A Russian Folktale
There was once an old man who had a wife and three daughters.
The wife had no love for the eldest of the three, who
was her stepdaughter, but was always scolding her. Moreover,
she used to make her get up ever so early in the morning, and
gave her all the work of the house to do. Before daybreak the
girl would feed the cattle and give them to drink, fetch wood
and water indoors, light the fire in the stove, give the room a
wash, mend the dresses, and set everything in order. Even
then her stepmother was never satisfied, but would grumble
away at Marfa, exclaiming:--
"What a lazybones! what a slut! Why here's a brush not
in its place, and there's something put wrong, and she's left the
muck inside the house!"
The girl held her peace, and wept; she tried in every way to
accommodate herself to her stepmother, and to be of service to
her stepsisters. But they, taking pattern by their mother, were
always insulting Marfa, quarrelling with her, and making her
cry: that was even a pleasure to them! As for them, they lay
in bed late, washed themselves in water got ready for them,
dried themselves with a clean towel, and didn't sit down to
work till after dinner.
Well, our girls grew and grew, until they grew up and were
old enough to be married. The old man felt sorry for his eldest
daughter, whom he loved because she was industrious and
obedient, never was obstinate, always did as she was bid, and
never uttered a word of contradiction. But he didn't know how
he was to help her in her trouble. He was feeble, his wife was
a scold, and her daughters were as obstinate as they were
Well, the old folks set to work to consider--the husband
how he could get his daughters settled, the wife how she could
get rid of the eldest one. One day she says to him:--
"I say, old man! let's get Marfa married."
"Gladly," says he, slinking off (to the sleeping-place) above
the stove. But his wife called after him:--
"Get up early to-morrow, old man, harness the mare to the
sledge, and drive away with Marfa. And, Marfa, get your
things together in a basket, and put on a clean shift; you're
going away to-morrow on a visit."
Poor Marfa was delighted to hear of such a piece of good
luck as being invited on a visit, and she slept comfortably all
night. Early next morning she got up, washed herself, prayed
to God, got all her things together, packed them away in proper
order, dressed herself (in her best things), and looked something
like a lass!--a bride fit for any place whatsoever!
Now it was winter time, and out of doors was a rattling
frost. Early in the morning, between daybreak and sunrise,
the old man harnessed the mare to the sledge, and led it up to
the steps. Then he went indoors, sat down on the window-sill,
"Now then! I've got everything ready."
"Sit down to table and swallow your victuals!" replied the
The old man sat down to table, and made his daughter sit
by his side. On the table stood a pannier; he took out a loaf,
and cut bread for himself and his daughter. Meantime his
wife served up a dish of old cabbage soup, and said:--
"There, my pigeon, eat and be off; I've looked at you quite
enough! Drive Marfa to her bridegroom, old man. And look
here, old greybeard! drive straight along the road at first, and
then turn off from the road to the right, you know, into the
forest--right up to the big pine that stands on the hill, and there
hand Marfa over to Morozko (Frost)."
The old man opened his eyes wide, also his mouth, and
stopped eating, and the girl began lamenting.
"Now then, what are you hanging your chaps and squealing
about?" said her stepmother. "Surely your bridegroom is a
beauty, and he's that rich! Why, just see what a lot of things
belong to him, the firs, the pine-tops, and the birches, all in
their robes of down--ways and means that any one might envy;
and he himself a _bogatir_!"
The old man silently placed the things on the sledge, made
his daughter put on a warm pelisse, and set off on the journey.
After a time, he reached the forest, turned off from the road;
and drove across the frozen snow. When he got into the
depths of the forest, he stopped, made his daughter get out,
laid her basket under the tall pine, and said:--
"Sit here, and await the bridegroom. And mind you receive
him as pleasantly as you can."
Then he turned his horse round and drove off homewards.
The girl sat and shivered. The cold had pierced her through.
She would fain have cried aloud, but she had not strength
enough; only her teeth chattered. Suddenly she heard a
sound. Not far off, Frost was cracking away on a fir. From
fir to fir was he leaping, and snapping his fingers. Presently he
appeared on that very pine under which the maiden was sitting
and from above her head he cried:--
"Art thou warm, maiden?"
"Warm, warm am I, dear Father Frost," she replied.
Frost began to descend lower, all the more cracking and
snapping his fingers. To the maiden said Frost:--
"Art thou warm, maiden? Art thou warm, fair one?"
The girl could scarcely draw her breath, but still she replied:
"Warm am I, Frost dear: warm am I, father dear!"
Frost began cracking more than ever, and more loudly did
he snap his fingers, and to the maiden he said:--
"Art thou warm, maiden? Art thou warm, pretty one?
Art thou warm, my darling?"
The girl was by this time numb with cold, and she could
scarcely make herself heard as she replied:--
"Oh! quite warm, Frost dearest!"
Then Frost took pity on the girl, wrapped her up in furs,
and warmed her with blankets.
Next morning the old woman said to her husband:--
"Drive out, old greybeard, and wake the young couple!"
The old man harnessed his horse and drove off. When he
came to where his daughter was, he found she was alive and had
got a good pelisse, a costly bridal veil, and a pannier with rich
gifts. He stowed everything away on the sledge without saying
a word, took his seat on it with his daughter, and drove back.
They reached home, and the daughter fell at her stepmother's
feet. The old woman was thunderstruck when she saw the girl
alive, and the new pelisse and the basket of linen.
"Ah, you wretch!" she cries. "But you shan't trick me!"
Well, a little later the old woman says to her husband:--
"Take my daughters, too, to their bridegroom. The presents
he's made are nothing to what he'll give them."
Well, early next morning the old woman gave her girls their
breakfast, dressed them as befitted brides, and sent them off on
their journey. In the same way as before the old man left the
girls under the pine.
There the girls sat, and kept laughing and saying:
"Whatever is mother thinking of! All of a sudden to marry
both of us off! As if there were no lads in our village, forsooth!
Some rubbishy fellow may come, and goodness knows who he
The girls were wrapped up in pelisses, but for all that they
felt the cold.
"I say, Prascovia! the frost's skinning me alive. Well, if
our bridegroom doesn't come quick, we shall be frozen to
"Don't go talking nonsense, Mashka; as if suitors generally
turned up in the forenoon. Why it's hardly dinner-time
"But I say, Prascovia! if only one comes, which of us will
"Not you, you stupid goose!"
"Then it will be you, I suppose!"
"Of course it will be me!"
"You, indeed! there now, have done talking stuff and
treating people like fools!"
Meanwhile, Frost had numbed the girl's hands, so our
damsels folded them under their dress, and then went on
quarrelling as before.
"What, you fright! you sleepy-face! you abominable shrew!
why, you don't know so much as how to begin weaving: and as
to going on with it, you haven't an idea!"
"Aha, boaster! and what is it you know? Why, nothing at
all except to go out to merry-makings and lick your lips there.
We'll soon see which he'll take first!"
While the girls went on scolding like that, they began to
freeze in downright earnest. Suddenly they both cried out at
"Whyever is he so long coming. Do you know, you've turned
Now, a good way off, Frost had begun cracking, snapping
his fingers, and leaping from fir to fir. To the girls it sounded
as if some one was coming.
"Listen, Prascovia! He's coming at last, and with bells,
"Get along with you! I won't listen; my skin is peeling
"And yet you're still expecting to get married!"
Then they began blowing on their fingers.
Nearer and nearer came Frost. At length he appeared on
the pine, above the heads of the girls, and said to them:
"Are ye warm, maidens? Are ye warm, pretty ones? Are
ye warm, my darlings?"
"Oh, Frost, it's awfully cold! we're utterly perished!
We're expecting a bridegroom, but the confounded fellow has
Frost slid lower down the tree, cracked away more, snapped
his fingers oftener than before.
"Are ye warm, maidens? Are ye warm, pretty ones?"
"Get along with you! Are you blind that you can't see our
hands and feet are quite dead?"
Still lower descended Frost, still more put forth his might,
"Are ye warm, maidens?"
"Into the bottomless pit with you! Out of sight, accursed
one!" cried the girls--and became lifeless forms.
Next morning the old woman said to her husband:
"Old man, go and get the sledge harnessed; put an armful
of hay in it, and take some sheep-skin wraps. I daresay the
girls are half-dead with cold. There's a terrible frost outside!
And, mind you, old greybeard, do it quickly!"
Before the old man could manage to get a bite he was out of
doors and on his way. When he came to where his daughters
were, he found them dead. So he lifted the girls on to the
sledge, wrapped a blanket round them, and covered them up
with a bark mat. The old woman saw him from afar, ran out
to meet him, and called out ever so loud:
"Where are the girls?"
"In the sledge."
The old woman lifted the mat, undid the blanket, and found
the girls both dead.
Then, like a thunderstorm, she broke out against her husband,
abusing him saying:
"What have you done, you old wretch? You have destroyed
my daughters, the children of my own flesh and blood, my
never-enough-to-be-gazed-on seedlings, my beautiful berries! I
will thrash you with the tongs; I will give it you with the stove-rake."
"That's enough, you old goose! You flattered yourself
you were going to get riches, but your daughters were too stiff-necked.
How was I to blame? it was you yourself would
The old woman was in a rage at first, and used bad language;
but afterwards she made it up with her stepdaughter,
and they all lived together peaceably, and thrived, and bore no
malice. A neighbor made an offer of marriage, the wedding
was celebrated, and Marfa is now living happily. The old man
frightens his grandchildren with (stories about) Frost, and
doesn't let them have their own way.
In a variant from the Kursk Government (Afanasief IV. No. 42. _b_),
the stepdaughter is left by her father "in the open plain." There she
sits, "trembling and silently offering up a prayer." Frost draws near,
intending "to smite her and to freeze her to death." But when he says
to her, "Maiden, maiden, I am Frost the Red-Nosed," she replies
"Welcome, Frost; doubtless God has sent you for my sinful soul."
Pleased by her "wise words," Frost throws a warm cloak over her, and
afterwards presents her with "robes embroidered with silver and gold,
and a chest containing rich dowry." The girl puts on the robes, and
appears "such a beauty!" Then she sits on the chest and sings songs.
Meantime her stepmother is baking cakes and preparing for her funeral.
After a time her father sets out in search of her dead body. But the
dog beneath the table barks--"Taff! Taff! The master's daughter in
silver and gold by the wedding party is borne along, but the
mistress's daughter is wooed by none!" In vain does its mistress throw
it a cake, and order it to modify its remarks. It eats the cake, but
it repeats its offensive observations, until the stepdaughter appears
in all her glory. Then the old woman's own daughter is sent afield.
Frost comes to have a look at his new guest, expecting "wise words"
from her too. But as none are forthcoming, he waxes wroth, and kills
her. When the old man goes to fetch her, the dog barks--"Taff! Taff!
The master's daughter will be borne along by the bridal train, but the
bones of the mistress's daughter are being carried in a bag," and
continues to bark in the same strain until the yard-gates open. The
old woman runs out to greet her daughter, and "instead of her embraces
a cold corpse."
To the Russian peasants, it should be observed, Moroz, our own Jack
Frost, is a living personage. On Christmas Eve it is customary for the
oldest man in each family to take a spoonful of kissel, a sort of
pudding, and then, having put his head through the window, to cry:
"Frost, Frost, come and eat kissel! Frost, Frost, do not kill our
oats! drive our flax and hemp deep into the ground."
The Tcheremisses have similar ideas, and are afraid of knocking the
icicles off their houses, thinking that, if they do so, Frost will wax
wroth and freeze them to death. In one of the Skazkas, a peasant goes
out one day to a field of buckwheat, and finds it all broken down. He
goes home, and tells the bad news to his wife, who says, "It is Frost
who has done this. Go and find him, and make him pay for the damage!"
So the peasant goes into the forest and, after wandering about for
some time, lights upon a path which leads him to a cottage made of
ice, covered with snow, and hung with icicles. He knocks at the door,
and out comes an old man--"all white." This is Frost, who presents him
with the magic cudgel and table-cloth which work wonders in so many of
the tales. In another story, a peasant meets the Sun, the Wind,
and the Frost. He bows to all three, but adds an extra salutation to
the Wind. This enrages the two others, and the Sun cries out that he
will burn up the peasant. But the Wind says, "I will blow cold, and
temper the heat." Then the Frost threatens to freeze the peasant to
death, but the Wind comforts him, saying, "I will blow warm, and will
not let you be hurt."
Sometimes the Frost is described by the people as a mighty smith who
forges strong chains with which to bind the earth and the waters--as
in the saying "The Old One has built a bridge without axe and without
knife," _i.e._, the river is frozen over. Sometimes Moroz-Treskun, the
Crackling Frost, is spoken of without disguise as the preserver of the
hero who is ordered to enter a bath which has been heated red-hot.
Frost goes into the bath, and breathes with so icy a breath that the
heat of the building turns at once to cold.
The story in which Frost so singularly figures is one which is known
in many lands, and of which many variants are current in Russia. The
jealous hatred of a stepmother, who exposes her stepdaughter to some
great peril, has been made the theme of countless tales. What gives
its special importance, as well as its poetical charm, to the skazka
which has been quoted, is the introduction of Frost as the power to
which the stepmother has recourse for the furtherance of her murderous
plans, and by which she, in the persons of her own daughters, is
ultimately punished. We have already dealt with one specimen of the
skazkas of this class, the story of Vasilissa, who is sent to the Baba
Yaga's for a light. Another, still more closely connected with that of
"Frost," occurs in Khudyakof's collection.
A certain woman ordered her husband (says the story) to make away with
his daughter by a previous marriage. So he took the girl into the
forest, and left her in a kind of hut, telling her to prepare some
soup while he was cutting wood. "At that time there was a gale
blowing. The old man tied a log to a tree; when the wind blew, the log
rattled. She thought the old man was going on cutting wood, but in
reality he had gone away home."
When the soup was ready, she called out to her father to come to
dinner. No reply came from him, "but there was a human head in the
forest, and it replied, 'I'm coming immediately!' And when the Head
arrived, it cried, 'Maiden, open the door!' She opened it. 'Maiden,
Maiden! lift me over the threshold!' She lifted it over. 'Maiden,
Maiden! put the dinner on the table!' She did so, and she and the Head
sat down to dinner. When they had dined, 'Maiden, Maiden!' said the
Head, 'take me off the bench!' She took it off the bench, and cleared
the table. It lay down to sleep on the bare floor; she lay on the
bench. She fell asleep, but it went into the forest after its
servants. The house became bigger; servants, horses, everything one
could think of suddenly appeared. The servants came to the maiden, and
said, 'Get up! it's time to go for a drive!' So she got into a
carriage with the Head, but she took a cock along with her. She told
the cock to crow; it crowed. Again she told it to crow; it crowed
again. And a third time she told it to crow. When it had crowed for
the third time, the Head fell to pieces, and became a heap of golden
Then the stepmother sent her own daughter into the forest. Everything
occurred as before, until the Head arrived. Then she was so frightened
that she tried to hide herself, and she would do nothing for the Head,
which had to dish up its own dinner, and eat it by itself. And so
"when she lay down to sleep, it ate her up."
In a story in Chudinsky's collection, the stepdaughter is sent by
night to watch the rye in an _ovin_, or corn-kiln. Presently a
stranger appears and asks her to marry him. She replies that she has
no wedding-clothes, upon which he brings her everything she asks for.
But she is very careful not to ask for more than one thing at a time,
and so the cock crows before her list of indispensable necessaries is
exhausted. The stranger immediately disappears, and she carries off
her presents in triumph.
The next night her stepsister is sent to the _ovin_, and the stranger
appears as before, and asks her to marry him. She, also, replies that
she has no wedding-clothes, and he offers to supply her with what she
wants. Whereupon, instead of asking for a number of things one after
the other, she demands them all at once--"Stockings, garters, a
petticoat, a dress, a comb, earrings, a mirror, soap, white paint and
rouge, and everything which her stepsister had got." Then follows the
The stranger brought her everything, all at once.
"Now then," says he, "will you marry me now?"
"Wait a bit," said the stepmother's daughter, "I'll wash
and dress, and whiten myself and rouge myself, and then I'll
marry you." And straightway she set to work washing and
dressing--and she hastened and hurried to get all that done--she
wanted so awfully to see herself decked out as a bride.
By-and-by she was quite dressed--but the cock had not yet
"Well, maiden!" says he, "will you marry me now?"
"I'm quite ready," says she.
Thereupon he tore her to pieces.
There is one other of those personifications of natural forces which
play an active part in the Russian tales, about which a few words may
be said. It often happens that the heroine-stealer whom the hero of
the story has to overcome is called, not Koshchei nor the Snake, but
Vikhor, the whirlwind. Here is a brief analysis of part of one of
the tales in which this elementary abducer figures. There was a
certain king, whose wife went out one day to walk in the garden.
"Suddenly a gale (_vyeter_) sprang up. In the gale was the
Vikhor-bird. Vikhor seized the Queen, and carried her off." She left
three sons, and they, when they came to man's estate, said to their
father--"Where is our mother? If she be dead, show us her grave; if
she be living, tell us where to find her."
"I myself know not where your mother is," replied the King. "Vikhor
carried her off."
"Well then," they said, "since Vikhor carried her off, and she is
alive, give us your blessing. We will go in search of our mother."
All three set out, but only the youngest, Prince Vasily, succeeded in
climbing the steep hill, whereon stood the palace in which his mother
and Vikhor lived. Entering it during Vikhor's absence, the Prince made
himself known to his mother, "who straightway gave him to eat, and
concealed him in a distant apartment, hiding him behind a number of
cushions, so that Vikhor might not easily discover him." And she gave
him these instructions. "If Vikhor comes, and begins quarrelling,
don't come forth, but if he takes to chatting, come forth and say,
'Hail father!' and seize hold of the little finger of his right hand,
and wherever he flies do you go with him."
Presently Vikhor came flying in, and addressed the Queen angrily.
Prince Vasily remained concealed until his mother gave him a hint to
come forth. This he did, and then greeted Vikhor, and caught hold of
his right little finger. Vikhor tried to shake him off, flying first
about the house and then out of it, but all in vain. At last Vikhor,
after soaring on high, struck the ground, and fell to pieces, becoming
a fine yellow sand. "But the little finger remained in the possession
of Prince Vasily, who scraped together the sand and burnt it in the
* * * * *
With a mention of two other singular beings who occur in the Skazkas,
the present chapter may be brought to a close. The first is a certain
Morfei (Morpheus?) who figures in the following variant of a
There was a king, and he had a daughter with whom a general who lived
over the way fell in love. But the king would not let him marry her
unless he went where none had been, and brought back thence what none
had seen. After much consideration the general set out and travelled
"over swamps, hill, and rivers." At last he reached a wood in which
was a hut, and inside the hut was an old crone. To her he told his
story, after hearing which, she cried out, "Ho, there! Morfei, dish up
the meal!" and immediately a dinner appeared of which the old crone
made the general partake. And next day "she presented that cook to the
general, ordering him to serve the general honorably, as he had served
her. The general took the cook and departed." By-and-by he came to a
river and was appealed to for food by a shipwrecked crew. "Morfei,
give them to eat!" he cried, and immediately excellent viands
appeared, with which the mariners were so pleased that they gave the
general a magic volume in exchange for his cook--who, however, did not
stay with them but secretly followed his master. A little later the
general found another shipwrecked crew, who gave him, in exchange for
his cook, a sabre and a towel, each of magic power. Then the general
returned to his own city, and his magic properties enabled him to
convince the king that he was an eligible suitor for the hand of the
The other is a mysterious personage whose name is "Oh!" The story in
which he appears is one with which many countries are familiar, and of
which numerous versions are to be found in Russia. A father sets out
with his boy for "the bazaar," hoping to find a teacher there who will
instruct the child in such science as enables people "to work little,
and feed delicately, and dress well." After walking a long way the man
becomes weary and exclaims, "Oh! I'm so tired!" Immediately there
appears "an old magician," who says--
"Why do you call me?"
"I didn't call you," replies the old man. "I don't even know who you
"My name is Oh," says the magician, "and you cried 'Oh!' Where are you
taking that boy?"
The father explains what it is he wants, and the magician undertakes
to give the boy the requisite education, charging "one assignat
rouble" for a year's tuition.
The teacher, in this story, is merely called a magician; but as in
other Russian versions of it his counterpart is always described as
being demoniacal, and is often openly styled a devil, it may be
assumed that Oh belongs to the supernatural order of beings. It is
often very difficult, however, to distinguish magicians from fiends in
storyland, the same powers being generally wielded, and that for the
same purposes, by the one set of beings as by the other. Of those
powers, and of the end to which the stories represent them as being
turned, some mention will be made in the next chapter.