An old woman lived all alone. She had no children. One time she went for a walk. She saw a patch of yellow grass. One blade was growing higher than any of the others. She gathered that grass for her bedding, and kept this long blade separately. She carried the grass home, put it under her mat and slept over it. In the night time the long blade became warm from the heat of her body. In the morning the old woman mounted to the roof to open the chimney hole. Then she heard something crying in the house. It was the grass-blade which had turned into a little girl. The old woman swathed her in thin skins, fed her and nursed and caressed her. Thus Grass-Blade-Girl lived in her house and grew up. When the time came for her to be married she was a wonderful girl. When she wept her tears were costly pearls. When she smiled, her smile was all precious stones. She would swing her right sleeve, and sables and martens would drop from it. She would swing her left sleeve, and red foxes would fall out of it. 1 She was also very pretty. The like of her was not to be met. A strong young man heard about her, and went to pay suit to her.
On his departure, he told his brothers, who had remained at home, to make arrows and to feather them well, that he might shoot with them sables and foxes for his future bride. He ordered them also to prepare bags for the skins, and boxes for the precious stones and pearls.
He went to the old woman and saw the girl. She was all that people had stated her to be. Pearls and precious stones dropped from her mouth, sables and foxes fell from her sleeves. He offered his suit, and was accepted.
[paragraph continues] Then he married her and took her to his house. On the way, they passed the house of Yaghishna. Just as they were right opposite it, the bride said, "Oh, my dear! I am very thirsty. Bring me some water." He took the ice-pick and went to a lake. He cut through the ice, but there was no water. The bottom was dry. He tried another place, and still another. There was no water anywhere, and at last he went so far toward the middle of the lake, that he disappeared from the sight of the woman. In the meantime the dogs of the, team scented the house of Yaghishna. So they rushed off with the sledge, and she could not keep them back. They arrived at Yaghishna's door. The witch came out, took the young woman by the hand, and led her into the house. She made her take a place on a new reindeer skin, and went to prepare some food and hot tea for her; but when she took the first cup of tea, the witch unexpectedly pulled out the bedding from under her seat, and the young woman fell into an underground cellar a hundred fathoms deep, a hundred fathoms wide, and quite dark.
She prayed and prayed to be let out: "O grandmother! help me out! I will give you anything you may ask of me."--"All right," said the witch, "take off your clothes and give them to me, then I will help you out." The young woman took off her clothes, saving only her undershirt, and made them into a bundle. The witch dropped a long line into the cellar. The young woman tied the bundle to the line. The witch pulled up the bundle, put on the clothes, and all at once became exactly like the young bride. So she took her place upon the sledge, and hurried back to the former place. After some time the husband came. He brought some water, but the bride refused to take it. "I do not want it. I did not ask you at all to fetch any water." They even had a quarrel. "Why," said the young man, "you were so thirsty. Have I not cut the ice maybe in twenty places to get water for you?"
After that they continued on their way. When they reached home all the people gathered to look upon the bride; but she had neither pearls nor sables. She coughed and spat, blew her nose; and only once a small glass bead fell down, which, moreover, was pierced awry. In due time, however, she bore a son. Her husband was an excellent hunter. He brought home geese and swans, reindeer and elks. The house was full of meat and of all kinds of skins. He passed most of his time in the open air, and paid no attention to the ways of his wife with their little boy. One time, however, he came home, and his wife prepared some dinner for him. While waiting for it, he took up the boy, who began to cry. "There," said the man, "the boy is crying. It is time to give him some food." The witch took the boy and turned her face toward the wall. After that she began to take off her left boot. He looked on with great wonder, and thought, "What is
this? I wanted her to suckle the boy, and she takes off her boots." The woman took off the boot, and instead of the breast she gave the boy her left heel to suck. He was very angry. "Why," said her husband, "is this the way you feed our boy? Truly, you have grown up in the wild country, and you are of wild blood. You are good for nothing. I took you for a treasure, and instead you are an unclean thing. You suckle your boy in this unhallowed way. Tomorrow morning I shall take you back to your mother. I do not want you any longer." They quarrelled all night long, and did not sleep. The next morning he carried her back to her mother. They arrived there, and lo, Grass-Blade-Girl was living with the old woman again.
She had been left quite naked in the underground cellar of Yaghishna's house. When groping about in the cellar, she found it full of dead bodies of men and women. She heaped them up and mounted to the top. In this way she succeeded in making her escape. The Witch, though living far away in the house of the young man, became aware directly of the flight of her prisoner. She sent some bears and wolves in pursuit, which overtook the fugitive. They tore her to pieces, and the blood flowed all over the ground. A new thin yellowish-green grass grew up from the blood. The old woman found the grass, and gathered it; and so again she had in her house the same Grass-Blade-Girl, as before.
The young man carried his wife back to her mother, and found there also this Grass-Blade-Girl. He recognized her immediately as his former bride. They had supper, and then lay down to sleep. The old woman said to Grass-Blade-Girl, "Tell us a tale." So the girl began, "There lived an old woman. She found a yellowish-green grass blade and took it home. She put it under her bedding. The next morning she went out to open the chimney-hole, and something was crying within the house. The grass-blade had turned into a little girl. The girl grew up, and a young man came and married her. He took her to his house. On the way she asked for a drink. The bridegroom went for some water. Near the trail stood the house of Yaghishna. The dogs scented it and rushed there."
As soon as she reached this place in the story, Yaghishna grew angry and interrupted her. "Enough of your prattling! We want to sleep. No need of your silly tales!"--"Not so fast," said the husband. He took Yaghishna and with twelve new arrows he shot her dead in front of the house. Then he carried Grass-Blade-Girl to his house. The end.
Told by Katherine Rumiantzev, a Russianized Yukaghir woman, in the village of Pokhotsk, in the Kolyma country, summer of 1896.
52:1 These details belong to Old-Russian folklore, and, indeed, are met with in the folk stories of various peoples of the Old World.--W. B.