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Oh! - A Cossack Story

Source: Tales Of Folk And Fairies

There was once a man who had one son, and he was so lazy that he would
not work at all. The father apprenticed him to a tailor, but the lad
went to sleep between the stitches. He apprenticed him to a cobbler
and the lad only sat and yawned instead of driving pegs. What to do
with him the man did not know.

"Come," said the father one day, "we will go out into the wide world.
It may be that somewhere or other we will find a master who can make
you work."

The lad was very good-natured. "Very well," said he, "I am willing";
and he arose and stretched himself and yawned, and then he was ready
to set out.

The father put on his cap and took a staff in his hand, and then he
was ready, too.

The two of them journeyed along together, in step and out of step, and
after a while they came to a deep wood. When they were well into it,
the father grew so weary that he had to sit down and rest.

"Oh! what have I done that I should have such a lazy son!" he cried.

At once a little old, wrinkled, weazened man, all dressed in green,
with a green face, green hair, and a green beard stood before them.

"Why did you call me," said he, "and what do you want?"

"I did not call you," answered the man.

"But you did call me, for I heard you. Did not you call 'Oh'? And that
is my name."

"I said, 'Oh, what have I done to have such a lazy son,'" replied the
man, "but I did not call you, for I did not know that was your name."

The Green one looked closely at the lad. "Is he so lazy?" he asked.
"He looks a stout, healthy fellow."

"That is the worst of it," answered the father. "He is so stout and
healthy that he eats me out of house and home, and not one stroke will
he do to pay for it. I have tried to apprentice him to different
masters, but they soon weary of him and drive him out."

"Very well; I will take him as an apprentice myself," answered the
little man. "Leave him here with me for a year. Come back at the end
of that time, and if you know him again and are able to choose him out
from among my other apprentices, then you shall take him home with
you, but if not, then he shall serve with me a year longer."

Very well, the father was willing to agree to that. It would only be
for a year, for of course he would recognize his own son anywhere. So
he left the lad with Oh and went on home again.

Oh took the lad down into the country that lies beneath this earth,
and the way was not long. There everything was green. Oh's house was
made of green rushes. His wife was green and his daughters were green
and his dog was green, and when they gave the lad food to eat, it was
green also.

The oldest daughter would have been a beauty if she had not been green
all over--eyes, hair, and all. As soon as she saw the lad she loved
him and would have been glad to have him for a husband, but he had no
fancy for her.

"When I marry," said he, "it shall be some girl who is good red and
white flesh and blood like myself."

"Never mind," said Oh. "After you have lived here for a while you will
be glad enough to have her for a wife."

The lad lived down in the under country for a year, and Oh taught him
much magic, and he was very useful to the old Green One.

But at the end of the year the father came back in search of his son.
He stopped at the very same spot in the forest where he had stopped
before and cried out in a loud voice, "Oh! Oh! I would like to see my

At once Oh appeared before him. "Come with me," he said, "but remember
our bargain. If you know your son when you see him he is yours again,
but if you do not know him, then he must stay with me and serve me
still another year."

The man was very willing to agree, for it would be a strange thing if
he did not know his own son when he saw him.

Oh led him down the short way to the land that is under this, and when
he got there the man stared about him in wonder. Never had he seen so
many green things in all his life before.

Oh took a handful of corn and scattered it about, calling as he did
so. Then a great number of cocks that were pecking about the place
came running and began to pick up the corn.

"Tell me now, which of these is your son?" asked Oh, "for one of them
is he."

The man stared and scratched his head and stared again, but he could
not tell, for one cock was just like another. He had to own that he
could not tell which was his son.

"Very well," said Oh. "Then you will have to go home without him. Come
back at the end of another year, and then if you know him from his
mates you shall take him home with you, but if not then he shall stay
with me a twelvemonth longer."

That did not suit the man at all, but he could not say no, for that
was what the bargain had been.

At the end of the year the man came back to the forest again and
called upon Oh, and Oh was quickly before him.

"Come along," said Oh. "You surely ought to know your son when you see
him. If you do he shall go home with you, and I shall not say no to
it, but if not then he shall stay with me a year longer."

When the man heard this he was troubled, for he feared the Green One
meant to play some trick on him as he had before, and he wanted his
son home again, lazy or not. Moreover the lad's mother was grieving
for him.

Oh led the man down to the underworld and over to a field where a
flock of rams was grazing.

"All these are my servants," said Oh, "and one of them is your son.
Look well and tell me which is he, for unless you can choose him out
he must stay here with me."

The man looked and looked, but he could not tell which of the rams was
his son, for they all looked alike to him, so he had to go home
without him.

When the lad's mother heard of this second trick the Green One had
played on her husband she wept bitterly. "If we cannot find some way
to get round him, we will never have the lad back again," she said.

"That is true," said the man; "but if our son looks like a cock, how
can I tell him from other cocks; and if he looks like a ram, how can I
tell him from other rams?"

Well, time slipped by, and the man and his wife grew poorer and
poorer, for they were growing old, and they needed a young body in the
house to work for them.

When it was about time for the man to set out for Oh's house his wife
said to him, "See now! we have nothing left in the house but a small
loaf and a bit of honeycomb. But we can do better than fill our
stomach with them. Do you take them to the old Wise Woman who lives
over beyond the hill. Tell her they are a gift, and then ask her what
we can do to meet the tricks of the little old Green One."

The man did as his wife bade him, though he was hungry and would have
been glad of a bit of the bread himself.

The Wise Woman was pleased with the gift, and thanked the man kindly.
Then the man told her all his troubles and asked her how he was to get
his son back again from Oh.

"Listen!" said the old woman. "Oh would gladly keep your son with him
as a husband for his daughter, and if you do not bring the lad away
with you this time, you will never have him back. This time Oh will
show you a flock of doves, and one of them will be your son. Look
closely at them, and the one that has tears in its eyes is he, for
only a human soul can weep."

The father thanked the old woman and hurried back home again, and very
soon after it was time to set out for Oh's house.

The man travelled along till he came to the wood and the place where
he had come twice already, and he stood there and cried, "Oh! Oh!"

Then Oh appeared before him. "Here I am," said Oh, "ready and waiting
for you. This time, as before, I tell you that if you know your son
when you see him you shall take him away with you, but if, this time,
you do not know him, then he is mine forever."

"Very well," said the man, "that is a bargain."

Then Oh took him down to the underworld. He called to a flock of doves
that was perched on the roof and scattered a handful of peas on the
ground for them. The doves flew down all about them and began to peck
up the peas; but one dove would not eat but sat mournfully on a low
bough and looked at them, and its eyes were full of tears.

"This one is my son," cried the man, pointing to the dove that wept.

As soon as he said this the dove changed its shape and became a young
man, and this was the son, though he had become so fine and tall and
handsome in these three years that his father could scarcely recognize

Then Oh was in a fine rage. He danced with fury and tore his beard.

"Very well," he cried, "he is yours now, but you shall not keep him
long, and when I once get him back again he is mine forever."

But the lad paid no heed to his threats. He and his father were soon
on the upper earth again, and they set out for home, one foot before
the other.

On the way the father told the lad how badly it had gone with him and
the mother in the past years; of how poor they were, and of how their
hut was tumbling to pieces, and how their cow had died.

"Never mind," said the lad. "I learned quite a bit of magic from the
Green One, and that should help us out now. Do you hear the huntsmen
winding their horns farther on in the open?"

Yes, the father heard them.

"I will turn myself into a greyhound," said the lad. "The hunt is
coming this way, and when the huntsmen see me they will want to buy
me. Ask them three hundred dollars for me; no more, no less, but when
they take me do not leave the leash on me, whatever you do. Take it
off and put it in your pocket, and then all will be well with me. Fail
to do this, and misfortune will surely overtake me."

The father promised to do as the son said, and then the lad turned
himself into a greyhound, and he was so sleek and handsome that the
man could not admire him enough; but about his neck was an old, worn
leash that did not look as though it were worth a penny. It seemed a
pity to leave it on the neck of such a handsome dog.

The man went on a little further and then he came to where a grand
nobleman and his friends were hunting a hare. They had a pack of dogs
with them but the hare had outrun them.

When the nobleman saw the man and the greyhound he stopped his horse.

"That is a fine greyhound you have there."

"Yes, it is," answered the man.

"Do you think it could course down the hare we are chasing?"

Yes, the man was sure it could.

"Then let me have it and I will pay you a good price for it."

Very well, he could have it for three hundred dollars, but that was
without the leash; the leash was not for sale.

The nobleman laughed aloud, "when the dog is mine," he said, "he shall
have a golden leash, for that one you have is fit for nothing but the
ash heap."

The nobleman then paid the man three hundred dollars and unfastened
the leash from the dog's neck.

Away he flew like the wind and soon caught the hare. But when the
hunters reached the spot where the hare lay they could see nothing of
the dog. Only a tall and handsome youth stood there, and he was
flushed and hot as though he had been running.

"Have you seen my greyhound, a sleek and handsome dog?" asked the

No, the youth had not seen any dog.

The nobleman called and whistled, and he and his huntsman hunted far
and near, but they never found the greyhound.

As for the lad he set out on the road his father had taken and soon
caught up with him.

"That was a very pretty trick," said the father; "but after all three
hundred dollars is not much. It will barely buy us a cow and clothes
and put a new roof on the hut."

"Yes, but that is not the only trick I know," answered the son. "Look
at the hill over yonder and tell me what you see."

The father looked. "I see a company of fine ladies and gentlemen,"
answered the father, "and they are flying their falcons."

"I will change myself into a falcon, and when you have come to where
they are you shall loose me, and I will strike down a quail. Then they
will want to buy me. Sell me for three hundred dollars, no more, no
less. But whatever you do take off my hood and keep it, or misfortune
will surely overtake us."

The father promised he would do this, and then the lad turned himself
into a falcon and perched upon his father's hand.

Presently the father came up to where the ladies and gentlemen were at
their sport. They loosed their falcons, and the falcons flew after the
quail, but always they failed to strike, and the quail escaped.

"That is poor sport," said the man. "I can show you better."

He took off the hood and cast his falcon at the quail, and it quickly
struck down its prey.

The gentlemen and ladies were astonished at the quickness of the
falcon and at the beauty of its feathers.

"Sell us the bird," they said.

Yes, the man was willing to do that, but his price was three hundred
dollars without the hood; the hood was not for sale for love nor

All the fine folk began to laugh. "What do we want with that old
hood?" they cried. "We will give the bird a hood that is worthy of a

So the man took the three hundred dollars and the hood and went on his

The one who had bought the falcon cast it at a quail, and it struck
down its prey as before, but when the hunters reached the place where
the birds had fallen they saw no falcon, but only a handsome young man
who stood there looking down at the dead quail.

"What became of the falcon that was here?" they asked.

But the youth had seen no falcon.

He set out and soon overtook his father, who had not gone far. "And
now art thou content?" he asked.

"Six hundred dollars is not a fortune," answered the man. "Since you
have done so well you might have done better."

"Very well," answered the son. "We are now coming to a town where they
are holding a fair. I will change myself into a horse, and you shall
take me there and sell me for a thousand dollars,--no more, no less.
But heed what I say. Do not sell the halter whatever you do, or evil
will surely come of it."

"Very well," said the father. "I will remember."

The son then changed himself into a coal-black horse. His skin was
like satin, his eyes like jewels, and when he moved, his hoofs
scarcely seemed to touch the ground. But around his neck was an old
leather halter that was scarcely fit for an old farm nag.

The father led the horse on to where the fair was being held, and at
once a crowd gathered around him, all bidding for the horse. Some
offered him more and some less.

"The price is a thousand dollars," said the father, "no more, no less.
But that is without the halter."

Then the people all laughed. "Who wants the halter?" they cried. "What
we offer is for the horse alone. The halter we would not take as a

Then a rough looking, black-haired gypsy elbowed his way through the
crowd. He was really the Green One who had taken on this form, though
this the man did not know.

"I will give you two thousand," he cried. "One thousand for the horse
and one thousand for the halter, but I will not have one without the

When the crowd heard this they laughed louder than ever. They thought
the gypsy was crazy to offer such a price.

As for the father he stood there gaping and he did not know what to

"The price of the horse is a thousand dollars," he said.

"And a thousand for the halter," said the gypsy.

Well, two thousand dollars seemed a fortune to the man. Moreover he
did not see what harm it could do to sell the halter too.

So he let the gypsy have the horse and the halter as well, and the
gypsy paid him two thousand dollars and led the horse away.

And now the lad could not change himself back into his human shape,
because the halter held him, and this Oh knew very well.

He led the horse back to the forest and down to the world that is
under this. "Now I have you again," he said, "and this time you shall
not escape me."

Then he called to his youngest daughter and bade her take the horse
down to the river to drink.

When she had brought the horse to the river bank it said to her.
"Loosen, I pray of thee, the halter, that I may drink more easily."

Then the girl, who was a stupid wench, loosened the halter. At once
the lad slipped out of it and changed himself into a perch and fled
away down the river.

But the Green One knew what had happened. He rushed down to the river
and changed himself into a pike and pursued after the perch.

On and on they went, but the pike swam faster than the perch and was
just about to catch it when the perch sprang clear out of the water.

The daughter of the Tsar was walking by the river, and she was such a
beauty that it made the heart ache to look at her. On her arm she
carried a basket.

As the perch leaped he changed himself into a ruby ring and fell into
the basket.

The damsel was very much astonished to see the ring in her basket. She
did not know where it had come from. She looked up, and she looked
down, but she could see no one who could have thrown the ring.

Then she took it up and slid it upon her finger, and at once she loved
it as she had never loved anything in all her life before.

She carried it to her father and said to him, "Look what a pretty ring
I have found!"

"Yes," answered her father, "but where did you find it?"

"I found it in my basket, but how it came there I do not know."

The Tsaritsa's mother also admired the ring very much. Never had they
seen such a brilliant and flashing ruby before.

Now at first, after the perch leaped out of the river and into the
Tsaritsa's basket, Oh did not know what had become of him. He was
obliged to go home and get out his magic books, and then he soon
learned where the lad was.

He then changed himself into a venerable merchant, clothed in velvet
robes and with a long white beard. He broke a stick from an ash tree
and changed it into a horse, and mounted on it and rode away to the
Tsar's palace.

Then he asked to speak with the Tsar, and so old and venerable did he
look that they would not refuse him, but brought him before the Tsar.

"What dost thou want, old man?" asked the Tsar.

"Your majesty," answered the Green One, "I have had a great loss. I
was crossing the river in a boat, and I had with me a very handsome
ruby ring that I was carrying with me to my master, who is also a
Tsar. Unfortunately I lost the ring overboard, and I thought it might
perchance have washed up on the shore and have been picked up by one
of thy servants."

"What was thy ring like?" asked the Tsar.

Then the pretended merchant described the Tsaritsa's ring exactly.

The Tsar sent for his daughter, and she came with the ring on her
finger, for she would not take it off, either night or day.

"Let me see thy ring," said the Tsar.

He took her hand in his and examined the ring carefully, and it was in
every respect exactly as the Green One had described it.

"Is this thy ring?" the Tsar asked of the merchant.

"Yes, your majesty, it is."

"Then," said the Tsar to his daughter, "it is right that thou shouldst
return it to him."

The Tsaritsa wept and implored. She offered the merchant her pearls
and every other gem she had if he would but let her keep the ring, but
he refused.

"Very well, then, it shall be neither thine nor mine," cried the
Tsaritsa, and she drew the ring from her finger and dashed it against
the wall.

At once the ring changed into a hundred millet seeds and was scattered
all over the floor.

But the Green One as quickly changed himself into a cock and ran about
this way and that, pecking up the millet seeds and swallowing them.
Ninety-nine millet seeds he found and ate, but the hundredth he did
not find, because it had fallen beside the Tsaritsa's foot, and the
hem of her robe covered it.

As soon as the cock had swallowed the ninety-ninth seed he sprang upon
the window sill, and stretched his neck and crowed with triumph.

But the hundredth seed was really the lad, and in that moment he
changed himself back into his human form, and before the cock knew
what had happened, he caught hold of it and wrung its neck and that
was the end of Oh and his magic.

As for the Tsaritsa, no sooner had she seen the lad than her heart
went out to him, and she loved him even better than she had her ring,
and she declared that he and he only should be her husband.

The Tsar did not know what to say to that, for it did not seem fitting
that his daughter should marry a common man. But the Tsaritsa begged
and plead with him till he could no longer withstand her.

So she and the lad were married with great pomp and magnificence.

His old father and mother were bidden to the wedding, and they could
hardly believe their eyes when they saw their son stand there in those
costly robes with a crown upon his head and the Tsaritsa beside him as
his bride.

The old people were given a house to live in and plenty of money to
spend, and they all lived in peace and happiness forever after.

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