The Witch

: The Yellow Fairy Book

From the Russian.

Once upon a time there was a peasant whose wife died, leaving him

with two children--twins--a boy and a girl. For some years the

poor man lived on alone with the children, caring for them as

best he could; but everything in the house seemed to go wrong

without a woman to look after it, and at last he made up his mind

to marry again, feeling that a wife would bring peace and order
br /> to his household and take care of his motherless children. So he

married, and in the following years several children were born to

him; but peace and order did not come to the household. For the

step-mother was very cruel to the twins, and beat them, and

half-starved them, and constantly drove them out of the house;

for her one idea was to get them out of the way. All day she

thought of nothing but how she should get rid of them; and at

last an evil idea came into her head, and she determined to send

them out into the great gloomy wood where a wicked witch lived.

And so one morning she spoke to them, saying:

'You have been such good children that I am going to send you to

visit my granny, who lives in a dear little hut in the wood. You

will have to wait upon her and serve her, but you will be well

rewarded, for she will give you the best of everything.'

So the children left the house together; and the little sister,

who was very wise for her years, said to the brother:

'We will first go and see our own dear grandmother, and tell her

where our step-mother is sending us.'

And when the grandmother heard where they were going, she cried

and said:

'You poor motherless children! How I pity you; and yet I can do

nothing to help you! Your step-mother is not sending you to her

granny, but to a wicked witch who lives in that great gloomy

wood. Now listen to me, children. You must be civil and kind to

everyone, and never say a cross word to anyone, and never touch a

crumb belonging to anyone else. Who knows if, after all, help

may not be sent to you?'

And she gave her grandchildren a bottle of milk and a piece of

ham and a loaf of bread, and they set out for the great gloomy

wood. When they reached it they saw in front of them, in the

thickest of the trees, a queer little hut, and when they looked

into it, there lay the witch, with her head on the threshold of

the door, with one foot in one corner and the other in the other

corner, and her knees cocked up, almost touching the ceiling.

'Who's there?' she snarled, in an awful voice, when she saw the


And they answered civilly, though they were so terrified that

they hid behind one another, and said:

'Good-morning, granny; our step-mother has sent us to wait upon

you, and serve you.'

'See that you do it well, then,' growled the witch. 'If I am

pleased with you, I'll reward you; but if I am not, I'll put you

in a pan and fry you in the oven--that's what I'll do with you,

my pretty dears! You have been gently reared, but you'll find my

work hard enough. See if you don't.'

And, so saying, she set the girl down to spin yarn, and she gave

the boy a sieve in which to carry water from the well, and she

herself went out into the wood. Now, as the girl was sitting at

her distaff, weeping bitterly because she could not spin, she

heard the sound of hundreds of little feet, and from every hole

and corner in the hut mice came pattering along the floor,

squeaking and saying:

'Little girl, why are your eyes so red?

If you want help, then give us some bread.'

And the girl gave them the bread that her grandmother had given

her. Then the mice told her that the witch had a cat, and the

cat was very fond of ham; if she would give the cat her ham, it

would show her the way out of the wood, and in the meantime they

would spin the yarn for her. So the girl set out to look for the

cat, and, as she was hunting about, she met her brother, in great

trouble because he could not carry water from the well in a

sieve, as it came pouring out as fast as he put it in. And as

she was trying to comfort him they heard a rustling of wings, and

a flight of wrens alighted on the ground beside them. And the

wrens said:

'Give us some crumbs, then you need not grieve.

For you'll find that water will stay in the sieve.'

Then the twins crumbled their bread on the ground, and the wrens

pecked it, and chirruped and chirped. And when they had eaten

the last crumb they told the boy to fill up the holes of the

sieve with clay, and then to draw water from the well. So he did

what they said, and carried the sieve full of water into the hut

without spilling a drop. When they entered the hut the cat was

curled up on the floor. So they stroked her, and fed her with

ham, and said to her:

'Pussy, grey pussy, tell us how we are to get away from the


Then the cat thanked them for the ham, and gave them a pocket-

handkerchief and a comb, and told them that when the witch

pursued them, as she certainly would, all they had to do was to

throw the handkerchief on the ground and run as fast as they

could. As soon as the handkerchief touched the ground a deep,

broad river would spring up, which would hinder the witch's

progress. If she managed to get across it, they must throw the

comb behind them and run for their lives, for where the comb fell

a dense forest would start up, which would delay the witch so

long that they would be able to get safely away.

The cat had scarcely finished speaking when the witch returned to

see if the children had fulfilled their tasks.

'Well, you have done well enough for to-day,' she grumbled; 'but

to-morrow you'll have something more difficult to do, and if you

don't do it well, you pampered brats, straight into the oven you


Half-dead with fright, and trembling in every limb, the poor

children lay down to sleep on a heap of straw in the corner of

the hut; but they dared not close their eyes, and scarcely

ventured to breathe. In the morning the witch gave the girl two

pieces of linen to weave before night, and the boy a pile of wood

to cut into chips. Then the witch left them to their tasks, and

went out into the wood. As soon as she had gone out of sight the

children took the comb and the handkerchief, and, taking one

another by the hand, they started and ran, and ran, and ran. And

first they met the watch-dog, who was going to leap on them and

tear them to pieces; but they threw the remains of their bread to

him, and he ate them and wagged his tail. Then they were

hindered by the birch-trees, whose branches almost put their eyes

out. But the little sister tied the twigs together with a piece

of ribbon, and they got past safely, and, after running through

the wood, came out on to the open fields.

In the meantime in the hut the cat was busy weaving the linen and

tangling the threads as it wove. And the witch returned to see

how the children were getting on; and she crept up to the window,

and whispered:

'Are you weaving, my little dear?'

'Yes, granny, I am weaving,' answered the cat.

When the witch saw that the children had escaped her, she was

furious, and, hitting the cat with a porringer, she said: 'Why

did you let the children leave the hut? Why did you not scratch

their eyes out?'

But the cat curled up its tail and put its back up, and answered:

'I have served you all these years and you never even threw me a

bone, but the dear children gave me their own piece of ham.'

Then the witch was furious with the watch-dog and with the

birch-trees, because they had let the children pass. But the dog


'I have served you all these years and you never gave me so much

as a hard crust, but the dear children gave me their own loaf of


And the birch rustled its leaves, and said: 'I have served you

longer than I can say, and you never tied a bit of twine even

round my branches; and the dear children bound them up with their

brightest ribbons.'

So the witch saw there was no help to be got from her old

servants, and that the best thing she could do was to mount on

her broom and set off in pursuit of the children. And as the

children ran they heard the sound of the broom sweeping the

ground close behind them, so instantly they threw the

handkerchief down over their shoulder, and in a moment a deep,

broad river flowed behind them.

When the witch came up to it, it took her a long time before she

found a place which she could ford over on her broom-stick; but

at last she got across, and continued the chase faster than

before. And as the children ran they heard a sound, and the

little sister put her ear to the ground, and heard the broom

sweeping the earth close behind them; so, quick as thought, she

threw the comb down on the ground, and in an instant, as the cat

had said, a dense forest sprung up, in which the roots and

branches were so closely intertwined, that it was impossible to

force a way through it. So when the witch came up to it on her

broom she found that there was nothing for it but to turn round

and go back to her hut.

But the twins ran straight on till they reached their own home.

Then they told their father all that they had suffered, and he

was so angry with their step-mother that he drove her out of the

house, and never let her return; but he and the children lived

happily together; and he took care of them himself, and never let

a stranger come near them.