The Little Humpback Horse : Part 2

You’ve made it this far! Top up that coco and let the dog chew on your slipper here we go…

PART TWO

Tales, you know, are quickly spun,
Deeds are sooner said than done.

Onсе again my tale proceeds
Of Ivan and of his deeds,
Of the tiny fallow bay
Talking horse, so wise and gay.
Goats are grazing on the seas,
Hills are overgrown with trees;
Golden bridle, loosely swinging,
See the stallion sunward winging-
Far below him, forests glide;
Thunder-clouds, on every side,
Race across the sky and dash,
Hurling lightning as they crash.
Wait-this is the prelude to
What I shall be telling you.
Have you heard of Buyan Island
Floating on the ocean wild, and
Of the maiden wondrous fair
Sleeping in a casket there?
Forest beasts with gentle tread
Guard her grave, while overhead
Nightingales their music pour.
Wait, my friends, a little more-
Now my prelude’s said and done,
And my story is begun.

Well, good friends and Christians true,
Fellow-countrymen-look you-
Our young fellow made his way
To the Palace that fine day.
He is Master of the Horse
And he doesn’t pine, of course,
For his brothers and his dad.
And, indeed, why should our lad,
Living in the Royal Court,
Waste on them a single thought?
He has garments gay in plenty
And possesses five and twenty
Chests, all full of caps and shoes
Out of which to pick and choose.
All he does is eat his fill,
Slake his thirst, and sleep at will.

Now, the chamberlain began,
As weeks passed, to watch Ivan …
You should know, that he had been
(Till Ivan came on the scene)
Master of the Royal Horse-
His was noble blood, of course-
So, no wonder that he bore
Malice towards Ivan, and swore
That he’d die, but soon or late
Drive the upstart from the gate.
But the rogue, his good time biding
And his double-dealing hiding,
Feigned to be Ivan’s best friend,
Masked his feelings to this end,
Thinking-“Wait, you dirty lout,
Time will come, I’ll turn you out.”

So, the chamberlain began
As weeks passed, to watch Ivan;
And he noticed that he never
Fed or groomed those steeds, or ever
Took them out for exercise;
Yet those steeds, to his surprise,
Always were, whene’er paraded,
Brushed and burnished, manes a-braided.
Tails, in flowing ringlets streaming,
Glossy coats, like satin gleaming,
Mangers-always full of wheat
Which, it seemed, grew at their feet.
And huge tubs, he could have sworn,
Were fresh-filled with mead each morn.
“Now, whatever can this mean?”
Sighed the chamberlain in spleen-
“Can it be, a goblin sprite
Comes and plays his pranks at night?
Watch him-that’s what I shall do.
And it should be easy to
Spin a story in a flash
And to settle that fool’s hash.
I shall tell the Tsar, of course,
That the Master of the Horse
Is a wicked infidel,
And a sorcerer as well;
That Old Nick his soul has taken,
That he has God’s Church forsaken,
Bows before the Cross of Rome,
During Lent, eats meat at home.”

So, the former Chief of Horse
(Yes, the chamberlain, of course)
That same evening hid away
In a stall, beneath some hay.

Blackest midnight came at last,
Pit-a-pat, his heart beat fast;
Lying there, with bated breath,
He peeped out, as still as death,
Waiting for that sprite-when hark!
Loud the door creaked in the dark,
And the horses pawed the ground
As the sprite, without a sound,
Entered-though he looked, of course,
Like the Master of the Horse;
First he barred the door; then he
Took his hat off carefully,
And from it he slowly took
Out his kerchief, which he shook
Till the Fire-Bird’s feather blazed;
While the chamberlain, amazed,
Nearly screamed there in the hay,
Almost gave himself away.
Unsuspectingly, the sprite
In a corn-bin placed the light,
After which, with tender care,
He commenced to groom the pair;
Braided their fine manes so long,
While he sang a merry song;
Meanwhile, crouching there and quivering,
Hair all bristling, skin a-shivering,
Stared the chamberlain in fright
At the joker of the night.

He could not believe his eyes-
Sure the sprite was in disguise!
It nor horns nor whiskers wore-
Twas a handsome lad he saw!
Hair with ribbons gaily dressed,
Gold brocade upon his chest;
Saffian boots right to his knees-
This was Vanya, if you please!
Now, what could this mean?
Our spy Stared again and rubbed his eye
And he growled out finally:
“Oh, so that is it! I see!
Very well! I’ll tell the Tsar
What a smart young man you are!
Just you wait until tomorrow-
You’ll remember me with sorrow!”
But Ivan, quite unaware
Of the evil lurking there,
Gaily sings his little song,
As he braids those manes so long.
After he had groomed each steed,
Filled each tub with cooling mead,
And the bins with choicest corn,
He let out a sleepy yawn,
Wrapped the feather up once more,
Laid himself upon the floor;
By his horses made his bed
With his hat beneath his head.

With the dawn, the chamberlain
Stretched his limbs to ease the strain
And, on hearing our Ivan
Snoring loud as Yeruslan*,
Rose, and on his tip-toes crept
Cautiously to where he slept,
Snatched the feather from his hat
Then he vanished-just like that!

As the Tsar woke with a snore,
There he stood, right at the door;
Bowing low, until his head
Hit the floor, he whined and said:
“To confess, 0 Majesty,
I have dared to come to thee!
Be not angry with thy slave-
Suffer me to speak, I crave.”
“Speak, without exaggeration
And without prevarication.”
Yawned the Tsar. “If you tell fibs,
Know, the knout will count your ribs.”
Gathering his courage, he
Said: “God bless Your Majesty!
On the Holy Cross, forsooth,
I am telling you the truth.
All the Court knows it is true-
That Ivan conceals from you
That which can’t be bought or sold
Nor for silver, nor for gold-
It’s a Fire-Bird’s feather, see,
Which he hides, Your Majesty.”
“What! A Fire-Bird’s!
And he dare,
Cursed varlet, such a rare …
Oh, the villain-wait and see
What a whipping there will be!”
“That’s not all,” the chamberlain
Whispered, as he bowed again.

(* Yeruslan-a valiant Knight,
endowed with fabulous strength,
and hero of Russian folklore)
“Were it but the feather, he
Might retain it, Majesty-
But, he boasts, as I have heard,
That, did you but say the word,
He could bring the Bird of Fire
To your Royal Chamber, Sire.”
And the spy, with servile tread,
On all fours approached the bed,
Dropped the treasure-and once more
Banged his head upon the floor.
Long the Tsar, enchanted, gazed,
Chortled, stroked his beard, amazed;
Bit the feather’s tip, then he
Placed it under lock and key,
houted in impatience and,
As confirming his command,
Waved his sceptre in the air:
“Hey! You! Fetch me that fool there!”

All the lords-in-waiting ran
Instantly to fetch Ivan;
But, colliding near the door,
Fell and sprawled upon the floor,
While the Tsar in huge delight
Roared with laugher at the sight;
So his lords, all quick to see
What so pleased His Majesty,
Winks exchanged as they once more
Threw themselves upon the floor.
Whereupon, amused thereat,
He gave each a brand-new hat,
After which they once more ran
Hurrying, to fetch Ivan;
And without an accident
This time, on their mission went.
When they reached the stables, they
Rushed inside without delay,
Fell upon our poor fool there,
Kicked him, punched him, pulled his hair,
Fully half an hour, or more-
All Ivan did, was to snore,
Finally, a stable groom
Woke him with a stable broom.
Jumping up, Ivan bawled out:

“Varlets-what are you about?
I shall teach you not to worry
Me, you villains, in a hurry,
When I’m sleeping in my bed.”
But the lords-in-waiting said:
“Up! The Tsar sent us to say
That you come without delay!”
“Oh, the Tsar? Ah, well, then, wait-
I will dress and go there straight,”
Yawning answered our Ivan.
So he put on his kaftan,
Tied his girdle in its place,
Combed his hair and washed his face;
And strode forth in pompous pride,
Horse whip dangling by his side.

When he reached His Majesty,
Our Ivan bowed low, then he
Hummed and hawed and puffed his chest,
Said: “Why did you spoil my rest?”
Here, the Tsar jumped up in bed,
Left eye squinting, seeing red.
“Silence,” wrathfully roared he-
“It is you must answer me!
By what law and what decree
Have you from Our Majesty
Hidden what is ours by right?
Yes-the Fire-Bird’s feather bright?
Am I not your lawful Tsar?
Answer, heathen that you are!”
But Ivan made answer bold-
Waved his hand and shouted:
“Hold! When did I give you my hat?
How could you discover that?
What-have you got second sight?
You can lock me up, all right,
You can have me beaten flat-
I’ve no feather, and that’s that!”
“You’ll be flogged! Now answer me!”
“But I’m speaking plainly-see,
I’ve no feather-and, how, pray,
Could such wonders come my way?”
Here the Tsar sprang to the floor,
Shook the feather with a roar-
“What is this? Now will you dare
Stand and contradict me there?”
Here Ivan gave just one look,
Like a storm-tossed leaf he shook,
Dropped his hat in sheer dismay.
“Ah, you don’t know what to say,”
Said the Tsar. “But wait, my man …”
“Mercy, mercy,” cried Ivan,
Grovelling upon the floor,
At the Tsar’s feet, sobbing sore-
“Pardon me this once, please do
And I’ll lie no more to you.”
“You’ll be pardoned for the nonce,
Seeing you have sinned but once,”
Said the Tsar. “But bear in mind
I’ll not always be so kind.
Gracious, when I’m angry-why,
I make hairs and heads to fly!
That’s what I am like, my man,
So, let’s not waste words, Ivan.
You have boasted, as I’ve heard,
That, did I but say the word,
You could bring the Bird of Fire
To the Chamber of your Sire.
Now, do not say ‘No’ to me-
Do your best and bring one, see?”
Up Ivan bounced like a ball:
“Nothing of the sort at all,”
Shouted he, and wiped his eye;
“I that feather don’t deny-
But the talk about the bird
Is as false as it’s absurd.”
Wrathfully, the Tsar’s beard shook:
“What-me argue with you? Look!
If you do not bring to me
That Fire-Bird, in sennights three,
To my Royal Chamber, now,
By my Royal Beard I vow,
Hide yourself where e’er you please-
Under ground, or under seas-
I’ll have you impaled, my man!
Off, you scum!” In tears, Ivan
To the hayloft made his way
Where his little humpback lay.

Hearing him, his humpback ran
Full of glee to meet Ivan;
But on seeing him in tears,
Almost sobbed, and drooped his ears:
“Why, Ivanushka, so sad?
Tell me what’s the matter, lad,”
Said he, fawning round his knees.
“Put your mind, Ivan, at ease,
Tell me what has happened, please-
Just confide in me, Ivan,
I will help you if I can.
Are you ill? If not, then who
Has upset you? Tell me, do.”
And Ivan, in bitter tears,
As he kissed his humpback’s ears,
Said: “The Tsar-Oh, have you heard?
Bids me bring a Fire-Bird!
Oh, whatever shall I do?”
In reply, his horse said: “True,
Your misfortune’s great, I know.
But I’ll help you in your woe.
You rejected my advice-
Now, you have to pay the price;
For remember, when you found
That bird’s feather on the ground,
I told you, for your own sake,
Not to touch it; in its wake
Many sorrows, many woes
Follow everywhere it goes.
Now, Ivan, you see that I,
When I warned you, told no lie.
But, Ivan, ‘twixt you and me-
This is easy as can be;
Service lies ahead, my man.
Now, go to the Tsar, Ivan,
Say to him in language plain:
‘Tsar, I need the best of grain,
And two troughs; then, if you please,
Wine-brought in from overseas;
Tell them that they must make haste,
For I have no time to waste-
I’ll be off at dawn of day.'”
So Ivan went straightaway,
Told the Tsar in language plain:
“Tsar, I need the best of grain,
And two troughs; then, if you please,
Wine-brought in from overseas;
Tell them, too, they must make haste-
For I have no time to waste-
With the early dawn of day
I’ll be going on my way.”

So the Tsar gave strict commands
To fulfil Ivan’s demands;
Called Ivan a brave young man,
Said: “God speed you” to Ivan.

Dawn had scarce begun to peep,
Humpback roused Ivan from sleep:
“Hey, my lad-stop snoring, do,
Up! your duty’s calling you!”
So Ivan got up and dressed
Warmly for his royal quest;
Took the grain and took the wine,
Tightly tied the troughs with twine,
Put it all into a sack,
Climbed upon his horse’s back,
Chewing on a piece of bread,
To the rising sun he sped,
Off to seek that Fire-Bird.

Seven days they rode, I heard;
When the eighth day dawned, they stood
In a dark and dense green wood.
Here the humpback tossed his head:
“You will see a glade,” he said;
“In the middle of this glade
Stands a hill, of silver made.
There it is that every morn
Fire-Birds flock before the dawn,
Water from the stream to drink.
We will catch them there, I think.”
With these words, he swiftly ran
To the glade, with our Ivan.
What a meadow met their sight-
Blades of grass, like emeralds bright!
And the breezes, as they blew,
Scattered sparkles through the dew;
Flowers sweet of beauty rare
Blossomed in the meadow there.
In the middle of this glade
Rose a hill, of silver made,
Like an airy tower bright,
With its summit hid from sight.
And the sun, with gentle blaze,
Gilds it with its summer rays
Till the peak in splendour bright
Flashes like a beacon light.

Up the hill the humpback flew,
And he climbed a mile or two-
Then he stopped and tossed his head,
Flapping both his ears, and said:
“Look-it’s getting dark, Ivan,
You must watch as best you can;
Mix some wine and grain-enough,
But not more, to fill one trough;
And to hide yourself from sight,
‘Neath the other trough sit tight.
Make no sound, and mind you keep
Eyes and ears alert-don’t sleep-
You will see, at dawn of day,
Flocks of Fire-Birds come this way.
They will peck your grain, and chatter
In their language-but no matter-
Seize the nearest one, Ivan,
Hold it fast as fast you can;
When you have that Fire-Bird tight,
Shout for me with all your might;
I shall come without delay.”
“Won’t they burn my fingers, say?”
To his horse exclaimed Ivan
As he spread out his kaftan.
“Mittens I shall have to wear,
They might be too hot to bear.”
Here, from sight his humpback swept;
With a grund, Ivan then crept
Underneath a trough, where he
Lay as still as still could be.

Suddenly, at dead of night,
All the hill-side blazed with light,
And it seemed as though ’twere day-
Twas a flock of Fire-Birds-they
Swooped upon the wine-soaked wheat,
Screamed and hopped on drunken feet.
While Ivan, from them well hidden
In his trough, as he was bidden,
Gazed on them in wonder and,
Waving wildly with his hand,
Murmured: “goodness gracious me!
What strange creatures do I see!
Now, if I could catch them all,
It would make a lovely haul!
Quite a half a hundred there!
They are beauties, I declare!
Feet all red, upon my word!
But their tails-they’re just absurd!
Surely chickens never had
Tails like that, Ivan my lad!
Then again-this blinding light!
Father’s stove is not so bright!”
Our Ivan his long speech ended
And his heavy trough up-ended,
Grunting softly from the strain,
Crawled until he reached the grain.
Then the nearest bird he seized
By its shining tail-and sneezed;
“Oh, my little humpback dear,
Hurry fast-come, do you hear!
I have caught a Fire-Bird-see,”
Roared our fool most lustily.
Lo, the humpback stood beside him,
Saying: “Good-now quickly hide him
In your sack, and hold on tight,
For we haven’t got all night.”
But Ivan the Fool said: “Oh,
Let me scare them ere we go.
Look-they’ve had so much to eat
That they can’t stand on their feet!”
Said Ivan, and then and there
With his sack he beat the air.
In a blinding blaze of light
Started up the flock in fright,
Wheeling in a ring of fire,
Soaring to the clouds, and higher.
While Ivan, with crazy laughter,
Waved his mittens, running after,
Yelling madly, just as though
He had swallowed soap, you know.

When the birds had gone from view,
Our Ivan, without ado,
Made the royal treasure fast
And set off for home at last.
Finally, they reached the Court,
And the Tsar cried: “Have you brought
Me the Fire-Bird? “-while he eyed
His attendant by his side,
Who (the chamberlain, I mean)
Stood and bit his nails in spleen.
“Yes, of course,” replied Ivan.
“Then, where is it, my young man?”
“Wait a minute, and you’ll see!
Bid them first, Your Majesty,
Shut the chamber casement tight,
Draw the shades, keep out the light.”
All the lords-in-waiting ran,
Closed the casement for Ivan.
Flinging down his sack with pride,
“Ups-a-daisy, dear,” he cried.
Blinded by the flood of light,
They all screened their eyes in fright,
And the Tsar, in accents dire,
Shouted: “Gracious! We’re on fire!
Water-call the fire brigade!
What a fire this fool has made!”
Tears a-streaming from his eyes,
Our bird-catcher, laughing, cries:
“No, no-this is not a fire-
It is but your Fire-Bird, Sire.
It’s a lovely plaything, see,
That I’ve brought Your Majesty!”
Said the Tsar for all to hear:
“Vanya, friend, I love you, dear,
And, in token of my joy,
Be my Royal Groom, my boy!”

Then the former Chief of Horse-
(Yes, the chamberlain, of course)
Muttered to himself in hate:
“No, you ill-bred milksop-wait!
You won’t always prosper so,
Have such foolish luck-oh no!
I’ll get you in trouble, yet!
Yes, I will, my little pet!”

Now, one evening, three weeks after,
Loud the kitchen rang with laughter,
Palace cooks and servants sat
Round the table for a chat,
Passing round the golden mead,
While one “Yeruslan” did read;
“You should see,” another said,
“What a lovely book I read-
I just borrowed it today-
Why, it takes your breath away!
Actually, it’s pretty small-
Only has five tales in all,
But I’m sure that you have never
Heard of tales so strange and clever.”
In one voice, they cried aloud:
“Tell us, brother, don’t be proud.”
“Well then, make your choice,” said he.
“There are five-so let us see-
First, we have ‘The Beaver Beast'”
Then-‘The Lady from the East’;
Next-God help me-here you are-
Yes, the third’s about a Tsar;
‘Prince Bobyl’ is number four
Then, you know, there’s just one more,
Number five-the last of all…
Which I simply can’t recall.”
“Never mind, then”-“Wait a minute-”
“Has it got a beauty in it?”
“So it has. The fifth, I swear,
Tells about the Tsar-Maid Fair.
So, my friends, just choose and say
Which one shall I read today?”
“Of the Tsar-Maid,” they replied,
“We are tired of tsars,” they cried.
So the servant, then and there,
Started with a solemn air:

“In a distant clime, my brothers,
Flows an ocean, like no others;
And it washes foreign shores,
And it’s sailed by blackamoors;
From true Christian soil, however,
Noblemen, nor peasants, never
Sailed those pagan waters-though
Merchants who have sailed, and know,
Tell about a maiden fair
Living on that ocean there.
She’s no common maiden, see-
Daughter to the moon is she,
And she’s sister to the sun;
This fair maid, the stories run,
In a scarlet dress arrayed,
Sails a boat-of gold it’s made;
And she wields a silver oar,
Steers that boat from shore to shore;
Gusli in her hand, she sings
As she plucks its silver strings.”
At these words, the chamberlain
Bounded up, as if insane;
To the Royal Chamber sped,
Where he found the Tsar in bed;
Bowed his head, and with a bang
Hit the floor, and whining sang:
“To confess, 0 Majesty,
I have dared to come to thee!
Be not angry with thy slave-
Suffer me to speak, I crave!”
“Speak up,” was the Tsar’s reply,
“But be sure you do not lie.”
And the crafty chamberlain
Murmured, as he bowed again:
“We sat round the kitchen fire,
Drinking to your health, 0 Sire;
And we heard a story there
Of the wondrous Tsar-Maid Fair.
And your groom got up and said,
Swearing by your Royal Head,
That he knew this birdie-yes-
So he called her, I confess;
And, 0 Sire, it’s also true
That he bragged to catch her, too.”
And the chamberlain once more
Banged his head upon the floor.
“Hey! my groom at once to me!”
Roared the Tsar impatiently.
Satisfied, the chamberlain
Raised himself erect again,
While the lords-in-waiting ran –
Hastily to fetch Ivan.
In his nightshirt, straight from bed,
To the Tsar Ivan was led.

“Listen,” thus the Tsar began,
“I have been informed, Ivan,
That just now, my lad, you said,
Swearing by my Royal Head,
That, did I but say the word,
You could bring another bird
For your Monarch-you did swear
You could catch the Tsar-Maid Fair.”
“God save you from every harm,”
Cried the Tsar’s groom in alarm.
“Really, only in a dream
Could I say such things, I deem.
But no matter what you say
You will not fool me this way!”
Wrathfully, the Tsar’s beard shook:
“What-me argue with you?
Look-If you do not bring to me
That Tsar-Maid, in sennights three,
To my Royal Chamber-now,
By my Royal Beard, I vow-
Hide yourself where e’er you please,
Under ground, or under seas-
I’ll have you impaled, my man!
Off, you scum!” In tears, Ivan
To the hayloft made his way,
Where his little humpback lay.

“Why, Ivanushka, so sad?
What’s the matter now, my lad?”
Little humpbacked horse enquired;
“Are you ill? or only tired?
What’s the trouble? Tell me who
Has upset you? Tell me, do.”
And Ivan, in bitter tears,
Kissed his little horse’s ears
Sobbing: “Oh, my humpback dear,
I must bring the Tsar-Maid here.
Oh, whatever shall I do?”
In reply, his horse said: “True
Your misfortune’s great, I know
But I’ll help you in your woe.
You rejected my advice-
Now, you have to pay the price;
But, Ivan, ‘twixt you and me,
This is easy as can be.
Service lies ahead, my man;
Now, go to the Tsar, Ivan,
Say: To catch the Tsar-Maid, Sire,
Two large cloths I shall require,
And a tent of gold brocade,
And a dinner-service, made
All of gold, from overseas;
Sweetmeats, too, her taste to please.'”
So Ivan with fearless tread
Went back to the Tsar, and said:
“For the Tsar-Maid’s capture, Sire,
Two large cloths I will require,
And a tent of gold brocade,
And a dinner-service, made
All of gold, from overseas;
Sweetmeats, too, her taste to please.”
“Ah-at last you’ve found your head,”
Yawned the Tsar, and from his bed
Gave his lords most strict commands
To fulfil Ivan’s demands.
Called Ivan a brave young man,
Said: “God-speed to you, Ivan.”

Dawn had scarce begun to peep,
Humpback roused Ivan from sleep:
“Hey, my lad, stop snoring, do,
Up! your duty’s calling you.”
So Ivan got up and dressed
Warmly for his royal quest;
Took the tent of gold brocade,
Took the dinner-service, made
All of gold, from overseas,
Sweetmeats, too, her taste to please.
Took the cloths, and everything
Tied up tightly with a string,
Put it all into a sack,
Climbed upon his horse’s back,
Chewing on a piece of bread,
To the rising sun he sped,
Off to seek the Tsar-Maid Fair.
Seven days they rode, I swear;
When the eighth day dawned, they stood
In a dark and dense green wood,
Here the humpback stopped, and said:
“See-the ocean lies ahead-
There it is, the whole year round,
This Tsar-Maiden can be found;
Only twice a year, not more,
Does she spend the day on shore;
And, tomorrow, I’ve a notion,
We shall see her on the ocean.”

Then he galloped fast once more
Till they reached the ocean shore;
In the distance, they could see
One white wave roll languidly.
Then Ivan dismounted. “Here,”
Said the humpback in his ear,
“Pitch your tent of gold brocade,
Lay the cloth, and service, made
All of gold from overseas,
And the sweets her taste to please.
Hide behind the tent, and see
That you don’t act foolishly.
Yonder-see, the boat is nearing,
With the Tsar-Maid in it, steering.
She’ll walk in the tent-but you
Let her be, what e’er you do;
Let her walk inside the tent,
Eat and drink to heart’s content.
When you hear her Gusli play,
Rush inside without delay,
Seize the Tsar-Maid-hold her tight,
Shout for me with all your might.
You won’t need to call me twice-
I’ll be with you in a trice,
And we’ll go-but mind you keep
All your wits awake-don’t sleep;
For if you but let her go,
You’ll be in for lots of woe.
” Then he flew off, like the wind,
Leaving our Ivan behind;
And Ivan, as he was told,
Hid behind the tent of gold,
There he pierced the gold brocade,
So that he could watch the Maid.

As the noonday sun shone clear,
To the shore the Maid drew near;
Gusli in her hand, she went
Straight inside the golden tent.
“Hm! So that’s the Tsar-Maid Fair,
” Breathed the groom-“! do declare
All those tales were simply lies
When they praised her to the skies;
She is not the least bit pretty-
Pale and skinny, more’s the pity;
And her chicken legs, so thin!
Why-it really is a sin!
Let who wills, take her to wife-
1 would not, to save my life.”
Here the Tsar-Maid plucked a string,
And so sweetly did she sing
That Ivan, quite unaware,
Drooped his sleepy head right there,
Closed his eyes in slumber deep,
Lulled by her sweet voice to sleep.

Slowly sank the sun from sight.
Suddenly, he woke in fright;
By him, furiously neighing,
Stood his horse and kicked him, saying;
“Sleep, my lad, sleep till tomorrow-
Sleep, and wake to grief and sorrow-
You will be impaled, not I!”
Here Ivan began to cry,
Sobbing on his horse’s mane,
Saying: “I won’t sleep again-
Pardon me this once, please do!”
“Well, the Lord will pardon you,”
Said his humpback in reply-
“Maybe all’s not lost; we’ll try
And perhaps we’ll mend things yet-
But-no sleeping-don’t forget!
For again, at break of day,
That Fair Maid will steer this way;
She will go into the tent,
On your honeyed mead intent;
Only-mind what I have said,
Otherwise, you’ll lose your head.”

Humpback disappeared once more,
And Ivan searched on the shore
For some flints and rusty nails
From the wrecks of stranded sails,
To arouse him, should once more
He, by chance, begin to snore.

It was early morning when
That Tsar-Maiden came again,
Beached her boat once more and sped,
By the fragrant odours led,
To the dainties which were laid
In the tent of gold brocade …
And again she plucked a string,
And so sweetly did she sing
That Ivanushka once more
Felt as sleepy as before.
“No, you nasty little cheat,”
Growled Ivan, upon his feet-
“This time you won’t get away
You will not fool me today.”
And, unmoved by her sweet song,
Seized her by her tresses long…
“Help me, help me, Humpback dear,
Hurry to me, do you hear!”
In a flash, his horse stood there-
Saying: “Well done, I declare!
Mount me quickly, now, Ivan,
Hold her tight as tight you can.”

At the Palace gates, at last
They arrived; the Tsar ran fast
To the Fair Tsar-Maiden and
Led her by her lily hand
‘Neath a silken canopy
To his royal throne; then he
Fondly gazing in her eyes
Said, with honeyed voice, and sighs:
“Peerless, beautiful princess-
Be my bride! Agree-say yes!
When I first saw you, desire
Burned within my breast like fire!
Oh! Your lovely eyes so bright-
They will haunt me day and night!
They will torture me by day
And at nights, drive sleep away!
Say but one sweet word to me
Everything is ready, see-
And tomorrow, oh my life,
We’ll be wedded man and wife,
And live happy as the May.’

She, however, turned away
From the Tsar, with scornful eye,
And refused to make reply.
But this only added fire
To his passionate desire-
Kneeling, he her fingers pressed,
Tenderly her hands caressed,
And repeated foolishly:
“Say but one sweet word to me!
Wherein have I grieved you, pray?
Is my love so hateful, say?”
“Lack-a-day, and woe is me,”
Said the Tsar-Maid mournfully-
“If you love me truly, bring
Me in three days’ time, my ring
Lying in the ocean bed-
Only then can we be wed.”
Eagerly the Tsar roared: “Hey!
Fetch Ivan at once, I say!”
And excited, almost ran
Off himself to fetch Ivan!

When Ivan appeared, the Tsar
Turned to him and murmured: “Ah!
Vanya-here’s a job for you-
Go down to the ocean blue;
From its bottom, you must bring
Me the Tsar-Maid’s signet-ring.
If you execute this task,
I will give you all you ask.”
“But I’ve only just got back,
And my joints are fit to crack;
Now you’ve found another quest!
Can’t I even have a rest?”
“Sirrah! dare you tell me tarry?
Can’t you see I want to marry?”
Raged the Tsar, and with a roar
Stamped his foot upon the floor.
“No more arguments, I say-
Now, be off without delay!”
As Ivan turned round to go,
The Tsarevna called out: “Oh,
Listen-visit, on your way,
My green mansions, and convey
Greetings to my mother dear-
Say, her daughter-do you hear-
Asks, why she conceals her rays
These three nights and these three days;
Why my handsome brother shrouds
His bright face in gloomy clouds,
Never sending rays of love
From the misty heights above?
Don’t forget my message, now.”
As Ivan made his last bow,
“I will not forget,” he said,
“If it doesn’t slip my head;
But please tell me who’s your brother?
Also, tell me who’s your mother?
I don’t know them, I confess.”
In reply, the fair princess
Said: “The Moon-she is my mother,
And the Sun-he is my brother.”
“See you’re back in time, my man!”
Called the bridegroom to Ivan,
Who retired and made his way
To his humpback in the hay.

“Why, Ivanushka, so sad?
What’s the matter now, my lad?”
Said his humpback with a neigh.
“Help me, little humpback, pray,
For the Tsar now wants to wed
That there skinny girl, he said.
And,” Ivan said to his horse,
“He must. send me off, of course,
On a journey to the sea-
Only gave three days to me-
And some cursed signet-ring
From the sea bed I must bring!
For that skinny Tsar-Maid,
I Have to travel to the sky-
Give her compliments and love
To the Sun and Moon above.
And besides, there are a few
Questions I must ask them, too.
” Said his horse: “Twixt you and me,
This is easy as can be;
Service, brother, lies ahead!
Now, you just go off to bed.
Early in the morning, we
Will be travelling to the sea.”
In the morning, fresh from rest,
Our Ivan, now warmly dressed,
Put three onions in his pack,
Climbed upon his horse’s back
And sped on his distant quest…
Brothers-let me have a rest!

Go to Part 3
https://onahill.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/the-little-humpback-horse-part-3/

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