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In an old, old Russian tsarstvo, I do not know when, there lived a sovereign prince with the princess his wife. They had three sons, all of them young, and such brave fellows that no pen could describe them. The youngest had the name of Ivan Tsarevitch. One day their father said to his sons:
“My dear boys, take each of you an arrow, draw your strong bow and let your arrow fly; in whatever court it falls, in that court there will be a wife for you.”
The arrow of the oldest Tsarevitch fell on a boyarhouse just in front of the terem where women live; the arrow of the second Tsarevitch flew to the red porch of a rich merchant, and on the porch there stood a sweet girl, the merchant's daughter. The youngest, the brave Tsarevitch Ivan, had the ill luck to send his arrow into the midst
of a swamp, where it was caught by a croaking frog.
Ivan Tsarevitch came to his father: "How can I marry the frog?” complained the son. "Is she my equal? Certainly she is not.”
“Never mind,” replied his father, “you have to marry the frog, for such is evidently your destiny."
Thus the brothers were married: the oldest to a young boyarishnia, a nobleman's child; the second to the merchant's beautiful daughter, and the youngest, Tsarevitch Ivan, to a croaking frog.
After a while the sovereign prince called his three sons and said to them:
“Have each of your wives bake a loaf of bread by tomorrow morning."
Ivan returned home. There was no smile on his face, and his brow was clouded.
“C-R-O-A-K! C-R-O-A-K! Dear husband of mine, Tsarevitch Ivan, why sc sad?” gently asked the frog. “Was there anything disagreeable in the palace?" “Disagreeable indeed,”
indeed,” answered Ivan Tsarevitch. “The Tsar, my father, wants you to bake a loaf of white bread by to-morrow.”
“Do not worry, Tsarevitch. Go to bed; the morning hour is a better adviser than the dark evening."
The Tsarevitch, taking his wife's advice, went to sleep. Then the frog threw off her frogskin and turned into a beautiful, sweet girl, Vassilissa by name. She now stepped out on the porch and called aloud:
“Nurses and waitresses, come to me at once and prepare a loaf of white bread for to-morrow morning, a loaf
exactly like those I used to eat in my royal father's palace.”
In the morning Tsarevitch Ivan awoke with the crowing cocks, and you know the cocks and chickens are never late. Yet the loaf was already made, and so fine it was that nobody could even describe it, for only in fairyland one finds such marvelous loaves. It was adorned all about with pretty figures, with towns and fortresses on each side, and within it was white as snow and light as a feather.
The Tsar father was pleased and the Tsarevitch received his special thanks.
“Now there is another task," said the Tsar smilingly. “Have each of your wives weave a rug by to-morrow.”
Tsarevitch Ivan came back to his home. There was no smile on his face and his brow was clouded.
“C-R-O-A-K! C-R-O-A-K! Dear Tsarevitch Ivan, my husband and master, why so troubled again? Was not father pleased?"
“How can I be otherwise? The Tsar, my father, has ordered a rug by to-morrow.”
“Do not worry, Tsarevitch. Go to bed; go to sleep. The morning hour will bring help.”
Again the frog turned into Vassilissa, the wise maiden, and again she called aloud:
“Dear nurses and faithful waitresses, come to me
work. Weave a silk rug
like the one I used to sit upon in the palace of the king, my father."
Once said, quickly done. When the cocks began their early “cock-a-doodle-doo,” Tsarevitch Ivan awoke, and lo! there lay the most beautiful silk rug before him, a rug that no one could begin to describe. Threads of silver and gold were interwoven among bright-colored silken ones, and the rug was too beautiful for anything but to admire.
The Tsar father was pleased, thanked his son Ivan, and issued a new order. He now wished to see the three wives of his handsome sons, and they were to present their brides on the next day.
The Tsarevitch Ivan returned home. Cloudy was his brow, more cloudy than before.
“C-R-0-A-K! C-R-O-A-K! Tsarevitch, my dear husband and master, why so sad? Hast thou heard anything unpleasant at the palace?”
“Unpleasant enough, indeed! My father, the Tsar, ordered all of us to present our wives to him. Now tell me, how could I dare go with thee?”
“It is not so bad after all, and could be much worse,' answered the frog, gently croaking. “Thou shalt go alone and I will follow thee. When thou hearest a noise, a great noise, do not be afraid; simply say: 'There is my miserable froggy coming in her miserable box.'
The two elder brothers arrived first with their wives, beautiful, bright, and cheerful, and dressed in rich garments. Both the happy bridegrooms made fun of the Tsarevitch Ivan.
"Why alone, brother?” they laughingly said to him.
“Why didst thou not bring thy wife along with thee? Was there no rag to cover her? Where couldst thou have gotten such a beauty? We are ready to wager that in all the swamps in the dominion of our father it would be hard to find another one like her.” And they laughed and laughed.
Lo! what a noise! The palace trembled, the guests were all frightened. Tsarevitch Ivan alone remained quiet and said:
“No danger; it is my froggy coming in her box."
To the red porch came flying a golden carriage drawn by six splendid white horses, and Vassilissa, beautiful beyond all description, gently reached her hand to her husband. He led her with him to the heavy oak tables, which were covered with snow-white linen and loaded with many wonderful dishes such as are known and eaten only in the land of fairies and never anywhere else. The guests were eating and chatting gayly.
Vassilissa drank some wine, and what was left in the tumbler she poured into her left sleeve. She ate some of the fried swan, and the bones she threw into her right sleeve. The wives of the two elder brothers watched her and did exactly the same.
When the long, hearty dinner was over, the guests began dancing and singing. The beautiful Vassilissa came forward, as bright as a star, bowed to her sovereign, bowed to the honorable guests, and danced with her husband, the happy Tsarevitch Ivan.
While dancing, Vassilissa waved her left sleeve and a pretty lake appeared in the midst of the hall and cooled the air. She waved her right sleeve and white swans swam on