nce upon a time an old man, a widower, lived alone in a hut with his daughter Natasha. Very merry the two of them were together, and they used to smile at each other over a table piled with bread and jam, and play peek-a-boo, first this side of the samovar, and then that. Everything went well, until the old man took it into his head to marry again.
So the little girl gained a stepmother. After that everything changed. No more bread and jam on the table, no more playing peek-a-boo around the samovar as the girl sat with her father at tea. It was even worse than that, because she was never allowed to sit at tea at all anymore. The stepmother said that little girls shouldn't have tea, much less eat bread with jam. She would throw the girl a crust of bread and tell her to get out of the hut and go find someplace to eat it. Then the stepmother would sit with her husband and tell him that everything that went wrong was the girl's fault. And the old man believed his new wife.
So poor Natasha would go by herself into the shed in the yard, wet the dry crust with her tears, and eat it all by herself.
Then she would hear the stepmother yelling at her to come in and wash up the tea things, and tidy the house, and brush the floor, and clean everybody's muddy boots.
One day the stepmother decided she could not bear the sight of Natasha one minute longer. But how could she get rid of her for good? Then she remembered her sister, the terrible witch Baba Yaga, the bony-legged one, who lived in the forest. And a wicked plan began to form in her head.
The very next morning, the old man went off to pay a visit to some friends of his in the next village. As soon as the old man was out of sight the wicked stepmother called for Natasha.
"You are to go today to my sister, your dear little aunt, who lives in the forest," said she, "and ask her for a needle and thread to mend a shirt."
"But here is a needle and thread," said Natasha, trembling, for she knew that her aunt was Baba Yaga, the witch, and that any child who came near her was never seen again.
"Hold your tongue," snapped the stepmother, and she gnashed her teeth, which made a noise like clattering tongs. "Didn't I tell you that you are to go to your dear little aunt in the forest to ask for a needle and thread to mend a shirt?"
"Well, then," said Natasha, trembling, "how shall I find her?" She had heard that Baba Yaga chased her victims through the air in a giant mortar and pestle, and that she had iron teeth with which she ate children.
The stepmother took hold of the little girl's nose and pinched it.
"That is your nose," she said. "Can you feel it?"
"Yes," whispered the poor girl.
"You must go along the road into the forest till you come to a fallen tree," said the stepmother, "then you must turn to your left, and follow your nose and you will find your auntie. Now off with you, lazy one!" She shoved a kerchief in the girl's hand, into which she had packed a few morsels of stale bread and cheese and some scraps of meat.
Natasha looked back. There stood the stepmother at the door with her arms crossed, glaring at her. So she could do nothing but to go straight on.
She walked along the road through the forest till she came to the fallen tree. Then she turned to the left. Her nose was still hurting where the stepmother had pinched it, so she knew she had to go on straight ahead.
Finally she came to the hut of Baba Yaga, the bony-legged one, the witch. Around the hut was a high fence. When she pushed the gates open they squeaked miserably, as if it hurt them to move. Natasha noticed a rusty oil can on the ground.
"How lucky," she said, noticing that there was some oil left in the can. And she poured the remaining drops of oil into the hinges of the gates.
Inside the gates was Baba Yaga's hut. It wasn't like any other hut she had ever seen, for it stood on giant hen's legs and walked about the yard. As Natasha approached, the house turned around to face her and it seemed that its front windows were eyes and its front door a mouth. A servant of Baba Yaga's was standing in the yard. She was crying bitterly because of the tasks Baba Yaga had set her to do, and was wiping her eyes on her petticoat.
"How lucky," said Natasha, "that I have a handkerchief." She untied her kerchief, shook it clean, and carefully put the morsels of food in her pockets. She gave the handkerchief to Baba Yaga's servant, who wiped her eyes on it and smiled through her tears.
By the hut was a huge dog, very thin, gnawing an old bone.
"How lucky," said the little girl, "that I have some bread and meat." Reaching into her pocket for her scraps of bread and meat, Natasha said to the dog, "I'm afraid it's rather stale, but it's better than nothing, I'm sure." And the dog gobbled it up at once and licked his lips.
Natasha reached the door to the hut. Trembling, she tapped on the door.
"Come in," squeaked the wicked voice of Baba Yaga.
The little girl stepped in. There sat Baba Yaga, the bony-legged one, the witch, sitting weaving at a loom. In a corner of the hut was a thin black cat watching a mouse-hole.
"Good day to you, auntie," said Natasha, trying to sound not at all afraid.
"Good day to you, niece," said Baba Yaga.
"My stepmother has sent me to you to ask for a needle and thread to mend a shirt."
"Has she now?" smiled Baba Yaga, flashing her iron teeth, for she knew how much her sister hated her stepdaughter. "You sit down here at the loom, and go on with my weaving, while I go and fetch you the needle and thread."
The little girl sat down at the loom and began to weave.
Baba Yaga whispered to her servant, "Listen to me! Make the bath very hot and scrub my niece. Scrub her clean. I'll make a dainty meal of her, I will."
The servant came in for the jug to gather the bathwater. Natasha said, "I beg you, please be not too quick in making the fire, and please carry the water for the bath in a sieve with holes, so that the water will run through." The servant said nothing. But indeed, she took a very long time about getting the bath ready.
Baba Yaga came to the window and said in her sweetest voice, "Are you weaving, little niece? Are you weaving, my pretty?"
"I am weaving, auntie," said Natasha.
When Baba Yaga went away from the window, the little girl spoke to the thin black cat who was watching the mousehole.
"What are you doing?"
"Watching for a mouse," said the thin black cat. "I haven't had any dinner in three days."
"How lucky," said Natasha, "that I have some cheese left!" And she gave her cheese to the thin black cat, who gobbled it up. Said the cat, "Little girl, do you want to get out of here?"
"Oh, Catkin dear," said Natasha, "how I want to get out of here! For I fear that Baba Yaga will try to eat me with her iron teeth."
"That is exactly what she intends to do," said the cat. "But I know how to help you."
Just then Baba Yaga came to the window.
"Are you weaving, little niece?" she asked. "Are you weaving, my pretty?"
"I am weaving, auntie," said Natasha, working away, while the loom went clickety clack, clickety clack.
Baba Yaga went out again.
Whispered the thin black cat to Natasha: "There is a comb on the stool and there is a towel brought for your bath. You must take them both, and run for it while Baba Yaga is still in the bath-house. Baba Yaga will chase after you. When she does, you must throw the towel behind you, and it will turn into a big, wide river. It will take her a little time to get over that. When she gets over the river, you must throw the comb behind you. The comb will sprout up into such a forest that she will never get through it at all."
"But she'll hear the loom stop," said Natasha, "and she'll know I have gone."
"Don't worry, I'll take care of that," said the thin black cat.
The cat took Natasha's place at the loom.
Clickety clack, clickety clack; the loom never stopped for a moment.
Natasha looked to see that Baba Yaga was still in the bath-house, and then she jumped out of the hut.
The big dog leapt up to tear her to pieces. Just as he was going to spring on her he saw who she was.
"Why, this is the little girl who gave me the bread and meat," said the dog. "A good journey to you, little girl," and he lay down with his head between his paws. She petted his head and scratched his ears.
When she came to the gates they opened quietly, quietly, without making any noise at all, because of the oil she had poured into their hinges before.
Then -- how she did run!
Meanwhile the thin black cat sat at the loom. Clickety clack, clickety clack, sang the loom; but you never saw such a tangle of yarn as the tangle made by that thin black cat.
Presently Baba Yaga came to the window.
"Are you weaving, little niece?" she asked in a high-pitched voice. "Are you weaving, my pretty?"
"I am weaving, auntie," said the thin black cat, tangling and tangling the yarn, while the loom went clickety clack, clickety clack.
"That's not the voice of my little dinner," said Baba Yaga, and she jumped into the hut, gnashing her iron teeth. There at the loom was no little girl, but only the thin black cat, tangling and tangling the threads!
"Grrr!" said Baba Yaga, and she jumped at the cat. "Why didn't you scratch the little girl's eyes out?"
The cat curled up its tail and arched its back. "In all the years that I have served you, you have given me only water and made me hunt for my dinner. The girl gave me real cheese."
Baba Yaga was enraged. She grabbed the cat and shook her. Turning to the servant girl and gripping her by her collar, she croaked, "Why did you take so long to prepare the bath?"
"Ah!" trembled the servant, "in all the years that I've served you, you have never so much as given me even a rag, but the girl gave me a pretty kerchief."
Baba Yaga cursed her and dashed out into the yard.
Seeing the gates wide open, she shrieked, "Gates! Why didn't you squeak when she opened you?"
"Ah!" said the gates, "in all the years that we've served you, you never so much as sprinkled a drop of oil on us, and we could hardly stand the sound of our own creaking. But the girl oiled us and we can now swing back and forth without a sound."
Baba Yaga slammed the gates closed. Spinning around, she pointed her long finger at the dog. "You!" she hollered, "why didn't you tear her to pieces when she ran out of the house?"
"Ah!" said the dog, "in all the years that I've served you, you never threw me anything but an old bone crusts, but the girl gave me real meat and bread."
Baba Yaga rushed about the yard, cursing and hitting them all, while screaming at the top of her voice.
Then she jumped into her giant mortar. Beating the mortar with a giant pestle to make it go faster, she flew into the air and quickly closed in on the fleeing Natasha.
For there, on the ground far ahead, she soon spied the girl running through the trees, stumbling, and fearfully looking over her shoulder.
"You'll never escape me!" Baba Yaga laughed a terrible laugh and steered her flying mortar straight downward toward the girl.
Natasha was running faster than she had ever run before. Soon she could hear Baba Yaga's mortar bumping on the ground behind her. Desperately, she remembered the thin black cat's words and threw the towel behind her on the ground. The towel grew bigger and bigger, and wetter and wetter, and soon a deep, broad river stood between the little girl and Baba Yaga.
Natasha turned and ran on. Oh, how she ran! When Baba Yaga reached the edge of the river, she screamed louder than ever and threw her pestle on the ground, as she knew she couldn't fly over an enchanted river. In a rage, she flew back to her hut on hen's legs. There she gathered all her cows and drove them to the river.
"Drink, drink!" she screamed at them, and the cows drank up all the river to the last drop. Then Baba Yaga hopped into her giant mortar and flew over the dry bed of the river to pursue her prey.
Natasha had run on quite a distance ahead, and in fact, she thought she might, at last, be free of the terrible Baba Yaga. But her heart froze in terror when she saw the dark figure in the sky speeding toward her again.
"This is the end for me!" she despaired. Then she suddenly remembered what the cat had said about the comb.
Natasha threw the comb behind her, and the comb grew bigger and bigger, and its teeth sprouted up into a thick forest, so thick that not even Baba Yaga could force her way through. And Baba Yaga the witch, the bony-legged one, gnashing her teeth and screaming with rage and disappointment, finally turned round and drove away back to her little hut on hen's legs.
The tired, tired, girl finally arrived back home. She was afraid to go inside and see her mean stepmother, so instead she waited outside in the shed.
When she saw her father pass by she ran out to him.
"Where have you been?" cried her father. "And why is your face so red?"
The stepmother turned yellow when she saw the girl, and her eyes glowed, and her teeth ground together until they broke.
But Natasha was not afraid, and she went to her father and climbed on his knee and told him everything just as it had happened. When the old man learned that the stepmother had sent his daughter to be eaten by Baba Yaga, the witch, he was so angry that he drove her out of the hut and never let her return.
From then on, he took good care of his daughter himself and never again let a stranger come between them. Over a table piled high with bread and jam, father and daughter would again play peek-a-boo back and forth from behind the samovar, and the two of them lived happily ever after.