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The Straw Ox






Source: Cossack Fairy Tales And Folk Tales

There was once upon a time an old man and an old woman. The old man
worked in the fields as a pitch-burner, while the old woman sat at
home and spun flax. They were so poor that they could save nothing at
all; all their earnings went in bare food, and when that was gone
there was nothing left. At last the old woman had a good idea. "Look
now, husband," cried she, "make me a straw ox, and smear it all over
with tar."--"Why, you foolish woman!" said he, "what's the good of an
ox of that sort?"--"Never mind," said she, "you just make it. I know
what I am about."--What was the poor man to do? He set to work and
made the ox of straw, and smeared it all over with tar.

The night passed away, and at early dawn the old woman took her
distaff, and drove the straw ox out into the steppe to graze, and she
herself sat down behind a hillock, and began spinning her flax, and
cried, "Graze away, little ox, while I spin my flax! Graze away,
little ox, while I spin my flax!" And while she spun, her head drooped
down and she began to doze, and while she was dozing, from behind the
dark wood and from the back of the huge pines a bear came rushing out
upon the ox and said, "Who are you? Speak and tell me!"--And the ox
said, "A three-year-old heifer am I, made of straw and smeared with
tar."--"Oh!" said the bear, "stuffed with straw and trimmed with tar,
are you? Then give me of your straw and tar, that I may patch up my
ragged fur again!"--"Take some," said the ox, and the bear fell upon
him and began to tear away at the tar. He tore and tore, and buried
his teeth in it till he found he couldn't let go again. He tugged and
he tugged, but it was no good, and the ox dragged him gradually off
goodness knows where. Then the old woman awoke, and there was no ox to
be seen. "Alas! old fool that I am!" cried she, "perchance it has gone
home." Then she quickly caught up her distaff and spinning-board,
threw them over her shoulders, and hastened off home, and she saw that
the ox had dragged the bear up to the fence, and in she went to the
old man. "Dad, dad!" she cried, "look, look! the ox has brought us a
bear. Come out and kill it!" Then the old man jumped up, tore off the
bear, tied him up, and threw him in the cellar.

Next morning, between dark and dawn, the old woman took her distaff
and drove the ox into the steppe to graze. She herself sat down by a
mound, began spinning, and said, "Graze, graze away, little ox, while
I spin my flax! Graze, graze away, little ox, while I spin my flax!"
And while she spun, her head drooped down and she dozed. And, lo! from
behind the dark wood, from the back of the huge pines, a grey wolf
came rushing out upon the ox and said, "Who are you? Come, tell
me!"--"I am a three-year-old heifer, stuffed with straw and trimmed
with tar," said the ox.--"Oh! trimmed with tar, are you? Then give me
of your tar to tar my sides, that the dogs and the sons of dogs tear
me not!"--"Take some," said the ox. And with that the wolf fell upon
him and tried to tear the tar off. He tugged and tugged, and tore with
his teeth, but could get none off. Then he tried to let go, and
couldn't; tug and worry as he might, it was no good. When the old
woman woke, there was no heifer in sight. "Maybe my heifer has gone
home!" she cried; "I'll go home and see." When she got there she was
astonished, for by the palings stood the ox with the wolf still
tugging at it. She ran and told her old man, and her old man came and
threw the wolf into the cellar also.

On the third day the old woman again drove her ox into the pastures to
graze, and sat down by a mound and dozed off. Then a fox came running
up. "Who are you?" it asked the ox.--"I'm a three-year-old heifer,
stuffed with straw and daubed with tar."--"Then give me some of your
tar to smear my sides with, when those dogs and sons of dogs tear my
hide!"--"Take some," said the ox. Then the fox fastened her teeth in
him and couldn't draw them out again. The old woman told her old man,
and he took and cast the fox into the cellar in the same way. And
after that they caught Pussy Swift-foot[16] likewise.

[16] The hare.

So when he had got them all safely, the old man sat down on a bench
before the cellar and began sharpening a knife. And the bear said to
him, "Tell me, daddy, what are you sharpening your knife for?"--"To
flay your skin off, that I may make a leather jacket for myself and
a pelisse for my old wife."--"Oh! don't flay me, daddy dear! Rather
let me go, and I'll bring you a lot of honey."--"Very well, see you
do it," and he unbound and let the bear go. Then he sat down on the
bench and again began sharpening his knife. And the wolf asked him,
"Daddy, what are you sharpening your knife for?"--"To flay off your
skin, that I may make me a warm cap against the winter."--"Oh!
don't flay me, daddy dear, and I'll bring you a whole herd of
little sheep."--"Well, see that you do it," and he let the wolf go.
Then he sat down and began sharpening his knife again. The fox put out
her little snout and asked him, "Be so kind, dear daddy, and tell me
why you are sharpening your knife!"--"Little foxes," said the old
man, "have nice skins that do capitally for collars and trimmings,
and I want to skin you!"--"Oh! don't take my skin away, daddy dear,
and I will bring you hens and geese."--"Very well, see that you do
it!" and he let the fox go. The hare now alone remained, and the
old man began sharpening his knife on the hare's account. "Why do
you do that?" asked puss, and he replied, "Little hares have nice
little soft warm skins, which will make me gloves and mittens
against the winter!"--"Oh! daddy dear! don't flay me, and I'll
bring you kale and good cauliflower, if only you let me go!" Then he
let the hare go also.

Then they went to bed, but very early in the morning, when it was
neither dusk nor dawn, there was a noise in the doorway like
"Durrrrrr!"--"Daddy!" cried the old woman, "there's some one
scratching at the door, go and see who it is!" The old man went out,
and there was the bear carrying a whole hive full of honey. The old
man took the honey from the bear, but no sooner did he lie down than
again there was another "Durrrrr!" at the door. The old man looked out
and saw the wolf driving a whole flock of sheep into the yard. Close
on his heels came the fox, driving before him geese and hens and all
manner of fowls; and last of all came the hare, bringing cabbage and
kale and all manner of good food. And the old man was glad, and the
old woman was glad. And the old man sold the sheep and oxen and got so
rich that he needed nothing more. As for the straw-stuffed ox, it
stood in the sun till it fell to pieces.





Next: The Golden Slipper

Previous: The Fox And The Cat



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