1.THE TALE OF THE SILVER SAUCER AND THE TRANSPARENT APPLE.
There was once an old peasant who was a merchant. Every year he took things to sell at the big fair of Nijni Novgorod.
This merchant had three daughters. They were all quite fair, but one of them was as pretty as a picture. And she was the best of them too. The others gave all the hard work to her, while they did nothing but look at themselves in the mirror and complain about what they had to eat. They called the pretty one “Little Stupid,” because she was so good and did all their work for them. When the time came round for the merchant to pack up and go to the big fair he called his daughters, and said, “Little pigeons,” what would you like me to bring you from the fair?”
The eldest said, “I’d like a necklace, but it must be an expensive one.”
The second one said, “I want a new dress with gold hems.”
But the youngest, the good one, Little Stupid, said nothing at all.
“Now little one,” said her father, “what is it you want? I must bring something for you too.”
The little one said, “Could I have a silver saucer and a transparent apple? But never mind if there are none.”
The old merchant promised the little pretty one, who was so good that her sisters called her stupid, that if he could get her a silver saucer and a transparent apple she should have them.
Then they all kissed each other, and he cracked his whip, and off he went, with the little bells jingling on the horses’ harness.
The three sisters waited till he came back. The two elder ones looked in the mirror, and thought how fine they would look in the new necklace and the new dress; but the little pretty one took care of her old mother, and scrubbed and dusted and swept and cooked, and every day the other two said that the soup was tasteless or the bread not properly baked.
Then one day there were a jingling of bells and a clattering of horses’ hoofs, and the old merchant came driving back from the fair.
The sisters ran out.
“Where is the necklace?” asked the first.
“You haven’t forgotten the dress?” asked the second.
But the little one, Little Stupid, helped her old father off with his coat, and asked him if he was tired.
“Well, little one,” said the old merchant, ” don’t you want your gift too? I went from one end of the market to the other before I could get what you wanted. I bought the silver saucer from an old man, and the transparent apple from an old woman.”
“Oh, thank you, father,” said the little one.
“And what will you do with them?” he said.
“I shall spin the apple in the saucer,” said the little pretty one, and at that the old merchant burst out laughing.
“They don’t call you ‘Little Stupid’ for nothing,” he said.
Well, they all had their gifts, and the two elder sisters, the bad ones, they ran off and put on the new dress and the new necklace, and came out and strutted about, preening themselves like peacocks to see how they looked. But Little Stupid, she just sat herself down beside the stove, and took the transparent apple and set it in the silver saucer, and she laughed softly to herself. And then she began spinning the apple in the saucer.
Round and round the apple spun in the saucer, faster and faster, till you couldn’t see the apple at all, nothing but a mist like a little whirlpool in the silver saucer. The little good one looked at it, and her eyes shone.
Her sisters laughed at her.
“Spinning an apple in a saucer and staring at it, the little stupid,” they said, as they strutted about the room, listening to the rustle of the new dress and fingering the bright round stones of the necklace.
But the little pretty one did not mind them. She sat in the corner watching the spinning apple. And as it spun she talked to it.
“Spin, spin, apple in the silver saucer.” This is what she said. “Spin so that I may see the world. Let me have a peep at the Tzar on his high throne. Let me see the rivers and the ships and the great towns far away.”
And as she looked at the little glass whirlpool in the saucer, there was the Tzar, sitting on his high throne. Ships sailed on the seas, their white sails swelling in the wind. There was Moscow with its white stone walls and painted churches. There were the market at Nijni Novgorod, and the Arab merchants with their camels, and the Chinese with their blue trousers and bamboo staves. And then there was the great river Volga, with men on the banks towing ships against the stream and she saw a sturgeon asleep in a deep pool.
“Oh! oh! oh!” said the little pretty one, as she saw all these things.
When the bad ones saw how her eyes shone they came and looked over her shoulder, and saw how all the world was there, in the spinning apple and the silver saucer. The old father came and looked over her shoulder too, and he saw the market at Nijni Novgorod.
“Why, there is the inn where I stayed,” he said. “You haven’t done so badly after all, Little Stupid.”
The little pretty one, Little Stupid, went on staring into the glass whirlpool in the saucer, spinning the apple, and seeing all the world she had never seen before, floating there before her in the saucer, brighter than leaves in sunlight.
The bad ones, the elder sisters, were sick with envy.
“Little Stupid,” said the first, “if you will give me your silver saucer and your transparent apple, I will give you my fine new necklace.”
“Little Stupid,” said the second, “I will give you my new dress with gold hems if you will give me your transparent apple and your silver saucer.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” said the Little Stupid, and she went on spinning the apple in the saucer and seeing what was happening all over the world.
So the bad ones put their wicked heads together and thought of a plan. They took their father’s axe, and went into the deep forest and hid it under a bush.
The next day they waited till afternoon, when work was done, and the little pretty one was spinning her apple in the saucer. Then they said,—
“Come along, Little Stupid; we are all going to gather berries in the forest.”
“Do you really want me to come too?” said the little one. She would rather have played with her apple and saucer.
But they said, “Why, of course. You don’t think we can carry all the berries ourselves!”
So the little one jumped up, and found the baskets, and went with them to the forest. But before she left she ran to her father, who was counting his money. She asked him to take care of the silver saucer and the transparent apple for fear she would lose them in the forest.
“Very well, little bird,” said the old man, and he put the things in a box with a lock and key to it. So the little one picks up all three baskets and runs off after the others, the bad ones, with black hearts under their necklaces and new dresses.
They went deep into the forest, picking berries, and the little one picked so fast that she soon had a basket full. She was picking and picking, and did not see what the bad ones were doing. They were fetching the axe.
The little one stood up to straighten her back, which ached after so much stooping, and she saw her two sisters standing in front of her, looking at her cruelly. Their baskets lay on the ground quite empty. They had not picked a berry. The eldest had the axe in her hand.
The little one was frightened.
“What is it, sisters?” she said , “and why do you look at me with cruel eyes? And what is the axe for? You are not going to cut berries with an axe.”
“No, Little Stupid,” said the first, “we are not going to cut berries with the axe.”
“No, Little Stupid,” said the second; “the axe is here for something else.”
The little one begged them not to frighten her.
The first one said, “Give me your transparent apple.”
The second one said, “Give me your silver saucer.”
“If you don’t give them up at once, we shall kill you.” That is what the bad ones said.
The poor little one begged them. “Oh darling sisters, do not kill me! I haven’t got the saucer or the apple with me at all.”
“What a lie!” said the bad ones. “You never would leave it behind.”
And one caught her by the hair, and the other swung the axe, and between them they killed the little pretty one, who was called Little Stupid because she was so good.
Then they looked for the saucer and the apple, and could not find them. But it was too late then. So they made a hole in the ground, and buried the little one under a birch tree.
When the sun went down the bad ones came home, and they wailed with false voices, and rubbed their eyes to make the tears come. They made their eyes red and their noses too
“What is the matter with you, little pigeons?” said the old merchant and his wife.
And they wail aloud,—
“We are miserable for ever. Our poor little sister is lost. We looked for her everywhere. We heard the wolves howling. They must have eaten her.”
The old mother and father cried like rivers in springtime, because they loved the little pretty one, who was called Little Stupid because she was so good.
But before their tears were dry the bad ones began to ask for the silver saucer and the transparent apple.
“No, no,” said the old man; “I shall keep them forever, in memory of my poor little daughter whom God has taken away.”
So the bad ones did not gain by killing their little sister.
Time did not stop with the death of the little girl. Winter came, and the snow with it. Everything was all white, just as it is now. And the wolves came to the doors of the huts, even into the villages, and no one stirred farther than he need. Then the snow melted, and the buds broke on the trees, and the birds began singing, and the sun shone warmer every dry. The old people had almost forgotten the little pretty one who lay dead in the forest. The bad ones had not forgotten, because now they had to do the work, and they did not like that at all.
Then one day some lambs strayed away into the forest, and a young shepherd went after them to bring them safely back to their mothers. And as he wandered this way and that through the forest, following their light tracks, he came to a little birch tree, bright with new leaves, waving over a little mound of earth. And there was a reed growing in the mound, and there were flowers round it, some red as the sun at dawn and others blue as the summer sky.
Well, the shepherd looks at the reed, and he looks at those flowers, and he thinks, “I’ve never seen anything like that before. I’ll make a whistle-pipe of that reed.”
So he did. He cut the reed, and sat himself down on the mound, and carved away at the reed with his knife and there was his whistle-pipe. And then he put it to his lips to see what sort of music he could make on it. But he never found out because before his lips touched it the whistle-pipe began playing by itself and singing in a girl’s sweet voice. This is what it sang:—
“Play, play, whistle-pipe. Bring happiness to my dear father and to my little mother. I was killed—yes, my life was taken from me in the deep forest for the sake of a silver saucer, for the sake of a transparent apple.”
When he heard that the shepherd went back quickly to the village to show it to the people. And all the way the whistle-pipe went on playing and singing its little song. And everyone who heard it said, “What a strange song! But who is it who was killed?”
“I know nothing about it,” said the shepherd, and he told them about the mound and the reed and the flowers, and how he cut the reed and made the whistle-pipe, and how the whistle-pipe does its playing by itself.
As he was going through the village, with all the people crowding about him, the old merchant, that one who was the father of the two bad ones and of the little pretty one, came along and listened with the rest. When he heard the words about the silver saucer and the transparent apple, he snatched the whistle-pipe from the shepherd boy. And still it sang:—
“Play, play, whistle-pipe! Bring happiness to my dear father and to my little mother. I was killed—yes, my life was taken from me in the deep forest for the sake of a silver saucer, for the sake of a transparent apple.”
And the old merchant remembered the little good one, and his tears trickled over his cheeks and down his old beard and he said to the shepherd,—
“Take me at once to the mound, where you say you cut the reed.”
The shepherd led the way, and the old man walked beside him, crying, while the whistle-pipe in his hand went on singing and reciting its little song over and over again.
They came to the mound under the birch tree, and there were the flowers, shining red and blue, and there in the middle of the mound was the stump of the reed which the shepherd had cut.
The whistle-pipe sang on and on.
Well, there and then they dug up the mound, and there was the little girl lying under the dark earth as if she were asleep.
“Oh God of mine,” said the old merchant, “this is my daughter, my little pretty one, whom we called Little Stupid.” He began to weep loudly and wring his hands; but the whistle-pipe, playing and singing, changed its song. This is what it sang:—
“My sisters took me into the forest to look for the red berries. In the deep forest they killed poor me for the sake of a silver saucer, for the sake of a transparent apple. Wake me, dear father, from a bitter dream, by fetching water from the well of the Tzar.”
How the people scowled at the two sisters! They scowled, they cursed them for the bad ones they were. The two sisters, wept, and fell on their knees, and confessed everything. They were taken, and their hands were tied, and they were shut up in prison.
“Do not kill them,” begged the old merchant, “for then I should have no daughters at all. Besides, let me go to the Tzar and beg water from his well. Perhaps my little daughter will wake up, as the whistle-pipe tells us.”
And the whistle-pipe sang again:—
“Wake me, wake me, dear father, from a bitter dream, by fetching water from the well of the Tzar. Till then, dear father, a blanket of black earth and the shade of the green birch tree.”
So they covered the little girl with her blanket of earth, and the shepherd with his dogs watched the mound night and day. He begged for the whistle-pipe to keep him company, poor lad, and all the days and nights he thought of the sweet face of the little pretty one he had seen there under the birch tree.
The old merchant harnessed his horse, as if he were going to the town; and he drove off through the forest, along the roads, till he came to the palace of the Tzar. Then he left his horse and cart and waited on the steps of the palace.
The Tzar, the little father, with rings on his fingers and a gold crown on his head, came out on the steps in the morning sunshine; and the old merchant fell on his knees and kissed the feet of the Tzar, and begged,—
“Your Majesty, let me take water—just a little drop of water—from your holy well.”
“And what will you do with it?” asked the Tzar.
“I will wake my daughter from a bitter dream,” said the old merchant. “She was murdered by her sisters—killed in the deep forest—for the sake of a silver saucer, for the sake of a transparent apple.”
“A silver saucer?” said the Tzar—”a transparent apple? Tell me about that.”
And the old merchant told the Tzar everything.
The Tzar gave the old merchant a glass of water from his holy well. “But,” he said, “when your daughter wakes, bring her to me, and her sisters with her, and also the silver saucer and the transparent apple.”
The old man kissed the ground before the Tzar, and took the glass of water and drove home with it, and I can tell you he was careful not to spill a drop. He carried it all the way in one hand as he drove.
He came to the forest and to the flowering mound under the little birch tree, and there was the shepherd watching with his dogs. The old merchant and the shepherd took away the blanket of black earth. Tenderly, tenderly the shepherd used his fingers, until the little girl, the pretty one, the good one, lay there as sweet as if she were not dead.
Then the merchant scattered the holy water from the glass over the little girl. His daughter blushed as she lay there, and opened her eyes, and passed a hand across them, as if she were waking from a dream. Then she leapt up, crying and laughing, and clung about her old father’s neck. There they stood, the two of them, laughing and crying with joy. The shepherd could not take his eyes from her, and in his eyes, too, there were tears.
But the old father did not forget what he had promised the Tzar. He set the little pretty one, who had been so good that her wicked sisters had called her Stupid, to sit beside him on the cart. And he brought something from the house and kept it under his coat. They brought out the two sisters, the bad ones, from their dark prison, and set them in the cart. The Little Stupid kissed them and cried over them, and wanted to untie their hands, but the old merchant would not let her. Then they all drove together till they came to the palace of the Tzar. The shepherd boy could not take his eyes from the little pretty one, and he ran all the way behind the cart.
Well, they came to the palace, and waited on the steps; and the Tzar came out to take the morning air, and he saw the old merchant, and the two sisters with their hands tied, and the little pretty, one, as lovely as a spring day. When the Tzar saw her, he could not take his eyes from her. He did not see the shepherd boy, who hid away among the crowd.
The Tzar said to his soldiers, pointing to the bad sisters, “These two are to be put to death at sunset. When the sun goes down their heads must come off, for they are not fit to see another day.”
Then he turned to the little pretty one and said: “Little sweet girl, where is your silver saucer, and where is your transparent apple?”
The old merchant took the wooden box from under his coat, and opened it with a key at his belt, and gave it to the little one, and she took out the silver saucer and the transparent apple and gave them to the Tzar.
“Your majesty,” she said, ” spin the apple in the saucer, and you will see whatever you wish to see—your soldiers, your high hills, your forests, your plains, your rivers, and everything in all Russia.”
The Tzar spun the apple in the saucer till it seemed a little whirlpool of white mist, and there he saw glittering towns, and regiments of soldiers marching to war, and ships, and day and night, and the clear stars above the trees. He looked at these things and thought much of them.
Then the little good one threw herself on her knees before him, weeping.
” Your majesty,” she said, “take my transparent apple and my silver saucer; only forgive my sisters. Do not kill them because of me. If their heads are cut off when the sun goes down, it would have been better for me to lie under the blanket of black earth in the shade of the birch tree in the forest.”
The Tzar was pleased with the kind heart of the little pretty one, and he forgave the bad ones, and their hands were untied, and the little pretty one kissed them, and they kissed her again and said they were sorry.
The old merchant looked up at the sun, and saw how the time was going.
“Well, well,” he said, “it’s time we were getting ready to go home.”
They all fell on their knees before the Tzar and thanked him. But the Tzar could not take his eyes from the little pretty one, and would not let her go.
“Little sweet girl,” said he, “will you be my wife?”
The little good one did not know what to say. She blushed and answered, very rightly, “As my father orders, and as my little mother wishes, so shall it be.”
The Tzar was pleased with her answer, and he sent a messenger on a galloping horse to ask permission from the little pretty one’s old mother. Of course the old mother said that she was more than willing. So that was all right. Then there was a wedding—such a wedding!—and every city in Russia sent a silver plate of bread, and a golden salt-cellar, with their good wishes to the Tzar and Tzarina
Only the shepherd boy, when he heard that the little pretty one was to marry the Tzar, turned sadly away and went off into the forest.
“Are you happy, little sweet girl?” said the Tzar.
“Oh yes,” said the Little Stupid, who was now Tzarina and mother of Holy Russia; “but there is one thing that would make me happier.”
“And what is that?” asked the Tzar.
“I cannot bear to lose my old father and my little mother and my dear sisters. Let them be with me here in the palace, as they were in my father’s house.”
The Tzar laughed at the little pretty one, but he agreed, and the little pretty one ran to tell them the good news. She said to her sisters, “Let all be forgotten, and all be forgiven!”
For a long time the Tzar, and the little pretty one, the Tzarina, lived happily together and they had many children, and were very contented. Ever since then the Tzars of Russia have kept the silver saucer and the transparent apple, so that, whenever they wish, they can see everything that is going on all over Russia.