Old Peter’s Russian Tales
Arthur Ransome
Children
8:09 h
Level 3
Old Peter's Russian Tales is a collection of Russian folk-tales by retold by Arthur Ransome, published in Britain in 1916. The first chapter tells of Maroosia and Vanya who live in a hut of pine logs in the forest with their grandfather, the forester Old Peter. Their father and mother are both dead, and they can hardly remember them. Twenty stories told by Old Peter to the children follow, including The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship. Ransome says in a Note at the beginning that "The stories in this book are those that Russian peasants tell their children and each other", and that it was written for "English children who play in deep lanes with wild roses above them in the high hedges, or by the small singing becks that dance down the grey fells at home".

Old Peter’s Russian Tales

by
Arthur Ransome

Illustrations by Dmitri Mitrokhin


They sailed away once more over the blue sea.


To Miss Barbara Collingwood Note

The stories in this book are those that Russian peasants tell their children and each other. In Russia hardly anybody is too old for fairy stories, and I have even heard soldiers on their way to the war talking of very wise and very beautiful princesses as they drank their tea by the side of the road. I think there must be more fairy stories told in Russia than anywhere else in the world. In this book are a few of those I like best. I have taken my own way with them more or less, writing them mostly from memory. They, or versions like them, are to be found in the coloured chap-books, in Afanasiev’s great collection, or in solemn, serious volumes of folklorists writing for the learned. My book is not for the learned, or indeed for grown-up people at all. No people who really like fairy stories ever grow up altogether. This is a book written far away in Russia, for English children who play in deep lanes with wild roses above them in the high hedges, or by the small singing becks that dance down the gray fells at home. Russian fairyland is quite different. Under my windows the wavelets of the Volkhov (which has its part in one of the stories) are beating quietly in the dusk. A gold light burns on a timber raft floating down the river. Beyond the river in the blue midsummer twilight are the broad Russian plain and the distant forest. Somewhere in that forest of great trees — a forest so big that the forests of England are little woods beside it — is the hut where old Peter sits at night and tells these stories to his grandchildren.

A.R.

Vergezha.


The Hut in the Forest

Outside in the forest there was deep snow. The white snow had crusted the branches of the pine trees, and piled itself up them till they bent under its weight. Now and then a snow-laden branch would bend too far, and huge lumps of snow fell crashing to the ground under the trees. Then the branch would swing up, and the snow covered it again with a cold white burden. Sitting in the hut you could hear the crashing again and again out in the forest, as the tired branches flung down their loads of snow. Yes, and now and then there was the howling of wolves far away.

Little Maroosia heard them, and thought of them out there in the dark as they galloped over the snow. She sat closer to Vanya, her brother, and they were both as near as they could get to the door of the stove, where they could see the red fire burning busily, keeping the whole hut warm. The stove filled a quarter of the hut, but that was because it was a bed as well. There were blankets on it, and in those blankets Vanya and Maroosia rolled up and went to sleep at night, as warm as little baking cakes.

The hut was made of pine logs cut from the forest. You could see the marks of the axe. Old Peter was the grandfather of Maroosia and Vanya. He lived alone with them in the hut in the forest, because their father and mother were both dead. Maroosia and Vanya could hardly remember them, and they were very happy with old Peter, who was very kind to them and did all he could to keep them warm and well fed. He let them help him in everything, even in stuffing the windows with moss to keep the cold out when winter began. The moss kept the light out too, but that did not matter. It would be all the jollier in the spring when the sun came pouring in.

Besides old Peter and Maroosia and Vanya there were Vladimir and Bayan. Vladimir was a cat, a big black cat, as stately as an emperor, and just now he was lying in Vanya’s arms fast asleep. Bayan was a dog, a tall gray wolf-dog. He could jump over the table with a single bound. When he was in the hut he usually lay underneath the table, because that was the only place where he could lie without being in the way. And, of course at meal times he was in the way even there. Just now he was out with old Peter.

“I wonder what story it will be to-night?” said Maroosia.

“So do I,” said Vanya. “I wish they’d be quick and come back.”