The Straw Ox
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.