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- 4 -

3 Crows by Bilibin

As Vasilisa had feared, as soon as her father was gone, Liliya and her daughters began to make life unbearable for her. They shouted and screamed abuse at Vasilisa for no reason, bullied her unmercifully and made her do all the work around the house.

The neighbours, who realised what was going on, came over several times to tell them to leave the girl in peace.

Early one morning Liliya announced that they were going to move house. 'I've had enough of those nosey neighbours interfering in our business!' Although Vasilisa's father wrote regularly to her, Liliya never gave her his letters.

She sneered, 'Your beloved father obviously doesn't care about you any more. He hasn't sent us any money in weeks - it looks as if he's not coming back.

We can't afford to live here any longer: we must move to the country and you must work in the fields to earn your keep!'

'It can't be true!' cried Vasilisa in tears, 'Father would never have forgotten me - something must have happened to him!'

They packed up everything into a cart and left the house before the neighbours were awake. Liliya left a note on the door to say they had gone to join Vasilisa's father.

Vasilisa had to walk alongside the cart, while her stepsisters sat behind their mother. But she hardly noticed the distance she was walking, she was so preoccupied with thoughts of her father and what could have happened to him.

All along the way her stepsisters mocked her saying that her father had forgotten her.

She was in tears by the time they reached the old house standing alone at the edge of a dark forest. It was a large gloomy house with a few fields at the front, which looked as if they hadn't been worked for years. The nearest neighbours were miles away.

It was a swampy, unhealthy area and nobody came near the place if they could help it, for the old witch Baba Yaga lived in the middle of the forest and devoured anyone who came near her hut.

That evening Vasilisa was told to unpack the cart, take everything inside, and clean the house while the others went to bed. When they had gone upstairs, Vasilisa took out her little doll, gave it a some food, all the time crying bitter tears:

'My little friend, please help me, for I am in despair over my dear father - I fear that something must have happened to him.'

The doll's eyes began to shine as it came to life.

'Do not worry Vasilisa, your father is alive and well and loves you as he always has. Your stepmother has been lying. Even when things become worse than they are now, do not despair, for no harm can come to you while I am here. Go to sleep now. The morning is wiser than the evening.'

Vasilisa was comforted by the words of the little doll and fell into a deep sleep.

When she awoke the next morning all the unpacking had been done, the house was tidy and the stoves were lit.

Her stepmother and sisters were amazed to see how fresh Vasilisa looked after she had been apparently working all night. And although they teased her and mocked her about her father, this did not seem to bother her as it had the day before.

'How come she always looks so well?' grumbled one of her stepsisters.

'Don't worry, ' replied her mother, 'we won't have to put up with her for much longer! Baba Yaga will soon take care of her!'

to page 5
(twelve pages in all)