Russian Folk-Tales/Vasilísa Popóvna

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In a certain kingdom, in a certain country, once there lived Vasíli the pope and his daughter, Vasilísa Vasílyevna. She used to dress in male fashion, used to sit astride on horseback; shot with her gun, and did nothing like other girls; and there were very few who knew that she was a maiden. It was always thought that she was a man, and they called her Vasíli Vasílyevich. And the main reason that they so called her was because Vasilísa Vasílyevna loved vódka—a custom ill-befitting a maid.

Once Tsar Bárkhat [1] (this was the name of the King) was travelling through this same country hunting deer, and Vasilísa Vasílyevna met him: she was riding out to hounds in a man's clothes. When Tsar Bárkhat saw her, he asked: "Who is this young man?"

And an attendant answered him: "Tsar, this is no young man, but a maiden. I am certain of it; she is the daughter of Pope Vasíli, and her name is Vasilísa Vasílyevna."

The Tsar had hardly reached home before he sent a note to Pope Vasíli, bidding his son Vasíli Vasílyevich come and dine with him at the imperial table. And he, in the meantime, went to his old evil-tempered housekeeper and bade her devise some means of eliciting whether Vasíli Vasílyevich were a maiden.

The old evil housekeeper said: "Hang an embroidery-frame in your palace, at the right hand, and a gun on the left; if she is really Vasilísa Vasílyevna, she will, as soon as ever she enters the palace, first take hold of the frame; but, if it is Vasíli Vasílyevich he will lay hands on the gun."

Tsar Bárkhat obeyed the counsel of his ancient evil housekeeper and ordered his attendants to hang an embroidery-frame and a flint-lock up in the palace.

As soon as ever her father Vasíli received the Tsar's message he communicated it to his daughter, Vasilísa Vasílyevna, who at once went into the stable and saddled the grey horse with the silver mane, and rode straight out to the courtyard of Tsar Bárkhat.

Tsar Bárkhat came to meet her. She humbly prayed God, crossed herself as is ordained, bowed to all four sides, and greeted Tsar Bárkhat friendliwise, and with him entered the palace. They sat down to table together, ate sweetmeats, and drank strong wine. After the dinner Vasilísa Vasílyevna went for a walk with the Tsar through the palace. As soon as ever she saw the embroidery-frame she began to scold Tsar Bárkhat: "Whatever nonsense have you hanging up there, Tsar Bárkhat? I never saw such girlish trash in my father's house, and I have never heard of it, and yet you find it hanging in Tsar Bárkhat's palace!" And she promptly bade a courteous farewell to the Tsar and rode home.

And the Tsar was still in a quandary whether she were a maiden or not. Two days later Tsar Bárkhat sent another message to Pope Vasíli, begging him send his son Vasíli Vasílyevich. As soon as Vasilísa Vasílyevna heard that she went into the stable and saddled the grey horse with the silver mane, and galloped away to Tsar Bárkhat's courtyard. Tsar Bárkhat came to meet her, and she greeted him friendlily, modestly prayed to God, crossed herself, as is becoming, and bowed to the four quarters of the wind. At the advice of the old and evil housekeeper he had commanded a sweet pie to be made for supper and pearls to be mixed in it, for the old hag said: "If it is only Vasilísa Vasílyevna, she will take up the pearls; but, if it is Vasíli Vasílyevich, he will throw them under the table."

So they passed the time merrily and they sat down. The Tsar sat at table and Vasilísa Vasílyevna on his right. They ate sweetmeats and they drank strong wines. Then there came the pie, and as soon as even Vasilísa Vasílyevna's spoon touched it, it tingled on the pearls; and she flung them and the pie under the table, and began to scold the Tsar. "Who," she asked, "put these into the pie? Whatever nonsense have you here, Tsar Bárkhat? I never saw such girlish trash in my father's house, and I have never heard of them, and yet you find them in Tsar Bárkhat's food!" And she bade farewell courteously and rode home.

Still the Tsar was utterly at a loss whether it were a maiden, and he had made up his mind to find out. So, two days later, the Tsar, at the advice of the old evil-minded housekeeper, had the bath heated, for the old woman said: "If it is only Vasilísa Vasílyevna she will not go into the bath together with the Tsar." So the bath was heated, and Tsar Bárkhat sent Pope Vasíli another message that he would like to have his son Vasíli Vasílyevich as his guest; and when Vasilísa Vasílyevna heard of it she went into the stable and saddled the grey horse with the silver mane, and galloped away to Tsar Bárkhat's courtyard. He received her at the state entrance. They greeted each other friendlily, and she trod on velvet pile into the palace. As she came in she prayed devoutly, crossed herself, as is seemly, and bowed to all four quarters, and sat together with the Tsar at table. They ate sweetmeats and drank strong wine.

After the dinner the Tsar said: "Will you not come with me into the bath, Vasíli Vasílyevich?"

"If you wish it, mighty Tsar," Vasilísa Vasílyevna answered. "It is a long time since I have had a bath, and I should like a steam bath."

But before ever the Tsar had had time to undress in the front room, she was in the bath and out of it, so quick was she, and the Tsar was as puzzled as ever. In the meantime Vasilísa Vasílyevna had written a letter and bade the attendants give it to the Tsar as soon as he came out of the bath. And this was what she wrote:

"O you crow, you Tsar Bárkhat! The crow has not caught the falcon in the garden. I am not Vasíli Vasílyevich, but Vasilísa Vasílyevna!"

This was the way in which Tsar Bárkhat was hoodwinked; and you see how clever and beautiful Vasilísa Vasílyevna was.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

  1. The word means velvet.