Russian Fairy Tales - A Choice Collection of Muscovite Folk-lore
by W. R. S. Ralston
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Russian Fairy Tales.





W. R. S. RALSTON, M. A.,



To the Memory of


I Dedicate this Book,



The stories contained in the following pages are taken from the collections published by Afanasief, Khudyakof, Erlenvein, and Chudinsky. The South-Russian collections of Kulish and Rudchenko I have been able to use but little, there being no complete dictionary available of the dialect, or rather the language, in which they are written. Of these works that of Afanasief is by far the most important, extending to nearly 3,000 pages, and containing 332 distinct stories—of many of which several variants are given, sometimes as many as five. Khudyakof's collection contains 122 skazkas—as the Russian folk-tales are called—Erlenvein's 41, and Chudinsky's 31. Afanasief has also published a separate volume, containing 33 "legends," and he has inserted a great number of stories of various kinds in his "Poetic views of the Old Slavonians about Nature," a work to which I have had constant recourse.

From the stories contained in what may be called the "chap-book literature" of Russia, I have made but few extracts. It may, however, be as well to say a few words about them. There is a Russian word lub, diminutive lubok, meaning the soft bark of the lime tree, which at one time was used instead of paper. The popular tales which were current in former days were at first printed on sheets or strips of this substance, whence the term lubochnuiya came to be given to all such productions of the cheap press, even after paper had taken the place of bark.[1]

The stories which have thus been preserved have no small interest of their own, but they cannot be considered as fair illustrations of Russian folk-lore, for their compilers in many cases took them from any sources to which they had access, whether eastern or western, merely adapting what they borrowed to Russian forms of thought and speech. Through some such process, for instance, seem to have passed the very popular Russian stories of Eruslan Lazarevich and of Bova Korolevich. They have often been quoted as "creations of the Slavonic mind," but there seems to be no reason for doubting that they are merely Russian adaptations, the first of the adventures of the Persian Rustem, the second of those of the Italian Buovo di Antona, our Sir Bevis of Hampton. The editors of these "chap-book skazkas" belonged to the pre-scientific period, and had a purely commercial object in view. Their stories were intended simply to sell.

A German version of seventeen of these "chap-book tales," to which was prefixed an introduction by Jacob Grimm, was published some forty years ago,[2] and has been translated into English.[3] Somewhat later, also, appeared a German version of twelve more of these tales.[4]

Of late years several articles have appeared in some of the German periodicals,[5] giving accounts or translations of some of the Russian Popular Tales. But no thorough investigation of them appeared in print, out of Russia, until the publication last year of the erudite work on "Zoological Mythology" by Professor Angelo de Gubernatis. In it he has given a summary of the greater part of the stories contained in the collections of Afanasief and Erlenvein, and so fully has he described the part played in them by the members of the animal world that I have omitted, in the present volume, the chapter I had prepared on the Russian "Beast-Epos."

Another chapter which I have, at least for a time, suppressed, is that in which I had attempted to say something about the origin and the meaning of the Russian folk-tales. The subject is so extensive that it requires for its proper treatment more space than a single chapter could grant; and therefore, though not without reluctance, I have left the stories I have quoted to speak for themselves, except in those instances in which I have given the chief parallels to be found in the two collections of foreign folk-tales best known to the English reader, together with a few others which happened to fall within the range of my own reading. Professor de Gubernatis has discussed at length, and with much learning, the esoteric meaning of the skazkas, and their bearing upon the questions to which the "solar theory" of myth-explanation has given rise. To his volumes, and to those of Mr. Cox, I refer all who are interested in those fascinating enquiries. My chief aim has been to familiarize English readers with the Russian folk-tale; the historical and mythological problems involved in it can be discussed at a later period. Before long, in all probability, a copious flood of light will be poured upon the connexion of the Popular Tales of Russia with those of other lands by one of those scholars who are best qualified to deal with the subject.[6]

Besides the stories about animals, I have left unnoticed two other groups of skazkas—those which relate to historical events, and those in which figure the heroes of the Russian "epic poems" or "metrical romances." My next volume will be devoted to the Builinas, as those poems are called, and in it the skazkas which are connected with them will find their fitting place. In it, also, I hope to find space for the discussion of many questions which in the present volume I have been forced to leave unnoticed.

The fifty-one stories which I have translated at length I have rendered as literally as possible. In the very rare instances in which I have found it necessary to insert any words by way of explanation, I have (except in the case of such additions as "he said" or the like) enclosed them between brackets. In giving summaries, also, I have kept closely to the text, and always translated literally the passages marked as quotations. In the imitation of a finished work of art, elaboration and polish are meet and due, but in a transcript from nature what is most required is fidelity. An "untouched" photograph is in certain cases infinitely preferable to one which has been carefully "worked upon." And it is, as it were, a photograph of the Russian story-teller that I have tried to produce, and not an ideal portrait.

* * * * *

The following are the principal Russian books to which reference has been made:—

AFANASIEF (A.N.). Narodnuiya Russkiya Skazki[7] [Russian Popular Tales]. 8 pts. Moscow, 1863-60-63. Narodnuiya Russkiya Legendui[8] [Russian Popular Legends]. Moscow, 1859. Poeticheskiya Vozzryeniya Slavyan na Prirodu [Poetic Views of the Slavonians about Nature].[9] 3 vols. Moscow, 1865-69.

KHUDYAKOF (I.A.). Velikorusskiya Skazki [Great-Russian Tales]. Moscow, 1860.

CHUDINSKY (E.A.). Russkiya Narodnuiya Skazki, etc. [Russian Popular Tales, etc.]. Moscow, 1864.

ERLENVEIN (A.A.). Narodnuiya Skazki, etc. [Popular Tales, collected by village schoolmasters in the Government of Tula]. Moscow, 1863.

RUDCHENKO (I.). Narodnuiya Yuzhnorusskiya Skazki [South-Russian Popular Tales].[10] Kief, 1869.

Most of the other works referred to are too well known to require a full setting out of their title. But it is necessary to explain that references to Grimm are as a general rule to the "Kinder- und Hausmaerchen," 9th ed. Berlin, 1870. Those to Asbjoernsen and Moe are to the "Norske Folke-Eventyr," 3d ed. Christiania, 1866; those to Asbjoernsen only are to the "New Series" of those tales, Christiania, 1871; those to Dasent are to the "Popular Tales from the Norse," 2d ed., 1859. The name "Karajich" refers to the "Srpske Narodne Pripovijetke," published at Vienna in 1853 by Vuk Stefanovich Karajich, and translated by his daughter under the title of "Volksmaerchen der Serben," Berlin, 1854. By "Schott" is meant the "Walachische Maehrchen," Stuttgart und Tubingen, 1845, by "Schleicher" the "Litauische Maerchen," Weimar, 1857, by "Hahn" the "Griechische und albanesische Maerchen," Leipzig, 1864, by "Haltrich" the "Deutsche Volksmaerchen aus dem Sachsenlande in Siebenbuergen," Berlin, 1856, and by "Campbell" the "Popular Tales of the West Highlands," 4 vols., Edinburgh, 1860-62.

A few of the ghost stories contained in the following pages appeared in the "Cornhill Magazine" for August 1872, and an account of some of the "legends" was given in the "Fortnightly Review" for April 1, 1868.


[1] So our word "book," the German Buch, is derived from the Buche or beech tree, of which the old Runic staves were formed. Cf. liber and biblos.

[2] "Russische Volksmaerchen in den Urschriften gesammelt und ins Deutsche uebersetzt von A. Dietrich." Leipzig, 1831.

[3] "Russian Popular Tales," Chapman and Hall, London, 1857.

[4] "Die aeltesten Volksmaerchen der Russen. Von J. N. Vogl." Wien, 1841.

[5] Such as the "Orient und Occident," "Ausland," &c.

[6] Professor Reinhold Koehler, who is said to be preparing a work on the Skazkas, in co-operation with Professor Juelg, the well-known editor and translator of the "Siddhi Kuer" and "Ardshi Bordschi Khan."

[7] In my copy, pt. 1 and 2 are of the 3d, and pt. 3 and 4 are of the 2d edition. By such a note as "Afanasief, i. No. 2," I mean to refer to the second story of the first part of this work.

[8] This book is now out of print, and copies fetch a very high price. I refer to it in my notes as "Afanasief, Legendui."

[9] This work is always referred to in my notes as "Afanasief, P.V.S."

[10] There is one other recent collection of skazkas—that published last year at Geneva under the title of "Russkiya Zavyetnuiya Skazki." But upon its contents I have not found it necessary to draw.



INTRODUCTORY. PAGE. The Folk-tale in general, and the Skazka in particular—Relation of Russian Popular Tales to Russian Life—Stories about Courtship, Death, Burial and Wailings for the Dead—Warnings against Drink, Jokes about Women, Tales of Simpletons—A rhymed Skazka and a Legend 15



Principal Incarnations of Evil.

On the "Mythical Skazkas"—Male embodiments of Evil: 1. The Snake as the Stealer of Daylight; 2. Norka the Beast, Lord of the Lower World; 3. Koshchei the Deathless, The Stealer of Fair Princesses—his connexion with Punchkin and "the Giant who had no Heart in his Body"—Excursus on Bluebeard's Chamber; 4. The Water King or Subaqueous Demon—Female Embodiments of Evil: 1. The Baba Yaga or Hag, and 2. The Witch, feminine counterparts of the Snake 75



Miscellaneous Impersonations.

One-eyed Likho, a story of the Polyphemus Cycle—Woe, the Poor Man's Companion—Friday, Wednesday, and Sunday personified as Female Spirits—The Leshy or Wood-Demon—Legends about Rivers—Frost as a Wooer of Maidens—The Whirlwind personified as a species of Snake or Demon—Morfei and Oh, two supernatural beings 186



The Waters of Life and Death, and of Strength and Weakness—Aid given to Children by Dead Parents—Magic Horses, Fish, &c.—Stories about Brides won by a Leap, &c.—Stories about Wizards and Witches—The Headless Princess—Midnight Watchings over Corpses—The Fire Bird, its connexion with the Golden Bird and the Phoenix 237



Slavonic Ideas about the Dead—On Heaven and Hell—On the Jack and the Beanstalk Story—Harmless Ghosts—The Rip van Winkle Story—the attachment of Ghosts to their Shrouds and Coffin-Lids—Murderous Ghosts—Stories about Vampires—on the name Vampire, and the belief in Vampirism 295



1. Saints, &c.

Legends connected with the Dog, the Izba, the Creation of Man, the Rye, the Snake, Ox, Sole, &c.; with Birds, the Peewit, Sparrow, Swallow, &c.—Legends about SS. Nicholas, Andrew, George, Kasian, &c. 329

2. Demons, &c.

Part played by Demons in the Skazkas—On "Hasty Words," and Parental Curses; their power to subject persons to demoniacal possession—The dulness of Demons; Stories about Tricks played upon them—Their Gratitude to those who treat them with Kindness and their General Behavior—Various Legends about Devils—Moral Tale of the Gossip's Bedstead 361



























XXV. WOE 193






























There are but few among those inhabitants of Fairy-land of whom "Popular Tales" tell, who are better known to the outer world than Cinderella—the despised and flouted younger sister, who long sits unnoticed beside the hearth, then furtively visits the glittering halls of the great and gay, and at last is transferred from her obscure nook to the place of honor justly due to her tardily acknowledged merits. Somewhat like the fortunes of Cinderella have been those of the popular tale itself. Long did it dwell beside the hearths of the common people, utterly ignored by their superiors in social rank. Then came a period during which the cultured world recognized its existence, but accorded to it no higher rank than that allotted to "nursery stories" and "old wives' tales"—except, indeed, on those rare occasions when the charity of a condescending scholar had invested it with such a garb as was supposed to enable it to make a respectable appearance in polite society. At length there arrived the season of its final change, when, transferred from the dusk of the peasant's hut into the full light of the outer day, and freed from the unbecoming garments by which it had been disfigured, it was recognized as the scion of a family so truly royal that some of its members deduce their origin from the olden gods themselves.

In our days the folk-tale, instead of being left to the careless guardianship of youth and ignorance, is sedulously tended and held in high honor by the ripest of scholars. Their views with regard to its origin may differ widely. But whether it be considered in one of its phases as a distorted "nature-myth," or in another as a demoralized apologue or parable—whether it be regarded at one time as a relic of primeval wisdom, or at another as a blurred transcript of a page of mediaeval history—its critics agree in declaring it to be no mere creation of the popular fancy, no chance expression of the uncultured thought of the rude tiller of this or that soil. Rather is it believed of most folk-tales that they, in their original forms, were framed centuries upon centuries ago; while of some of them it is supposed that they may be traced back through successive ages to those myths in which, during a prehistoric period, the oldest of philosophers expressed their ideas relative to the material or the spiritual world.

But it is not every popular tale which can boast of so noble a lineage, and one of the great difficulties which beset the mythologist who attempts to discover the original meaning of folk-tales in general is to decide which of them are really antique, and worthy, therefore, of being submitted to critical analysis. Nor is it less difficult, when dealing with the stories of any one country in particular, to settle which may be looked upon as its own property, and which ought to be considered as borrowed and adapted. Everyone knows that the existence of the greater part of the stories current among the various European peoples is accounted for on two different hypotheses—the one supposing that most of them "were common in germ at least to the Aryan tribes before their migration," and that, therefore, "these traditions are as much a portion of the common inheritance of our ancestors as their language unquestionably is:"[11] the other regarding at least a great part of them as foreign importations, Oriental fancies which were originally introduced into Europe, through a series of translations, by the pilgrims and merchants who were always linking the East and the West together, or by the emissaries of some of the heretical sects, or in the train of such warlike transferrers as the Crusaders, or the Arabs who ruled in Spain, or the Tartars who so long held the Russia of old times in their grasp. According to the former supposition, "these very stories, these Maehrchen, which nurses still tell, with almost the same words, in the Thuringian forest and in the Norwegian villages, and to which crowds of children listen under the pippal trees of India,"[12] belong "to the common heirloom of the Indo-European race;" according to the latter, the majority of European popular tales are merely naturalized aliens in Europe, being as little the inheritance of its present inhabitants as were the stories and fables which, by a circuitous route, were transmitted from India to Boccaccio or La Fontaine.

On the questions to which these two conflicting hypotheses give rise we will not now dwell. For the present, we will deal with the Russian folk-tale as we find it, attempting to become acquainted with its principal characteristics to see in what respects it chiefly differs from the stories of the same class which are current among ourselves, or in those foreign lands with which we are more familiar than we are with Russia, rather than to explore its birthplace or to divine its original meaning.

We often hear it said, that from the songs and stories of a country we may learn much about the inner life of its people, inasmuch as popular utterances of this kind always bear the stamp of the national character, offer a reflex of the national mind. So far as folk-songs are concerned, this statement appears to be well founded, but it can be applied to the folk-tales of Europe only within very narrow limits. Each country possesses certain stories which have special reference to its own manners and customs, and by collecting such tales as these, something approximating to a picture of its national life may be laboriously pieced together. But the stories of this class are often nothing more than comparatively modern adaptations of old and foreign themes; nor are they sufficiently numerous, so far as we can judge from existing collections, to render by any means complete the national portrait for which they are expected to supply the materials. In order to fill up the gaps they leave, it is necessary to bring together a number of fragments taken from stories which evidently refer to another clime—fragments which may be looked upon as excrescences or developments due to the novel influences to which the foreign slip, or seedling, or even full-grown plant, has been subjected since its transportation.

The great bulk of the Russian folk-tales, and, indeed, of those of all the Indo-European nations, is devoted to the adventures of such fairy princes and princesses, such snakes and giants and demons, as are quite out of keeping with ordinary men and women—at all events with the inhabitants of modern Europe since the termination of those internecine struggles between aboriginals and invaders, which some commentators see typified in the combats between the heroes of our popular tales and the whole race of giants, trolls, ogres, snakes, dragons, and other monsters. The air we breathe in them is that of Fairy-land; the conditions of existence, the relations between the human race and the spiritual world on the one hand, the material world on the other, are totally inconsistent with those to which we are now restricted. There is boundless freedom of intercourse between mortals and immortals, between mankind and the brute creation, and, although there are certain conventional rules which must always be observed, they are not those which are enforced by any people known to anthropologists. The stories which are common to all Europe differ, no doubt, in different countries, but their variations, so far as their matter is concerned, seem to be due less to the moral character than to the geographical distribution of their reciters. The manner in which these tales are told, however, may often be taken as a test of the intellectual capacity of their tellers. For in style the folk-tale changes greatly as it travels. A story which we find narrated in one country with terseness and precision may be rendered almost unintelligible in another by vagueness or verbiage; by one race it may be elevated into poetic life, by another it may be degraded into the most prosaic dulness.

Now, so far as style is concerned, the Skazkas or Russian folk-tales, may justly be said to be characteristic of the Russian people. There are numerous points on which the "lower classes" of all the Aryan peoples in Europe closely resemble each other, but the Russian peasant has—in common with all his Slavonic brethren—a genuine talent for narrative which distinguishes him from some of his more distant cousins. And the stories which are current among the Russian peasantry are for the most part exceedingly well narrated. Their language is simple and pleasantly quaint, their humor is natural and unobtrusive, and their descriptions, whether of persons or of events, are often excellent.[13] A taste for acting is widely spread in Russia, and the Russian folk-tales are full of dramatic positions which offer a wide scope for a display of their reciter's mimetic talents. Every here and there, indeed, a tag of genuine comedy has evidently been attached by the story-teller to a narrative which in its original form was probably devoid of the comic element.

And thus from the Russian tales may be derived some idea of the mental characteristics of the Russian peasantry—one which is very incomplete, but, within its narrow limits, sufficiently accurate. And a similar statement may be made with respect to the pictures of Russian peasant life contained in these tales. So far as they go they are true to nature, and the notion which they convey to a stranger of the manners and customs of Russian villagers is not likely to prove erroneous, but they do not go very far. On some of the questions which are likely to be of the greatest interest to a foreigner they never touch. There is very little information to be gleaned from them, for instance, with regard to the religious views of the people, none with respect to the relations which, during the times of serfdom, existed between the lord and the thrall. But from the casual references to actual scenes and ordinary occupations which every here and there occur in the descriptions of fairy-land and the narratives of heroic adventure—from the realistic vignettes which are sometimes inserted between the idealized portraits of invincible princes and irresistible princesses—some idea may be obtained of the usual aspect of a Russian village, and of the ordinary behavior of its inhabitants. Turning from one to another of these accidental illustrations, we by degrees create a mental picture which is not without its peculiar charm. We see the wide sweep of the level corn-land, the gloom of the interminable forest, the gleam of the slowly winding river. We pass along the single street of the village, and glance at its wooden barn-like huts,[14] so different from the ideal English cottage with its windows set deep in ivy and its porch smiling with roses. We see the land around a Slough of Despond in the spring, an unbroken sea of green in the early summer, a blaze of gold at harvest-time, in the winter one vast sheet of all but untrodden snow. On Sundays and holidays we accompany the villagers to their white-walled, green-domed church, and afterwards listen to the songs which the girls sing in the summer choral dances, or take part in the merriment of the social gatherings, which enliven the long nights of winter. Sometimes the quaint lyric drama of a peasant wedding is performed before our eyes, sometimes we follow a funeral party to one of those dismal and desolate nooks in which the Russian villagers deposit their dead. On working days we see the peasants driving afield in the early morn with their long lines of carts, to till the soil, or ply the scythe or sickle or axe, till the day is done and their rude carts come creaking back. We hear the songs and laughter of the girls beside the stream or pool which ripples pleasantly against its banks in the summer time, but in the winter shows no sign of life, except at the spot, much frequented by the wives and daughters of the village, where an "ice-hole" has been cut in its massive pall. And at night we see the homely dwellings of the villagers assume a picturesque aspect to which they are strangers by the tell-tale light of day, their rough lines softened by the mellow splendor of a summer moon, or their unshapely forms looming forth mysteriously against the starlit snow of winter. Above all we become familiar with those cottage interiors to which the stories contain so many references. Sometimes we see the better class of homestead, surrounded by its fence through which we pass between the often-mentioned gates. After a glance at the barns and cattle-sheds, and at the garden which supplies the family with fruits and vegetables (on flowers, alas! but little store is set in the northern provinces), we cross the threshold, a spot hallowed by many traditions, and pass, through what in more pretentious houses may be called the vestibule, into the "living room." We become well acquainted with its arrangements, with the cellar beneath its wooden floor, with the "corner of honor" in which are placed the "holy pictures," and with the stove which occupies so large a share of space, within which daily beats, as it were the heart of the house, above which is nightly taken the repose of the family. Sometimes we visit the hut of the poverty-stricken peasant, more like a shed for cattle than a human habitation, with a mud-floor and a tattered roof, through which the smoke makes its devious way. In these poorer dwellings we witness much suffering; but we learn to respect the patience and resignation with which it is generally borne, and in the greater part of the humble homes we visit we become aware of the existence of many domestic virtues, we see numerous tokens of family affection, of filial reverence, of parental love. And when, as we pass along the village street at night, we see gleaming through the utter darkness the faint rays which tell that even in many a poverty-stricken home a lamp is burning before the "holy pictures," we feel that these poor tillers of the soil, ignorant and uncouth though they too often are, may be raised at times by lofty thoughts and noble aspirations far above the low level of the dull and hard lives which they are forced to lead.

From among the stories which contain the most graphic descriptions of Russian village life, or which may be regarded as specially illustrative of Russian sentiment and humor those which the present chapter contains have been selected. Any information they may convey will necessarily be of a most fragmentary nature, but for all that it may be capable of producing a correct impression. A painter's rough notes and jottings are often more true to nature than the most finished picture into which they may be developed.

The word skazka, or folk-tale, does not very often occur in the Russian popular tales themselves. Still there are occasions on which it appears. The allusions to it are for the most part indirect, as when a princess is said to be more beautiful than anybody ever was, except in a skazka; but sometimes it obtains direct notice. In a story, for instance, of a boy who had been carried off by a Baba Yaga (a species of witch), we are told that when his sister came to his rescue she found him "sitting in an arm-chair, while the cat Jeremiah told him skazkas and sang him songs."[15] In another story, a Durak,—a "ninny" or "gowk"—is sent to take care of the children of a village during the absence of their parents. "Go and get all the children together in one of the cottages and tell them skazkas," are his instructions. He collects the children, but as they are "all ever so dirty" he puts them into boiling water by way of cleansing them, and so washes them to death.[16]

There is a good deal of social life in the Russian villages during the long winter evenings, and at some of the gatherings which then take place skazkas are told, though at those in which only the young people participate, songs, games, and dances are more popular. The following skazka has been selected on account of the descriptions of a vechernitsa, or village soiree,[17] and of a rustic courtship, which its opening scene contains. The rest of the story is not remarkable for its fidelity to modern life, but it will serve as a good illustration of the class to which it belongs—that of stories about evil spirits, traceable, for the most part, to Eastern sources.


In a certain country there lived an old couple who had a daughter called Marusia (Mary). In their village it was customary to celebrate the feast of St. Andrew the First-Called (November 30). The girls used to assemble in some cottage, bake pampushki,[19] and enjoy themselves for a whole week, or even longer. Well, the girls met together once when this festival arrived, and brewed and baked what was wanted. In the evening came the lads with the music, bringing liquor with them, and dancing and revelry commenced. All the girls danced well, but Marusia the best of all. After a while there came into the cottage such a fine fellow! Marry, come up! regular blood and milk, and smartly and richly dressed.

"Hail, fair maidens!" says he.

"Hail, good youth!" say they.

"You're merry-making?"

"Be so good as to join us."

Thereupon he pulled out of his pocket a purse full of gold, ordered liquor, nuts and gingerbread. All was ready in a trice, and he began treating the lads and lasses, giving each a share. Then he took to dancing. Why, it was a treat to look at him! Marusia struck his fancy more than anyone else; so he stuck close to her. The time came for going home.

"Marusia," says he, "come and see me off."

She went to see him off.

"Marusia, sweetheart!" says he, "would you like me to marry you?"

"If you like to marry me, I will gladly marry you. But where do you come from?"

"From such and such a place. I'm clerk at a merchant's."

Then they bade each other farewell and separated. When Marusia got home, her mother asked her:

"Well, daughter! have you enjoyed yourself?"

"Yes, mother. But I've something pleasant to tell you besides. There was a lad there from the neighborhood, good-looking and with lots of money, and he promised to marry me."

"Harkye Marusia! When you go to where the girls are to-morrow, take a ball of thread with you, make a noose in it, and, when you are going to see him off, throw it over one of his buttons, and quietly unroll the ball; then, by means of the thread, you will be able to find out where he lives."

Next day Marusia went to the gathering, and took a ball of thread with her. The youth came again.

"Good evening, Marusia!" said he.

"Good evening!" said she.

Games began and dances. Even more than before did he stick to Marusia, not a step would he budge from her. The time came for going home.

"Come and see me off, Marusia!" says the stranger.

She went out into the street, and while she was taking leave of him she quietly dropped the noose over one of his buttons. He went his way, but she remained where she was, unrolling the ball. When she had unrolled the whole of it, she ran after the thread to find out where her betrothed lived. At first the thread followed the road, then it stretched across hedges and ditches, and led Marusia towards the church and right up to the porch. Marusia tried the door; it was locked. She went round the church, found a ladder, set it against a window, and climbed up it to see what was going on inside. Having got into the church, she looked—and saw her betrothed standing beside a grave and devouring a dead body—for a corpse had been left for that night in the church.

She wanted to get down the ladder quietly, but her fright prevented her from taking proper heed, and she made a little noise. Then she ran home—almost beside herself, fancying all the time she was being pursued. She was all but dead before she got in. Next morning her mother asked her:

"Well, Marusia! did you see the youth?"

"I saw him, mother," she replied. But what else she had seen she did not tell.

In the morning Marusia was sitting, considering whether she would go to the gathering or not.

"Go," said her mother. "Amuse yourself while you're young!"

So she went to the gathering; the Fiend[20] was there already. Games, fun, dancing, began anew; the girls knew nothing of what had happened. When they began to separate and go homewards:

"Come, Marusia!" says the Evil One, "see me off."

She was afraid, and didn't stir. Then all the other girls opened out upon her.

"What are you thinking about? Have you grown so bashful, forsooth? Go and see the good lad off."

There was no help for it. Out she went, not knowing what would come of it. As soon as they got into the streets he began questioning her:

"You were in the church last night?"


"And saw what I was doing there?"


"Very well! To-morrow your father will die!"

Having said this, he disappeared.

Marusia returned home grave and sad. When she woke up in the morning, her father lay dead!

They wept and wailed over him, and laid him in the coffin. In the evening her mother went off to the priest's, but Marusia remained at home. At last she became afraid of being alone in the house. "Suppose I go to my friends," she thought. So she went, and found the Evil One there.

"Good evening, Marusia! why arn't you merry?"

"How can I be merry? My father is dead!"

"Oh! poor thing!"

They all grieved for her. Even the Accursed One himself grieved; just as if it hadn't all been his own doing. By and by they began saying farewell and going home.

"Marusia," says he, "see me off."

She didn't want to.

"What are you thinking of, child?" insist the girls. "What are you afraid of? Go and see him off."

So she went to see him off. They passed out into the street.

"Tell me, Marusia," says he, "were you in the church?"


"Did you see what I was doing?"


"Very well! To-morrow your mother will die."

He spoke and disappeared. Marusia returned home sadder than ever. The night went by; next morning, when she awoke, her mother lay dead! She cried all day long; but when the sun set, and it grew dark around, Marusia became afraid of being left alone; so she went to her companions.

"Why, whatever's the matter with you? you're clean out of countenance!"[21] say the girls.

"How am I likely to be cheerful? Yesterday my father died, and to-day my mother."

"Poor thing! Poor unhappy girl!" they all exclaim sympathizingly.

Well, the time came to say good-bye. "See me off, Marusia," says the Fiend. So she went out to see him off.

"Tell me; were you in the church?"


"And saw what I was doing?"


"Very well! To-morrow evening you will die yourself!"

Marusia spent the night with her friends; in the morning she got up and considered what she should do. She bethought herself that she had a grandmother—an old, very old woman, who had become blind from length of years. "Suppose I go and ask her advice," she said, and then went off to her grandmother's.

"Good-day, granny!" says she.

"Good-day, granddaughter! What news is there with you? How are your father and mother?"

"They are dead, granny," replied the girl, and then told her all that had happened.

The old woman listened, and said:—

"Oh dear me! my poor unhappy child! Go quickly to the priest, and ask him this favor—that if you die, your body shall not be taken out of the house through the doorway, but that the ground shall be dug away from under the threshold, and that you shall be dragged out through that opening. And also beg that you may be buried at a crossway, at a spot where four roads meet."

Marusia went to the priest, wept bitterly, and made him promise to do everything according to her grandmother's instructions. Then she returned home, bought a coffin, lay down in it, and straightway expired.

Well, they told the priest, and he buried, first her father and mother, and then Marusia herself. Her body was passed underneath the threshold and buried at a crossway.

Soon afterwards a seigneur's son happened to drive past Marusia's grave. On that grave he saw growing a wondrous flower, such a one as he had never seen before. Said the young seigneur to his servant:—

"Go and pluck up that flower by the roots. We'll take it home and put it in a flower-pot. Perhaps it will blossom there."

Well, they dug up the flower, took it home, put it in a glazed flower-pot, and set it in a window. The flower began to grow larger and more beautiful. One night the servant hadn't gone to sleep somehow, and he happened to be looking at the window, when he saw a wondrous thing take place. All of a sudden the flower began to tremble, then it fell from its stem to the ground, and turned into a lovely maiden. The flower was beautiful, but the maiden was more beautiful still. She wandered from room to room, got herself various things to eat and drink, ate and drank, then stamped upon the ground and became a flower as before, mounted to the window, and resumed her place upon the stem. Next day the servant told the young seigneur of the wonders which he had seen during the night.

"Ah, brother!" said the youth, "why didn't you wake me? To-night we'll both keep watch together."

The night came; they slept not, but watched. Exactly at twelve o'clock the blossom began to shake, flew from place to place, and then fell to the ground, and the beautiful maiden appeared, got herself things to eat and drink, and sat down to supper. The young seigneur rushed forward and seized her by her white hands. Impossible was it for him sufficiently to look at her, to gaze on her beauty!

Next morning he said to his father and mother, "Please allow me to get married. I've found myself a bride."

His parents gave their consent. As for Marusia, she said:

"Only on this condition will I marry you—that for four years I need not go to church."

"Very good," said he.

Well, they were married, and they lived together one year, two years, and had a son. But one day they had visitors at their house, who enjoyed themselves, and drank, and began bragging about their wives. This one's wife was handsome; that one's was handsomer still.

"You may say what you like," says the host, "but a handsomer wife than mine does not exist in the whole world!"

"Handsome, yes!" reply the guests, "but a heathen."

"How so?"

"Why, she never goes to church."

Her husband found these observations distasteful. He waited till Sunday, and then told his wife to get dressed for church.

"I don't care what you may say," says he. "Go and get ready directly."

Well, they got ready, and went to church. The husband went in—didn't see anything particular. But when she looked round—there was the Fiend sitting at a window.

"Ha! here you are, at last!" he cried. "Remember old times. Were you in the church that night?"


"And did you see what I was doing there?"


"Very well! To-morrow both your husband and your son will die."

Marusia rushed straight out of the church and away to her grandmother. The old woman gave her two phials, the one full of holy water, the other of the water of life, and told her what she was to do. Next day both Marusia's husband and her son died. Then the Fiend came flying to her and asked:—

"Tell me; were you in the church?"

"I was."

"And did you see what I was doing?"

"You were eating a corpse."

She spoke, and splashed the holy water over him; in a moment he turned into mere dust and ashes, which blew to the winds. Afterwards she sprinkled her husband and her boy with the water of life: straightway they revived. And from that time forward they knew neither sorrow nor separation, but they all lived together long and happily.[22]

Another lively sketch of a peasant's love-making is given in the introduction to the story of "Ivan the widow's son and Grisha."[23] The tale is one of magic and enchantment, of living clouds and seven-headed snakes; but the opening is a little piece of still-life very quaintly portrayed. A certain villager, named Trofim, having been unable to find a wife, his Aunt Melania comes to his aid, promising to procure him an interview with a widow who has been left well provided for, and whose personal appearance is attractive—"real blood and milk! When she's got on her holiday clothes, she's as fine as a peacock!" Trofim grovels with gratitude at his aunt's feet. "My own dear auntie, Melania Prokhorovna, get me married for heaven's sake! I'll buy you an embroidered kerchief in return, the very best in the whole market." The widow comes to pay Melania a visit, and is induced to believe, on the evidence of beans (frequently used for the purpose of divination), that her destined husband is close at hand. At this propitious moment Trofim appears. Melania makes a little speech to the young couple, ending her recommendation to get married with the words:—

"I can see well enough by the bridegroom's eyes that the bride is to his taste, only I don't know what the bride thinks about taking him."

"I don't mind!" says the widow. "Well, then, glory be to God! Now, stand up, we'll say a prayer before the Holy Pictures; then give each other a kiss, and go in Heaven's name and get married at once!" And so the question is settled.

From a courtship and a marriage in peasant life we may turn to a death and a burial. There are frequent allusions in the Skazkas to these gloomy subjects, with reference to which we will quote two stories, the one pathetic, the other (unintentionally) grotesque. Neither of them bears any title in the original, but we may style the first—


In a certain village there lived a husband and wife—lived happily, lovingly, peaceably. All their neighbors envied them; the sight of them gave pleasure to honest folks. Well, the mistress bore a son, but directly after it was born she died. The poor moujik moaned and wept. Above all he was in despair about the babe. How was he to nourish it now? how to bring it up without its mother? He did what was best, and hired an old woman to look after it. Only here was a wonder! all day long the babe would take no food, and did nothing but cry; there was no soothing it anyhow. But during (a great part of) the night one could fancy it wasn't there at all, so silently and peacefully did it sleep.

"What's the meaning of this?" thinks the old woman; "suppose I keep awake to-night; may be I shall find out."

Well, just at midnight she heard some one quietly open the door and go up to the cradle. The babe became still, just as if it was being suckled.

The next night the same thing took place, and the third night, too. Then she told the moujik about it. He called his kinsfolk together, and held counsel with them. They determined on this; to keep awake on a certain night, and to spy out who it was that came to suckle the babe. So at eventide they all lay down on the floor, and beside them they set a lighted taper hidden in an earthen pot.

At midnight the cottage door opened. Some one stepped up to the cradle. The babe became still. At that moment one of the kinsfolk suddenly brought out the light. They looked, and saw the dead mother, in the very same clothes in which she had been buried, on her knees besides the cradle, over which she bent as she suckled the babe at her dead breast.

The moment the light shone in the cottage she stood up, gazed sadly on her little one, and then went out of the room without a sound, not saying a word to anyone. All those who saw her stood for a time terror-struck; and then they found the babe was dead.[25]

The second story will serve as an illustration of one of the Russian customs with respect to the dead, and also of the ideas about witchcraft, still prevalent in Russia. We may create for it the title of—


There was once an old woman who was a terrible witch, and she had a daughter and a granddaughter. The time came for the old crone to die, so she summoned her daughter and gave her these instructions:

"Mind, daughter! when I'm dead, don't you wash my body with lukewarm water; but fill a cauldron, make it boil its very hottest, and then with that boiling water regularly scald me all over."

After saying this, the witch lay ill two or three days, and then died. The daughter ran round to all her neighbors, begging them to come and help her to wash the old woman, and meantime the little granddaughter was left all alone in the cottage. And this is what she saw there. All of a sudden there crept out from beneath the stove two demons—a big one and a tiny one—and they ran up to the dead witch. The old demon seized her by the feet, and tore away at her so that he stripped off all her skin at one pull. Then he said to the little demon:

"Take the flesh for yourself, and lug it under the stove."

So the little demon flung his arms round the carcase, and dragged it under the stove. Nothing was left of the old woman but her skin. Into it the old demon inserted himself, and then he lay down just where the witch had been lying.

Presently the daughter came back, bringing a dozen other women with her, and they all set to work laying out the corpse.

"Mammy," says the child, "they've pulled granny's skin off while you were away."

"What do you mean by telling such lies?"

"It's quite true, Mammy! There was ever such a blackie came from under the stove, and he pulled the skin off, and got into it himself."

"Hold your tongue, naughty child! you're talking nonsense!" cried the old crone's daughter; then she fetched a big cauldron, filled it with cold water, put it on the stove, and heated it till it boiled furiously. Then the women lifted up the old crone, laid her in a trough, took hold of the cauldron, and poured the whole of the boiling water over her at once. The demon couldn't stand it. He leaped out of the trough, dashed through the doorway, and disappeared, skin and all. The women stared:

"What marvel is this?" they cried. "Here was the dead woman, and now she isn't here. There's nobody left to lay out or to bury. The demons have carried her off before our very eyes!"[27]

A Russian peasant funeral is preceded or accompanied by a considerable amount of wailing, which answers in some respect to the Irish "keening." To the zaplachki,[28] or laments, which are uttered on such occasions—frequently by hired wailers, who closely resemble the Corsican "vociferators," the modern Greek "myrologists"—allusions are sometimes made in the Skazkas. In the "Fox-wailer,"[29] for example—one of the variants of the well-known "Jack and the Beanstalk" story—an old man puts his wife in a bag and attempts to carry her up the beanstalk to heaven. Becoming tired on the way, he drops the bag, and the old woman is killed. After weeping over her dead body he sets out in search of a Wailer. Meeting a bear, he cries, "Wail a bit, Bear, for my old woman! I'll give you a pair of nice white fowls." The bear growls out "Oh, dear granny of mine! how I grieve for thee!" "No, no!" says the old man, "you can't wail." Going a little further he tries a wolf, but the wolf succeeds no better than the bear. At last a fox comes by, and on being appealed to, begins to cry aloud "Turu-Turu, grandmother! grandfather has killed thee!"—a wail which pleases the widower so much that he hands over the fowls to the fox at once, and asks, enraptured, for "that strain again!"[30]

One of the most curious of the stories which relate to a village burial,—one in which also the feeling with which the Russian villagers sometimes regard their clergy finds expression—is that called—


In a certain kingdom there lived an old couple in great poverty. Sooner or later the old woman died. It was in winter, in severe and frosty weather. The old man went round to his friends and neighbors, begging them to help him to dig a grave for the old woman; but his friends and neighbors, knowing his great poverty, all flatly refused. The old man went to the pope,[32] (but in that village they had an awfully grasping pope, one without any conscience), and says he:—

"Lend a hand, reverend father, to get my old woman buried."

"But have you got any money to pay for the funeral? if so, friend, pay up beforehand!"

"It's no use hiding anything from you. Not a single copeck have I at home. But if you'll wait a little, I'll earn some, and then I'll pay you with interest—on my word I'll pay you!"

The pope wouldn't so much as listen to the old man.

"If you haven't any money, don't you dare to come here," says he.

"What's to be done?" thinks the old man. "I'll go to the graveyard, dig a grave as I best can, and bury the old woman myself." So he took an axe and a shovel, and went to the graveyard. When he got there he began to prepare a grave. He chopped away the frozen ground on the top with the axe, and then he took to the shovel. He dug and dug, and at last he dug out a metal pot. Looking into it he saw that it was stuffed full of ducats that shone like fire. The old man was immensely delighted, and cried, "Glory be to Thee, O Lord! I shall have wherewithal both to bury my old woman, and to perform the rites of remembrance."

He did not go on digging the grave any longer, but took the pot of gold and carried it home. Well, we all know what money will do—everything went as smooth as oil! In a trice there were found good folks to dig the grave and fashion the coffin. The old man sent his daughter-in-law to purchase meat and drink and different kind of relishes—everything there ought to be at memorial feasts—and he himself took a ducat in his hand and hobbled back again to the pope's. The moment he reached the door, out flew the pope at him.

"You were distinctly told, you old lout, that you were not to come here without money; and now you've slunk back again."

"Don't be angry, batyushka,"[33] said the old man imploringly. "Here's gold for you. If you'll only bury my old woman, I'll never forget your kindness."

The pope took the money, and didn't know how best to receive the old man, where to seat him, with what words to smooth him down. "Well now, old friend! Be of good cheer; everything shall be done," said he.

The old man made his bow, and went home, and the pope and his wife began talking about him.

"There now, the old hunks!" they say. "So poor, forsooth, so poor! And yet he's paid a gold piece. Many a defunct person of quality have I buried in my time, but I never got so from anyone before."

The pope got under weigh with all his retinue, and buried the old crone in proper style. After the funeral the old man invited him to his house, to take part in the feast in memory of the dead. Well, they entered the cottage, and sat down to table—and there appeared from somewhere or other meat and drink and all sorts of snacks, everything in profusion. The (reverend) guest sat down, ate for three people, looked greedily at what was not his. The (other) guests finished their meal, and separated to go to their homes; then the pope also rose from the table. The old man went to speed him on his way. As soon as they got into the farmyard, and the pope saw they were alone at last, he began questioning the old man: "Listen, friend! confess to me, don't leave so much as a single sin on your soul—it's just the same before me as before God! How have you managed to get on at such a pace? You used to be a poor moujik, and now—marry! where did it come from? Confess, friend, whose breath have you stopped? whom have you pillaged?"

"What are you talking about, batyushka? I will tell you the exact truth. I have not robbed, nor plundered, nor killed anyone. A treasure tumbled into my hands of its own accord."

And he told him how it all happened. When the pope heard these words he actually shook all over with greediness. Going home, he did nothing by night and by day but think, "That such a wretched lout of a moujik should have come in for such a lump of money! Is there any way of tricking him now, and getting this pot of money out of him?" He told his wife about it, and he and she discussed the matter together, and held counsel over it.

"Listen, mother," says he; "we've a goat, haven't we?"


"All right, then; we'll wait until it's night, and then we'll do the job properly."

Late in the evening the pope dragged the goat indoors, killed it, and took off its skin—horns, beard, and all complete. Then he pulled the goat's skin over himself and said to his wife:

"Bring a needle and thread, mother, and fasten up the skin all round, so that it mayn't slip off."

So she took a strong needle, and some tough thread, and sewed him up in the goatskin. Well, at the dead of night, the pope went straight to the old man's cottage, got under the window, and began knocking and scratching. The old man hearing the noise, jumped up and asked:

"Who's there?"

"The Devil!"

"Ours is a holy spot![34]" shrieked the moujik, and began crossing himself and uttering prayers.

"Listen, old man," says the pope, "From me thou will not escape, although thou may'st pray, although thou may'st cross thyself; much better give me back my pot of money, otherwise I will make thee pay for it. See now, I pitied thee in thy misfortune, and I showed thee the treasure, thinking thou wouldst take a little of it to pay for the funeral, but thou hast pillaged it utterly."

The old man looked out of window—the goat's horns and beard caught his eye—it was the Devil himself, no doubt of it.

"Let's get rid of him, money and all," thinks the old man; "I've lived before now without money, and now I'll go on living without it."

So he took the pot of gold, carried it outside, flung it on the ground, and bolted indoors again as quickly as possible.

The pope seized the pot of money, and hastened home. When he got back, "Come," says he, "the money is in our hands now. Here, mother, put it well out of sight, and take a sharp knife, cut the thread, and pull the goatskin off me before anyone sees it."

She took a knife, and was beginning to cut the thread at the seam, when forth flowed blood, and the pope began to howl:

"Oh! it hurts, mother, it hurts! don't cut mother, don't cut!"

She began ripping the skin open in another place, but with just the same result. The goatskin had united with his body all round. And all that they tried, and all that they did, even to taking the money back to the old man, was of no avail. The goatskin remained clinging tight to the pope all the same. God evidently did it to punish him for his great greediness.

A somewhat less heathenish story with regard to money is the following, which may be taken as a specimen of the Skazkas which bear the impress of the genuine reverence which the peasants feel for their religion, whatever may be the feelings they entertain towards its ministers. While alluding to this subject, by the way, it may be as well to remark that no great reliance can be placed upon the evidence contained in the folk-tales of any land, with respect to the relations between its clergy and their flocks. The local parson of folk-lore is, as a general rule, merely the innocent inheritor of the bad reputation acquired by some ecclesiastic of another age and clime.


Once upon a time two merchants lived in a certain town just on the verge of a stream. One of them was a Russian, the other a Tartar; both were rich. But the Russian got so utterly ruined by some business or other that he hadn't a single bit of property left. Everything he had was confiscated or stolen. The Russian merchant had nothing to turn to—he was left as poor as a rat.[36] So he went to his friend the Tartar, and besought him to lend him some money.

"Get me a surety," says the Tartar.

"But whom can I get for you, seeing that I haven't a soul belonging to me? Stay, though! there's a surety for you, the life-giving cross on the church!"

"Very good, my friend!" says the Tartar. "I'll trust your cross. Your faith or ours, it's all one to me."

And he gave the Russian merchant fifty thousand roubles. The Russian took the money, bade the Tartar farewell, and went back to trade in divers places.

By the end of two years he had gained a hundred and fifty thousand roubles by the fifty thousand he had borrowed. Now he happened to be sailing one day along the Danube, going with wares from one place to another, when all of a sudden a storm arose, and was on the point of sinking the ship he was in. Then the merchant remembered how he had borrowed money, and given the life-giving cross as a surety, but had not paid his debt. That was doubtless the cause of the storm arising! No sooner had he said this to himself than the storm began to subside. The merchant took a barrel, counted out fifty thousand roubles, wrote the Tartar a note, placed it, together with the money, in the barrel, and then flung the barrel into the water, saying to himself: "As I gave the cross as my surety to the Tartar, the money will be certain to reach him."

The barrel straightway sank to the bottom; everyone supposed the money was lost. But what happened? In the Tartar's house there lived a Russian kitchen-maid. One day she happened to go to the river for water, and when she got there she saw a barrel floating along. So she went a little way into the water and began trying to get hold of it. But it wasn't to be done! When she made at the barrel, it retreated from her: when she turned from the barrel to the shore, it floated after her. She went on trying and trying for some time, then she went home and told her master all that had happened. At first he wouldn't believe her, but at last he determined to go to the river and see for himself what sort of barrel it was that was floating there. When he got there—sure enough there was the barrel floating, and not far from the shore. The Tartar took off his clothes and went into the water; before he had gone any distance the barrel came floating up to him of its own accord. He laid hold of it, carried it home, opened it, and looked inside. There he saw a quantity of money, and on top of the money a note. He took out the note and read it, and this is what was said in it:—

"Dear friend! I return to you the fifty thousand roubles for which, when I borrowed them from you, I gave the life-giving cross as a surety."

The Tartar read these words and was astounded at the power of the life-giving cross. He counted the money over to see whether the full sum was really there. It was there exactly.

Meanwhile, the Russian merchant, after trading some five years, made a tolerable fortune. Well, he returned to his old home, and, thinking that his barrel had been lost, he considered it his first duty to settle with the Tartar. So he went to his house and offered him the money he had borrowed. Then the Tartar told him all that had happened and how he had found the barrel in the river, with the money and the note inside it. Then he showed him the note, saying:

"Is that really your hand?"

"It certainly is," replied the other.

Every one was astounded at this wondrous manifestation, and the Tartar said:

"Then I've no more money to receive from you, brother; take that back again."

The Russian merchant had a service performed as a thank-offering to God, and next day the Tartar was baptized with all his household. The Russian merchant was his godfather, and the kitchen-maid his godmother. After that they both lived long and happily, survived to a great age, and then died peacefully.[37]

There is one marked feature in the Russian peasant's character to which the Skazkas frequently refer—his passion for drink. To him strong liquor is a friend, a comforter, a solace amid the ills of life. Intoxication is not so much an evil to be dreaded or remembered with shame, as a joy to be fondly anticipated, or classed with the happy memories of the past. By him drunkenness is regarded, like sleep, as the friend of woe—and a friend whose services can be even more readily commanded. On certain occasions he almost believes that to get drunk is a duty he owes either to the Church, or to the memory of the Dead; at times without the slightest apparent cause, he is seized by a sudden and irresistible craving for ardent spirits, and he commences a drinking-bout which lasts—with intervals of coma—for days, or even weeks, after which he resumes his everyday life and his usual sobriety as calmly as if no interruption had taken place. All these ideas and habits of his find expression in his popular tales, giving rise to incidents which are often singularly out of keeping with the rest of the narrative in which they occur. In one of the many variants,[38] for instance, of a widespread and well known story—that of the three princesses who are rescued from captivity by a hero from whom they are afterwards carried away, and who refuse to get married until certain clothes or shoes or other things impossible for ordinary workmen to make are supplied to them—an unfortunate shoemaker is told that if he does not next day produce the necessary shoes (of perfect fit, although no measure has been taken, and all set thick with precious stones) he shall be hanged. Away he goes at once to a traktir, or tavern, and sets to work to drown his grief in drink. After awhile he begins to totter. "Now then," he says, "I'll take home a bicker of spirits with me, and go to bed. And to-morrow morning, as soon as they come to fetch me to be hanged, I'll toss off half the bickerful. They may hang me then without my knowing anything about it."[39]

In the story of the "Purchased Wife," the Princess Anastasia, the Beautiful, enables the youth Ivan, who ransoms her, to win a large sum of money in the following manner. Having worked a piece of embroidery, she tells him to take it to market. "But if any one purchases it," says she, "don't take any money from him, but ask him to give you liquor enough to make you drunk." Ivan obeys, and this is the result. He drank till he was intoxicated, and when he left the kabak (or pot-house) he tumbled into a muddy pool. A crowd collected and folks looked at him and said scoffingly, "Oh, the fair youth! now'd be the time for him to go to church to get married!"

"Fair or foul!" says he, "if I bid her, Anastasia the Beautiful will kiss the crown of my head."

"Don't go bragging like that!" says a rich merchant—"why she wouldn't even so much as look at you," and offers to stake all that he is worth on the truth of his assertion. Ivan accepts the wager. The Princess appears, takes him by the hand, kisses him on the crown of his head, wipes the dirt off him, and leads him home, still inebriated but no longer impecunious.[40]

Sometimes even greater people than the peasants get drunk. The story of "Semiletka"[41]—a variant of the well known tale of how a woman's wit enables her to guess all riddles, to detect all deceits, and to conquer all difficulties—relates how the heroine was chosen by a Voyvode[42] as his wife, with the stipulation that if she meddled in the affairs of his Voyvodeship she was to be sent back to her father, but allowed to take with her whatever thing belonging to her she prized most. The marriage takes place, but one day the well known case comes before him for decision, of the foal of the borrowed mare—does it belong to the owner of the mare, or to the borrower in whose possession it was at the time of foaling? The Voyvode adjudges it to the borrower, and this is how the story ends:—

"Semiletka heard of this and could not restrain herself, but said that he had decided unfairly. The Voyvode waxed wroth, and demanded a divorce. After dinner Semiletka was obliged to go back to her father's house. But during the dinner she made the Voyvode drink till he was intoxicated. He drank his fill and went to sleep. While he was sleeping she had him placed in a carriage, and then she drove away with him to her father's. When they had arrived there the Voyvode awoke and said—

"'Who brought me here?'

"'I brought you,' said Semiletka; 'there was an agreement between us that I might take away with me whatever I prized most. And so I have taken you!'

"The Voyvode marvelled at her wisdom, and made peace with her. He and she then returned home and went on living prosperously."

But although drunkenness is very tenderly treated in the Skazkas, as well as in the folk-songs, it forms the subject of many a moral lesson, couched in terms of the utmost severity, in the stikhi (or poems of a religious character, sung by the blind beggars and other wandering minstrels who sing in front of churches), and also in the "Legends," which are tales of a semi-religious (or rather demi-semi-religious) nature. No better specimen of the stories of this class referring to drunkenness can be offered than the history of—


Once there was an old man who was such an awful drunkard as passes all description. Well, one day he went to a kabak, intoxicated himself with liquor, and then went staggering home blind drunk. Now his way happened to lie across a river. When he came to the river, he didn't stop long to consider, but kicked off his boots, hung them round his neck, and walked into the water. Scarcely had he got half-way across when he tripped over a stone, tumbled into the water—and there was an end of him.

Now, he left a son called Petrusha.[44] When Peter saw that his father had disappeared and left no trace behind, he took the matter greatly to heart for a time, he wept for awhile, he had a service performed for the repose of his father's soul, and he began to act as head of the family. One Sunday he went to church to pray to God. As he passed along the road a woman was pounding away in front of him. She walked and walked, stumbled over a stone, and began swearing at it, saying, "What devil shoved you under my feet?"

Hearing these words, Petrusha said:

"Good day, aunt! whither away?"

"To church, my dear, to pray to God."

"But isn't this sinful conduct of yours? You're going to church, to pray to God, and yet you think about the Evil One; your foot stumbles and you throw the fault on the Devil!"

Well, he went to church and then returned home. He walked and walked, and suddenly, goodness knows whence, there appeared before him a fine-looking man, who saluted him and said:

"Thanks, Petrusha, for your good word!"

"Who are you, and why do you thank me?" asks Petrusha.

"I am the Devil.[45] I thank you because, when that woman stumbled, and scolded me without a cause, you said a good word for me." Then he began to entreat him, saying, "Come and pay me a visit, Petrusha. How I will reward you to be sure! With silver and with gold, with everything will I endow you."

"Very good," says Petrusha, "I'll come."

Having told him all about the road he was to take, the Devil straightway disappeared, and Petrusha returned home.

Next day Petrusha set off on his visit to the Devil. He walked and walked, for three whole days did he walk, and then he reached a great forest, dark and dense—impossible even to see the sky from within it! And in that forest there stood a rich palace. Well, he entered the palace, and a fair maiden caught sight of him. She had been stolen from a certain village by the evil spirit. And when she caught sight of him she cried:

"Whatever have you come here for, good youth? here devils abide, they will tear you to pieces."

Petrusha told her how and why he had made his appearance in that palace.

"Well now, mind this," says the fair maiden; "the Devil will begin giving you silver and gold. Don't take any of it, but ask him to give you the very wretched horse which the evil spirits use for fetching wood and water. That horse is your father. When he came out of the kabak drunk, and fell into the water, the devils immediately seized him and made him their hack, and now they use him for fetching wood and water."

Presently there appeared the gallant who had invited Petrusha, and began to regale him with all kinds of meat and drink. And when the time came for Petrusha to be going homewards, "Come," said the Devil, "I will provide you with money and with a capital horse, so that you will speedily get home."

"I don't want anything," replied Petrusha. "Only, if you wish to make me a present, give me that sorry jade which you use for carrying wood and water."

"What good will that be to you? If you ride it home quickly, I expect it will die!"

"No matter, let me have it. I won't take any other."

So the Devil gave him that sorry jade. Petrusha took it by the bridle and led it away. As soon as he reached the gates there appeared the fair maiden, and asked:

"Have you got the horse?"

"I have."

"Well then, good youth, when you get nigh to your village, take off your cross, trace a circle three times about this horse, and hang the cross round its neck."

Petrusha took leave of her and went his way. When he came nigh to his village he did everything exactly as the maiden had instructed him. He took off his copper cross, traced a circle three times about the horse, and hung the cross round its neck. And immediately the horse was no longer there, but in its place there stood before Petrusha his own father. The son looked upon the father, burst into tears, and led him to his cottage; and for three days the old man remained without speaking, unable to make use of his tongue. And after that they lived happily and in all prosperity. The old man entirely gave up drinking, and to his very last day never took so much as a single drop of spirits.[46]

The Russian peasant is by no means deficient in humor, a fact of which the Skazkas offer abundant evidence. But it is not easy to find stories which can be quoted at full length as illustrations of that humor. The jokes which form the themes of the Russian facetious tales are for the most part common to all Europe. And a similar assertion may be made with regard to the stories of most lands. An unfamiliar joke is but rarely to be discovered in the lower strata of fiction. He who has read the folk-tales of one country only, is apt to attribute to its inhabitants a comic originality to which they can lay no claim. And so a Russian who knows the stories of his own land, but has not studied those of other countries, is very liable to credit the Skazkas with the undivided possession of a number of "merry jests" in which they can claim but a very small share—jests which in reality form the stock-in-trade of rustic wags among the vineyards of France or Germany, or on the hills of Greece, or beside the fiords of Norway, or along the coasts of Brittany or Argyleshire—which for centuries have set beards wagging in Cairo and Ispahan, and in the cool of the evening hour have cheered the heart of the villager weary with his day's toil under the burning sun of India.

It is only when the joke hinges upon something which is peculiar to a people that it is likely to be found among that people only. But most of the Russian jests turn upon pivots which are familiar to all the world, and have for their themes such common-place topics as the incorrigible folly of man, the inflexible obstinacy of woman. And in their treatments of these subjects they offer very few novel features. It is strange how far a story of this kind may travel, and yet how little alteration it may undergo. Take, for instance, the skits against women which are so universally popular. Far away in outlying districts of Russia we find the same time-honored quips which have so long figured in collections of English facetiae. There is the good old story, for instance, of the dispute between a husband and wife as to whether a certain rope has been cut with a knife or with scissors, resulting in the murder of the scissors-upholding wife, who is pitched into the river by her knife-advocating husband; but not before she has, in her very death agony, testified to her belief in the scissors hypothesis by a movement of her fingers above the surface of the stream.[47] In a Russian form of the story, told in the government of Astrakhan, the quarrel is about the husband's beard. He says he has shaved it, his wife declares he has only cut it off. He flings her into a deep pool, and calls to her to say "shaved." Utterance is impossible to her, but "she lifts one hand above the water and by means of two fingers makes signs to show that it was cut."[48] The story has even settled into a proverb. Of a contradictory woman the Russian peasants affirm that, "If you say 'shaved' she'll say 'cut.'"

In the same way another story shows us in Russian garb our old friend the widower who, when looking for his drowned wife—a woman of a very antagonistic disposition—went up the river instead of down, saying to his astonished companions, "She always did everything contrary-wise, so now, no doubt, she's gone against the stream."[49] A common story again is that of the husband who, having confided a secret to his wife which he justly fears she will reveal, throws discredit on her evidence about things in general by making her believe various absurd stories which she hastens to repeat.[49] The final paragraph of one of the variants of this time-honored jest is quaint, concluding as it does, by way of sting, with a highly popular Russian saw. The wife has gone to the seigneur of the village and accused her husband of having found a treasure and kept it for his own use. The charge is true, but the wife is induced to talk such nonsense, and the husband complains so bitterly of her, that "the seigneur pitied the moujik for being so unfortunate, so he set him at liberty; and he had him divorced from his wife and married to another, a young and good-looking one. Then the moujik immediately dug up his treasure and began living in the best manner possible." Sure enough the proverb doesn't say without reason: "Women have long hair and short wits."[50]

There is another story of this class which is worthy of being mentioned, as it illustrates a custom in which the Russians differ from some other peoples.

A certain man had married a wife who was so capricious that there was no living with her. After trying all sorts of devices her dejected husband at last asked her how she had been brought up, and learnt that she had received an education almost entirely German and French, with scarcely any Russian in it; she had not even been wrapped in swaddling-clothes when a baby, nor swung in a liulka.[51] Thereupon her husband determined to remedy the short-comings of her early education, and "whenever she showed herself capricious, or took to squalling, he immediately had her swaddled and placed in a liulka, and began swinging her to and fro." By the end of a half year she became "quite silky"—all her caprices had been swung out of her.

But instead of giving mere extracts from any more of the numerous stories to which the fruitful subject of woman's caprice has given rise, we will quote a couple of such tales at length. The first is the Russian variant of a story which has a long family tree, with ramifications extending over a great part of the world. Dr. Benfey has devoted to it no less than sixteen pages of his introduction to the Panchatantra,[52] tracing it from its original Indian home, and its subsequent abode in Persia, into almost every European land.


A bad wife lived on the worst of terms with her husband, and never paid any attention to what he said. If her husband told her to get up early, she would lie in bed three days at a stretch; if he wanted her to go to sleep, she couldn't think of sleeping. When her husband asked her to make pancakes, she would say: "You thief, you don't deserve a pancake!"

If he said:

"Don't make any pancakes, wife, if I don't deserve them," she would cook a two-gallon pot full, and say,

"Eat away, you thief, till they're all gone!"

"Now then, wife," perhaps he would say, "I feel quite sorry for you; don't go toiling and moiling, and don't go out to the hay cutting."

"No, no, you thief!" she would reply, "I shall go, and do you follow after me!"

One day, after having had his trouble and bother with her he went into the forest to look for berries and distract his grief, and he came to where there was a currant bush, and in the middle of that bush he saw a bottomless pit. He looked at it for some time and considered, "Why should I live in torment with a bad wife? can't I put her into that pit? can't I teach her a good lesson?"

So when he came home, he said:

"Wife, don't go into the woods for berries."

"Yes, you bugbear, I shall go!"

"I've found a currant bush; don't pick it."

"Yes I will; I shall go and pick it clean; but I won't give you a single currant!"

The husband went out, his wife with him. He came to the currant bush, and his wife jumped into it, crying out at the top her voice:

"Don't you come into the bush, you thief, or I'll kill you!"

And so she got into the middle of the bush, and went flop into the bottomless pit.

The husband returned home joyfully, and remained there three days; on the fourth day he went to see how things were going on. Taking a long cord, he let it down into the pit, and out from thence he pulled a little demon. Frightened out of his wits, he was going to throw the imp back again into the pit, but it shrieked aloud, and earnestly entreated him, saying:

"Don't send me back again, O peasant! let me go out into the world! A bad wife has come, and absolutely devoured us all, pinching us, and biting us—we're utterly worn out with it. I'll do you a good turn, if you will."

So the peasant let him go free—at large in Holy Russia. Then the imp said:

"Now then, peasant, come along with me to the town of Vologda. I'll take to tormenting people, and you shall cure them."

Well, the imp went to where there were merchant's wives and merchant's daughters; and when they were possessed by him, they fell ill and went crazy. Then the peasant would go to a house where there was illness of this kind, and, as soon as he entered, out would go the enemy; then there would be blessing in the house, and everyone would suppose that the peasant was a doctor indeed, and would give him money, and treat him to pies. And so the peasant gained an incalculable sum of money. At last the demon said:

"You've plenty now, peasant; arn't you content? I'm going now to enter into the Boyar's daughter. Mind you don't go curing her. If you do, I shall eat you."

The Boyar's daughter fell ill, and went so crazy that she wanted to eat people. The Boyar ordered his people to find out the peasant—(that is to say) to look for such and such a physician. The peasant came, entered the house, and told Boyar to make all the townspeople, and the carriages with coachmen, stand in the street outside. Moreover, he gave orders that all the coachmen should crack their whips and cry at the top of their voices: "The Bad Wife has come! the Bad Wife has come!" and then he went into the inner room. As soon as he entered it, the demon rushed at him crying, "What do you mean, Russian? what have you come here for? I'll eat you!"

"What do you mean?" said the peasant, "why I didn't come here to turn you out. I came, out of pity to you, to say that the Bad Wife has come here."

The Demon rushed to the window, stared with all his eyes, and heard everyone shouting at the top of his voice the words, "The Bad Wife!"

"Peasant," cries the Demon, "wherever can I take refuge?"

"Run back into the pit. She won't go there any more."

The Demon went back to the pit—and to the Bad Wife too.

In return for his services, the Boyar conferred a rich guerdon on the peasant, giving him his daughter to wife, and presenting him with half his property.

But the Bad Wife sits to this day in the pit—in Tartarus.[54]

Our final illustration of the Skazkas which satirize women is the story of the Golovikha. It is all the more valuable, inasmuch as it is one of the few folk-tales which throw any light on the working of Russian communal institutions. The word Golovikha means, in its strict sense, the wife of a Golova, or elected chief [Golova = head] of a Volost, or association of village communities; but here it is used for a "female Golova," a species of "mayoress."


A certain woman was very bumptious. Her husband came from a village council one day, and she asked him:

"What have you been deciding over there?"

"What have we been deciding? why choosing a Golova."

"Whom have you chosen?"

"No one as yet."

"Choose me," says the woman.

So as soon as her husband went back to the council (she was a bad sort; he wanted to give her a lesson) he told the elders what she had said. They immediately chose her as Golova.

Well the woman got along, settled all questions, took bribes, and drank spirits at the peasant's expense. But the time came to collect the poll-tax. The Golova couldn't do it, wasn't able to collect it in time. There came a Cossack, and asked for the Golova; but the woman had hidden herself. As soon as she learnt that the Cossack had come, off she ran home.

"Where, oh where can I hide myself?" she cries to her husband. "Husband dear! tie me up in a bag, and put me out there where the corn-sacks are."

Now there were five sacks of seed-corn outside, so her husband tied up the Golova, and set her in the midst of them. Up came the Cossack and said:

"Ho! so the Golova's in hiding."

Then he took to slashing at the sacks one after another with his whip, and the woman to howling at the pitch of her voice:

"Oh, my father! I won't be a Golova, I won't be a Golova."

At last the Cossack left off beating the sacks, and rode away. But the woman had had enough of Golova-ing; from that time forward she took to obeying her husband.

Before passing on to another subject, it may be advisable to quote one of the stories in which the value of a good and wise wife is fully acknowledged. I have chosen for that purpose one of the variants of a tale from which, in all probability, our own story of "Whittington and his Cat" has been derived. With respect to its origin, there can be very little doubt, such a feature as that of the incense-burning pointing directly to a Buddhist source. It is called—


There once was a poor little orphan-lad who had nothing at all to live on; so he went to a rich moujik and hired himself out to him, agreeing to work for one copeck a year. And when he had worked for a whole year, and had received his copeck, he went to a well and threw it into the water, saying, "If it don't sink, I'll keep it. It will be plain enough I've served my master faithfully."

But the copeck sank. Well, he remained in service a second year, and received a second copeck. Again he flung it into the well, and again it sank to the bottom. He remained a third year; worked and worked, till the time came for payment. Then his master gave him a rouble. "No," says the orphan, "I don't want your money; give me my copeck." He got his copeck and flung it into the well. Lo and behold! there were all three copecks floating on the surface of the water. So he took them and went into the town.

Now as he went along the street, it happened that some small boys had got hold of a kitten and were tormenting it. And he felt sorry for it, and said:

"Let me have that kitten, my boys?"

"Yes, we'll sell it you."

"What do you want for it?"

"Three copecks."

Well the orphan bought the kitten, and afterwards hired himself to a merchant, to sit in his shop.

That merchant's business began to prosper wonderfully. He couldn't supply goods fast enough; purchasers carried off everything in a twinkling. The merchant got ready to go to sea, freighted a ship, and said to the orphan:

"Give me your cat; maybe it will catch mice on board, and amuse me."

"Pray take it, master! only if you lose it, I shan't let you off cheap."

The merchant arrived in a far off land, and put up at an inn. The landlord saw that he had a great deal of money, so he gave him a bedroom which was infested by countless swarms of rats and mice, saying to himself, "If they should happen to eat him up, his money will belong to me." For in that country they knew nothing about cats, and the rats and mice had completely got the upper hand. Well the merchant took the cat with him to his room and went to bed. Next morning the landlord came into the room. There was the merchant alive and well, holding the cat in his arms, and stroking its fur; the cat was purring away, singing its song, and on the floor lay a perfect heap of dead rats and mice!

"Master merchant, sell me that beastie," says the landlord.


"What do you want for it?"

"A mere trifle. I'll make the beastie stand on his hind legs while I hold him up by his forelegs, and you shall pile gold pieces around him, so as just to hide him—I shall be content with that!"

The landlord agreed to the bargain. The merchant gave him the cat, received a sackful of gold, and as soon as he had settled his affairs, started on his way back. As he sailed across the seas, he thought:

"Why should I give the gold to that orphan? Such a lot of money in return for a mere cat! that would be too much of a good thing. No, much better keep it myself."

The moment he had made up his mind to the sin, all of a sudden there arose a storm—such a tremendous one! the ship was on the point of sinking.

"Ah, accursed one that I am! I've been longing for what doesn't belong to me; O Lord, forgive me a sinner! I won't keep back a single copeck."

The moment the merchant began praying the winds were stilled, the sea became calm, and the ship went sailing on prosperously to the quay.

"Hail, master!" says the orphan. "But where's my cat?"

"I've sold it," answers the merchant; "There's your money, take it in full."

The orphan received the sack of gold, took leave of the merchant, and went to the strand, where the shipmen were. From them he obtained a shipload of incense in exchange for his gold, and he strewed the incense along the strand, and burnt it in honor of God. The sweet savor spread through all that land, and suddenly an old man appeared, and he said to the orphan:

"Which desirest thou—riches, or a good wife?"

"I know not, old man."

"Well then, go afield. Three brothers are ploughing over there. Ask them to tell thee."

The orphan went afield. He looked, and saw peasants tilling the soil.

"God lend you aid!" says he.

"Thanks, good man!" say they. "What dost thou want?"

"An old man has sent me here, and told me to ask you which of the two I shall wish for—riches or a good wife?"

"Ask our elder brother; he's sitting in that cart there."

The orphan went to the cart and saw a little boy—one that seemed about three years old.

"Can this be their elder brother?" thought he—however he asked him:

"Which dost thou tell me to choose—riches, or a good wife?"

"Choose the good wife."

So the orphan returned to the old man.

"I'm told to ask for the wife," says he.

"That's all right!" said the old man, and disappeared from sight. The orphan looked round; by his side stood a beautiful woman.

"Hail, good youth!" says she. "I am thy wife; let us go and seek a place where we may live."[57]

One of the sins to which the Popular Tale shows itself most hostile is that of avarice. The folk-tales of all lands delight to gird at misers and skinflints, to place them in unpleasant positions, and to gloat over the sufferings which attend their death and embitter their ghostly existence. As a specimen of the manner in which the humor of the Russian peasant has manipulated the stories of this class, most of which probably reached him from the East, we may take the following tale of—


There once was a rich merchant named Marko—a stingier fellow never lived! One day he went out for a stroll. As he went along the road he saw a beggar—an old man, who sat there asking for alms—"Please to give, O ye Orthodox, for Christ's sake!"

Marko the Rich passed by. Just at that time there came up behind him a poor moujik, who felt sorry for the beggar, and gave him a copeck. The rich man seemed to feel ashamed, for he stopped and said to the moujik:

"Harkye, neighbor, lend me a copeck. I want to give that poor man something, but I've no small change."

The moujik gave him one, and asked when he should come for his money. "Come to-morrow," was the reply. Well next day the poor man went to the rich man's to get his copeck. He entered his spacious courtyard and asked:

"Is Marko the Rich at home?"

"Yes. What do you want?" replied Marko.

"I've come for my copeck."

"Ah, brother! come again. Really I've no change just now."

The poor man made his bow and went away.

"I'll come to-morrow," said he.

On the morrow he came again, but it was just the same story as before.

"I haven't a single copper. If you like to change me a note for a hundred—No? well then come again in a fortnight."

At the end of the fortnight the poor man came again, but Marko the Rich saw him from the window, and said to his wife:

"Harkye, wife! I'll strip myself naked and lie down under the holy pictures. Cover me up with a cloth, and sit down and cry, just as you would over a corpse. When the moujik comes for his money, tell him I died this morning."

Well the wife did everything exactly as her husband directed her. While she was sitting there drowned in bitter tears, the moujik came into the room.

"What do you want?" says she.

"The money Marko the Rich owes me," answers the poor man.

"Ah, moujik, Marko the Rich has wished us farewell;[59] he's only just dead."

"The kingdom of heaven be his! If you'll allow me, mistress, in return for my copeck I'll do him a last service—just give his mortal remains a wash."

So saying he laid hold of a pot full of boiling water and began pouring its scalding contents over Marko the Rich. Marko, his brows knit, his legs contorted, was scarcely able to hold out.[60]

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse