Once upon a time
there was a little girl named Betushka. She lived
with her mother, a poor widow who had only a
tumbledown cottage and two goats. But in spite of
this poverty, Betushka was always merry.
From spring to autumn, Betushka
drove the goats each day to pasture in a birch wood.
Every morning her mother put a slice of bread and an
empty spindle into her bag. The spindle would hold
the flaxen thread she would spin while she watched
the goats. She was too poor to own a distaff on which
to wind the flax, so she wound it around her head, to
carry it thus to the wood.
"Work hard, Betushka,"
her mother always said, "and fill the spindle
before you return home."
Off skipped Betushka, singing
along the way. She danced behind the goats into the
wood of birch trees and sat down under a tree. With
her left hand she pulled fibers from the flax around
her head and with her right hand twirled her spindle
so that it hummed over the ground. All the time she
sang merrily and the goats nibbled the green grass
among the trees.
When the sun showed that it was
midday, Betushka stopped her spinning. She gave each
of the goats a morsel of bread and picked a few
strawberries to eat with what remained. After this,
she sprang up and danced. The sun shone even more
warmly and the birds sang yet more sweetly.
After her dance, Betushka began
again to spin busily. At evening when she drove the
goats home she was able to hand her mother a spindle
full of flaxen thread.
One fine spring day, when
Betushka was ready as usual to dance, suddenly there
appeared before her a most beautiful maiden. Her
white dress floated about her as thin as gossamer,
her golden hair flowed to her waist, and a wreath of
forest blossoms crowned her head. Betushka was struck
The wood fairy smiled at her and
in a sweet voice asked, "Betushka, do you like
At this, Betushka lost her fear.
"Oh! I could dance all the day long!"
"Come then, let us dance
together. I will teach you." She took Betushka
and began to dance with her.
Round and round they circled,
while sweet music sounded over their heads. The
maiden had called upon the birds sitting in the birch
trees to accompany them. Nightingales, larks,
goldfinches, thrushes, and a clever mockingbird sang
such sweet melodies that Betushka's heart filled with
delight. She quite forgot her goats and her spinning.
On and on she danced, with feet never weary, until
evening when the last rosy rays of sunset were
disappearing. The music ceased and the maiden
vanished as suddenly as she had come.
Betushka looked around. There
was her spindle -- only half filled with thread.
Sadly she put it into her bag and drove the goats
from the wood. She did not sing while going down the
road this time, but reproached herself for forgetting
her duty. She resolved that she would not do this
again. When she reached home she was so quiet that
her mother asked if she were ill.
"No, Mother, I am not
ill." But she did not tell her mother about the
lovely maiden. She hid the half-filled spindle,
promising herself to work twice as hard tomorrow to
make up for today.
Early the next morning Betushka
again drove the goats to pasture, singing merrily as
usual. She entered the wood and began her spinning,
intending to do twice her usual amount.
At noon Betushka picked a few
strawberries, but she did not dance. To her goats she
said, "Today, I dare not dance. Why don't you
dance, my little goats?"
"Come and dance with
me," called a voice. It was the beautiful
But this time Betushka was
afraid, and she was also ashamed. She asked the
maiden to leave her alone. "Before sunset, I
must finish my spinning," she said.
The maiden answered, "If
you will dance with me, someone will help you finish
your spinning." With the birds singing
beautifully as before, Betushka could not resist. She
and the maiden began to dance, and again they danced
Now when Betushka looked at her
nearly empty spindle, she burst into tears. But the
maiden unwound the flax from Betushka's head, twined
it around a slender birch tree, seized the spindle,
and began to spin. The spindle hummed over the ground
and grew thick with thread. By the time the sun had
dropped from sight, all the flax was spun. As the
maiden handed the full spindle to Betushka, she said,
"Wind it and grumble not. Remember, wind it and
grumble not." Then, suddenly, she disappeared.
Betushka, happy now, drove the
goats home, singing as she went, and gave her mother
the full spindle. Betushka's mother, however, was not
pleased with what Betushka had failed to do the day
before and asked her about it. Betushka told her that
she had danced, but she kept the maiden a secret.
The next day Betushka went still
earlier to the birch wood. The goats grazed while she
sang and spun, until at noon the beautiful maiden
appeared and again seized Betushka by the waist to
dance. While the birds sang for them, the two danced
on and on, Betushka quite forgetting her spindle and
When the sun was setting,
Betushka looked around. There was the half-filled
spindle! But the maiden grasped Betushka's bag,
became invisible for a moment, then handed back the
bag stuffed with something light. She ordered her not
to look into it before reaching home, and with these
words she disappeared.
Betushka started home, not
daring to look into the bag. But halfway there she
was unable to resist peeking, for the bag was so
light she feared a trick. She looked into the bag,
and began to weep. It was full of dry birch leaves!
Angrily she tossed some of these out of the bag, but
suddenly she stopped -- she knew they would make good
litter for the goats to sleep on.
Now she was almost afraid to go
home. There her mother was awaiting her. "What
kind of spindle did you bring me yesterday?" she
asked. "I wound and wound, but the spindle
remained full. 'Some evil spirit has spun you,' I
grumbled, and at that instant the thread vanished
from the spindle. Tell me what this means."
Betushka then told her mother
about the maiden and their dancing. "That was a
wood fairy," exclaimed her mother, alarmed.
"The wood fairies dance at midday and at
midnight. If you had been a little boy, you might not
have escaped alive. But to little girls, the wood
fairies often give rich presents." Next, she
added. "To think that you did not tell me. If I
had not grumbled I might have had a room full of
Betushka then thought of her bag
and wondered if there might not, after all, be
something under those leaves. She lifted out the
spindle and the unspun flax. "Look,
Mother!" Her mother looked and clapped her
hands. Under the spindle the birch leaves had turned
Betushka told her mother how the
fairy had directed her not to look into the bag until
she got home, but that she had not obeyed and had
thrown out some of the leaves. "Tis fortunate
you did not empty out the whole bagful," said
The next morning Betushka and
her mother went into the wood, to look carefully over
the ground where Betushka had thrown out the dry
leaves. Only fresh birch leaves lay there, but the
gold that Betushka did bring home was enough for a
farm with a garden and some cows. She wore beautiful
dresses and no longer had to graze the goats.
Nothing, however, gave her such delight as she had
had dancing with the wood fairy. Often she ran to the
birch wood, hoping to see the beautiful maiden, but
never again did the wood fairy appear.