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A Russian Fairytale

Late one evening, a Cossack rode into a village, pulled up at
its last cottage, and cried--

"Heigh, master! will you let me spend the night here?"

"Come in, if you don't fear death!"

"What sort of a reply is that?" thought the Cossack, as he
put his horse up in the stable. After he had given it its food
he went into the cottage. There he saw its inmates, men and
women and little children, all sobbing and crying and praying to
God; and when they had done praying, they began putting on
clean shirts.

"What are you crying about?" asked the Cossack.

"Why you see," replied the master of the house, "in our
village Death goes about at night. Into whatsoever cottage she
looks, there, next morning, one has to put all the people who
lived in it into coffins, and carry them off to the graveyard. To-night
it's our turn."

"Never fear, master! 'Without God's will, no pig gets its

The people of the house lay down to sleep; but the Cossack
was on the look-out and never closed an eye. Exactly at midnight
the window opened. At the window appeared a witch all
in white. She took a sprinkler, passed her arm into the cottage,
and was just on the point of sprinkling--when the Cossack
suddenly gave his sabre a sweep, and cut her arm off close to
the shoulder. The witch howled, squealed, yelped like a dog,
and fled away. But the Cossack picked up the severed arm,
hid it under his cloak, washed away the stains of blood, and lay
down to sleep.

Next morning the master and mistress awoke, and saw that
everyone, without a single exception, was alive and well, and
they were delighted beyond expression.

"If you like," says the Cossack, "I'll show you Death!
Call together all the Sotniks and Desyatniks[359] as quickly as
possible, and let's go through the village and look for her."

Straightway all the Sotniks and Desyatniks came together
and went from house to house. In this one there's nothing, in
that one there's nothing, until at last they come to the Ponomar's[360]

"Is all your family present?" asks the Cossack.

"No, my own! one of my daughters is ill. She's lying on
the stove there."

The Cossack looked towards the stove--one of the girl's arms
had evidently been cut off. Thereupon he told the whole story
of what had taken place, and he brought out and showed the
arm which had been cut off. The commune rewarded the
Cossack with a sum of money, and ordered that witch to be

Stories of this kind are common in all lands, but the witches about
whom they are told generally assume the forms of beasts of prey,
especially of wolves, or of cats. A long string of similar tales will
be found in Dr. Wilhelm Hertz's excellent and exhaustive monograph on
werwolves.[361] Very important also is the Polish story told by
Wojcicki[362] of the village which is attacked by the Plague, embodied
in the form of a woman, who roams from house to house in search of
victims. One night, as she goes her rounds, all doors and windows have
been barred against her except one casement. This has been left open
by a nobleman who is ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of
others. The Pest Maiden arrives, and thrusts her arm in at his window.
The nobleman cuts it off, and so rids the village of its fatal
visitor. In an Indian story, a hero undertakes to watch beside
the couch of a haunted princess. When all is still a Rakshasa appears
on the threshold, opens the door, and thrusts into the room an
arm--which the hero cuts off. The fiend disappears howling, and leaves
his arm behind.

The horror of the next story is somewhat mitigated by a slight
infusion of the grotesque--but this may arise from a mere accident,
and be due to the exceptional cheerfulness of some link in the chain
of its narrators.