Are you seeking work or shunning work?"

"Eh, granny! First give me to eat and to drink, and then ask me questions."

So she gave him food and drink, and the Prince told her everything as to whither he was going and with what purpose.

Then the Baba Yaga said: "Go, my child, to the sea-shore; there will fly thither twelve spoonbills, which will turn into fair maidens, and begin bathing; do you steal quietly up and lay your hands on the eldest maiden's shift. When you have come to terms with her, go to the Water King, and there will meet you on the way Obedalo and Opivalo, and also Moroz Treskum[144]—take all of them with you; they will do you good service."

The Prince bid the Yaga farewell, went to the appointed spot on the sea-shore, and hid behind the bushes. Presently twelve spoonbills came flying thither, struck the moist earth, turned into fair maidens, and began to bathe. The Prince stole the eldest one's shift, and sat down behind a bush—didn't budge an inch. The girls finished bathing and came out on the shore: eleven of them put on their shifts, turned into birds, and flew away home. There remained only the eldest, Vasilissa the Wise. She began praying and begging the good youth:

"Do give me my shift!" she says. "You are on your way to the house of my father, the Water King. When you come I will do you good service."

So the Prince gave her back her shift, and she immediately turned into a spoonbill and flew away after her companions. The Prince went further on; there met him by the way three heroes—Obedalo, Opivalo, and Moroz Treskum; he took them with him and went on to the Water King's.

The Water King saw him, and said:

"Hail, friend! why have you been so long in coming to me? I have grown weary of waiting for you. Now set to work. Here is your first task. Build me in one night a great crystal bridge, so that it shall be ready for use to-morrow. If you don't build it—off goes your head!"

The Prince went away from the Water King, and burst into a flood of tears. Vasilissa the Wise opened the window of her upper chamber, and asked:

"What are you crying about, Prince?"

"Ah! Vasilissa the Wise! how can I help crying? Your father has ordered me to build a crystal bridge in a single night, and I don't even know how to handle an axe."

"No matter! lie down and sleep; the morning is wiser than the evening."

She ordered him to sleep, but she herself went out on the steps, and called aloud with a mighty whistling cry. Then from all sides there ran together carpenters and workmen; one levelled the ground, another carried bricks. Soon had they built a crystal bridge, and traced cunning devices on it; and then they dispersed to their homes.

Early next morning Vasilissa the Wise awoke the Prince:

"Get up, Prince! the bridge is ready: my father will be coming to inspect it directly."

Up jumped the Prince, seized a broom, took his place on the bridge, and began sweeping here, clearing up there.

The Water King bestowed praise upon him:

"Thanks!" says he. "You've done me one service: now do another. Here is your task. Plant me by to-morrow a garden green—a big and shady one; and there must be birds singing in the garden, and flowers blossoming on the trees, and ripe apples and pears hanging from the boughs."

Away went the Prince from the Water King, all dissolved in tears. Vasilissa the Wise opened her window and asked:

"What are you crying for, Prince?"

"How can I help crying? Your father has ordered me to plant a garden in one night!"

"That's nothing! lie down and sleep: the morning is wiser than the evening."

She made him go to sleep, but she herself went out on the steps, called and whistled with a mighty whistle. From every side there ran together gardeners of all sorts, and they planted a garden green, and in the garden birds sang, on the trees flowers blossomed, from the boughs hung ripe apples and pears.

Early in the morning Vasilissa the Wise awoke the Prince:

"Get up, Prince! the garden is ready: Papa is coming to see it."

The Prince immediately snatched up a broom, and was off to the garden. Here he swept a path, there he trained a twig. The Water King praised him and said:

"Thanks, Prince! You've done me right trusty service. So choose yourself a bride from among my twelve daughters. They are all exactly alike in face, in hair, and in dress. If you can pick out the same one three times running, she shall be your wife; if you fail to do so, I shall have you put to death."

Vasilissa the Wise knew all about that, so she found time to say to the Prince:

"The first time I will wave my handkerchief, the second I will be arranging my dress, the third time you will see a fly above my head."

And so the Prince guessed which was Vasilissa the Wise three times running. And he and she were married, and a wedding feast was got ready.

Now the Water King had prepared much food of all sorts more than a hundred men could get through. And he ordered his son-in-law to see that everything was eaten. "If anything remains over, the worse for you!" says he.

"My Father," begs the Prince, "there's an old fellow of mine here; please let him take a snack with us."

"Let him come!"

Immediately appeared Obedalo—ate up everything, and wasn't content then! The Water King next set out two score tubs of all kinds of strong drinks, and ordered his son-in-law to see that they were all drained dry.

"My Father!" begs the Prince again, "there's another old man of mine here, let him, too, drink your health."

"Let him come!"

Opivalo appeared, emptied all the forty tubs in a twinkling, and then asked for a drop more by way of stirrup-cup.[145]

The Water King saw that there was nothing to be gained that way, so he gave orders to prepare a bath-room for the young couple—an iron bath-room—and to heat it as hot as possible. So the iron bath-room was made hot. Twelve loads of firewood were set alight, and the stove and the walls were made red-hot—impossible to come within five versts of it.

"My Father!" says the Prince; "let an old fellow of ours have a scrub first, just to try the bath-room."

"Let him do so!"

Moroz Treskum went into the bath room, blew into one corner, blew in another—in a moment icicles were hanging there. After him the young couple also went into the bath-room, were lathered and scrubbed,[146] and then went home.

After a time Vasilissa said to the Prince, "Let us get out of my father's power. He's tremendously angry with you; perhaps he'll be doing you some hurt."

"Let us go," says the Prince.

Straightway they saddled their horses and galloped off into the open plain. They rode and rode; many an hour went by.

"Jump down from your horse, Prince, and lay your ear close to the earth," said Vasilissa. "Cannot you hear a sound as of pursuers?"

The prince bent his ear to the ground, but he could hear nothing. Then Vasilissa herself lighted down from her good steed, laid herself flat on the earth, and said: "Ah Prince! I hear a great noise as of chasing after us." Then she turned the horses into a well, and herself into a bowl, and the Prince into an old, very old man. Up came the pursuers.

"Heigh, old man!" say they, "haven't you seen a youth and a maiden pass by?"

"I saw them, my friends! only it was a long while ago. I was a youngster at the time when they rode by."

The pursuers returned to the Water King.

"There is no trace of them," they said, "no news: all we saw was an old man beside a well, and a bowl floating on the water."

"Why did not ye seize them?" cried the Water King, who thereupon put the pursuers to a cruel death, and sent another troop after the Prince and Vasilissa the Wise.

The fugitives in the mean time had ridden far, far away. Vasilissa the Wise heard the noise made by the fresh set of pursuers, so she turned the Prince into an old priest, and she herself became an ancient church. Scarcely did its walls hold together, covered all over with moss. Presently up came the pursuers.

"Heigh, old man! haven't you seen a youth and a maiden pass by?"

"I saw them, my own! only it was long, ever so long ago. I was a young man when they rode by. It was just while I was building this church."

So the second set of pursuers returned to the Water King, saying:

"There is neither trace nor news of them, your Royal Majesty. All that we saw was an old priest and an ancient church."

"Why did not ye seize them?" cried the Water King louder than before, and having put the pursuers to a cruel death, he galloped off himself in pursuit of the Prince and Vasilissa the Wise. This time Vasilissa turned the horses into a river of honey with kissel[147] banks, and changed the Prince into a Drake and herself into a grey duck. The Water King flung himself on the kissel and honey-water, and ate and ate, and drank and drank until he burst! And so he gave up the ghost.

The Prince and Vasilissa rode on, and at length they drew nigh to the home of the Prince's parents. Then said Vasilissa,

"Go on in front, Prince, and report your arrival to your father and mother. But I will wait for you here by the wayside. Only remember these words of mine: kiss everyone else, only don't kiss your sister; if you do, you will forget me."

The Prince reached home, began saluting every one, kissed his sister too—and no sooner had he kissed her than from that very moment he forgot all about his wife, just as if she had never entered into his mind.

Three days did Vasilissa the Wise await him. On the fourth day she clad herself like a beggar, went into the capital, and took up her quarters in an old woman's house. But the Prince was preparing to marry a rich Princess, and orders were given to proclaim throughout the kingdom, that all Christian people were to come to congratulate the bride and bridegroom, each one bringing a wheaten pie as a present. Well, the old woman with whom Vasilissa lodged, prepared, like everyone else, to sift flour and make a pie.

"Why are you making a pie, granny?" asked Vasilissa.

"Is it why? you evidently don't know then. Our King is giving his son in marriage to a rich princess: one must go to the palace to serve up the dinner to the young couple."

"Come now! I, too, will bake a pie and take it to the palace; may be the King will make me some present."

"Bake away in God's name!" said the old woman.

Vasilissa took flour, kneaded dough, and made a pie. And inside it she put some curds and a pair of live doves.

Well, the old woman and Vasilissa the Wise reached the palace just at dinner-time. There a feast was in progress, one fit for all the world to see. Vasilissa's pie was set on the table, but no sooner was it cut in two than out of it flew the two doves. The hen bird seized a piece of curd, and her mate said to her:

"Give me some curds, too, Dovey!"

"No I won't," replied the other dove: "else you'd forget me, as the Prince has forgotten his Vasilissa the Wise."

Then the Prince remembered about his wife. He jumped up from table, caught her by her white hands, and seated her close by his side. From that time forward they lived together in all happiness and prosperity.

[With this story may be compared a multitude of tales in very many languages. In German for instance, "Der Koenig vom goldenen Berg," (Grimm, KM. No. 92. See also Nos. 51, 56, 113, 181, and the opening of No. 31), "Der Koenigssohn und die Teufelstochter," (Haltrich, No. 26), and "Gruenus Kravalle" (Wolf's "Deutsche Hausmaerchen," No. 29)—the Norse "Mastermaid," (Asbjoernsen and Moe, No. 46, Dasent, No. 11) and "The Three Princesses of Whiteland," (A. and M. No. 9, Dasent, No. 26)—the Lithuanian story (Schleicher, No. 26, p. 75) in which a "field-devil" exacts from a farmer the promise of a child—the Wallachian stories (Schott, Nos. 2 and 15) in which a devil obtains a like promise from a woodcutter and a fisherman—the Modern Greek (Hahn, Nos. 4, 5, 54, and 68) in which a child is promised to a Dervish, a Drakos, the Devil, and a Demon—and the Gaelic tales of "The Battle of the Birds" and "The Sea-maiden," (Campbell, Nos. 2 and 4) in the former of which the child is promised to a Giant, in the latter to a Mermaid. The likeness between the Russian story and the "Battle of the Birds" is very striking. References to a great many other similar tales will be found in Grimm (KM. iii. pp. 96-7, and 168-9). The group to which all these stories belong is linked with a set of tales about a father who apprentices his son to a wizard, sometimes to the Devil, from whom the youth escapes with great difficulty. The principal Russian representative of the second set is called "Eerie Art," "Khitraya Nauka," (Afanasief, v. No. 22, vi. No. 45, viii. p. 339).

To the hero's adventures while with the Water King, and while escaping from him, an important parallel is offered by the end of the already mentioned (at p. 92) Indian story of Sringabhuja. That prince asks Agnisikha, the Rakshasa whom, in his crane-form, he has wounded, to bestow upon him the hand of his daughter—the maiden who had met him on his arrival at the Rakshasa's palace. The demon pretends to consent, but only on condition that the prince is able to pick out his love from among her numerous sisters. This Sringabhuja is able to do in spite of all the demon's daughters being exactly alike, as she has told him beforehand she will wear her pearls on her brow instead of round her neck. Her father will not remark the change, she says, for being of the demon race, he is not very sharp witted. The Rakshasa next sets the prince two of the usual tasks. He is to plough a great field, and sow a hundred bushels of corn. When this, by the daughter's help, is done, he is told to gather up the seed again. This also the demon's daughter does for him, sending to his aid a countless swarm of ants. Lastly he is commanded to visit the demon's brother and invite him to the wedding. He does so, and is pursued by the invited guest, from whom he escapes only by throwing behind him earth, water, thorns, and lastly fire, with all of which he has been provided by his love. They produce corresponding obstacles which enable him to get away from the uncle of his bride. The demon now believes that his proposed son-in-law must be a god in disguise, so he gives his consent to the marriage. All goes well for a time, but at last the prince wants to go home, so he and his wife fly from her father's palace. Agnisikha pursues them. She makes her husband invisible, while she assumes the form of a woodman. Up comes her angry sire, and asks for news of the fugitives. She replies she has seen none, her eyes being full of tears caused by the death of the Rakshasa prince Agnisikha. The slow-witted demon immediately flies home to find out whether he is really dead. Discovering that he is not, he renews the pursuit. Again his daughter renders her husband invisible, and assumes the form of a messenger carrying a letter. When her father arrives and repeats his question, she says she has seen no one: she is going with a letter to his brother from Agnisikha, who has just been mortally wounded. Back again home flies the demon in great distress, anxious to find out whether he has really been wounded to death or not. After settling this question, he leaves his daughter and her husband in peace. See Professor Brockhaus in the "Berichte der phil. hist. Classe der K. Saechs. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften," 1861, pp. 226-9, and Professor Wilson, "Essays, &c.," ii. p. 136-8. Cf. R. Koehler in "Orient und Occident," ii. pp. 107-14.]

In another story a king is out hunting and becomes thirsty. Seeing a spring near at hand, he bends down and is just going to lap up its water, when the Tsar-Medved, a King-Bear, seizes him by the beard. The king is unable to free himself from his grasp, and is obliged to promise as his ransom "that which he knows not of at home," which turns out to be a couple of children—a boy and a girl—who have been born during his absence. In vain does he attempt to save the twins from their impending fate, by concealing them in a secret abode constructed for that purpose underground. In the course of time the King-Bear arrives to claim them, finds out their hiding-place, digs them up, and carries them off on his back to a distant region where no man lives. During his absence they attempt to escape being carried through the air on the back of a friendly falcon, but the King-Bear sees them, "strikes his head against the earth, and burns the falcon's wings." The twins fall to the ground, and are carried by the King-Bear to his home amid inaccessible mountains. There they make a second attempt at escape, trusting this time to an eagle's aid; but it meets with exactly the same fate as their first trial. At last they are rescued by a bull-calf, which succeeds in baffling all the King-Bear's efforts to recover them. At the end of their perilous journey the bull-calf tells the young prince to cut its throat, and burn its carcase. He unwillingly consents, and from its ashes spring a horse, a dog, and an apple-tree, all of which play important parts in the next act of the drama.[148]

In one of the variants of the Water King story,[149] the seizer of the drinking kings' beard is not called the Morskoi Tsar but Chudo Morskoe, a Water Chudo, whose name recalls to mind the Chudo Yudo we have already met with.[150] The Prince who is obliged, in consequence of his father's promise, to surrender himself to the Water Giant, falls in love with a maiden whom he finds in that potentate's palace, and who is an enchantress whom the Chudo has stolen. She turns herself into a ring, which he carries about with him, and eventually, after his escape from the Chudo, she becomes his bride.

In another story,[151] the being who obtains a child from one of the incautious fathers of the Jephthah type who abound in popular fiction, is of a very singular nature. A merchant is flying across a river on the back of an eagle, when he drops a magic "snuff-box," which had been entrusted to his charge by that bird, and it disappears beneath the waters. At the eagle's command, the crayfish search for it, and bring back word that it is lying "on the knees of an Idol." The eagle summons the Idol, and demands the snuff box. Thereupon the Idol says to the merchant—"Give me what you do not know of at home?" The merchant agrees and the Idol gives him back his snuff-box.

In some of the variants of the story, the influence of ideas connected with Christianity makes itself apparent in the names given to the actors. Thus in the "Moujik and Anastasia Adovna,"[152] it is no longer a king of the waters, but a devil's imp,[153] who bargains with the thirsting father for his child, and the swan-maiden whose shift the devoted youth steals bears the name of Adovna, the daughter of Ad or Hades. In "The Youth,"[154] a moujik, who has lost his way in a forest makes the rash promise to a man who enables him to cross a great river; "and that man (says the story) was a devil."[155] We shall meet with other instances further on of parents whose "hasty words" condemn their children to captivity among evil spirits. In one of the stories of this class,[156] the father is a hunter who is perishing with cold one night, and who makes the usual promise as the condition of his being allowed to warm himself at a fire guarded by a devil. Being in consequence of this deprived of a son, he becomes very sad, and drinks himself to death. "The priest will not bury his sinful body, so it is thrust into a hole at a crossway," and he falls into the power of "that very same devil," who turns him into a horse, and uses him as a beast of burden. At last he is released by his son, who has forced the devil to free him after several adventures—one of them being a fight with the evil spirit in the shape of a three-headed snake.

In the Hindoo story of "Brave Seventee Bai,"[157] that heroine kills "a very large Cobra" which comes out of a lake. Touching the waters with a magic diamond taken from the snake, she sees them roll back "in a wall on either hand," between which she passes into a splendid garden. In it she finds a lovely girl who proves to be the Cobra's daughter and who is delighted to hear of her serpent-father's death.

Demon haunted waters, which prove fatal to mortals who bathe in or drink of them, often occur in oriental fiction. In one of the Indian stories, for instance,[158] a king is induced to order his escort to bathe in a lake which is the abode of a Rakshasa or demon. They leap into the water simultaneously, and are all devoured by the terrible man-eater. From the assaults of such a Rakshasa as this it was that Buddha, who was at the time a monkey, preserved himself and 80,000 of his brother monkeys, by suggesting that they should drink from the tank in which the demon lay in wait for them, "through reeds previously made completely hollow by their breath."[159]

* * * * *

From these male personifications of evil—from the Snake, Koshchei, and the Water King—we will now turn to their corresponding female forms. By far the most important beings of the latter class are those malevolent enchantresses who form two closely related branches of the same family. Like their sisters all over the world, they are, as a general rule, old, hideous, and hateful. They possess all kinds of supernatural powers, but their wits are often dull. They wage constant war with mankind, but the heroes of storyland find them as easily overcome as the males of their family. In their general character they bear a strong resemblance to the Giantesses, Lamias, female Trolls, Ogresses, Dragonesses, &c., of Europe, but in some of their traits they differ from those well-known beings, and therefore they are worthy of a detailed notice.

In several of the stories which have already been quoted, a prominent part is played by the Baba Yaga, a female fiend whose name has given rise to much philological discussion of a somewhat unsatisfactory nature.[160] Her appearance is that of a tall, gaunt hag, with dishevelled hair. Sometimes she is seen lying stretched out from one corner to the other of a miserable hut, through the ceiling of which passes her long iron nose; the hut is supported "by fowl's legs," and stands at the edge of a forest towards which its entrance looks. When the proper words are addressed to it, the hut revolves upon its slender supports, so as to turn its back instead of its front to the forest. Sometimes, as in the next story, the Baba Yaga appears as the mistress of a mansion, which stands in a courtyard enclosed by a fence made of dead men's bones. When she goes abroad she rides in a mortar, which she urges on with a pestle, while she sweeps away the traces of her flight with a broom. She is closely connected with the Snake in different forms; in many stories, indeed, the leading part has been ascribed by one narrator to a Snake and by another to a Baba Yaga. She possesses the usual magic apparatus by which enchantresses work their wonders; the Day and the Night (according to the following story) are among her servants, the entire animal world lies at her disposal. On the whole she is the most prominent among the strange figures with which the Skazkas make us acquainted. Of the stories which especially relate to her the following may be taken as a fair specimen.

THE BABA YAGA.[161]

Once upon a time there was an old couple. The husband lost his wife and married again. But he had a daughter by the first marriage, a young girl, and she found no favor in the eyes of her evil stepmother, who used to beat her, and consider how she could get her killed outright. One day the father went away somewhere or other, so the stepmother said to the girl, "Go to your aunt, my sister, and ask her for a needle and thread to make you a shift."

Now that aunt was a Baba Yaga. Well, the girl was no fool, so she went to a real aunt of hers first, and says she:

"Good morning, auntie!"

"Good morning, my dear! what have you come for?"

"Mother has sent me to her sister, to ask for a needle and thread to make me a shift."

Then her aunt instructed her what to do. "There is a birch-tree there, niece, which would hit you in the eye—you must tie a ribbon round it; there are doors which would creak and bang—you must pour oil on their hinges; there are dogs which would tear you in pieces—you must throw them these rolls; there is a cat which would scratch your eyes out—you must give it a piece of bacon."

So the girl went away, and walked and walked, till she came to the place. There stood a hut, and in it sat weaving the Baba Yaga, the Bony-shanks.

"Good morning, auntie," says the girl.

"Good morning, my dear," replies the Baba Yaga.

"Mother has sent me to ask you for a needle and thread to make me a shift."

"Very well; sit down and weave a little in the meantime."

So the girl sat down behind the loom, and the Baba Yaga went outside, and said to her servant-maid:

"Go and heat the bath, and get my niece washed; and mind you look sharp after her. I want to breakfast off her."

Well, the girl sat there in such a fright that she was as much dead as alive. Presently she spoke imploringly to the servant-maid, saying:

"Kinswoman dear, do please wet the firewood instead of making it burn; and fetch the water for the bath in a sieve." And she made her a present of a handkerchief.

The Baba Yaga waited awhile; then she came to the window and asked:

"Are you weaving, niece? are you weaving, my dear?"

"Oh yes, dear aunt, I'm weaving." So the Baba Yaga went away again, and the girl gave the Cat a piece of bacon, and asked:

"Is there no way of escaping from here?"

"Here's a comb for you and a towel," said the Cat; "take them, and be off. The Baba Yaga will pursue you, but you must lay your ear on the ground, and when you hear that she is close at hand, first of all throw down the towel. It will become a wide, wide river. And if the Baba Yaga gets across the river, and tries to catch you, then you must lay your ear on the ground again, and when you hear that she is close at hand, throw down the comb. It will become a dense, dense forest; through that she won't be able to force her way anyhow."

The girl took the towel and the comb and fled. The dogs would have rent her, but she threw them the rolls, and they let her go by; the doors would have begun to bang, but she poured oil on their hinges, and they let her pass through; the birch-tree would have poked her eyes out, but she tied the ribbon around it, and it let her pass on. And the Cat sat down to the loom, and worked away; muddled everything about, if it didn't do much weaving. Up came the Baba Yaga to the window, and asked:

"Are you weaving, niece? are you weaving, my dear?"

"I'm weaving, dear aunt, I'm weaving," gruffly replied the Cat.

The Baba Yaga rushed into the hut, saw that the girl was gone, and took to beating the Cat, and abusing it for not having scratched the girl's eyes out. "Long as I've served you," said the Cat, "you've never given me so much as a bone; but she gave me bacon." Then the Baba Yaga pounced upon the dogs, on the doors, on the birch-tree, and on the servant-maid, and set to work to abuse them all, and to knock them about. Then the dogs said to her, "Long as we've served you, you've never so much as pitched us a burnt crust; but she gave us rolls to eat." And the doors said, "Long as we've served you, you've never poured even a drop of water on our hinges; but she poured oil on us." The birch-tree said, "Long as I've served you, you've never tied a single thread round me; but she fastened a ribbon around me." And the servant-maid said, "Long as I've served you, you've never given me so much as a rag; but she gave me a handkerchief."

The Baba Yaga, bony of limb, quickly jumped into her mortar, sent it flying along with the pestle, sweeping away the while all traces of its flight with a broom, and set off in pursuit of the girl. Then the girl put her ear to the ground, and when she heard that the Baba Yaga was chasing her, and was now close at hand, she flung down the towel. And it became a wide, such a wide river! Up came the Baba Yaga to the river, and gnashed her teeth with spite; then she went home for her oxen, and drove them to the river. The oxen drank up every drop of the river, and then the Baba Yaga began the pursuit anew. But the girl put her ear to the ground again, and when she heard that the Baba Yaga was near, she flung down the comb, and instantly a forest sprang up, such an awfully thick one! The Baba Yaga began gnawing away at it, but however hard she worked, she couldn't gnaw her way through it, so she had to go back again.

But by this time the girl's father had returned home, and he asked:

"Where's my daughter?"

"She's gone to her aunt's," replied her stepmother.

Soon afterwards the girl herself came running home.

"Where have you been?" asked her father.

"Ah, father!" she said, "mother sent me to aunt's to ask for a needle and thread to make me a shift. But aunt's a Baba Yaga, and she wanted to eat me!"

"And how did you get away, daughter?"

"Why like this," said the girl, and explained the whole matter. As soon as her father had heard all about it, he became wroth with his wife, and shot her. But he and his daughter lived on and flourished, and everything went well with them.

In one of the numerous variants of this story[162] the heroine is sent by her husband's mother to the Baba Yaga's, and the advice which saves her comes from her husband. The Baba Yaga goes into another room "in order to sharpen her teeth," and while she is engaged in that operation the girl escapes, having previously—by the advice of the Cat, to which she had given a lump of butter—spat under the threshold. The spittle answers for her in her absence, behaving as do, in other folk-tales, drops of blood, or rags dipped in blood, or apples, or eggs, or beans, or stone images, or wooden puppets.[163]

The magic comb and towel, by the aid of which the girl effects her escape, constantly figure in Skazkas of this class, and always produce the required effect. A brush, also, is frequently introduced, from each bristle of which springs up a wood. In one story, however, the brush gives rise to mountains, and a golik, or bath-room whisk, turns into a forest. The towel is used, also, for the purpose of constructing or annihilating a bridge. Similar instruments are found in the folk-tales of every land, whether they appear as the brush, comb, and mirror of the German water-sprite;[164] or the rod, stone, and pitcher of water of the Norse Troll;[165] or the knife, comb, and handful of salt which, in the Modern Greek story, save Asterinos and Pulja from their fiendish mother;[166] or the twig, the stone, and the bladder of water, found in the ear of the filly, which saves her master from the Gaelic giant;[167] or the brush, comb, and egg, the last of which produces a frozen lake with "mirror-smooth" surface, whereon the pursuing Old Prussian witch slips and breaks her neck;[168] or the wand which causes a river to flow and a mountain to rise between the youth who waves it and the "wicked old Rakshasa" who chases him in the Deccan story;[169] or the handful of earth, cup of water, and dry sticks and match, which impede and finally destroy the Rakshasa in the almost identical episode of Somadeva's tale of "The Prince of Varddhamana."[170]

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