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THE DEAD WITCH
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
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
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_ 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," 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!"
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