|Baba Yaga swept her tracks away with a broom.|
Once upon a time, in Russia, lived an old widowed man and his merry little daughter. They were very happy together “and they used to smile at each other over a table just piled with bread and jam.” Life was sweet for the girl — until her father “took it into his head to marry again.” The lady moved in and changes were soon made. No more jam and bread for supper and “no more playing bo-peep, first this side of the samovar, then that, as she sat with her father at tea. It was worse than that, for she never did sit at tea.” Her new stepmother always found fault with her, telling her husband that “the little girl was too naughty to so sit at table. And then she would throw her a crust and tell her to get out of the hut and eat it somewhere else." So the little girl would go out into the cold and sit by herself to eat, crying all the time for the old days. One day, when she was huddled in a corner of the shed, she heard a noise. It went scritch-scratch, scritch-scratch. It was a little mouse, and it stared at her with tiny bright eyes. The girl, “who had a kind heart, forgot all her sorrows, and took a scrap of her crust and threw it to the mouse. The mouseykin nibbled and nibbled and there, it was gone, and he was looking for another. “ The girl shared all of her bread with the little gray creature, and when it had done eating, it looked up at her and spoke. “ Thank you,’ he says, in a squeaky little voice,’ you are a kind little girl, and I am only a mouse, and I’ve eaten all your crust. But there is one thing I can do for you, and that is to tell you that the old woman in the hut (and that was the cruel stepmother) is own sister to Baba Yaga, the bony-legged, the witch. For Baba Yaga would eat you soon enough with her iron teeth if you did not know what to do!” The girl thanked the mouse for this assistance, and when she went back into the hut, she looked carefully at her stepmother. She saw that the woman was “as bony as a fish with all the flesh picked off” and a shiver went through her. She was glad of “mouseykin” , her little friend. The very next morning, the old man decided to go for a long visit with a friend. As soon as he was out of sight the old woman grabbed the little girl and said, “ You are to to go to-day to your dear little aunt in the forest, and ask for a needle and thread.” And the little girl showed her stepmother that she had a needle and thread, but the old woman said, “Hold your tongue.’ and she gnashes her teeth, and they make a noise like clattering tongs. “ So the little girl said no more than to ask how she would find her aunt in the forest? Now the stepmother “took hold of the little girl’s nose and pinched it. ‘That is your nose,’ she says,’can you feel it?” And the little was crying now and said yes, she could feel it. And the cruel old woman told her to “go along the road into the forest till you come to a fallen tree; then you must turn to your left, and then follow your nose and you will find her. Now, be off you lazy one.” And she handed her a a bundled towel, telling her that it was food to eat along the way. The little girl wanted very badly to go into the shed and ask the mouse what to do, but her stepmother was watching, so she could not. Quaking with fear, the little girl went into the forest to see Baba Yaga. That’s when she heard a noise. It went scritch-scratch, scritch-scratch. It was the mouseykins! Oh, how glad the girl was for her little friend. Now the little rodent told her how to manage the witch. Because of the girl’s kind heart, the mouse believed, she would manage just fine. He told her to “take all of the things you find in the road, and do with them what you like. Then you will escape from Baba Yaga, and everything will be well.” The girl thanked him, and offered to share the lunch her stepmother had sent. That’s when she discovered that the towel contained nothing but stones! She had been tricked. “Oh, I’m so sorry, there’s nothing for you to eat.’ says the little girl. ‘Isn’t there?’ said mousekin, and as she looked at them the little girl saw the stone turn to bread and jam.” They sat together on the fallen tree, and ate their fill. The mouse told her to keep the towel, as it might be useful, and to gather up anything that she saw in the road. Then it took its leave of her. The girl ran happily along the road, and now she saw a pocket handkerchief. She picked it up and went on. Now she saw a “little bottle of oil” in the path, so she picked that up as well. As she walked on, there were some scraps of meat, which she wrapped in the towel. She continued walking and found a blue ribbon and “a loaf of good bread”. Now her arms were full! Suddenly, she saw the hut of Baba Yaga. It was surrounded by gates, and when the girl pushed them open “they squeaked miserably as if it hurt them to move.” The tenderhearted girl poured the little bottle of oil over the hinges of the gate. Now she found Baba Yaga’s servant girl, crying in the yard. The little girl gave her the handkerchief, and the servant “ wiped her eyes on it and smiled through her tears.” That’s when she saw the dog. It was huge, and very thin, and licked its lips. Now the girl gave the fine loaf of bread to the dog, who promptly ate it all up. So the girl went and knocked on the door. The witch herself was inside, “ sitting weaving at a loom.” A black cat sat beside her, poised at a mouse’s hole. “Good day to you, auntie.” said the girl, and the witch said, “Good day to you, niece.” And the girl told the witch that she had been sent to ask for a needle and thread. Baba Yaga told her that she would go and get one ready, if only the girl would take her place at the loom. So the girl climbed up to weave, and the witch went out the door and told the servant to make ready to roast the little girl for her dinner! And all the time, Baba Yaga kept calling in the window to the girl, “Are you weaving, my pretty? Are you weaving?” The girl called out, “I am weaving, Auntie!” each time, but she was busy planning as well. When the cat sighed and said that he hadn’t eaten in three days, the girl fed him her scraps of meat. Now the cat offered to help the girl escape. She told the girl that when the witch returned, she must “run for it; and when she is close to you, throw away the towel, and it will turn into a big, wide, river.” If the witch caught up to her, the girl was next to throw the comb, which would “sprout up into such a forest that she will never get through it at all. ‘But she’ll hear the loom stop.’ says the little girl.” So the cat said that he would weave and keep the shuttle going clackety-clack. Now the witch came in! And the girl ran out the door just as fast as she possibly could. When the dog jumped up to follow the witch’s order to tear the girl to pieces, it suddenly stopped, and said, “Why, this is the little girl who gave me the loaf. A good journey to you, little girl!” and stepped out of her way. Now the gates saw who was coming, and swung silently open for her to pass, and the birch tree that was supposed to slap her in the face rustled quietly as the girl tied its branches back with the blue ribbon. And the girl ran for all her might. But soon she heard the witch behind her, and she threw the towel down. A great river splashed up, and the witch soon found herself swimming for the shore. But the old hag got out, and ran home again. She climbed into her mortar, and drove it with her pestle to round up all of her cows. She drove them straight to the river, and each cow took a drink and the river was dry. Now the witch flew over and gained on the little girl. The child threw her comb over her shoulder and heard the witch howl as the mortar crashed into a tree. But the witch flew home again and asked her servant: Why didn’t you stop her? For the gift of a handkerchief, the servant girl said. And you, Baba Yaga demanded of her dog. Why didn’t you devour her? For the gift of a loaf, said he. The witch kicked her traitorous gates, who said that in all the years of opening and closing for her, the witch had never given so much as a drop of oil. The little girl, they said, had poured a whole bottle over them! And now Baba Yaga saw the cat at her loom, and it had tangled all the threads of her weaving! In a great rage, the witch got back into mortar, and stroked with her pestle until she spied the girl. Sweeping her tracks away with a huge broom as she flew, the witch followed the girl but the girl was deep under the trees and the witch could not reach her. She flew back to her hut on hen’s legs with no little girl meat for her pot that day. And now the girl was home! But how could she face the witch’s sister? She ran into the shed, and there was her little mouseykin. It told her that she would find bravery in truth, and went with her into the hut. Here the little girl climbed onto her father’s knee, and told him all that had happened. And her stepmother “ turned yellow when she saw her, and her eyes glowed and her teeth ground together until they broke.” And when the old man heard the truth, he drove that wicked woman right out of his hut. The girl and her father lived happily alone from then on, and the mousekins “came and lived in the hut, and every day it used to sit up on the table and eat crumbs, and warm its paws on the little girl’s glass of tea.”
From Old Peter’s Russian Tales, by Arthur Ransome, 1916. Great Britain. Thomas Nelson (Printers) Ltd., London and Edinburgh
Notes: The element that defines this as a Cinderella story is the wicked stepmother. The mouse as animal helper is traditional to Cinderella stories. This is a version where the love that the girl gains in the end is that of her father, rather than that of the prince. For little girls at a certain age, with the right kind of father, this kind of love is worth more than that of any prince
Montessori Connections: Fundamental Needs/Clothing/Weaving and Spinning
1. Read the story and pay attention to the part where Baba Yaga is weaving.
2. Learn about weaving:Kids Weaving: Projects for Kids of All Ages.
3. Learn about weaving in different cultures:The Spider Weaver: A Legend Of Kente Cloth
4. Learn about how clothing was made long ago:Clothing: A Pictorial History of the Past One Thousand Years (Millennium)