ONCE upon a time there lived in a certain kingdom a moujik. He was married, and his wife bore him a child—a boy—who had the ear of a bear, so he was named Ivashka with the Bear’s Ear. Ivashka used to go and play with the children of his neighbours, but his manner was rather rough, for if he took hold of a child by the hand he would give it such a wrench that the hand would come off, and if he took hold of a child by the head, the head would come off too. Such play was not agreeable to the parents of the children, and they came to Ivashka’s father and told him that he must see that his son did not come out to play with their children, or that he did them no hurt. The man promised to do what he could. He found, however, that Ivashka paid no heed to him, so in the end he turned him out of doors, saying—
“Be off where you will, for I want you no longer; you shall come no more into my house, for if you do you will get me into trouble.”
So Ivashka with the Bear’s Ear set off on his travels. He went on for a long time, and at last came to a great forest. There he found a man hewing wood.
“Friend,” said Ivashka to him, “what are you called?”
“I am called Dubunia,” said the man.
“Well,” said Ivashka, “let us be friends.”
After some talk they became very friendly, and the man went on with Ivashka. They travelled for some time, and at length they came to a high rock, where they found a man hewing stone.
“Heaven bless you, good fellow!” said Ivashka; “what are you called?”
“Gorunia,” replied the man.
“Well,” said Ivashka, “let us be friends.”
After some talk the man became very friendly with Ivashka and his companion, and agreed to go on with them in their travels. On they went. At last they came to a river, on the bank of which they found a man with very long moustaches, with which he was fishing in the water.
“Heaven bless you!” said Ivashka and his companions. “May you have good luck.”
“Thanks, my brothers,” said the man.
“What are you called?” asked Ivashka.
“Usunia,” said he.
“Well,” said Ivashka, “let us be friends.”
So, after some talk, the man agreed to join Ivashka and his companions.
The four went on, and at length they came to a forest, near to which they found a hut. Now the hut stood on a fowl’s legs, and kept turning round and round.
“Hut, hut,” cried Ivashka, “stand still with your back to the forest and your front towards us!”
The hut at once did what they told it, and the four travellers going in commenced to plan how they should live. They were very hungry, so they went into the forest, caught some game, and ate it.
The next day Dubunia stayed at home while the others went into the forest to look for game. He cooked the dinner, and waited for his companions to come back. They did not come, so Dubunia washed his head and sat combing his hair, and who should come into the hut but Baba Yaja. She came riding in an iron mortar, which she drove on with a pestle, and with her tongue she wiped out the marks the mortar made as it passed over the ground. As she came into the cabin—
“Ho, ho!” cried she, “I smell Russian flesh.”
Then she turned to Dubunia and said—
“What do you do here?”
Without waiting for his reply, Baba Yaja laid on him with her pestle, and beat him until he hardly had any life left in him. Then she ate the dinner he had got ready for his companions, got into her mortar, and rode off. Dubunia lay for some time on the ground. Then he got up, tied up his head with a handkerchief, and sat down, groaning, till his companions came home.
“Where is the dinner?” said they.
“I have been ill,” answered Dubunia, “and have been too unwell to get it ready.”
The next day Gorunia was left to keep the hut and get the dinner ready. He cooked the food, and waited for his friends to come back, when, all of a sudden, who should come in but Baba Yaja.
“Ho, ho!” said she, “I smell Russian flesh. What are you doing here?” she asked, turning to Gorunia.
Without giving him time to reply she commenced to beat him with the pestle. Then she ate up all the food he had ready, got into the mortar, and rode away. When his friends came home Gorunia told them what had happened.
On the third day Usunia stayed at home, and Baba Yaja made her appearance again, and treated him as she had his companions.
At length it was Ivashka’s turn to keep house. His comrades went out to hunt in the wood, and Ivashka got the dinner ready. Looking about the hut he found in it a jar of honey. Then Ivashka took an axe and split open one of the posts of the hut, and putting a piece of wood in at the top he kept the crack open. Then he took the honey and poured it all over the post and in the chink. After that he got three iron rods, and then he sat down to await Baba Yaja’s coming. He did not wait long, for she came riding to the hut in her mortar.
“Ho, ho!” cried she, as she entered, “I smell Russian flesh. What do you here?” said she, turning to Ivashka.
Just then, however, she smelt the honey, and, going to the post, she commenced to lick it with her long tongue. She licked all the honey off the outside, and then put her tongue in the crack, to get the honey out that was there. Then Ivashka suddenly pulled out the piece of wood that held the post asunder, and Baba Yaja’s tongue being held fast, she could not get away. She screamed and struggled, but could not free herself, and Ivashka, taking his three iron rods, commenced to beat her with all his strength. He beat her till he was tired; and then, as she begged him to have mercy on her, and promised that if he would let her go she would never trouble him more, he set her free.
“Stop there,” said he, putting her in a corner of the cabin. So he sat down and waited for his companions to come home. Towards evening they came, and how much were they surprised to find that Ivashka had the food cooked and ready for them! When they had eaten he told them how he had served Baba Yaja, and how he had beaten her and put her in the corner of the hut. When they went to look for her, however, she was nowhere to be seen. While they examined the place to find how she could have escaped, they discovered a large stone in the ground. Lifting it up they found there was a deep pit below. They wished very much to know what was in this place, but none durst go down, till Ivashka said he would go. So they made a rope and let him down.
“Wait for me,” said Ivashka; “but if I do not come back at the end of a week, know then that you will see me no more. When I want to come up I will pull the rope.” So he took leave of his companions, and they let him down. When he arrived at the bottom of the pit he found himself in a strange country. He went on for some time until he came to a hut, and, going in, he found three girls who sat sewing with gold thread.
“What do you want?” said they, when they saw Ivashka with the Bear’s Ear. “What has brought you here? Baba Yaja, our mother, lives here, and if she sees you she will certainly kill you. We will, however, tell you how you may save your life if you will take us to the upper world.”
Ivashka promised to do what they asked.
“When our mother comes in,” said they, “she will run at you and attack you. When you have fought for a time she will leave you and go to the cellar. There are two jars full of water: the one is white and the other is blue. The white jar contains the water of weakness, and the blue jar the water of strength. If you drink the water in the blue jar you are saved.”
The girls had scarcely finished speaking when Baba Yaja was heard coming to the hut. She came riding in the iron mortar, which she drove along with the pestle, while, with her tongue, she swept out the mark made by the mortar as it passed over the ground.
“Ho, ho!” said she, “I smell Russian flesh. Why do you come here?” she went on, turning to Ivashka with the Bear’s Ear. “What do you want?”
With that she rushed upon him, and they fought together until they were so tired that they fell to the ground. Then Baba Yaja, getting up, ran to the cellar for the water, and Ivashka went after her. Baba Yaja, in her hurry, took up the white jar and drank the water, and Ivashka drank that in the blue jar. Then they began to fight again. At length Ivashka got the better of her, and taking her pestle he beat her with it till she begged him to have mercy on her. Still Ivashka would not stop till she promised him she would never do him any injury, and would leave that place as soon as he released her. So he let her go.
Ivashka went to the three daughters and told them to get ready and go with him to the world above. Then he went to the rope, and, calling to his companions, got them to let down a large basket. He told the eldest daughter to get into it, and then, on Ivashka’s pulling the rope, his companions drew the basket up. They were very much astonished when they found a beautiful girl in the basket instead of Ivashka, but she told them all that had occurred, and they let the basket down again. So the second and the third daughters were drawn up. Then they let down the basket again, and Ivashka filled it with gold and silver and fine clothes, which he had found in Baba Yaja’s hut. When the men commenced to draw the basket up they wondered why it was so heavy, and they thought that Baba Yaja herself must be in it. So they cut the rope and let the basket and all the things fall down to the bottom, and left Ivashka down below.
For a long time he wandered about seeking his way to the upper world. At length he found an iron door in the rock, and on opening it and looking in he saw a long passage. So he went on and on till at last he came out in the upper world. Then he went to seek his friends. When he came to them he found that they had given him up as dead, and had married the three daughters of Baba Yaja.
“Why did you leave me at the bottom of the pit?” asked Ivashka; “and who was it that cut the rope?”
They told him that Usunia had done it, and Ivashka was so angry that he killed him on the spot. So Ivashka married Usunia’s wife, and he and his companions lived together for many years in great happiness.