The Fool of the World put on the fine clothes, and stood there as handsome a young man as a princess could wish for a husband. He presented himself before the Tzar, fell in love with the Princess and she with him, married her the same day, received with her a rich dowry, and became so clever that all the court repeated everything he said. The Tzar and the Tzaritza liked him very much, and as for the Princess, she loved him to distraction.
“Tell us about Baba Yaga,” begged Maroosia.
“Yes,” said Vanya, “please, grandfather, and about the little hut on hen’s legs.”
“Baba Yaga is a witch,” said old Peter; “a terrible old woman she is, but sometimes kind enough. You know it was she who told Prince Ivan how to win one of the daughters of the Tzar of the Sea, and that was the best daughter of the bunch, Vasilissa the Very Wise. But then Baba Yaga is usually bad, as in the case of Vasilissa the Very Beautiful, who was only saved from her iron teeth by the cleverness of her Magic Doll.”
“Tell us the story of the Magic Doll,” begged Maroosia.
“I will some day,” said old Peter.
“And has Baba Yaga really got iron teeth?” asked Vanya.
“Iron, like the poker and tongs,” said old Peter.
“What for?” said Maroosia.
“To eat up little Russian children,” said old Peter, “when she can get them. She usually only eats bad ones, because the good ones get away. She is bony all over, and her eyes flash, and she drives about in a mortar, beating it with a pestle, and sweeping up her tracks with a besom, so that you cannot tell which way she has gone.”
“And her hut?” said Vanya. He had often heard about it before, but he wanted to hear about it again.
“She lives in a little hut which stands on hen’s legs. Sometimes it faces the forest, sometimes it faces the path, and sometimes it walks solemnly about. But in some of the stories she lives in another kind of hut, with a railing of tall sticks, and a skull on each stick. And all night long fire glows in the skulls and fades as the dawn rises.”
“Now tell us one of the Baba Yaga stories,” said Maroosia.
“Please,” said Vanya.
“I will tell you how one little girl got away from her, and then, if ever she catches you, you will know exactly what to do.”
And old Peter put down his pipe and began:—
Once upon a time there was a widowed old man who lived alone in a hut with his little daughter. Very merry they were together, and they used to smile at each other over a table just piled with bread and jam. Everything went well, until the old man took it into his head to marry again.