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158 The Old Woman Who Griped 97. Day and night the old woman griped; you’d have to wonder whether her tongue didn’t ache! And it was always about her stepdaughter: She wasn’t clever, she wasn’t refined! Coming and going, standing and sitting—nothing was right, always just short of acceptable. From morning to evening the same old strings! The husband was tired of it. Everyone was so tired of it that they wanted to run away. The old man harnessed up his horse, wishing to go to take a load of millet to town, but the old woman yelled at him:“Take the stepdaughter along, at least to a dark forest, somewhere along the way, along the road, only get her off my neck.” The old man took her away. The road was long, difficult, everywhere just pine forest and swamp. Where should he leave the girl? He saw a little hut standing there on cock’s legs, propped up by a pie, covered over by bliny. It stood there, but it could be turned. He thought, “It would be best to leave the girl in that hut.” So he put her down from his cart, gave her some millet for porridge, whipped up his horse, and disappeared from view. The girl was left alone. She ground the millet, cooked up a lot of porridge , but there was no one to eat it. Night came, long and frightening. Sleeping might wear out her sides; looking about might wear out her eyes. There was no one to say a word to, it was tedious and terrifying! She went to the threshold, opened the door into the forest, and called out,“Whoever’s in the forest, the deep, dark one, come and be my guest!” The forest spirit, the leshii, responded, turned into a fine, young lad, a merchant from Novgorod, came running to her, bringing a little present. Sometimes he came just to chat, the next day he’d come with a gift. He brought so many gifts that there was no place to put them! But the complaining old woman got bored without the stepdaughter. It was so quiet in the hut, unsettling to the stomach, the tongue quite dried up. “Go, husband, and fetch the stepdaughter. Snatch her either from the bottom of the sea or out of the fire! I’m old and decrepit, and there’s no one to look after me.” Her husband obeyed. The stepdaughter came back, and when she opened the trunk and hung up her goods on a string from the hut to the gates, the old woman’s mouth about fell The Old Woman Who Griped h 159 open, as she was about to greet her as usual. She saw this, and closed her lips, sat her guest beneath the icons, and began extolling her and saying, “What would you desire, my lady?” ...


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