The Wood Maiden: The Story of Betushka and the Golden Birch Leaves
Betushka was a little girl. Her mother was a poor widow with nothing but a tumble-down cottage and two little nanny-goats. But poor as they were Betushka was always cheerful. From spring till autumn she pastured the goats in the birch wood. Every morning when she left home her mother gave her a little basket with a slice of bread and a spindle.
“See that you bring home a full spindle,” her mother always said.
Betushka had no distaff, so she wound the flax around her head. Then she took the little basket and went romping and singing behind the goats to the birch wood. When they got there she sat down under a tree and pulled the fibers of the flax from her head with her left hand, and with her right hand let down the spindle so that it went humming along the ground. All the while she sang until the woods echoed and the little goats nibbled away at the leaves and grass.
When the sun showed midday, she put the spindle aside, called the goats and gave them a mouthful of bread so that they wouldn’t stray, and ran off into the woods to hunt berries or any other wild fruit that was in season. Then when she had finished her bread and fruit, she jumped up, folded her arms, and danced and sang.
The sun smiled at her through the green of the trees and the little goats, resting on the grass, thought: “What a merry little shepherdess we have!”
After her dance she went back to her spinning and worked industriously. In the evening when she got home her mother never had to scold her because the spindle was empty.
One day at noon just after she had eaten and, as usual, was going to dance, there suddenly stood before her a most beautiful maiden. She was dressed in white gauze that was fine as a spider’s web. Long golden hair fell down to her waist and on her head she wore a wreath of woodland flowers.
Betushka was speechless with surprise and alarm.
The maiden smiled at her and said in a sweet voice:
“Betushka, do you like to dance?”
Her manner was so gracious that Betushka no longer felt afraid, and answered:
“Oh, I could dance all day long!