Wassilissa the Beautiful
Then Wassilissa went into her closet, took the little doll from her pocket, set food and drink before it and asked its help. And after it had eaten a little and drunk a little, the doll became alive and said: “Bring me an old frame and an old basket and some hairs from a horse’s mane, and I will arrange everything for thee.” Wassilissa hastened to fetch all the doll had asked for and when evening came, said her prayers, went to sleep, and in the morning she found ready a frame, perfectly made, to weave her fine thread upon.
She wove one month, she wove two months—all the winter Wassilissa sat weaving, weaving her fine thread, till the whole piece of linen was done, of a texture so fine that it could be passed, like thread, through the eye of a needle. When the spring came she bleached it, so white that no snow could be compared with it. Then she said to the old woman: “Take thou the linen to the market, grandmother, and sell it, and the money shall suffice to pay for my food and lodging.” When the old woman had examined the linen, however, she said: “Never will I sell such cloth in the market-place; no one should wear it except it be the Tzar himself, and to-morrow I shall carry it to the Palace.”
Next day, accordingly, the old woman went to the Tzar’s splendid Palace and fell to walking up and down before the windows. The servants came to ask her her errand but she answered them nothing, and kept walking up and down. At length the Tzar opened his window and asked: “What dost thou want, old woman, that thou walkest here?”
“O Tzar’s Majesty!” the old woman answered, “I have with me a marvellous piece of linen stuff, so wondrously woven that I will show it to none but thee.”
The Tzar bade them bring her before him and when he saw the linen he was struck with astonishment at its fineness and beauty. “What wilt thou take for it, old woman?” he asked.
“There is no price that can buy it, Little Father Tzar,” she answered; “but I have brought it to thee as a gift.” The Tzar could not thank the old woman enough. He took the linen and sent her to her house with many rich presents.
Seamstresses were called to make shirts for him out of the cloth; but when it had been cut up, so fine was it that no one of them was deft and skilful enough to sew it. The best seamstresses in all the Tzardom were summoned but none dared undertake it. So at last the Tzar sent for the old woman and said: “If thou didst know how to spin such thread and weave such linen, thou must also know how to sew me shirts from it.”
And the old woman answered: “O Tzar’s Majesty, it was not I who wove the linen; it is the work of my adopted daughter.”
“Take it, then,” the Tzar said, “and bid her do it for me.”
The old woman brought the linen home and told Wassilissa the Tzar’s command: “Well I knew that the work would needs be done by my own hands,” said Wassilissa, and, locking herself in her own room, began to make the shirts. So fast and well did she work that soon a dozen were ready. Then the old woman carried them to the Tzar, while Wassilissa washed her face, dressed her hair, put on her best gown and sat down at the window to see what would happen. And presently a servant in the livery of the Palace came to the house and entering, said: “The Tzar, our lord, desires himself to see the clever needlewoman who has made his shirts and to reward her with his own hands.”
Wassilissa rose and went at once to the Palace, and as soon as the Tzar saw her, he fell in love with her with all his soul. He took her by her white hand and made her sit beside him. “Beautiful maiden,” he said, “never will I part from thee and thou shalt be my wife.”
So the Tzar and Wassilissa the Beautiful were married, and her father returned from the far-distant kingdom, and he and the old woman lived always with her in the splendid Palace, in all joy and contentment. And as for the little wooden doll, she carried it about with her in her pocket all her life long.
From Russian wonder tales.London: Adam and Charles Black, 1912.