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A Russian Fairy Tale Story

There was once a Moujik, and he had three married sons.
He lived a long while, and was looked upon by the village as a
_Koldun_ [or wizard]. When he was about to die, he gave orders
that his sons' wives should keep watch over him [after his death]
for three nights, taking one night apiece; that his body should
be placed in the outer chamber, and that his sons' wives
should spin wool to make him a caftan. He ordered, moreover,
that no cross should be placed upon him, and that none should
be worn by his daughters-in-law.

Well, that same night the eldest daughter-in-law took her
seat beside him with some grey wool, and began spinning.
Midnight arrives. Says the father-in-law from his coffin:

"Daughter-in-law, art thou there?"

She was terribly frightened, but answered, "I am." "Art
thou sitting?" "I sit." "Dost thou spin?" "I spin." "Grey
wool?" "Grey." "For a caftan?" "For a caftan."

He made a movement towards her. Then a second time he
asked again--

"Daughter-in-law, art thou there?"

"I am." "Art thou sitting?" "I sit." "Dost thou spin?"
"I spin." "Grey wool?" "Grey." "For a caftan?" "For a

She shrank into the corner. He moved again, came a couple
of yards nearer her.

A third time he made a movement. She offered up no
prayer. He strangled her, and then lay down again in his coffin.

His sons removed her body, and next evening, in obedience
to his paternal behest, they sent another of his daughters-in-law
to keep watch. To her just the same thing happened: he
strangled her as he had done the first one.

But the third was sharper than the other two. She declared
she had taken off her cross, but in reality she kept it on. She
took her seat and spun, but said prayers to herself all the while.

Midnight arrives. Says her father-in-law from his coffin--

"Daughter-in-law, art thou there?"

"I am," she replies. "Art thou sitting?" "I sit." "Dost
thou spin?" "I spin." "Grey wool?" "Grey." "For a
caftan?" "For a caftan."

Just the same took place a second time. The third time, just
as he was going to rush at her, she laid the cross upon him. He
fell down and died. She looked into the coffin; there lay ever
so much money. The father-in-law wanted to take it away with
him, or, at all events, that only some one who could outdo him in
cunning should get it.

In one of the least intelligible of the West Highland tales, there is
a scene which somewhat resembles the "lykewake" in this skazka. It is
called "The Girl and the Dead Man," and relates, among other strange
things, how a youngest sister took service in a house where a corpse
lay. "She sat to watch the dead man, and she was sewing; in the middle
of night he rose up, and screwed up a grin. 'If thou dost not lie down
properly, I will give thee the one leathering with a stick.' He lay
down. At the end of a while, he rose on one elbow, and screwed up a
grin; and the third time he rose and screwed up a grin. When he rose
the third time, she struck him a lounder of the stick; the stick stuck
to the dead man, and the hand stuck to the stick, and out they were."
Eventually "she got a peck of gold and a peck of silver, and the
vessel of cordial" and returned home.

The obscurity of the Celtic tale forms a striking contrast to the
lucidity of the Slavonic. The Russian peasant likes a clear statement
of facts; the Highlander seems, like Coleridge's Scotch admirer, to
find a pleasure in seeing "an idea looming out of the mist."