THE WOOD MAIDEN
ETUSHKA was a little girl. Her mother was
a poor widow with nothing but a tumble-down
cottage and two little nanny-goats. But poor as they
were Betushka was always cheerful. From spring till
autumn she pastured the goats in the birch wood.
Every morning when she left home her mother gave
her a little basket with a slice of bread and a spindle.
"See that you bring home a full spindle," her
mother always said.
Betushka had no distaff, so she wound the flax
around her head. Then she took the little basket
and went romping and singing behind the goats to the
birch wood. When they got there she sat down under
a tree and pulled the fibers of the flax from her head
with her left hand, and with her right hand let down
the spindle so that it went humming along the ground.
All the while she sang until the woods echoed and the
little goats nibbled away at the leaves and grass.
When the sun showed midday, she put the spindle
 aside, called the goats and gave them a mouthful of
bread so that they wouldn't stray, and ran off into the
woods to hunt berries or any other wild fruit that
was in season. Then when she had finished her bread
and fruit, she jumped up, folded her arms, and danced
The sun smiled at her through the green of the
trees and the little goats, resting on the grass, thought:
"What a merry little shepherdess we have!"
After her dance she went back to her spinning and
worked industriously. In the evening when she got
home her mother never had to scold her because the
spindle was empty.
One day at noon just after she had eaten and, as
usual, was going to dance, there suddenly stood before
her a most beautiful maiden. She was dressed in
white gauze that was fine as a spider's web. Long
golden hair fell down to her waist and on her head
she wore a wreath of woodland flowers.
Betushka was speechless with surprise and alarm.
The maiden smiled at her and said in a sweet
"Betushka, do you like to dance?"
Her manner was so gracious that Betushka no longer felt afraid, and answered:
 "Oh, I could dance all day long!"
"Come, then, let us dance together," said the
maiden. "I'll teach you."
With that she tucked up her skirt, put her arm
about Betushka's waist, and they began to dance. At
once such enchanting music sounded over their heads
that Betushka's heart went one-two with the dancing.
The musicians sat on the branches of the birch trees.
They were clad in little frock coats, black and gray
and many-colored. It was a carefully chosen orchestra
that had gathered at the bidding of the beautiful
maiden: larks, nightingales, finches, linnets, thrushes,
blackbirds, and showy mocking-birds.
Betushka's cheeks burned, her eyes shone. She
forgot her spinning, she forgot her goats. All she could do was gaze at her partner who was moving with such grace and lightness that the grass didn't seem to bend under her slender feet.
They danced from noon till sundown and yet Betushka wasn't
the least bit tired. Then they stopped dancing, the music ceased, and the maiden disappeared as suddenly as she had come.
Betushka looked around. The sun was sinking
behind the wood. She put her hands to the unspun flax
on her head and remembered the spindle that was
 lying unfilled on the grass. She took down the flax
and laid it with the spindle in the little basket. Then
she called the goats and started home.
She reproached herself bitterly that she had allowed the
beautiful maiden to beguile her and she
told herself that another time she would not listen
to her. She was so quiet that the little goats, missing
her merry song, looked around to see whether it was
really their own little shepherdess who was following
them. Her mother, too, wondered why she didn't
sing and questioned her.
"Are you sick, Betushka?"
"No, dear mother, I'm not sick, but I've been
singing too much and my throat is dry."
She knew that her mother did not reel the yarn
at once, so she hid the spindle and the unspun flax,
hoping to make up tomorrow what she had not done
today. She did not tell her mother one word about
the beautiful maiden.
The next day she felt cheerful again and as she
drove the goats to pasture she sang merrily. At the
birch wood she sat down to her spinning, singing all
the while, for with a song on the lips work falls from
the hands more easily.
Noonday came. Betushka gave a bit of bread to
 each of the goats and ran off to the woods for her
berries. Then she ate her luncheon.
"Ah, my little goats," she sighed, as she brushed
up the crumbs for the birds, "I mustn't dance today."
"Why mustn't you dance today?" a sweet voice
asked, and there stood the beautiful maiden as though
she had fallen from the clouds.
Betushka was worse frightened than before and
she closed her eyes tight. When the maiden repeated
her question, Betushka answered timidly:
"Forgive me, beautiful lady, for not dancing with
you. If I dance with you I cannot spin my stint
and then my mother will scold me. Today before the
sun sets I must make up for what I lost yesterday."
"Come, child, and dance," the maiden said.
"Before the sun sets we'll find some way of getting that
She tucked up her skirt, put her arm about Betushka,
the musicians in the treetops struck up, and off
they whirled. The maiden danced more beautifully
than ever. Betushka couldn't take her eyes from her.
She forgot her goats, she forgot her spinning. All she
wanted to do was to dance on forever.
At sundown the maiden paused and the music
stopped. Then Betushka, clasping her hands to her
 head, where the unspun flax was twined, burst
into tears. The beautiful maiden took the flax from her head, wound it round the stem of a slender birch, grasped the spindle, and began to spin.
The spindle hummed along the ground and filled in no time.
Before the sun sank behind the woods all the flax was
spun, even that which was left over from the day before.
The maiden handed Betushka the full spindle and said:
"Remember my words:
Reel and grumble not!
Keel and grumble not!"
When she said this, she vanished as if the earth
had swallowed her.
Betushka was very happy now and she thought to
herself on her way home: "Since she is so good and
kind, I'll dance with her again if she asks me. Oh,
how I hope she does!"
She sang her merry little song as usual and the
goats trotted cheerfully along.
She found her mother vexed with her, for she had
wanted to reel yesterday's yarn and had discovered
that the spindle was not full.
 "What were you doing yesterday," she scolded,
"that you didn't spin your stint?"
Betushka hung her head. "Forgive me, mother.
I danced too long." Then she showed her mother
today's spindle and said: "See, today I more than
a made up for yesterday."
Her mother said no more but went to milk the
goats and Betushka put away the spindle. She wanted
to tell her mother her adventure, but she thought to
herself: "No, I'll wait. If the beautiful lady comes
again, I'll ask her who she is and then I'll tell mother."
So she said nothing.
On the third morning she drove the goats as usual
to the birch wood. The goats went to pasture and
Betushka, sitting down under a tree, began to spin
and sing. When the sun pointed to noon, she laid her
spindle on the grass, gave the goats a mouthful of
bread, gathered some strawberries, ate her luncheon,
and then, giving the crumbs to the birds, she said
"Today, my little goats, I will dance for you!"
She jumped up, folded her arms, and was about
to see whether she could move as gracefully as the
beautiful maiden, when the maiden herself stood
 "Let us dance together," she said. She smiled
at Betushka, put her arm about her, and as the music
above their heads began to play, they whirled round
and round with flying feet. Again Betushka forgot
the spindle and the goats. Again she saw nothing but
the beautiful maiden whose body was lithe as a willow
shoot. Again she heard nothing but the enchanting
music to which her feet danced of themselves.
They danced from noon till sundown. Then the
maiden paused and the music ceased. Betushka looked
around. The sun was already set behind the woods.
She clasped her hands to her head and looking down
at the unfilled spindle she burst into tears.
"Oh, what will my mother say?" she cried.
"Give me your little basket," the maiden said,
"and I will put something in it that will more than
make up for today's stint."
Betushka handed her the basket and the maiden
took it and vanished. In a moment she was back.
She returned the basket and said:
"Look not inside until you're home!
Look not inside until you're home!"
As she said these words she was gone as if a wind
had blown her away.
 Betushka wanted awfully to peep inside but she
was afraid to. The basket was so light that she
wondered whether there was anything at all in it.
Was the lovely lady only fooling her? Halfway home
she peeped in to see.
Imagine her feelings when she found the basket
was full of birch leaves! Then indeed did Betushka
burst into tears and reproach herself for being so
simple. In her vexation she threw out a handful of
leaves and was going to empty the basket when she
thought to herself:
"No, I'll keep what's left as litter for the goats."
She was almost afraid to go home. She was so quiet that again the little goats wondered what ailed their shepherdess.
Her mother was waiting for her in great excitement.
"For heaven's sake, Betushka, what kind of spool
did you bring home yesterday?"
"Why?" Betushka faltered.
"When you went away this morning I started to
reel that yarn. I reeled and reeled and the spool remained full. One skein, two skeins, three skeins, and
still the spool was full. 'What evil spirit has spun
that?' I cried out impatiently, and instantly the yarn
 disappeared from the spindle as if blown away. Tell
me, what does it mean?"
So Betushka confessed and told her mother all she
knew about the beautiful maiden.
"Oh," cried her mother in amazement, "that was
a wood maiden! At noon and midnight the wood
maidens dance. It is well you are not a little boy or
she might have danced you to death! But they are
often kind to little girls and sometimes make them
rich presents. Why didn't you tell me? If I hadn't
grumbled, I could have had yarn enough to fill the
Betushka thought of the little basket and wondered
if there might be something under the leaves. She
took out the spindle and unspun flax and looked in
"Mother!" she cried. "Come here and see!"
Her mother looked and clapped her hands. The
birch leaves were all turned to gold!
Betushka reproached herself bitterly: "She told
me not to look inside until I got home, but I didn't
"It's lucky you didn't empty the whole basket,"
her mother said.
The next morning she herself went to look for the
 handful of leaves that Betushka had thrown away.
She found them still lying in the road but they were
only birch leaves.
But the riches which Betushka brought home were
enough. Her mother bought a farm with fields and
cattle. Betushka had pretty clothes and no longer
had to pasture goats.
But no matter what she did, no matter how cheerful
and happy she was, still nothing ever again gave
her quite so much pleasure as the dance with the
wood maiden. She often went to the birch wood in
the hope of seeing the maiden again. But she never
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