IN Novgorod in the old days there was a young man—just a boy he
was—the son of a rich merchant who had lost all his money and died.
So Sadko was very poor. He had not a kopeck in the world, except what
the people gave him when he played his dulcimer for their dancing. He
had blue eyes and curling hair, and he was strong, and would have been
merry; but it is dull work playing for other folk to dance, and Sadko
dared not dance with any young girl, for he had no money to marry on,
and he did not want to be chased away as a beggar. And the young women
of Novgorod, they never looked at the handsome Sadko. No; they smiled
with their bright eyes at the young men who danced with them, and if
they ever spoke to Sadko, it was just to tell
 him sharply to keep the
music going or to play faster.
So Sadko lived alone with his dulcimer, and made do with half a loaf
when he could not get a whole, and with crust when he had no crumb. He
did not mind so very much what came to him, so long as he could play
his dulcimer and walk along the banks of the little
that flows by Novgorod, or on the shores of the lake, making music for
himself, and seeing the pale mists rise over the water, and dawn or
sunset across the shining river.
"There is no girl in all Novgorod as pretty as my little river," he
used to say, and night after night he would sit by the banks of the
river or on the shores of the lake, playing the dulcimer and singing
Sometimes he helped the fishermen on the lake, and they would give him
a little fish for his supper in payment for his strong young arms.
And it happened that one evening the fishermen asked him to watch
their nets for them on the shore, while they went off to take their
fish to sell them in the square at Novgorod.
Sadko sat on the shore, on a rock, and played
 his dulcimer and sang.
Very sweetly he sang of the fair lake and the lovely river—the little
river that he thought prettier than all the girls of Novgorod. And
while he was singing he saw a whirlpool in the lake, little waves
flying from it across the water, and in the middle a hollow down into
the water. And in the hollow he saw the head of a great man with blue
hair and a gold crown. He knew that the huge man was the Tzar of the
Sea. And the man came nearer, walking up out of the depths of the
lake—a huge, great man, a very giant, with blue hair falling to his
waist over his broad shoulders. The little waves ran from him in all
directions as he came striding up out of the water.
Sadko did not know whether to run or stay; but the Tzar of the Sea
called out to him in a great voice like wind and water in a storm,—
"Sadko of Novgorod, you have played and sung many days by the side of
this lake and on the banks of the little river Volkhov. My daughters
love your music, and it has pleased me too. Throw out a net into the
water, and draw it in, and the waters will pay you for your singing.
And if you are satisfied with the payment, you must come and play to
us down in the green palace of the sea."
 With that the Tzar of the Sea went down again into the waters of the
lake. The waves closed over him with a roar, and presently the lake
was as smooth and calm as it had ever been.
Sadko thought, and said to himself: "Well, there is no harm done in
casting out a net." So he threw a net out into the lake.
He sat down again and played on his dulcimer and sang, and when he had
finished his singing the dusk had fallen and the moon shone over the
lake. He put down his dulcimer and took hold of the ropes of the net,
and began to draw it up out of the silver water. Easily the ropes
came, and the net, dripping and glittering in the moonlight.
"I was dreaming," said Sadko; "I was asleep when I saw the Tzar of the
Sea, and there is nothing in the net at all."
And then, just as the last of the net was coming ashore, he saw
something in it, square and dark. He dragged it out, and found it was
a coffer. He opened the coffer, and it was full of precious
stones—green, red, gold—gleaming in the light of the moon. Diamonds
shone there like little bundles of sharp knives.
"There can be no harm in taking these stones," says Sadko, "whether I
dreamed or not."
 He took the coffer on his shoulder, and bent under the weight of it,
strong though he was. He put it in a safe place. All night he sat and
watched by the nets, and played and sang, and planned what he would
In the morning the fishermen came, laughing and merry after their
night in Novgorod, and they gave him a little fish for watching their
nets; and he made a fire on the shore, and cooked it and ate it as he
used to do.
"And that is my last meal as a poor man," says Sadko. "Ah me! who
knows if I shall be happier?"
Then he set the coffer on his shoulder and tramped away for Novgorod.
"Who is that?" they asked at the gates.
"Only Sadko the dulcimer player," he replied.
"Turned porter?" said they.
"One trade is as good as another," said Sadko, and he walked into the
city. He sold a few of the stones, two at a time, and with what he got
for them he set up a booth in the market. Small things led to great,
and he was soon one of the richest traders in Novgorod.
And now there was not a girl in the town who could look too sweetly at
Sadko. "He has
 golden hair," says one. "Blue eyes like the sea," says
another. "He could lift the world on his shoulders," says a third. A
little money, you see, opens everybody's eyes.
But Sadko was not changed by his good fortune. Still he walked and
played by the little river Volkhov. When work was done and the traders
gone, Sadko would take his dulcimer and play and sing on the banks of
the river. And still he said, "There is no girl in all Novgorod as
pretty as my little river." Every time he came back from his long
voyages—for he was trading far and near, like the greatest of
merchants—he went at once to the banks of the river to see how his
sweetheart fared. And always he brought some little present for her
and threw it into the waves.
For twelve years he lived unmarried in Novgorod, and every year made
voyages, buying and selling, and always growing richer and richer.
Many were the mothers in Novgorod who would have liked to see him
married to their daughters. Many were the pillows that were wet with
the tears of the young girls, as they thought of the blue eyes of
Sadko and his golden hair.
And then, in the twelfth year since he walked into Novgorod with the
coffer on his shoulder, he was sailing in a ship on the Caspian Sea,
 far away. For many days the ship sailed on, and Sadko sat on deck
and played his dulcimer and sang of Novgorod and of the little river
Volkhov that flows under the walls of the town. Blue was the Caspian
Sea, and the waves were like furrows in a field, long lines of white
under the steady wind, while the sails swelled and the ship shot over
And suddenly the ship stopped.
In the middle of the sea, far from land, the ship stopped and trembled
in the waves, as if she were held by a big hand.
"We are aground!" cry the sailors; and the captain, the great one,
tells them to take soundings. Seventy fathoms by the bow it was, and
seventy fathoms by the stern.
"We are not aground," says the captain, "unless there is a rock
sticking up like a needle in the middle of the Caspian Sea!"
"There is magic in this," say the sailors.
"Hoist more sail," says the captain; and up go the white sails,
swelling out in the wind, while the masts bend and creak. But still
the ship lay shivering and did not move, out there in the middle of
"Hoist more sail yet," says the captain; and up go the white sails,
swelling and tugging, while the
 masts creak and groan. But still the
ship lay there shivering and did not move.
"There is an unlucky one aboard," says an old sailor. "We must draw
lots and find him, and throw him overboard into the sea."
The other sailors agreed to this. And still Sadko sat, and played his
dulcimer and sang.
The sailors cut pieces of string, all of a length, as many as there
were souls in the ship, and one of those strings they cut in half.
Then they made them into a bundle, and each man plucked one string.
And Sadko stopped his playing for a moment to pluck a string, and his
was the string that had been cut in half.
"Magician, sorcerer, unclean one!" shouted the sailors.
"Not so," said Sadko. "I remember now an old promise I made, and I
keep it willingly."
He took his dulcimer in his hand, and leapt from the ship into the
blue Caspian Sea. The waves had scarcely closed over his head before
the ship shot forward again, and flew over the waves like a swan's
feather, and came in the end safely to her harbour.
"And what happened to Sadko?" asked Maroosia.
 "You shall hear, little pigeon," said old Peter, and he took a pinch
of snuff. Then he went on.
Sadko dropped into the waves, and the waves closed over him. Down he
sank, like a pebble thrown into a pool, down and down. First the water
was blue, then green, and strange fish with goggle eyes and golden
fins swam round him as he sank. He came at last to the bottom of the
And there, on the bottom of the sea, was a palace built of green wood.
Yes, all the timbers of all the ships that have been wrecked in all
the seas of the world are in that palace, and they are all green, and
cunningly fitted together, so that the palace is worth a ten days'
journey only to see it. And in front of the palace Sadko saw two big
kobbly sturgeons, each a hundred and fifty feet long, lashing their
tails and guarding the gates. Now, sturgeons are the oldest of all
fish, and these were the oldest of all sturgeons.
Sadko walked between the sturgeons and through the gates of the
palace. Inside there was a great hall, and the Tzar of the Sea lay
resting in the hall, with his gold crown on his head and his blue hair
floating round him in the water, and his great body covered with
scales lying along the hall. The Tzar of the Sea filled the hall—and
there is room in that hall for a village.
 And there were fish swimming
this way and that in and out of the windows.
"Ah, Sadko," says the Tzar of the Sea, "you took what the sea gave
you, but you have been a long time in coming to sing in the palaces of
the sea. Twelve years I have lain here waiting for you."
"Great Tzar, forgive," says Sadko.
"Sing now," says the Tzar of the Sea, and his voice was like the
beating of waves.
And Sadko played on his dulcimer and sang.
He sang of Novgorod and of the little river Volkhov which he loved. It
was in his song that none of the girls of Novgorod were as pretty as
the little river. And there was the sound of wind over the lake in his
song, the sound of ripples under the prow of a boat, the sound of
ripples on the shore, the sound of the river flowing past the tall
reeds, the whispering sound of the river at night. And all the time he
played cunningly on the dulcimer. The girls of Novgorod had never
danced to so sweet a tune when in the old days Sadko played his
dulcimer to earn kopecks and crusts of bread.
Never had the Tzar of the Sea heard such music.
"I would dance," said the Tzar of the Sea, and he stood up like a tall
tree in the hall.
 "Play on," said the Tzar of the Sea, and he strode through the gates.
The sturgeons guarding the gates stirred the water with their tails.
And if the Tzar of the Sea was huge in the hall, he was huger still
when he stood outside on the bottom of the sea. He grew taller and
taller, towering like a mountain. His feet were like small hills. His
blue hair hung down to his waist, and he was covered with green
scales. And he began to dance on the bottom of the sea.
Great was that dancing. The sea boiled, and ships went down. The waves
rolled as big as houses. The sea overflowed its shores, and whole
towns were under water as the Tzar danced mightily on the bottom of
the sea. Hither and thither rushed the waves, and the very earth shook
at the dancing of that tremendous Tzar.
He danced till he was tired, and then he came back to the palace of
green wood, and passed the sturgeons, and shrank into himself and
came through the gates into the hall, where Sadko still played on his
dulcimer and sang.
"You have played well and given me pleasure," says the Tzar of the
Sea. "I have thirty daughters, and you shall choose one and marry her,
and be a Prince of the Sea."
 "Better than all maidens I love my little river," says Sadko; and the
Tzar of the Sea laughed and threw his head back, with his blue hair
floating all over the hall.
And then there came in the thirty daughters of the Tzar of the Sea.
Beautiful they were, lovely, and graceful; but twenty-nine of them
passed by, and Sadko fingered his dulcimer and thought of his little
There came in the thirtieth, and Sadko cried out aloud. "Here is the
only maiden in the world as pretty as my little river!" says he. And
she looked at him with eyes that shone like stars reflected in the
river. Her hair was dark, like the river at night. She laughed, and
her voice was like the flowing of the river.
"And what is the name of your little river?" says the Tzar.
"It is the little river Volkhov that flows by Novgorod," says Sadko;
"but your daughter is as fair as the little river, and I would gladly
marry her if she will have me."
"It is a strange thing," says the Tzar, "but Volkhov is the name of my
He put Sadko's hand in the hand of his youngest daughter, and they
kissed each other. And as they kissed, Sadko saw a necklace round her
 and knew it for one he had thrown into the river as a present
for his sweetheart.
She smiled, and "Come!" says she, and took him away to a palace of her
own, and showed him a coffer; and in that coffer were bracelets and
rings and earrings—all the gifts that he had thrown into the river.
And Sadko laughed for joy, and kissed the youngest daughter of the
Tzar of the Sea, and she kissed him back.
"O my little river!" says he; "there is no girl in all the world but
thou as pretty as my little river."
Well, they were married, and the Tzar of the Sea laughed at the
wedding feast till the palace shook and the fish swam off in all
And after the feast Sadko and his bride went off together to her
palace. And before they slept she kissed him very tenderly, and she
"O Sadko, you will not forget me? You will play to me sometimes, and
"I shall never lose sight of you, my pretty one," says he; "and as for
music, I will sing and play all the day long."
"That's as may be," says she, and they fell asleep.
And in the middle of the night Sadko happened
 to turn in bed, and he
touched the Princess with his left foot, and she was cold, cold, cold
as ice in January. And with that touch of cold he woke, and he was
lying under the walls of Novgorod, with his dulcimer in his hand, and
one of his feet was in the little river Volkhov, and the moon was
"O grandfather! And what happened to him after that?" asked Maroosia.
"There are many tales," said old Peter. "Some say he went into the
town, and lived on alone until he died. But I think with those who say
that he took his dulcimer and swam out into the middle of the river,
and sank under water again, looking for his little Princess. They say
he found her, and lives still in the green palaces of the bottom of
the sea; and when there is a big storm, you may know that Sadko is
playing on his dulcimer and singing, and that the Tzar of the Sea is
dancing his tremendous dance down there, on the bottom, under the
"Yes, I expect that's what happened," said Ivan. "He'd have found it
very dull in Novgorod, even though it is a big town."