Vasilissa the Fair
Pavlova, Elena, The World and I
There was once a merchant who was happily married. He and his wife had a very beautiful daughter, whom they named Vasilissa. But when the child was only eight years old, her mother grew dreadfully sick. "Come here, Vasilissa," said the mother, as she lay on her deathbed.
She took a small doll from beneath the covers and gave it to the child. "Listen carefully," she said. "Take this doll with my blessing, but do not show it to anyone. In times of trouble, the doll will help you. Give it food-and listen to its advice." Then Vasilissa's mother died.
The merchant grieved for his wife, as was only proper, but in time he decided to remarry. He chose a widow who had two daughters of her own, slightly older than Vasilissa. He was a good man and many would have accepted him, but he chose badly. His new wife was not a good stepmother to Vasilissa, and her daughters were jealous of Vasilissa's beauty. They gave the child every dirty and heavy job to do and always criticized and tormented her.
Poor Vasilissa endured everything without complaint. Indeed she grew more beautiful, despite her hard life and rough work, while her spiteful stepmother and stepsisters--though they all lived a life of ease--grew gaunt and ugly. How could this be? It was because Vasilissa was helped in all her tasks and trials by her little doll. The child would even go hungry to save food for it. And this special friend would do everything that needed to be done.
So Vasilissa was never coarsened by rough work. She grew to become a beautiful young woman, despite all the meanness that surrounded her. Soon every young man in the' town was coming to court her. But the stepmother would not allow fray man to woo Vasilissa and turned them all away. She was angry that none of the young men would consider her own daughters, and she often beat Vasilissa in her rage.
Vasilissa is sent away
Now the merchant's business required him to travel far away, to distant lands and for a long time. While he was gone, the stepmother moved the family to a house near the forest. Within these woods was the home of Baba Yaga, the evil and bony witch, who was known to eat people as if they were chickens. The malicious stepmother sent Vasilissa into the forest on one errand after another. But no harm ever befell the young woman. Her little doll always kept her safe.
So, one evening, the stepmother gave all three girls jobs to be completed before the next day. The first should make lace, the second knit stockings, and Vasilissa was to spin wool. But the stepmother only left them one candle for light. When the candle began to smoke, the elder daughter went to trim the wick but instead snuffed out the light.
Was this an accident? Or was this a plan prearranged with the stepmother? Judge for yourself.
"What shall we do?" cried the girl. "There is no light, and our work is not done."
"Someone must run to Baba Yaga's house and beg for a light," suggested the other daughter.
"Not me," declared the first girl. "I can see well enough to finish my task."
"Nor me," said the second. "I can see well enough to use my needles."
"It must be you!" they both shouted, grabbing Vasilissa. "Off you go to Baba Yaga!"
Poor Vasilissa went to her room. There she set supper before the little doll and asked for its advice. "Do not fear," said the doll. "Keep me with you at all times, and you will be safe."
So Vasilissa crossed herself, placed her trusted protector in her pocket, and set out into the dense, dark forest. Off she went into the night, trembling with fear, leaving her home far behind. Suddenly a strange and terrible horseman came racing past. He was white-faced, cloaked and clothed in white, and astride a white horse harnessed in white. Then the first signs of dawn appeared.
A second horseman came by. His face, cloak, and steed were totally red. …