|Nine dolls from Russia (1950's)
and the Slovak Republic (2008)
Once upon a time, in Russia, there lived a young girl who had no one to look out for her. Her mother had died many years earlier. One day, at supper with her father, who was the king, she had a terrible surprise. HIs majesty gazed fondly at his daughter, and his eyes glazed over with memory. Mistaking his own daughter for his wife in her maiden years, he declared that he would marry her. With no advocate to guide her, the girl herself attempting to delay her father's advances. She would marry him, she said, if he got her a dress made of finest copper thread. Within moments, the king found one for her. Next she said that if only she had a dress made entirely of silver, she would be ready to marry. In the morning, the dress of silver was by her bed. Now she told her father that to honor him properly, she would need a dress of gold. Before the sun had set he presented her with the dress. She thanked him prettily, then said that she had just one more request. Could he get for her a cloak made entirely of the silvery skins of lice? If he could bring her this she told him, at last she would be ready for the marriage. For the next week, the girl passed her time making plans, and conferring with her dolls. She had nine of them. Seven days after she asked for the louse-skin cloak, her father presented it to her. She thanked him and went back upstairs. Then she dressed herself in her copper dress, her silver dress, and her golden dress, put the louse-skin cloak over all, and sat down with her nine beloved dolls. She dressed them and spoke to them, telling them of her desperation. How she wished that her mother were still alive to help her and care for her. The dolls advised that she must "seek her dead mother in the other world". So, instead of going downstairs to marry her father, she climbed carefully out of her bedroom window and ran away. She walked until she came to the forest, and then she walked until she was in the deepest part of the forest. A river ran near, and the entrance to a large cave loomed ahead. The girl trudged on until she had passed through the cave. Then she walked some more, going downhill all the way. It got darker and darker, and warmer and warmer, and soon she found herself drowsy and exhausted. She slowed, and then stopped, At last, she lay down and fell asleep. When she awoke a gentleman in a black frock coat was standing over her. He dabbed her forehead brusquely with a damp handkerchief, and said, "Get up, Girl in a Louse-Skin Cloak, and get to work! I have revived you, and in exchange you must keep my house for me." And the girl had no choice but to get up and go. On Sunday, the girl said that she must go to church, but the gentleman forbade her. As soon as she was left alone, she snuck there anyway, wearing her copper dress. The prince himself noticed her, and sat next to her. When the service was over, she fled. The next Sunday she again begged permission to go to church. Again, it was denied. The moment she was left alone she changed into her silver dress, and crept there anyway. The prince beamed with pleasure to see her again, and once more sat down beside her. And again the mysterious girl in the silver gown fled the instant the service was over. For the third Sunday in a row, the girl asked for, and was denied, permission to go to church. So she very quietly slipped into her golden dress and tiptoed off to church. The prince once more engaged her in conversation, and held fast to her hand while the service came to an end. She did not know that he had arranged a trap for her on the steps leading down from the church. At his signal, the "monks pour oil at [the] church entrance". The girl runs, she slips, then slides, then tumbles down the steps, losing a shoe. She flees, but the prince catches hold of the shoe and gets one long, last look at the girl he thinks he loves. He orders a search of every house in the village. None of the girls seem able to wear the shoe. Where can the pretty owner of it be? When all but the last house has been searched, the prince finds his resolve faltering. Can the girl really be in the last house, or will his search turn up empty? With determination, he presses on. And there she is, "asleep on the stove", oblivious to the commotion. He awakens her, and he slips the foot onto her foot! He pulls off the louse-skin cloak to reveal the golden dress. They are married amid much rejoicing.
From Cox, M. R. (1893/2011) p. 60
Notes: In many countries in Europe, stoves of past times were quite large, ceramic affairs. The fire was kept burning to warm the house, and the spot on the top of the stove was a coveted place of warmth. Many were decorated with tiles or hand painted with fruits or flowers.