This is a substantial retelling of a tale from an undated book printed in the 1800’s, “Old Peter’s Russian Tales” by Arthur Ransome
As retold by Ed Ahern
Baba Yaga is a witch with iron teeth like poker and tongs that she uses to eat little Russian children.
She drives about in a mortar, beating it with a pestle, and sweeping up her tracks with a besom, a broom made of twigs, so you cannot tell which way she has gone.
She lives in a little hut which stands on hen’s legs that sometimes faces the forest, sometimes faces the path, and sometimes just walks about.
This is one story about Baba Yaga.
Once there was a widowed man who lived in a hut with his little daughter. They smiled at each other across a table piled up with bread and jam. Her favorite things were a hair comb and a pretty handkerchief which her father had given her.
Then the old man decided to marry again and everything changed. There was no more bread and jam on the table, and no more peeping at each other, first from this side of the samovar and then from that side as she sat with her father at tea.
The step mother blamed everything wrong on the little girl. The man believed his new wife and had no more kind words for his daughter. The step mother insisted that the little girl was too bad to sit at table, and would throw the girl a crust and tell her to eat it outside.
The little girl would go into the shed in the yard, wet the dry crust with her tears, and eat it all by herself. She was scrunched up in a corner of the shed, eating her crust and sobbing when she heard a noise like scritch, scritch.
Out came a gray mouse, with little round ears and bright eyes. He curled his tail around himself and looked up at the girl.
The girl threw a bit of her crust to the little mouse. The mouse nibbled and nibbled and soon was looking for another scrap. She gave him another, and another and another, until there was nothing left. The girl was hungry, but happy to watch the mouse nibbling.
The mouse blinked. “Thank you,” he squeaked.
“You are kind, and I’ve eaten all your crust. Let me help you.
“Your stepmother is sister to Baba Yaga, the bony-legged witch. If she ever asks you to visit her sister, come tell me. For Baba Yaga will eat you with her iron teeth.”
The little girl shivered, but said thank you.
That next morning the old man went off to the village. As soon as he’d left the stepmother called to the little girl.
“Today you go into the forest and visit my sister,” hissed the stepmother. “Ask her for a needle and thread .”
“But we have needle and thread,” replied the girl.
“Hold your tongue,” snarled the stepmother. “Go to your dear little aunt!”
“How shall I find her,” asked the little girl, nearly crying.
The stepmother grabbed hold of the girl’s nose and pinched it hard. “That’s your nose, feel it?”
“Yeth,” said the girl through the pain.
“Go along the road into the forest until you come to a newly fallen oak tree, turn left and follow your nose and you will find her. Here is a towel to put the needle and thread in. Be off with you.”
The little girl wanted to go into the shed and ask the mouse what to do. But when she looked back her stepmother was watching from the doorway, so she had to take the path into the forest.
The day grew darker and darker as the forest closed in around her. She came to a newly felled oak tree and was starting to turn left onto a deer trail when she heard scritch scritching from under the tree.
Out rustled a little mouse, gray and round like the one in the shed. The mouse looked up at the girl. “My cousin told me to watch out for you,” he said.
“Oh mouse, my stepmother has sent me to Baba Yaga, the bony legged witch, and I don’t know what to do.”
“Listen closely. On your way to the witch’s hut you will find four lost things; a loaf of bread, a chunk of meat, a ball of butter and a bright ribbon. Bring them with you, and use them when you need to.”
And, one after another, the girl did find these things. At a clearing in the woods she saw a hut on skinny chicken legs, surrounded by a high fence with one gate. Just outside the gate was a thin birch tree with very few leaves that rustled as she came near. “Poor tree,” she thought, and she tied the bright blue ribbon in its branches so it did not look so bare.
The gate, as she pushed it open, squeaked painfully.
“Poor gate,” she thought, took out the butter and rubbed it into the hinges.
Closer to the hut was a huge, thin dog, gnawing on a branch from hunger, “Poor dog,” she thought, and she handed it the bread loaf. He gobbled it up and licked his lips.
The little girl went slowly up to the hut and knocked on the door.
“Come in little girl,” said Baba Yaga.
The little girl went in. The bony-legged witch sat weaving at a loom. In a corner of the hut crouched a thin black cat watching a mouse hole.
“ Good day to you auntie,” said the little girl in a whispery voice.
“Good day to you niece,” said Baba Yaga.
“My stepmother has sent me to you to ask for a needle and thread to mend a shirt.”
“Very well.” Baba Yaga smiled and showed her iron teeth.”Sit here at the loom and weave while I get you the needle and thread.”
Baba Yaga went out and called her servant. “Go prepare a hot bath, very hot. Then scrub my niece. Scrub her very clean. I’ll make a choice meal of her.”
When the servant came into the hut to fetch the water jug, the girl begged her,” Please be slow in making the fire. Here is my hanker chef for your trouble.” The servant said nothing for she greatly feared Baba Yaga. But she took a very long time preparing the bath.
As she weaved, the loom going clickety clack, the little girl spoke to the thin cat. “What are you doing, thin black cat?”
“Watching for a mouse. I haven’t had anything to eat for three days.”
“Poor cat. Here is a nice chunk of meat.”
And she handed the meat to the cat who gobbled it right up and asked” Little girl do you want to get out of this?”
“Catkin, I must, or Baba Yaga will eat me with her iron teeth.
” For your kindness I will help you.”
Just then Baba Yaga came to the window to check on the girl. “Are you weaving little niece? Are you weaving my pretty?”
“ I am weaving auntie.” And the loom went clickety clack, clickety clack.
When Baba Yaga left, the cat said,” You have a comb and a towel. Run away with them while Baba Yaga is in the bath house. When you hear Baba Yaga getting close , throw away the towel. Keep listening and when she is close again throw away the comb.”
“But she’ll hear the loom stop.”
“I’ll take care of that,” said the cat. The cat jumped up and took the little girl’s place at the loom. Clickety clack, clickety clack, it never stopped a moment.
The little girl ran on flickering legs toward the gate.
The big dog jumped up to tear her to pieces, but he saw it was the little girl. “Why this is the little girl who gave me the loaf.” And he crouched down again with his head between his paws.
The gate opened right up on buttered hinges with not a squeak or a groan.
The birch tree began to lash at the little girls eyes with its branches, but saw who it was and stopped to admire again its pretty blue ribbon.
And the little girl ran on flickering legs.
And presently, Baba Yaga, the bony legged witch, came back to the window. “Are you weaving little niece? Are you weaving my pretty?”
“ I am weaving,” screeched the cat, clickety clack, clickety clack, tangling everything..
“That not the voice of my dinner,” screamed Baba Yaga, and she jumped through the window. But there was only the thin black cat, tangling and tangling.
Baba Yaga grabbed the cat and began swinging it around. “Why didn’t you tear the little girl’s eyes out?”
“ In all the years I have served you you only gave me one little bone, but the little girl on first meeting gave me a nice chunk of meat.”
Baba Yaga threw the cat into the loom and rushed out toward the gate.
She screamed at the sevant,” Why did you take so long with the bath?” And to the dog,” why didn’t you tear her to pieces?” And to the gate,” Why didn’t you squeal when she opened you?” And to the birch tree,” why didn’t you tear up her faces with your branches?”
But they were all silent, for the witch had never given them anything but abuse.
Baba Yaga jumped into her mortar. Grabbing the pestle she began beating the mortar and as it flew along the ground she swept up her tracks with a besom.
The little girl had kept running. Finally she heard the bangety bang, bangety bang of Baba Yaga beating the mortar. And there the bony legged witch was, rushing along the trial.
The girl took out the towel and threw it on the ground. And the towel grew longer and wider, and wetter and wetter, until it was a deep broad river between Baba Yaga and the little girl.
The bony-legged witch drove the mortar into the river, but only got wet, for it could not float. Tongs and pokers falling down a chimney were nothing to the sound Baba Yaga made as she gnashed her teeth. She turned around and drove back to the little hut on chicken legs. There she gathered her cattle herd and drove them all back to the river.
“Drink,drink” she screamed at the cattle, and the cattle drank up the river to the last drop. Baba Yaga jumped back into her mortar, gliding across the river bed and along the trail in pursuit of the girl.
But the little girl heard the witch coming, bangety bang.
The little girl pulled the comb from her hair and threw it on the ground. The comb sprouted more and more teeth .and bigger and thicker and the teeth grew into a dense forest, so thick that not even Baba Yaga could force her way through.
Baba Yaga screamed but knew that she could not break through the forest. So she turned around and drove her mortar back to the little hut on chicken legs.
The little girl ran all the way home. She was afraid to go into the hut so she went into the shed. Out came the little mouse.
“So you got away. Very good. Your father is back and worried about you. He will listen to what you tell him, so tell him everything.”
When she went in her father asked,” Where have you been? I was so worried.”
The stepmother turned yellow when she saw the girl, and her teeth ground together until they broke.
But the little girl wasn’t afraid and went to her father and climbed on his knee and told him everything.
The father was so angry that he drove the step mother out of the hut. He lived in the hut with just his little girl, and much better it was for both of them.
The little mouse visited the hut every day, crouched on the table eating crumbs and warming its paws on the girl’s cup of tea.