S.Dmitriev "Beautiful Vassilisa"
Box. 1993 Kholui
Then a day
came when her father had to be away from home for
some time. It was late autumn, and it was dark outside
the cottage; rain was falling, and the wind was howling.
So the stepmother and her daughters would not set
foot outside the house. All around the village was
a deep forest, and in the forest lived the witch Baba
Yaga: she ate people as if they were chicks.
The stepmother gave all the girls work to do; one
of her daughters was to make lace, the second to knit
stockings, while Vassilisa was to spin. She put out
all the lights except one small glimmer where the
girls were working, and then lay down to have a sleep.
But the birch splinter which the girls were using
for light crackled and spluttered, and at last went
"Now what are we to do?" the stepmother's daughters
wondered. "There is not a light anywhere in the house,
and we have our work to do. Someone must go to the
witch Baba Yaga and get light."
"But I shall not go," the elder stepdaughter said.
"I am knitting lace, and the crochet hook gives me
all the light I need."
"And I shall not go either," the second stepdaughter
said. "I am knitting stockings, and the needles give
me all the light I need." And they both cried at once:
"Then Vassilisa must go for the light. Go to the witch
Baba Yaga, Vassilisa!" And they pushed the girl out
of the house. All around her Vassilisa saw only the
dark night and the deep forest, she heard only the
angry wind. She burst into tears, and took the doll
out of her pocket.
"My darling Dollie," she said, "they are sending me
to the witch Baba Yaga for light. And the witch eats
people and crunches the bones."
"Do not worry," the doll told her. "While I am with
you nothing will happen to you. So long as you have
me no harm will touch you."
"Thank you, Dollie, for your kind words," Vassilisa
said, and she set out to go to the witch's hut.
around her the forest stood like a wall; she could
not see any stars shining, and the bright moon did
not rise. She walked along trembling, pressing the
doll to her breast.
Suddenly a horseman galloped past her; he was dressed
in white, he was riding a white horse, and the horse's
harness was bright.
Dawn began to break.
As Vassilisa went on she stumbled, and hurt herself
against a stump. Dew clung to her pigtail, her hands
were icy with cold.
Suddenly a second horseman galloped past; he was dressed
in red, was riding a red horse, and the horse's harness
was red. The sun rose. It caressed Vassilisa, warmed
her, and dried the dew on her pigtail.
All day she walked on. Towards evening she came to
a glade. She looked into the glade and saw a hut;
all round it was a fence made from human bones. On
the fence were human skulls; human legbones served
instead of a gate, there were hands instead of bolts,
and sharp teeth acted as the lock. At this sight the
girl was terrified: she stood rooted to the ground.
Suddenly a horseman rode past; he was dressed entirely
in black, was riding a black horse, and the horse's
harness, too, was black. He galloped up to the gate
and vanished as if he had been swallowed into the
earth. Night came on.
And as darkness fell all the eyesockets of the skulls
on the fence began to glow, and it grew as light as
day in the glade. Vassilisa trembled with fear. She
could not move, her feet would not carry her away
from the fearful spot.
Suddenly she heard and felt the earth quivering and
shaking as though rocked by an earthquake. It was
the witch on her way home; she was riding in a mortar,
using a pestle to urge it on, and sweeping away her
tracks with a besom. As she rode up to the gate she
"Pfooh! Pfooh! The place stinks of a Russian soul.
Who is here?"
Vassilisa went up to her, bowed very low, and spoke
"It is I, Grannie," she said. "My stepmother's daughters
have sent me to you to get a light."
"Ah, yes," the witch said. "Your stepmother's a relation
of mine. Well, you can stay and work for me, and then
we will see about the light." Then she shouted: "Hey,
my powerful bolts, unfasten yourselves! My broad gates,
open for me!"
M.Veselov. "Russian fairy tales"
Casket. 1985. Kholui
The gates opened, and the witch
rode in. Vassilisa followed her. By the gate a birch
tree was growing; it tried to lash Vassilisa with
"Do not whip the girl, birch tree," the witch said.
"I have brought her in."
At the door a dog was lying; it tried to bite the
"Do not touch her; I have brought her in," said the
In the porch a snarling cat tried to scratch the girl.
"Do not touch her, snarling cat, I have brought her
in," the witch said again.
She turned to Vassilisa: "As you see," she said, "it
is not easy to get away from me. The cat scratches,
the dog bites, the birch will lash out your eyes,
the gates will not open." She went into the hut, stretched
herself out on a bench, and called:
"Hey, swarthy child, get me some food."
A swarthy young girl ran in and began to feed the
witch; she brought a cauldron of beetroot soup, a
bucket of milk, twenty young chicks, forty ducklings,
and two pies, as well as endless quantities of kvass,
mead, and beer. The witch ate and drank the lot. She
gave Vassilisa only a crust of bread.
"Well, Vassilisa," she said, "now take this sack of
millet and sort it out seed by seed. Take out all
the black seed. And if you do not get it all done
I will eat you."
Then she lay down, and soon started to snore. Vassilisa
took the crust of bread, set it before the doll, and
"Dollie, Dollie, eat the bread and listen to my troubles.
The witch has given me a difficult task, and she says
she will eat me if I do not get it all done."
But the doll replied:
"Do not cry. Better go and lie down to sleep. You
will feel better after a good sleep."
As soon as Vassilisa had dozed off the doll cried:
"Little birdies, tomtits, sparrows, and doves, fly
here and save Vassilisa from harm."
At once all sorts of birds came flying up in great
numbers. Trilling and cooing, they set to work to
sort the millet, putting the good grain into a sack,
and the black grains into their crops. They sorted
out all the grain seed by seed, and cleansed it of
all the weed seeds. Just as the task was finished
a white horseman on a white horse galloped past the
gates. Dawn came.
The witch woke up, and at once asked Vassilisa:
"Well, have you done the work?"
"It is all done, Grannie," she answered.
The witch flew into a rage, but there was nothing
she could do.
"Well," she grumbled, "I have to fly off now to fetch
something. But take that sack over there; in it peas
are mixed with poppy seed. Sort them all out, seed
by seed, and put them into two heaps. And if you do
not get it done I will eat you."
She went out and whistled, and the mortar and pestle
rolled up to her door.A red horseman galloped past. The sun rose. The witch
seated herself in the mortar and rode out of the yard,
using the pestle as a stick, and sweeping away her
tracks with a besom. Vassilisa took a crust of bread,
fed the doll, and said:
"Have pity on me, Dollie dear. Help me."
The doll cried in a loud voice:
"Hurry to me, field mice, house mice, granary mice!"
The mice came running up in multitudes. And in an
hour they had sorted all the peas from the poppy seed.
Late in the afternoon the swarthy child laid the table,
and waited for the witch to return. A black horseman
galloped past the gate. Night fell. In the skulls
the eye sockets began to burn, the trees creaked,
the leaves rustled. Baba Yaga, the bony-legged witch,
was on her way home.
"Well, how about it, Vassilisa?" she asked as soon
as she came in. "Done all the work?"
"It is all done, Grannie," the girl answered. The
witch was furious, but she could do nothing.
"In that case," she said, "go to bed, and I will lie
down in a moment."
Vassilisa went to lie down behind the stove. But before
she could get to sleep she heard the witch say:
"Swarthy girl, make the stove really hot, get a blazing
fire going. When I wake up I am going to cook Vassilisa."
Then she stretched herself out on a bench, covered
her feet, and started to snore so loudly that she
could have been heard all through the forest.
Vassilisa lay in her corner, weeping. But then she
took out her doll and set a crust of bread before
it. "My darling Dollie," she said. "Eat the bread
and listen to my troubles." The doll ate the bread,
and then told Vassilisa all she had to do in order
to escape from the witch. So the girl went to the
swarthy child, and bowed to her.
"Help me, swarthy child," she pleaded. "Do not burn
the wood, but make it only smoulder by wetting it
with water. Here, take my silk handkerchief as a present."
"All right," the girl said, "I will help you. I will
take a long time over lighting the stove, and tickle
Baba Yaga"s feet to make her sleep more soundly. And
you run away home, darling Vassilisa."
"But do you think one of the horsemen will catch me
?" Vassilisa asked anxiously. "Will they come back?"
"Oh no," the girl answered. "The white horseman is
the broad daylight, the red horseman is the golden
sun, and the black horseman is the dark night. They
will not hurt you."
Vassilisa ran out into the porch. The snarling cat
rushed at her and tried to scratch her. But she threw
it a patty, and it did not touch her. She ran down
the steps. The dog jumped up and tried to bite her.
But she threw him some bread. And the dog let her
pass. She ran through the yard. The birch tree tried
to lash her eyes out. But she tied it with a ribbon,
and the birch let her pass. The gates wanted to swing
shut against her. But she greased their hinges with
grease, and they opened for her. But now the black
horseman galloped past; in the forest it grew darker
than dark. How could she ever find her way home without
a light? Her stepmother would beat the life out of
her if she returned without it. But once more the
doll instructed her what to do. She took a skull off
the fence, and set it on a pole. Then she ran through
the deep forest, and the eyesockets in the skull shone
so brightly that the dark night was lit up like day.
After a nap the old witch woke up and stretched herself.
She went to catch Vassilisa to cook her, and ran into
"Snarling cat," she said. "The girl ran past you.
Why did you not scratch her?"
But the snarling cat answered:
"I have served you for ten years, Baba Yaga, and you
have never even given me a crust. But she gave me
a patty, so I let her pass."
Then the witch rushed into the yard and cried:
"My faithful hound, why did you not bite the disobedient
But the dog answered:
"I have served you all these years, and you have never
even thrown me a bone. But she gave me bread, so I
let her pass."
The witch screamed hoarsely:
"Birch tree, my birch tree, why did you not lash out
her eyes ?"
But the birch tree answered:
"I have been growing in your yard for ten years, and
you never tied up my branches even with string. But
she bound me with ribbon, so I let her pass."
The witch ran to the gates:
"My powerful gates, why did you not close and shut
in the disobedient girl?"
But the gates answered her:
"We have served you so long, and you never even poured
water on our hinges.
But she greased them with grease, so we let her pass."
The witch was furious, and she started beating the
dog, shaking the cat, chopping down the birch, breaking
down the gate. But she did not try to go after Vassilisa
to catch her.
Meanwhile Vassilisa ran all the way home. When she
arrived she saw there was still no light in the house.
Her stepsisters ran out and swore at her, reproaching
"Why have you been so long bringing the light?" they
demanded. "We simply cannot keep any light going in
the house. We have struck and struck the flint against
the iron, but it never gave a spark to set the tinder
alight. We hope the light you have brought will stay
They carried the skull into the best room, and there
the skull's eyesockets glared at the stepmother and
her daughters so fiercely that they were burnt with
fire. They tried to hide from the skull, but wherever
they ran the glare of the eyesockets followed them
and found them. By the morning they were burnt into
But the fire did not harm Vassilisa. In the morning
she took the skull and buried it in the ground, and
a crimson rose bush sprang up in the spot where she
She did not feel that she wanted to remain in the
house alone, so she went to the town and began to
live with an old woman. One day she said to the old
"Grannie, I am bored with sitting here doing nothing.
Buy me some flax, the very finest you can get."
The old woman bought the flax, and Vassilisa sat down
to spin it. The work flew so fast in her hands that
the spindle hummed. The thread came away even and
fine, like a golden hair. Then she set to work to
weave the thread, and she wove linen that could have
been passed through a needle eye just like a thread.
Then she bleached the linen whiter than snow.
"Now, Grannie," she said, "go and sell the linen and
keep whatever you get for it."
The old woman gasped at the linen:
"No, I shall not sell it," she said. "It is too good.
Only a prince should wear such linen. I will take
it to the prince."
When the prince saw the linen he was astonished at
its quality. "What do you want for it?" he asked.
"Such linen is without price," the old woman answered.
"So I have brought it to you as a gift."
The prince thanked her and sent her home with presents.
The servants wanted to make a shirt for him from the
linen, but when they saw it no one would undertake
the task: it was too fine for them to handle. So the
prince sent for the old woman and said:
"As you have been clever enough to weave such fine
linen, now make me a shirt from it."
"It was not I who span and wove it, prince," the old
woman answered. "It was the girl Vassilisa."
"Well then, let her make the shirt," he told her.
The old woman went back home and told Vassilisa what
the prince had said. The girl made the shirt, trimmed
it with silks, and decorated it with seed pearls.
Then the old woman carried it back to the palace.
Vassilisa sat down at the cottage window to do some
embroidering on a tambour. Suddenly she saw one of
the prince's servants come running along the street.
He hurried up to her window, and told her:
"The prince requires you to go to the palace."
So she went to the palace. And when the prince saw
how beautiful she was he stood rooted to the spot.
"I do not intend to let you go away," he said. T
want you to be my wife."
He took her white hands, seated her at his side, and
there and then they celebrated the wedding. Soon after
they had got married Vassilisa's father returned from
his travels, and he went to live in the palace with
his daughter. Vassilisa took the old woman who had
helped her into her service. And she always carried
the doll in her pocket. Vassilisa and the prince were