A Legend From Serbia
The Stepmother and her Stepdaughter
Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived with her stepmother. The woman hated her stepdaughter exceedingly, because she was more beautiful than her own daughter, whom she had brought with her to the house. She did her utmost to turn the poor girl’s own father against her, and with such success that he soon began to scold and even to hate his own child.
One day the woman said to her husband: “We must send your daughter away. She must go into the world to seek her fortune!” And he answered: “How can we send the poor girl away? Where could she go alone?” But the wicked stepmother replied: “To-morrow you must take her far into the woods, leave her there and hurry home, or I will no longer live with you.”
The unfortunate father at length gave way, and said: “At least prepare the girl something for her journey, that she may not die of hunger.” The stepmother therefore made a cake, and gave it to the girl next morning as she was leaving the house. The man and his daughter trudged on until they were right in the depth of the woods, and then the father stole away and returned home.
The girl, alone in the woods, wandered all the rest of that day in search of a path, but could not find one. Meanwhile it grew darker and darker, and at length she climbed a tree, fearing lest some wild beast should devour her if she remained through the night on the ground. And indeed, all night long the wolves howled under the tree so ravenously that the poor girl, in her nervous terror, could hardly keep from falling.
Next morning she descended the tree and wandered on again in search of some way out, but the more she walked the denser grew the forest, and there seemed to be no end to it. When it grew dark again, she looked about for another suitable tree in the branches of which she might safely pass the night, but suddenly she noticed something shining through the darkness.
She thought it might, perhaps, be a dwelling, and she went toward it. And indeed, she came soon to a large fine house, the doors of which were open. She entered, and saw many elegant rooms, in one of which was a large table with lights burning on it. She thought this must be the dwelling of brigands, but she had no fear at all, for she reasoned with herself: “Only rich people need fear robbers; I, a poor simple girl, have nothing to be afraid of; I shall tell them that I am ready to work for them gladly if they will give me something to eat.”
A Strange Dwelling
Then she took the cake from her bag, made the sign of the cross2 and began her meal. No sooner had she begun to eat than a cock appeared and flew near her as if begging for a share. The good girl crumbled a piece of her cake and fed him. Shortly afterward a little dog came and began in his own way to express friendly feeling toward her. The girl broke another piece of her cake, gently took the little dog in her lap, and began feeding and caressing it. After that a cat came in too, and she did the same with her.
Suddenly she heard a loud growling, and she was terrified to see a lion coming toward her. The great beast waved his tail in such a friendly manner, and looked so very kind, however, that her courage revived, and she gave him a piece of her cake, which the lion ate; and then he began to lick her hand. This proof of gratitude reassured the girl completely, and she stroked the lion gently, and gave him more of the cake.
All at once the girl heard a great clashing of weapons, and nearly swooned as a creature in a bear-skin entered the room. The cock, the dog, the cat and the lion all ran to meet it, and frisked about it affectionately, showing many signs of pleasure and rejoicing. She, poor creature, did not think this strange being could be anything but cruel, and expected it would spring upon her and devour her. But the seeming monster threw the bear-skin from its head and shoulders, and at once the whole room gleamed with the magnificence of its golden garments.
The girl almost lost her senses when she saw before her a handsome man of noble appearance. He approached her and said: “Do not fear! I am not a lawless man, I am the tsar’s son; and when I wish to hunt, I usually come here, disguised in this bear-skin, lest the people should recognize me. Save you, no one knows that I am a man; people think I am an apparition, and flee from me. No one dares to pass near this house, still less to enter it, for it is known that I dwell in it. You are the first who has ventured to come in; probably you knew that I was not a ghost?”
Thereupon the girl told the prince all about her wicked stepmother, and declared that she knew nothing of this dwelling or who lived in it. When the young prince heard her story, moved with indignation and pity, he said: “Your stepmother hated you, but God loved you. I love you very much, too, and if you feel you could return my love, I would like to marry you—will you be my wife?” “Yes,” replied the maiden.
Next morning the prince took the girl to his father’s palace and they were married. After some time the prince’s bride begged to be allowed to go and pay a visit to her father. The prince gladly allowed her to do as she wished, and donning a fine robe embroidered with gold she went to her old home.
Her father happened to be absent, and her stepmother, seeing her coming, feared that she had come to revenge herself; therefore she hurried out to meet her, saying: “You see now that I sent you on the road of happiness?” The stepdaughter embraced the woman and kissed her; she also embraced her stepsister. Then she sat down to await her father’s return, but at length, as he did not come, she was compelled reluctantly to leave without seeing him.
On going away she gave much money to her stepmother, nevertheless when she had got some distance from the house, the ungrateful woman stealthily shook her fist at her, muttering: “Wait a little, you accursed creature, you shall certainly not be the only one so elegantly dressed; to-morrow I shall send my own daughter the same way!”
The Envy of the Stepmother
The husband did not return until late in the evening, when his wife met him, saying: “Listen, husband! I propose that my own daughter should be sent out into the world that she may also seek her fortune; for your girl came back to visit us to-day and lo! she was glittering in gold.” The man sighed and agreed.
Next morning the woman prepared for her daughter several cakes and some roast meat and sent her with the father into the forest. The unfortunate man guided her as he had led his own daughter, into the heart of the forest, and then stole off leaving her alone. When the girl saw that her father had disappeared she walked on slowly through the woods, till she came to the gates of the same house in which her stepsister had found happiness. She entered, closed the door and resolved not to open it for anybody. Then she took a cake out of her bag and began her meal.
Meanwhile the cock, the dog and the cat came in, and began to frisk about her playfully expecting that she would give them something to eat, but she exclaimed angrily: “Get away, you ugly creatures! I have hardly enough for myself; I will not give you any!” Then she began to beat them; whereat the dog howled, and the lion, hearing his friend’s lamentation, rushed in furiously and killed the unkind girl.
Next morning the prince rode out with his wife to hunt. They came to the house, and saw what had happened, and when the princess recognized her stepsister’s dress, she gathered up the torn garment and carried it to her father’s house. This time she found her father at home, and he was indeed very happy to learn that his dear daughter was married to a handsome prince. When, however, he heard what had befallen his wife’s daughter he was sad indeed, and exclaimed: “Her mother has deserved this punishment from the hand of God, because she hated you without reason. She is at the well, I will go and tell her the sad news.”
When his wife heard what had happened, she said: “O husband! I cannot bear the sight of your daughter; let us kill both her and the tsar’s son! Do this thing or I will jump at once into the well.” The man indignantly answered: “Well then, jump! I shall not murder my own child!”
And the wicked woman said: “If you cannot kill her, I cannot bear to look at her!” Thereupon she jumped into the well and was killed.
Hero Tales and Legends of the Serbians, by Woislav M. Petrovitch